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Interview with Niki

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Who are you and why?

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)

Links:

Instagram Niki
Blog

Podcast tips:

Death, Sex & Money, Reply All, This American Life, Ear Hustle, The Guilty Feminist, Unladylike, Dear Sugars, Modern Love, Criminal, This is Love, Dirty John

Sewing podcasts:

Love to Sew Podcast, Stitcher’s Brew Podcast.

Interview with Esmee

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Who are you and why?

I am Esmee. Woman, writer and photographer, teacher, reader, Epicurean, in touch with her feelings, singer, watcher of cycling, optimist and dreamer. Why? Because of genes and evolution. Talents and shortcomings. Falling and dusting myself off again. Trial and error.

When I met you, many moons ago, you were a writer. In the last few years you have added photography and mixed media to your palette. How did this come about?

Writing, photography and mixed media are all inspired by the same need: to translate my internal dialog into the most fitting medium available. That medium can be words, but also an image.

As an 11-year-old I already kept a diary in which I drew and made photo collages, and I have been doing this ever since. So it’s not as much a new way of working for me, but it is new that I am sharing this with the world. Before, I just never thought this type of work was good enough to share.

Your work looks like it’s analog, is it really? Or is it digital?

It is both: for the analog part, I use my old analog camera and a Polaroid SX70. During a couple of years of my life I spent way too many hours in a dark room with stinky chemicals, which made me hate darkroom work. That’s why I cherish the luxury and ease of digital photography and Photoshop. I love the analog craft of other photographers, but I don’t like to do all the work involved myself.

There is a lot of symbolism in your work. Is that something you think of beforehand, or is that something that happens organically during the creation process? Or is it something you only realise afterwards?

It mainly happens beforehand. My creative process always begins with a feeling, a thought or an experience that preoccupies me. While thinking, writing or talking about it, I already connect these feelings, thoughts or experiences to metaphors or symbols. That’s apparently the way I process and experience things. I have developed my own symbol language throughout the years. I often hide symbols in visual layers that aren’t clearly visible. The viewer might not immediately recognise these symbols, but I do believe that it gives my work a deeper layer.

I am very impressed by your donkey series. Could you elaborate on how this series came about?

That’s nice to hear, thank you! I am fascinated by hidden stories. Every person has their own hidden stories and it’s exactly those stories that make a person interesting. They are often the “why” and thus the difference between anonimity and intimacy, between misunderstanding and understand. The donkey features in daily life stories, where nobody notices him. By photographing him I DO see him, and the story under the surface. I think the donkey series is probably my most idealistic work.

What do you want to achieve with Studio Polle, and who do you want to reach? What have you already achieved?

My work at Studio Polle is twofold: there’s my art and then there’s the development and teaching of courses on what I call authentic creativity. With my art I want to reach anybody who’s touched by it, in any way. My courses are meant for both private individuals and entrepreneurs who want to live and do business using their authentic creativity. So not by going by “shoulds” or by “this is just the way things have developed” or by “this is how others do it”, but by using creativity and a distinctive way of being that is in line with who you are, what you believe in and that makes you feel good.

What I have already achieved? Sometimes people tell me that they have been touched by my work. I also get to help private individuals and entrepreneurs with living and working from a place of authentic creativity. They often let me know that their lives have changed in a positive way after taking one of my courses, and that they keep using the knowledge they have learned. That makes me very happy. I think happyness is a great thing to achieve.

(Photo credit: Esmee)

Links:

Studio Polle (NL)
Studio Polle (EN)
Facebook
Instagram Esmee Aarbodem
Instagram Studio Polle

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Next week it’s time for another “Get out of the house!” See you all on Wednesday!

Interview with Esther

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Who are you and why?

I am Esther Donkers and I was born in 1972 on the day Nixon was elected president. This fact thankfully has had no bearing on my life whatsoever, but it’s mentioned in my baby memory book, which also features the indispensable lock of my baby hair and the hospital bracelet made out of actual beads.

When I met you, you were a writer and a nurse, nowadays you work in education. When and why did you switch careers? Do you enjoy it? Was it something you always wanted, or was it something that you discovered during you life that you enjoyed?

It happened organically. I had a job developing teaching materials when a nursing teacher position became available. Since they needed somebody quickly, they asked me to fill that position. I ended up staying in that job for a year, teaching a group and also visiting them during their internships. I really enjoyed it. Since in The Netherlands it’s no longer allowed to teach without having the required paperwork, I thought long and hard and eventually decided to go back to school at 42 years old. I wasn’t the only one: my 40 classmates were all between 40 and 50 years old.

Like me, you went back to school as an adult. How did you reach that decision? How did your environment respond to you going back to school and how did that make you feel? How was your study experience? Was it what you thought it would be?

I thought about it for a long time, because of my age, the cost, the time investment. The first college I approached, didn’t want to give me any dispensations, but the school I eventually ended up going to thankfully did. My environment responded very positively to my decision, my family has been very supportive. It helps that we have always divided family tasks and that my husband is used to run the household by himself. He almost always cooks anyway, if busy times are ahead he even cooks in advance. My studies turned out to not be hard, but very time consuming. I don’t want to elicit pity, but my studies, combined with working as a teacher (and thus a lot of “homework”), has taken up all my weekends in the last 2,5 years. I decided to go for a job close to home, as I wouldn’t be able to keep up working in the Randstad (about 150 km/94 miles from where Esther lives) while also studying in Leeuwarden (a city about 90 km/55 miles from where she lives).

Because of this job change and because of books and other study costs, our family income was reduced by 700 euros (around 860 US dollars) a month. Even when I then got a job as a teacher this didn’t change much: it’s not the best paid career.

All in all, we have had to make some pretty big sacrifices, and I’ve sometimes berated my 18-year-old self for not having finished my studies at that age – all my careers (nurse, journalist and writer) were started at an older age.

I like teaching a lot, but it’s also very hard. The students, teenagers at MBO level (senior vocational education – LP) are not always the easiest group to instruct, and a lot of necessary conditions for teaching aren’t met. Like with nursing it’s all about those magical moments, when you manage to really teach somebody something, a fun class, having a good interaction with a student.

On Instagram you regularly post about rowing, more specifically longboat rowing. How did your discover this sport and what do you like about it so much? What has longboat rowing added to your life?

A friend of mine has been rowing in longboats for 20 years and thought it might be something I’d enjoy. I already had experience with “regular” rowing from the age of 16 on, so I decided to try this out. I liked it so much that I joined the longboat rowing club in Hattem, and I’ve been rowing with them for three seasons now. This sport has brought me so much: it has taught me that my body (1.90m/6’3”) isn’t graceless, but strong. It has really changed the way I view my body. The being outside on the water, the huge physical effort: it empties my head and I feel completely free in my body and mind.

What would you still like to accomplish in life?

That my son becomes an adult who can choose to live his life the way he wants to. I would also like to teach in a country that is less well off than The Netherlands. I would like to finish the two manuscripts I have lying around and perhaps see them being published, although I am not holding my breath. I would like to study script writing. And I would like to go on beautiful and perhaps also useful journeys with our son.

(Photo credit: Esther Donkers)

Links:

Instagram

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Next week it’s time for another “Get out of the house!” See you all on Wednesday!