Fashion: And here's one I made earlier

DIY was de rigueur at Milan fashion week with collections looking inspired by Blue Peter. Do try this at home: People want clothes that stand up as interesting and individual pieces
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The Independent Culture
Do-it-yourself ready-to-wear. That was the message from the Milan catwalks last week. You just need scissors, knitting needles, a couple of balls of wool (cashmere if you can), embroidery silks and a little imagination, and your wardrobe for spring/summer 1999 is on its way... At times, the collections looked like the product of an ambitious episode of Blue Peter. All the arts, crafts, sewing techniques and DIY tips were there.

Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce were ahead of the game last season when they produced dresses that were painted with flowers, foliage and mimosa sprigs by hand. Take one plain dress and test your skill with a paintbrush. For next spring the craftsmanship was taken one step further. "We wanted to mix the old with the new," said Gabbana. For the new, the duo made use of a high-tech hologram fabric manufactured in Germany. For the old, the designers had a bright idea. "Cut up your old beaded and embroidered dresses and wear them as a cummerbund," instructed Gabbana. I don't know about you, but my cast-offs are tired and grey before they make it to the charity shop. But Dolce e Gabbana's cummerbunds look like precious antiques.

Something I have never quite mastered is the art of knitting anything more tricky than a doll's scarf. But if this summer's simple hand knits are an incentive, I will be merrily casting on and purling away before the crocus buds are forming. The new season's knits are designed to look home-made and a little imperfect. At Narciso Rodriguez, the American designer whose collection for Loewe, the Spanish luxury goods company, is shown in Paris this week, a new silhouette has emerged in just three seasons. A simple tube of fabric, to be layered like a bandeau top over a dress or top, is all you need. But why invest hundred of pounds in one of his - even if it is in luxurious cashmere? What could be simpler than to knit a length yourself and sew it up into a tube. Even the most basic of knitters, such as myself, could manage that.

For advanced knitters, take a look at Missoni's simple, graphic colour blocks and be inspired. After a renewed burst of interest in the stalwart label three seasons ago, Missoni could easily have slipped back into relative obscurity. However, guided by a new generation in the form of Angela - the daughter of the company's founders, Tai and Rosita - the collection looks simple, strong, wearable and thoroughly desirable. It is not trying too hard to be hip, evolving instead into a collection that is both modern and classic.

Another label that relies heavily on arts and crafts is Marni. The label has become a favourite secret of the cognoscenti. The clothes have a home- made feel, a touch hippy and home-spun. Edges and hems are often left frayed, and the clothes look as though they have been dyed with natural colours and vegetable stains. What people want right now is clothes that stand up on their own as interesting and individual pieces, and the Marni collection looks as far as can be from being mass-produced. Skirts are decorated with delicate turquoise and pink strips of home-made felt. Others are hand-painted with a circle of pink dye. A poncho is left with the edges raw, while strips of dressmaker's webbing are seemingly hand cross- stitched on to layers of fine muslin. The result is folky, gentle on the eye and flattering to the body. It promises to be one of the most influential collections of the season.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many of these collections are designed by women, but there is something soft and lyrical about the collections of both Missoni and Marni, as well as those of Alberta Ferretti, the Italian businesswoman and designer. For her more affordable Philosophy line, Ferretti takes reference from peasant costumes. Voluminous skirts and pin-tucked blouses give the collection a look of the Amish milkmaid. For her mainline collection, Ferretti's inspiration was - again - straight from the home dressmaker. Evening dresses are made of calico, like dressmaker's toiles, and, instead of the fancy beadwork that has become a trademark, surface decoration was cruder and more naive. A floral motif was drawn on to the calico and only half embroidered and beaded, leaving a garment looking permanently unfinished.

Donatella Versace also used pin tucks and dressmaking features for her third collection since the death of her brother. As though the house's signature chain-mail dresses were too hard and slick on their own, she added wisps of brightly coloured felted wool. She also attempted a bit of knitting with a bright yellow bustier and matching skirt, adding appliqued flowers and fuzzy felt.

Harder and altogether more disturbing than Versace was Prada. Miuccia Prada must be having some strange nightmares at the moment for there was something about the collection that left you feeling a little disconcerted and upset. A lederhosen-style rucksack was a clever idea, and the sportswear was modern and in tune with the times. But there were also paper-stiff tops and dresses that looked uncomfortable and restricting, as well as the week's most mind-boggling idea - shards of mirror stuck haphazardly on to delicate organza skirts.

Mirror work also appeared on the catwalk at Gucci, but this time more controlled - the sort of thing you expect to see made in India and hanging on a stall at Camden Market. This collection was wonderfully cheap and tacky - and thoroughly desirable - in a way that only Gucci could be. "I want those beaded shoes... every single pair," enthused one fashion editor after the show. "I have to have that sequined denim skin," gabbled another.

After not quite living up to expectations last season, Gucci's Tom Ford delivered a sensation of a show. The inspiration was Cher in the Seventies, hence the Bob Mackie-style showgirl cobweb dresses, the ethnic native American beaded jeans and the psychedelic floral-print peasant dresses. It was all gloriously anti taste, packed with colour and fun. Faded, worn- in jeans were given a new lease of life with feathers sewn on to the pockets and brightly coloured beads sewn around the cuffs and in patches on the back pockets. Hibiscus-printed bikinis were covered in plastic, like sheeting on a cheap hotel bed. And Indian mirror work reflected the spotlights back into the audience with the message "buy me, buy me".

Of course, if you can't wait until next spring and can't afford to pay Gucci prices, take heart. You can always pay a visit to John Lewis and do it yourself. Get stitching.