Carrie Maginn

The Stitch Lounge

Carrie Maginn is the producer of the Stitch Lounge - an open lab incorporating sewing machines and studio space for people to come together and create a collection of ready to wear clothes. Carrie talks to us about the creativity scene in Edinburgh and Scotland as well as some challenges that artists are faced with at the moment. 

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Tell us a little bit about your background .

I graduated from art school in Chicago back in 1996 with a degree in painting and fine art photography, I'm from the States originally. After graduation, I decided to visit Europe, before I got serious with my photography. I set out to shoot reportage on my medium format camera in the cities and countries I'd loosely planned to see. I had no intentions of staying more than a few summer months, but as it turns out, I've stayed living and working abroad for nearly twenty years. I spent time first in Ireland, and this is where I did most of my reportage work on the streets in Galway. Then I spent a summer in the Portugal, in the Algarve. I photographed a local Portuguese family I lived with in the outskirts near Lagos.

Eventually, it became apparent that I was not going to go back to the States and I ended up in Amsterdam. There I started to exhibit my photography and worked printing in the darkrooms of a local photographer named Sanne Peper. I stayed there for about two years and then decided to travel again and left everything for Bangkok. Continuing my travels and photographing numerous places in South East Asia I wound up in Sydney after running out of money. I picked up work in a professional photographic print house printing again in the darkrooms for local set of fashion photographers shooting magazine work for Elle and Vogue. Remember, this was before it all went digital. However, I struggled to make ends meet in Sydney and jumped on the opportunity only after six months of being there to relocate to Tainan, Taiwan.

Teaching English was a lucrative option for cash and it would allow me another more interesting environment in which to photograph. I stayed in Taiwan again longer than planned - about four years. The culture was radically different, the cost of living was lower than I'd ever experienced, the teaching wages meant I only needed to work part time and I could spend the rest of my time shooting and I took up painting again. In Tainan, I did more exhibiting of my work. But again, after a period of time, I felt the urge to move back to Europe. I craved to work again in photography and I was honestly a terrible ESL teacher. So, it was ten years ago that my partner and I left Asia behind and moved to Scotland. 

What made you come to Scotland?

The move to Scotland was fully romantic, a man was involved at the time. We both were looking for a creative city to start back in the UK, we wanted a city of inspiration and potential. Anywhere but London, which was too big, too hectic, too expensive. We had a few friends living here and a few friends in Brighton at the time. It was really a toss of the coin.

How did your interest in sewing begin?

My interest in sewing began following a weekend visit from my Mom. I'd just bought my first flat and she was spending a couple weeks with me helping to sort it out. She mentioned that I should learn to sew and of course I'd never even thought of it. She said "Oh you'll have to learn, you'll be able to make your own cushions and tea towels and curtains, it's really very easy, such a great way to save money, we should just get you a machine". So off we went to John Lewis and bought one of those mini sewing machines, a starter machine. I thought if I'm rubbish at this I'm not going to spend a ton of money on a machine. Needless to say, after one run on it, I was completely hooked! And it wasn't the materials, the fabric, the cutting and pinning that I loved, in fact that's the most time consuming aspect of sewing and one I find I have very little patience for, it was the machine itself - the sound it makes, the mechanics, the technical aspect of the process that fascinates me, still does.

It's understanding and being part of the process that drives my interest in something, wether sewing or photography or painting, it's always the process of making something that fascinates me. I'm not that bothered with the end result. I like knowing how something was made, what steps you needed to take and how it was done stage by stage. The Stitch Lounge explores just that - a full forty eight hours in which people come together to make clothes. It's as much about, if not more about, what happens during that time frame, rather than what appears on the catwalk. Showcasing the clothes is a celebration of the achievements, it's a result of the work, but as an outcome it really doesn't matter what goes out on show, we're not aiming for anything other than providing an open space to experiment with the craft, it's completely opposite from a traditional fashion show.

 How did the idea of the Stitch Lounge develop?

Once I got hooked on sewing after getting a few basic lessons from my Mom, I went searching for a sewing class in Edinburgh.  I'd had enough of cushions, I wanted to make dresses! But I struggled to find a suitable class out with the CEC dressmaking course. I had no desire to register for a full or even part time course at ECA, I had a full time job, I just wanted to find a simple short course with like minded people in a cool environment. I took the CEC course anyway and I learned the basics of dressmaking - all in all I didn't find it that difficult, but it was missing something. The course had no atmosphere, no sense of community, it lacked any social engagement and I thought sewing, it's like knitting, where are the 'stitch n bitches' for sewing?

I started to research and I found this amazing space in San Francisco. It was a huge open plan space with huge long big tables covered in fabric and machines with men, women, boys, girls, all hanging out, drinking coffee, chatting and sewing. Cool music playing on a sound system. The video on their website made it look like I was getting a glimpse of what it would be like inside the studio of a big fashion house, but this was just people, all kinds of people dropping in and out, a few classes happening, people socialising and sewing and hanging out. Then I found a similar sewing cafe in Paris and London and New York and even Glasgow. I thought Edinburgh needs a sewing space like this.

So I set out to do just that, to bring The Stitch Lounge to Edinburgh. But it was hard, I had to find the community, bring them together in a space big enough to really create the atmosphere, the environment I was after seeing in the video, but I had no resources and I'd done all the maths and business planning and I just wasn't willing to go the full hog. And after talking about it for about a year, I got a generous offer from Mark Daniels, Executive Director at New Media Scotland. I'd pitched him my idea and he said " "Why not try it out at Inspace over a weekend?" I thought, exactly, why not. We held Edinburgh's first open sewing studio weekend in May 2011 and we just finished our sixth event in February this year.

What is your advice for anyone trying to set up their own pop up event?

Just do it. Honestly. It's such a valuable opportunity to try out an idea, to test the market. So many venues are willing to lend you their space for a one off - especially when you're potentially bringing them a new audience, it's win win. Edinburgh is even full of vacant properties. Get in touch with your local council. And talk about your idea, don't horde it, share it you'll be surprised how many people are willing to help! It's low risk and doesn't require long term commitment and its super fun! Expect to go at mock speed for a short period of time to pull it off, but in the end totally worth it.

 

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