Designer Stories | Nanna from How To Do Fashion

Designer Stories | Nanna from How To Do Fashion [SPONSORED] This is a very special edition of the Designer Stories Series, as I had the pleasure of interviewing Nanna Martinussen from How To Do Fashion, a Danish Indie sewing pattern company, in person. She is based in Copenhagen and we got to chat in the patio of her lovely studio in the Vanlose district (more on that later).

It was so fun to be able to have a conversation face to face and I loved to hear Nanna’s views on vintage, sustainability and developing the anti-Scandi Minimalist response to fashion. I had such a lovely time that we already made plans to go fabric shopping next time I’m in Copenhagen.

Hope you enjoy the interview as well.

As usual, the format is based around a 10 questions Q&A, but this time I recorded Nanna and typed down the words, so bear that in mind. I had to edit some bits for clarity, but most of the answers are pretty much verbatim. If you are curious, here are the previous interviews with Kim from Ann Normandy and Chelsea from Friday Pattern Company.

Designer stories - How to do Fashion interview
Nanna Martinussen

1. For anyone who has not heard of How To Do Fashion, tell me more about your brand, design ethos and your mission.

How To Do Fashion is a sewing pattern brand for women who stand out and who want to make better clothes for themselves. It’s for women who have accepted who they are and what they look like and want to get the best out of their clothes. And I believe you can do all of that with well-sewn home-made clothes.

How cool is this mural in Nanna’s yard? This is where I recorded the interview with Nanna.

2. Tell us more about yourself, as the founder and designer of the brand. How did you become passionate about sewing?

My grandmother has always sewn and when I was a kid, all of my wardrobe was hand-made. I got my first sewing machine when I was 10 for my Confirmation. I then ended up doing an apprenticeship in tailoring when I was 16, so I’m a trained tailor. I then worked as a tailor for a few years, until I was 22 when went travelling. Then, I came back, I enrolled on a patternmaking degree. For a while I tried to re-train for a ‘real job’ as a nurse, but then I met my husband who encouraged me to follow my passion, which was to be an independent pattern maker. So it’s always been in the cards that I will be doing something sewing related.

3. Clearly, sewing and creating garments are a big passion for you. But from that to having your own line of sewing patterns is a bit of a journey. How did you end up creating your pattern business?

For my first exam in the Fashion school, I made a fictitious line of sewing patterns and I was really hooked on that. Then I started my blog 10 years ago, where I showcased dresses made with patterns I had created for myself. I was surprised that many readers started asking me if I could make those patterns available for them to buy. So I started selling a few here and there. After a couple of years, I could see that this could turn into something more.

4. Your blog was a great start. But how did that turn into a brand that you can make a living out of?

It happened without noticing. I feel I have a well-defined aesthetic and I don’t want to compromise, so I stuck to it throughout. In the beginning, it was about me, about being the blogger at the centre. But then I didn’t want to do it anymore. All my revenue was linked to my person, and it just became too much, too consuming. I felt it was time to have a look at my brand from the outside. So I contacted a brand building specialist, and they helped me define how I wanted to run my business and how I want it to look. As a result, I ended up taking a step back from centre-stage and my person is no longer the focus point.  I like that I am not the brand anymore, I run my business, it’s not running me.

5. You have a beautifully defined vintage aesthetic that is so cohesive in your patterns, but also on your website and social media. This is quite different from what people would come to associate with the ‘Scandinavian style’. How come you did not go for that look and chose vintage instead?

The way I dressed changed a lot after I had my daughter. I used to work in the fashion industry, and when I came back from maternity leave, I felt the need to break out of the standard fashion look, with leather jackets, tailored shirts, pencil skirt, all black and white. In this world, if you don’t conform you are not cool. And it all happened overnight. My husband and I went on a trip to Berlin and when I came back, I decided to stop wearing that ‘fashion industry’ look. So I sold all my clothes, keeping only very few pieces, and started building from there.

As to vintage, when I started the blog, it was quite new to me. I was playing around a lot with how I dressed, and sometimes it was a bit costume-like and playful, but with a feminine edge. This was very different form the norm in Denmark. Here, people wear very sharp clothes, never any colour, it’s very minimalist. And I wanted to be the opposite of that, in my personal life and on my blog. This got such a great response, with people saying how I was really brave to dare wear the colours and patterns. And I guess that built the aesthetic that became synonymous with the brand.

6. So let’s dive deeper into the topic of vintage. We all love a bit of those beautiful old pattern covers, but how do you wear vintage without looking like you are wearing a costume?

I am really interested in vintage in general, but my favourites are the 30s and 40s. It’s because the craftmanship and the clothes are amazing. They put so much into one piece of clothing, all clothes are tailor made or home-made.  Sewing was craft handed down, and made with love as you were making something for yourself.

I love this picture of Nanna’s with her bike, which she rides even in her beautiful green shoes.

I also like the silhouettes, very soft in the 30s and then very hard and masculine in the 40s and I really enjoy putting those next to each other.

But I don’t want to look like I’ve just stepped out of period drama set. Since I don’t buy any new clothes, except tights and underwear, I need to find elements that make those vintage looks like an editorial shoot, rather than a costume. And so I add modern shoes and bags – I spend most my money on shoes.

I also often buy vintage for the fabric. In vintage shops, there are piles of clothes in the back that are ripped, with missing buttons or broken zippers or cannot be sold, so I take them home to fix them, or to reclaim the fabric. I might end up making a new piece or even just a new cushion for my sofa. But the fabrics are so beautiful.

7. That is a very sustainable way of looking at things. Speaking of, what does sustainability mean to you as a person and as a brand?

For me, sustainability goes hand in hand as a person and as a brand. On a materials level, I often buy vintage, and then the garment falls apart, I reuse the fabric as much as I can. And I never use polyester for example, because it releases microfibres.

But more importantly, sustainable sewing is about taking your time and using your energy to sew fewer pieces very carefully. You will get a garment that fits you, and you will develop a love relationship with the garment you are making.

If I have to make things to write about on the blog, I try to have a purpose for them afterwards. I either sew it for someone else or sell it or use it as a sample. I just don’t like having stocks or clothes. And I wear all my clothes until they fall apart.

From a business perspective, I apply the same philosophy. For example, when I started selling paper patterns, I didn’t want to print loads and keep a lot of stock. In the beginning, I would just print out every order as it arrived, but then that became a bit unmanageable. So I started bulk-printing, but that just did not sit right with me. Now I use a print on demand company in the UK that only prints what is required and sends directly to the customer. It’s a bit more expensive, but it’s more in line with my principles.

8. You now have 16 patterns in your catalogue. So I would like to know how do you decide which one will be next? Tell us a bit more about your creative process and how your patterns come to be.

In the beginning, it was about what I liked to wear, and I just made it. Now developing a new pattern is done much more with a commercial through behind it. I try to make 4 patterns at a time, because it’s more efficient.

I always start by choosing a decade and a silhouette.

I also have some rules that I work around. All my patterns have to have a waist, I don’t like boxy shapes, I want women to show off their bodies. We have a tendency to focus on what we don’t like, instead of what we like, but I want women to focus on the curves and celebrate them.

Then I have a city in mind, all the patterns have cities in their names. I then make up a story for each pattern. I have a woman in mind, a modern woman who loves something about the 30s or 40s. She is like a muse. I also have a playlist in mind. For example, there are some patterns named after Spanish cities, and as I was creating them, I was listening to Spanish music. When I listen to local music, I feel like I can put a bit more of the spirit of the city into the clothes. I then make a rough sketch. In each mini collection, there are some fixed items: always a pair of trousers and a dress, a wild card and then something else that will complete the outfit, maybe a shirt.

It takes 4-6 months to develop each pattern. I do all the design, grade and make all the samples myself. I always pattern test with real people, usually my students from the workshops, because I know their skills. I also test on different age groups and body types. I sew each pattern 10-12 times myself as I feel I cannot write the instructions well if I don’t know them intimately. Then I am able to write the instructions in the clearest and most efficient way. I also have someone who sews all the patterns in all the sizes to understand if they look well for all sizes.

9. Being based in the UK where the sewing community is massive, I am fascinated to know what is the sewing community like in Denmark?

Compared to the UK and other English-speaking countries, the Danish sewing community is not as big. The knitting and crochet ones, for example, are much bigger. We also have 5-6 Indie sewing pattern brands, which is great. The sewing community is small but growing and I can see that in my in-person sewing lessons. There is much more interest beyond the basics and people are getting interested in crafting more complicated pieces.

10. What’s next for How To Do Fashion?

I’m developing my Danish business, i.e. my in-person workshops in my studio in the Vanlose area of Copenhagen. I am also developing 4 new sewing patterns. The other exciting project working on is an online sewing school, where you can buy a pattern and then get video tutorials, in Danish and English. It will be as if I’m there with you. I’m aiming for a November deadline for this.

Nanna’s studio in Vanlose, Copenhagem

Get in touch with Nanna

WebsiteHow To Do Fashion
Instagram – @howtodofashion
PinterestHow to Do Fashion
BlogNanna’s blog


The patterns that Nanna offered me. Stay tuned to see how I turned them modern.

I’d like to thank Nanna so much for answering my questions! I had such a great time chatting to her in Copenhagen. She also kindly offered me two of her patterns to try them out and see how they can translate for a non-vintage oriented person. If you know me a bit by now, you might have noticed that probably vintage is the last thing I wear, so I was really excited to take up this challenge and adapt her patterns for my wardrobe. I am just sewing the top and trousers I chose (one of them is called Vanlose like the area of Copenhagen where she is based), and I can’t wait to show you in the next few weeks.

HAVE YOU HEARD OF HOW TO DO FASHION? HAVE YOU SEWN ANY OF NANNA’S PATTERNS? AND IF YOU ARE INTO VINTAGE, HOW DO YOU INTEGRATE IT IN YOUR MODERN LIVES?

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SEWRENDIPITY BLOG SEWING | STYLE | SUSTAINABILITY
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1 Comment

  1. Elaine Marsh
    17 May 2019 / 11:13 AM

    Liked her style – signed up for email, good article. Thanks

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