Sewist Spotlight

Sewist Spotlight: Meet Gina!

We first saw Gina (@sewdisabled) when she popped up in her crisp white Kalle shirt in our feed. She made a whole whack of smart alterations to the pattern and the fit was so precise we just had to learn more about her. Heather met her in person at a jeans-making workshop in her hometown of London and knew you would want to meet this charming sewist too! She is a PhD student studying malaria and drug resistance (epidemiology is so fascinating!) so we aren’t surprised she’s putting her busy math brain to work with sewing.

How long have you been sewing?

I’ve been dressmaking since August 2018, but I learned how to use a sewing machine in school and had dabbled in a bit of quilting. I have also really been into cross stitch since I first started getting sick in around 2014/2015 and still love hand sewing.

How often do you spend time do you spend on your sewing practice a week (including planning, researching, sewing etc).?

I spent most of my free time sewing to be honest! Between work, family, physio etc.

Did you have a gateway person or experience that brought you to sewing?

The experience that bought me to sewing in general was spending months of my life unable to leave my bed/house and just wanting something to fill my time other than watching tv. Dressmaking specifically was just out of frustration of clothes never fitting me properly (wheelchair or not!) or suiting my lifestyle.

In a BHL Flora Dress

What was the first thing you remember wanting to sew?

The first thing I wanted to sew was a pink gingham wrap dress and I knew how to use a sewing machine. So I made this super kitsch pink gingham jersey wrap dress (because I didn’t realize sewing with jersey was supposed to be hard!) and it still gets lots of love in the summer.

How would you define your style?

I struggled to answer this but my best friend has informed me that it is “classic but quirky” which I totally agree with. I definitely have a colour palette that I gravitate towards too.

What is your favourite thing you’ve made? 

My favourite thing I’ve made has to be my white cropped Kalle shirt or my gingham BHL Flora.

Cropped Kalle Shirt

How does sewing affect your relationship to shopping and RTW?

I have a complicated relationship with in clothes shopping. I find the whole experience of going clothes shopping incredibly stressful, before I even get to trying the garments on. Between physically getting inside the shops, narrow aisles, not being able to reach rails and disabled changing rooms being used as stockrooms it’s just exhausting before I get to trying the clothes on. Add onto that being petite but hourglass, having very muscular arms and incredibly sensitive skin shopping very rarely delivers what I’m after, and I can’t say that ordering online goes all that much better! Sewing has allowed me to make exactly what I want, that actually fits me and conveys my personal style, all in the loveliest fabric ever – what more could a gal want.

How does sewing relate to your body image?

Sewing makes me feel so much more confident. My weight fluctuates a lot due to medications and my illness, and there’s things about my body that I’m a little insecure about, especially my bust, but making clothes that actually fit me properly has made such a big difference. Also being able to make things that suit my lifestyle as a wheelchair user is so incredibly valuable, not having to tug at my clothes so they are the way I want them to be, I can just make them that way from the get go!

 

Ginger Jeans and a Willamette Shirt

What are the most common fit adjustments you have to make?

I don’t think I have ever successfully made any pattern straight out of the packet. I always have to do a full bust adjustment of at least 2″-3″, even for jersey garments and a 1.5-2″ full bicep adjustment is usually needed for woven garments and there is generally grading through a few sizes too. Then often some kind of forward shoulder and/or narrow shoulder although I am a fan of a dropped shoulder so I can avoid this. I quite often need a sway back adjustment too due to my scoliosis, but I really enjoy the whole process of toiling and getting the fit perfect and then making the same pattern over and over and hacking it.

What are your go-to fabric stores?

My favourite fabric stores in the UK would have to be Sew Me Sunshine, The New Crafthouse (both have wheelchair accessible premises that they do open days!), Fabric Godmother, and Sister Mintaka. I also love visiting The Cloth House but it has to be a good mobility day as it’s not fully accessible. 

What are the tools you can’t live without?

I’m a pretty low tech sewist, but the one thing I couldn’t be without is my rotary cutter and cutting mat. I actually find the cutting out process incredibly physically demanding, and that will quite often take me longer than sewing up some garments but my self healing mat and my ergonomic rotary cutter make things so much easier. I also love using my quilting ruler to help cut straight edges as it gives such an even finish!

The Joni dress by Tilly and the Buttons with a gathered sleeve detail

What was the best lesson or skill that took your sewing to the next level?

I did an incredibly bodice fitting workshop with Elisalex from By Hand London at The New Crafthouse a few months ago and it’s definitely the skill that has helped me up my sewing so much. I feel so much more confident approaching unfamiliar patterns, figuring out the cause of my fit issues whether they are in bodices or not and less scared of just cutting into that pattern piece and following my instincts.

What pattern release would you not be able to resist (aka what type of garment would automatically jump your queue)?

I’m a sucker for anything that is a classic garment but has a really interesting design feature. Bonus points if it has a slight vintage nod or the opportunity for cute buttons.

What are your sewing goals? What would you like to learn how to do to push your practice forward?

I’m always in a constant endeavour to up my skills! Whether this is getting better at fitting my garments or couture techniques. I would also like to tackle swimwear fairly soon but it seems as though the summer may well be over here in the UK.

What’s the next thing you want to make?

The next thing in my sewing pile is a special occasion dress for an event in a few weeks. I’m all toiled and just trying to brace myself to cut into my beautiful dead stock Prada silk that I bought at a bargain £10! I’m excited to try my hand at underlining and Frenching all those gorgeous seams! In terms of more everyday projects next on my sewing pile is a starry chiffon Kalle shirt and the cutest fire engine red Tilly and the Buttons Eden coat to keep me dry in the UK autumn!

The Nina Lee Kew Dress with a self drafted circle skirt

 

How was sewing impacted or interacted with your identity?

I can’t really separate my sewing from my disability in so many ways. For me, sewing is so important to my wellbeing, and is often the perfect distraction when I’m in a lot of pain, whether that’s planning my projects or actually doing the sewing. But also, the garments I make are dictated so much by my needs as a disabled person. Whether that’s shorter sleeves so that they stay clean, more modest necklines because of the way the world views me, choosing the softest fabrics for my skin or picking patterns that will be comfy when seated, my disability is something that is an incredibly important component part of the whole planning and making process for me. 

What makers or sewists in our community do you find inspiring?

Oh my goodness, so many, but I am definitely most inspired by other makers that post about the whole process. Brooks-Ann Camper for her approach to sewing and hand sewing, her love to sew episode totally changed my approach to sewing. @birdy_sew_obsessed for all her posts on tailoring and lingerie making especially. @sewitwithdi for her fabulous tutorials. And also Merrill from @twodogs_and_a_sewingmachine just because I’m obsessed with literally everything she makes.

Where else do you turn when you need inspiration?

I like looking on the sites of stores that I love but can’t afford to find ideas. I also love looking at photos from the 1940s-1960s which is more and more becoming a big style influence for me.


What experiences have come out of your interaction with the online sewing community?

I’ve honestly had an overwhelmingly positive experience with the sewing community. People have generally seemed really interested in the kind of adjustments I do to make my clothes wheelchair friendly and fit my figure. I am incredibly blessed that London has a very active sewing community with lots of meet ups and independent fabric and sewing shops which means I have made lots of wonderful sewing friends both in real life and online.