I was interviewed about my new book by Love Sewing this month, here’s the full interview. Read on to find out more about how the book came to life!
What first drew you to designing, and teaching, dressmaking?
I started sewing quite young, I think I made my first garment around 12 and was very inspired by the early 1980s series of “The Clothes Show”. I’m an only child so was always busy creating and making something and generally keeping myself busy. I was inspired to start teaching by a couple of friends who are amazing teachers. I felt that my job as a designer and product developer in the fashion industry was getting further and further removed from the craft of making, which for me and the way I work is a fundamental part of designing. I never just sit down and draw a picture of a finished design; I sketch an idea and then play around with fabrics. Funnily enough I never really thought I’d be much good at teaching or enjoy it, but I really love it. It’s all about the craft of making, I get to spend my time with people who are enthusiastic about fabrics and sewing and it’s the best way to keep learning.
We love the versatility of projects you suggest, based on 8 core skirt designs. How did you choose your base projects, and what process do you go for each alteration?
Skirts are such versatile garments and feature in most women’s wardrobes; they also make the perfect first dressmaking project. I started off with 8 basic skirt shapes with the aim of including a wide range of basic styles that would suit a variety of body shapes: some people feel more comfortable in a full circle skirt while others prefer a fitted pencil skirt. I also wanted to offer readers a range of skill levels and the ability to start right at the beginning having never made a garment before and slowly build your skill level by working through the projects in the book. This also means that people who have already done a bit of dressmaking can just dive straight in!
As well as working through the skirts in order in the book to build on your skill levels, each basic skirt in the book has 3 different style variations that will also help you to develop new skills and gives you more flexibility to make your own unique version of each skirt.
I wanted to incorporate ways to build on skills within each project while using style details that will actually work with that particular skirt, so I wasn’t about to add patch pockets to the pencil skirts just for the sake of it because they just don’t work on fitted styles so they went on the wrap skirt, while the jersey pencil skirt focuses on drape and simple colour blocking and the woven pencil skirt explores details like vents and godets.
You suggest a great range of fabrics for each project in the book! Do you have a favourite fabric you love to work with?
I like to encourage my sewing students to embrace a range of fabrics and not to be afraid of knitted fabrics and so I’ve applied the same philosophy to my book. I tried to choose a wide range of fabrics for my samples to show how adaptable one pattern can be; choose 2 different fabrics and you can have one skirt suitable for beach holidays and one perfect for a night out. I’m not sure I have a favourite fabric, I love the challenges and possibilities that they all offer, but I am quite partial to knitted fabrics and more substantial woven fabrics over delicate floaty fabrics. Maybe that’s because I’ve never really been much of a girly girl and I like practical clothes that last. My lifestyle with 2 lively dogs isn’t really conducive to delicate fabrics!
What influences you as a designer, and as a sewer?
Despite my training and background I’m not a massive follower of fashion! Especially not faddy fashion trends like the latest trouser shape or the latest print designs, for me they have no longevity and go against everything I believe to be important about making your own clothes.
I am very inspired by bigger trends like the moves towards sustainable and ethical fashion, developments in fabrics and then the smaller details like for example, how shirt details have evolved over time. I love clothes that have to perform a function; I spent a long time working for an ethical clothing brand designing yogawear and I loved that project; I had to really think about all the small details in the garments that would make them more comfortable to wear and perform better. I also like to build in an element of personalisation/customisation into all my designs making them easy to adapt and make in different versions so makers can really make them their own.
It may sound a bit grand, but I see my job as empowering people to create their own style, interpret fashion in their own way and importantly, to re-connect with the joy of making something with your hands. I like to think of myself as a clothing engineer rather than a fashion designer!
Do you have any advice for designer hopefuls and sewing newbies?
Work with good quality fabrics and buy fabrics in the same way you would shop for clothes; choose colours, prints and textures that will go with the rest of your wardrobe and that you enjoy wearing. The thing I’m also always telling my sewing students is to enjoy the process, if you set out on your sewing journey in a rush, with cheap, poor quality fabrics, with only the end product in mind, you will give up quickly and honestly you might just as well go shopping and buy your clothes. Learning a craft like sewing is a way of life which will enhance your life the more you practice it. If you start your sewing journey with enjoyment, patience and aiming to make your sewing as accurate and neat as possible, you’ll have years of sewing pleasure ahead and the speed will come with practice. Start off slapdash and you’ll always be slapdash.
Finally, what’s next for you?
I’m trying to put more effort into fabric sourcing and choosing fabric from traceable sources and organic fibres when I can. I think it’s an important next step to take once you start to make your own clothes. I find makers to be some of the most responsible consumers as they’re more aware of (and more interested in) where things come from and who makes them.
Photography by Julian Ward for Cico Books.