Meet the designer: Kirsty Hartley

Kirsty Hartley is best known for her charming children’s clothing line, Wild Things, which is as much adored by parents as it is the lucky little ones who get to wear her clothes (jealous, us?). Earlier this year, Kirsty also released a gorgeous sewing book featuring her children’s garments, Wild Things: Funky Little Clothes to Sew, offering sewists of all abilities the chance to make their own versions of her gloriously whimsical kidswear.

landscape dress

Now, though, it’s time for the grown-ups to stitch up a Kirsty Hartley design for our own wardrobes! Kirsty has created an exclusive womenswear pattern for a new four-part sew along series in Simply Sewing – starting in issue 8, she’ll be taking us through how to make four wardrobe essentials from one simple pattern.

Sew along jersey dress

You’ll find the full pattern included only with Simply Sewing issue 8 (and available to download here), while inside the mag is Kirsty’s step-by-step guide to making the first sew along garment: a stylish jersey dress with contrasting patch pockets.

We caught up with Kirsty to find out about her design process and where she finds sewing inspiration…

Please tell us about your background and what inspired you set up your Wild Things clothing line.
I’m a prolific maker and always have been from a young age, being fascinated by working with fabrics. I’ve always loved working with shape and pattern. I studied Fashion and Textiles at degree level, and pursued a career firstly with my own womenswear label, then as a designer working with large retailers. I eventually freelanced as a fashion and print designer whilst lecturing for Manchester School of Design.

I now have three children (Ewan, Silva and Lila). After my youngest was born, whilst I was on maternity leave, I started to revive my love for making and passion to create handmade pieces with heart and soul, and decided on an overnight whim to set up an Etsy shop. It seemed for so long that the market was over-saturated with overseas-produced goods made with little involvement in the hands-on creative process. I wanted to return to making.

Wild Things is about putting imagination back into the magic of childhood. The brand is about dressing children for play, and not as mini adults, inspired by simple imagery, colour and a sense of the extraordinary. My clothes are durable, can be worn every day and use great-quality fabrics. I’m passionate about making in the UK and helping to revive the huge skill base the UK has to offer.

Kirsty Hartley

Your children’s clothes are so imaginative and fun – talk us through your design process.
I’m inspired by simple imagery, especially from 1960s and 70s children’s illustration. I use simple clothing shapes that can be worn every day, using washable and hardwearing fabrics and adding something out of the ordinary to them. So, fundamentally for children’s clothes, I’m inspired more by surface decoration than shape itself.

I work with simple shapes and bold colours, either with appliqué or print. The character styles evolved after seeing the possibilities of incorporating the face shape within the construction of the garment as a yoke or hood panel.

I start with a good colour fabric base and work from there. I often sketch or draw the design using Photoshop when I start, but also work freely with a palette of coloured fabrics and sew directly with little preparation.

Kirsty Hartley Doll Kit

What was the inspiration behind the Simply Sewing sew along dress?
I love simple, easy utility styles made in beautiful fabrics. My sew along series is about working with a simple starter pattern which suits all body shapes and sizes. It’s uncluttered and easy to wear. I have an extensive wardrobe yet live in the most comfortable, adaptable styles.

The shape is flattering yet unfitted and can be made in both jersey and woven fabric to create something quite personal. I wanted to create a pattern that the maker can adapt themselves and is suitable for those starting to sew.

Kirsty Hartley sew along dress

What types of projects do you enjoy sewing in your spare time?
In my spare time (what is that?) I have been working on some soft leather bags – I love working with leather. I’ve also learned the skill of Peyote beading, a traditional Native American technique. It’s time consuming, but I managed to complete a length of beading as a gift for my mum, which she wears simply wrapped around her neck.

Do you have any top sewing tips?
For anyone sewing for themselves, always be patient and expect and embrace mistakes. Often mistakes reveal the best of your work. Get to know your machine, too, as this can often be the biggest hurdle.

What’s next for you and your business?
I have just completed my second book, with some more treats in store for little ones, which will be published in May 2016. Alongside magazine work, and adding to the Wild Things ranges, I’m looking to work with a print house to create Wild Things fabric prints for children. I’m also working on designs to sit alongside my puppet theatre to promote interactive play.

Follow Kirsty on Facebook and Twitter, and share your completed sew along dress with us using #simplysewingmag.

Keep an eye out for Simply Sewing issue 9, on sale 9th October 2015, for the second sew along garment: a stylish tunic dress sewn up in a woven fabric from Merchant & Mills.

Issue 9 sew along dress