History

This page is who I am and why I do what I do ...

1970-80:

My grandmother first introduced me to sewing as a young child. It was her way of keeping me entertained during the wet British summers.

We made teddies, dolls clothes and knitted scarves together; she took me to museums and to many art galleries. We picked flowers from the garden and I would spend hours sketching them.

As I grew older, I would dread what she would make for me! The outfits were not exactly fit for a Camden-girl growing up in North London in the 70s.

teddy

MUTTI:  

Mutti, German for 'mother', stems back to her nickname whilst working in the RAF.  She used to make me clothes for special occasions, like Prince Charles and Lady Diana's Royal Wedding (1981).

I have a pretty blue dress, that has gold and red crowns on it. Mutti taught me how to bake, make fresh lemonade and she was a very talented florist. I remember entering her village fair with my scones and miniature garden. I came home with first prize. This all gave me a passion for everything practical, my main passion being art.

The first sewing project we made together, was on a very old and pristine black machine etched with 'Singer' in bold, gold writing. She had had it converted to electric and I remember it being attached to a sewing table which was kept at the end of her bed. I still have my first teddy that we made together in 1980.

My father was a hotel manager, so we'd spend our time moving from country to country wherever his work took us. He worked in South Africa, the Caribbean living in bungalows or in the back of hotels.

dress


mutti
Mutti - front row, 2nd right.


1980-90:

My parents divorced and I found myself living with my brother and mother in a council flat in Camden Town when I was just 11 years old. I worked in Camden at the weekends when I was just 14. I would walk past the clothes stalls and started to love and build my passion for fashion. Camden is where I started to mix my love of clothes and drawing. I completed an art foundation course after my A levels, then a Fashion degree and still remember the spiel I used at my interview; "I love drawing patterns and putting different clothes together". My portfolio was full of colour. All through college I had many different Saturday jobs with the most useful being work in a fabric shop. This is where I gained my knowledge of fabrics, not from college I might add. I went on to work as a sample cutter, and then as a design assistant in a bridal wear shop. My final collection at college was black chiffon and organza dresses, so I knew then that I wanted to work with silk. Bridal wear was perfect.

1990-2000:

Bridal Wear:

I remember the first day at the bridal shop. I had to make a toile for a bride. I couldn't get the sleeves in right and my manager made me unpick it a dozen times; it took me nearly all day before I got it right. Three years later and on my last day, it took me 5 minutes to do the same task! My toiles became beautiful samples, almost wearable, and I would press them with real pride before fitting them to the bride. It was then at this stage, I started to make dresses for friends privately, using the extra cash for travelling around the world taking sketchbooks on my journeys far and wide, drawing what ever I could see and buying fabrics for lots of different projects ...

2000-10:

I had been working in industry for 6 years and had started to get frustrated with the familiarity of my every day. I had started designing and could make very couture garments with ease. I wanted a change.

My mother had been made redundant 4 years earlier and had gone back to college to train to be a primary teacher. She loved it! Sadly she was diagnosed with cancer shortly before she graduated, so she never actually got to teach in a school. Death changes you at any age, but at just 26, it gave me strength for change and shook my life upside down. I had lost my best friend and soul-mate. No challenge could compare to losing my mum. I applied for a PGCE in art and within 2 weeks had handed in my notice and was a student again.

I had gone from a very routine day-to-day job, to not knowing what I would be doing the next day. I loved it and threw myself into the challenge. I managed to get a job in a school I used to go to as a teenager, where I would spend many hours in the art department painting away as a student. Here I started to teach textiles and art. It was totally a case of fake it till you make it. I was lucky my line-manager gave me free reign, someone who allowed me to teach, to create all my own projects and do literally what ever I wanted. This is a far-cry from what teaching is today...

2010:

Students in my classes would made cushions, corsets, slippers, bags and couture garments. All classroom projects inspired by my travels. My classrooms were covered in colour and pictures of students proudly holding their work. I loved the freedom, the creativity and the hard work that teaching brings.

I've worked as a Textile teacher for 15 years in several North London secondary schools. I worked my way up, taking on different roles and then finally becoming a head of a design department for the past 8 years. For every year of working in education I have taught examination classes, full of 20-30 fifteen year-olds, teaching them how to make a variety of different garments from scratch, starting by draping on the dress stand, helping them make their own paper patterns; choosing the correct fabrics and components for their projects. This experience has given me a wealth of sewing knowledge.

MY PHILOSOPHY:

Problem solving sewing, for example, 'how do I make this?' type questions from students has taught me how to sew almost anything. I have enjoyed sharing ideas, creating different design projects and watching children enjoy the environment I created. Teaching to me has always been about relationships, having fun, supporting and being positive. This is how my philosophy of Sew Simple has evolved. After 10 years in education, I started to want to learn again for myself, realising that sewing was simple and that what I was doing in the classroom for thousands of students and many parents, I could do for myself outside of a school environment.

Part of the first steps towards this, was completing a masters degree at Central St. Martins College or Art and Design, gaining a distinction whilst still working full-time as a head of department. In my final term of study, my son Freddie was born in 2011, three months premature, weighing just 1lb 9oz. This changed my life. Freddie was very ill for the first year of his life and he became my priority. He is a very happy healthy boy now. Returning back to work after maternity leave was tough; you really have to give everything as a teacher and I struggled for the first year doing 100% at home and work.

As Freddie has grown, I have been able to work out what I wanted from my career, so I starting sewing privately again. I suddenly realised that I was very good at it, and most of all enjoying doing it. I started making really simple children's products that were quick and easy, using any time I could steal in the evening when Freddie had gone to sleep!

freddie

It's Sew Simple...

I absolutely loved being creative and making garments for friends. I then got the opportunity to see what people thought of my products, using some great marketing research to define potential customers. To my surprise, every single product has been snapped up and this is thanks to the power of social media which didn't exist when I first started out 20+ years ago.

As my renewed love of textiles has kick-started, I dreamt of having my own business. I wanted to start my own sewing school; to have a shop that would stock the lovely clothes and a haberdashery full of products that can be used in the workshop classes. I intend to ensure that all of my sewing lessons are simple sewing projects for adults and children of all ages, making quick and easy garments to help grow sewing confidence.

This is who I am and why I do what I do ...

 

I will show you how simple, sewing your own garments can be. It really is, Sew Simple!

Jenni McGill
It's Sew Simple

freddie