Q&A – maker of the week: Alice Cliff

‘Ready to wear and share.’ Meet Alice Cliff, pattern cutter and tailor.

She started out at Sydney Tech and had a dream to work for top fashion houses in Europe. Now, having fulfilled her dreams for over a decade, Alice Cliff has returned to Australia to share her skills and contribute to our growing fashion industry.

What is your craft? How do you like to describe yourself?

I am a Creative Pattern Cutter for luxury women’s wear. I also describe myself as a Tailor as I specialise in jackets and coats.

Your studio – where and what is your studio/workspace like?

I am between studios at the moment but have a mannequin and sewing machine travelling with me, which is great for when creativity strikes. I usually spend a lot of time in the studio of the designer I’m working with at the time, so I keep a well-stocked tool kit ready to take anywhere.

Which of your tools do you love the most and why?

My scissors, they are in my hand for most of the day. They are comfortable and sharp. I have my 28cm fabric scissors, 21cm paper scissors and tiny snips for cutting sewing threads. I find the sound very satisfying when I cut into cloth while draping and moulding a new design.

Your inspiration – what really pumps your creative heart?

Creative ideas start flowing when I have fabric in my hands. I start to get a sense of how the fabric will drape; will it have pleats or fullness or fit close to the body. Also, when I work with a great designer, it’s really exciting to start a new style – getting into their head to understand what they want and the idea behind the piece. This is when you bounce around ideas. The better you understand each other, the better the result.

What was the spark that made you choose this particular medium?

I have been sewing since I was a kid, but fashion didn’t really click for me as a career until after a trip to Europe when I was 18. That’s when I saw how fun and beautiful clothes could be and saw fashion as a way to get back to these exciting cities one day. At 26 I left Sydney for Paris and later London.

Alice Cliff, haute couture pattern cutterYour working style – how do you like to start on a project and then progress it? Do you stick to a working schedule 9-5 or flex around a bit? Do you play loud music? Are your pets welcome in your space?

If I am working with a designer in their studio it can be a loud environment with machines and steam irons buzzing, and cutters and machinists to chat with. I start with a toile or drape in calico on the mannequin to ensure the lines and proportions are right. Once approved, I then transfer that information onto paper, creating a pattern for the machinist to cut and sew.

The sculptural pieces are a good challenge. Figuring out how to capture a shape or ruffle to shoot out from the garment at the right angle and height, and then construct it in a way that it stays there. If I need to focus I usually put my earphones in and listen to a comedy podcast. I take regular coffee breaks because I love coffee and also because the work can be physically demanding.

What are you working towards right now?

Since returning to Australia in March 2020, I have been establishing my business ‘Paper Cloth Cut’, and building my profile on social media. The process is challenging but rewarding. I really enjoy the way you can connect with people and other makers. I have developed pattern cutting workshops to share my skills and knowledge of the fashion industry. Currently, I am in WA to deliver these workshops in Perth with Maker&Smith, Muresk with Fibres West, and in Port Hedland for the Pilbara Fashion Festival.

If you could land the dream commission/exhibition/project, what would it be?

It would be to work with theatre and opera companies! Creating costumes is an area I have not yet explored. I would have more design input and the clothes could be even more outrageous than Paris Fashion Week!

[Collected February 2021. This is a standard set of questions that we ask of all our guest presenters and ‘makers of the week’. They are deliberately low-key.]

Read more about Alice Cliff and her business Paper Cloth Cut.

View Pilbara Fashion Week program.