Let me introduce to you an enthusiastic menswear sewist with an eye for detail and design! I am in constant awe of the outfits Ben sews for himself and posts on Instagram. He was posting consistently throughout Me Made May 2017 and I wanted to share every single one of his garments with you! Ben graciously agreed to answer a few questions and share some photos on the blog so you are in for a treat today! Make sure to take a careful look at some of Ben’s thoughtful design choices – which is your favourite?
Can you introduce yourself briefly and give a little run down on how you came to be such an accomplished sewist?
Thank you so much for having me! I am thrilled to be featured on your blog as you are one of my favourite menswear pattern designers. My name is Ben and I’m an Austrian living in Birmingham, UK. I’ve always enjoyed creating things of all sorts, but up until two years ago it never dawned on me that making my own clothes was a thing that I – or anyone – could do! My first contact with haberdashery in general was when I learned to crochet in primary school. On a whim, I dug out what was left of those skills a few years ago and started to make pillow cases, and when a friend came over for a ‘crafternoon’ with her sewing machine, I knew that that’s what I needed in my life. Fast forward a few months, past a number of totes and zipper bags and my first ever garment – a Finlayson sweater – saw the light of day.
I don’t know if I’m really all that accomplished with what limited experience I have, but I’m certainly a very ambitious and adventurous sewist. I find myself easily bored and would much rather try out a new pattern than stick to a tried and tested one, as well as trying out new techniques as I go along. By nature, this has meant quite a steep learning curve for me, but I’m proud to say that I’m an entirely self-taught sewist, not least thanks to your sewalongs and the many video tutorials out there. I also owe a lot of my expertise to my part-time job at my local haberdashery Guthrie & Ghani which has encouraged me to push on and explore new skills, as well as the thriving sewing community of Birmingham.
It’s very clear, based on your inspiring Instagram account, that you sew many of your own clothes – even now that MMM17 is well past, do you still find yourself wearing your handmade garments on a daily basis? What type of handmade garment do you tend to wear most often?
I definitely try to wear as many handmade garments as I can every day. Wearing something I’ve made gives me a sense of confidence that I haven’t known before. I feel that it is a skill that is no longer quite so widespread, so it makes me all the more proud to be wearing me-mades. As a matter of fact, I have promised myself that I won’t buy anything that I can make or that I can learn to make. “Quintessential Ben” likes to dress in a smart casual way typically consisting of a pair of chinos and button-up shirts, but I do try to explore different styles and go out of my comfort zone more often. Still, my favourite garment is definitely the Fairfield shirt. I have now made a number of them and it’s one of the few patterns I don’t mind making over and over! I love how different fabrics give it a completely different look. For my next one, I’m planning a looser-fitting denim version with mother-of-pearl snaps – and maybe an added pocket flap and some funky topstitching on the yoke?
When planning a new garment, where do you find inspiration?
I don’t often find myself influenced by current trends in fashion as I feel that I have a fairly settled and consistent taste. I generally prefer style lines and creative pattern cutting over colourful or intricate prints, so I like to seek out patterns that make a striking impression even when made in a plain or subtly printed fabric.
I also like to be inspired by the fabric itself. For the last few weeks, I’ve been under a self-imposed “fabric ban” as an incentive to work away on my existing stash – even though I have the sinking feeling that it’s still growing rather than shrinking… In a way, that has actually fuelled my creativity as I’m now thinking about what I can make with the more outlandish things I bought or picked up at a swap.
What resources would you recommend to a man interested in sewing his own wardrobe?
A lot of help early on in my sewing journey has actually come from indie patterns such as your own, as I’ve found them to be particularly beginner-friendly. I’d always recommend starting on one of those rather than a Big Four one, which would typically presuppose a lot more knowledge of sewing terms and techniques.
Community is incredibly helpful as well. If you don’t know anyone else in your area, I’d say have a look online! The number of menswear sewing bloggers has increased over the last few years and there are some great blogs out there: the fashionable and virtually iconic Male Pattern Boldness, the debonair Male Devon Sewing, or the incredibly talented Mensew, to name just a few, are all treasure troves of tips and inspiration. Instagram, too, has a growing community of menswear sewists which can be found under hashtags like #makemenswear, #menwhosew or #mensewtoo.
And lastly, I can only recommend turning to womenswear sewists for guidance. Many of the techniques will be the same, and there are so many wonderfully talented women out there who have a wealth of knowledge we can only admire and benefit from. Not to be too political, but I do think that in general men would do well to listen to women more often and with greater humility!
Do you have any pattern, fabric, or tool requests that you would like to be made better available to menswear sewists? We’d love to hear your wishlist!
Where do I start?! I would love to find some crisp shirting material like Oxford cloth in more modern colours to make nice workwear, but so far have found it difficult to find in the UK. I’m very keen on buying lots of natural fibres and sustainably sourced fabrics for things like formal trousers, which is also not always easy to come by. Pattern-wise I have been on the lookout for transitional outerwear like a bomber jacket or a trench coat, but in general I’d love to see more adventurous and fashion-forward designs out there. Another thing that’s hard to find is a good book on fitting menswear. Fitting is an art in itself, and getting it right makes all the difference between a good garment and a showstopper.
Thanks, Ben, for sharing your inspiring garments, your can-do attitude and some of the things that inspire you!
Did you notice the multi color buttons on the pale pink shirt with contrast trim? I love how subtle yet completely unique that feature is! I must remember this idea for my next Fairfield…