INTERVIEW: Tilly Walnes (Tilly and the Buttons)

If somehow you haven’t heard of Tilly, you’re in for a treat. Since she began sewing and blogging at Tilly and the Buttons, she’s been recommended in the Colette Patterns book, become a guru for sewing beginners and recently ran the first successful sewing social on Twitter.

Tilly kindly agreed to answer some questions for me via email, so without further ado, I’ll hand you over to the lady herself…

Why did you decide to get into sewing?

Sewing is such a major part of my life now that it’s crazy to reflect back to when I started out – pretty much on a whim. I’d been getting frustrated sitting in front of a computer at work all day, and felt like I wanted to flex my hands and use them for a more creative endeavour than merely typing, so I decided I’d take up a new hobby. At first I thought I would give pottery a try – I dreamt of plunging my hands into soft, wet clay after a hard day in the office.

Then one day I was sitting in my local cinema watching Jane Campion’s film Bright Star. The film is about John Keats’ relationship with his muse Fanny Brawne, who was a talented seamstress. The opening shots show extreme close-ups of a needle delicately weaving itself through some fine cotton. I was sold immediately and signed up to a beginners’ sewing class soon after.

So in a way it was a happy accident that I chose sewing as my new hobby (although I’d say it’s definitely more than a hobby now – it’s a way of life!). But in retrospect it makes sense that I would fall in love with stitching. I’ve always loved clothes and my daydreams usually involve drawing dress designs. As a child I would spend hours sketching the costumes in the V&A museum and designing my own fashion collections. Plus my mum worked as a knitwear designer and my great-grandfather as a tailor – so it’s in the blood!

What’s been your biggest sewing challenge?

I’ve always been a bit fearless when it comes to sewing – for better or worse! So the biggest challenge has been not so much a technique, rather finding the time to make all the things I want to sew.

After a hard day at the office, I’m usually too tired to work on a sewing project and give it the attention it deserves and at the weekends it’s hard to tell people you can’t come out because you want to make a blouse! Although I have been known to do this. Or just invent excuses so I can stay home with my fabric. Ssshhh! Plus on top of that writing a blog and answering the emails that come through it takes soooo long!

But making time to sew is something I’m working on. I’ve learnt that it really helps to break down a project into small tasks and make a list of these, so if you’re tired and your head is elsewhere you can just start with one of the ten minute tasks on the list (eg. “cut out and iron on interfacing”) and see what happens…

You’re on my list of inspiring sewing bloggers and I wondered who is on yours?

Aw… thank you! It’s really nice to know that you find my blog inspiring, as I myself really value the inspiration I get from the online sewing community.

The blogs I find inspiring are the ones written by people who dive right into sewing, and who encourage other people to have a go too and not be discouraged by creative self-doubt. Unfortunately craft blogs sometimes attract comments along the lines of “I know much more than you and I wouldn’t have done it like that,” or “Who do you think you are, trying to makesomething and share your knowledge, when I have 75 years’ experience and do it for a living”.

I find it depressing that some people would choose (probably for defensive reasons) to put down other people’s efforts to be creative and to share their passion for making things themselves rather than buying them.

Rant over, I really enjoy blogs written with a generosity of spirit by people who want to spread their love of sewing. Oh and for pure aesthetic reasons (definitely a big attraction of sewing blogs), the ones who make pretty things and show them off with the kind of photography that makes me swoon.

I’m always discovering lovely new sewing blogs so it’s an ever-changing list, but just a few of my favourites are listed on my blog here.

How much of your wardrobe would you say is self-made nowadays? Have you seen a big shift away from the high street in your shopping habits?

About half of my wardrobe (not counting t-shirts and undies) is self-made now, and I tend to wear at least one homemade garment most days.

As soon as I learnt how to use the sewing machine, I reformed my former shopaholic ways. All of a sudden the high street stores I walk past everyday on my way to work lost their appeal. Being able to make things yourself is so empowering, you’re not relying on factories to make stuff for you anymore.

What do you think about home sewing as a sustainable way to engage in fashion?

The environmental and ethical angles of sewing your own clothes are clearly hugely significant. Stitchers tend not to send so much to landfill, for example, and are less reliant on garments produced under dubious circumstances in faraway sweatshops.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect solution though. Many sewists – me included – are sewing with cheap fabric produced by poorly-paid workers, farmed using dodgy pesticides, dyed using harmful chemicals… It’s not easy to source fabric with good environmental and ethical credentials, or even just to find out under what conditions it was produced. There are some fabric retailers who are conscious of this issue, such as Fair Trade Fabrics and Ray Stitch. Here’s to more ethically sourced fabrics becoming available in the future.

What are your top tips for aspiring sewers?

1) Have no fear. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

2) Try out different styles of learning to see what works for you (classes, blogs, books…).

3) Be honest with yourself about whether you’ll actually wear that kitty-print purple satin wiggle dress you dream of making. (You will? Great!)

4) Choose fabrics that are easy to sew (non-slippery, non-sheer…) but wearable.

5) Just do it! Sewing is awesome, you’ll love it!

Isn’t she fab? If you’re new to Tilly’s blog, I suggest you add it to your bookmarks immediately, especially if you’re fairly new to sewing. Did you find yourself drooling over her beautiful picnic blanket skirt at the top of the post? Never fear, she’s got a three-part tutorial up on her blog so you can make one of your own!

5 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: Tilly Walnes (Tilly and the Buttons)

  1. Sam says:

    Tilly is one of my favourites too, she’s certainly inspired me to sew more, and also to start my own blog to document the process!

  2. Liz says:

    I love Tilly’s blog – it is so inpiring and her photos are beautifully taken. She helps inspire me to sew more and blog better! I love the online sewing community.

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