My Handmade Style: So, Zo…

From vintage chic to clean modern shapes, how do these seamstresses create and communicate their own unique style in their projects? What and who inspires them, from film and music to everyday life. And what’s their dream outfit?

Today we have one of the shining lights of the sewing blogging world – Zoe Edwards of So, Zo… Zoe is the brains behind the annual Me-Made-May and Self-Stitched-September challenges and has just recently taken the leap into self-employment, teaching sewing classes in Brighton. She’s also an expert on upcycling, refashioned and sustainable style having worked at TRAIDremade until the studio closed earlier this year. But enough wittering – let’s take a gander at that divine wardrobe…

Zoe from So, Zo...

You’re known for your vintage pin up style and gorgeous nautically-inspired creations Zoe. But if you had to, how would you sum up your look?

Hmm, I’d say my look is mid-twentieth century inspired retro with more than a dash of nautical and a dollop of Rockabilly! My look is usually a pretty casual one though. I’ve made some nice ‘going out’ dresses, but I don’t have to dress smartly for work and I value comfort pretty highly!

Where do you find your style inspiration and how do you channel that into your me-made wardrobe?

When I want a hit of inspiration, there are certainly online destinations where I know I’ll find some. Trawling Modcloth, Tara Starlet, Dear Creatures, Orla Kiely and increasingly Pinterest, plus all the awesome sewing blogs I like to follow, will always dig up something that gets my, ahem, juices flowing! I rarely act on the accrued inspiration immediately, but having a bank of images and subsequent ideas makes me feel nourished in some way.

As for how this visual inspiration is channelled into my handmade clothing, I think some ideas resonate and stick with me stronger than others. They force themselves to the top of the ‘to be sewn’ list, and it kind of feels inevitable that they should be made. What I sew is a very instinctive thing; I never make any ‘summer sewing plan’ or anything like that. Occasionally I’ll write lists to help clarify the ideas I’m favouring at the time, but they become obsolete within a week when new ideas bubble up!

Who are your style icons and why?

I don’t think my style icons are people, rather certain eras, looks and themes. Rockabilly, Hawaiiana/Tiki, the Beat poets, 1950s Las Vegas, 1960s Paris, diner waitresses, pulp fiction covers… I’m not sure if all those influences are directly evident in the way I dress, but they certainly motivate and fuel me creatively.

Are there any particular designers that you use for inspiration?

No. Generally I find street style infinitely more inspirational than the work of named designers, (Orla Kiely and the designers of the clothing sites I mentioned before aside of course!). Not to say that there aren’t lots of designers out there, past and present, creating amazing things that would or indirectly do inspire me, I just never specifically seek them out. Inspiration is too easily found on sewing blogs and my favourite sites.

I love to see what real women are wearing in their everyday lives, especially if their clothes are handmade. The Me-Made/Self-Stitched months are a joy for this (the next challenge month will be Me-Made-May ’13). Plus the all-year-round Me-Made-Living flickr group is growing into a wonderful community for sharing your handmade outfits.

If you had to select one self-stitched garment that really encapsulates your style – what would it be and why?

Hmm, I guess it would be my Rockabilly wiggle dress. It’s based on a vintage wiggle dress pattern that I adapted to include a contrast leopard print top section and bustier line seam. Its vintage credentials combined with a kitschy fabric choice is pretty representative of my style. The black sateen has a decent elastane content too so it is super-comfortable to wear: another feature that I feel is important because if it isn’t comfortable, it will usually get left in the wardrobe.

The Rockabilly Wiggle Dress

The Rockabilly Wiggle Dress

Do you ever take risks and experiment with your look? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

When I started to take sewing clothes seriously about five years ago, my approach was a predictably scattergun approach: I made stuff with whatever patterns and fabrics I could get my hands on with very little regard for if I would actually wear the final garment or if it fit with my sense of style and life.

I think the process of learning to sew is awesome for developing a good understanding of your body and stylistic preferences because you are forced to make every single decision from start to finish to make that garment exist. Walking into a shop and buying something is so much easier with so much less emotional investment (which is why cheap, shop-bought clothes have taken on a certain ‘disposability’ in our society). After lots of projects that rarely saw the light of day, if at all, I began to think much more about what I was making and how to stop wasting so much of my time and fabric. These days I feel I know my style body and lifestyle pretty well so I can make reasonably well informed decisions about what I make. I think this more considered approach has made me a lot less experimental or adventurous these days, but I’m happy with that.

What didn’t work from my more adventurous days? Blindly making heaps of free patterns from Burdastyle (about five years ago when most of their selection was free). For example, I made a couple of circle skirts that looked horrendous on me and went with NOTHING in my wardrobe at that time. WHY did I do that??!!! I’ll never get that uncut fabric or those hours back…

What did work from that time? My first attempt at using a vintage sewing pattern (before I had a blog) produced this boxy 1960’s little jacket. It’s lined with casino print quilting cotton, all playing cards and poker chips, and has little iron-on swallows on the shoulders. I bought the swallows and the quilting cotton in San Francisco (two separate trips) so it reminds me of special times. Plus the black sateen is very soft so it feels more like a cardigan than a jacket to wear. It’s looking a little past its best these days but I still love to wear it, I’m wearing it now in fact.

1960s jacket

1960s jacket

There are certain looks some of us just can’t pull off… do you have a style bugbear?

Kind of. A few years ago I was pretty obsessed with the Built By Wendy and Dear Creatures ranges. A lot of their styles and other tunic-y tops and skinny jeans looks that were about at the time were better suited to a less curvy figure than mine. I also agree with Roisin when she complained that layering escapes her. My theory is that layering isn’t as easy for hour-glass shaped girls than for more slender shapes. But I’m trying hard to find ways to implement successfully layering because I love vibrant colour combinations and feeling warm!

Also, I love the real pin-up styles of tiny blouses and tight Capri pants and sexy wiggle dresses, but I just value comfort too much to rock those looks for longer than an evening.

What would be your dream outfit, existing or otherwise?

For a couple of years now I’ve been dreaming of making a phenomenal diner waitress style dress. I chronicled this obsession here and I’ve started to collate my image inspiration on a Pinterest board. I’ve made a couple of garments with elements inspired by diner waitress’ outfits, but I’m gearing up to make the very final word in diner waitress dresses!

Diner Waitress dress inspiration bard

Diner Waitress dress inspiration bard

What other sewing bloggers would you recommend for great individual style?

Answering this question could easily be a post in itself, my goodness, there are just so many! I love it when a sewing blogger has a really specific flavour to their creations, it doesn’t have to reflect my own tastes at all although of course it’s awesome when it does for inspiration purposes! I love Jen from Grainline‘s relaxed contemporary style, Helene from frk.bustad‘s all-out mid-20th Century kitsch chic, Tilly from Tilly and the Button‘s super sweet Paris preppiness (is that a word?!), Cecile from Sewing and So On‘s perfectly pitched warm-weather wear, Solvi from Delfinelise‘s eclectic and fun layered awesomeness, Winnie from Scruffy Badger Time‘s infinitely wearable and mix-and-matchable separates… I could seriously go on and on and on. Everyone in the online blogging community has something to offer each other so it feels weird to pick just a handful.

Thanks so much Joanne for asking me to answer these questions, it’s been a fun experience and I think I now know myself and my style a bit better for doing so!

Thanks Zoe for sharing your inspiration, and making us all lust after a diner-waitress frock we didn’t know we wanted!

12 thoughts on “My Handmade Style: So, Zo…

  1. I am also loving this series and I’m so glad you chose to interview Zoe, because she has such a distinct and fabulous style! The rockabilly dress is definitely one of my favourite sewing blogger creations and Zoe is always such an inspiration 🙂

  2. Zoe makes an excellent point about comfort. Yes, you really need to feel comfortable in what you wear. Uber-fitted is all well and good, but how does one eat a meal?! I think this is why I want to learn more about knit fabrics – I really admire Zoe’s work with these fabrics.

  3. I love Zoe – she’s such a great inspiration in the sewing community! I loved all the thoughtful answers about disposability and sewing – I ran into the same thing when I first started to sew!

  4. Pingback: The Breton Top | Did You Make That?

  5. Thanks sooo much Joanne! I loved being part of your series so much! I’m really looking forward to seeing who else you have lined up to talk about their style. xxx

  6. What a lovely interview, and great in-depth answers, thanks for this series of interviews, Joanne, it´s so very interesting! And Zoe, it´s so sweet of you to mention me. Thank you! 🙂

  7. LOVE you Zoe, you always have thought provoking ideas to share with us in addition to the most awesome sense of style 🙂 And thanks for mentionning my blog again, you’re too kind!

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