On Trash and Treasures
“That sweater will certainly keep you warm,” the man remarked as he handed back my change. I smiled politely at him, and I left the store, amused. That sweater would be seriously out of place in my dresser drawer, among the piles of dark-wash jeans and fitted tops. It was not just any sweater, but a men’s extra large oatmeal-colored golf sweater of the thrift-store variety – slightly stained and dingy looking. I had nothing against a thrift store garment; an avid knitter, I was always looking for inexpensive yarn. I had great plans for this sweater. I eyed it for what it could be, not what it was.
Three days and many back aches later, I had the sweater bleached bright white and unraveled into five balls of thin gauge yarn. This was when I began to understand the amount of effort that would go into creating this new garment. I had already made a pattern, drawing inspiration from a beautiful 300-dollar sweater dress that I had spotted online. I would knit, repattern, and block this dress several times before it was finished. My sister pointed out that I could more easily earn three hundred dollars and buy the original than finish this labor intensive project. In spite of this, I pressed on.
I have always been interested in fashion. Though I enjoy ogling overpriced designer clothing in department stores, I have to be realistic. But as I go discount shopping, I am often struck by the idea that I really do not know where my clothes come from. When I think about how long it may take me to knit that sweater dress, I wonder how it’s possible for workers in China to churn out so many sweaters each day. Still, the horror stories I hear about sweatshops there seem so very distant.
I try never to throw out clothes; there is always someone who will want them. So my credo is this: shop at thrift stores because one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. And once in a while, just for the experience of knowing what’s involved in creating clothes, recycle old clothes into something new. That’s what I did with the sweater.
One year later, the dress is finally finished with the exception of a few stray yarn ends on the inside. There is a network of strands, scaffolding on the inside of the bodice, pulling together the front panel which was an inch too wide for my liking. A discreet seam runs down the inside of the skirt, which reminds me that I knitted and unraveled multiple times in attempts to reach the exact right size, resorting to the seam after weeks of exasperation. And if I look really closely I can see the yarn, made up of four smaller delicate threads which I unraveled individually from the original sweater. I also see the tiny knots where I tied together these threads for my new yarn.
Wearing the dress to school, I finally get to show off all the hard work I have done. A friend compliments me on it and I act casual, as if it had taken no effort at all. She can’t tell that behind my smile, I am remembering all the work it took to complete. Four dollars and nearly four hundred days, I have finally finished. Sure, I could have earned three hundred dollars in that time, but would I have the satisfaction and sentimental value that comes with making an old stained sweater into something of my own? Absolutely not!
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