Emma Cutri and Alice McIntosh, two friends who founded Melbourne fashion label Sister Studios four years ago, want to revive the “dying art” of sewing.

It’s rare, they say, for their customers to know how to hem a skirt – a skill that was common a generation ago. Both Cutri and McIntosh were fortunate to have learned how to sew from their mothers and had the opportunity to study textiles at high school.

The duo transformed their passion for making clothes for friends and sisters into a fashion label known for small runs of garments made from natural fibres. In September 2018, the pair opened the first Sister Studios shop in Fitzroy North. “It’s been a way to connect to our customers in real life,” says McIntosh. “It’s been so fun to make a space and do a fit-out – I make sculptures and little decorative things for the shop to make it feel more like us.”

Broadsheet tasked Cutri and McIntosh with creating a DIY sewing project using fabric from legendary design house Marimekko. The Finnish textiles label has long been a favourite of makers, and its bold, nostalgic prints are also a great incentive for wannabe makers who have never sewed a stich in their lives.

Founded in 1951 in post-war Finland, the pioneering label rose to prominence in the 1960s, freeing women from the corseted ’50s era. Jacqui Kennedy famously bought seven Marimekko dresses to wear during her husband’s 1960 presidential campaign, while in 1968, a year of revolution around the world, Marimekko designer Annika Rimala created tasaraita, or “even stripes”, a unisex design that made a radical fashion statement about ’60s ideals of equality and egalitarianism.

Although typically associated with home furnishings and its own fashion line featuring a signature use of bold pattern and colour, Marimekko also sells fabrics, which are “joyous”, according to McIntosh. “Their prints are really fun,” she says. The design duo created a pair of elastic high-waisted shorts in a “really bold, cheerful, ’60s print”, a top and a sunhat – three of their bestselling designs.

An aesthetic sensibility isn’t the only thing the indie label and historic design house share – both are transparent about their commitment to sustainability. Marimekko’s eco-credentials align with its timeless aesthetic; products are designed to withstand the passage of time and trends. In 2013, Marimekko joined the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a scheme designed to make cotton production better for both the people employed in it and the environment.

The Sister Studios designers explain that making their clothes in Melbourne means they have a greater degree of control over the manufacturing process than if they went offshore. It’s a way of connecting with the community, says Cutri. “We get to meet people who make our clothes and be comfortable with the way things are produced … we can check on finishes and be more in control.”

There is a definite community feel to their Fitzroy North premises. The Mediterranean-inspired interior, with arched fitting rooms, terracotta floors and pink velvet curtains – “like a mermaid’s lair” says McIntosh – is the backdrop to a selection of carefully curated pieces, including Amy Leeworthy ceramics and Jeremy Rendina lunar calendars, as well as Sister Studios’ range of Melbourne-made womenswear.

The duo recommend this pattern for beginners. “Making something with elastic is a good entry point to sewing,” says Cutri. “Elastic is easier than buttons or zips. “Coincidentally, the fabric used to make the shorts was the same print that appeared on a set of sheets McIntosh had when she was a kid. “It was quite nostalgic for me to see that fabric again.”

Instructions

  1. Find a clean, flat surface to lay your fabric out on.
  2. Place fabric selvage to selvage with the print folded together on the inside.
  3. Place your pattern pieces onto your fabric and secure down with pins or any heavy things you can find.
  4. Use sharp scissors to cut out your pattern pieces.
  5. Pin all correct seams together – open out to check the right pieces are pinned together and that the print is all facing up the correct way.
  6. Sew the inner-thigh seam first using a 1cm- or a 1.5cm-seam allowance – watch your fingers.
  7. Sew the outer-thigh seams together using the same method. Continue to check you are sewing correct sides as you go.
  8. Fold the upper edge of your shorts over to create the waistband, however thick you would like it. We use a 4cm waistband and 2.5/3cm elastic.
  9. Once folded, press down with an iron to make it easier to stitch down. Stitch using a 1cm seam allowance leaving a small opening where you began and complete the stitch so that you can thread your elastic through.
  10. Measure your waist and cut the correct length of elastic you desire, then attach one end to a safety pin and thread through the waistband. Once the ends meet you can stitch them together going back and forth over the seam about three times. Stitch up the gap you created earlier so that the stitch continues all the way around the waistband.
  11. Lucky last is hem the shorts: using your iron, press the shorts up to where you would like them to sit. Measure with measuring tape and ensure both legs are the same.
  12. Using your machine stitch down your hems using a 2cm or 3cm seam allowance for the best look.

This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Marimekko. You can buy Marmekko fabrics at the Marimekko Store on 3/576 Chapel St, South Yarra.