Fashion upcycling pioneer Christine Mayer takes garments and textiles that have a history of use and transforms them into sought-after clothing designs. The new life she gives these textiles comes about intuitively as she drapes fabric on a mannequin, designing in three dimensions.

Christine portrait
Photo by Grit Siwonia

What is your background as a creative?

I studied fashion design, then worked for many years as a costume designer for international theatre and opera companies. When I came to Berlin in 1999 I fall in love with this vibrant city and decided to make my own brand and collection.

I created an army-jacket which I draped on the dress form out of recycled army shirts from the 80’s. This jacket made my career. I sold it on and on and it’s still a signature piece in my work. Within one year I sold my collection to the best designer stores in Europe and the United States, as well as some department stores in Japan.

Fashion photo of jacket made from old linen sacks

Photo by Billy and Hells

How did you get started working with textiles?

During my childhood in Germany, I played with my sister and cousins at our grandparents’ farmhouse and spent a lot of time in the barn and huge hayloft. The place was full of old wood, handwoven linens, cornsacks, mangle cloths and wonderful white bed sheets. I loved all these materials, so I started using them to hand sew dresses, hats and shoes for my dolls.

My grandmother was a tailor and my aunt a textile and fashion designer. They both inspired me a lot. My grandmother had the gift of being able to create beautiful things out of almost nothing. I think the years of scarcity during the war must have taught her this.

When I finished school I knew I had to follow a creative path with textiles, specifically fashion, costume and design, but to do it in a very conscious way.

Old Flour Sack form 1893
Fashion photo of jacket made from old sacks and antique linens

Photo by Billy and Hells

Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn? 

Everybody is creative! For me, creativity means being connected with the creative energy around us. When we watch nature, we can see the highest possible creativity. Because everything is growing and evolving in the most beautiful way. If we get connected to the force that empowers all life in this Universe, our life will then get a creative firework. We are not creating out of our mind anymore, but the creativity is flowing through us and we are receiving from a higher source.

For me creativity goes far beyond creating something with our hands, it’s essential as we move forward in our life to be able to envision how we want to live our life and what we want to manifest. Creativity means becoming the artist of the own life.

Close up of old linens with embroidery
Fashion photo of jacket with one piece of vintage embroidery

Photo by Billy and Hells
Cover photo Showing Men's and Ladies jackets

What advice do you have for those who want to expand their creativity?

Find a deep connection with yourself. Meditation and Yoga or any regular practice can help.
Do things which you love. Play around with material like a child. No pressure!
Creativity is about freedom, wildness and being a child again. So think everything NEW!
Give up the traditional ways you learned and go beyond the limitations!

For me Kundalini Yoga is a wonderful tool to go beyond our own boundaries and to free oneself.

Draping the jacket on a dress form
Close up of embroidery incorporated into a jacket
Close up of piecing on a jacket

When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?

I’m always working from the space of my heart and my intuition, so I am never making concepts or planning things. It’s more about feeling and receiving and then playing with the material. Draping is a wonderful way to get free of any concepts of the mind. Draping is about listening to the material and following the flow of its expression. The fabric always guides you and that’s the whole secret in draping. I love to teach this and to observe how the participants then explore and free themselves.

Close up of embroidery on a baby dress
Antique baby dress displayed
 Do you have a mentor? 

Mother Nature is my master.

Embroidery Close Up of Surrender

Why do recycled materials and old fabrics speak to you? What do you want to say when you use them in your designs?

For me, the material is always the inspiration. I love materials that have so much history – floursacks, mangle cloths, handwoven linens, old embroidered pieces from all over the world… I believe that everything has a soul and if you find a connection with a piece of fabric, maybe one with a history, then you will know exactly how to mould and shape it. It’s like if the fabric talks to you in a way that you feel the history of the textile so you can add something of yourself and your own history to the piece.

In the beginning, I transformed old military garments into powerful feminine jackets. Each jacket was a handmade individual piece, draped on the dress form. It was a transformation of the male military energy into something beautiful and peaceful. After I created this jacket I wanted to give something back so I started to support children in India and Nepal with the collection and the MAYER Peace Collection was born.

Christine Mayer Quote

Peace Summer Collection Vest

Photo by Billy and Hells
Peace Summer Collection Dress

Photo by Billy and Hells
Peace Collection Rose Mantel Jacket

Photo by Billy and Hells

What are the advantages of draping and three-dimensional pattern cutting for garment design? How do they improve the fit of a garment?

The three-dimensional pattern making (Japanese Draping) is a technique of creating the pattern directly on the dress form.
I learned this during my studies in Fashion Design from Tamotsu Kondo, a Draping artist from Japan. He taught us how to create patterns three-dimensional directly on a mannequin. This unconventional way of creating patterns was completely new to me and so it was a breakthrough moment. It was like being offered an instrument of freedom. Once I had learnt the method, I NEVER created a two-dimensional pattern again. The draping method was so much more intuitive and I could see directly how my steps influence the fitting of the piece. The fitting of draped patterns is fantastic!

After I learned this classical method of draping, I started to experiment using recycled materials, moulding and patching them directly on the dress form, thus creating individual unique pieces of garments. This was in a time when Upcycling was not common.

I have been a pioneer of it in a way. Especially by dealing with recycled materials and old fabrics, this is an inspiring method to directly influence the given materials, structures and the individual fit. So the designer becomes a sculptor who develops the creation directly on the bust – in harmony with the materials and body shape.

Christine draping on a manequin

Photo by Nida White

What sets your workshops apart from other design methods?

I try to teach my workshops and retreats in a holistic and comprehensive way. My goal is always to free people from old learned structures and habits and to give the permission to think things in a radical new way. So it’s about coming out of a cage and going beyond the limitations. I want to set the souls free of any boundaries! If this happens in the creative and design process, it can change as well something in people’s lives because they allow themselves to get rid of old structures and patterns.

Draping a jacket on a manaquin

Photo by Nida White 

What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? 

I love to work with less but best materials. Beside many old loved hand woven textiles my dress form is the most important tool of my work. I’m working with a Japanese form which has the best fitting I know.

Mixed media piece of wood, paper, fiber and embroidery
Antique needlework of an angel
Mixed Media art with wood and old linens

Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?

I love journaling after awakening in the morning out of a fresh soul. I try to do this every morning and just listening inside of myself and writing whatever comes up.

During the lock down I started to write on a book about my work, my life, about infinite creativity and consciousness. That’s something I always wanted to do, but never had the time for it. Now the book called me and I started to listen, to receive and to write down.

One of Christine's creations

Photo by Nida White 

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?

I play a lot of spiritual music during my Yoga classes. While working with textiles I love silence.

I do not watch any movies, neither listen to audiobooks. But I love to be in silence or listen to the voice of nature. I feel so much richness inside of myself that everything which comes from outside might bring me away from this field.

Jacket, dress and skirt

Photo by Billy and Hells
Fashion photo of top made with vintage lace

Photo by Billy and Hells
Fashion photo of jacket made from antique embroidered linens

Billy and Hells

What is your advice for someone starting out in fashion design?

Be yourself!
Be authentic!
Create something that serves the community and the world!
Don’t lose your goal!
Keep the light burning!
Never give up!

Visit Christine’s website for details on upcoming online and in-person Draping Workshops and Retreats.