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Be inspired every day with Living North

Meet the Yorkshire Designer Using Second Hand Fabrics to Make Showstopping Historical Costumes

Meg Lara Atelier Elle Narbrook
March 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we should all be making more sustainable clothing choices

Costume designer Meg Henry of Meg Lara Atelier tells Living North how she repurposes discarded textiles into historical show-stoppers.

In many ways, history has been inspiring costume designer Meg Henry since the very first time she picked up a needle and thread. Her passion for sewing continues a historic legacy for her family. She tells me that both her great, great grandma and great aunt were seamstresses before her, and it was the latter that first taught her to sew around the age of 11. 'I would go to her with these crazy ideas of things that I wanted. I would say "I want a mermaid tail" … "Okay let's make a mermaid tail." So I started learning things through watching and helping her.'

Nowadays, Meg sells her own fantastical upcycled designs professionally under her label Meg Lara Atelier. While her technical skills were acquired a bit later after studying costume design at Edinburgh university – her instinct for upcycling was there from the start. ‘I was always going through my mum’s wardrobe and if there was anything she didn’t want then I’d chop it up and figure out a way to use it. I was upcycling before I even knew what that was. That’s just what I enjoyed doing: turning something into something else.’

Bella Kotak Bella Kotak

A quick glance at Meg’s instagram leaves you in no doubt of her ability to see the potential in other people’s cast-offs. She recently made a painting apron using a broken umbrella she saved from a bin. Now that she has worked her magic, its multicoloured canopy has been transformed into the flared panels and elasticated sleeves of a blouse – the finished product seems far too lovely to splatter with paint. Ordinarily her materials are slightly more conventional, but her studio is a broad church.

‘Mostly it’s charity shops or, honestly, the minute people find out that you sew or that you upcycle they just give you stuff,’ Meg explains. ‘I love vintage clothes; a lot of the time vintage sellers can’t sell them because they might be damaged or stained but I like to take those and revamp them or fix them or dye them

Vintage clothes, curtains, tablecloths, fabric scraps. Literally anything… anything! If you saw my studio, you’d see the mess. I never know what project’s coming next!’

Occasionally a project might require her to buy in some ribbon or elastic, but in general, using recycled materials is a non-negotiable for Meg. ‘I try and make it clear to anyone wanting a commission by asking them, “Are you okay with me repurposing things?” because it is core to my values. Also, I love that it makes everything unique. If someone orders something from me, they know that they’re going to be the only person in the world to have that thing, so I’m trying to use that to my advantage.’

While the materials themselves play a big part in guiding Meg’s designs, her distinctively whimsical aesthetic is what really sets her creations apart. ‘I’ve always loved history and storytelling so I guess I draw a lot from different historical eras and fantasy and folklore and things like that,’ she says. ‘I think growing up in a rural area and also just being in the UK, we have so much history right on our doorstep: castles and ruins and all sorts of old stories that are passed down. And those things are often quite intertwined with nature and the natural world, so it all ties in quite nicely for me.

Home for Meg is West Yorkshire, where she returned after graduating. Many of her course-mates moved to London, where a lot of the costume industry is based, but this was never an option for Meg. ‘London’s not really the place for me,’ she says, ‘I like the fresh air and the countryside, so I’ve decided to stay and try to make my creative work fit into that.’

This hasn’t been easy. ‘I love living in a rural area, but it means that there were a lot less opportunities, so I still work at the local pub to make ends meet. Doing something creative’s not always very consistent, so it’s finding ways around that and being able to put the time into the things that will help a business become more stable.’ Having said that, she does think that there are promising signs for fledgling creatives. ‘A lot of the attention and the opportunities seem to be down South but I think that is changing. More things are now happening up North and I definitely want to be a part of that.’

Her perseverance is starting to pay off, and Meg’s flattering takes on historical dress have led to commissions for a whole range of projects and events. ‘I’ve had theatres contact me and ask me for a specific thing for a production that they’re working on. I’ll have people that will commission me for a historical reenactment or fancy balls, and I’ve had some brides that are getting married and they’re having fairy weddings. I’ve done fairy wedding dresses. People have commissioned things for short films and lots of photoshoots. It completely varies, which keeps things interesting.’

‘If someone orders something from me,
they know that they’re going to be the only
person in the world to have that thing’

Olivia Bradbury for York Fashion Week | Jenny Milner Olivia Bradbury for York Fashion Week | Jenny Milner

A highlight for Meg was having the opportunity to see her designs at York Fashion Week in the spring and autumn of 2022. Last summer, another prestigious recognition of her artistry came from the Queen of Regency fiction herself (or at least her contemporary representatives). ‘Jane Austen’s House invited me to go down for their annual Regency era dress-up day. It was so fun! I was doing this challenge of making a Regency-inspired dress, in a day, from recycled materials. I took a vintage dress that already had that kind of silhouette and then sort of re-vamped it.’

Meg’s dream is to be able to make her atelier a full-time pursuit, but she hopes that as long as she keeps sewing and sharing her projects, she might contribute to a broader creative shift. ‘I’d really love to inspire more people to get creative, and to work with what they have and be resourceful. I want to be able to show people that you can make something beautiful from what you have lying around you, whatever you can find in the garage or the charity shop or whatever you might have, you can turn it into something else. I just think it’s a really lovely practise and a lovely way of working.’

Etsy: Meg Lara Atelier
Instagram: @meg.lara.atelier and @the.crafterlife

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