I am Niki Schoondergang, 34 years old, and I live with my partner Boudewijn, our two daughters and our cat Sjaak. Boudewijn and I co-own a company, Studio Hamerhaai, where we recycle trash into Dutch Design. Looking at things and making things makes me happy. I’m a little shy when it comes to people, but I manage to hide it well. Why I am the way I am? I quit trying to be somebody else and this is who I turned out to be. And I’m quite happy with that.
On Instagram you regularly post hand made clothing and you also have a sewing related blog. When and how did you start making your own clothes? What does sewing mean to you?
I started sewing in 2015. It was a horrible year, in which I found myself at my wits’ end. I had a todler, a one year old baby, a job that didn’t suit me, and my partner had health problems: I tried to keep everything together, but at some point I just couldn’t do it anymore. It felt like total chaos in my head. Then I saw a announcement for a sewing workshop from the two ladies of House of Dots (which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore) where you could learn how to sew an A-line skirt in one afternoon. HOW COOL IS THAT? That’s where my enthusiasm for sewing began, and soon after I started taking sewing classes.
Together with a fair amount of therapy and getting rid of my Mirena IUD, sewing has helped me tremendously to get out of my funk. Sewing is a combination of taking time for youself, getting out of your head, making something with your hands, gifting yourself new clothes and being creative. Sewing became a kind of therapy; there were times that I spend every evening behind my sewing machine. And even nowadays, when I don’t sew enough, my mind starts to act up. It preoccupies me in a good way: I’m either sewing, fantasising about new sewing projects, thinking about how I’m going to tackle the difficult parts of a particular sewing project, or scrolling through my Instagram feed.
I mostly make clothes for me, and sometimes for my children or my partner. But only if they’re super grateful of course. I put a lot of time and love in it, it makes me sweat and sometimes curse, so I’m really going for those pats on the back. Thankfully, they’re more than willing to give them to me.
Sewing has also made me a lot happier with my body. I used to think that I was a freak of nature and fat, but I have now discovered that Ready To Wear is made for an average person – that doesn’t exist. This means that it’s completely normal to have to make adjustments for a good fit.
Niki (on the right) in her first self made skirt
Could you talk a bit about the sewing community on Instagram?
The sewing community is large, English speaking and so loving. It’s amazing to see that everybody lives by the motto “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. They’re always willing to give you constructive criticism, but only if you ask them to. And they’re very helpful. The sewist are mostly based in English speaking countries. There are a lot of young women, often in their twenties, who create the most wonderful garments. Apart from that, there are also a lot of indie designers who create the most fashion forward patterns.
There are a lot challenges and awesome hashtags on the internet, and I try to follow them all. I mostly follow people, predominantly women, who make their own clothing. I also follow people who make their own shoes and bags.
Through other sewists, I have discovered “visible mending”: a way of mending clothes where you show what was torn. It originates from Japan, it’s called Sashiko and it’s SO BEAUTIFUL! I am now fixing all my jeans with holes in them using this techique. It’s like meditation.
Sometimes I also screen print my fabric. I do this using the BobbinHood kit, a screen printing kit with eco friendly dyes.
Lots of sewists also have blogs and vlogs, and the amount of podcasts about sewing is growing steadily. It’s wonderful to listen to podcasts while sewing, it’s something a lot of sewists do. There are so many amazing things to listen to, I feel like I’m feeding my brain.
Niki in her pattern matched dress shirt that she is extremely proud of (and rightfully so! – ed.)
How does sewing your own clothes fit in the way you think about the world and the future? I remember you being part of the Schone Kleren Campagne (Clean Clothes Campaign, a civil society campaign that focuses on the improvement of working conditions in the garment and sportswear industries?
Can you believe that I never used to think about how every garment had to be made by people? It was only when I realised how much time it cost me to sew a simple t-shirt, that I realised this. If this t-shirt is sold in stores for 5 euros, something is really really wrong with our system. Because those 5 euros need to cover the design of the t-shirt, the making and printing of the fabric, the fabric has to be cut and sewn together, it has to be shipped all over the wold and then there’s the store that needs to make some profit. It’s absolutely impossible for this to happen in a fair way!
A long time ago, I was a part of Stoere Vrouwen (“Tough Women”), their goal is to inspire people to shop sustainably. Stoere Vrouwen also promoted fair fashion and worked together with Rank a Brand, who have an app on which you can check how certain brands are doing regarding fair fashion. It was interesting to see that Zeeman (a store in the lower price segment) was doing better than HEMA (a store in the middle price segment). I then helped getting brands to be more open about their production process. I also organised a clothes swap and was part of one of their marches. But for some reason it all didn’t stick yet. Strange how that works, huh?
Nowadays, I either make my own clothes or try to buy them second hand, with the exception of shoes and underwear. That way I don’t contribute to the creation of yet more clothing. On top of that I give old clothing a second life and I save money. The last time I bought anything new, was a pair of jeans about a year ago. This year, I want to also start making pants, so hopefully this is the last Ready To Wear pair of jeans I bought new at a store.
You know, I’m far from perfect in this regard, but I’m trying my best. If everybody tries their best and helps others, the world will be a better place. I try to lead by example, also for my two daughters that I would like to raise to be aware people.
Niki in her version of the Moneta Frankenstein dress
What do you want to achieve in your life?
World peace of course, haha! I don’t have any big goals: a good life for me and my close ones, without making the world a worse place, but – if in any way possible – while making the world a better place. Ecologically, but also in the way people treat each other. I try to achieve this by leading by example and by speaking up when I don’t agree with something. Speaking up is something that’s way out of my comfort zone, but I’m getting better at it. Maybe because I’m getting older, or maybe because I believe in myself more. Or maybe just because I’m right, ha!
(Photo credit: Niki Schoondergang)