Home Sewn: a Kiwi design story

Home Sewn
By The New Zealand Fashion Museum · Reviewed by Jo Drysdall

I still remember the thrill of being allowed to look through my mother’s wardrobe of home-sewn clothes when I was a little girl. Being allowed to touch the fabrics and try on the odd piece was a formative experience in retro dress-ups, I think. As a fashionable young woman, my mother had sewn most of her own outfits: party frocks with fitted bodices and flared, flirty skirts, neat little shift dresses, and tailored, timeless Chanel-style suits.

Home Sewn begins with a brief historical overview that places these homemade treasures in their Kiwi context, making the point that in New Zealand (until, arguably, the last quarter of the twentieth century) if stylish, individual clothes were desired, most women had to make them for themselves.

It goes on to capture the stories of ten contemporary New Zealand fashion designers and highlight the beginnings of their careers. Each designer offers a design from their collection as a pattern included in the book.

While some of the designers featured in this book (and the accompanying exhibition) found their passion for sewing at high-school or design college, many first learned their skills at home – from mothers or grandmothers, making dolls’ clothes or outfits for themselves, friends or siblings. Their backgrounds illustrate this point again and again, presenting stories of home-grown talents that will no doubt resonate with many in the Felt community.

For me this book underlines my feeling that a passion for innovative, quality clothing design and construction can be born and nurtured in many places other than a tertiary course, though these courses certainly have their valued place. It also makes the welcome suggestion that there is room in the New Zealand fashion scene for these varied origins – and the interesting and innovative approaches to fabric they tend to foster.

The patterns provided by the ten featured designers are offered as inspiration for readers to express their own “creative individuality,” rather than as templates, which is perhaps the reason they’re only drawn in the 10–12 size range. Because of this, I couldn’t recommend this as a book for the beginner – while some good tips are offered on construction and finish, there is no guide to fitting or resizing (despite the rather context-less inclusion of a basic diagram on taking measurements) and the compact pages of pattern instructions assume a basic skill set. However, that said, it is actually quite refreshing to find a dressmaking book that is pitched at more experienced seamsters.

Home Sewn is published to coincide with the Home Sewn exhibition from the New Zealand Fashion Museum, currently touring New Zealand. In 2013 you can see the exhibition at the following venues:

Whangarei Art Museum
17 December 2012 – 17 February 2013

Dunedin Art Gallery
9 March – 7 April 2013

The Dowse Art Museum
10 August – 24 November 2013

Jo Drysdall has a variety of alter-egos, running the gamut from librarian to corsetiere, fabric artist to horticulturalist. When not facing identity crises she enjoys ogling books on textile art and vegetables.

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