Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Story Behind our Collections: Clothkits

The story behind the Clothkits collections is probably the oldest one and the one closest to our hearts.  With 40 years of heritage Clothkits is a beloved British Brand that was established in 1968 by the textile designer Anne Kennedy, with bright colours, bold patterns and a DIY ethos that was synonomous with the Seventies style. Clothkits disappeared for a while and was revived by Kay Mawer in 2008 for the new generation of parents, much to our celebration.

Clothkits is central to the Sisters Guild vision as Clothkits is part of the reason why we grew up with a love of clothes and crafts - thanks to our mama.  We were very proud to be the first online shop selling the Clothkits kits- from Dungarees to Eskimo Dolls!


Clothkits was such a memorable part of our childhood.  Clothkits just off Union St in Bath was the place to shop for cool creative mums in the Seventies and Eighties, and we have to admit now that our mum was pretty cool in her day (even though there was a phase when we refused to stand next to her at the school bus-stop due to her bright pink lace up boots - oh, how I wish she still had them!). I loved going to the Clothkits shop, with all the natural wood shelving full of fabrics , patterns and prints - a visual treat for my childs' eyes.  There were sewing kits for corduroy dresses, dungarees and even matching ones for our Sasha Dolls, plus grown-up clothes, tea-towels, bags and accessories too. 

Sisters in Clothkits
The sewing kits contain all the bits you need to complete the item: buttons, zips and thread, along with the fabric with cutting lines already on there - so no pattern is necessary. The Clothkits clothes our mama created during late night sewing sessions on the old Singer machine were just beautiful, the most memorable being the corduroy dresses, one red, one purple, with hand printed nature patterns and flower buttons.  All 3 of us sisters wore them in turn, along with the readymade stripey jersey and knitwear which our brother wore too.  A few dresses remain, and Carla's girls are next in line to wear them.



Kay Mawers' own story is one of inspiration - an art graduate and mother who wanted to find unique fabric designs for her own daughters. Add to that mix a Sussex childhood, a creative mother, a sewing machine at 10 years old, a passion for vintage fabrics and adventure in mind, it was clearly Kay's destiny to be the new female force behing Clothkits.

The Clothkits brand had been bought by Freemans, made dormant in 1991 and was left sitting on the shelf.  With the combined talents of a Fine Art degree, commercial knowledge, determination and instinct Kay sought to buy the brand. Negotiations with the company took 18 months, but in October 2007 Clothkits was hers. What I didn't realise until now was that there was no design archive remaining for Kay to draw on - it was her dedicated search across the country and on ebay, along with Clothkits fans, that enabled her to re-create the Clothkits archive and develop it into the Clothkits brand for the 21st Century. We sincerely applaud her.



One of our contemporaries, Clover Stroud, author of Cool Camping for Kids and journalist for a number of publicatons, must've been wearing Clothkits at the same time as us sisters.  Clover relates her memories in the Telegraph:  "I can't remember many of the clothes I wore before I was six, but I have a vivid memory of a certain skirt whose patterns I can still trace in my mind....It was 1979, and I was not yet five....I hadn't thought about that skirt for a while. But recently a girlfriend mentioned the name Clothkits, and it was as if a door had been opened on a moment in the past that resonates with vivid significance for a certain sort of person. That person is one almost certainly brought up by forward-thinking, slightly hippie-ish parents who were channelling an organic, home-made, recycled lifestyle long before any of those words entered our popular vocabulary."
(source: Telegraph)




Since establishing Clothkits Kay says:  'When we exhibit at trade fairs, there's a facial expression I see from a certain sort of woman when she comes across our stall. Her mouth opens and her hand goes up over her mouth with genuine surprise and pleasure. I feel privileged to be working with a brand that generates such warmth, and which has inspired so many good memories for so many women.'
(source: Telepgraph)

Kay has desrcibed the design process as 'largely collaborative' involving artists and designers such as Rob Ryan, Mini Moderns, Jane Foster and People will always need plates. The result is a good mix of 70s nostalgia and contemporary, seen in the retro dungarees and pinny dresses and classics of our time the bags and cushions:


What we can relate to with Clothkits is that its' ethos is one of cottage industry, the same ethos from which Sisters Guild has sprung. Clothkits coincided with motherhood and started at the kitchen table, just as Sisters Guild did. The fabrics are printed in Britain and the majority of designs are hand-printed.  It is a truly British brand and belongs to a generation of mums with a passion for crafts and for the hand-made.  We have been witness to a growing appreciation of the make-it and do-it-yourself culture which we celebrate on our blog with the Monday Makery.

Now the new generation of mums who love to make stuff can get some creative satisfaction from making a Clothkits piece, and there'll be a whole new trunk of treasured things to hand down and share.



Rob Ryan says: "Everybody I spoke to about Clothkits has lovely memories of the clothes they had made for them when they were children. It was more than a company, it was part of people's lives." (source: Telegraph magazine) 

Clothkits is a cherished part of our lives and we are so happy to be sharing it with you at Sisters Guild. 
Pop along to the Boutique and discover Clothkits here



NEWS! We are really excited to hear that Clothkits are now doing sewing workshops -
find the details on the Clothkits website


This is part of our series of blog posts about the Story Behind our Collections - why we've chosen the designers that are in the boutique and how those designers came to be.

To see a bit more of what Sisters Guild is all about take a look at the A-Z of Sisters Guild here.

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