The handmade approach to fashion

DIANA DEKKER
Last updated 12:12 29/05/2013
Knitting
GREAT YARN: Not only does learning to knit give you the power to be your own designer, it's also a budget-friendly past-time.

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The one constant about fashion and its trends is that they return. In a masterclass at this weekend's Handmade Festival in Wellington, Sally-Ann Moffat will be offering tips such as don't throw out your old gear and don't discard your high-quality shoes.

The fashionista's mantra is quality. Don't regard fashion as throwaway.

"You can either upcycle or just think your clothes will come back in. They will and you will have an original piece, which is far better than a copy."

Much can be modernised. Even the big shoulders of the 1980s can be amended to fit today's idea of emphasised shoulders, while yesterday's boot-leg jeans and wide trousers can be skinnied down.

Moffat is not suggesting all women should be able to do this for themselves, even if they do have a decades-old sewing machine stowed away under a dust sheet. Busy, modern women have to price the time it takes to upcycle. In reality, she says, upcycling usually calls for a good tailor and a good cobbler.

"If you have the skill and time to sew your own and see something expensive and think you could make it, how many hours would you have to put in?"

Moffat, a part-time personal stylist, believes she has developed "an eye for something great but not finished". She favours add-ons. She recalls an exercise she did with a group of women preparing to go to a races day.

"They all brought photographs of their dresses and we found the base of a hat and flowers and jewellery that could be sewn and glued on.

"They crafted them up and I caught up with them at the races and they looked fantastic with a unique and personal take on their outfits. I opened their minds to possibilities."

One of Moffat's own race outfits was topped by the much modified plush head of a toy horse. She realises people need confidence to try such an extreme handmade approach to fashion.

"I think we've lost confidence. We have a mindset that because we've paid for it and someone else has done it, it must be better. It's not true at all."

The Handmade Festival is a teaching, learning, doing, buying one-stop-shop celebrating and teaching everything handmade. Others running handmade classes at the weekend include Ruth Pretty, Rosemary McLeod, Tamsin Cooper, Jane Wigglesworth and Alex Fulton. They are all keen to share their skills, whether in food or crafts.

Like others, Moffat favours fashion with personality, as adornment or in interiors. She observes a renaissance of a handmade approach to fashion using old skills. "All of a sudden, it's cool again. Knitting is out of the closet and into the public."

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Tash Barneveld will be teaching knitting skills. The owner of Holland Road Yarns in Petone, she says people shouldn't be afraid of learning to knit.

"Once you can purl and plain, you're away."

Barneveld attributes knitting's revival largely to the internet and knitting and crochet site Ravelry.

"You have to sign on, but it's an amazing resource for knitters and crocheters, with three million users."

She recommends "selfish" knitting, as a refreshing pastime.

"People used to knit for gifts. Now, they are knitting to relax in a productive way. It's a process rather than a product, a stress release that has something awesome at the end of it.

"Now there are fantastic patterns by awesome designers rather than pattern companies, enabled by the internet. Without that, I don't believe there would have been a revival."

Barneveld knits "lots of cardigans, shawls, pretty much everything - lots I don't intend to wear. I just like knitting and playing with yarns and colours."

Most knitters use wool or other natural fibres. Acrylic, she says, is "awful" to wear and, if people are going to spend time knitting, they want to make something of quality. Possum, alpaca, silk and cashmere come in luxurious mixes. The latest luxury yarn is a mix of 40 per cent cashmere, 40 per cent brushed possum tail and 20 per cent mulberry silk.

Five balls of that to make a cardigan would cost $125. She estimates a cardigan made of good-quality yarn would be as expensive to make as to buy if time was taken into account, "but because people do it to relax, they don't take it into account".

Beyond fashion, Flora Waycott is teaching classes on how to make both a quirky doorstop and a soft toy dubbed Albert. "As a child, I was taught very young to sew by mum and granny," says Waycott, who teaches textile design at Massey University.

WHEN AND WHERE

Handmade New Zealand is on June 1 and 2, from 9am to 6pm, and is based at Te Papa, Wellington, with workshops there and at surrounding venues. For bookings and information go to their website or phone 0800 770 772.

- The Dominion Post

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