Your favourite piece of clothing?
(cw: weight loss)
I’ve a clothes-buying confession to make. The things that I love most in my wardrobe are those things that are new. My heart chooses the novel over longevity every time, but my conscience knows that fast fashion is stripping our world of its most vital resources and supports business that ruthlessly exploits the labour of women and children.
So to balance my heart and my conscience I choose to buy second-hand. I like nothing better than to go to the locally run Oikos café on the high street in Erdington, the suburb I live in, and enjoy an oat flat white while I spend the morning writing, then to end the trip with a visit to a charity shop to browse floral chiffon blouses and jewel-coloured knitwear.
Except over the past year charity shops in the UK have been closed, on and off, for months. Avoiding ebay and its bidding culture (too aggressive and uncertain for my nature) has led me to find other ways to shop second-hand online, my favourite being the site Re-Fashion which sells second-hand clothes to raise money for sustainable charities. In December I bought from Re-Fashion a black and white geometric print long-sleeve bodycon dress I then wore to celebrate Christmas with my family (we had a temporary reprieve of lockdown measures for the day.) But there is another strand as to why this dress made me feel so great.
Over the course of last year, spending more time than ever at home and not going out each day to perform a teaching job that I found highly stressful, I lost an amount of weight that made me feel more comfortable in my body. I won’t, however, share any numbers or sizes because I think they are so subjective to each particular body – and those kind of figures can be a trigger for those with eating disorders and disordered eating. But what you do need to know is that for over four years I had been eating through panic and exhaustion. Now, I believe that beauty and health is a possibility at all sizes. I also happen to think that I look cute as heck when I’m chubby. But this wasn’t about appearance. Eating as a mechanism for dealing with stress brought me a painful gastric diagnosis and, indirectly, bursitis of the knee.
Although short-term stress might well be unavoidable in our lives, I had waited until I had complete burnout before I removed myself from my work situation. This simple bodycon dress was a change from the floatier, feminine styles that usually make up my second-hand buys. It reflected my new body shape to me and helped me make a promise to myself that I would never again drive myself to burnout.
Your dream textile object?
I haven’t knitted anything for myself in a while. My favourite thing to knit for other people is socks. It could be because I am a Pisces sun, and, esoterically, Pisces is ruled by the feet. I have also been known to knit socks for myself. And hats. And gloves. And any manner of accessories, but I’ve never successfully knitted a whole garment. With my fluctuating weight over the past few years, I didn’t know if it was worth investing time in making a garment, when I could not guarantee it becoming a heirloom piece of the kind I would want the garment to be after investing so much time in its making.
My dream garment to make would be a vintage style black sweater. Something I would always want to wear to compliment other more decorative items. No lace stitch, I find that a nightmare to sustain as my mind wanders from the pattern. I enjoy knitting blocks with the only variation being an increase and decrease in sizing, hence the love of sock-making. My dream textile object would also have to be a dream to make. Maybe the 70s tie-neck sweater from a D&C book I have, Vintage Knits for Him and Her? Or the 50s sleeveless wrap-around top? I’ve been writing and online far too much recently. I think my mental wellbeing would really benefit from an entirely selfish crafting project.
A textile object that haunts you?
Velvet kitten heels I wore as a teenager going out drinking and flirting. I declare there has been far too much prose in my response here!
Cue poetry –
(I Blame) My Shoes
When I was seventeen I spoke through
ironic fashion, kinderwhore mime,
smeared lashes, my aunt’s nylon sundress
and ripped fishnet tights stuffed in velvet
kitten heels. Threatened with a March dawn
those heels betrayed me. Stubborn clatter
on midnight stone, I waited too long
for him to run back to me, I turned
too late to grasp him in slow hushed heels.
((I Blame) My Shoes first appeared in Magma 37)
Claire HM writes and reads tarot as an act of self-healing that is an invitation for others to create the stories they need, to access healing too. In 2019 she had an essay published in the indie published anthology, I Wrote it Anyway, about her experience of accessing university, and the long journey of finding the confidence to write as a woman from a working class background. How to Bring Him Back, her debut novella, is a story framed by a spell to let go of the past, and will be published by Fly on the Wall press in October 2021. Claire has recently been published in Black Flowers Literary Journal, streetcake, Mooky Chick and Cape Magazine.