Five things I learnt from a year of no shopping.

 Above:  Fashion Revolutions  wonderful article on trying your own shopping free 2018 challenge

Above: Fashion Revolutions wonderful article on trying your own shopping free 2018 challenge

Just over one year ago, I set myself the challenge of not buying any new clothing. 

There were multiple reasons I had decided to try this out. One of the reasons being because I had credit card debt that resembled the national debt and I wanted to curb my spending. Another reason being I had just watched the Documentary "The Minimalists" and the concept of simplifying my life and shifting my focus from "having" to "experiencing" really inspired me. 

But mostly, the driving force behind giving up buying new clothes was to confront the guilt I had about my dirty shopping secrets.  

Anyone who has spent time with me personally, has had to suffer through listening to countless facts about the evil force that is fast fashion and its harmful impact on the environment. I have for years now, been preaching the importance of purchasing sustainable and ethical fashion. And as much as I wholeheartedly believed this, I wasn’t always practicing what I preached. 

My wardrobe did already consist mostly of 'good' fashion, and while I looked down my nose at Primark or H&M, I was still padding out the gaps in my wardrobe with white shirts from gap, jeans from Uniqlo and holy shit, do I love an M&S multi pack of cotton briefs.  

I couldn’t with any real integrity continue to keep persuading people to shop ethically if I myself couldn’t do it.  

There is also a serious Class issue surrounding sustainable fashion that had been bugging me. Let's be real, its expensive. It takes a very strong will to spend £60 on a plain white tshirt from your favourite sustainable brand when you could also buy a white tshirt from H&M for £3. It's a huge privilege to make fashion choices based on your conscience or ethical beliefs, rather than the limitations of your budget. Those of us who can afford the luxury of choice are unfortunately not the majority. It left me thinking, how realistic is it really to hang the pressure of dressing ethically over people's heads?  

I decided the only way to eradicate my guilt, and test if living a sustainably fashionable life was actually possible, was to try living it myself. I would allow myself to hand make clothes, or buy a few things I needed second hand, but absolutely nothing new.  

I didn’t tell many of my friends that I was undertaking this challenge because I genuinely doubted I could do it. I have for most of my life been obsessed with fashion. I get excited about fabrics, stitching techniques, fashion psychology, fashion economics, style tribes. Literally everything. I really love clothes.  

I also work in fashion, so how I present myself professionally is extremely important. Clothing is the fastest form of communication between two designers and whether or not I like it, I know that sometimes I am literally judged on how good I am at my job by how I'm dressed.  

Was it really possible to live a lifestyle where I could look stylish and still enjoy clothing without dropping a tonne of cash on sustainable brands, or resorting to hiding out in a log cabin wearing nothing but hemp sacks.  

Well, Yes and no.... 

Its been an interesting year, and while I cant say I didn’t have a couple little slip ups - I can honestly say it's been a life changing experience and I'm never going back to the high street. 

Here are the five biggest things I learnt from a year without buying new clothes... 



The positive financial impact this this will have on your life is ENORMOUS. Even trying to roughly imagine how much you spend on clothing in a year is enough to give most people the shivers. Saving money really is stating the obvious so I'm not even going to bother elaborating here.  



I found I saved a huge amount of time from avoiding the physical act of shopping. Previously, if I had a special event like a wedding to attend, I would have believed such an occasion warranted buying a new dress, and therefore at least two days of my life shopping for it. Before going on holiday, I would spend my lunch breaks online shopping for bikinis or sandals. When I needed a new pair of jeans I would force myself through the crowds of Oxford street, dragging myself from shop to shop looking for something that would magically fit my mis-proportioned ratio of muscular cycling thighs to a small butt and narrow hips (FYI: those jeans don’t exist) Even with a very targeted shopping list it always took far more time than I wanted it to, at the very least a whole precious Saturday afternoon. Now when I need to go away, I simply open my wardrobe, put something in a bag, and that’s the end of it. Done. No Drama.



I learned, slowly, that having excess stuff was giving me a headache, thinking about what I had or did not have was wasting my focus and energy. It wasn’t just the physical time I was wasting on shopping, there was also so much mental tax being taken on worrying about what I needed to change or buy to make a situation or event perfect. Previously, I didn’t call it "worrying" I called it planning and organising. Not allowing myself to shop really challenged me to investigate my attachment to material possessions and status, and forced me to take a deeper look into why I actually shopped.  

I realised quickly that most of the stuff I bought was to exhibit some level of success to other people rather than fulfill an actual need. If I felt really nervous about a social event I would buy myself a new piece of clothing from some obscure, underground fashion brand with the hope my brand allegiance would speak to the cool kids for me - incase I was too shy to physically speak for myself. It took a bit of time, but once I took that sartorial safety net away I learnt to rely more on myself, not my wardrobe. I stopped being so preoccupied with my appearance and,  lo and behold, my self-esteem grew. I have gained an overwhelming feeling of freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry and freedom from guilt. And it feels amazing! 



I spent weeks at the end of December painfully deliberating over the rules I would set myself for the challenge in the new year. Trying to define a perfect set of boundaries that would make me feel ethically better, but still allow me to have what I thought I "needed' without technically breaking the rules. In the end I thought, screw it. Im not going to set myself rules, I'll just not buy anything for awhile and I'll see how long I can last. I have to admit that I didn’t sail through the year without any slip ups. I bought a cheap pair of novelty sandals from ASOS for a holiday but they literally snapped in half within hours of me putting them on, leaving me walking around Berlin barefoot for an afternoon. I considered it my cheap holiday shoe lesson finally learnt and tried not to dwell on it. Then there was the really expensive designer sweatshirt I had been lusting over for months. I finally let myself splurge, Then the next day I went online and saw they had marked it down to 50% off. If I had been starting to waver about going back to my old shopping habits, I definitely wasn’t now. 

I had expected that as the year went on, and I started to feel the pinch of having no newness I would ease up on my restrictions and would eventually go back to my old ways. But the surprising part here is that as I went on, I actually started to restrict the rules more and more, as I found that living with your actions in line with your beliefs feels really good. It started to become a fun game and I wanted to see how creative I could be under pressure. 



Well they are, but only at first. As time goes by you form new habits, friends and surroundings that support your new lifestyle. 

The first few months were extremely difficult, and breaking the habit was hard. I can't even count how many times I succumbed and bought something on line, only to get the guilts when it arrived and ended up sending it straight back. However, by mid year I had the surprise realisation that the persistent desire to consume had actually gone, and even better - the constant thought process of  "maybe if I just bought this new *insert something here* I would look perfect and life would be great" had totally disappeared from my head. I felt like I had finally got off the consumer hamster wheel I didn’t even know I was on.  I've stopped worrying about what I might be missing out on, and started really enjoying what I already have (FYI: that’s time and people) The whole experience has made me wonder, if it only takes a year to dramatically shift your perspective, and change your life – what other areas of my life are waiting to be transformed in 2018? What I had previously assumed would be a year of sacrifice and self-denial, has actually proven to be a gift of limitless possibilities. I now have so much more time and headspace to focus on the things that really bring me joy. 


So, going forward into 2018 what are my shopping habits going to look like now?...

The challenge was life changing, and an experience that will stay with me forever. I can say with certainty that I'm never going back to the high street. So really, I expect 2018 to look a lot like 2017. The new found freedom and extra time I have gained is too addictive to give up. However, i imagine this year will be a bit harder as many of the things I over purchased on in 2016 will start to run low this year (socks Im looking at you. Any suggestions on what to do about needing new socks would be greatly appreciated and no, I am absolutely not prepared to wear second hand socks)

I am glad I allowed myself to buy essentials from second hand stores which I will continue to do, and I am also REALLY glad I can sew my own clothes. One extra challenge I am taking on this year to up the ante, and to prevent myself from getting carried away with sewing something every time I have an itch for something new, is to try and make the majority of my hand made clothes from recycled fabrics. I am halfway through making myself a winter Varsity Jacket entirely out of recycled fabrics and its looking pretty exciting if I do say so myself, so stay tuned to see the results soon!


Three tips for lengthening a top into a dress.


The easiest way to give a piece of clothing your own unique stamp of personality is to play with the proportions of length Vs width. Lengthening a pattern is really as easy as it sounds. Here are the three most important factors to consider before you start...

1. Length.

Things move around.... Mid thigh dresses I had assumed were completely modest when my arms were down, were suddenly much more risqué when I lifted them above my head.  What many people don't realise, is that how much the hem of a dress will lift depends mostly on the armhole shape of the top. A sleeveless dress will barely lift at all, whereas something with a long sleeve kimono sleeve could lift up to 30cm or so. If your legs are as short as mine this is the difference between wearable or not. Therefore, applying the same length from a dress you made previously to your next top is not always going to have the same effect. Be sure to check out the movement from the shoulder/armhole area before you cut and add some extra length if you are unsure. You can always trim it off after. 


2. Width.

Depending on how fitted your top/dress is, will determine if you need to adjust the width as well as length. Before you begin, its crucial to measure the widest part of your body (for most but not for all, it's a little lower than your hips and across your butt) once you have that measurement, compare it to the measurement of your top/dress hem and make sure your new dress is wider than your body measurement. To make sure it doesn't stick to your hips and visually look clingy, the hip measurement of a garment needs to be around 8-10cm in total bigger than your body measurement.  Generally i like my clothes oversized and boxy. So a top like the LB Pullover didn't need any extra width added to it, as the hip Measurement was already 20cm wider than my own hips. Therefore to make the pullover into a dress, I simply extended the line of the side seams downwards (34cm to be exact) past it's original length and redrew my hem.


3. Movement.

Can you still walk in it? If the top you have lengthened into a dress is narrow and long, can you still walk? I alway measure the hem circumference of my pattern, then I sellotape my tapemeasure into a circle that exact measurement and slip it over my legs to where I think the dress will finish and see if can walk comfortably without breaking the sellotape. You will look like an idiot when you do this, but no less of an idiot than you would look if you were wearing something you couldn't walk in. If it's too narrow to walk, you need to add a split somewhere, or widen your hem circumference.


Happy pattern hacking!


I was first introduced to Alice by a mutual friend as someone I needed to meet, as she was "another woman who is into paper and sustainability" I had already come across her wonderful and intricate art before and I was very keen to have a peek inside her studio to see her process. 

A fascination with paper, its materiality, sustainability and how different papers absorb marks, line, and other materials is core to her practice. There is also a noticeable time element, in that her drawings and cut works are both laborious and sometimes physically demanding, taking up to a year to produce.

Story Photographed by Ollie Trenchard 

 Alice wearing the L.B Pullover made from a black, medium weight Merino Jersey

Alice wearing the L.B Pullover made from a black, medium weight Merino Jersey

alice working1.jpg

Alice von Maltzahn’s work is an examination of the structures that surround us. Her pieces reveal layers of city that have come before, bearing witness to the kinds of growth that make it up. We are presented with unearthed strata of information and experience, reminding us of our own existence as breathing beings in an evolving city.

von Maltzahn is simultaneously concerned with narrative construction, and deconstructing the fixed templates through which we see the world. Each piece poses a question as to how we consume our environment. While some are small – the dimensions of an iPhone – others loom large and threaten to engulf the viewer. She is as interested in the necessity of this template as in what is hides. There is no sense of something being ripped away from us. Instead, she peels things back, layer by layer, until we are left with something that feels like clarity. Through paper, through ink, through graphite and gold, von Maltzahn constructs pathways between structures that are built - that require further building if they are to grow - and those that will forge their own way. With no human impact, nature will win.

 Alice wearing the L.B Pullover in Oatmeal coloured organic Linen.

Alice wearing the L.B Pullover in Oatmeal coloured organic Linen.

 Alice wearing the crew neck variation of the L.B Pullover in a Navy stripped cotton jersey.

Alice wearing the crew neck variation of the L.B Pullover in a Navy stripped cotton jersey.


How to sew right angles

On the surface, sewing right angles looks fairly simple - until you reach the corner, and find that the next two seams to be sewn together happen to be at opposite ends of the sewing machine...

Cutting corners is usually ill advised - however if you are sewing a right angle, you literally need to cut into your corner. It is a straight forward process, but one that requires a certain accuracy. I break the method down into a few simple steps in the video and photos below.

embed Block
Add an embed URL or code. Learn more

Before you begin sewing its a good idea to mark the EXCACT point of your corner. On the piece that has the square cut out, I have marked this point on the right side of the fabric. On the square that will be inserted into the cut out, the point is marked on the wrong side of the fabric. Lay both your pieces right sides together. Place a pin in the corner point to ensure that the seams don't move or shift while you're sewing.

 Step 1.

Step 1.

1. Sew your seam, ensuring to stop EXACTLY on this intersection point. I usually stop a couple stitches away from the point and hand wind my needle into place. Lift the presser foot up, but keep the needle DOWN.

 Step 2

Step 2

Rotate the whole garment clockwise until the next seam is lined up in front of the presser foot in the correct position to sew. You will then need to cut a small slash line from the inside of the bottom corner towards the needle. Dont cut it right to the needle, stop about 1-2mm away from the needle. This cut will release the tension of the seam allowance, letting it open up so you can perform the next step.

 Step 3.

Step 3.

Step 3. With the needle still down, and the presser foot still up - hold the lower piece in place as it is, then pivot just the top piece (Anti-clockwise) back around the needle so that it is placed in front of you again. The two raw edges of the unsewn seams should match up and be sitting edge to edge on top of each other. Before continuing to sew the second part of the corner, it is important to check that you have pushed all fabric out of the way and you haven't got any pieces caught under the seam (very easy to do). Put the presser foot down and continue sewing.

The photos above show what the finished corner should look like. Note the picture on the left shows the slash you cut into it.


-If you are using delicate or a loosely woven fabric that has a tendency to fray you can place a small patch of fusible on the corner (of the wrong side of the fabric) that will be cut into before you start sewing.

-It is also a good idea to turn your stitch length down at the corner. Usually 1-2cm before you hit the corner, then turn it back to your regular stitch length 1-2cm after you have turned the corner. This also helps prevent any holes or the corner from fraying away.

There are four corners on the Kabuki Tee - so its a great chance to get your technique perfect.

 Happy making!

KABUKI TEE: Tips for changing the neck binding for a neck band.

Linen with concealed binding under neck.         Grey Marl Jersey with a 2cm neck band.

The original pattern is intended to have a concealed binding on the inside of the neckline. But what if you want to make it in a stretchy fabric like T-shirting? If I was making it in a t-shirting fabric I would probably choose to change the neckline to have a neck band and possibly cut that band in a ribbing.

Why? A) Its more appropriate style wise for the casual nature of the fabric and B) Its also quite fiddly to sew a concealed binding in jersey without stretching it out of shape so I would avoid that purely out of laziness. But how you choose to finish your top is entirely up to you – so here are a few tips to help you out... 

jersey neck band.jpg

If, for example, if you wanted to swap the concealed binding for a 2cm deep rib band you should cut away 2cm from the existing neck pattern so after you have applied your new band - the neck edge still finishes in the same place on your body. If you don’t cut away the neckline, it will end up being much closer up your neck and it will make the opening much smaller – you might have a hard time getting it over your head. 

You can use the existing neck binding pattern that comes with the Kabuki Tee. But you would need to add to the width to make it deep enough to fold over in half. For a 2cm deep neck band you should add 2.5cm total to the width of the existing pattern. (that will make the pattern piece 5.5cm deep) 

When sewing with stretch fabrics – you should as a general rule of thumb cut the neckband along the width (not the selvedge) of the fabric. Why? So you make the most of the stretch of the fabric. 

The length of the band should be smaller than the neckline – but how much smaller? Every stretch fabric has a different amount of stretch – so the only way to get it perfect is to test it yourself first. I usually start with deducting 4 or 5cm from the total measurement.  

Sew the ends of the neck band together (right side together) so you have a loop. Fold it in half (wrong sides together) and pin it to your neck line. When you sew it onto the neck, remember you will pull and stretch it onto your neck. If it doesn’t look quite right adjust the length and recheck it again before finally sewing it on. Pressing the seam allowance down into the body.  

I would also recommend chopping off some of the hem allowance on the sleeve and body if I was sewing this in jersey. 1.5cm - 2cm would be a fairly standard hem allowance on a jersey fabric.  

Happy sewing! 




 AW17 images from Maggie Marilyn and Balenciaga 

AW17 images from Maggie Marilyn and Balenciaga 

Frills, ruffles, flounce, froufrou, furbelow... The terminology is sometimes used interchangeably, and to the untrained eye they can look the same, however the pattern for a frill is very different to the pattern for a flounce.

In essence, both frills and flounces are a way of adding additional fullness and volume to a garment, E.g the ruffles on the edge of a flamenco skirt, or the flounce in a peplum.

However, the main difference between a Frill and a flounce is that a frill has the volume added all the way through the pattern piece, from top edge to circumference edge - then it is gathered at the top edge where it is attached to the garment.

In contrast, a flounce - only has additional volume at the lower circumference edge, not all the way through. So the edge that is sewn to the garment is flat, creating fullness but with a smooth look at the seam. 



In a regular, mid weight fabric like calico the difference between a frill and a flounce is noticeable, but it isn’t huge. However, as soon as you move to either side of the fabric spectrum (e.g a light weight chiffon or something heavy like leather) the results will be vastly different, and this is where understanding the principles behind cutting the pattern as a frill or a flounce really come into effect.

Fabric choice is generally the most important factor to determine before starting your frill/flounce pattern as it really makes a difference to how the frill/flounce will hold its volume.

Light weight fabrics like chiffon or georgette lend themselves to becoming frills really well, but aren’t very effective when cut as a flounce as the light fabric tends to fall flat. Fabric that is stiff like leather or denim can be tricky to gather at the seam. Therefore the most effective way to create fullness in heavier fabrics would be cutting the pattern as a flounce, these fabrics are also very effective at holding themselves out from the body, giving the illusion that there is much more volume than there really is

As a general rule of thumb the lighter a fabric is the more volume I add into the circumference.


Why you should wear Organic

burberry chemical textiles

The shift to organic food is clearly not a new trend in our modern lifestyles. We’ve been conscious of food miles and the impact chemicals have on our bodies for a while now. Many of us are careful about what we put IN our bodies; however when it comes to what we put ON our bodies we’re not so vigilant.

The fabric your t-shirt is made from is washed, scoured, bleached, rinsed and sometimes dipped in acid. Cotton is one of the most pesticide-ridden of all crops. 7 out of the 15 most carcinogenic chemicals known to man are used to grow cotton and that amounts to 25 percent of the worldwide total use for chemicals. These chemicals are in everything, from exclusive luxury designs to affordable fashion, and from T-shirts to shoes.

Many of these toxic chemicals are banned in the US and Europe, but in the race to produce clothing as cheaply as possible most of the big brands resort to production in countries like China and Bangladesh who also happen to have lax regulations when it comes to using hazardous chemicals.

The latest investigation by Greenpeace demonstrates just how far-reaching the problem is. Of the brands they tested, every single one of them was revealed to have traces of hazardous chemicals in at least one of their clothing items. This is an issue, because when these chemicals are released into the environment they can break down and develop hormone-disrupting and even carcinogenic properties. The worst of the chemicals included toxic phthalates and cancer-causing amines from the use of certain azo dyes. Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) were found in just under two-thirds of the 141 garments Greenpeace tested.

In separate tests some exported clothing was found to have traces of formaldehyde up to 900 times higher than the prescribed safety limit which unsurprisingly has been linked to skin irritation and allergic reactions.

The production of cotton has chemicals seeping into the environment where clothes are made, affecting rivers and waterways that local communities often depend upon for their livelihoods. But the toxicity doesn’t end there. As charity shops are starting to refuse second hand clothing due to over supply a lot of clothes are now destined for the landfill. And when they reach their final destination, all these chemicals then leak into the earth.

It is definitely time to ask yourself: As well as eating organic, is it time to start wearing organic too?