UK queen of DIY, Rosie Martin, on passive living, ready-made meals and sewing your own trousers
Interview by Anna Langer
DIY culture is about making and building rather than receiving – it is about being active rather than passive, which is often a good feeling.
Being able to make your own clothes is empowering. It means you have the freedom to choose not-to-shop, which means you don’t have to wear what is on offer but can have ideas and them create them.
Making satisfies a very different urge than that satisfied by purchasing. To make something is a pleasurable activity and gives one the satisfying feeling of having created something with your hands totally from scratch, which didn’t exist before. This is a fulfilling experience and I hope more and more people will enjoy this feeling in the future. I like to compare this with food: I would feel very limited if the only food I could eat was ready-meals. DIY culture is about making and building rather than receiving – it is about being active rather than passive, which is often a good feeling.
There is something about DIY that makes the unattainable attainable. Fashion is traditionally marketed aspirationally – i.e. it shows us a glamorous life style that is not normal to us and is perhaps just slightly beyond our price-range, but makes us desire it. Truthfully, many of the objects presented to us can be made at home for a lot less money, and we can feel good about the fact that we made something that we would have paid a lot for if we bought it.
Many of the objects presented in fashion can be made at home for a lot less money, and we can feel good about the fact that we made something that we would have paid a lot for if we bought it.
I came up with the idea for DIYcouture in 2007 when I bought a sewing pattern and found it very difficult to understand. At that point I was a fairly competent DIY seamstress, but bought the pattern as I wanted guidance on how to make something specific. When I opened it, I discovered a practically impenetrable wall of coded language and a scattering of obscure diagrams, though what it was trying to explain was actually a fairly simple construction process. I feel very strongly that clothes-making should be accessible to anyone and everyone and I was dismayed that the tool people turn to in order to learn how to make clothes was actually more of a barrier than an aid to learning. I thought that showing people the process visually, using photos and clear diagrams, would open up the garment making process and enable all sorts of people to create their own clothing.
My sister got married last week and I made myself a dress to wear to the ceremony. I dip-dyed the fabric myself and used a 1960s sewing pattern. There were lots of techniques I had never tried before. I changed a few elements of the dress – the size and shape of the collar – to make it look modern, so it was a bit of a Frankenstein half freestyle half pattern-based project, which took a long time!
I always have a lot of fun making trousers. Contrary to popular opinion they are simple and not hard to get right. My boyfriend’s mum died just over a year ago now and we went to Canada to sort out her home and possessions. It was an emotional trip. We found a big hamper full of fabric in bright colours with crazy patterns and I recently made a pair of trousers with some technicoloured floral fabric we found there. It was great to work with this fabric knowing that it was chosen and treasured by my boyfriend’s mum.
I believe fashion is essentially shallow and therefore can be a realm of pure play. There are no wrongs and rights so have fun!
When I was a child, I had two major plans. Firstly, I wanted to be a butter sculptor, but I don’t think my employment prospects would have been great in this area. Secondly, I wanted to be an inventor. I think I was inspired first by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and then by Wallace and Grommit. I definitely knew that I wanted to ‘make stuff up!’ but I never imagined that sewing would be my thing. It doesn’t run in my family and I have always been a leggings and sweater kind of girl! But here I am, playing with fabric and turning it into skirts and dresses!
I am very glad I never received any style advice when I was young. I don’t think there are any rules when it comes to dressing and I firmly believe in wearing whatever the hell you want if it makes you feel good. I believe fashion is essentially shallow and therefore can be a realm of pure play. There are no wrongs and rights so have fun!