Image: Melissa Arras
Starting to make your own clothes can seem daunting at first so we spoke to one expert who’s not only turned her skills into a digital project, but is now sharing them with other makers too.
It’s #MeMadeMay, a movement begun more than 10 years ago by Zoe Edwards. Since then, it’s grown into a flourishing month-long celebration and challenge among indepdent makers to share pieces of clothing they’ve made themselves, and to push their sewing skills a little further each year.
Lydia Higginson began making her own clothes four years ago, documenting her progress online through the project Made My Wardrobe. For Lydia, making clothes is not just a hobby or a handy skill to have; it’s an art form, a form of self-empowerment and an ever-evolving journey into new forms of self expression. We caught up with her to find out more about her work, and find out how we (as beginners!) can get started too.
How did you begin making your own clothes?
My mum taught me to sew when I was a little girl but my project Made My Wardrobe really kicked off in 2016. I decided I would take that year to make my entire wardrobe from scratch and give away all the clothes I had ever bought from shops. By the end of the year I had made over 70 garments. Since then I haven’t looked back. I now can’t imagine going into a shop and buying something. It would feel so weird.
What were the first few pieces you made, and what resources did you have to hand?
When I started Made My Wardrobe, the first items I made were a bra and pants. It felt logical because underwear is the first thing you put on in the morning. It was January so I then went on to make a wool coat, tailored trousers and a quilted jumper. At the time I was a member of the Bristol Textile Quarter (a shared textile studio in central Bristol) so I had access to an overlocker and industrial sewing machine and lots of space to cut out. I have always collected fabric wherever I go, so I started by working my way through my fabric stash.
Image: Melissa Arras
You’ve said that, “the creative process of gathering fabric, cutting it into shapes, stitching it together and wearing it, completely transformed the way I feel about my body.” Why do you think that making your own clothes can be so empowering?
Firstly, I had to really connect with the shape and form of my body, not through measurements, but through feeling every curve and muscle. Then I had to connect with the way my body moves through the day. My clothes need to allow me to cycle to work, sweat, feel sexy, fill my pockets, dance, bleed etc. But most importantly, every single day when I wake up and put on my own art I have to connect with my inner artist which has completely transformed the way I feel being in the world.
Has your relationship and the way you feel towards the items you make changed over the years?
Yes definitely! I do look back on some things and think, what was I thinking! Surprisingly, it has taken me a long time to learn to make basics well. Just yesterday, I finally made the perfect shaped tank top for yoga which I have been meaning to make for ages!
How would you encourage people to begin making their own clothes?
I spent three years teaching beginners how to make their own clothes before I released my own range of patterns so I have tried to cram the instructions full of helpful tips and tricks. I think a great way to begin is by coming on one of my workshops so that you can learn how to trouble-shoot in a supportive environment. If you are first starting out at home I recommend buying one of my kits so that you know you have all the right materials and haberdashery ready to go.
Image: Mariell Lind Hansen
What would you say are the most common hurdles and challenges people will come up against as they learn?
Sometimes when you first start it feels like your machine hates you, if it keeps getting in a tangle or the tension goes wild. But once you know how to love your machine things can really start to flow. So many mistakes will be made along the way but the worst that can happen is you will need to unpick, so no stress.
In recent years your work has taken on different aspects, like educational work and theatrical performances. What do you see the future of the project looking like?
So many things I still want to do! I want to do more work with teenage girls, teaching them to sew and connect with their bodies in the process. I also want to do a series of online workshops for adults (this should be happening in the next few months). I want to release a second round of patterns, and I want to source more sustainable fabrics to sell alongside the patterns.
As we look to build a more sustainable future for fashion, do you think a renewed interest in making our own clothes will be a part of this? Or do you see this as something distinct from the wider fashion industry?
I think making your own clothes is a hugely valuable way of reevaluating your shopping habits. The creative hit you get from sewing doesn’t come close to buying something from a rail. I’ve seen a huge increase in people wanting to learn to sew. Pinterest has reported a 30% rise in people searches for ‘how to make clothes.’
Image: Melissa Arras
You’ve also said that you want to ‘find accessible ways of passing on what I learn’ – what factors do you think play a part in this? Where are the limitations in regards to clothes making, and how do you think we can make it more accessible?
The initial investment of buying a sewing machine can be a financial hurdle. I would love to see more open access shared sewing spaces pop up, similar to what I have seen in the ceramics industry with co-working studios and shared kilns. I have run sewing studios like this in the past and it is a wonderful community resource. If anyone has a space they would like to give me to do this again in London, please get in touch!
How do you recommend people source fabric, if they’re considering working with eco-friendly materials primarily?
I recommend going organic where possible. Organic Textile Company (based in Wales) is a great place to start. Otherwise, ex-designer dead stock is another option *check out New Craft House for this).
What are your top tips for people getting started? And which of your patterns would you recommend?
I would say the Amaya Shirt or Josie Bra and Pants are my easiest patterns. But I have also seen complete beginners make the Greta Dungarees and Olivia Dress. You can do it! There is no better time to start than now!