flat pack products to cut & sew

Sewing is my superpower!

Sally CookeComment
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I’ve been thinking recently about why sewing is so important to me. I am no domestic goddess, so why sew? The short answer is because making things with my own two hands makes me feel powerful. It also frees me up from having to buy clothes that other people have decided I should want to wear. This matters more and more because much of what I see on the high street is uninspiring and/or badly made. I’ve always looked for clothes that will last – in quality and style - and these things often come at a price higher than I can afford. Even if they don’t there are always hidden social and ecological costs which are a huge issue for the clothing industry, where poor pay and conditions, waste and pollution are all too common. Not having to buy into all this is another reason I love being able to make things for myself….and why I am passionate about other people being able to do so too.

I’ve started looking into research on motivations for sewing. According to Sherry Schofield-Tomschin’s chapter in Barbara Burman’s 1999 book ‘The Culture of Sewing’, while motivations change over time (and to some extent with age) there are five that recur: economics, quality, fit, creativity and psychological or physiological benefits (or well-being). I can relate to all of these, although the research was based on US studies from the last century. I wonder how things might have changed in the 20 years since the book was published. High street clothing has reportedly got cheaper in that time and our consumption of it has increased. From the 1980s onwards, the economic motivation for sewing has been seen to decline but as we become more aware of the hidden costs and pay more attention to the availability of pre-existing materials (second hand clothing and roll end fabrics for example), I wonder might this change back again? 

If you sew I would love to know what your motivations are and if you don’t (yet!) I’d love to know what would motivate you to start. In the meantime, I am going to share my most recent make with you in pictures that illustrate some of what motivates me.

£2 piece of fabric (150cm x 100cm) from a local charity shop – so £2 to charity and a metre of fabric being re-purposed rather than newly produced.

£2 piece of fabric (150cm x 100cm) from a local charity shop – so £2 to charity and a metre of fabric being re-purposed rather than newly produced.

Simple tee dress pattern designed for minimum waste - using a helpful calculation from Rosie Martin’s fabulous book ‘No Pattern Needed’

Simple tee dress pattern designed for minimum waste - using a helpful calculation from Rosie Martin’s fabulous book ‘No Pattern Needed’

My favourite French seams - robust and tidy on the inside – so satisfying!

My favourite French seams - robust and tidy on the inside – so satisfying!

Only 15g material waste – that’s about equivalent to the weight of a single strawberry!

Only 15g material waste – that’s about equivalent to the weight of a single strawberry!

A little bit of detail – nothing too fussy

A little bit of detail – nothing too fussy

The finished article - a guilt free £2 dress

The finished article - a guilt free £2 dress

One happy customer enjoying a birthday party in the garden

One happy customer enjoying a birthday party in the garden

…and, the bulk of the fabric is still intact for a future re-imagining

…and, the bulk of the fabric is still intact for a future re-imagining

If anyone is interested in a more detailed description of this make in the form of a pdf or online tutorial let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

A love letter to...

Sally CookeComment
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…my twisted seam Levi denim dress

I don’t know much about your backstory before you came to me in 2003. You tell me you were made in Tunisia for the daddy of all jeans brands. I’m guessing it was the late 90s when they were making a big noise about engineered jeans.

You are made from natural fibres, which makes you biodegradable but doesn’t necessarily make you good. We met long before Lucy Siegle taught me how fashion wears out the world and the part cotton plays in that. But it was love at first sight. 

You are bold, wearing your utility on the sleeves you don’t have. You are a little larger than me but that never put me off. Your genius is in your cut, which I suspect made you low waste. Your twisted seams make you me shaped without the need for elastane. You are made from proper denim, famed since the 1870s precisely for its durability.  Your armholes are just the right size so I can wear you as a summer dress or over other clothes as a pinafore. Because of your generous size I can even squeeze a jumper under to keep me warm on cold winter days in the studio. And because of these armholes and the fact you don’t stretch you hardly ever need washing, so less detergent, water and fibre waste results from your use. 

 When I bought you second hand from a shop on Goodge Street for what seemed like the premium sum of £18 I had no idea how much you would come to mean to me. You are everything an item of clothing should be. You even have a neatly slanted breast pocket that pre-empted smart phone’s ubiquity.  I love you and I am enjoying the room you have given me to grow and the things you are helping me to say. So I am forgiving you your questionable beginnings and planning to carry on wearing you until one of us falls apart. The smart money, I think, is on that being me.


PS. I wrote this letter on Black Friday 2018 and am sharing it today at the start of Fashion Revolution Week 2019. Check out to find out more and get involved.


Pattern Matters & the Aesthetics of Joy

Sally Cooke2 Comments
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Reading about Fairtrade and sustainable fashion recently I came across some tips for designing more sustainably. They included using neutral materials that don’t date so quickly. This is very valid advice. It’s also been influential. You’ll have noticed a rise in the use of block colours and neutral tones, simple stripes and checks in recent years and there’s definitely a connection here. Of course, without taking other factors into account there’s no guarantee that these more ‘neutral’ fabrics are any ‘better’ than any others in terms of their production values, social and environmental impact, or durability. But still it made me think about the purpose of print pattern and it’s place in our lives.

 Research suggests an item of clothing lasts on average around three years in a wardrobe. Sorting my own wardrobe recently, ahead of a long anticipated trip to the wonderful Leeds Community Clothes Exchange, I identified lots of thing that I’ve had three or more times that long. In most cases the reason I bought and still wear these clothes is not because they are cutting edge fashion (many of them were already second hand when I bought them) but because their patterns and colours bring me joy. My attachment to them could be described as a kind of emotional durability ie. the garments stick around longer because they add value in terms of the joy bring me. 

 People across cultures and over centuries have decorated their clothes for a whole variety of reasons - a means of expression, to signal status or social allegiances, or simply to express joy. And I realise that’s what pattern is about for me – an expression of joy and vibrancy. Joyful patterns put a smile on my face and a spring in my step and on a good day this can change the way I experience the world for the better. This all started to make sense when I read Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful. In this beautiful book Fetell Lee explores the aesthetics of joy. Through some extensive and varied research, she unearths the things people across cultures seem to find joyful. As she expands on ideas of colour, harmony and abundance etc. I started to get excited to see written down things that influence my own design practice. I am always looking for a balance between order and chaos in the patterns I design. I love multiples of similar but non-identical shapes in repeat. I also love organic, rough or wonky edges that show a sign of the human hand in the process. These are the things that spark joy for me and in Joyful Fetell Lee goes some way to explaining why. 

 The trick then, to designing for longevity, may be to focus on what is joyful and not just what’s ‘on trend’. I think you can see this in the enduring patterns of companies like Marimekko, whose Unikko and Kivet prints have been favourites over years (even decades!). I’d love to know what you think…

Top Five Sewing Tips...

Sally CookeComment
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Every flat pack kit we send out includes a Basic Guide to Hand and Machine Sewing in addition to the instructions for the kit itself. This basic guide covers things like useful stitches, seam finishing and pressing - all practical advice based on years of sewing and making mistakes. At the end I included my top five tips for getting good results, which are:

  • always use good sharp pair of scissors when cutting fabric

  • before sewing, double check you have the right sides of the fabric facing each other (unless the instructions say otherwise)

  • secure the beginning and end of every seam and cut off loose threads as you go

  • press each seam carefully with the tip of the iron once it is sewn

  • take your time - follow the instructions step by step and you should get good results

Of course the last one doesn’t work if you’re sewing for Patrick and Esme on The Great British Sewing Bee - it makes me sweat just watching them! I’m a slow fashion advocate and that includes a firm belief that sewing is definitely at it’s most pleasurable when taken at a relaxed pace.

I’ve recently been asking people what they would add to my list. So, I’d really like to know:

  • If you’re a practiced sewist, what’s the best advice you were ever given?

  • If you’re a beginner or just sew-curious (ie. yet to take the plunge), what kind of advice would most help you?

My first couple of responses where:

“Keep calm and cut carefully’” and “Use the notches’’ - both are excellent pieces of advice. The first is self-explanatory. The sewists version of the old home DIY/carpenter’s maxim '‘measure twice, cut once”. The second, requires a little bit of explanation for the uninitiated. Notches are marks round the edge of a pattern that you transfer to your fabric when cutting it out. They help you to line pieces up correctly before sewing them together and are vital to certain parts of a make, especially a well attached sleeve.

I can see this becoming a top 100 tips. What would yours be?

Fast Fashion is a Feminist Issue...

Sally CookeComment

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2019, which also falls at the end of #fairtradefortnight I thought I’d share some of my views on fast fashion and why it’s excesses prompted me to create sallysally flat-pack cut-and-sew products.

 One of my motivations for designing products that help people make their own clothes, is because for centuries people (and by people I mean predominantly women) have been exploited by the clothing industry. Often forced to work on low pay in dangerous and inhumane conditions. The argument often used to justify this is that working for clothing manufacturers gives women jobs they wouldn’t otherwise have. But the question is at what cost? And this isn’t just the case for workers in countries where wages and the cost of living in general are lower either, exploitation is alive and kicking in the UK too. The UK Parliament’s recent Environmental Audit Committee report Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption & Sustainabilityfound garment workers in the UK being paid less than half the National Minimum Wage.

 I’m not saying that all mainstream clothes brands are exploitative or that the alternative is that we all make our own clothes – there are many stories of past drudgery here too. But, I do know that lots of people gain real enjoyment from making clothes for themselves and that many more would if only they knew how. Once you know what it takes to make a garment it’s hard not to question who is really paying the price for our fast fashion purchases. And why would I want to line the pockets of the likes of Philip Green at the expense of wonderful talented women around the world anyway?

 Designing flat-pack clothing kits was just part of my response to all this. I definitely see fast fashion is a feminist issue. If we want to change the fashion industry where better to start than at home with what we do and what we buy. There are lots of great resources out there to help inform us about the change that needs to happen, find brands that meet our values, and join the most exciting of campaign for change

Making your own cloths can also be a form of sustainable fashion activism. If you want to learn to sew and make for yourself, there’s lots of help out there too – local classes, great new indie pattern designs and the mighty YouTube, which is full of helpful sewing tutorials. And of course, if you want a little extra help to get started, our flat-pack cut-and-sew kits are specifically designed to make it easy and fun for anyone to make their first garment – no sweat(shop)!

Happy International Women’s Day Everyone

 #internationalwomensday #fastfashionisafeministissue #fairtradefortnight

sallysally - so good they named it twice!

Sally Cooke
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I’ve been asked more than once why I called my business sallysally. Here’s my top six reasons:

  1. When the business was just an idea and my best mate’s husband was explaining domain names to me, he said ‘if your business was called sallysally for example…’ and we all agreed it wasn’t a bad name for a business…. Some wine had been drunk!

  2. A few months later, I pitched my idea as part of a business Summer School at Leeds Arts University using sallysally as the project’s pet name. People seemed to take the name to heart and I won a business mentoring award...

  3. I looked up the definition for the term ‘to sally forth’. It means ‘to leave a safe place in a brave or confident way in order to do something difficult’ which is 100% what starting a business feels like…

  4. Also, I’m sure I heard or read somewhere that it’s not what your brand is called but what it says that matters. I may have misheard but I knew I had plenty to say so I took this as a green light…

  5. When it came to the point that I had to commit – to domain names, labels, marketing etc. - every other name I came up with was compromised in some way – so sallysally became a thing…

  6. Now some people read the name ‘salllysally’ and say to me ‘so good they named it twice’ which sounds like a mission and that’s good enough for me!

Maker of the Month!

UpdatesSally Cooke
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I am very excited to be featured as Maker of the Month in the November issue of The Simple Things magazine. Thanks to the lovely Louise Garrod who also blogs, bakes and photographs at It's great to be seen in the company of Seasalt, Boden and Toast as well as other smaller brands on this wish list. The magazine is on sale in supermarkets (Waitrose, Tescos & Sainsburys) and WH Smiths - so I am hoping it will introduce me to lots of lovely people just in time for Christmas.