Waaaay back to the beginning
A comparatively long time ago, in the scale of "the life of Copper Catkin", I decided that I wanted to give big people a better selection of work apparel. Those who present male can generally find something suitable, but for women? Ugh. It's really hard to find something that isn't just a sack made of discount fabric, because we are more expensive, and more complicated, to cover.
I wanted to join the movement that empowered people to feel great about themselves, by wearing things that boosted their mood, regardless of their size, and I started to investigate plus-size clothing - that's how I started designing all these fabrics!
Now, before I get into the clothing stuff, I need to talk about size and how it matters. It really is important to love yourself and accept your body, but it is also important to take care of yourself. I am not, and will not, support any behaviour that encourages people to harm themselves - whether it be bullying causing mental anguish over failure to be thin, or enabling behaviours that encourage people to stay overweight and unhappy, instead of working to get to a healthy weight.
Every single person is on their own journey, and every one of us is battling things daily. Some people can;t stand to see themselves in the mirror. Some people can't shut up the voice in their heads that tells them how inadequate they are. We don't know each other's struggle, but we can know this:
Happier people tend to be healthier.
So that's my target - I want to contribute to people's happiness quotient, by providing workable quirks for all shapes and sizes.
Making it work
My first obstacle was immediate, though - I simply didn't know enough about textiles to design either the repeats or the scale, and I didn't know enough about clothes to make the designs sit correctly. I was stuck.
I consulted pattern makers, sewists, Project Runway, my friends and audience - it looked like the only option was to start somewhere, and see where it went. I decided to use myself as a test subject, and began trying to find the right way to get my clothes out there.
In the meantime, I designed hundreds and hundreds of repeats. Only the best made it onto my Spoonflower page, and not all of those have made it beyond there and into fat quarters, but after more than two years of designing and selling my fabrics, I have improved beyond all expectation.
A year ago, I decided to try to find a dressmaker who could help me develop my designs, and after posting several ISO posts on Facebook, found Kimble. We met up in November 2017, and started looking at all the things I want to make. I pulled out a few items of clothing that I liked, and a pair of pants that I had made, and over the next few months, we developed a versatile blouse pattern and a trouser pattern from them.
Steampunk Market Jacket
As many of you will know, my husband George and I have a strong connection with the Steampunk aesthetic, even if we have no time to actually indulge it. We had a Steampunk wedding, and it's a style that flatters both of our shapes.
With that in mind, I decided that it was time to try making my own market outfit, and I launched into Simplicity 2172, which was, to be fair, really quite ambitious.
Spoiler alert - it was too warm
So I love layers, but I also feel the heat. On a cloudy day at around eighteen degrees Celsius, I am at my most comfortable, especially with a bit of a breeze. Stonking hot outdoor markets with full summer sun and extra layers of heavy waistcoat jacket are not really compatible. Back to the drawing board!
The appeal of this design was that it would be like a simple jacket that emphasised the design on my Redbubble shirt, and connected my to my stall with the fabrics used.
I had the waistcoat remade and edited to fit me better by Kimble Designs, and it's much more practical.
A major problem for me when working in an office is the air conditioning/heating situation. Everyone feels temperature differently, but I am almost always too warm. So my workwear needs to be both professional and cool enough that I am not a melted puddle on the floor by the end of the day.
I like my blouses to be able to sit loose or be cinched by a belt or a waistcoat, and I like interesting collars and bows.
I decided to use three of my newest designs for my new blouses, and ordered the fabric in performance knit (now retired in favour of Performance Piqué, I believe).
And here are the finished pieces:
Fit-and-flare is a winner for my figure, so I decided it was time to celebrate my new stall makeover with a new swing dress to match. I knew that I was using my "Orchid Stripe" (developed when I made my "Orchids and Onions" design), and I knew I was using turquoise for my displays. I also knew that turquoise was going to be a winner for my new "Poppies" design.
I tried out a few mock-ups to help others visualise and give me their opinions, and to give Kimble Designs her brief.
I love how vibrant these colours are!
The skirt is heavy, and full, and made from Longleaf Sateen Grand - both the poppy and the polka-dot trim.
The belt is made from Retired Performance Knit, as is the bodice, so there's a little more stretch.
Where to from here?
While it's been fun having custom pieces made for me, the things that people really want are simple, comfy, and inexpensive in relation to their quality - which means that one-off, hand-made items are not going to be my direction for the future.
My Redbubble shop is doing well, and there are lots of fun, print-on-demand options in there - we wear our t-shirts most days. My favourite is the tri-blend tee, and George's favourite graphic tees have also been really popular.
Don't worry, though - I will continue to make my ever-popular infinity scarves! keep an eye on the Facebook photo album - they are selling too fast to list.
There's no way around it. Shopping as a big girl is an exercise in depression management.
Finding decent swimming togs is hard, in general, and finding nice togs that flatter, fit, and still allow you to actually swim? The STRUGGLE. Add in being a larger person, and it becomes a complete nightmare.
So I decided to find someone who could make me the perfect pair of togs, using my own fabric designs.
That's how I came across Swanwear again - in October last year - at the Underground Markets. I had seen the stall before, but just assumed it wasn't going to have anything that fit. It's a protective mechanism - if I assume nothing will fit, I won't be hurt when yet another place considers a NZ size 14 "plus size". And I am NOT a size 14.
I had a quick chat with Annemiek, and she said that she could help, and then, things being busy and money being tight, it went on the backburner for a few months, as tends to happen with our personal projects at Copper Catkin HQ.
A design is born
In January, we went blueberry picking for the first time, and it inspired me to make one of my favourite designs so far - my "Blueberry Bushes" design. Finally, I had the impetus to design the togs themselves.
I decided on the fabrics required, and mocked up my designs, then Annemiek made a mock-up of the costume, and I ordered fabric samples so we could see if the Spoonflower Sport Lycra fabric that I wanted to use was going to be suitable.
(Spoiler alert - it was!)
The fabric designs I chose
Once the samples were approved, we ordered the fabric. As they are a print-to-order service, Spoonflower don't offer partial yards, so I had to order more than I needed - but it will be used!
Be sure to consult with Swanwear before making your order, as the quantities may be different for your design choices!
What with one thing and another, it actually took quite a while to get the togs themselves made - we were renovating bathrooms, and it wasn't really swimming weather - but they finally came together in time for me to wear them for the first time in public on our trip to Portland, and for my very cool photoshoot with A La Mojo (more to come about that soon!).
Where to from here?
Well, I regularly get asked where I got my togs, and I tell people that they are printed from my own designs and made by Swanwear, which is met with interest.
The new pattern that we developed for my togs is available for purchase, either in some of the fabrics that Annemiek has on hand, or in any of my designs!
I thought it might help to mock up a few other options to help people visualise what they could do.
Example - Ladybird Togs - DIY swimming costume design
I have started by gathering together a few designs in related colourways and subject matter. This is a great way to help triage a large list of choices. You can make your own albums (create a collection as if you're making a fill-a-yard) on Spoonflower to help you out. Here's mine for this post:
This design allows for up to three colour choices - the front feature panel, the sides and back panels, and the frills, straps, and trims. As you can see from the mock-up below, every variation can give a different feel - and all so quirky and fun! No one else will have the same look as you.
If you are still struggling with your choices, you can contact Swanwear for assistance as part of ordering your bespoke swimwear, or we can arrange a Copper Catkin design consultation (please note that this will not be free, as I do not receive any additional commission from Swanwear - only the small payment for the fabrics themselves from Spoonflower).
I hope you feel inspired and ready to tackle the big bad world of custom swimwear now!
Now, get out there, get in the water, and #WorkYourQuirk!