Wednesday 6 April 2011

An Interview With DIY Couture!

Today's blog post has been in the pipeline for a little while but today I am thrilled to be able to share it with you. I am incredibly lucky that the brains and creative talent behind DIY Couture, Rosie Martin, agreed to let me interview her.

Put briefly, DIY Couture wishes to demystify the often-confusing nature of sewing patterns and techincal garment making manuals which may be off-putting to those who would otherwise love to give making their own clothes a whirl. DIY Couture succeeds in this by producing and selling beautifully designed books with simple visual instructions which encourage the reader to begin creating garments that they will hopefully treasure.

Could you please briefly outline the history of DIY Couture? How did it come about?

The light bulb flash came when I bought a sewing pattern back in 2007 and opened it up to discover a practically impenetrable wall of coded language and strange indecipherable diagrams. I was practically flummoxed, but after some patient reading I realised they were trying to explain something very simple. At that point I was a fairly competent DIY seamstress, as I had been making and wearing my own clothes for about 8 years, though I had abandoned patterns a long time ago. People often asked me where I got my clothes and when I told them I made them they would often react something along the lines of “I wish I could do that.” I was always adamant that they certainly could do it! I did not have any special skill and I knew that many sewing projects were actually very simple. I really wanted to be able to show people just how easy it was to put good looking clothes together and so I thought using pictures would be the way to do it.

What are DIY Couture's aims and ethos?

As the name suggests, DIYcouture is about mashing up the ‘high’-end and the ‘low’-end of fashion. DIYcouture aims to help democratize personally tailored clothing, making unique garments accessible to anyone – so we no longer have to merely gaze at the catwalks as if they are a high end art exhibition. The books show people that self-sewn clothing does not have to have a ‘home-made’ look. DIYcouture aims to provide a real alternative to high-street fashion, to give people the choice to make rather than to buy. DIYcouture is all about making, which helps us all to be active rather than passive.

DIYcouture aims: -
  • To stimulate widespread enthusiasm for sewing in generations x, y and z.
  • To empower people to create for themselves to a high-standard, enabling them to opt out of buying into brand culture.
  • To enable people to access affordable clothing that has not been produced using sweatshop labour.
  • To build empathy with the thousands of invisible pairs of hands around the world that spend their time skilfully creating the clothes we wear.
  • To inspire people to slow down- to take the time to make a garment that is precious and long-lasting, rather than comfort-shop for disposable items which add to the worlds increasing piles of landfill.

I bought one of your books for a friend for Christmas. She is the kind of person who is bursting with creativity and the desire to make her own clothes, but who is put off by and scared of commercial sewing patterns. Would you say that is more or less typical of your customer?

I’m really not very good at that business practice that everyone says is so important – profiling my customer! The DIYcouture customer base is extremely diverse but I think on the whole this must be what unites them - a desire to sew but a lack of an easy route in, or a belief that it is something that requires special knowledge. Not only is sewing something that ANYONE can do, it is primarily a visual activity - it is basically joining big flat blocks of colour together to make something 3D - and therefore it should be explained visually. Sewing patterns are on the whole quite visually off-putting to the novice but a DIYcouture book is pretty easy on the eye - it is simple, colourful and spacious and you can see what it is explaining when you glance at it.

You say that you envision home sewing as an alternative to creating more need on sweatshop produced garments. Is ecological sustainability also a drive behind what you do?

Yes. Making a garment requires some planning and some patience - it meets none of the desires that seek satisfaction through ‘retail therapy.’ DIYcouture hopes in a small way to slow down the process of consumption, helping people to produce long-lasting garments that are precious, rather than disposable. Fashion implicitly retains its obsession with what is new and what is next. As time does pass, an obsession with the new inevitably creates the unfashionable, which becomes waste. DIYcouture hopes to help build a physical antithesis of fast-fashion. How did you learn to sew and what inspired you to start making your own clothes?

I studied 'textiles' at school just until I was 16 and my teacher there taught me to use a sewing machine. I always had very strong ideas about what I wanted to wear as a teenager - usually something pretty disgusting – and I would be unable to find it on the high street. I wanted to wear bright colours and strange as it sounds now these weren't always available on the high street. Sewing was a way of me being able to wear what I wanted, rather than what I could get.

Do you self-publish your books and are they available anywhere other than your website?

I have self-published the first three that are now available. These three are, I'm happy to say, available in a great many physical places. You can get them in Sheffield, Glasgow, Lowestoft, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Frome, London and via the website of course (which offers international shipping). Book printing is very expensive (something that didn't fully strike home when I had all these plans) and those three are all I have been able to afford so far. I am now working on a mega book for Laurence King (an arts and fashion publisher in London) which will contain ten sets of DIYcouture instructions. I can't wait to see it in print. In the mean time I will be releasing e-books of the next three sets of DIYC instructions over the summer/autumn period.

If you have a friend who regularly murmurs that they wish they could sew their own clothes, but doesn't know where to start, I would heartily recommend getting them one (or several) of these books. Each book features one type of garment, but included inside are ideas and instructions on how to make various variations of that garment, which should spark the creative juices still further. Also included is some really helpful tips on what you might be looking for when you walk into a fabric shop. Even the most experienced of seamstresses can find themselves thrown off track when confronted with hundreds of rolls of different types of fabric. The instructions within help make sense of this confusing area. But the best thing about these books, in my opinion, is the sense of empowerment that they provide the reader. That by getting to grips with your desire to make your own clothes, you are actively responding to the issues of ecologically damaging manufacturing processes, sweatshop labour, waste and brand proliferation and domination.

I would like to thank Rosie Martin for taking the time to answer my almost endless stream of questions. I could have asked her so much more, but I keep an eye on her website and hope that she will inform me of any DIYC activities as they unfold! The whole concept as well as the products themselves really chime with how I am increasingly feeling about DIY and its place within our society, and I wish her every success in the future.


seeks said...

Excellent post! In some ways, I think it's timely with a post I just made on how I need to slow down my consumption of things in the name of clothing. To sew what I need instead of what I think I should have for this week. Thanks!

Corrine said...

Great post Zoe. DIY Couture philosophy is absolutely where many are going right now. I love being able to look into my closet knowing that I made those items after planning and making my own mark on that garment. When I pick up my knitting needles I know my hands formed that wool into something wearable. I make quilts, curtains, rugs. I have done this for a very long time. Glad so many others are adopting a sustainable lifestyle. I have not seen the books produced by this designer but the idea is really good. Many, if not most people, learn best with visual representation. The more people we can influence to sew and re-purpose, the better.

You can call me Betty, or Bethany, or Beth ...Just don't call me late for dinner. said...

I love DIY Couture!!! They make it so easy to trust your own skills to create something specifically yours, not just a cookie cutter garment.

lukenm said...

Am very excited about DIY couture and cant wait to see any e-instructions that put out in the next few months! I have 2 of the books and think they are totally brilliant! Love it love it love.

Tilly said...

Very cool. I've seen these books but never flicked through - will look out for them now. Thanks for the inspiring interview.

quietandsmalladventures said...

lovely post! (you have something over on my page!)

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