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Featured Shop: Cassandra Ellis

Aug 11, 2016

by Katie Hawley

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

In 2009, New Zealand-born author, pattern maker, interior designer, and jill-of-all-trades Cassandra Ellis picked up and moved across the world to build a new home in London. “It’s a terribly romantic story, I’m afraid,” says Cassandra. “My now-husband Ed was having drinks with a mutual friend of ours, and apparently, I crossed the road in front of them — he said that was it.” After a brief courtship, Cassandra left her brick-and-mortar home goods shop behind and followed Ed back to his native London.

After putting her life together anew, Cassandra launched a fresh line of furniture and homewares, working with independent craftspeople across Britain to bring her designs to life. Realizing she had a creative itch to scratch, she established a shop on Etsy to share her contemporary digital sewing patterns (for simple, elegant robes, aprons, loungewear and more) with the masses, providing an accessible DIY complement to her high-end interior goods. In the process, she’s created a distinctive one-woman lifestyle brand that’s like Kinfolk magazine come to life.

We caught up with Cassandra to learn more about how she got started making and why she’s so passionate about teaching others her craft.
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So, you have a high-end home line, as well as a collection of digital sewing patterns on Etsy. These are seemingly very different businesses. How did that come to be?

As much as I love doing interiors and furniture, I’m really passionate about helping people to make and create. All my sewing patterns are created with home at the center: beautiful and useful clothes, homewares and accessories that are simple in design and construction; contemporary shapes and silhouettes with well-thought-through, practical details. They are items we all need and want around us. I put as much effort into designing a wrap or a dressing gown as I would a sofa.

And sewing is an especially accessible craft, is it not? You cannot learn to be a furniture maker in an afternoon, but you can learn to sew. It was really important for me to encourage people who will never buy one of my sofas that they can still make beautiful things and enjoy that same level of design. On Etsy, there’s a whole community of people who want to create, so it’s the perfect platform to share my digital sewing patterns. And with patterns, it’s all about how you take a design and make it yours.

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Utility Dress PDF Sewing Pattern, $8

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When did you first learn to sew?

I learned to sew when I was about five. My mum had to work quite a few jobs to keep the roof over our heads, and she worked sewing in a factory. In the evenings, she used to bring piecework home and sew all night — she would live on about three hours of sleep. As a child, in my sleep, all I could hear was the machine sewing; I’d literally fall asleep and wake up to the sound. So I learned to sew straightaway as a child, although both of my sisters rejected it completely.

When I was in high school, I was bigger than the other kids, so there weren’t a lot of options for buying clothes. I was forced to make my own, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I realized that if I wanted to look a certain way, I had to make it happen myself.

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Did you always know you wanted to be a maker?

Well, I didn’t know it could be a career. Growing up in rural New Zealand, there weren’t a lot of choices, and I was always told I had to go a certain route. When I was a teenager, I used to come into school on Monday and say, “Oh my God, did you watch that documentary on Christian Dior?” And my classmates would say, “Are you kidding? Did you watch the rugby?” I was weird — I had a Vogue subscription from the age of fifteen, even though it was really financially stressful.

I didn’t know I could be a maker, and then I just sort of did it — I taught myself and I practiced until I thought I was good enough. Suddenly I realized that nobody could tell me I couldn’t do it, so I just started, and now I can’t imagine not doing it because it’s so fundamental to who I am.

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Dog Neckerchief PDF Pattern, $4
How would you describe your design aesthetic?

I’ve always said my aesthetic is simple, useful, beautiful. I think probably the overarching feeling is that it’s quiet. If I design a space, it’s a quiet shell — it allows the person to spring forth rather than fight with it. The same goes for clothing or accessories — they’re not going to scream at you. They allow you to look your best.

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Whether it’s a sofa or a dressing gown, all of your designs seem to map back to the idea of home. Why is that?

I think your relationship with home is very much rooted in your childhood. My parents divorced when I was very young, and divorcing in New Zealand in the 1970s wasn’t easy — in fact, it was illegal for a woman to have a mortgage. My mum raised us, so home became a very important thing for me from about the age of three.

Today I have two homes: We have an apartment in London and a small cottage with a garden in the countryside. For me, home is someplace safe, someplace nurturing and uplifting. It’s quiet, and it’s generous because we love having people over. It’s also full of books and my two dogs, and it’s a very creative space. I think it’s really important to understand the individualness of home. Decoration is lovely, but it’s not what home is.

Photographs courtesy of Cassandra Ellis. 

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