Makeshift Project Tests the Limits of DIY Style in the Real World

If you had to, could you sew all of your clothes, make your own shoes and underwear and still lead a fulfilling life?

Credit: Makeshift

Vancouver clothing designer Natalie Purschwitz talks about the rewards—and practical challenges—of wearing only what she makes herself


Food. Clothing. Shelter. These are the basics for human survival, but how many North Americans can grow vegetables or build their own homes any more? If we had to, would we be able to sew all of our clothes, make shoes and underwear and still lead fulfilling lives?


In the fall of 2009, Vancouver artist and Hunt & Gather clothing designer Natalie Purschwitz challenged herself to wear only things made with her own hands for one whole year. She called the project Makeshift.


I Can See Your Underwear

January 15–February 26, 2011

Centre A, 2 West Hastings St, Vancouver (Map)


An art exhibition featuring the works of Natalie Purschwitz and Kelly Lycan


WE: Vancouver – 12 Manifestos for the City

February 12–May 1, 2011

Vancouver Art Gallery (Map)


Natalie Purschwitz is one of more than 40 cultural participants in this exhibition that “examines Vancouver through the extraordinary range of practices, actions and ideas that shape and activate it.” More info >

“It was partly a challenge to see if I could do it,” Purschwitz says. “Because I was already making clothes and I had a small clothing line, I thought it would be easy.” She laughs. “Well, not easy, but easier. Of course, all of that changed as soon as I actually had to start making the stuff.”


Purschwitz made up the rules as she went along with input from her blog readers, deciding that she would allow herself to incorporate used materials that she couldn’t manufacture, like sunglass lenses.


She also made a risky decision to go without recreational safety gear, including life jackets and bike helmets.


“It felt like cheating,” she explains.


She used materials she already owned, re-purposed materials and gift materials whenever possible.


Purschwitz’s post-apocalyptic style

Purschwitz’s Makeshift clothing is intriguingly post-apocalyptic, often combining raw edges, asymmetrical hems and modular accessories. Though she hoped to further develop her design aesthetic during the project, practical basics became an imperative.


“I ended up falling into a survival mode and made the things I needed rather than trying to make more interesting clothing.”


Exercise and nights out were also a challenge.


“I would sometimes feel awkward in different situations. I had to deal with that vulnerability a lot.”


A renewed interest in making things by hand

Not so long ago, it wasn’t uncommon for women to sew their entire wardrobes. Various international news mentions, and the sizeable readership of the Makeshift blog, demonstrate society’s positive renewed interest in making things, but they also illustrate how out of touch most of us are with basic skills like sewing.


Purschwitz asserts Makeshift was not about sustainability or our alienation from the making process, however.


“I think there’s a movement of people who are into making things,” she says. “What was really interesting for me were the different types of people who contacted me. They all came from different backgrounds—people in fashion, crafters, textile artists and environmentalists—such a wide range of people found something they could relate to. That was the rewarding part for me.”


Purschwitz has designed costumes for live productions and art performances in Canada and around the world—including the uniforms for Vancouver Vancouver Vancouver, a public art performance that was part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad.


She recently took home a Carter Wosk B.C. Creative Acheivement Award for her work on Makeshift and her clothing line Hunt & Gather, which she started in 2004 after studying at the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design.


She has a show opening at Centre A in January and will also be a part of the We: Vancouver exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery in February.


Hunt & Gather will also host a sale of Purschwitz’s new “Astral Planes” collection, a line of experimental but comfortable clothing, on December 11, 2010.


Shay Wilson



Shay Wilson writes in several genres and blogs about fashion at The Ongoing Project. She works in the film industry.