There's a new player on the home sewing fashion scene; Nita Jane McMahon and her business partner Ben have just launched their new enterprise Pattern Fantastique and it all looks very very cool. The three designs released so far (with a promise of more to come!) show a high-concept/clean cut aesthetic that has the edge over all the vintage styles that are already so well served in the growing market for indie-fashion-home-sewing-pattern designs. I came across Nita via her Instagram image of the "Celestial Dress" and I've been intrigued ever since. Over several email conversations as I subsequently sew-tested the dress pattern prior to release, I became more & more curious about Nita and the originality of her fashion designs; here was a woman who came across as refreshingly left field, a pattern making designer with a keen eye for the nuances of fit and ease, deftly combined with sharp cuts, bold drapes and clever construction. I really wanted to know more about her background and ambitions; the story behind Pattern Fantastique. Other than sending a chain of stalker-ish, nosey emails, I thought it best to send the one, but one loaded with a barrage of interview style questions. A barrage, my friends. I'm really interested in the histories, aspirations, inspirations, dreams, and processes unique to creative women marching to the beat of their own drum in the fashion/art world. Who amongst us isn't? Hence barrage. The tangents and inspirations that follow are truly, fascinatingly original, yet grounded and tempered by authentic experience. Read on...
Hi Nita! Lets talk fashion! So tell me, from when & where did your appreciation of fashion begin, what person or culture sparked & nurtured your dress style, from the beginning?
Hi Rosie! Well, I grew up in suburban Perth. Which is a pretty bland, monocultural part of the world. I remember getting loads of hand me downs from an older cousin, she was super girly and it was such contrast to my usual self it gave me chance to pretend to be someone else. That then fed into wanting to be Boy George and David Bowie. A serious op shop habit grew, which is how I met Vaughan Alexander at the best vintage store in town. He was Perth’s very own maniacal fashion genius and still is somewhere in the world. I became his part muse, mostly intern and he taught me the bare bones of cutting.
What do you sew for yourself? Does your style require you to create your own look?
All of what I develop for Pattern Fantastique is ultimately what I choose to wear, so yes my style is probably why I got into fashion, to create my own look.
I really like cutting clothes so most of the styles I have enjoyed making over the years, even the ones I wouldn’t wear, I have been invested in. The most fun is when you get a happy ‘mistake’ that redirects the design to be better than what it was on outset. The hardest garment I cut was probably one of the first tuxedo style jackets. I still find super light silks a bit of a challenge to sew.
How has your career evolved & brought you starting Pattern Fantastique?
I had been a stay at home parent for a while and during that time had started to home sew again, making stuff for the kids, and myself if I was lucky. It always took so long to make myself something because it had to be cut from scratch. I made it hard on myself and while the kids were getting blouses made out of Marc Jacobs fabric, I only had lot of pattern pieces still coming together. I then realised through the blogosphere that sewing at home is a real thing. And people were making amazing stuff. But really it was Ben (a digital designer) who put the idea out there. It's brought a lot of our skills together and we wanted to be a part of the alternative to current fashion machine.
I suspect many years of training at work behind your designs, how have you developed your skills over the course of your career so far?
Um not much formal training. I started off with vintage patterns and the Winifred Aldrich’s pattern making book. Vaughan taught me the basics of pattern making. I’ve been really lucky in who I have worked for and with, being in environments that have fostered development time and have upheld original design. I really like working with people and being let inside theirs heads and seeing how they design. And the amazing machinists who have shared their skills, one of the most underrated skills in the industry. I also studied illustrator and photoshop a couple of years ago, that really made this possible; it had all been pencils and paper up until then.
What are the challenges and difficulties of patternmaking, of bringing a new design to life as a finished garment pattern?
I’m not sure I can comment on how being a patternmaker works in Australia, I don’t know a lot of other pattern makers and I suspect my experience of working the way I have is unusual. The fashion industry in Australia is problematic and retail has been hard hit over the last decade, a lot of smaller labels have either closed or been absorbed by bigger companies moving production off shore and are now competing with major global chains. I’m sure this has had some effect on the whole design development process for those who are left.
Can you expand on how the process evolves & grows & comes to fruition, the easy bits & hard bits, the fun and/or drudgery of designing women’s fashion?
The biggest challenge is riding through the moment when you think the idea is actually bad and maybe I have no idea what I am doing. It happens almost every time. It always looks a bit crap halfway through, you can’t take that stuff to heart. The designing process varies a lot depending what the job is and who you working with. This is a new world for us, the development process is longer, which is nice, you get to have more time with one piece. The idea is always the easy bit. I know now not to get too attached as all sorts of things come up between initial sketch and final product and usually those thing make for a better pattern.
During one of our conversations, Nita made mention of the ABC's Soul Mates which illustrates these creative journey experiences in a cringingly accurate way. Watch it below, pretty fun.
I have first hand knowledge of the sublime "Celestial Dress", having been given the opportunity to test the pattern pre-launch - thank you! - but where does such a unique design spring from, what's the inspiration?
The Celestial dress idea was partly drawn from the film “Solaris” directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, made in ’72. It’s set in a space station in turmoil. The crew have been studying the sea of Solaris, an imaginary planet. A female character arrives. Set against the interior of a space station she represents a great love lost. The dress is not a literal translation of what she wore in the film, I wanted to capture the romantic aspect of this film (despite it not ending so well for her) in a ultra-modern world.
From there it get’s pretty technical, I don’t rely predominately on blocks, I usually start with part of one pattern and cut freehand a lot after that, using the measuring tape a lot. Not too fussy to begin with; I sample basic shapes and then hack them up to reshape, working out the steps for construction along the road. It’s a mish mash of pattern cutting and draping, the design tends to emerge more along the way.
Do you follow any fashion designers in particular? Who inspires you the most? Are there some Australian fashion designers you would like the world to take more notice of?
(See these images above?? Top left and bottom right by Verner, gingham!! The ensemble above, top right, echos in the zietgeist-y-est way with the looks & shapes that are running through my own personal design/sewing planning moodboard right now. My images top right, bottom left and below. Don't you love it when that spark of inspiration & recognition happens?!)
Images culled from Nita's Pinterest boards. Above from top left: street style (of course) image one, 3 & 6 from Tommy Ton image two from Carolines Mode; vintage but with a moderne feel, photo by Barry Lategan for Vogue Italia 1973.
Some fascinating references! So, who would Nita dream of collaborating with?
Who would I like to collaborate with… I am always seeking out graphic and textile artists… We are hoping to show case some collaborations we are involved with in the future and do a whole lot more.
One last question, what artwork do you have at home, have you bought any great original paintings, prints, sculptures or knick knacks from fellow artists lately?
Art we have at home? Not enough! We are so lucky to have some really talented artists friends who have bestowed some amazing pieces to us. Including David Noonan, Matt Sleeth, Holly-Anne Buck, my sister Narda McMahon and of course the kids.
THANK YOU MS NITA JANE McMAHON, THAT WAS A GREAT INTERVIEW! I NOW HAVE LIKE 12 TABS OPEN ON CHROME AND THAT'S JUST TO BEGIN WITH; THE INSPIRATION, ITS AMAZING! Also, I'll lay off the stalking now, its win/win my friend, have a nice weekend xx.