Where it all began…


My first blog. Anyone that knows me, knows I have always loved writing. Writing stories, I had pen pals all over the world in my teens, I wrote diaries and generally take notes all the time. As you can see in the photo, my trusty notebook never leaves my side. Any thoughts, notes work wise, ideas, I quickly write it down for reference. 

Writing a blog will be a great way to continue this and hopefully it will contain subjects interesting to people interested in sewing, fashion and dressmaking. Not to mention, I can expand more, instead of having to keep it small, like social media posts.

For my first blog, I thought I’d do an introduction as to who I am and my fashion/sewing journey so far. My name is Debby, I am originally from, Tilburg, the Netherlands and have always been interested in sewing. From about 3 years old, the whole thing fascinated me. To create, work it all out. I wanted to play with needle and thread and fabrics all the time, even though it wasn’t the safest toy at that age of course. 

When I was 6, a new TV channel was introduced in the Netherlands, called RTL 4. This is how I discovered there were fashion careers, as this new exciting channel showed an American soap opera called The Bold and the Beautiful. Which was about 2 competing fashion houses, the Forresters and Spectra. Everyday I’d run home from school, to make sure I wouldn’t miss too much of it. The story lines, like all soap operas, were of course a bit silly, but I wanted to see them holding up the designs, pin the models and the episodes showing the fashion shows were of course my favourites! I knew then, I wanted to become a fashion designer, preferably without the drama of course I’d see in this show ha-ha.

For birthdays or Christmas, I would get given sketch pads, pencils and toy sewing machines, which were perfect for puncturing paper, but not for fabric use. I would get frustrated quite easily with them, as they just weren’t made to do what I wanted them to do. It made me one day dig up my mum’s old Leeuwenstein sewing machine. It was a great machine when first bought, but when I started using it, it did show it wasn’t a very happy machine anymore. It was getting old and tired, after many hours of use. As my parents kept seeing how much I wanted to do this, for my 12th birthday, they asked if I wanted my mum’s machine, it would get fully checked first, or a machine of my own, if the Leeuwenstein was beyond saving. I couldn’t say yes fast enough! The Leeuwenstein got a full check and unfortunately, it was of no use anymore, but spares and repairs. Instead a new starter Singer machine became my birthday present. It could do a straight stitch, zig zag and a button hole, the basics you need all the time when sewing. I just had to keep staring at it, once it was home, my own sewing machine! 

My high school years would be all about figuring out what subjects I’d need to do for my follow on studies and creating outfits for the annual celebration of Carnaval. My sewing ability wasn’t fantastic, but I definitely didn’t lack trying. My Singer machine would be out all the time, with me just making things, anything I could think of. 

When it became time to chose a follow on study after high school, I found a dressmaking school in Tilburg, run by Mrs van Iersel-Nouwens. She had downscaled her school a lot by then, but was happy to take me on and teach me. I studied here for 5 years and gained 2 diploma’s. My first was Costumière and my second was Coupeuse.

My studies covered bespoke pattern cutting, the Rundschau way, sewing, creating half scale garments, a range of crafts and knowledge of commodities. Looking back on it now, I feel very privileged I was one of the last ones, to be able to do the diploma’s with her. She was just this fountain of knowledge and I don’t think I even scratched the surface of what she knew. I have found out, that she passed away a few years ago now, in her 90s I believe. I will always think fondly of her and am very grateful to be given the chance to study with her.

Hand sewn quilt for Costumière
Mrs van Iersel-Nouwens on the right

Finishing my studies in Tilburg, I moved to Banbury, England. To study at a college there, which worked together with the de Montfort University in Leicester. My BA degree, was accredited by them, we were just at a different location from their main one.

Clotheshow Live, 2004 entry.

Here I added to my knowledge, by learning how things worked in the industry for retail/High Street. I learned how to use industrial machines. They do feel like they run away with you at first, as they work much faster than domestics, but like everything, by doing it a lot, you get used to it. I got taught fashion design, mood boards, how collections come to life basically and where to look for inspirations. In my second year, I even got chosen as one of 10 finalists, for young designer of the year, at the Clotheshow Live in Birmingham. I didn’t win, but the opportunity was amazing. I wasn’t a huge fan of having to go onto the catwalk myself as well, next to my model, but at least I didn’t trip or fall down it. My model was very lovely and helped steady my nerves, she even held my hand as when we walked down the catwalk together and told me I could do this. It was amazing to see something I designed and created myself go on there and be seen by so many. To hear the feedback afterwards, of many loving what I created. It’s an indescribable feeling. 

My university of course did an annual catwalk as well, to show what all fashion students had created that year. It was a great way to not only show our friends, family and anyone that was curious (the event was open to anyone wanting to come and have a look), but also to see each other’s work. We’d be aware of other year groups and BTEC fashion students and socialise every now and again, but the fashion show was the time where we could really see what everyone had been working on all year round. I personally found it fascinating to then see all these different styles and inspirations and of course that buzz of seeing your own item being walked up and down it, looking at the audience reactions to it. 

My final year, I got the opportunity to experience work in costume. Mentorn was coming to Broughton Castle for 3 days to film part of Nostradamus for the Discovery channel and were after people to help with running repairs. As I showed an interest in Costume during my intake interview, they offered it to me first and I of course said yes! Who wouldn’t have done! I got sent the script, details of when to be where. It was nothing like I thought it would be, but if you watched Extras by Ricky Gervais, I have to say it does give you a gist of it. The catering van and the busses to eat your lunch in and trailers all over the place for the actors, costume, make up. People waiting around for when they would be needed. I will never forget seeing 2 knights talking about their night out recently and thinking how out of place that felt haha. I also still remember the actor playing the King’s mistress, would at times come up to me and tell me I was doing great job with a big friendly smile, as she loved the work I did on one of her dresses. Which was very nice! 

Very shortly after that, I got offered to create costumes for a local theatre group in Oxford, called Tomahawk (now called Wild Goose Theatre), who were going to do their first performance of Macbeth. Again my university thought of me first and of course my reaction was yes, again! The group really made me feel part of it all, even though they didn’t see me a lot of the times they would come together and rehearse. I would only be there for measuring and  fittings, literally in and out. But when it came to team building activities, one was a pub quiz night and another was laser tag and pizza, my first response was you all have fun! And that was met with, aren’t you coming too? As to them, it wouldn’t be a team outing, if all of us weren’t there. And I have to admit, I had a great time going and it helped making it so much easier to work together when we did see each other. The final night of the performance, we all went out for dinner after and I still have the thank you card I got given that evening in my portfolio today. 

Promotional Leaflet of Macbeth.

Of course next to my work experiences, I was working on collections during my final year of my degree (2005-2006), I really wanted to just see what I could come up with. For my capsule collection, inspired by modern artist Joseph Beuys (I went to see his exhibition at Tate Modern in London at the time), I draped a lot of items, sculpting them on the stand. My colour scheme was mainly about greys, coppers and greens (as copper/bronze when not cared for properly, turns green). From this collection, 2 items were made up in the real fabrics (see photos). 

Items made up from the capsule collection (all photos owned by ARDutch Dressmaking, no permission given for copying).

My final collection I was trying to look at ladies in upper management and playing around with fashions during the ages and having fun with it. As on the one side we’re told to be taken seriously in that area, we have to dress more masculine to look serious and strong, but then again we’re also told not to lose our feminine side, to stay approachable. Two opposites when you look at it, which can be very confusing. Which is why I started looking at Jaqueline Kennedy, known for her style and class and Cruella De Vil, who (this was well before the latest Cruella film) was known as being well over the top. Complete opposites, but I wanted to see if I could make it work, bringing the two together. I wanted to play with these ideas, by creating a corset idea, made out of a gilet/jacket, sculpted to the body. I had fun with just sleeves patterns, making an evening dress. I used the trousers design, made famous by Marlene Dietrich. I really wanted to go out of the box as much as I could, while I could, if that makes sense and just have lots of fun with it all. I don’t know if everyone understood what I was trying to do in the time scale I had, but that is fine. I was very proud of everything I did that year.

Display at Graduate Fashion Week London, 2006
Photo: Spearmann Photography

I graduated with hons in 2006 and after living in Dubai (where the fashion was of course very interesting for me, but I may need to leave that for another blog post, to prevent this one from becoming way too long haha), I became freelance in 2007. I got offered to work for Tuedor and Wright, she was starting the brand and was looking for someone to help pattern cut and produce. It was a great start for me, as we worked really well together. The brand used a lot of African wax print, which I wasn’t familiar with, so that was a whole new learning curve happening. 

Tuedor and Wright, work in progress and finished product

Yaa Destiny was another brand that helped me start. This brand made waistcoats in different medias, meaning the fronts could be on fabric, the backing another and the lining wouldn’t be standard lining, but a print. Next to the brand works, I put myself out there re alterations and it started growing slowly, but surely. 

Nowadays, I am one of the trusted seamstresses on Ivy Blu’s list at Barleylands for Bridal and Prom alterations, I work for small brands still and anyone that needs me, I always say. As me reattaching a button that came off or even just putting an item under my machine with a popped seam, means that they don’t get binned, I am more than happy to do so. A lot is possible when it comes to pattern cutting, alterations and repairs.

I hope my fashion path to here was interesting to read. 🙂 My future blog posts, I hope to cover things I’ve created, inspirations and subjects I perhaps only touched on in this one, but can give more attention in future blogs. If there is anything you would like to see, please feel free to tell me! Either via a private message or by replying this one. 

Many thanks for reading!


Ps Little disclaimer, all photos are here to be seen, many taken by myself or my family, please do not copy without my permission! We all work hard on our items and please respect this. If you do want to copy a photo on here, ask me first please. 

I unfortunately don’t have the photographers name who shot the Tuedor and Wright dress, do let me know if you know who it was and I will put full credit down straight away, as they definitely deserve it.

4 thoughts on “Where it all began…”

    1. Thank you so much! It’s always a bit scary to put something out there, but happy you found it interesting. 😀

  1. Lovely first blog👍 I do indeed remember you always wanted to be a fashion designer 😀 very proud of you & all you’ve achieved! Looking forward seeing your next blog😊

    1. Thank you! 🙂 And thank you for my sewing machines etc of course! 😀 It’s very therapeutic too to write it all down and see how far I’ve actually come. 😀 Onwards to the next blog!

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