What you sew is what you get

Swantje Wendt welcomes visitors to her co-sewing space Nadelwald.

Swantje Wendt welcomes visitors to her co-sewing space Nadelwald.

The graffiti-filled streets of the chic Neukölln area are lit up by the hot midday sun, when Swantje Wendt rolls up the blinds of her shop window surrounded by a mint green tiled doorway. Looking at preppily-dressed mannequins, multicoloured yarns and the scissor-symbol on the window it is easy to tell that you’re about to enter to an oasis of sewing.

After working for six years as a fashion designer for different companies, Swantje Wendt got fed up with the constant competition and stressful atmosphere of the high fashion industry. After living in Berlin for only a year and a half she decided to start her own label focused on accessories – or at least that was the plan. Now she is smiling in front of a co-sewing space Nadelwald, a place for learning, for example, by participating in different sewing workshops – following whatever theme you like.

Customers can support Nadelwald by buying a badge for one euro.

Customers can support Nadelwald by buying a pin for one euro.

 

In Berlin there are almost 19,000 people working in the fashion industry, and clearly, it is the fashion capital of Germany.  More and more international, and German, designers move there to get inspired by the creativity Berlin has to offer, but without big savings and any support from the city. The designers’ lack of proper, and expensive, sewing equipment is helped by a couple of needle cafés, places where people can go to have a cup of coffee and to use machines provided by the place. However, the sewing cafés are meant only for working in very short periods, and customers cannot leave their materials to wait for the next day. Many people need help with using unfamiliar equipment, and with sewing in general. Nadelwald was founded in 2011, when Wendt took a bank loan of nearly €40,000 and rented a workspace.

“Unlike the first idea of my own shop, the final thing was to make my place bigger than these needle cafés but with multiple possibilities. I wanted not only to rent working space with machines for both industrial and hobby-sewing but also to arrange different workshops. I provide the possibility for people to sell clothes that they have made, and their clothes are sold on commission for me. People can leave their fabrics and other materials here, because they can come back as long as they need to. I’ve got around six sewing machines for hobby-sewing, and two double stitch and overlock machines for the industrial use,” says Wendt.

Old sewing machines are used as a decoration.

Old sewing machines are used as a decoration.

Wendt timed the founding of Nadelwald perfectly – in 2011 the Neukölln area had lots of empty workspaces available. Now the area has became very trendy, and creative people are fighting to get studios in the neighbourhood.

It is easy to tell that Wendt has put in an enormous effort to make the 100 square meter space pleasant to work in. Just like Berlin, Nadelwald can completely surprise a visitor with unexpected treats for the eye; imaginative artworks hanging on the walls, multicoloured buttons in cute glass jars, tens of spools of bright ribbons, feathers, ancient industrial sewing machines, not to mention all the made-in-Nadelwald clothes and accessories hanging from the racks. The place is separated into a shopping area where all the clothes, sewing instruction books, statement necklaces and other accessories are sold, and to a working area with all the machines and tables for pattern-making. When entering, a visitor can immediately spot an inviting break area with gold-toned old plush sofas and a small coffee table with antique silver candle stick on it.

At Nadelwald there are several sewing machines for both hobby and industrial sewing.

At Nadelwald there are several sewing machines for both hobby and industrial sewing.

Wendt came up with the term co-sewing when she was establishing Nadelwald. With the term she means an open workspace where everyone can communicate freely. She is always present to give tips and advice for her customers and everyone can exchange ideas with each other. The athmosphere of Nadelwald is relaxed, and people want to come in, not to compete, but to learn.

“There are some themed workshops for people who would like to get better at sewing, for example how to make a shopping bag, a dress or a pair of shorts. On specific days people can also come to this kind of an open consultation with their own projects, and I’ll give them one-to-one advice how to make progress with them. My customers have given me excellent feedback about this place, and it makes me very happy to be able to help them. For example this one girl needs special clothes because she is so small, and she has been coming here for two weeks now. It is wonderful to see how happy she is to be able to make her own clothes,” she says.

Swantje Wendt is always present at Nadelwald to help her customers.

Swantje Wendt is always present at Nadelwald to help her customers.

 

Customers only need to show up with their own fabrics and materials, and for nine euros an hour they can use Nadelwald’s equipment . The longer you work, the smaller the price gets – the price for the whole day is €38. The workshops, depending on the theme, are priced separately.

Every day at Nadelwald is different, but Wendt’s favourite thing is to work with people. Hearing stories from their differing backgrounds, holidays or everyday lives keeps her going, and it’s obvious that she enjoys having people around.

The door opens, and Sasha Herman comes in with her husband. She greets Wendt like an old friend, and soon the room is filled with cheerful German voices. Today is Herman’s third day working in Nadelwald, and before work she wants her husband to meet Wendt. Herman has moved to Berlin from Russia a year and a half ago to live with her husband and to study. She comes to Nadelwald to make prototypes of jackets and sweatshirts for a small, Berlin-based ecological label.

Sasha Herman showing off her sweatshirt-to-be.

Sasha Herman showing off her sweatshirt-to-be.

“I found Nadelwald from Neukölln fashion community, and I happen to live just a couple of streets down! I was really amazed for the first time I came in, because this place is so cool. Making clothes is a hobby for me, but I decided to make myself a bit more professional in it. Swantje has showed me really nice tricks with industrial sewing machine, and even one small trick can be very helpful in the future,” says Herman.

Nadelwald seems to charm its customers with a relaxed athmosphere, and it has started to bring in money. Wendt has managed to pay down her loan to almost half, and she hopes the nearby area to get even more popular in the future and bring in more visitors to Nadelwald.

Herman starts ironing a blue jacket-to-be and says that today she is going to sew a couple of zippers for the garments. She will be done with her prototypes shortly, but she is going to continue coming to Nadelwald in the summer to learn more sewing skills. Maybe that’s the thing – people like what they sew, and it gets better all the time.

Colourful clothes made by different designers are available for purchase.

Colourful clothes made by different designers are available for purchase.

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