“ Clothkits / Funky clothes to sew at home „
Back in the Seventies many children in Britain were, as I recall, either clad in Tartan Mothercare trousers or home made clothes, or if they were particularly lucky "Clothkits" clothes. It may not have been like this throughout the whole country, but if I look back at our family photos in many a picture I am wearing printed cloth dresses, quilted jackets and in some clutching a clothkit patchwork doll.
Clothkits were, and still are a British company, producing kits to make clothes and other accessories. Rather than having to cut out and pin a pattern, the pattern is printed onto the cloth itself and has to be cut out and sewn to instructions. Everything is made in Britain, and has a distinctive style.
The company disappeared for a while in the Eighties, the company's website at www.clothkits.co.uk tells me this is as they were taken over by Freemans and left to languish it appears. Now Clothkits is back, and based in Lewes selling newly designed kits through their website and catalogue for delivery to sewers of the novice and more experienced kind.
I should say straight away that I am a completely in-experienced and lapsed sewer, but having been given a catalogue by a neighbour I recently bought and successfully sewed an "easy-peasy birdie skirt" in size 1-8. They also sell adult clothes and a range of other items.
My Clothkits Experience:
I purchased my item through the website. This has been well designed and seeing what is available is a simple matter, you can easily navigate through clothes for "little people" and "grown ups" - 14-114 years apparently. There are no clothes for men, but for women there is a range of dresses and skirts, from various designers who you can read about on the site. As well as clothes there are also some contemporary tapestry kits and lovely beaded jewellery sets, bags, cushions and rag dolls. The overall look is modern, fun and certainly not fuddy-duddy at all.
Prices range from £5 (pencil case) up to £42 for an adult skirt or £55 for a designer tapestry kit. Kits are not cheap compared to clothes you might buy these days ready made, but you are getting a quality item and everything you need to make it, including buttons, thread and elastic and there are always special offers on the site.
Selecting my item and adding it to the basket was a simple affair, I bought the skirt as it looked cute and promised to be easy, the site does tell you how challenging the items are. If making your own does not appeal for some items you can pay an extra £6 and have the kit made up for you and still look like a domestic goddess!
You do have to set up a simple account to check out, delivery was £4 which made my skirt cost £12 in total. I got a very quick email confirmation and my item was dispatched very quickly and arrived within 48 hours.
Overall the website was easy to use and shopping was straightforward, it does also offer a blog and forum should you wish to chat to other people trying out the clothkits experience, and you can also order a catalogue if you prefer to view items in the printed form.
Making my item:
When my skirt came I was delighted - it was all wrapped up in tissue paper with a lovely black clothkits ribbon around it which was printed like a tape measure. The skirt was, as I remembered from my youth, printed onto the red cord with lines to cut depending on size I wanted.
I should stress that prior to making this I hadn't physically touched a sewing machine for probably 25 years, but the instructions were simple and reassuring with very clear pictures. Everything was written as if a good friend were trying to help you out, when it said "the seam allowance is 1.5cm. What is that I hear you ask?" - yes I was asking, and yes I did need the step by step explanation that followed.
I managed to cut everything out and make the skirt without too much trouble, it probably took me under 2 hours whilst multi-tasking doing other more boring things. I say more boring things as as I went on I realised that I was quite enjoying the experience and it was making sewing seem much more fun than it was circa 1980 something when I had to make a hideous skirt at school and wear it in a "fashion show". The long-buried memories of this ritual humilation made me sincerely hope that I could make a better job of my daughter's skirt and not cause her unnecessary embarassment at preschool!
I did have to do some deep breathing at the point where I realised that I didn't have tailor's chalk - one of the only things not supplied bar a sewing machine, and have since discovered that you can't actually buy any in my entire town, but I improvised with some of the children's chalk and after an emergency chocolate biscuit was raring to go again. I even managed to sew a button hole after deciding that I would go for the more challenging of the two options for doing the waistband and practising on a spare old tea cloth first.
Remarkably at the end my skirt actually did look like the picture from the site, here, if anyone is interested:
Of course it looks even cuter on the three year old, and not at all "home-made", even though I didn't quite finish it off by adding a clothkits label. I must also confess to leaving a bigger hem than suggested so that I can take it down so it will last a year or two; I really am turning into my mum! I would have thought that anyone with a sewing machine, or one that they can beg or borrow would be able to have a go at making one of these kits, based on my experience. It was really satisfying and given that my daughter seems to really like having something that I made, and that the finished item is great quality I certainly will be buying more items from Clothkits in the future.
It is great to see Clothkits back, and I am really impressed with the range of kits available, which is growing, the customer service and the clothes themselves. I quite fancy buying a doll at some point, though I hope they relaunch the "snakes and ladders" tablecloth which I remember from the seventies and which isn't yet available.
It is fantastic to be able buy a British product which, for me, has a sense of heritage about it. Clothkits produce lovely items and I hope that they do really well in their relaunch.
Making your own clothes now in these mass-produced cheap clothes times may not be more cost effective necessarily but it is certainly satisying, fun and with Clothkits' help something that, dare I say it, even I have been able to do with great results. Highly recommended.
www.clothkits.co.uk for more information and details of offers and workshops