Wendy Ward – Designer – Dressmaking Teacher – Writer
Posted on: 25th Oct 2014
Wendy busy sewing a sample garment for her book. Image by Julian Ward
Ditto customer Wendy Ward is a sewing dynamo who runs MIY Workshop just around the corner from Ditto on North Road. She teaches sewing, dressmaking and pattern cutting, designs her own range of sewing patterns called MIY Collection and writes on sewing. Her latest exciting venture is her first book, The Beginners Guide to Dressmaking, which is about to be published. Wendy’s book is a beautifully illustrated step by step guide to making a range of garments. Ditto fabrics feature in the photographs.
Wendy’s book which is being launched on Friday 7th. November 2014. Image by Julian Ward.
Wendy has been sewing almost all her life. She says,
‘ As an only child I was always busy making stuff and my entrepreneurial venture was making caterpillars made from pompoms (embarrassing) in the local Sheffield football colours and selling them in the working men’s club on a Saturday night! I progressed to clothing when I was 11, starting with batwing tops.I wish I still had some of them. I made a few for myself then started kitting out my mum and grandma who obligingly wore them, they must have loved me!! Once past the basic style I started making bowties to put on them….well, it was the 80s.’
A fantastic textiles teacher in secondary school also encouraged Wendy and her dad gave her an old Singer hand crank sewing machine to see if she would stick at it and soon after, when she was keeping the old Singer busy, it was followed by her first electric sewing machine. She went on to gain first class honours in Fashion Design & Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University and an MA from the University of Brighton.o
After graduating Wendy worked for Matalan as the sole designer for the whole of their boyswear collection and was thrown into working 60 hour weeks churning out designs on a very quick turnaround leaving very little time for the creativity and concepts she’d been immersed in at university.
Fortunately for Brighton’s dressmakers Wendy turned to teaching. She loved her work in adult education centres but cuts to these classes inspired her to branch out on her own.
‘I knew there were still lots of eager people wanting to learn to sew so I started teaching my own classes in the building that is currently MIY Workshop when it was Just Sew. It went from there really, classes got busier and I was doing more and more and when the owners of Just Sew moved their business across the road to Brighton Sewing Centre, I took over the shop and opened MIY Workshop in January of 2012. It’s a great location in the most creative part of Brighton.’
An exterior shot of MIY Workshop
A class in full swing.
Work in progress
Wendy is still keeping her own sewing machine busy. She is not really a follower of fashion, being more driven by creating timeless, comfortable garments that will be a pleasure to wear.
‘My last job as a designer before starting to teach involved developing a range of sportswear aimed at people doing yoga, so I spent a lot of time doing yoga myself and watching and speaking to others doing yoga to really understand what the clothes needed to do. This resulted in garments that had minimal seams or gathers and other detailing in unexpected places to ease movement and really tiny considerations in the design of the garment such as critical lengths of garments at different points. I suspect I probably approach designing clothes as more like a kind of engineering with a little nod towards current trends.’
Some of Wendy’s designs using Ditto’s fabrics. Image by Julian Ward
Like all sewers Wendy has had total disasters, but her positive outlook means she sees them as the best way of learning.
‘I was making myself a shift dress to wear for a friend’s wedding from some fantastic curtains I found in an antique shop in Kemp Town. I was cutting it fine time-wise and was busy clipping a seam allowance down one of the side seams and yes, you guessed it, cut right through the seam!! I didn’t have enough time or fabric to cut it out again, so I had to patch it up. Luckily the busy print helps to disguise the mend and I try not to make a habit of raising my arm when wearing it! I still enjoy wearing it though, it’s one of my favourite dresses.’
Wendy’s disaster dress that doesn’t look such a disaster to me but note her arm is down!
Wendy loves working with Ditto’s quality knits and wool fabrics. For her, knits make such wearable, comfortable, modern clothes. Although some very lightweight knits can sometimes be a bit of a pain, on the whole she loves how quickly garments made from knits come together. At the opposite end of the fabric spectrum, she also loves working with wools and making tailored garments.
‘I really enjoy all the “fabric engineering” that goes on inside the garment and how you can make beautiful sculptural shapes.’
Lots of lovely fabrics from Ditto. Image by Julian Ward.
Writing her book was a natural step to bring together all her experience of designing, sewing and teaching. Not to mention pressure from her students! Her first book is for beginners as a lot of her teaching is with this group who are also the biggest audience for sewing books.
Once the book was commissioned it was full steam ahead and Wendy really enjoyed the experience, despite it being possibly one of the hardest periods of her life.
‘From Christmas 2013 to June 2014 I didn’t really have much of a life aside from work. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard, but it was worth it and I did enjoy it! I got to create 6 new patterns and made around 30 samples which was heaven, I spent days sewing which I normally don’t get to do and I loved it. I’m really proud to be able to say I did everything in my book, the only thing I didn’t do was style and take the photos. I definitely want to do more and have a few ideas up my sleeve, but I want to spend this winter getting some more MIY Collection patterns out there.’
Sample clothes by Wendy ready and waiting for a book photo shoot. Image by Julian Ward.
Wendy’s top sewing tip.
Get a pressing cloth. A simple piece of unbleached cotton muslin will be the most used and cheapest bit of kit. It will protect your projects from accidental scorching and melting and the bottom of your iron. You’ll also be able to get your interfacing to stick better as you can leave the iron on it for longer.
Wendy’s advice for sewing newbies.
- Invest in some quality dressmaking scissors and keep them just for fabric.
- Do your research and treat yourself to a decent machine from a trusted sewing machine brand. Cheap sewing machines from supermarkets will turn your sewing from a pleasure into a nightmare.
- Choose easy, well-explained quick and achievable sewing patterns. A wearable garment that is quick to make with easy to follow instructions is always a great motivator for my beginner students.
- Work with good quality fabric – you’re spending your precious time lovingly making a unique item, why skimp on fabric? It doesn’t make sense.
Scissor image by Julian Ward.