With all the difficulties, there has been an upside to the coronavirus: an opportunity to explore do-it-yourself projects for which there had never been enough time. We’ve taken up pickling our own foods, trying out new recipes, expanding at-home gardens, and making our own masks. This last raised an exciting question: Could you also make your own clothes or accessories by hand? In Vienna? With enough will and the right design, Vienna’s enchanting Nähsalons provide the perfect space to explore this exciting possibility.
This time has also ignited more in-depth discussions on systems of production, consumption and distribution. Sustainability, exploitative processes, racial disparities in a global pandemic – it’s been a cacophony of intersecting issues in today’s globalized paradigm.
I began with the materials: Could I source sustainable, raw fabrics? Or simply upcycle secondhand clothing into modern, wearable designs? Fortunately for us, Vienna has immense resources to create ethically and sustainably produced clothing by hand! In this How To, you’ll follow along as I gather materials, select designs, attend workshops and finally, make the finished product.
Vienna’s streets are sprinkled with Nähsalons of various flavors, from Biostoffe to the Modeschule, giving you an abundance of choices to make your own clothes. Nähsalon Nahtlos on Kellermanngasse in the 7th district sparked particular interest. Quaint and personal, Nahtlos offers both group and individual sewing courses starting at just €40 an hour, allowing even the most novice of sewers to acquire the Grundkenntnisse, basic skills, of sewing (in German only). Individual tutoring guides you through how you can make your own clothes or your own projects with the assistance of veteran owner/designer Andreas Einsiedler.
Having long been curious about graphic design and screenprinting, I jumped at the idea of learning the fundamentals under his guidance. I chose an illustration by Carla Habib, of the Zeez collective in Beirut, as the design. The concept was to create bio tote bags featuring Habib’s work, to sell to raise money for the Lebanese organization Beit el Baraka, an organization that provides medical support, food, and rent to retirees and families in need. With the design in hand, Andreas assisted my transferring her work to the fabric while alerting me to the challenges of the production process – streamlining decades of screen printing into a 60-minute session.
The process is centered on the use of a printing press, as ink seeps through the open areas of the stencil and transfers to the sheet underneath, leaving behind an ink pattern set by the stencil. To my surprise, he detailed the importance of developing muscle memory in learning to screenprint, much like learning the guitar. “It’s about which direction you go, first very shallow going up and then very steep going down, repeatedly swaying between 20° and 60°, you’ll otherwise feel the lack of ergonomics in your wrists.”
We began with a preset screenburn and a hefty stack of scrap paper – emphasizing that repetition is key. The traditional method of screen printing first developed more than 100 years ago, is still the favored approach in both the commercial and art sectors, transferring a stenciled design onto a variety of materials using a mesh screen, ink and a squeegee. It is a meticulous and precise process, requiring a high level of skill. But under his supervision, screen printing was made an easy, almost mundane activity. Andreas ran me through all the potential mishaps, from applying too little or too much pressure, pinpointing the causes and how best to avoid them. “But until you have done everything wrong,” he said, “you will not really understand.”
In assessing, my 100 prints project would require at least another seven hours of manual labor and a willingness to fail.
By the halfway mark, my hands knew the recurrent 20° and then 60° sway to transfer the ink from the press to the sheet, doing rounds in their sleep. And what should have been seven hours, quickly became ten. But the final product was well-worth whatever time had been invested.
This period of newfound downtime has birthed global initiatives of all sorts and allowed us to remember, or discover, what it means to slow down. Through the workshop and with the assistance of Andreas, I had begun my training in screen printing and launched a social welfare project. But this was just one of the many possibilities and directions possible, so embrace the potential of this city and your imagination, and try to make your own clothes or accessories. The Nähsalons await!
Shop & Sew Sustainably
Vienna has much to offer when it comes to learning new skills or shopping fair and sustainable fashion.
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Carla Habib & Zeez Collective
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