Sunday, 11 March 2007
Daily Mail Article on Reviving dressmaking by Charlotte Kemp 'Rise of the Machinists'
The coat is exquisite and incredibly flattering. Made from green cashmere with a contrasting burgundy lining, it has an elegant funnel neck and skims Helen Doyle's slender figure to perfection.
Indeed, the garment fits the 31-year-old marketing executive so well, several people have commented it could have been made for her.
And that's when Helen feels rather smug, because it was. And she made it.
"When I started sewing classes I was a total beginner, but after four lessons I had made a skirt," she says.
"Now, I've made everything from knickers to jackets. You really can't beat the satisfaction of transforming a piece of flat fabric into something 3D which fits you really well.
"It's a different sense of achievement to the one you get when a presentation goes well at work.
"After a recent trip to Morocco, I made a patchwork bag out of leather I bought in a market.
"I've agreed to make a wedding dress for a friend who is getting married next year. And at the moment, I'm working on my summer wardrobe, which is great fun."
Helen is not unusual in making clothes rather than buying them.
Just when it was feared the art of sewing was dying out, DIY is the latest buzzword as fashion lovers try to bring back some individuality to their wardrobes.
"Customers are finding it harder to find exclusive clothes and so the need for individuality has pushed up the sales of dress-making materials and equipment," says a spokesman for the haberdashery department at John Lewis.
Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, such is the demand, a sewing machine shop which has been in business for more than 30 years has set up a needlework academy.
Beginners can master the art of dressmaking, with classes on everything from tailoring to lingerie making, millinery and appliquÈ.
So why are we reverting to the traditional skills we spurned at school? (Did anyone actually finish their soft toy, petticoat or apron?)
Is it a sign our love affair with cheap, fast fashion is on the wane and a desire for individuality is returning to centre stage?
There is certainly a move away from wanting to look like everyone else. TopShop has been quick to pick up on the DIY revival by running craft workshops at its flagship store in London's Oxford Street.
Customising is popular with teenage girls, who are getting creative with their High Street buys so they stand out from the crowd.
For women like Helen, dressmaking is also the perfect way to unwind after a stressful day at work.
"I wanted something practical to do at home rather than just going out all the time," she says.
"First, I took a City & Guilds evening course in lingerie design. Then I got in touch with Imtaz Khaliq, who runs one-to-one bespoke tailoring classes at her studio in Dalston, North London.
"I didn't sew at school, so I was a total beginner, but Imtaz taught me how to make my own patterns.
"I'm not the best seamstress in the world, but with a machine you can do anything."
Imtaz is not surprised her classes are increasingly popular with City traders and high-fliers like Helen.
"Lots of jobs can be stifling with no outlet for creativity, so women are coming to me to get away from all that," she says.
"My studio doesn't feel like the sewing classes at school or college. It's relaxed and they get results very quickly.
"I've taught a whole range of women, from housewives who have given up highprofile careers to focus on more homely things to City career women who want to learn how to make something for themselves.
"Most tell me their mothers used to sew, but were too keen on them having a career to teach them. "But the tide is turning. Sewing isn't just about darning socks or making soft toys; it can be a form of expression, an outlet for the stresses of the working day. Recently, two colleagues came along from an advertising agency.
"They wanted to make funky skirts, which they did. But they also enjoyed the social side to sewing.
"They found it relaxing to come here after work to sit and chat while producing something amazing at the end of it. You can't beat wearing a garment which has been tailored to you."
Opera singer Juliette Pochin got interested in dressmaking out of practical necessity. As a performer, she is in constant need of concert dresses and so childhood experiments with skirts and tops graduated to evening gowns. Friends nicknamed her "the domestic diva".
Earlier this year, the 32-year-old mother from South London was signed up by Sony BMG in a £1 million record deal, but old habits die hard.
"For the launch of my debut album Venezia, I was given a designer dress by Bellville Sassoon to wear," she says.
"It's really beautiful, but I was taken aback by how much it cost. The most I'd ever spent on a concert dress before was £80.
"My great find is Rolls & Rems in Lewisham, South-East London, which is stacked from floor to ceiling with fabric. You have to rummage because there's everything from pink fur to faux leather, but I've found some incredible stuff."
Juliette's spare bedroom is devoted to her hobby, and her latest creation on the tailor's dummy is awaiting a few final touches.
"It's a strapless number in a greeny-blue silk chiffon with a fitted bodice which flares from the knee," she says.
"I'm going to wear it when I'm on tour this summer, so I've got to get it finished.
"A dress like that will take a few weeks to make, especially as I only have time to do it at night when my daughter is in bed. But it will cost just £60.
"My mum is helping me to finish it off by making some tiny flowers to go in a diagonal line along the bodice.
"My pride and joy is my shiny new sewing machine, which I got for my birthday.
"I have given my old one to a friend, which inspired her to go to evening classes. She's now made two skirts and a summer dress."
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Juliette even bones her evening gowns.
"My mum taught me how to do it and now I've done a few corset styles, I adapt them to suit," she says.
But sewing for the 21st-century woman need not mean poring over pattern books or even learning how to hem, insists Eithne Farry, author of the new book Yeah, I Made It Myself (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £10). Instead, she espouses the art of what she calls 'no sew sewing'.
Total beginners can run up a simple skirt without even knowing how to put in a zip or fix a waistban.
"As I've learned, you don't have to be brilliant at sewing to make something really special," says Eithne. "I was hopeless at needlework at school, but through trial and error I can now make everything from a dress to a coat. You can make a basic summer wardrobe with minimum skill."
Eithne's favourite dress was made from a pair of curtains which used to grace a holiday caravan in Margate.
"It sounds like a scene from the The Sound Of Music, but the material cost only £2.50 and I fell in love at first sight with the pattern," she says.
Despite its humble origins, the end result is eye-catching and unique. And the colourful Jackie O style shift is just one of dozens of unique handmade dresses hanging in Eithne's wardrobe.
Emily Wright, 29, from York, is a self-taught dressmaker.
"I learned how to do it by taking apart skirts, jackets and coats and seeing how they were made," she says.
"I've never used patterns, so it's been a process of trial and error and I have to admit some things are not perfect.
"But that adds to the character of a piece. Last summer, I made a long silver skirt, which I wore so much it got all bobbly.
"My favourite skirt this year is two-tone in blue and red, which hangs from the hips.
"The skirts I make myself fit much better and are far more flattering than shop ones.
"My favourite place in the world is the Goldhawk Road in Shepherd's Bush, West London. There are four fabric shops there which sell amazing stuff from as little as £3 a metre."
Eithne, Emily and an army of trendy dressmakers are boosting an industry that has long been in decline. Fabric shops are springing up in our towns and cities.
Eithne's favourite is Fabrics Galore in Battersea, South-West London. Another new dressmaking boutique is Fabric 205 in East Dulwich, South-East London.
Anita Armitage-Joyce runs a successful mail order business from her shop Fine Fabrics Of Harrogate, sending out material to women all over Britain.
She started her own business a few years ago when her former employer closed down the haberdashery department where she worked to focus on interiors and gifts.
A passionate dressmaker, Anita snapped up the stock and set up her own shop.
She now has an academy room at the back of the shop, complete with sewing machines and tailor's dummies, where two colleagues run back-to-basics courses and more advanced lessons on tailoring and trouser-making.
"When I was young, women made things out of necessity," says Anita.
"Then, as we moved into the workforce, there was no longer enough time to make things and clothes were available on the High Street at much cheaper prices.
"But I am noticing a sea change. Dressmaking is coming up from the younger generation. Many of my customers are professional women who regard sewing as a pleasurable past-time.
"I'm also pleased to say that several of the schools in my area are starting to teach dressmaking again.
"But instead of boring aprons, they are creating ball-gowns. That's the inspirational part of sewing - you just can't beat it."