Spinning a yarn with…Emma Mortimer

At Dugdale Bros, we love to see long-standing textiles and tailoring traditions being passed on through the generations. Our own story is just one chapter within Huddersfield’s illustrious cloth-making history, so it’s inspiring to see young, talented individuals from the area continuing to drive this narrative forward.

One such rising star is Emma Mortimer – Huddersfield-born tailor and former finalist in the prestigious Golden Shears Contest. Here, we chat to Emma about her tailoring journey so far and who has inspired her to cut a path in this challenging, revered and endlessly exciting industry…

1. Where did your tailoring journey begin?
I’ve held an interest in creating garments from a very early age – particularly in making them fit the form of individual wearers. From the age of four, I was bringing home items of clothing or shoes I had fashioned myself!

2. Where did you study?
I studied at Sheffield Hallam University, where I received a Masters in Fashion Design. Prior to this, I was a student at Bath Spa University.However, when it came to building the foundation of my tailoring career, my most valuable experience was gained outside my education – it was by acquiring hands-on experience through interning at tailoring houses alongside my studies, that I was able to establish contacts within the field.I’ve learned a lot from practicing in an array of different places – ranging from short courses at Newham College to working in a local tailors. All these experiences have helped me to develop the fundamental knowledge that underpins my career today.

3. Who inspired you to become a tailor?
I’d definitely have to say that I owe a lot to my friend and former university tutor, David Morrish. He is the one who really introduced me to the world of bespoke tailoring, and supported me throughout my education to help me reach where I am today. Without his expert guidance, I’m not sure I would have managed to progress in the same way. For instance, he introduced me to the Golden Shears Contest – in which I was a finalist in 2015 – and it was from there that I realised this was the career path for me.I’m from Huddersfield – the home of fine worsted cloth – and there’s a huge textiles heritage that surrounds the area. The town is world-renowned within the industry, so I’ve always felt connected to this line of work. Although I don’t come from a tailoring background, my grandmother was a skilled mender of cloth. I remember being fascinated by the level of skill and patience required to produce such seamless and beautiful work, and I still admire her for that.

4. If you weren’t a tailor, what would you be?
If I wasn’t in this specific line of work, I’d probably have chosen something more related to fashion design – particularly menswear.

5. Which designers do you most admire?
Paul Smith – I love his attitude to design. The way he injects wit through his bold use of colour and pattern sits well against the way his garments are cut. Agi & Sam are a duo that I particularly admire, again for their playful approach to design in their pieces. And Aitor Throup too, because of his insight and creative vision – his garments are works of art, and he has such a fresh approach to the way in which he designs.

6. Who is your style inspiration?
When it comes to menswear style, it has to be Jimmy Q – otherwise known as James Edward Quaintance III. As a professional skateboarder, tattoo artist, model and musician, his playful style is a refreshing take on a more refined look – which he achieves through well-cut garments.

7. Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of being a woman in what many still see as a “man’s world”?
Yes, there have been moments where I’ve encountered such challenges in the past. But it isn’t the case everywhere – as in many other male-dominated industries – and fortunately, where I work now, there is no sense of being overlooked or doubted because I’m a woman at all.Surprisingly, I have actually been told in the past by some tailors not to pursue this as a career path. However, I’ve never let this stop me from setting out to achieve my goals – sometimes when people tell you “no”, it gives you even more incentive to prove them wrong! Plus, if you believe in your work, then you should stand by it and be prepared to defend it wholeheartedly.

8. What is your favourite part of the job?
I have always been inspired by the art of bespoke tailoring – mainly because of its heritage and the craftsmanship involved. I enjoy being immersed in learning any art form – particularly when it comes to hand-crafting – and I love that even though these cutting and tailoring techniques have been passed down through many generations, they have stood the test of time and still remain true to tradition.I believe that when you train as a cutter, it’s crucial to have a keen eye in order to notice the world around you and see how it could inspire your works. Whilst a strong understanding of garment construction and fabric properties is undoubtedly important, it’s also vital to be driven and thoroughly engaged with your work – you have to be prepared to work long hours to achieve great results!

9. Which of your pieces are you most proud of?
I’d have to say that I’m still very proud of my final collection – although I have certainly moved on since then in terms of skill, approach and style, I’m still impressed by how much I managed to accomplish in such a short amount of time!

10. How important are ethics and sustainability to you?
My career revolves around creating garments that stand the test of time, so of course sustainability comes into play here. I am very against fast fashion and the throwaway attitude that seems to have arisen when it comes to buying clothes. I believe we should have a long-lasting connection with the designs we wear – which is partly why I am so invested in the bespoke tailoring field.The journey that you go on with the client in creating something that’s personal to them and their tastes, is a perfect example of user-centred design. Each experience is individual to the customer, and I’d like to think that because of this, it creates a lasting bond with the garment.

11. Describe your style of tailoring in three words…
Methodical, traditional, detail-specific.

12. What one piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out in tailoring?
Be prepared to knuckle down and devote a significant amount of time to perfecting a skill that is a true art. My advice is to get ready to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into your work – if this doesn’t happen, you’re doing something wrong!It’s also essential to be proactive about your own learning, as only you are responsible for this. Make the most of your learning experiences and push yourself – it’s down to you to put the hours in.

13. What do you hope to have achieved in 10 years’ time?
I would like to have perfected my skills and earned recognition in the tailoring world for this.

14. If you could describe Huddersfield’s reputation on the global cloth map in one word, what would that word be?

To discover Emma’s work and find out more about her tailoring journey so far, visit emmamortimer.co.uk and follow her on Instagram @tinkeringtailor.