08 April 2020

Larisa Ibrahim is a tailor and pattern designer who has sewn three dresses for the Swedish minister of education to wear at the annual Nobel Prize Banquets. She is also studying to be a teacher of vocational studies at Linköping University.

Women busy sewing.
Larisa Ibrahim. Anna Nilsen

It’s four weeks before the 2016 Nobel Prize Banquet, and Larisa Ibrahim is busy sewing two dresses for the event, including one for the Swedish minister of finance, Magdalena Andersson. Then she gets an enquiry about sewing a dress for the same event, this time for the minister for upper secondary school, Anna Ekström. Normally such a commission would start much earlier, but this is one Larisa doesn’t want to miss.

“It was a bit difficult, as I was already working on two other Nobel Banquet dresses.”

For an inexperienced tailor it sounds like an impossible job – sewing three dresses in four weeks – but Larisa has spent her whole life creating patterns and sewing clothes.

“Comfort and fit are key for whether a strapless dress turns out well. It’s important that it isn’t too tight or too loose, and that the client feels comfortable in it. For the bust and waist measurements, I work at the millimetre level. The result was perfect.”

Worked in clothing factories

Her interest in pattern design and tailoring goes back to her childhood. As a ten-year-old she watched with wide eyes while her mother sewed.

“The first thing I ever sewed was a dressing gown, but mum was so worried about the sewing machine that she hid it.”

When she grew up, her country of birth, Belarus, was still one of the Soviet Union’s republics. In lower secondary school all the pupils studied drawing and draughting. That was when Larisa discovered her interest in pattern design.

“I had a huge desire to create clothes and design fabrics. After I’d finished school, this was in 1991 after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the selection of clothes was poor, and what little there was was often poorly sewn”, she explains.

In 1992 she completed a diploma in tailoring and pattern design in Belarus. She designed patterns and sewed for her clients. She worked at clothing factories and had her own business, before moving to Sweden in 1996.

“It was hard to find work, and I considered retraining for a different profession.”

Dreamt of having her own studio

However she got a job at a sailmaker’s in Saltsjöbaden outside Stockholm, because she could operate all types of sewing machines, and could operate them quickly. But she wasn’t interested in the sewing work itself, she wanted to design and create clothes. And she was doing this, on the side, at home in her eight-square-metre studio. But she dreamt of having a proper studio – actually at the place where we are speaking with her today, a venue with a view in the Stockholm suburb of Nacka.

“When I took the children to school I used to look up at this building and dream of having a studio here”, she says.

She took further studies in pattern design at Tillskärarakademin in Stockholm. During that period she met Charlott Axenström, a costume designer with whom she went on to have a long and rewarding collaboration.

Together they have created several Nobel dresses, including for Ulla Löfven, the wife of the Swedish prime minister. Their dresses have been seen on televised gala events and in movies. Swedes might remember Kattis Ahlström’s dress with gold-shimmering tulle and a black top, which she wore when presenting the 2017 Kristallen TV awards. And they have collaborated on the making of three Nobel Prize Banquet dresses for the minister of education.

“When my colleague asked me about sewing a Nobel dress for Anna Ekström the first time, it felt like a big deal – but it was also fun. It’s always exciting to meet new clients and take on new assignments.”

What does it mean for you, in your professional role?

“It lends substantial weight to my professional expertise, it’s confirmation that my tailoring skills are top notch, and it boosts my self-confidence as a professional.”

Over the years, Larisa has taken on upper secondary school interns from various craft programmes. This sparked her interest in teaching, and in 2018 she decided to apply for LiU’s vocational teaching programme.

“I’m very keen to share my expertise with the younger generation – that’s why I’m taking the vocational teaching programme. I want to equip myself with the necessary knowledge in the teaching profession, and be just as confident in my role as a teacher as I am in my role as a tailor and pattern designer.”

How do your studies combine with the rest of your life?

“It’s intensive but lots of fun. In practice it’s about finding a balance between managing my own business, studying and having a family. Tailored clothes take time to make, and we are very busy during certain periods.”

What do you think you’ll do in the future?

“I think I’ll combine my profession with teaching in adult education.”

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