From the very first moment we met, we felt an instantaneous and genuine connection with Lydia’s joyful personality and sweetness of spirit. She welcomed us in her colourful home with a huge smile on her face, and after offering us some fierce coffee and sensational flavour bursting tea, we started moving furniture, flower pots and other objects around as she began to show us the latest additions to her handmade wardrobe. In between bursts of laughter and spontaneous poses, we’ve talked about the interaction between body and garment, the subconscious influences through mass media, the sublime feeling of wearing her own creativity and about her ongoing project, Made My Wardrobe.
Swimming against the current of conformity, Lydia is one of those rare human beings able to show us that what we’re wearing on the outside can also become an essential reflection of our inner fabric, in a total intimacy between the garment and the human soul. We left her home totally energised and stubbornly convinced that no matter how difficult life may seem, the human soul will always be able to reinvent and transform itself into something ever greater and ever more meaningful.
What can you tell us about Lydia before Made My Wardrobe?
I was working in London for a Costumiers, very happy but very skint. I had a feeling something was missing and I hadn’t really worked out the woman I wanted to be yet. Made My Wardrobe grew out of the feeling.
Have you always wanted to become a designer/seamstress?
No, I was studying politics at university before I dropped out. I had reached a point in my life where I didn’t know what else to do, sewing was the only thing keeping me sane.
What is your most precious childhood memory?
It’s a secret.
Feminism seems to be at the core of your creative style and work ethics. Can you tell us when and how did you discover the feminist movement?
I didn’t discover it, I was born into it.
“I always say that wearing clothes I have made is the most honest way I have of being in the world.”
Do you think that by making your own clothes you gain more control over the perception that others have of you?
Yes, I always say that wearing clothes I have made is the most honest way I have of being in the world. I have nowhere to hide when I’m wearing my own creativity, somehow that makes me feel protected.
Why slow fashion and what is the aspect that you value the most in this movement?
I appreciate clothes that are made to last, that will be cherished and worn again and again throughout a lifetime.
Clothes may carry the tender memories of our sweetest moments, but they can also be the witnesses of darkest times; a stain, a missing button, the trace of a perfume, they are all captured and documented by our garments. What story would you like your garments to tell?
What a beautiful question. Each garment in my handmade wardrobe tells a different story. I guess the overarching moral of the story would be that by no longer mimicking a popular, convenient or conventional way of dressing I feel conscious and connected.
How or where do you draw the line between your own aesthetic taste and the expectations of a client in your commissioned work?
I don’t draw a line, I spin a delicate golden thread.
Are you a well organised seamstress, or do you enjoy the order in chaos?
It depends where I am in a creative process. I need order, clarity and space for pattern cutting, I then let my studio descend into chaos whilst I am choosing fabrics and making design choices, whilst draping on a mannequin. Then I make sure my table is completely clear and tidy before I start stitching.
Where do you source your materials from?
I have been collecting fabric on my travels since I was a little girl. If I need something specific for a commission I will head to Goldhawk Road and Berwick Street in London. When I order pieces online they usually come from Offset Warehouse, an incredible resource for Fairtrade and organic fabrics.
Do you have a favourite fabric shop?
I have a dream fabric shop in my head which one day I hope to make a reality.
Do you listen to music while you work? What are you listening to these days?
I can’t sew without music. I can’t stop playing Valerie June’s latest album. I love everything by Elder Island and Tom Misch, especially when I’m working late in the evenings.
“...the overarching moral of the story would be that by no longer mimicking a popular, convenient or conventional way of dressing I feel conscious and connected.”
What is your favourite garment?
That is like choosing a favourite child. Impossible.
What do you think about uniforms?
A fascinating expression of the human need for order, stability and tribe.
Who or what inspires you?
I have become very inspired by film recently, discovering The Danish Girl, American Honey and The Broken Circle Breakdown. Artists and designers such as Frida Kahlo, Elsa Schiaparelli, Manish Arora, and Ozwald Boateng will always be a source of inspiration.
You gave away all your shop bought garments. Can you tell us more about this venture? How did you dispose of them? Where are they now?
I gave some to friends and family and the rest went to my local charity shop.
“A garment is a celebration of the body.”
How would you describe your style?
Tell us about your antique thimble collection. When did you start collecting thimble? Do you have a favourite?
I have almost 18 thimbles now. I find them in antique shops and car boots sales. People often think they are for protecting your finger from being stabbed by pins and needles but really they are for pushing the needle through the cloth. I can stitch twice as fast when I am wearing one.
How did you find out about Bristol Textile Quarter and what does this community mean to you and to your business?
BTQ was set up by a friend of my sister, so she introduced me to it. As soon as I walked through the door to have a look around I knew it would be a place I would spend a lot of time. The community has grown over the last two years and is an incredibly supportive and honest group of women. We are all doing very different things from weaving, to upholstery to embroidery but we have so much to offer each other as a collective.
Do you think that by sharing your patterns with other people would inspire them even more to move away from buying mass-produced clothes? Have you ever considered creating a downloadable digital library of patterns that you've used for your own garments?
Yes, it is on my ‘To Do’ list. Unfortunately, to make PDF patterns a reality it would involve a lot of time spent sitting in front of a computer which is something I tend to shy away from. One day it will happen though.
What is a garment in your opinion? What about the relationship between the garment and the body?
A garment is a celebration of the body.
According to Jacques Lacan, selfhood is profoundly bound up with the ways in which we are seen from the outside. What is your relationship with the Other and with the Outside and how do you translate this immaterial relationship into the materiality of the clothed body?
Since childhood I have been bombarded with advertising telling me how I should look and in turn how this will make me feel. Made My Wardrobe was my way of deciding how I wanted to look and therefore exploring the many different ways I feel.
Your personal journey is truly inspiring and empowering and made us think of the ancient Greek word metanoia, meaning “change of mind” or “transformation”. What advice could you give to someone experiencing a state of disconnection both with their own self and with the outside world?
Wow, thank you. My advice would be to breathe deep and be very gentle with yourself. Spend time doing the things that you love most and the world will start to reconnect with you.
Where do you go for inspiration?
To watch dance. Ballet, tango, contemporary. It feeds my soul.
What other disciplines are you interested in or involved with?
I love live performance, be it dance, theatre or circus. I trained in costume and still take on costume work when it comes my way.
What does a regular day look like for you?
I’m usually woken up by my two-year-old nephew bursting into my room demanding I play Aretha Franklin. So I start most days singing along to “I Say a Little Prayer” through bleary eyes whilst he dances round my bedroom. I then cycle to the studio down the Bristol to Bath Cycle path; a beautiful commute which barely involves seeing a single car. I’ll spend all day in the studio working on commissions, or when I have the chance, making something for myself. I try to leave any emails and admin until I get home so that the studio remains a place purely for creativity.
What are your favourite places in Bristol?
Running in Snuff Mills and Oldbury Court Estate makes me feel alive. I love sneaking into all the beautiful allotments across the city. I try to go to Bristol Old Vic and Tobacco Factory Theatres as regularly as possible because they are a window to word class theatre. Oh, and I spend way too much money each week on bread from The Old Market Assembly Bakery and coffee from 25A because they are both just around the corner from my studio and do what they do, exceptionally well.
When you are not delivering workshops or working in your studio, where is one most likely to find you?
Hanging out at the Aquarium or on the trampolines at Hawks Gym with my nephew. Letting go in a yoga class or drinking cider in the Volunteer Tavern.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
Bristol is perfect for now.
What would be your dream collaboration?
I dream of working on a film about the history of flamenco dancers and designing all the costumes for it. Their power and sensuality is completely intoxicating.
Where do you see Make My Wardrobe ten years from now?
I would love to run a fabric shop with a studio in the back where I could teach workshops, so that everyone could come and learn how to make their dream wardrobe.
Can you recommend us:
A song: “Reckoner” by Robert Glasper Trio
A book: Women Who Run With The Wolves
A film: Frida
“Spend time doing the things that you love most and the world will start to reconnect with you.”
Thank you, Lydia for welcoming us into your home and for sharing your inspiring story with us.
*In 2018 Lydia relocated to London, where she continues to develop her practice.