Roz Delap @knittingwithroz

Newnham is, by far, Cambridge’s most fashionable college. Weekdays will see stampedes of Doc Martens spilling in from Sidgwick Site between lectures, seats in The Iris Café taken up by those dressed in their Monday best. But there is nothing quite like the fashion that can be found in the Iris’ booths, reserved for Newnham students only. Ever walked past these sacred enclaves in awe of the style that inhabits them? More often than not, it’s a result of the wearer’s own handiwork, and if you’re feeling inspired, here are some tips from the Newnham students who make and mend their own wardrobes

"Never seen without a knitting project"Roz Delap @knittingwithroz

A frequenter of the aforementioned booths is Roz (@knittingwithroz), a second-year engineering student who is “never seen without a knitting project”. I can attest to this- the first time that I had met Roz, there was a long strand of pink yarn trailing behind them as they walked through the buttery.

The sheer amount of engineering that goes into turning a flat piece of fabric into something that can flatter the human shape is what initially got Roz into their chosen subject. “Knitting is so mathematical”, they tell me, “I just love the way it brings together my love of creativity and how much I love maths”. You heard it here first: fashion and STEM do not have to be at odds. This is a mythological gap that Roz is actively bridging. A method of focus,“me and a friend sit and knit in lectures, surrounded by boys in hoodies and jeans”.

Within college, Roz presides over Newnham Craft Soc, “a lovely place to get to know other knitters and learn about new crafts”. But knitting in Cambridge is a communal activity that goes far beyond Newnham’s iron gates, with many a student group formed around the activity. Importantly, this is a community that is not bound by exclusion. “I’m a disabled knitter and there is an incredibly diverse disabled knitting community”, Roz adds, “in fact, a lot of the knitting community are neurodivergent, and so it is a great fit for everyone.”

"I hadn't seen anything like this denim skirt advertised, so I knew I had to make one myself"Erin Jones @tropicallytrashless

Knitting does not have to be a costly hobby either. Roz advises to “start very cheaply” and going forward, ”it can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you want it to be”. This is a sentiment shared by another Newnham student, Erin (@tropicallytrashless), whose sartorial expertise is mostly rooted in mending. I recall a trip to the ADC, and as a friend and I were waiting for Erin’s arrival, she was in her room busily sewing an undergarment she already owned to a new dress so that she didn’t need to “buy a specialist item that I’m only going to wear once a month”. Much of Erin’s mending ethos is owed to her frugality. “If I can fix it in 20 minutes instead of saving up to buy it again, I will”. 

She's also a source of countless hacks to keep your clothes from needing to be mended in the first place. Erin's top tips? Wash by hand and air dry where possible, hang clothes up so they aren’t putting pressure on their most fragile points (“use the little strings inside!”) and only buy items that you love so much, you’d be willing to devote the time to fix them if necessary. 

Worried that you have to be of a certain level of expertise to mend successfully? “The project builds the skill, not the other way round”, Erin urges. These aren’t inaccessible skills either, thanks to the infinite directories of Google, Youtube and “mind-candy” shows like The Great British Sewing Bee. 

For those already thinking ahead to May Week (saving up takes time!), consider attending in an outfit of your own design. If the task feels daunting, Newnham finalist Paloma suggests “starting smaller” in the run-up to May Balls and June Events. “Find a pattern website that lets you adjust the level of difficulty” and build your confidence ahead of larger projects. But don’t “start too simple”, according to Roz. “If you make something and hate it halfway through, stop and knit something more interesting. You can always go back to it, there’s no shame in working on a million things at once!”

"I'd wanted to make a regency dress for a while, one with deep colours and bold fabrics"Aatqa Arham

After exams, Newnham medic Aatqa created a regency dress for PakSoc and BanglaSoc’s Bridgerton Charity Gala last year. Armed with a Pinterest board and a “wily beast” of a sewing machine, Aatqa was able to recreate the “Jane Austen festival” dress of her dreams in a way that honoured her heritage and personal style. Taking on the project has inspired Aatqa to make a wardrobe of her own: “dressing modestly means it’s quite difficult to find pieces of clothing I love, and I like eclectic, original-looking garments, so making my own is a good way to achieve that!” 

So, what’s stopping you from picking up a needle and thread of your own? All too often, we assume that our creative pursuits must be perfect from the outset to be worthy of our applause. But there is room to mess up. In fact, it’s encouraged. Newnham’s Alice (@aliceknits_) reassures that “the first thing you knit or sew will probably be unwearable, but the rest will be okay!”.