Meet the Maker: Lisa Bennett from In The Making – Aprons
Lisa Bennett from In The Making – Aprons creates aprons for crafters, designed and developed in partnership with the makers who use them. Her aprons are handmade to last, with meticulous attention to detail and finish, evolving from a careful design process in which she consults with makers, listens to their needs and researches materials, styles and fastenings that best fit their craft. Here, Lisa talks to fellow Folksy seller glass artist Robyn Coetzee about why she started her business, what her studio looks like and how her creative process works…
After I wore my favourite apron to death, I made my own version in a sturdier denim fabric, which all my maker friends admired – and that was the germ of the idea.
Hi Lisa. I’m so pleased I’ve been asked to interview you as I didn’t know about your shop before, and now I know I will be purchasing an apron from you in the near future! Could you introduce yourself and tell me more about what you do?
Thanks Robyn! I design and make workwear for artists, makers, home and garden. In The Making- Aprons are worn by printmakers, potters, jewellery designers, painters, glass artists, art restorers, woodworkers, ceramicists, weavers, antiquarian booksellers… but quite often worn for baking, housework and gardening too.
My apron designs are developed in close partnership with artists and makers. Aprons very much embody the makers’ work ethic, put on an apron and you feel ready for work and ‘in the zone’…. equally, wearing your favourite comfy apron makes chores a little more bearable.
Aprons very much embody the makers’ work ethic – put on an apron and you feel ready for work and ‘in the zone’.
What made you start up a business making aprons?
I had been working as a freelance designer for some years, specialising in appliqué logos for childrenswear. I started the shop to make and sell things in the fallow periods between jobs. When my daughter was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, her needs made it hard to continue with freelance work, so it was great to have the Folksy shop to pour my creative energy into, without deadlines and stress.
I make each one of my aprons with meticulous attention to detail and finish – each is carefully measured, pressed and stitched, thick turning hammered and all the thread ends sewn inLisa Bennett, In The Making – Aprons
I’ve always been a keen ‘apron wearer’, whether it’s for cooking or for one of the art or craft projects I always have on the go. My favourite was a Muji apron that I wore to death, so I made my own version in a sturdier denim fabric, which all my maker friends admired – and that was the germ of the idea. When I started the shop it had a mixture of women’s aprons, children’s aprons and t-shirts with appliqués, gifts and Christmas decorations. Gradually it evolved and specialised as I started to work on bespoke orders for artists and artisan businesses. It was so fascinating learning about their skills and practice – I was hooked!
Clients come to me with a design problem to solve because a regular apron doesn’t quite do the job for their particular art or craft practice.
I work with glass and I’m looking for a sturdy protective yet comfortable apron. Which one would you recommend?
I think you would need a medium-heavy weight denim or canvas fabric apron for protection and cross-back design for comfort. My ochre denim cross-back aprons are popular with glass artists – occasionally one will ask me to move pockets to the side or back because the way they work means sharp cuttings of glass can fill up a front pocket!
I wash test my fabrics to calculate shrinkage, so I know how much extra fabric to order – you should always wash fabrics before laying and cutting a pattern because cotton and linen can shrink a lot.
Which is your best-selling apron and why do you think that is?
The No 4:3 Ochre Denim Cross-Back Apron is my best seller but my newly launched potters’ aprons are catching up fast! Customers like the beautiful ochre colour, but key to its success is the cross-back strap design, which is incredibly comfortable and easy to wear all day. There are no ties around the neck, or dangly ties coming undone when your hands are completely covered in muckiness. My cross-back aprons also fit a wide size range, with room for layers of jumpers in a chilly studio!
I see you make customised aprons. Can you explain your process in planning the best style and fabric to suit your customer’s needs?
Clients come to me with a design problem to solve because a regular apron doesn’t quite do the job for their particular art or craft practice. Often it’s a requirement for specialist pockets or longer apron length. The same design principles and processes apply to all my aprons: research, drawing, sample making, fabric preparation and sewing. Over the last year I’ve been working on a range of potters’ aprons – consulting with ceramicists, studying how they work, how they sit at the wheel, stand or move around a workbench. This is a good example of how I work. The design process starts with drawings. In this case using my standard cross-back apron as a start point, adding a bodice, then dividing the skirt, deciding on turning/facing widths for strength and other details like the pockets. Rough pencil or pen drawings are re-drawn carefully in Photoshop, and I play around with different colourways.
I draw the apron design on to a big sheet of dot and cross pattern paper, making a template to trace off pattern pieces using more dot and cross paper.
Next I cut out and make a ‘toile’ calico fabric mock-up. With the first potter’s apron toile, I found that the split needed to start much higher up, so that the two sides of fabric didn’t pull too much and would lie on each leg. The pattern was re-drafted and a second toile made.
During the toile sewing stages I write making instructions, along with lots of diagrams, which go into a big file. These instructions are invaluable for remembering how I made the tricky bits and speed up the apron-making process no end.
The next stage is a fabric sample. I like to work with cotton fabrics, generally 8-12oz denim or canvas, heavier fabric than that impacts on comfort, occasionally poly/cottons are appropriate, if they are going to be washed frequently or need to dry quickly. My fabric search usually starts locally, at Rolls & Rems fabric shop in Lewisham, then progresses to many hours searching the internet and ordering samples. Fabric samples are wash tested to calculate shrinkage, so I know how much extra fabric to order – you should always wash fabrics before laying and cutting a pattern because cotton and linen can shrink a lot! I make each one of my aprons with meticulous attention to detail and finish – each is carefully measured, pressed and stitched, thick turning hammered and all the thread ends sewn in.
If you were allowed only one tool or machine, which would it be?
Ha, that would be a pencil: the ultimate problem solving tool. Drawing and note taking is the root and foundation of any work I do, whether it’s a tiny scribbled design on an old till receipt, working out design problems or trying to devise marketing and social media plans.
My studio is our former lounge in south-east London – a high ceilinged, sunny room, where I ‘set up shop’ two years ago when I realised we hardly ever used it.
Where is your studio located? Can you tell me more about it. Do you share it? How long have you been there?
My studio is at home in hilly-leafy, busy south-east London. It’s a high ceilinged, sunny room, with my sewing machine in the bay window, two big trestle tables for cutting out fabric and drafting patterns, lots of design drawings on the walls, a packaging area and tailor’s dummies. Formerly our lounge, I ‘set up shop’ in there exactly two years ago, when I realised we hardly ever used it because we are a sit-round-the-kitchen-table sort of family. Before that, I was struggling to work at one end of our bedroom. The only thing I didn’t move into the studio was my computer, that’s still in the bedroom because it’s such a distraction from making.
I listen to something in my studio, mainly dramas and stories on BBC Sounds. Do you listen to something while you’re working?
I have to listen to music at all times, either my own playlists or BBC6 Music. My first career was in the music industry, so consequently have a big record collection. My studio music is at “background volume” because I need to concentrate, but I also like to hear the ebb and flow of life outside, as people walk past, children play in the school down the road, traffic noises, planes, trains…
My woodworker’s apron took six months, three toiles and a lot of magnet testing but I learned a lot!
What’s the strangest request or most difficult apron you’ve been asked to make?
Ah, that would be a custom woodworker’s apron with countless pockets all on top of each other and a magnetised flip-up pocket flap. It took six months, three toiles and a lot of magnet testing! But I certainly learned a lot from the experience and have a version of it in my Folksy shop.
My potter’s apron is designed with a split skirt for working on the wheel. There are no ties around the neck or dangly ties coming undone when your hands are completely covered in muckiness, and there’s room for layers of jumpers in a chilly studio!
What does craft mean to you?
Art and craft is hardwired into my DNA. Ever since childhood I’ve always had projects on the go. Craft is not necessarily about perfection. I read recently that craft is ‘counter industrial’. I like that phrase – it’s about handling materials and making things that are useful or beautiful. Most importantly, craft means sharing knowledge, skills and enthusiasm.