Sunday Reading: Thread


words lydia higginson

photo janina fleckhaus


My inner seamstress has a way of putting the world to rights. Although I didn’t know it at the time, she was there, helping me carve out shapes and stitches as I sat in my freezing cold studio making a coat from heavy herringbone wool. It took me five days to cut and sew that coat and cover it in rich embellishment. In threads of forest green and maroon, shimmering ochre and gold, embroidery spans the length of my spine. At its centre is a golden cross. That cross marks the place behind my heart where fertile veins of creativity run deep. It also marks the point where the end of a gun was pressed up against my back during a brutal assault.

I made that coat in the depths of winter. Being stripped and sexually assaulted made me completely disconnect from my body – I wanted to re-dress myself. Over the cold days and nights, I created quilted jumpers, turquoise silk lingerie and jumpers from cashmere. When the spring came, I started making flowing skirts, denim jeans and softly tailored shirts. As spring turned to summer, I wanted to wear wild printed jumpsuits and sporty silk bomber jackets, so I made some of those too.

Then leaves started to fall and my sewing slowed down but never completely ground to a halt. I continued to create lace knickers, simple camisoles and wideleg culottes. As the year drew to a close and winter once again set in, I hunkered down in front of my sewing machine and made floral cords, a furry gilet, leggings printed with the beauty of the cosmos and another embroidered coat, this time with a dusty pink, cosy velvet hood. Over the year, my inner seamstress spent over 1,000 hours designing and creating the clothes I’ve always wanted to wear – over 60 garments. All the clothes I’d ever bought from shops have been given away and the only ones I wear are ones that I have made myself.

Making my own clothes was my way of feeling strong and alive again. It allowed my body to heal from five years of holding on to trauma. After being assaulted, I was desperately seeking a way to breathe colour, movement, texture and sensuality back in to my life and, when I wear garments that I have stitched from scratch, my body feels realigned on its natural creative compass. My healing armour made of silk and lace and cashmere.

Creating my wardrobe afresh – sleeves, collars, cuffs – wasn’t only a process of recovery. It was also one of discovery. Of my seamstress inside who had just been waiting to be given a needle and thread. Passionate, creative and tactile, I need my seamstress to face life. It feels like she has been stitching away since the beginning of time – I just drop into her rhythm for a while when I’m sat at my machine or have a thimble on my finger. She’s helped me to create beauty from brutality. When I’m in touch with my seamstress, I feel able to be the woman I want to be – dressed in a wardrobe I’ve stitched from energy, time and golden thread. 


Lydia has recently launched Threadworks in London – a space for fashion and textile artists in the week and a place to learn new sewing skills at the weekend. You can support their Crowdfunding project here. If you're a print designer, pattern cutter, embroiderer, weaver, seamstress, tailor, costume designer or small fashion brand that might be looking for space, get in touch via the Threadworks website


'Thread' was originally published in Oh Comely issue 37, featuring three more personal stories of touch. Pick up a copy here

What life models think about

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

Portrait: Liz Seabrook

Throughout art history, the figure of the model has been a consistent but anonymous presence – both a visual reference and an inspiration for the artist. For our latest issue, we photographed four women who work as life models in their favourite poses and spoke to them about their career, motivations and what they’re really thinking when they’re nude. This is Sophie Cleaver, 27, from Glasgow: 

"I walk into a room with strangers and take my clothes off, but I’m not body confident at all. People aren’t drawing me, they’re drawing some shapes. It’s performative, like dancing or acting. I’d slouch on a couch but when I’m posing, I sit up straight. There are thousands of images of me out there but I don’t see them as me.

My mum was a life model. When I turned 16 and needed to get a job, it seemed a good option. I’d grown up around it – when mum couldn’t get childcare, I’d sit in the corner with my crayons – so I wasn’t nervous. I joke that I’ve had 11 years of art classes – I find myself repeating bits back to people. I used to do it around lots of other things, but now I can’t. I have MS and it’s completely draining. Modelling is good for that – you can recline and have a rest! But I couldn’t do it every day.

One advantage is the thinking time. In other jobs, you wouldn’t get to sit and think for 45 minutes. When I was doing my A levels, I would do my coursework in my head while I was posing and write it all down when I got home – now it’s shopping lists or knitting.

If I’m posing for shorter periods of time, like a few seconds, I do things I couldn’t hold for longer, like going right onto the tips of my toes. I always try new poses. Even if it’s similar to one you’ve done 50 times, every pose is always slightly different.

Every situation is different too. When you’re modelling for A level students, there’s always one who’s nudging his mates. I’ll make eye contact with him for the entire class – it’s a sure-fire way of dealing with it. Quite often you’re in spaces that aren’t set up for modelling. There’s a lot of changing in toilets. I had this weird situation recently with a drone with a camera hovering outside the studio where I’d been posing. That was unique, but I sometimes swap notes with my mum – you know, like, “oh, I had one of those…”

Life modelling comes and goes with fashion. At the Glasgow School of Art, where I model, only 20 years ago they had about 18 full-time models with their own staff room. We’re all part-time now. But there are groups like All the Young Nudes in Scotland, putting on evenings set to music in clubs, making it cool again.

I’ve recently become much more proud of what I do. I’ve made it work as a viable job. I couldn’t support a house on it, but it’s enough for me, with the help of my boyfriend. I want to keep on doing it for as long as I can – to become Britain’s longest serving life model."

Pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 37 to see our other three life models and to read about their experiences. 

Issue 37 playlist: Touch

words: Marta Bausells

illustration: Jisun Lee


Quite a few of these tracks are songs of the effects of human touch on human skin – understandably a popular subject among songwriters – expressed in all styles and periods, from funk to electronic. From the brilliantly straightforward ode to self-love and pleasure in I Touch Myself to the invigorating Obedear, where Purity Ring sing of walking barefoot on mountains and the touch of the shale on the toes, we are in a sensual mood.

And, because it’s summer, we’re throwing in Tal Bachman’s “touch smell sight taste and sound” and songs of beaches and pools, though they aren’t always what they seem. It’s 2017 and even summer tunes have a bit of a dark side. Join us in celebrating touch – from that of a loved one, to that of the sky, the sun, or the water – as well as the absence of it (in Solange’s weary vindication) and the longing for it (we couldn’t help ourselves and we included Mariah). Have a great summer, full of all the right touches!

Take a listen to the playlist here