Grashina Gabelmann visits Berlin’s co-sewing space Nadelwald…
It has been fascinating to observe how the concept of DIY has spread over the last half century from the realm of home improvement to motivate an entire global network of cultural activities from fashion to music.
Nadelwald – “Nadel” can mean both sewing needle and pine (either tree or needle) - is one of the latest ventures in Berlin to embody the best of the DIY trend. This small co-sewing space, based in Neukölln, offers an alternative way of dealing with “fashion”, a term that can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste.
I first met Nadelwald’s founder and owner Swantje Wendt at Slow Travel Berlin’s Markethalle IX event in April, after volunteering for her sewing workshop.
I’d never even seen a sewing machine from up close before, but Swantje was there to help me sort through the fabrics and master my technique, all with a contagious air of enthusiasm. In fact, her ability to teach children and their parents to sew all day long without losing her natural cheerfulness was just as impressive as her deft sewing skills.
It was no surprise then to find her workshop in Neukölln’s Friedelstrasse is a warm and welcoming space. The usual awkwardness that often goes hand-in-hand with independent shops – the trudging around not sure what to do with oneself while the shop owner hides behind a laptop – is non-existent here.
Hailing from a small town near Darmstadt, Swantje’s passion for sewing is a family trait. “My grandmother was a seamstress, my mother sewed as well and so I just sort of grew into it. I always knew I wanted to make this hobby into my career.” Like a lot of good things, Nadelwald was unplanned – it was simply a means to an end, which happened to morph into a successful DIY enterprise.
“I wanted to start my own scarf label after I had worked for a couple of fashion labels and design companies, and not enjoyed it. I had to find my own space but knew it would be hard to afford one before I had anything to sell.”
Her solution was to rent a space with a half finished business plan, rent out sewing machines and use that money to do her own thing.
“Things got out of hand though and I quickly found myself helping others with their sewing full time. I couldn’t focus on my own project but discovered I actually prefer it this way.”
Swantje still wants to start her own scarf label and plans to use the quiet winter months to do her own thing: “It’ll be much easier now as I’ve got a creative network and a customer base,” she states.
While I chatted away to Swantje, two ladies – strangers to each other – were also chatting on a set of plush vintage sofas, coffees in hand, surrounded by an impressive homegrown library of fashion, costume and sewing magazines and books. They were there to enquire about the “How to re-make my favourite T-Shirt” workshop – one of the many workshops Swantje and her team of helpers have on offer.
“Anyone can teach a workshop here as long as it fits to Nadelwald. We’ve had quilting and knitting courses, hat-making bachelorette parties, an Etsy clothes swap and a blogger Fashion Week party where we pimped T-shirts with LED lights – among other things.”
Adjacent to the front room is a space with a clothes-filled rail, a wall covered in chunky leather/fabric necklaces and canvas totes. “The DIY goods shop was a clear concept from the start,” explains Swantje. “Nadelwald is based on three aspects: renting out machines, the workshops, and selling handmade clothes and accessories. Anyone can approach me to sell their goods, but again, it has to fit to the store and the neighbourhood, so I’ve recently had to turn down a collection of kid’s wear, just because this Kiez isn’t child-oriented enough.”
Family-thronged it might not be (yet), but it’s a friendly neighbourhood – a constant stream of greetings are aimed at us as Swantje and I sip our coffees outside the shop, indicating that the store is welcome despite being an anomaly amidst the Spaetis and casinos.
Most importantly, however, those who venture into Nadelwald workshops tend to leave feeling positive.
“People leave the shop with big grins on their faces, excited about the fact that they just created something themselves, exactly how they envisioned it…something that actually fits.”
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Open: Tue & Thu 10-18; Wed & Fri 13-21; Sat 13-18