What’s your sewing story?
Sewing has always been part of my life. My grandmother (she is featured in the cover picture) introduced me to sewing, arts and crafts, at a very young age, she had a black singer sewing machine. She would make teddy bears with me, make lemonade, and bake cakes. My great-grandmother would knit me amazing outfits for my dolls. I have lots of fond memories making things with my grandmother.
Initially art was my first passion, I used to live in the art rooms at school. I would go to art club twice a week and just hang out in the art room as much as possible in between. Following A Levels I went on to do an art foundation course, this was still to this day my favourite course I have ever done. I would stay in often at weekends filling pages of my sketchbook, we had to do a sketchbook a week. I would always take a sketchbook on holidays and draw natural objects on my sun loungers.
My other very different passion is swimming, we travelled a lot when I was very young, my father was a hotel manager. We used to live at the back of the hotels in a bungalow. We had access to several pools, so I would swim most days. My parents split up and future summer holidays would be spent at my dads with my brother making friends at the pool, where we would spend most of our 6 weeks, we had an au pair as my father worked 24/7.
I continued swimming through my teenage years whilst living in Camden Town, attended life saving, swimming and canoeing clubs in the local Kentish Town pool. Anything that involves water activities I would do. As an adult I started to enjoy scuba diving and took every specialism certificate possible; wreck diver, nitrox, photography, and many more. Then this stopped when I had my son, it’s a time-consuming, expensive hobby. I do dive when ever I can, but not like I used to.
Back to education, after my foundation I decided to do a fashion degree, musing my love for colour, pattern and drawing, with my love for clothes. I was never the best at fashion illustration, just loved drawing, putting pieces together and definitely had an eye for couture fabrics and dresses. I lived in Camden through my teens and worked firstly in a local hairdressers, then a fabric shop at weekends and evenings whilst completing my studies. I loved the fashions in the markets and spent most of my wages whilst walking through the market on my way home from work.
I started learning how to sew properly at degree level, textiles wasn’t an GCSE option at school. We had 3 technicians at college, to support us through a variety of projects. A master of tailoring, a couturier and a dress-maker. I spent many hours with each, learning some amazing techniques; the perfect tailored jacket, the thinnest pin hem, lots about pattern cutting and dress making skills. I think they probably have a different memory to mine, they spent most of their time telling us to unpick things and to start again, similar to my teaching textiles experience.
We had to make all our own patterns, toilles were scrutinised by our tutors and amendments made, before our garments made it to the cat walk. We were all very creative and expressive back then. We had to make up to 15 outfits for our final collection. I designed shoes and hats. A milliner came in to help me learn techniques and I was sent to a cobbler with my shoe designs, all a huge experience when so young.
My career started out as a design room assistant, this was the title given to a sample cutter, basically I would spend 9 hours a day cutting out t-shirts and blouses, or running to a buyers, arms over flowing with hangers filled with samples. I then went on to work in a bridal shop. Learning everything about couture, working with some beautiful silks, meeting many brides. We worked in the basement, creating collections for the shop and the bridal fittings would take place in front of a huge beautiful mirror in the changing room upstairs. Dress makers would make the brides dresses at their homes. I learnt the most in this job, initially I made all the toiles and several badly to begin with. 3 years later I was very confident at sewing, not as good as my boss, but I could do some very difficult techniques easily. I mastered a tiny french seam and inserting a sleeve for example. The best part was the annual Bridal show, we would travel to York, exhibit our dresses and attend an evening party and fashion show which included our dresses.
I worked here for 3 years and I wanted a change, as there is so many buttons you can sew on and hems to hand sew, I had learnt as much as I could. It also coincided with my mother dying of cancer. Going though bereavement makes you look at your life and strong enough to make changes. I considered going back to college to do a fashion masters, and went for 3 interviews, here the very eccentric head of fashion told me to teach, so I took her advice and excepted a place on a PGCE art course. I wanted to be creative and draw again, how delusional was I, as there is little time allowed for such luxuries in education and definitely not once I became more managerial.
It was quickly recognised how much textiles knowledge I had and I was encouraged to take this route rather than art. Textiles was all about decoration and having a teacher knowledgeable about sewing was also seen as an asset. I loved teaching textiles, over the 16 years as a textiles teacher, together students made so many different things. My sewing skills broadened, as I would always give their ideas a go. Helping them overcome sewing hurdles and learning along the way myself. My passion for sewing started to grow again, much so that when my son was about 2, I started to sew again at home. Making him pyjamas and lots of different children’s wear for friends. I loved making girls clothes and started to sell these on a market stall and then on Etsy. At this stage I was a department manager and balancing work, my creative hobby and a child, this began to become a challenge. I decided to take a step back and go part-time. This gave me the freedom to do more outside the classroom. I started to teach at the knitting and stitching shows and the country living fair and exhibited at the Handmade fair. This I really enjoy, as I met lots of like-minded adults. Children are lovely, but for adults learning is 100% a choice, so very attentive and keen.
I started my website, slowly adding to it and sewing on my days off.
I have now given up teaching, instead my son is my main priority, when he is at school I spend most days blogging and sewing. I held a beginners small beginners sewing course at the Arts Depot in Finchley and this was so much fun. Unfortunately it’s just too expensive to run further events, so I want to focus my time and money on my website, I want to sell patterns and fabrics, I have managed to establish links with several wholesalers and am in the process of adding my first pattern and fabric combo to see if it works.
I still teach in my sons primary school, I have set up an after school textiles club and the little ones love it. I love how I have creative freedom, I am used to teaching older children, so I enjoy the challenge of creating age appropriate schemes of work and making sure they are having fun. Several have already expressed a passion for textiles, which is really lovely to hear from children so young.
I love making clothes now more than ever, I enjoy working outside my comfort zone, working with jersey fabrics and an over locker. I have spent so many past years making made to measure, it’s now nice to make quick easy wearable clothes, also stretch fabrics were not available years ago. I am enjoying working with paper patterns, especially; Simply sewing, Sew over it and Paper cut patterns. I enjoy making and then writing blog reviews for my website.
The next chapter to my story; Ideally I would like my own studio, where I can run sewing workshops, make up the latest patterns, continue to sell my favourite fabrics. I want to continue blogging and developing my own website shop. It would be my dream to sell Liberty cottons and Orla Kiely upholstery fabrics.
All in good time.
Whats your sewing story?