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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Woman sewing seeds of fashion success in Carlisle

Andrea Nixon is determined to put Carlisle on the fashion map.

Andrea Nixon photo
Andrea Nixon

“I vacuumed the carpet before you came,” Andrea  admits as she shows off her colourful hand-made bags and cushion covers displayed on the living room floor.

“The carpet is always covered in thread.

“I was busy working until quarter-to-one this morning.

“When you’re in the mood to make something you can get carried away.”

As she flicks through her photo notebooks packed full of her stylish designs and creations, it’s clear that using fabrics and prints to carefully craft anything from cushion covers and bags to jackets and corsages by hand or using her trusted sewing machine is her passion.

Her love of clothes and handbags and her flair for design was developed during her studies on the contemporary applied art degree at the University of Cumbria and since graduating in 2008 she has been putting Carlisle firmly on the fashion map.

Whether it’s a design for pieces she makes from scratch or intricate details to customise an existing item Andrea, 25, says that her creations don’t follow trends but are instead one-off pieces.

“They are bespoke pieces, often for special occasions and so they tend to have a classic style,” she explains. “They are more focussed on the person and what they want.

“People often know what they want but can’t find it in shops or they need a bag or shoes to match an outfit.”

Andrea doesn’t feel the need to move south to join a big-name brand or fashion house to further her education or career.

She has taken up opportunities locally to build up her portfolio during her time as a student and since graduating, working at Stead McAlpin in Cummersdale, Linton Tweed and The Wedding Warehouse in Carlisle, where she worked making alterations to bridesmaid dresses.

She now works three days a week as a tailoring apprentice at Steed Bespoke Tailors on Junction Street in Carlisle.

Under the guidance of owner Edwin DeBoise she’s getting experience of using traditional techniques and materials used to make the fully bespoke and semi-bespoke suits.

“I’m still learning,” she says. “These suits are made to last. When I look at a suit I can tell if it’s bespoke or not. It does make a difference.”

She has also been busy making stylish and coordinated furnishings for her Carlisle home, which she moved into with fiance Bruce Clarke last year.

The rest of her time is spent working from home making home furnishings for Country House Interiors, in Castle Douglas, including hand-made cushion covers using traditional fabrics and tartan.

She also makes and customises garments for family and friends.

“I’ve got a lot of weddings this year,” she says. “I’ve customised a veil for my cousin with Swarovski crystals to add a touch of sparkle and flower girl dresses and I’ve made the name cards for the tables at a wedding.

“People want something different and it makes it more personal.”

While her skills and portfolio are growing, any discussion about Andrea’s work wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the prestigious Silver Shears’ Rising Star Award she won back in 2009 and when I ask to see her winning creation she points to a garment cover draped over the back of the settee.

She unzips it to reveal a striking and stylish teal jacket.

Wow! I really like that, would you sell it? I ask.

My response, she says, is one she has got used to.

“People are drawn to it and ask me all the time if it’s for sale but I say no,” she laughs. “I could never make the same jacket again anyway, because it’s hand dyed so there’s never going to be another one made like it. It was my final year project at university and I’m attached to it.

“I’m used to it getting a lot of attention.”

Andrea hand dyed the fabrics herself using a Japanese dying technique – shibori – and wove it using a hand-weaving loom. The lambs wool and cotton jacket also has hand-beaded detail on the sleeve, a hand dyed silk lining and matching handbag.

She made the pattern to fit herself and it took a couple of months to make.

She was up against Savile Row tailors in The Golden Shears competition and says her success shows that you don’t need to be in London to produce work that gets recognition.

Since then the jacket has been displayed throughout the country, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, proof that she has come a long way since we first met in 2007.

She was still a student and was asked, through the Cumbria Weddings and Events Networking Group, to design and make a wedding dress out of newspaper to be modelled during the catwalk show at the Live the Dream wedding event at Carlisle Racecourse.

Since then this creation has been displayed several times, most recently on Weft Studio’s stall in Carlisle city centre at the garden party celebration to mark the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April.

Andrea points to her nana Lillian as the inspiration for her love of making anything involving sewing.

“She does a lot of knitting,” she says. “I couldn’t compete with her so I let her do the knitting.

“I’ve always liked art and drawing and I wanted to do something I enjoy.

“I’m quite hands on and I like textiles and designing.”

Andrea went to Morton School and then into sixth form at Trinity School in Carlisle before moving on to a foundation degree at Cumbria College of Art and Design and then a degree in contemporary applied art at the University of Cumbria, specialising in embroidery, weaving and textiles.

She has fond memories of her time at uni and the things she made during her degree.

“The garage is full of fabric and the things I made,” she reflects. “I can’t throw things out. “People collect things such as fabrics for me. You never know what you might need.”

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