Costume students launch The Sewcial Guild to sharing their sewing skills with members of the local community
Students from Arts University Plymouth’s BA (Hons) Costume Production degree have started a skill sharing group called the Sewcial Guild. Bringing together students and professionals with the community, Diane Manoury, Jasmine Atkinson and Laura Corbey have been sharing their sewing skills in workshops held on Plymouth’s Union Street, with the aim of helping people locally to increase the reuse and upcycling of existing clothes and textiles.
The concept for the workshops came from mature student Diane Manoury, a French national, who left her job in London to study BA (Hons) Costume Production at Arts University Plymouth. Based out of The Plot, a space run by Nudge Community Builders at 80-84 Union Street, the Sewcial Guild offers workshops involving upcycling and reinventing preloved clothes and materials, ranging from bags, plushies, keepsakes and seasonal garments. Diane also offers beginning sewing classes, where you can learn how to use a sewing machine.
Inspired by a similar business while travelling in Spain, Diane left her job in sales in London in February 2020 because she wanted to learn the sewing skills necessary to open an upcycling shop. Originally from Metz, France, Diane said, “I started the Extended BA in Costume Production in 2020 and began the Sewcial Guild in 2022 after realising it was possible to help the community benefit from our skills. With the help of Laura and Jasmine, we are able to offer these workshops on a pay-what-you-can-afford basis.”
Arts University Plymouth has a commitment to equip students with the skills necessary to provide creative solutions to complex global challenges, with particular focuses on sustainability and social justice. Fashion and textile industries in 2023 continue to have a huge impact on the environment, and from the 100 billion garments produced each year, 92 million tonnes end up in landfills. A large proportion of waste textiles from the UK and US are exported to countries in the Global South, polluting the environment in countries with less infrastructure to deal with this waste efficiently.
In addition to learning skills to ensure the long-term sustainability of costume design, BA (Hons) Costume Production students at Arts University Plymouth develop practical and design skills, combining technical focus with opportunities to experience the industry first hand. Diane has previous experience as a Front of House Assistant at the Soapbox Children’s Theatre in Devonport Park, Plymouth, where she had hands-on experience supporting future productions and gained invaluable insights into the needs and routines of front and back stage at a working theatre company.
Jasmine, aged 20 from Worcestershire, said, “Diane approached Laura and I, asking us if we would be interested in teaching some classes. We’ve tried to throw ourselves into doing as much as we can while making the most of our time at university so we were very willing to help. Our aim for each class is that everyone goes home with a completed item, no matter how much previous sewing experience they have!”
Jasmine’s inspiration comes in the form of famous Hollywood costume designers Colleen Atwood and Sandy Powell. She has ambitions of working on cruise ships creating costumes for entertainment once graduating. “I want to get as much experience as I can, whether that’s working on cruise ships, in the West End or in film and television. I’ve really enjoyed the costume course at Arts University Plymouth, it just seems crazy that we’re already halfway through a three year course!”
Originally from Essex, 19-year-old Laura said, “The Sewcial Guild was an opportunity we couldn’t say no to, and the response to the Sewcial Guild has been really lovely. It’s quickly become a real community and we have lots of regulars. We love experiencing new sewing techniques and passing on our knowledge in a comfortable and relaxed environment. We always look forward to seeing new faces too!”
Inspired by theatre performances and the rush of the process, Laura also previously collaborated with Mind Devon to make dresses that beat the stigmas of mental health. “That was definitely an enjoyable experience. I’m thoroughly enjoying Costume Production, it’s been a great insight into the technicalities of the industry. It’s very hard to choose a favourite aspect of the course as each unit looks at very different aspects of costuming. As it stands I would love to explore costume in theatre after graduating, I’ve already worked with the University of Plymouth’s musical theatre group’s production of Legally Blonde, which will be running from 22 to 26 March, and would definitely like to continue exploring the excitement of theatre costumes.”
Jerry Moore, Lecturer on BA (Hons) Costume Production said, “The Sewcial Guild came from a unit group project, focussed on collaboration as a practice and way of working. Led by Diane, they had the idea to create a centre for the community based on social interaction through creativity. Diane then made it a real world thing, got a load of sewing machines and a workshop down at Nudge.
“The unit project was designed to give students agency within their own creative practice and encourage them to bring together different practices from across the university. The costume students were able to bring the skills they have learned so far within their degree, as well as their professionalism and exposure to the industry, to create a whole initiative to help the community and spread creativity.
“Sustainability is a passion for Diane and everyone involved in the Sewcial Guild. They’ve run recycled cuddly toy workshops where people were turning up and making items for Christmas presents. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, you can take an old pair of jeans and turn it into a brand new thing. Making do and mending is having a resurgence, there’s no way we can sustain the clothing manufacturing industry as it is right now. Our students are at the forefront of this, and they’re doing something really clever with the skills they have.”
You can find out more information about workshops and classes on the Sewcial Guild website.
BA (Hons) Costume Production at Arts University Plymouth is now in its tenth year and has an overall student satisfaction rate of 92% (National Student Survey 2022), with students on the course regularly having the opportunity to collaborate with other specialisms on campus including photographers and filmmakers. To find out more, visit the next Arts University Plymouth Open Day on Saturday 11 March, from 10am to 2pm.