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Sunday 31 March 2013

My So Called ...Sewing...Life

1993: Secondary School
This wallhanging is the first thing I ever made at school. I was 12. We only had one term of Textiles, the other two were spent in Woodwork or Cooking. We were tasked with testing out different techniques;  it was my first taste of silk painting, printing, tie-dye and patchwork. Rather than keep my pieces as samplers I decided to create a giant wall hanging which required using a sewing machine.
My mum was a home seamstress, she had an old classic singer sewing machine on which she would make clothing for the British high street. But it was her most precious belonging and none of us were allowed to touch it, let alone use it.
So I sewed my hanging at school. I have very clear memories of the first time I used a sewing machine...it wasn't on fabric, but was on paper. We took a 'driving test' punching holes along a hand-drawn road to ensure we could manuovere corners.
 1998: College: A'Level Fashion
I hated school. I was a bit too alternative, so when I was 16 I moved to a sixth form college. I found the only one in London that did A'Level Fashion. Finally I felt like I belonged. I had real friends and I could ditch my school uniform for homemade clothes. 
With my first pay packet from my first weekend job I bought a sewing machine and used it to make my own dresses. 
The first one was inspired by Klimt, it was gold and ethereal looking probably because all 17-year-olds are obessed with his painting The Kiss.
Then I progressed into making my own fabric (tie-dye of course!) before making my own patterns from fabric bought from Roll & Rems - the haberdashery I still swear by.
2001: University Customising
I couldn't take my sewing machine to university so instead I customised things inbetween Geography lectures. This is when I turned 'crafty.' Instead of just sewing, I discovered the joys of beading, embroidery and embellishment. To make some extra money on the side of my student loan I started taking commissions selling bespoke handbags and accessories.
2003: Post-graduate: Fabric fanantic
After university I couldn't get a job and I didn't want to be a Geographer anyway so I did a post-graduate diploma in magazine journalism. The chance to be a student again meant I could continue dressing as creatively as I liked and because I was living at home with my sewing machine I started making my own clothes again. This is when my obsession began for buying gorgeous fabrics (this flamingo print cotton was bought in Ikea).
2006: Working: Clothes for other people!
By now I was fully immersed in the world of being a writer and crafter but didn't have as much time to make clothes. Instead I took up the challenge of making my first garment for someone else and learnt that childrenswear is sooooooo much easier than making adultswear!
I made my niece some ladybird dungarees and later a bear for her sister and blanket for her brother.
    2013: Now: Historical dressmaking project
Fast forward 20 years (scary how the 1st photo in this post was taken in 1993) and I'm still sewing, learning and continuing to make clothes.
This week the BBC launches it's new programme The Great British Sewing Bee which is causing a huge buzz in the craft/sewing community. It's predecessor The Great British Bake Off has turned the nation into homebaking obsessives and I'm pretty sure that the Sewing Bee will inspire more people to sew.
There are already many more sewing courses, classes and workshops going on (in London at least), but while other people are getting to grips with machines, I've gone down a different path - the art of historical dressmaking.

Last year I embarked on a new creative adventure, becoming a Fashion Recreator. Over the last 12 months I've been studying dressmaking from the 17th, 18th & 19th centuries and am currently making an exact replica of a dress that existed in 1818.
In replicating it I have to use the exact techniques.....in other words the entire dress in stitched by hand as there were no sewing machines then.

I'm now in my last month of finishing the piece which will  be exhibited at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in July (for one day!) and the story of how I made it will be recorded in a book.

Until I put this blog post together I actually didn't realise I had been sewing for 20 years. It blows my mind. 

I'm honestly not the best of sewers, in fact I think I'm pretty rubbish because I'm not a perfectionist. My seams don't always match up, my fits aren't aways perfect and some times I skip 'proper' steps; but one thing I can say with pride is that I really, really enjoy sewing and I hope I never have to stop doing it.


  1. Wow! What a wonderful blog post...utterly fascinating! :-) x

  2. Great!I like this story you shared with us. Nice blog post. Best of luck.
    Klimt Paintings