Here at Hotcourses we really believe you never stop learning and love it when we find experts who embody this idea. One lady who fits this brief is Sophie Exintaris, the brains behind the highly successful dressmaking blog seamstresssophie.com. Living in an age of bloggers, I wanted to find an expert who proved that fitting a hobby around the day job was definitely doable. As we sit down to chat, Sophie is down to earth, friendly and more than happy to give up her lunch break to talk about dressmaking. Describing herself as a user experience architect by day and a seamstress by night, Sophie proves that when you are in love with learning, finding the time is never an issue.
So Sophie, have you always been interested in dressmaking?
I don’t remember not liking dresses! I grew up in a household where my mum and grandmother would go and get things made; I don’t actually remember going shopping for clothes, it must have happened, I just don’t remember it. My mum had a sewing machine, so if there were costumes to be made when I was a kid she would make them, she would knit stuff for me, it was always understood that you don’t shop, you make.
Who taught you to sew?
It was my grandmother actually; she lived with us when I was young and one of the things she did to entertain me when I was little was give me one of those massive upholstery needles, or the ones that have a safer point and a big eye, and an envelope. She would teach me different stitches and I remember vividly being trusted with a needle and thread and creating patterns on paper. I also grew up with my mum making clothes, so I knew I could expand my paper patterns into making full on dresses or clothes or anything that I wanted.
That must have been a pretty creative childhood then! Can you remember the first dress you ever made?
I remember getting a lot of help from my Mum making dresses for Barbie dolls. It was the early 80s, so I wasn’t quite trusted with a sewing machine at that age! The first thing I really remember making for myself was when I was probably about 14 or 15, when I made a yellow pointed seam dress. I still have it and I do on occasion wear it because it still fits.
So where did the inspiration for your blog come from?
I have a degree in computer engineering, so I discovered the internet in 96-97 and I’ve had a website since then. It’s normal for me to share things online – I had a blog before they were called blogs! I’ve always had a diary so I said hey it makes absolute sense to keep one on this new medium. When I got a sewing machine and properly started making stuff I wanted to record it, digital made sense and I thought by setting it up as a website maybe someone else would go hey that looks interesting. I do try to reinvent the wheel! The other day I made a reversible dress; there was no pattern, I had no idea, I just made a prototype for a Barbie doll and figured it out.
How has the blog grown or developed over the years?
I’ve just been posting the things I’ve been working on; when people comment I reply, sometimes I will look at what others are doing. I haven’t actually tried to promote it very much, I mean occasionally I will post something on Instagram and I do have a hash tag – seamstress Sophie, which is probably the longest hash tag in history. This helps me track the posts that I make – I put it on twitter and it helps people find me.
What do you think is the hardest thing to get the hang of when you are learning how to make a dress?
For me, I can only base this on the mistakes I consistently make again and again, such as accidentally stitching the wrong side to the right side and having to unpick that seam. I also pin now a lot more than I used to – I figured oh its fine the fabric will stay in the right place, but it doesn’t. I think the most important thing is don’t be scared! There are instructions that come with patterns and that is predominantly how I learnt to do the more weird and complicated things. For the last nine years I have not lived in the same country as my parents and my grandmother died in 2000, so I haven’t had anyone to ask.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everywhere, I’m a user experience architect, so a lot like an architect in a house who figures out who is going to live there and what they are going to use it for, I do that for software and websites. I am constantly looking at everything under the sun that is made by humans. Everything designed ever. I love art, I love fashion, I love digital design, interactions, road signs – I might see something on a catwalk, or in Marks and Spencer’s or in All Saints and think that’s cool, I want to try that. It’s who I am, I don’t know how to explain it other than look at a lot of things and your brain will collect images. Eventually when you are looking for inspiration, they will appear in front of you.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
To start, to just start. When I started my blog I had done maybe one of two things and over time there is so much more – the tiniest thing every week or every other week builds up to a lot. The most difficult thing is starting, because once you set up the blog, you can post from anywhere.
I like that advice! Finally then, what designers inspire you most?
Well there are some designers that I adore. To name a couple, there is Christian Dior. I adore the construction and tailoring of his clothes. Also Alexander McQueen, I went to his exhibit at the V and A and almost cried when I was leaving – the tailoring is just impeccable!
To keep up with Sophie’s latest dressmaking adventures, why not head over to her blog at seamstresssophie.com. If Sophie has inspired you to get making your own creations, why not take a look at the dressmaking courses on Hotcourses. Remember even the likes of Dior and McQueen were beginners once.