Sewing, Sashiko & salvaging treasured fabrics
Her popular channel, Sewing With Kate, is packed with inspirational pieces from her handmade wardrobe. We love her wonderful Sashiko Mending Kit, and we're thrilled to grab 10 minutes with her, to get an insight into what fuels her everyday creativity.
What was it that took you out of Sheffield and all the way to sunny Sydney? Yes, the sun can also shine in Yorkshire ;)
"I left Sheffield for Sydney back in ‘99, a year or so after I finished Uni., I was young and wanted to see the world, but I arrived in Sydney and never left. It’s such an intensely colourful and beautiful city. It was a real culture shock to me, an assault on the senses. The beauty of Yorkshire, the muted tones of the landscape are in stark contrast."
We know you love to use second-hand textiles - what are the charity shops like in Sydney?
"I am an absolute fiend for second-hand fabrics. I have found a couple of really great charity shops here in Sydney. Usually, if the charity shop is run by a crafter or sewist, they see the value in fabric and prepare it for sale, as the treasure that it is. I get such enormous satisfaction from making clothes from second-hand fabrics, mainly because the fabric determines the garment when usually a sewing pattern will dictate the fabric. It also throws you fabrics that are out of your comfort zone, like this pink and yellow jacquard fabric that I found and turned into a dress. It reminds me of the play clothes Maria makes in The Sound of Music (or is that just me?). I like this kind of creative challenge.
I also receive a lot of gifted fabric. The online sewing community is incredibly supportive and generous. I was given some beautiful pieces of raw silk that were worn and damaged in places. They reminded me of a Monet painting. I picked out what I could use, cut around the pieces I couldn’t, and mended any holes or tears to create this beautiful bag.
One of my favourite finds was a single-breasted men's suit from my local charity shop. It cost me $30 and was made from Italian superfine luxury suiting in midnight blue with a really beautiful pink candy-striped lining. Portia Lawrie, who runs The Refashioners, set me the challenge to refashion this suit. I wanted to make sure I used as much of the suit as possible to avoid any waste. So, with a plan in mind, I deconstructed the suit and played Tetris with the pattern pieces to create this dramatic, structured dress. I used the existing pockets to create an interesting feature, but the rouleaux on the shoulder pads are by far the most fun thing about the refashion. I made lots and lots of them, created loops, and sewed them on the shoulder pads. It was a great way to use up every bit of the suit and create such a statement piece."
Is your wardrobe mostly made up of clothes you’ve made yourself from scratch or pre-loved clothes that you’ve improved in some way?
"My wardrobe is now, mainly, ‘me-made’ – but it has taken many years for that to happen. I still have a good selection of second-hand and vintage clothes that I wear. One of my oldest dresses is from the ’60s, a beautiful black chiffon frock that I wore with leggings and DM boots back in the ’90s when I would go clubbing in Sheffield. Amazingly it still fits, although I have let the hem down, I really did wear them short back then! I also own one of my nana’s sweaters. It’s from Jaeger, made in the UK in the 1970s. I have worn it so many times that it's now in need of repair. I am just about to attempt some darning on the sleeves, thanks to the advice and inspiration from my friend and mending guru, Erin Lewis Fitzgerald of Modern Mending.
My body has changed so much over the years, from teenage to post-baby to my current menopausal body, and I have had to learn to embrace those changes and dress accordingly. I love a refashion. I have altered and improved my wardrobe either with a minor alteration or a complete transformation.
This black dress was a complete transformation that I thoroughly enjoyed making. The fabric was a charity shop find, a black taffeta with a bronze reverse, costing me $8. I had worn it in the first incarnation a few times but wasn’t in love with it, so I decided to change the focus and shape of the dress. I literally refashioned my own make! I turned it from a two-piece ensemble with a huge skirt frill to a little black dress with oversize ruffles on the shoulders. It’s a more flattering silhouette, and I wear it so much more. I have been known to wear it with trainers to do the supermarket shop!"
Is there one item of clothing that you love so much, you continue to repair, wear and treasure?
"My favourite sweatshirt keeps going and going. It doesn’t look particularly special, but it fits well and goes with everything. I made it out of a remnant from a local fabric shop and added some second-hand ribbing I found. I don’t wear clothes lightly, I have three boys, so I give my clothes a hammer! Consequently, it started to wear out around my wrists and on the arms. The cuffs were the worst, they were ratty and frayed. So, I removed the existing cuffs and replaced them. A really simple fix. Then, I visibly mended the small holes in the sleeves using Sashiko-style stitches. I added some light cotton fabric behind the hole to stabilise the tiny crosses. Now it’s back in high rotation again!"
What is it about Sashiko-style mending that you enjoy so much?
"I enjoy Sashiko-style mending because it’s such a beautiful technique and so simple to do. It’s an ancient technique used to reinforce seams and mend worn fabric, it’s one way to extend the life of our clothes and keep them out of landfill.
Visibly mending in this way gives you a chance to be creative, either stitching freestyle or using one of the many Sashiko pattern designs available. This type of mending highlights the flaws in our garments and works particularly well on denim. I have mended my jeans within an inch of their life and they just look better and better."
Did the idea for the kit come from the feedback you get as a sewing teacher?
"Yes, I would often prepare little homework kits for my students in between lessons, so preparing kits has been so much easier with my teaching experience. It also gives me access to a wider audience, especially those who don’t have the time to attend a workshop or are in an area without easy access (Australia is very, very big!).
The feedback from my students has given me an understanding of where students struggle and what needs more detailed explanation. I am often guilty of assuming knowledge, especially when using sewing terms."
What or who is inspiring you to create at the moment?
"There are so many…
I am endlessly inspired by the people around me. I work for a branding and design company, Universal Favourite, with a bunch of young creatives who talk about all things design and are so open to experience and ideas. They also wear incredibly cool clothes and have introduced me to inspiring clothing brands like SUK Workwear, Sandy Laing, Molly Goddard and Yevu.
The online sewing community is also a massive inspiration. I met Emily Hunt of In the Folds through Instagram many years ago. She has a passion for designing interesting and beautifully constructed sewing patterns for the home sewer. She introduced me to Fashion Revolution and taught me about sewing with purpose and not making for the sake of having another item in your wardrobe.
Mender, Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald, is another inspirational woman I met through Instagram. I think her approach to mending is inspired. It’s quirky and original, a bit like her! Her recent raincoat mend inspired me to try waterproofing some fabric to mend my own raincoat. That project is still in progress!
I also listen to endless podcasts and audiobooks, especially while sewing. I have just finished Matt Haig’s Midnight Library which was just beautiful. I am also an Austen and Brontë fan, Charlotte Brontë always takes me back home to Yorkshire!"
How fantastic was that?! Thanks, Kate, we feel truly inspired. You’ve given us hope that anything can be salvageable and look even better when repaired. We can't wait to get fixing and try out some of these projects!