Nova Scotia

Nova Scotian skipping factory fashion to make her whole wardrobe from scratch

Making a pair of jeans as easy as assembling a piece of IKEA furniture, Erica Penton says

Erica Penton handmade knit top

Erica Penton says it's nice to have a closet full of clothes that are custom-made to fit her. (Ryan Turner)

 shares

Erica Penton used to just toss her pyjamas on the floor in the morning. Now she hangs them up.

That's because she made those pyjamas — as well as a number of shirts, skirts, coats and pants — as part of an ambitious project to make her entire wardrobe herself, in just 18 months.

"I've discovered with sewing that nothing is ever as scary as you think it's going to be," she said.

"If you can assemble a piece of IKEA furniture, you can make a pair of jeans."

Erica Penton making shoes handmade wardrobe

While winter boots are too technical, Penton says she plans to try making espadrilles. (CBC News)

Penton, 35, started the project last August and has so far made about 20 garments, recording the time and money spent on each item on her blog, myhandmadewardrobe.com.

"You just take it seam-by-seam and step-by-step." - Erica Penton

Having worked in the corporate fashion world — doing everything from folding T-shirts to designing window displays — Penton told the CBC's Information Morning she wanted to draw attention to the amount of work required to create fast fashion items, as well as the true costs.

Erica Penton portrait handmade wardrobe

Penton is not a professional seamstress. She taught herself to sew a few years ago. (Ryan Turner)

True cost of fashion

Most stores are "not charging you the actual cost of the item," Penton said. 

"It's hard for me to make a nice, button-down shirt for under $60," she said — and that only covers her materials, not labour.

Most people wouldn't dream of paying that much for a shirt nowadays, she said.

The last time Penton calculated her overall costs, she found she had spent slightly more than $1,000 on 11 handmade items, including two winter coats.

Erica Penton handmade pyjamas

Penton used to throw her pyjamas on the floor in the morning. Now that they're handmade, she hangs them up. (Erica Penton)

Custom-fit

Not only is making her own wardrobe the ethical thing to do, Penton said, it's a luxury to have clothes that are made to order.

"I'm petite and I also have a curvy body shape so nothing ever fit me well," she said. 

"Now I get to have whatever I would like to wear, custom-made to me, in a fashion that I know is ethical," Penton said.

"That's just a win all-around." 

Erica Penton makes a handmade bra

Penton is even attempting to make her own underwear and bras. (CBC News)

From shoes to bras

While she won't attempt to make "extremely technical items" like winter boots, she is prepared to tackle shoes, bras, and even a bathing suit.

Penton is not a professional seamstress.

She said she learned to sew a few years ago by watching tutorials online and gleaning tips from family members and acquaintances, and then she simply "fell in love with it." 

She uses a very loud, old, hand-me-down sewing machine from the 1980s, Penton said.

"Everything that I'm making, the average person can make at home," she said. "You just take it seam-by-seam and step-by-step."

Thread for Erica Penton who is sewing handmade wardrobe

Penton doesn't use any industrial equipment in her home studio, even her sewing machine is a hand-me-down. (CBC News)

Disasters and successes

Things don't always turn out as planned, Penton said. 

She recently attempted to make a fitted dress, but ended up with about 20 cm of extra fabric at the back. She decided to forgo the zipper and make a back-less dress instead.

It "looks beautiful," she said.

The most nerve-wracking project thus far involved "distressing" a pair of hand-made jeans.

It was scary, Penton said, "having worked so hard on them and then ripping them up."

Penton said she's pleased with the results. "It felt like the ultimate act of letting go."

Erica Penton's handmade Pauline Alice Quart Coat

The last time Penton calculated her overall costs, she found she had spent slightly more than $1,000 on 11 handmade items, including two winter coats. (Ryan Turner)

More On This Story