She’s the most unlikely high-fashion clothes designer you’re ever likely to meet in Northern Ireland.
For amidst all of the young, arts-college-educated and formally trained designers displaying their latest creations at the recent Belfast Fashion Week was Jacki Sleator – a 67-year-old retired librarian from County Tyrone.
Customers from around the world, including Japan, Mexico and America buy her designs because each garment is unique.
Completely self taught, Jacki not only designs the clothes, she even makes the material they are made from too.
Using only the finest Merino wool and top quality silk, she creates, from scratch, striking tops, dresses, jackets, hats and gloves, made from felt.
Each of her designs has a unique pattern and colour which, due to the nature of the process, it is impossible to re-create.
Highly skilful hand stitching, learnt over the course of several decades, is used to assemble each finished item.
Explained Jacki, from Stewartstown: “When people are wearing my clothes, there’s no danger of them turning up to an event only to see someone else wearing the same thing. I couldn’t make an identical garment, even if I wanted to.”
Jacki’s love for designing clothes began almost 40 years ago, after learning the intricacies of lace making from her mother, a traditional skill in Ireland, passed down, through the generations.
At first she bought ready-made fabrics, and created her own designs to make coats, dresses and jackets for herself. However, dissatisfied with existing materials, and wanting to take control of the entire process, she learnt how to make felt, which has become the main stay of her output ever since.
Designing and making clothes became her full time occupation ten years ago, after she retired from the Northern Ireland Library Service.
Said Jacki, from Roughan Road : “Everything is done by hand. I love the way that making and hand-dying felt creates exquisite colours, texture and drape. It’s like no other fabric.
“As well as looking stunning, I want all of my clothes to be a pleasure to wear.
“It takes a lot of patience, imagination - and lots and lots of time – to produce each item, so they’re not cheap. However, customers know that everything I do is the product of top quality workmanship, and there is no other garment or design like them, anywhere it in the world.”