Old fabric, new clothes

Esther's dresses

WORDS BY ESTHER MILLER AND ANTLER WILDING

PHOTOS BY ESTHER MILLER AND DANIEL ELKAN

It’s hard to pinpoint where my love for vintage textiles began.

When I began to realise that high street brands tend to take a rather ‘one size fits all' approach to clothes, I knew that I wanted something different for my wardrobe. Not only is there very little standardisation between brands, but there is almost nothing available if you don’t fit a rigid pattern of proportions, which I don’t. This led me to taking dressmaking and pattern cutting classes, so that I could tailor my vintage dress finds to better fit me, and so that I could make my own clothes.

I have sometimes bought a specific bolt of fabric for a project, but just like finding a vintage dress, it’s much more exciting to use some vintage fabric found in a charity shop, vintage fair, passed on from a friend or via a website like TrashNothing. I’m happy to create a garment from a tablecloth, a duvet cover or some curtains. Never underestimate what someone might find useful - that old table runner that is sitting at home in a drawer may be the perfect match for someone’s tastes. And of course, all the scraps get saved for patchwork and smaller projects.

I have been very privileged to be given stashes of fabric and haberdashery saved by relatives of friends and family. They’ve been passed to me to make use of and bring life to, and I recognise the importance the items have – some hold very special memories for those who passed them to me, and I feel very lucky to be a part of that.

There’s something magical about using something you know was also important or beautiful to someone in the past. For example, I have a collection of beautiful vintage beads that belonged to my mother-in-law’s mother (also a dressmaker) and I really cherish each bead I use.

beads and buttons

As word spread about my sewing and friends complimented my outfits, I started getting asked to mend and produce things for friends and family members. It really pleases me to be able to extend the life of someone’s clothes or create something from fabric that might have just been thrown away. After all, the average piece of clothing bought in the UK is now worn only 10 times and we throw around 1.2 million tonnes of textile waste into landfill annually. Much of this is sent to countries that aren’t equipped to deal with it.

Textiles read for a new life

My most recent projects have been inspired by my sister’s band Moulettes. Hannah, who fronts the band is also a great fan of vintage clothing and she recently asked me to make a fabric banner to use during gigs at Smuggler’s Festival. I was inspired both by Hannah’s own collage artwork for the band and by the vintage fabrics used to make political banners for protests.

Esther at Smugglers Festival

I love the work of Alice Gabb, whose protest banners are real artworks. The wording on my banner promotes the band, but it is also an act of protest against over-consumerism and exploitation. Moulettes celebrate the wonders of the environment in their work, Preternatural, and explore the themes of communication in their most recent project Xenolalia, so it feels like the perfect collaboration.

Antler's illustrations can be found at Antler Wilding

Have you got fabric or vintage items such as duvet sets sitting in a cupboard unused? You never know what someone else might be inspired to make from them, so dig it out and pass it on!

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