Thread Theory

Welcome to the new era of menswear sewing. Go ahead and create something exceptional!


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Meet Ben (aka @sewciologist) and his me-made-wardrobe

 

Color-blocked Fairfield Button-up

Let me introduce to you an enthusiastic menswear sewist with an eye for detail and design!  I am in constant awe of the outfits Ben sews for himself and posts on Instagram.  He was posting consistently throughout Me Made May 2017 and I wanted to share every single one of his garments with you!  Ben graciously agreed to answer a few questions and share some photos on the blog so you are in for a treat today!  Make sure to take a careful look at some of Ben’s thoughtful design choices – which is your favourite?

Can you introduce yourself briefly and give a little run down on how you came to be such an accomplished sewist?

Thank you so much for having me! I am thrilled to be featured on your blog as you are one of my favourite menswear pattern designers. My name is Ben and I’m an Austrian living in Birmingham, UK. I’ve always enjoyed creating things of all sorts, but up until two years ago it never dawned on me that making my own clothes was a thing that I – or anyone – could do! My first contact with haberdashery in general was when I learned to crochet in primary school. On a whim, I dug out what was left of those skills a few years ago and started to make pillow cases, and when a friend came over for a ‘crafternoon’ with her sewing machine, I knew that that’s what I needed in my life. Fast forward a few months, past a number of totes and zipper bags and my first ever garment – a Finlayson sweater – saw the light of day.

Fairfield Button-up made by Ben

I don’t know if I’m really all that accomplished with what limited experience I have, but I’m certainly a very ambitious and adventurous sewist. I find myself easily bored and would much rather try out a new pattern than stick to a tried and tested one, as well as trying out new techniques as I go along. By nature, this has meant quite a steep learning curve for me, but I’m proud to say that I’m an entirely self-taught sewist, not least thanks to your sewalongs and the many video tutorials out there. I also owe a lot of my expertise to my part-time job at my local haberdashery Guthrie & Ghani which has encouraged me to push on and explore new skills, as well as the thriving sewing community of Birmingham.

Sewing for Men - Sweater and Lon Sleeve Shirt

It’s very clear, based on your inspiring Instagram account, that you sew many of your own clothes – even now that MMM17 is well past, do you still find yourself wearing your handmade garments on a daily basis?  What type of handmade garment do you tend to wear most often?

I definitely try to wear as many handmade garments as I can every day. Wearing something I’ve made gives me a sense of confidence that I haven’t known before. I feel that it is a skill that is no longer quite so widespread, so it makes me all the more proud to be wearing me-mades. As a matter of fact, I have promised myself that I won’t buy anything that I can make or that I can learn to make. “Quintessential Ben” likes to dress in a smart casual way typically consisting of a pair of chinos and button-up shirts, but I do try to explore different styles and go out of my comfort zone more often. Still, my favourite garment is definitely the Fairfield shirt. I have now made a number of them and it’s one of the few patterns I don’t mind making over and over! I love how different fabrics give it a completely different look. For my next one, I’m planning a looser-fitting denim version with mother-of-pearl snaps – and maybe an added pocket flap and some funky topstitching on the yoke?

Me Made May - Sewciologist

When planning a new garment, where do you find inspiration?

I don’t often find myself influenced by current trends in fashion as I feel that I have a fairly settled and consistent taste. I generally prefer style lines and creative pattern cutting over colourful or intricate prints, so I like to seek out patterns that make a striking impression even when made in a plain or subtly printed fabric.

I also like to be inspired by the fabric itself. For the last few weeks, I’ve been under a self-imposed “fabric ban” as an incentive to work away on my existing stash – even though I have the sinking feeling that it’s still growing rather than shrinking… In a way, that has actually fuelled my creativity as I’m now thinking about what I can make with the more outlandish things I bought or picked up at a swap.

Ben the Sewciologist

What resources would you recommend to a man interested in sewing his own wardrobe?

A lot of help early on in my sewing journey has actually come from indie patterns such as your own, as I’ve found them to be particularly beginner-friendly. I’d always recommend starting on one of those rather than a Big Four one, which would typically presuppose a lot more knowledge of sewing terms and techniques.

Community is incredibly helpful as well. If you don’t know anyone else in your area, I’d say have a look online! The number of menswear sewing bloggers has increased over the last few years and there are some great blogs out there: the fashionable and virtually iconic Male Pattern Boldness, the debonair Male Devon Sewing, or the incredibly talented Mensew, to name just a few, are all treasure troves of tips and inspiration. Instagram, too, has a growing community of menswear sewists which can be found under hashtags like #makemenswear, #menwhosew or #mensewtoo.

Sewing for men - button down shirt

And lastly, I can only recommend turning to womenswear sewists for guidance. Many of the techniques will be the same, and there are so many wonderfully talented women out there who have a wealth of knowledge we can only admire and benefit from. Not to be too political, but I do think that in general men would do well to listen to women more often and with greater humility!

Strathcona T-shirt

Do you have any pattern, fabric, or tool requests that you would like to be made better available to menswear sewists? We’d love to hear your wishlist!

Where do I start?! I would love to find some crisp shirting material like Oxford cloth in more modern colours to make nice workwear, but so far have found it difficult to find in the UK. I’m very keen on buying lots of natural fibres and sustainably sourced fabrics for things like formal trousers, which is also not always easy to come by. Pattern-wise I have been on the lookout for transitional outerwear like a bomber jacket or a trench coat, but in general I’d love to see more adventurous and fashion-forward designs out there. Another thing that’s hard to find is a good book on fitting menswear. Fitting is an art in itself, and getting it right makes all the difference between a good garment and a showstopper.

Men who sew - Ben the Sewciologist

Thanks, Ben, for sharing your inspiring garments, your can-do attitude and some of the things that inspire you!

Did you notice the multi color buttons on the pale pink shirt with contrast trim?  I love how subtle yet completely unique that feature is!  I must remember this idea for my next Fairfield…


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A New Canadian Fabric Store! Blackbird Fabrics

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In case you haven’t already heard, there is a new online fabric shop based out of Vancouver!  It’s called Blackbird Fabrics and its proprietress is the Caroline, the skilled seamstress with a warm smile  who you will probably recognize as a regular contributor to the Sewaholic blog.

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Blackbird Fabrics specializes in high quality fabrics for garment making.  The shop carries a gorgeous selection of carefully curated prints and solids as well as an excellent variety of unique textures (check out the quilted knits!).  There is also an ever-growing collection of quality dress-making tools and supplies including really nice high quality interfacing which I find difficult to source locally.

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When Blackbird Fabrics was launched, I promptly emailed Caroline to introduce myself and congratulate her on her new shop (it was a great excuse to make a new sewing friend in B.C!).  Caroline is super friendly and has kindly taken the time to respond to my long-winded questions about her new shop.  Get ready for a great behind-the-scenes peek at the Blackbird Fabrics Studio!  And…make sure you read to the bottom of the post because Caroline has generously provided a 10% discount to her shop for all Thread Theory readers 🙂

 

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Caroline!  First off, can you introduce yourself and your new fabric store to our readers?

Of course. My name is Caroline – most people know me as Caroline from Sewaholic! I’ve been lucky enough to work with Tasia over the past few years, but up until a couple of months ago, I was doing it while working a full time job! I recently left my job of 5 years in the fashion textile industry to set up Blackbird, my new online fabric shop. I’m based in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. My online shop carries fashion fabrics and my favorite dressmaking supplies and tools.

Blackbird Studio 7

What are your current goals for Blackbird Fabrics (i.e. what fabric types do you plan to emphasize, what tools do you dream of stocking?).

The emphasis will always be on garment fabrics. I’m working hard to find new suppliers so that I can have a diverse selection. Right now I’m focusing on finding more knits and woven prints in natural fibers. I’m also excited to add new fabrics based on customer feedback! The goal to begin with was to fill a hole in the market. So I’m definitely taking requests and suggestions seriously and keeping them in mind when I’m sourcing new fabrics. 

Blackbird Studio 2

I’m SUPER excited about your fabric store as I know that there is a dire need for online garment fabric resources in Canada and I love how local you are for me!  From your experience so far, have Canadians been your main customer or have you been selling your fabric mostly internationally?

I was actually really surprised when I launched, to see that there were lots of international customers ordering! So far it’s primarily Canadians, but I get plenty of US orders and a good chunk of international too. It’s super exciting to see people on the other side of the pond interested in my fabrics!

Blackbird Studio 1

What does a typical day at Blackbird Fabrics include?

I’m lucky that I work from home, and my studio/sewing room/inventory storage is in a separate room within my apartment. I’m not exactly an early riser, and I’ve learned not to fight it as much anymore. I usually wake up at around 8am, make breakfast, and answer e-mails for both my business and Sewaholic. Some days I work on a blog post, other days e-mails and other computer work takes up most of my morning. Lately I’ve been working on finding new suppliers, which can take a lot of digging!

If I don’t have any errands to run, I spend my afternoon/evening in the studio packing orders, and sometimes photographing products for the shop. Some afternoons I’ll focus on Sewaholic, so I’ll cut and sew samples for new patterns we’re developing.

Honestly though, so far, no day has been all that typical! Ask me again in a year I guess, haha. I’m still finding my groove, and trying to balance my business work and contract work. It’s been a lot of late nights! No complaints here though – I’m truly loving every minute of it.

Blackbird Studio 6

You must be very knowledgeable about fabrics after working for Telio!  Can you explain how this career in the fabric industry has aided you in launching your own business?

It’s funny, because when I was in school studying fashion design, I never thought I would have a career focused on fabric. I got an internship at Télio in Montreal right out of school, and over that summer I fell in love with textiles. After that, I worked for a year in the merchandising department, building the line, developing color stories, choosing and recoloring prints. I spent lots of time putting together trend reports for the sales reps, and working on graphics for the website. That year really shifted my focus. I learned so much about fabric resourcing, and what makes a cohesive and sellable collection. Not many wholesalers do it as well as Télio does! Then I heard about an opportunity to open a showroom in Vancouver, and I decided to go for it. That’s what brought me to the west coast! I set up the showroom, and spent the next 4 years developing business out here and working directly with clients. I think my experience in merchandising and then sales really gave me insight into what types of fabrics people truly love to buy and work with. I’ve also bought a lot of fabric over the years, for myself, so I’ve had the chance to test out different qualities and I really have learned what to look for in a great quality fabric.

Blackbird Studio 3

Of course, you have been a big part of Sewaholic over the last year and I hear that you plan to remain so!  You guys are single-handedly making Vancouver into a super sewing destination!  What plans do you have for working together with your businesses?  Have you established a few tricks for juggling two jobs? (I think Matt would love to hear any you might have! :P)

I’m thrilled to continue to work with Tasia! She has been a huge inspiration for me because she is a business superwoman. Personally, I’ll continue to do what I have been doing; sewing samples, customer service, and weekly blogging.

As for our businesses, I think they compliment each other really well. We’ve tossed around the idea of doing a pop-up shop together in Vancouver, and so far the feedback is great so we might try to plan that for the spring.

Right now I think the most exciting thing is that I’m going to work on stocking lots of the fabrics that we feature on the Sewaholic blog. Often we get those fabrics from Télio (a wholesaler that is not open to the public), and we don’t always have a retailer to direct readers to. This way, it will be easier than ever for readers to get their hands on those fabrics, because they’ll be a click away in my shop! 

On juggling two jobs… I think the most important thing is to know when to take a break. Working too hard can only lead to a burnout! So I try to take time during the day to get fresh air, make a nice lunch for myself, or go to a yoga class.  I also find that I get the most done when I compartmentalize. If I need to spend an afternoon focusing on Sewaholic, then I step away from everything else and try not to get distracted by e-mail or instagram or whatever. Oh yes and lists! I’m a list fiend, I write everything down. Recently Tasia and I started using Trello to organize our to-do lists, and it was pretty life changing. I use it for everything now.

Blackbird Studio 5

I’m really excited for your store’s blog to start up!  What sort of content do you hope to include?  I see Blackbird Fabrics is on Facebook and Twitter.  Where can customers connect with you the most?

I’m excited about the blog too! I’m going use it to feature new fabrics, show some behind the scenes peeks, and I’ll write about my own sewing projects too! I’d also love to feature customers’ finished projects sewn with Blackbird fabrics. I’m hoping to have the blog set up in the next few weeks, so I’ll definitely announce it on social media when it’s up and running. Speaking of social media! I’ve personally caught the Instagram bug – I just love it – so that’s probably where you’ll see me the most. But I try to stay active on Twitter and Facebook as well. You can also sign up for my newsletter on my homepage, I’ll be sending out shop updates every so often and I’ll give advance notice of any upcoming sales!

Blackbird Studio 4

Thank you, Caroline, for taking the time to chat with me on the Thread Theory blog!  And, of course, thank you for offering Thread Theory readers a discount to your store!  To receive 10% off everything at Blackbird Fabrics, enter the discount code “THREADTHEORY10” upon checkout.  The code is valid until this Sunday, November 9th 2014, midnight PST.  Happy shopping!