Meet the Ipswich woman who turns household fabrics into dresses
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Over the past few years, vintage clothing and ‘slow’ fashion have become more popular than ever.
As people become more conscious about where their clothes come from, there has been a surge in popularity in desire to recycle and rewear.
Even the costume team on the Netflix hit show Bridgerton is planning to reuse all the attire from its first season, upcycling the decadent dresses used to clad Daphne and co into new outfits, all in the name of sustainability.
One woman who especially understands the importance of upcycling and vintage clothing is Kate Mason.
Based in Ipswich, she’s been sewing since she was a child – and just a few years ago launched her very own eco-friendly clothing brand to help ensure nothing goes to waste.
"When I was a teenager, I’d go into charity shops and buy things that weren’t quite right, and change them. I’d buy a long skirt and cut the bottom off, and make a top from the off-cuts. Or I’d take a maxi dress and cut the bottom off, and turn the off-cuts into sleeves.”
Her environmentally-friendly tendencies didn’t stop there though, and well into adulthood, Kate would sew her own homewares, ensuring her house was as green as possible.
“It's always been important to me to be eco-friendly, so I made my own bedding, curtains, and I reupholstered a lot of our furniture. I’d always wanted solar panels since the 90s, and only recently have we been able to afford them.”
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An eco-warrior through and through, Kate recently embarked upon a project with her daughter, which saw the two of them create a number of eco-friendly costumes for a stage production just before lockdown hit.
“My daughter put in an application to the Arts Council to put on a show, and part of the application was to make all of the costumes sustainably, so we weren’t allowed to use any new fabrics.”
The show was inevitably a roaring success, and Kate was soon enamoured with the idea of giving old fabrics a second life.
This, coupled with an operation which meant she was unable to work, pushed Kate to launch ByKatyMac in the autumn of 2019 – her very own vintage clothing brand that turns reclaimed and recycled fabrics into everyday clothing, occasionwear and bridalwear.
“It’s really important to me that we think about where our clothes come from. If we’re getting jeans and T-shirts from Asia, there’s a strong possibility they’re made using hundreds of litres of clean drinking water in the process. And often, the people making the clothes can’t afford to drink that water themselves – and there’s something really wrong with that.”
Kate sources a lot of her fabrics from charity shops, Facebook Marketplace and eBay. “I try to use vintage fabrics when I get them, but I use pre-loved ones a lot of the time. I’m slowly moving over to using 100% cotton, wool and linen rather than polyester – but I will continue to use the polys I have as I don’t let anything go to waste.
“I use new poppers and eyelets however as those are metal and once they’ve been folded into shape, you can’t really reuse them. I have just discovered recycled thread though which is very exciting.”
Once she has sourced her fabrics, Kate will quickly run them through the washing machine before getting to work on her solar-powered sewing machine.
“Curtains are sometimes sun-damaged and when you put them in a washing machine, they’ll sometimes fracture and become unusable, but most fabrics can be salvaged with hot water.”
Rather than getting inspiration from a certain style or era, Kate says the materials she uses provides her with the inspiration she needs when it comes to designing and creating her pieces. “The fabric usually tells me what it wants to be, so I just follow it.”
Her selection of handmade clothes ranges from everyday wear such as plain white shirts and denim skirts, to more elaborate and flamboyant works such as costumes for cosplays and even wedding dresses.
“It’s just a case of what appeals to people. Especially lately, I find people want to be more interesting and more eco-friendly in what they wear. There are still people who look at what I do and think ‘why?’, and continue to buy their clothes from the high street - but there are plenty who are taking on the challenge to not buy anything new, and are really considering where their clothes are sourced from.”
Not only is Kate passionate about giving fabrics a second life - she also dedicates a lot of her time to running mending tables, showing people the importance of knowing how to repair their own clothes.
“We live in such a throwaway culture, but that can be remedied by knowing how to alter and fix your clothes. If we keep buying and mass-producing at the rate we’re currently going, there’s going to be real problems.”
With lockdown restrictions slowly lifting, Kate is beginning to take her upcycled wares out on the road once again, and has big plans for her eco business.
“I usually sell at vintage markets, fairs, festivals, and pop-up shops, and I’ll be having my first exhibition at the Strumpshaw Tree Fair in August. But I’m also planning to get a 1964 caravan with double doors and an awning, so I can hopefully sell in town centres if the councils allow it.
“I’m so excited to get back out there and show people what you can with reclaimed fabrics. But one thing I’d like to stress to people is to not feel guilty about what you can’t do – but to rather celebrate what you can do for the environment. I’ve got my solar panels and I recycle and upcycle, but I still buy new shoes and underwear. I won’t feel guilty as I’m doing my bit where I can elsewhere.”
Kate and her wares can be found at Sarah's Attic in Monk’s Eleigh this Saturday between 10am and 4pm, and this Sunday at the Raydon Farmer’s Market at King George's Playing Field between 10am and 2pm.