HI, I'M CORA

I moved to Bristol (UK) two years ago with my boyfriend David while we both studied for our Master's. Previously, I studied French at Oxford and then did my Master's in Film and Television. Since graduating I've held multiple part-time jobs simultaneously in retail, hospitality as well as French tutoring on the side. When I'm not working, I'm sewing, watching TV and looking for cats to stroke with David on our walks around north Bristol.

How I came to sewing

I've always enjoyed being creative and when I was little, used to sew funny bits and bobs by hand out of coloured felt and fabric scraps. Both my maternal grandmother and my mum have sewn throughout their lives, my grandmother made my mum's wedding dress for her and my mum made some amazing garments during the eighties. I've been lucky enough to see my mum's "retro stash" and use some of it too. Even if only on a subliminal level, I've always felt a connection to sewing throughout my life and felt there was a shared history there, like when I used to wear the dresses my grandmother had once sewed for my mum when she was a child during the 70s.

 

I don't remember specifically learning to sew, but my mum must have shown me with her heavy duty Frister Rossman "cub 7". I think I made a few things on it before I was given my Singer 8280 for my 16th birthday. I sewed a small amount during 2010-2012 when I was at sixth-form, but I definitely didn't use patterns at this stage, and I remember basing some of the styles off some of my mum's old makes. I didn't really know what I was doing and made it up as I went along, cobbling together my limited knowledge of sewing. I remember my mum helped me make some pyjama bottoms which would have been with a pattern- perhaps this is the first pattern I sewed with- I think it was New Look 6859. A bit later I made a pair of PJ shorts out of Liberty fabric. I also made elasticated waist skirts, simple tops and the following year a1920s cocktail dress for a family party.

 

I think the next time I sewed was 2016. I remember sewing a pair of elasticated waist black plisse trousers (my first Butterick 3460s) just before going into my final year of undergraduate and it felt like coming back to a comforting yet also slightly unfamiliar home. My fabric choice made this project actually quite tricky but it worked out and I wore those trousers throughout my final year including my Final exams and obligatory jumping into the Isis when they were all over. I remember looking for a pair of black trousers I could wear to my exams (we had a uniform) and I tried on four different pairs in a high street clothes shop and none of them fitted. At the time I didn’t think consciously about how sewing could be a solution to this frustration, but it was evidently sowing the seeds.

Home-made wedding dress & matching tie

My grandmother taught me how to knit as a child on holiday in Dorset

Early makes during sixth-form

Black plisse B3460

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It was not since finishing my degree in the summer of 2017 that I even thought about sewing again. When I moved back home with my parents, I picked it up with the B3460s. Unfortunately, as the plisse was in fact stretchy due to its pleats, I hadn’t realised this size would be too small for plain wovens. I excitedly made some tartan B3460s to replace a pair of RTW trousers that had become too small, only to try to put them on and not be able to get them over my hips (I gave them away to my best friend instead). I then made my first ever toile out of a pink bedsheet in the next size up to check they fitted and that became the basis for all my B3460s there on. I bought a couple of check linens from Ditto fabrics and started to make some more. I remember putting them on and just falling in love with it all; the linen, the way it fit, the fact I had sewed it, the style. I spent that summer sewing thirteen pairs of B3460s including shorts  and another black pair but this time in linen for my graduation in September. After finals it was the perfect way to spend the summer; I remember sitting outside during the day with my cats; sewing waistband button-holes, or at our kitchen table in the evening; pattern matching all those checks and binging Forensic Files. I started with a handful of fabrics, a couple I bought on holiday in France that summer, the others from the local fabric shop in my home town. The first fabric I bought online was ebay, and it took a couple of months before I found out about online fabric shops.

Too small B3460s

My first fabric stash

some B3460s sewn that summer

*that* feeling -fresh off the machine

When Autumn came, I continued to sew while job-hunting; finding my footing through all those B3460s, free patterns from The Fabric Store, self drafted Ts, my mum's vintage patterns and some Big 4s. 

 

In September I set up my sewing Instagram and blog, which is when I discovered indie sewing companies and pattern designers which I had no idea existed. Zinnia by Colette was the first indie pattern I sewed, then it was Kochi by Papercut Patterns. I continued to gravitate towards the big 4 before slowly collecting indies that I felt represented my style and now my pattern library is overwhelmingly dominated by independent designers. I also started to knit again for the first time since my grandmother taught me as a child. 

 

Sewing really helped me through the frustration and difficulty of finding a job in my small home-town with limited opportunities and also with the tedium once I was lucky enough to have found one. I would get home from work, get changed into comfy clothes, start sewing and sew until as late as possible, which is how I managed to sew so much that year as well as endure six months of admin.

Zinnia (Colette), Nightshirt B6837, Fabric Store button-up dress, Vogue 8897.

During that year I moved around my family home finding different sewing corners.

Current sewing corner in our flat

Why I sew

I love the control I have over my style when I'm choosing the patterns and fabrics myself and I feel I can create garments to wear that are truly "me" in a way I never have before. I never really found my style with ready to wear, and kept changing what I liked. I've found my groove with sewing, and it's so much nicer not paying attention to high street fashion. There's something powerful about wearing something you have made to fit and work for you, that is unique and individual to you, that has a story. 

I've recently become vegan and this has impacted my sewing practice. Being vegan means not participating in all forms of animal exploitation as far as possible and practical, and this extends to leather, wool, silk and other animal derived fibres. Sewing is a compassionate act and that means being compassionate to non-human animals too. This also dovetails to another reason why I sew; environmental impact, since animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, covers 45% of the earth's total land and is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction. If we can live healthy happy lives without harming animals, why wouldn't we?

Through sewing I want to drastically reduce and eventually eliminate the amount of ready to wear I buy due to the horrendous worker exploitation, environmental and waste problems of the industry as well as the problematic overconsumption it endorses. Home-sewing isn't void of these issues, but I think it’s the first step to critically considering the impact of our clothes. So far, I haven't bought a RTW in a year and a half (except for a raincoat which I desperately needed and didn't have the time to sew myself one).

At the forefront of my mind over the past year has been how much I consume by sewing, especially fabric. I bought a lot when I started "properly" sewing again and as a result I have what I consider a big stash. In Jan 2019 I went on a self-imposed fabric ban in order to reduce my consumption, spend less money and give myself the space to think critically about it. I haven't made the perfect fabric purchases in the past, I've bought synthetics and non-organic cotton, and fabric that I have no idea how it was made and by who. But through immersing myself in the sewing world I have learnt so much that I didn't know before.

It's now March 2020, and I've bought myself a selection of fabric for the first time in over a year. This wasn’t planned, but my birthday late March coinciding with the Covid-19 lockdown and becoming furloughed meant I have a lot of time at home now. I feel so lucky that I have sewing to accompany me through staying at home, but it also means that I would really love to be able to make those patterns that have been on my to-sew list for a long time but never had fabric for, and use the fabric gift cards I was very kindly given for my birthday.

Although I'm no longer on a "ban", my habits have changed for the better because of doing one. This year has made me realise I don't need fabric, that I can shop my stash for most things, and I can let my urges to buy "all the fabric" go quite easily. I also never throw away fabric scraps but keep them for different purposes (more substantial leftovers are made into other garments, medium-sized pieces are all sorted in a drawer and are ready for patchwork projects, and the itty bitty scraps from my "bin" have recently been turned into cushion inner fillings and I'll happily make more).  I've started to buy from different shops too; working since finishing my master's has allowed me to buy (less) more expensive, but more sustainable, natural and semi-natural fibres like Tencel Twill, linen, viscose. I’m also buying less because I buy with specific projects in mind (2018 me didn’t do that). I spend much longer thinking about making purchases too so by the time I do purchase I’m only buying the fabric I have loved for an extended period of time and therefore know it’s not an impulse purchase that I’ll dislike in 6 months. Buying these higher quality fabrics from my favourite shops means I really love them and that they truly fit with my style and will therefore be happy in my wardrobe for many, many years to come.

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