Little Magic: Sewing pants and stepping out (of late-stage capitalism)

Alicia de los Reyes
5 min readJan 15, 2020
Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

I have been sewing since I was four or five, and making my own clothes since I was eleven. I vividly remember the first pair of pants that my mom and I sewed together: a pattern from Butterick, checked red and brown fabric, an elastic waist. Making those pants — total cost, $6 — made me feel like I was winning in a way that I had not yet experienced in middle school. I felt like I had a secret, and that secret made me the coolest person on Earth.

The thing is, back then, even if someone knew my secret (which, let’s be honest, the entire population of Knollwood School did, because it was about 100 kids and we all lived approximately half a mile away from each other — and also because I was a major show-off), no one really understood what sewing your own clothes meant. They didn’t appreciate that I got to pick out my own fabric and that actually, choosing fabric is kind of tricky; I got to design my own pants or shirt or dress, within the bounds of the pattern — and actually that is kind of tricky, too.

What I experienced in my small suburban New Jersey town was what a lot of home sewers of my generation and the one prior experienced: the total devaluation of making your own clothes.

I knew one other friend who knew how to make clothes, and she didn’t see it as magical, like I did. She just kind of did it because her mom had taught her how, just like my mom did. My father’s sisters had been dragged to sewing class by my grandmother but they never liked it. Another aunt made tons of clothes for herself, as did my mother, but by the time I was, oh, fifteen, Old Navy and Target had arrived. You could buy pants for $6.

Back in the 90s, sewing was like Latin class. Everyone stopped taking it because it was completely, unrelentingly pointless. Not to mention kind of tricky.

Fast forward twenty or thirty years and picture this: one day, I am struck with the desire to make a pair of pants. I flip open my laptop and print out a pattern one evening, tape it together and cut it out the next day, and on the third day, I sew pants.

The crucial step comes later, when I photograph myself in these pants (the Hudson Pants by True Bias, in case you are wondering) and post them on the internet…