I love learning new skills. There's not a lot of things I'd drag myself out of bed on a Sunday for but when the opportunity came up to learn latex making with my friend Joanna, I jumped at the chance.
As someone who has brought latex since I was 17, I've invested a lot of time and money into custom pieces and have a great admiration for anyone who can create a whole outfit from an idea or basic concept. Joanna has spent years making latex and we have talked about showing me her skills for about 5 years, so I was excited when I finally now had the opportunity.
The main reason for wanting to learn the basics of making latex wear is to try and make my own gear and not be limited by someone else's time constraints. If I can cut out the middle man and make some latex gear myself, I'll probably save money and do something slightly more wholesome on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
I make my way to the venue, coffee in hand and meet 6 other people who have set up workstations around a wrestling ring – the night before had been a Mexican wrestling night at the East London venue and the ring proves to be a perfect height to use as a work station.
We're all new to making latex which was comforting – there is always that fear of turning up to the class and everyone knows way more than you do. A few of us have backgrounds in sewing; I quickly learn this is useful when it comes to making patterns but doesn't serve you well when gluing a latex garment together. Speaking to others who had come to the workshop I was surprised to learn that not everyone was a latex pervert, as I had assumed they would be. There were a few fetishists – who I had already previously met, but there was also a costume designer for a theatre company and a post grad art student who was researching textiles and materials.
The introduction covered everything in detail including how to make basic patterns, how to measure yourself for latex (and how many inches to shave off) and how areas such as knees and elbows can be problematic when creating a garment. We have an in-depth talk about the material itself; learning about the material you're using may sound basic, but it's essential. Joanna goes into detail about what chemicals and oils which can stain or damage the latex, the thickness that is used when making certain latex garments and how to store latex. We are shown various swatches of different colours and patterns that are available, I'm surprised to see just how much of a range that is now available on the market (If you know where to look).
Latex is a great material but as it is a natural product you do have to be careful with how you look after it, latex care is something I already know very well. I learnt very quickly how to look after and take care of my items after ruining a top that I had washed and then left in the sun to dry. I had only worn the top once and lost out on £120, which when your 19 and working part time is a bitter lesson to learn.
I had pre-ordered a kit as recommended by Joanna, which carried all the necessary tools you need for making latex, including an assortment of latex off cuts in various colours and a few meters of black latex sheeting (black latex – who wears that?) But all the items you need are easily accessible from craft shops, or hard wear shops. We went through the various tools and glues, what I found most useful were some tricks that once you're told, seem obvious. Such as pouring some of the thinner into a small jam jar with a lid, so it doesn't evaporate and it's easier to use; as well as using an old card cut to the correct size, which makes a perfect multipurpose glue applier and spreader. Talking through the different types of thinners and glue you can use on latex, I realise that I've had these things at my disposal for years and I'm annoyed that I hadn't investigated doing this sooner.
We have a go at cleaning the seam of the latex, in preparation for the glue; I use way too much and wait whilst the latex curls up and then must wait for it to settle back down – holding up the whole class.
The class take it in turns to glue cut latex strips together, using a lighter more transparent piece and a darker piece of latex – this is a useful way to see how well you have glued the latex and how neat and consistent the seam is. Any air bubbles or bits of dust can affect the strength of the seam. Once glued we use a roller and apply pressure along the latex seam, the latex vulcanises – this is the name of the process of treating rubber materials to improve elasticity and strength. What essentially happens is the two bits of latex fuse together and so the seam of the garment is double the strength. Using different glues and bits of cut latex we all take it in turns in perfecting our seams.
What I'm left with when I leave the class is essentially a good physical scrapbook of what to do (and not do) when gluing latex together. I've got some good seams, a near perfect example of a curved seam and I also have examples of where I've not used enough glue, and where I have messed up.
We finish off the day learning appliqué; cutting out an impressive perfect circle, I prepare my latex, clean it, apply the glue and use my roller to smooth it down. I get excited at the idea of being able to go home and customise bits of rubber before finding out this only works on new latex that hasn't previously been lubed up. The best thing about being in a small group is that you all end up working at the same pace and people end up asking questions that you may have not even thought to ask.
Learning how versatile latex can be did give me a new appreciation just how amazing the material is. Making latex clothing is a labour of love and if it's something you are interested in doing, give it a go. Any new skill is a bit of trial and error, but since doing the class I've practiced and made my first vest and a jockstrap. With the help of a friend who is a professional pattern cutter, I now have the resources to branch out and attempt more complicated designs. I've also managed to show two other people the basics I learnt from just one beginners' course – they are now using the skills in other ways.
I would fully recommend doing a beginner's course – you get to learn a lot of insider knowledge that isn't available on the internet or YouTube (trust me I've looked). You also get the reassurance you are doing things correctly and when things do fuck up, having someone on hand to help you correct it definitely prevented me from throwing things away I thought were unsalvageable. But one thing you do get from being in a small class is meeting new people, with different approaches and it was genuinely nice to meet people who are all wanting to learn a new (rather unconventional) skill.
Skully will be providing a breakdown on how to make a rubber garment in November