Talking Slow Fashion | Meeting Students at Kinsale Community School

When I got the email asking if I'd be interested in giving a talk to a class of students at Kinsale Community School, my instinct was, oh, I don't think I'd want to do that. Then I thought, as it's something I feel strongly around, know a little about and am trying to adopt sustainable practices in my designing and making, that maybe I should find out a bit more before hastily declining. Ms Hayes explained that her Year 2 CSPE class (that's Civic, Social and Political Education, I had to google it) had been learning about the impact of fast fashion and she was hoping to bring someone local in to talk to them.

In February, I stepped out of my comfort zone and had an amazing time with this class of informed and curious young people. The talk ranged from why clothes have become so cheap today, how the quality of clothes was better in the past, assembly line manufacturing vs making a complete garment and a bit about my own story. At the end of the talk, they had lots of great questions prepared before the bell rang and they dashed to get home. And I returned home, too, feeling unexpectedly elated and optimistic.

Tamsin Blackbourn Kinsale Community School.jpg

Carmel Somers wears the Charleville dress 

Carmel Somers (front right) of Good Things Cafe, Skibbereen chose to wear the Charleville Dress at an event hosted by The Irish Times.  At a gathering of top Irish chefs, the future of Irish restaurants was discussed, along with diversity in the kitchen, why there is a shortage of chefs in Ireland and the problem of no-shows. 

Check now for sizes and availability

photo credit; The Irish Times

photo credit; The Irish Times

A New Year (ethical) Resolution

Sewers (as in someone who sews) are often exceptional collectors of fabrics, trimmings and buttons and we have cherished relationships with our respective collections. I realised long ago that the enjoyment I get from acquiring new supplies and imagining what they could be made into is almost as fulfilling as completing the finished piece. Visualising options – so may possibilities! - is a necessary part of the design and planning process. It might look like daydreaming to some, but there's a lot going on behind those faraway eyes.


My own selection habits have had to sharpen up, taking into account how garments made in different fabrics have to hang together as at least some kind of coherant collection. I've had to broaden my gaze as I'm not only choosing shades that I'm personally drawn to, I need to consider colours that suit other complexions and tastes. Still, I find myself experiencing that magpie twitch when faced with a gorgeous sample of fabric or exquisite button. I'm improving at resisting the temptation of buying without knowing quite what I'm going to do with it. Without a plan, these compelling new supplies are both charged with opportunity and a rueful reminder of that already over high fabric pile.

Recently, a couple of likeminded textiles addicts have offered me lengths of fabrics that they, too, have hoarded over time. With the proviso that I'll only use natural fibre fabrics, I've acquired a new stack of small amounts of irresistible fabrics. Interestingly, these unplanned adoptions are less emotional than the ones I make on my own. Alone, I fall for colour combinations I rarely see, prints that evoke something from the past or a novelty that I think I'll never come across again. Whereas the fabrics that have been bequeathed to me, lovely as they are in their own right, present more of a design challenge to figure out how to incorporate them. The challenge of using what I already have is not only my challenge; before buying more and more, I think it's important for all of us to remember what we already have and consider if there is a way to re-purpose or re-use before opting for introducing more new material – any kind of stuff, really - into the world. To me, a resolution is a promise you make to yourself and it doesn't need to be scheduled by the commencement of a New Year. If a resolution is to be made, then make it whenever. So, my Un-New Years Resolution is to be discerning and considered with my acquisition of the new and embrace the challenge of using what already exists.     

Tamsin  ✂️

Saturdays at Skibbereen Farmers Market

In May and with some trepidation, I began getting up earlier on a Saturday morning to head off to  Skibbereen Farmers Market.  Having had several years experience of the bricks and mortar kind of retailing, being outside in what is basically an open tent and subjected to the weather, was a scenario that was a little daunting. However, my partner, Donagh Carey, a fine artist, was to join me and together we brought a combination of wares that possibly hadn't been seen together at Skibbereen Market before.  

Skibbereen Farmers Market is everything you want a market to be.  A diverse collection of local stallholders selling interesting  things that you actually want to buy.   For those who appreciate Slow Food, you can do your weekly shop at Skibbereen Market and be confident that you're buying from the person who has produced it and who has travelled just a few miles.  You can only get fruit and veg that's in season, because you'll only find local food here.  There are stalls specialising in collectable jewellery, glassware or china, secondhand books and vinyl records.  There are contemporary ceramicists  and knitters of hand dyed yarn, plus many stalls selling plants for the garden or polytunnel  and a lady who grows her own  flowers and sells the most charming cut flower bouquets.  It's a real authentic market.

Having a website is grand, in fact in the 21st Century it's essential, but I was missing out on  interacting with clients and getting feedback. It's one thing presenting images and descriptions online and a totally different experience meeting people one-to-one and hearing their responses and seeing how the clothes actually fit.  And of course, for customers, it's much easier to know whether something is going to suit you if you have it right in front of you and can see and feel it.  I've even customised a private fitting area complete with mirror and carpet so you can try things on.  

There are many lovely aspects to spending a Saturday at Skibbereen Farmers Market and they are all connected to the people who are there, both stallholders and market goers.  Having an opportunity to have conversations about sustainability and what it means, finding out what resonates and what is important to different people and explain how I'm approaching sustainability in the collection, all make for a very fulfilling day at the market.  One lady, dreamily lost in her own thoughts whilst examining a garment made of printed cotton fabric, suddenly commented, "These remind me of clothes I use to wear".  That will do for me.  


We'll be at Skibbereen Farmers Market on the Fairfield off Bridge Street every Saturday from 9am to 2pm come rain or shine (but probably not hurricane).  Contact me for me details on anything to do with the collection or the market.  For more information about the work of Donagh Carey click here.


All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor (Shirt)

Story of Our Kinsale Shirt

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
smell the sea, and feel the sky
let your soul & spirit fly, into the mystic...
— Van Morrison

Our Kinsale shirt is inspired by the tradition of the sailor suit, but how did the universally recognised sailors apparel, particularly the sailor collar, come about in the first place?

In the beginning, there was no official uniform for seamen, they would have worn their own clothes and being away at sea for so so long, they tended to let their hair grow.  Sailors used grease or tar to hold their long hair in place so that it didn't get in the way as they worked. There wasn't much opportunity for bathing or laundering on a ship, so to protect their clothing from the tar, they wore a piece of cloth over their shoulders which became known as a 'tar flap'.

Eventually, the naval forces formalised the dress code and although sailors were no longer allowed long hair,  the tradition of the tar flap was incorporated into the uniform with the sailor collar that we know today.  Due to the perilousness of the sea, sailors were (and perhaps still are) a superstitious lot and it may have seemed prudent to retain the collar, in spite of it's original function having become obsolete.   Even nowadays, it can be considered good luck to touch the collar of a sailor.

The archetypal dress of a sailor with the flap collar, neckerchief and bell bottom trousers has a singular look, conjuring lively sailors disembarking their ships after months journeying away at sea before returning to shore. There's a romance and mystery to the look of the classic sailor uniform, unlike anything a land-locked civilian might ordinarily wear, evoking the exotic and adventure, an irresistible combination.  

source: Twisted Limbs and Crooked Branches

source: Twisted Limbs and Crooked Branches

source: Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties

source: Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties

There's something inescapably appealing about uniforms in general and the sailor suit has long been referenced in the styling details of clothing for us non sea fairing folk, initially being popularised in the 1800s in women's fashion as well as young boys dress, hence the popularity of the sailor suit for page boys at weddings.

source: Chanel, Couture and Industry

source: Chanel, Couture and Industry

Around 1913, the French designer, Gabrielle Chanel rebelled against the accentuated feminine shape that had long prevailed in women clothing, with it's restrictive corsetry.  The fashion was for women to wear dresses which were boned to create a tiny waist, and an exaggerated bust and hips and inevitably this constrained movement as well as requiring someone to assist with all those fastenings and laces.  

Chanel  designed clothes with a relaxed cut, taking elements from mens clothing, including mens workwear which had a more utilitarian feel and was eminently more practical.  She also utilised fabrics never before thought of as suitable for women clothing; knitted jersey in wool or silk was mostly used for sports and beach wear and in it's natural colour state, for mens undergarments.  During the war, traditional fabrics were in short supply as they were used for uniforms, so it was easy step to persuade people of the necessity of turning to jersey clothing, which helped revolutionised the comfort and practicality of womenswear.

Gabrielle Chanel (above) in 1913 wearing her own clothing designs, of a heavy jersey sweater with sailor style collar and linen skirt.  At the time, it would have been  unusual for a woman's garment to be pulled over the  head and years later, American Vogue commented "To many rich women, the charm of Chanel lay in the remarkable fact that they could dress themselves without anyone's help." 

In more recent times, to mark her engagement at Buckingham Palace, Princess Diana wore a navy ensemble complete with a white sailor collar blouse and red ribbon bow.  It is thought this was a nod to the traditional dress once worn by younger members of the royal family since the times of Queen Victoria and Czar Nicholas.

What we think of as a sailor suit is now mostly worn by junior servicemen and only on ceremonial occasions and has been replaced by a modern boiler suit style uniform for everyday wear.  The traditional uniform with sailor collar designed to protect clothing from tar and the bell bottom trousers, practical for rolling up when scrubbing the ship's decks, has been updated to meet the requirements of modern day life in the Navy. However it lives on, providing inspiration in clothing design, to be reinterpreted and re-configured again and again.

source: Diana, Her Life in Fashion

source: Diana, Her Life in Fashion

Detail of the Kinsale shirt in pure cotton with carved mother-of-pearl buttons

Detail of the Kinsale shirt in pure cotton with carved mother-of-pearl buttons

Our Kinsale Shirt borrows the sailor collar from the traditional naval uniform as well as referencing the twenties, when women's clothing became more androgynous, adapting the fit to suit a contemporary femininity.  This version with three quarter length sleeves is in a beautiful, fine cotton jacquard of elephant grey with brick red and ochre patterned stripes.