thread 2017: q&a with Frances Tobin

thread 2017: q&a with Frances Tobin

In advance of thread… a festival of textiles 2017 we have been running a series of q&a blogs to give you a flavour of what to look forward to on the day. Featuring a selection of exhibitors, workshop tutors and speakers, our latest feature is with designer Frances Tobin, whose talk ‘The Maker’s Atelier –  from a thought to a business’ will give an insight into her business and recent book. 

Frances Tobin resizedFrances, thank you for taking the time to chat.  How and when did your interest in textiles and making clothes start?

As far back as I can remember. I was always touching fabric to see what it felt like. I refused to have shop bought clothes; there was always something not quite right about the style, fit or colour.  So my mother made my clothes, making me watch how everything was done until I was allowed on the sewing machine at about 8 years old.

You trained as a fashion and textiles designer and then went on to work for many leading brands in Italy, the US and the UK. How much did the location influence or change your work and where was the most inspiring location to work?

Part of being a designer is absorbing ideas like a sponge. So wherever I have travelled and worked, I’ve been influenced by my surroundings. Each place has had a distinct effect; the light in New York really made me see colour differently, the superb manufacturing and beautiful fabrics in Italy taught me about finish and luxury, but London is by far the most inspirational – I like to see how people put looks together and its far more individual and eclectic here in the UK.

What inspired you to launch The Maker Atelier and how has it changed your life?The Makers Atelier resized

Someone I buy fabric from suggested I publish my own patterns. It was at a time when I was rethinking all aspects of mInside of The Maker's Atelier resizedy life. I had helped build brands for various companies when I was in the fashion industry and I thought I could build my own aspirational brand; a contemporary fashion brand for dressmakers. It has totally changed my life, initially I was still working on other design projects but within six months it had totally taken over everything else.

You have now also developed the Making-Kits which help recreate your styles with the minimum of fuss. How did that new part of the business come about?

So many of my customers kept asking for fabric recommendations, especially women who have come back to dressmaking and lack a bit of confidence. It seemed a natural progression to offer the fabric and all the trims and accessories required to make the styles. The Making-kits are still evolving as we find better fabrics and understand the customers needs.

Frances 1 resized


You mentioned on your website that you still make most of your own clothes now. Do you have a signature item?

It has to be my stretch pencil skirt; I have plain, patterned, metallic and sequined versions – 25 in all! It’s such a great garment and it only takes 80cm of fabric. I just pull one on with a t-shirt or cashmere crew-necked sweater; it’s a great shape and the stretch means I can move around easily and be comfortable all day long.

Do you use social media much in the creative process and is there anyone you follow who you admire?

It’s possible to loose hours on social media and time is what I could do with more of. I used to love Instagram but since it no longer shows in real time I’ve become a bit bored with it. I do subscribe to designers and fashion brands digital newsletters as well as The Edit by Net-a-Porter and The Business of Fashion. But I spend as much time looking at fashion and design magazines – I love the printed image.


Frances will be speaking as part of the talk programme at 12.30pm in the Long Kiln

thread…a festival of textiles takes place on Saturday 30 September 2017 from 9am to 6pm. For £5 advance tickets click here. A day ticket includes access to the marketplace, talk programme and exhibitions.  A full schedule of bookable workshops can be found on  A workshop ticket includes day entry to the festival.

About thread: Spend the day celebrating textiles at thread! Browse the curated marketplace for artisan fabrics and haberdashery to purchase for your own textile projects or buy from artists and makers showcasing their own unique handcrafted work. Join in with the programme of talks, exhibitions and demonstrations from professionals or sign up to one of the bookable workshops. Following its success in 2016, thread will once again be exploring the social and ethical aspects of textiles through activities. Join our community of textile enthusiasts for a sociable and inspiring day out.  A full listing of marketplace exhibitors, the talk programme (including a talk from Frances) and additional information is available at and follow us on Twitter Facebook and Instagram for news and programme updates.

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