When I first came across Jo (@fivespicepower) on IG my first thought was, this person is FUN! The colourful style, the semi- serious serving of lewks both high fashion and high camp is all my favourite stuff about Insta. But once I started reading the captions, belly laughing at the stories and finding myself lost in this person’s chaotic sewing world (on the other side of the world) I started developing my first honest to goodness “sewing buddy crush”. And I feel a little shy. Have you found this person yet? Someone whom you are “all in on” creatively? While you might not share the exact same taste, size, palette or climate there is something about their sewing practice/ wardrobe journey you are captivated by and feel invested in? Even though I doubt we’ll ever get to dish in real life (she lives in Aotearoa, New Zealand) I am just so excited to know there is this person, making away, that I get to peek in on and see what they’re up to in their sewing room. Jo is winning the Project Runway competition in my head and I am rooting for her during all her wins and losses from the sidelines. I just know you’ll feel the same way, let’s meet Jo!
What do you do for a living?
Basically the same as my hobby except I get paid and everyone is really afraid of me. I mostly just step on a pedal and make a little blade go. I do that all day, and then I go home and do that all night. Occasionally I have to hand sew things, which is even less fun when what you’re sewing is alive!
How long have you been sewing?
Kind of just over a year or just over 10 years. As a fresh faced baby teen I decided that the simplest project to start with would be a fully fitted self-drafted brocade qipao. Of course this went exactly the way you would expect. So I threw my hands in the air and said ‘fuck this’ and then did not set them down on a sewing machine again for a full decade. Instead I languished for many years doing unproductive non-sewing things, like moving countries, changing my accent, getting licensed to stab people for money, and meeting the love of my life. Then came the Great Global Homestay Adventure. And lo, I crieth with a loud voice unto no one, “Well, what will I bloody do now?” I was alone in my bubble in a rural town and I had a sewing machine and well… here we are.
What is your home sewing set-up like?
It’s chaos. Madness. I’ve bought the same pack of buttons three times after putting them somewhere very safe and promptly forgetting where that was. Imagine, if you will, a kind of sunflower of destruction with me, a polar fleece-swathed apparition in slipper socks, at the epicentre. Here there are nests of discarded threads and pins sticking out of the carpet; here lurks a cold cup of tea waiting to be discovered by an unsuspecting foot; and prominently in the rubble, a half-popped blister pack of 200mg ibuprofen. You would think that having my own sewing room would at least somewhat delay the dark decline into entropy, and you would be 100% wrong. Nothing has changed. I sewed on my tiny kitchen table when I lived in this Iranian family’s basement, I sewed on a 40cm wide side table in my little bedroom when I flatted, and now I have a table that’s nearly as long as I am tall and nothing has changed. It’s all still very chaotic. I just have a bigger table and a larger room which means I can cram even more stuff in and spread my crap around even more. It’s funny how the net total of available space never actually changes.
(Also yes, I did move twice in the last year!)
Was there a person or experience that brought you to sewing?
It was probably being a weeb that did it. I did all the things. I took Japanese classes, I covered my walls in posters, and I was a prolific fanfiction author. (But never erotic fanfiction. Let that be made abundantly clear. I was 14, a late bloomer, and fully convinced that the human penis, when erect, extended inflexibly from the body at a perfect right angle like an awkward Tetris piece.) Most of all I loved the glitter and the glamour of cosplay. After a while though I became disillusioned with the idea of making something you could wear just once or twice for conventions. How much more magical, I thought, would it be to get dressed up in things you made every single day of your life? And so I diverged to garment sewing. I didn’t actually get into it, like I said, until lockdown happened in 2020, but I did lots of preparing to get into it, if that makes sense. In the years that followed the qipao episode I would watch YouTube videos about sewing but never actually do the things I learnt. I read sew-along blogs with a near-religious fervosity. I also purchased with great optimism a second-hand sewing machine from a lovely young man for about $100 and then dragged it, with equal and lessening optimism, to every subsequent flat that I moved to across the two islands, without ever actually sewing anything. Ultimately I think I really, really wanted to get into sewing but just needed a kick in the pants to push me forward.
How would you define your style?
I don’t. Other people have said “colourful” and “you look like a wizard” and “oh no, no, No” and “you’re not leaving the house like that” (those last two were my Mum). My style is defined very much by what I’m comfortable wearing and as a person who has battled body dysmorphia for most of their life what feels good to wear, for me, continues to evolve.
Actually I will take this time to plug the hashtags that I am trying to make happen on IG: #OvertPyjamas and #BlatantPyjamas. On reflection they do actually encapsulate a good majority of the garments I like to wear and present a general idea of what might be my personal style, but more importantly I just really, really hate the hashtag #SecretPyjamas. I am a great hater of many things but I reserve a special blackened spot in my hate garden for this hashtag and the people who use it regularly. “Ooo, look at me,” they say, “being all sneaky, wearing secret pyjamas.” No, you smug, stupid, dumb, stupid, smug idiot. You are being comfortable. Comfort should not be concealed, it should be present at all times, and if not, you can blame the patriarchy for making female-presenting clothing restrictive and unpleasant. Do not congratulate yourself on having fulfilled the basic prerequisite of a wearable garment. Why not #SubtlyCoveringMyButthole or #ClandestinelyNotDyingOfOverexposure, if it’s all the same to you. We’re all wearing real ass pyjamas in this pandemic anyway so it’s time to put that hashtag to bed for good. (Editor’s note: Noted.)
What is your favourite thing you’ve made?
That’s so hard. I love all of my children. I guess probably the Fancy Fireman look, which is a set made from the Elbe Textiles Serpentine hat, a slightly hacked Papercut Luna (formerly Kochi), and a slightly hacked Forget-Me-Not Patterns Ella skirt.
Does sewing affect your relationship to shopping and RTW? Since sewing, have your shopping habits or approach to dressing changed?
Oh wow. So much. Learning to sew has put me so much more at peace with my body. I used to be obsessed with sizing and would feel like a failure if I couldn’t fit into the smallest or second smallest size on the rack. Yes, yes, it’s so very obviously a stupid thing to think (especially if you go to Topshop, where the fit model for their garments appears to be a very tall child or an average sized greyhound), but eating disorders just do be like that sometimes. Now it’s like I’ve stepped outside the Matrix. Sewing has taught me that RTW sizing is arbitrary, that garments work for you and not the other way around, and that sometimes my body with all her cute little angles and curves is not the lady that these people are designing for. Sometimes they are designing for a woman who doesn’t exist! But I am very much real, and if I don’t like how something looks on me in the store I have the superpower of going home and making something even better with my own two hands. Each time I do this I am rewarded by a fleeting glimpse of what it feels like to clamber, breathless and bloodied, atop the broken bodies of the patriarchy and the fast fashion industry and wave my fist defiantly at my inner demons clustered far below, so dwarfed by the height they appear as insignificant as ants. It’s fucking radical. I love sewing.
What are your go-to fabric stores?
I’m very boring. I shop almost exclusively at Spotlight, which is a big box store here in NZ, and I also buy bedsheets from thrift stores. I have on occasion purchased fancy things from Miss Maude, Nerida Hansen, and the Fabric Store, but at heart I’m just a simple girl who wants big box fabrics and sheets that don’t have poop on them.
Do you have a favourite Closet Core Pattern?
Yes! I love the Closet Core Pietras! Such a gorgeous, shapely pattern, and one that satisfies my craving for an ultra high waist.
What are the tools you can’t live without?
Tweezers. I have a nice long-nosed pair that I use for turning corners. Yes, I know you’re meant to have a hemostat to turn corners, but I just use tweezers and, like, pinch really hard, and it seems to work. Plus they don’t let me steal stuff from work unless it’s toothpaste samples. I can’t remember the last time I purchased toothpaste from the supermarket like some kind of commoner.
Not exactly a sewing tool but I also love my wireless noise cancelling headphones that my wonderful partner gifted me for Christmas last year. It is, quite frankly, the shit. I have an Audible account through which I enrich myself mentally while also shamefully enriching Big Daddy Bezo$ financially (had I not bought both books in the Crooked Kingdom series he most assuredly would not have set foot in space)*. Just by listening while I sew I’ve actually read more books in the last 12 months than I have in the last 6 years.
*Man, I can’t claim the “it was I who sent Bezos into space’ joke. @Ciscosews did it first (a truly seminal work like so many of their creations), and I found it so funny I stole it. Now every time I buy something on Audible I just do like a sad little chuckle because I love this joke so much but also hate myself for throwing more dollars onto his Scrooge McDuck giant tank of gold.
What was the best lesson or skill that took your sewing to the next level?
Learning how to measure myself accurately and learning how to do a small bust adjustment that works for me. A long time ago, one of my ancestors looked at a surfboard and was like, “Hey baby, when do you get off work?” and now here I stand, the tangible legacy of a long line of breeding for essentially 2-dimensional women. My shoulders are so broad and my actual breasts (I think in the common parlance of the time they are known as lady melons, chesticles, or honky honk honkers) so insubstantial that my upper bust is a full inch larger than my full bust, and yet when I do a conventional small bust adjustment I literally cannot get the garment around my ribcage. My current adjustments are partly based on advice from a lady who had had a double mastectomy but mostly, if I must be honest, based on full blind trust in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who cares for all the little children, especially the ones with jacked back muscles and shredded pecs.
How do you plan your wardrobe/ sewing projects?
Ah, you’re assuming that I plan things at all.
What are your sewing goals? What would you like to learn how to do to push your practice forward?
I would love to be able to make a camisole. It sounds ridiculous because that’s usually the first thing that most people make, but most female bodied people usually have a sensible set of breasts and not two raised knots of wood on a cutting board. I’d also really love to learn how to sew lingerie and swimwear.
What’s the next thing in your queue?
A colour block coat in towelling fabric! I’m really into textures at the moment and making things that engage the senses to bring the mind back into the body, so I’ve been seeking out things that are pleasant to touch or to move in. I love the soft-rough feel of towelling and I think it’ll be a lovely coat (for next winter, by the speed I’m going).
What experiences have come out of your interaction with the online sewing community?
All good things. I’ve made so many lovely friends all over the world and here in my own backyard. When I moved to the city I’m currently living in a few months ago I didn’t know anyone but I had online sewing friends to meet, and now they’re my real life friends! It’s been a beautiful experience, and my life is definitely richer for it.
Do you have any advice for novice sewists?
Don’t sew through your finger. I mean, you will, but try not to. You definitely will at least once, though. Or something else will happen. Sewing injuries are a real thing. Don’t let anyone tell you sewing isn’t an extreme sport. We’re out here living on the edge, all of us.
Thank you, Jo! ???