Wajiha Ahktar is an embroidery student at the London College of Fashion. Her twin sister Wasima also studies textile design at Central Saint Martins.
How did you get into textiles?
During secondary school I used to go to a youth club called the Brady Arts Centre and they used to teach different types of arts like music, fashion, textiles and drama. I chose textiles because I really enjoyed it.
What type of textiles did you do at the arts centre?
They taught us various techniques within printing but we didn’t do any embroidery.
Different ways of decorating fabric?
Did you get to make any clothes while you were there?
We could make clothes if we wanted to but instead we worked with foundation students that were in the process of making their own collections.
What college or uni were those students from?
I think some students were from Central Saint Martins studying on the foundation course and others were from various colleges. I think now one of students is doing their MA in menswear at the Royal College of Art.
How old were you when you helped them?
I was only 12.
Oh wow, that’s a great experience to have at a young age.
From then I knew what I wanted to do. The youth centre was very inspiring and many pupils who went there moved on to do art related degrees.
Now you’re in your last year at London College of Fashion. What kind of textiles do you specialise in?
I do embroidery and that’s my specialism. They have three paths; print, embroidery and knit. I like embroidery because I enjoy it and I feel like it’s more experimental. To begin with you worked on all three paths and picked one later down the line but they’ve changed it so your degree is only in one area.
That’s so good. When I studied textiles at LCF we didn’t have the option to specialise in one area.
I think it’s a really good to be able to graduate in embroidery because it takes years of practise to become a perfectionist especially in hand embroidery. It’s the first time LCF has done this and my class are the first students to take the course.
What’s the course called?
When did you start doing embroidery?
I actually have always loved doing embroidery. When I was younger I watched a lot of Bollywood films and one of my favourite films was Devdas. It’s a really good film and the clothes were inspired by the traditional Bengali clothes of the 1930s and the costumes, saris and jewellery are heavily embroidered. I was really inspired by all the clothing; I’ve always loved embroidery.
You’re in your final year at LCF. How has your experience been there?
It’s been quite brutal! But I do like the pressure. The tutors are really supportive and I think it’s good that they’ve been hard on me otherwise I wouldn’t push myself. No matter how good you are they always suggest more room for improvement.
Before you started your course did you do a foundation year?
Yeah I did; in the Working Men’s College in Camden with my sister.
What are going to be doing for your final major project at LCF?
I might collaborate with a menswear student and a pattern cutter and also a printer. I might do my own collection too.
For my final major project at uni we could either make samples or a collection. Do you get the same choice?
Yeah we do and we get to collaborate with other students from different courses.
That’s so good and saves a lot of time.
It’s good for industry insight too.
Definitely. Do you like pattern cutting?
I don’t do pattern cutting.
Don’t they teach you it on your course?
No, just embroidery. Did you get to pattern cut on your course?
Yeah I did. We used to have one full day a week to learn basic pattern cutting skills. I specialised more in print because I didn’t really like knitting and beading and embroidery access was very limited on my course. I didn’t really enjoy pattern cutting, I had a good tutor but I found it quite difficult.
Would you like to learn pattern cutting?
Not really, it’s too mathematical and I’m not really good at maths.
That’s exactly what I thought! It was too technical for me.
It would be too difficult because I have dyspraxia.
It’s kind of like clumsiness and a difficulty dealing with anxiety. I have difficulties like tying my shoe laces sometimes. On top of that I’m dyslexic as well.
Is having dyslexia and dyspraxia difficult to deal with when you’re working?
Yeah it is, especially with time management and writing essays. At the moment I’m doing my dissertation and I’m finding it hard. But despite these difficulties I think I’m doing pretty well.
How many words?
4500. I think during your course it was a lot more.
You know what? During my time at LCF I was lucky because we didn’t have to do a dissertation. We had a final major project and made a creative look book with some text. It wasn’t as consuming as having to do an essay.
I would love to have that!
What are you writing your dissertation on?
It’s about kantha embroidery.
Does it involve using a special needle?
No it basically involves doing a running stitch.
Is it Indian?
It’s a traditional Bangladeshi and Indian technique.
Interesting. What are you writing about?
I’m answering the question ‘Is kantha embroidery dying out?’ It’s made by women in rural areas in Bangladesh and India.
What have you found out so far?
In the cities of Bangladesh more clothes are being manufactured there. After China Bangladesh produces a lot of fast fashion and many Bengali women are moving to the cities for factory jobs.
Where are you getting all your information from?
I know a few people that used to do the embroidery so I’m going to talk to them about it. I’m also going to research different companies that work with it too. My aunt knows how to embroider so I’ll interview her as well.
Can you kantha embroider?
Yeah it’s very simple. You gather fabric on top of each and put the running stitch through the fabric like quilting. There are seven types of it.
What other kinds of embroidery do you do?
I do a lot of hand embroidery and CAD machine embroidery. I love hand embroidery the most because it so relaxing. I also do some gold work.
I’ve never done gold work before. Did you teach yourself?
No we were taught it as part of the course.
You’re so lucky. I wish I was taught more embroidery on my course.
We were taught it for a term.
What are some of your favourite types of hand embroidery to do?
I love it all. I like beading and I really like experimenting and combining it with print.
When does your course end?
Next year in June.
Are you looking forward to it ending?
Not really, I’m going to miss it so much especially the environment and the people.
What are you going to do after uni?
I want to start a small business with my sister printing sweatshirts and t-shirts maybe with a bit of embroidery on them. If the business goes well maybe slowly we’ll start a brand.
Do you think you’ll make loads of the same t-shirts or one-offs?
I’m not sure yet. Maybe a few one offs with a few of the same too.
In your course how many tutors do you have teaching you different kinds of embroidery?
Every year we have different tutors and people who come from the industry that teach us different things. We have tutors that have worked with us throughout the course. My tutors are called Andy and Polly. Andy has his own business the London Embroidery Studio.
Oh wow, I’ve met him before. I took a beading course there a few months ago.
He’s an amazing lovely tutor and really supportive. He’s always giving me confidence in my work and encourages me.
Does he teach you how to embroider?
He teaches us how to use CAD embroidery. For hand embroidery Polly teaches and guides us.
Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
My sister, especially as she does knit and I think knit and embroidery is a good combination. There are two menswear students I’d like to collaborate with in the future as well as for my FMP.
Are you the type of designer that only focuses on making textiles or would you like to branch out into making clothing too?
I really like placements and I’m good at placing them on garments.
Only on menswear?
I want to do everything! I’m really broad.
Are you and Wasima competitive?
When we were younger we were but now we help each other out. We’re like best friends.
Last question; what do you love about textiles?
I have fun with it and there aren’t any limits. I never used to understand it much and used to be really safe with little confidence but coming to LCF has made me more experimental. I like using unconventional materials and as long as you can make it work then it’s fine.
You can follow Wajiha on Instagram here.