Written by Jordan Hawkswell, Youth Advisory Board, Victoria B.C.

I love working with my hands, to learn about and create something that has value and meaning. Crafting takes time and focus and usually a good teacher. Therefore it can be intimidating to take on a project or skill that looks to be a large undertaking. A skill I have been slowly cultivating is sewing. I have close friends who have taken this skill, a skill I had previously seen as outdated perhaps, and empowered themselves to create with it in a world that somehow tells us that isn’t cool or necessary anymore. I was inspired by these friends of mine to learn, and lucky for me they are good teachers who are generous and patient with me.

“Now I see sewing as a way to not only be self sufficient and to reduce waste, but also as a way to become intimately involved with the process that goes into creating a piece of clothing. “

Something the fast fashion industry has hid from us in the cheap prices and seasonal shifts we see in big box stores. Every element of a piece of clothing has a lifecycle and an impact on people and planet. Fabrics are resource heavy, ranging from water and pesticide intensive cotton, to petroleum-based polyester. Thread, buttons, sewing machines, patterns, pins, and fabric scraps. They are all a part of the process and I wanted to learn about them. 

I only know a fraction of facts about the intricacies of fast fashion: it accounts for ~8% of GHG emissions, is the #2 pollution source globally, and is tied to many social and environmental injustices.

Fabric for my first project.

So I have begun to learn and shift my choices to be more people and planet friendly. I frequent thrift stores, I swap and trade with friends, and I wear each item in my closet often because I love each of them! The next step for me was to fix and make clothing, so that I could be a part of the process, but the task was daunting. I have wanted to learn to make my own clothing items for a long time. I see this as a way to be a part of the process of the things I own, and to create exactly what I want.

At this point in time I want a surf poncho! This is a handy item that you drape over yourself and it allows you to change into a wetsuit if you don’t have a change room at the beach you’re surfing at. It seemed like a relatively simple piece to make, not a lot of moving parts. Plus, I’ve been fumbling with a towel in beach parking lots, freezing and salt soaked, trying to change in or out of a wetsuit for too long!

First things first.

I began the process by asking surf pals what they did and didn’t like about their surf ponchos. Once I had gathered some personal advice about hoods, pockets, sleeves, and material, I had an idea of what I wanted. I then visited a fabric store, where every colour and material you can think of is likely available. Since this was a first time project, I scoured over the sale section where I was hoping to find some attractive material made from mostly or all natural fibres and I was in luck! I found 80% wool blended with 20% polyester fabric (as close as I could get to 100% natural fibre) for $10/m which is about one third the price that the fabric can be. I bought 3 m of fabric in a nice earth-tone brown and 1 m of a colourful accent fabric.

It’s starting to look like a thing!

Next – I paid a visit to my dear friend and teacher Z, who has a gorgeous sewing room set up and a brain full of experience and skill. She helped me draw out a pattern, measure and cut the fabric, trace a hood from a hoodie sweater, and align the fabric to be symmetrical. I have used a sewing machine before but I’m still learning, so Z guided me through aligning the seams and slowly sewing the hood together. We made a lining for the hood and sewed that into place as well.

“Feeling my hands run over the fabric, slowly making each cut, and tediously undoing stitches when I made a mistake were all a special part of the experience where I felt fully a part of the ups and downs of the process.”

Time to sew. Wish me luck!

Next, we used a serger to essentially bind all the edges of the fabric to ensure there was not too much fraying at the loose ends of the fabric. We cut a head hole, and slowly completed the task of sewing the hood to the main body of the poncho. This too was tedious and difficult but Z coached me through it. We sewed together the body seams, measured and cut a kangaroo pouch, and sewed on the pouch. 

Almost there!

This surf poncho seemed like it would be relatively easy to create, and many parts of it were simple and were a sign of how one would go about making most other articles of clothing. Measuring, cutting, ironing, stitching, and doing those things repeatedly throughout the making gave me a real appreciation for how much work goes into clothing. Items that are hand-made these days are a thing of real beauty!

Ta da!

My surf poncho might not be the most beautiful thing, but I made it, start to finish! It is a reflection of time, focus, skill sharing, and a lot of care. It is something I wanted and needed, and a product of a friend passing on a skill that I can move forward with. When I’m out on the beaches (warm and fully covered up) ready to enjoy the surf with pals, I’ll be excited to know exactly how my poncho was made, who made it, and how much care went into it! Like most daunting things, I just needed to start. A little push by the Cautious Optimist and the generous time of a dear friend. While there is still a lot of learning to be done I know the foundations are stronger now and I can continue creating.

About Jordan

Jordan has a passion for freshwater and marine health and how humans connect and interact with these ecosystems. She currently lives on the traditional territory of the WSÁNEĆ (Saanich), Lkwungen (Songhees), Wyomilth (Esquimalt) peoples of the Coast Salish Nation. Jordan loves connecting with people over nature, cool ideas, good food, outdoor activities and science. She completed a B.Sc in Earth Sciences at Dalhousie in Halifax, NS and a M.Sc in Planetary Geology at Western University in London, ON.

For the last few years Jordan have been working towards aligning her life with her passion for water health and community, mostly through volunteering and youth service. She started a community organization called Zero Waste Forest City while living in London, ON that focused on waste education and plastic reduction through lifestyle changes. It continues to thrive there, helping to make positive change in waste reduction. Through this and other youth service programs, she was introduced to the power of community, diversity, and knowledge sharing and seeks to continue learning and building connections within this subject.

To learn more about The Cautious Optimist Legacy Project, visit: https://waterlution.org/the-cautious-optimist-danielle-moore-legacy-project/