Interview with Julie: Dressmaker
“Brixton is now as such a vibrant, creative area, so support those vibrant, creative people.”
Julie has lived in Brixton for 23 years. She thinks that the model of a local directory for artists and creative people, involving a skills exchange trade scheme could be the way to assist with networking and locating affordable, useful space.
What is your main creative role?
I’m a dressmaker. I make dresses or curtains or whatever, for other people. I’m not a trained pattern cutter. It is not my main source of income. It’s hard to say whether I would like it to be. Possibly I would. But then, when you have to do something all day every day, it’s not always as fulfilling as doing stuff that you just want to do. But I’ve always done it. I made my first garment at age six and it was a white top with yellow and blue smocking on it.
Tell me about your creative work space and how you work there.
I’ve been working from the loft space of a friend’s property which is great because it’s five doors away from my house, so I can come up here and work for 20 minutes if I want, and go home, or I can come up here and work for 7 hours, if I so desire. It’s also affordable. Before I had this loft area, I tried to work in my own living space which was a living room/working room/sitting room/eating room/ office room. It was untenable. I’ve worked from the loft for four years now, and I’ve lived in Brixton for twenty three. I’ve always had workspace in my home. Previously, I have rented space but I used it for storage and it wasn’t feasible as a work area because it simply wasn’t clean enough or large enough for a cutting table and machine. I couldn’t work in a space smaller than what I have now, so no smaller than 4 m x 4 m. I may have to move out and I really don’t want to give this space up.
It’s good to not have the distraction of home, such as TV or the animals jumping on stuff. Plus, because of the nature of dressmaking, lots of people will not buy from you unless it is a smoke free, pet free, home. Which I entirely understand, especially if you have allergies. Being here has greatly improved my creative process because I feel its somewhere I can come to and its away from my home. I meet clients here also. I’ve generally found works spaces through local friends and social connections.
I’m often on my own working. But I can call on friends nearby, when they’re home, to come up and help me shift enormous pieces of fabric, I can’t move on my own. But I’ve probably worked in isolation for about 19 years. Even in my other full-time day job, I work alone, and mostly from home.
I don’t have any issue with working with other people. It just has just worked out that I’ve worked alone for so long. I’m used to it, and sewing is something that is a single isolated job, unless you’re actually working with someone who’s doing part of job and you’re doing part of a job. When I shared work with another on the same job, I do find it a bit frustrating because you’re always waiting for someone to make a decision and you have to fit in with that person’s plans.
What’s your experience of artists and how others perceive artists?
About 80% of my friends are creative or artists. They live all over but are mostly city-based. If I had to move out of London, it might worry me that I might not be around creative people so much. Because of the way I am, most of the friends I’ve had throughout my adult life have been creative. Even when I was at school. But I think I would somehow always be involved with people who had something to do with the creative process – like-minded people.
I think people that aren’t creative, presume you can do it for nothing. But due to the very nature of having to rent a space and the financial obligations that go with that, you have to be able to make some money. I don’t think people understand that you aren’t necessarily trying to make a large amount of money but you are trying to cover your outlaying costs.
How does the Brixton area suit your creative needs?
I love Brixton. I love where I live. There’s loads of creative people about. There’s the makers market for a start and people creating stuff there, be it food or art or clothing…anything, really. I think the market is a good basis for that as well because it does try to fund local people, although it’s not all exclusively local.
I think there’s always things you can look at and materials and inspiration available. There’s lots of like-minded people and lots of very creative people in this area. There’s also a huge range of cultures and that’s what I love about this area – it has the feel of a multicultural community. How involved you are in that community is entirely up to you. You can be really, very heavily involved, as some of my friends are, or you can dip in and out of a small network of creative people.
I’ve grown business and friendship relationships with the shop keepers here, particularly the fabric shops, and that makes it much easier to be creative within this area because there’s the source of materials as well as the inspiration. In fact, there’s a local fabric shop that will recommend me for jobs, and they have a card of mine in there. It’s good word-of-mouth support. Likewise, I have also helped out with sewing stuff for other creative friend’s projects. We help each other out.
I think the trouble with Brixton is that it has become incredibly trendy. It’s fine…but there is still this need for creative space and the cost of that is disproportionately high. Normally, for most creative people I know, they end up working within their homes because it is prohibitively expensive to rent additional space outside of your home.
I‘ve seen that there’s workspace up Brixton Hill, as I’ve driven past, but I’ve never enquired because I didn’t think I personally made enough from what I do creatively, to make that monthly commitment. At the moment I’m having trouble making the monthly commitment here, because I haven’t been well so wasn’t able to sew for 6 months. There are some spaces that you see. I don’t know how tenable they are for people – it depends on the nature of what you’re creating. You still have to create quite a lot to make that outlay, especially if you live elsewhere with other financial commitments, therefore have to pay more on top of what you’re already financially committed to.
Can you suggest solutions to help artists?
There needs to be a directory for local artists and creative people. Maybe a community group could start this… Loughborough Junction, Herne Hill, Brixton, wherever. It could include information on materials and space. Put people in touch with one another more easily and readily and provide the directory as a support. Brixton is now as such a vibrant, creative area, so support those vibrant, creative people. And make use of vacant space. Someone owns it – network with them.
There used to be a Brixton directory. I think it initially came from LETS, which was the London Exchange and Trade Scheme and it used to trade in Brix. I think, the format was such that someone would come do your garden for you and you wouldn’t give them physical money for it, but you would exchange x-amount of Brix with them, for painting and decorating or making them a picture or something. It probably ran for several years. But for people that are artistic and creative and in need of space, it would be great to have a directory to make this type of connection with someone who is offering space up. I don’t know how or who would manage it but it could be an amazing proposition, particularly for the creative people we have in Brixton.