Some Woogly Ethical Ponderings

I admit, I’m having some woogly ethical ponderings about this kind of sewing alteration. One of the things that’s come up in the sewing community in the last several years is how if you go to thrift stores to get inexpensive clothes for hacking, it can cause a problem for people who wear larger sizes.

(Good podcast episode that explores this: Love to Sew podcast, episode 186, “Transforming Thrifted Textiles with Francisco Diaz”)

It’s easier to cut something down than to size something up, and so a lot of the time, you might get someone who wears a size 10, say, buying a size 16 dress and cutting it down. And that’s a problem because people larger than size 10-12 are already going to have far fewer clothing options available to them in general and in the thrift stores.

Plus, some of those folks are shopping at thrift stores because that’s what they can afford, so if you’re going there looking to make something cute and artsy for your smaller body, you may be taking something they really need for work, or just generally for dressing themselves.

For me, I don’t want to risk doing that to someone, so I don’t use thrift stores for this kind of project, where I’m cutting something down.


But I’m not entirely happy with what I *am* doing either. I’ve been buying kurta tops online from India, generally buying them so that they fit me in the torso already (and the professionals have done nice detail work on the collar, sleeves, etc.), and then cutting off the extra length (both because I’m so short and because some Indian kurta styles are much longer than we’d typically wear in the U.S.).

And that’s fine, but the only reason I can afford to do that is because they’re so cheap — I can buy them much cheaper from Utsav in India and have them shipped here than I can find them if I go up to Devon in Chicago. (They don’t generally seem to charge more for larger sizes which use more fabric, which isn’t true in the U.S. in many stores — another hit for people of larger size trying to find clothing that fits them.)


So I end up with this practice being a problem for three reasons:

a) I end up contributing to some extra overseas shipping & packaging, which isn’t great for the planet

b) the only reason they’re so cheap is because of globalization and the results of colonization in developing nations, where, for example, the American dollar does well against the Indian rupee

c) and also, do I know what sweatshop conditions those clothes were sewn in, and whether the workers got fair wages? I generally don’t. (I don’t know for Gap clothes either, and I should.)


On the flip side, I am really appreciating the opportunity to wear homeland clothes that suit my complexion and personal style, that I can actually afford, and also to learn more about sewing with fabric that I love, and also to be able to make coordinating masks, which hopefully also encourages others to wear masks in this ongoing pandemic…

Ethical quandaries abounding, and clearly I don’t worry about it enough that I’ve stopped doing it, but I guess I wanted to pause and highlight the issues here, so that if anyone else is inspired to try these kinds of alterations on imported cheap clothing, they know what they’re getting into.


15 minute weekend sewing project — a long kurta top, transformed into a dress.


– put it on
– figure out where you want the hem to fall
– stick in a pin roughly an inch below that
– take it off & lay it flat
– measure how far up the pin is (13 inches in this case)
– go around the kurta and add more pins 13 inches up from the original hem
– check length if you’re not sure it’s right, though I usually don’t bother
– cut along the pin line & remove pins
– turn inside out and fold up hem twice to hide raw edge (1/2 inch each, roughly); iron flat
– sew hem down, turn right side out and iron again

– check length, although it’d be a pain to change it at this point, so hopefully you’re happy with it. 🙂

Done. Now the question is, do I want to go to the effort of adding pockets as well as making a matching mask? We’ll see how the day goes. I have enough fabric, so it’s definitely tempting, but it’s been a while since I added pockets, I’d have to go look up a tutorial…

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