A few weeks ago I was contacted by BBC radio Leicester who asked me if I would like to talk about sewing on the Ed Stagg show on a Saturday. Of course not being one to turn down a challenge especially if it involves talking about sewing I said yes!
The format of the show was to mix 3 experts in their field and talk about each subject by asking a question that we then all got involved in talking about. The idea being that these three people would not usually be mixed together and therefore never possibly meet, making for diverse interesting conversation!
The line up was Me – founder of Bobbins and Buttons sewing classes, my question was: Have I got time to sew?
Jim Horne – professor of sleep research from Loughborough university – His question was: Why am I awake?
Mike Kapur – Leicester business man, chairman of the Space centre and founder of Signum Corporate Communications ltd. were among his list of accolades. His question was: Do you have to ruthless in business?
Quite an interesting mix! I have to say what really great guys, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and came away with ideas to pursue and new knowledge.
Of course I had done a large amount of thinking and preparing for the show, ensuring I was as prepared as possible for any line of questions. The one thing I thought a lot about was just how diverse and versatile sewing can actually be. I came up with seven categories of major reasons to sew and why people do sew. I didn’t get to explore this in depth on the radio as it was not just about sewing and potentially the whole show could have ended being all about sewing!! I did think however it would make quite an interesting blog post.
1. Eco friendly.
With so much concern about the planet we live on and the impact our lifestyles have on it many of us are considering the choices we make about where and what we buy and how and who has made or produced the things we buy.
Sewing can be a huge answer to many environmental issues. I recently came across Morsbags, fantastic organisation using old fabric that would otherwise be thrown away. The idea is that small social groups get together and make the scrap fabric into bags that then replace all the endless disposable plastic shopping bags that are used in the supermarkets daily.
Another concern is all the mass produced fashion supplied to the high street and sold at the cheapest of prices, almost encouraging a throw away wardrobe. Although you have got options to remake this item or give it to Morsbags. It still raises concerns about who has made this garment and in what conditions. By making your own clothing or re-working cheaper pieces you know what has been involved.
Unwanted textiles being re-worked is a much better option than landfill. I always keep all scraps from any projects because there are so many fabulous things you can make using scraps. In fact you can probably cross off several Christmas gifts from your list just by using scraps (more posts coming up after this one). Even if you accidentally shrink a jumper you can use this to make all sorts of things. I run a project class using shrunken wool sweaters and vintage printed duvet covers or sheets to make this bag.
Baby blocks made from scraps of left over fabric.
2. Creative expression
Sewing can be art! You don’t have to go to far to see sewing at its most artistic. (well if you are a Leicester UK reader)The NEC in Birmingham once a year hosts the quilt festival. A stunning collection of quilts from traditional ones to the most elaborate or complex you can possibly imagine.
On a smaller scale many artists and makers create the most beautiful work with needle and thread or machine and thread as their chosen medium. There are an array of classic techniques that can be used to make wonderful works of art. The popular free machine embroidery is one which is great fun. Applique, machine and hand is another. Some artist use mixed mediums to create their work.
My wearable art ‘bug’ skirt inspired by the insects and landscape where I stayed to teach in South Africa
3. Self expression
We all think about what we wear and how we wear it, whether we follow fashion, anti fashion or an alternative style, clothing is a big part of self expression. Sewing has to be the ultimate way of achieving your ideal wardrobe. I could probably and maybe will write 100 blogs posts about clothing!
Sewing your own wardrobe can be as little as customising a few pieces to creating one or many complete items. Their are so many advantages to making your own. If you have fit issues these can easily be resolved by making your own. All shop bought clothing is made to standard sizes and not all of us are standard sizes, its very common to find people that are a size 12 on top and a 14 on the bottom for example or size 10 on the bottom and size 16 on the top. Thus making it very difficult to find shop bought dresses that fit.
There are occasions when you have in mind exactly what you want but can’t find it in the shops because that colour and shape are not ‘in’ this season! Easily resolved with making your own.
Beauitiful fabrics, something we might not be able to afford as a pre-made garment, but might be more achievable by making your own.
There are lots of bloggers charting their handmade wardrobes, these are good to follow you can go through the ups and downs with like minded sewers and gather inspiration. Probably one of the most famous is Great Britsh Sewing bee contestant Tilly and her blog Tilly and the buttons, we follow her progress as she not only learns to further her sewing skills that are relatively recently acquired but she builds a gorgeous wardrobe, charting the ups and downs. Locally we have my almost next door neighbour Freya, who also logs her progress and shares the ups and downs in her dressmaking diaries.
Lots of other businesses are around to help make our wardrobe sewing endeavors easier, fun and funky. Check out DIY couture for a new approach to making clothing. There is certainly no need to get bogged down with complicated pattern instructions. Here they keep it simple and show you styles that you can make over and over again in different fabrics and colours for different occasions.
There are also a new generation of patterns from independant pattern makers like victory patterns, who design and make patterns. Giving us even more choice of styles.
This is my pattern for an easy flattering skater skirt with flat front and elasticated back. Patterns are available for this skirt sizes from 8 -16 which I make these to order and run workshops to show you how to make it.
Bobbins and buttons will be offering lots more clothing styles in the new year and look out for new customising classes which should be lots of fun!
Be your own fashion designer! Experiment, have fun – create your own capsule collection.
4. Life changing
Sewing can be life changing, if ever there was a time to sell handmade products I think it is now. More and more people are making handmade products. Perhaps with less money to spend an evening at the flicks has turned into an evening with a DVD and the knitting needles. Which then turns into making to sell. I don’t know this for sure but I do know there are lots of lovely handmade products about and the good thing is people love it, a real appreciation for handmade items is out there.
Its an ideal thing to do as a side line to a main job, you don’t have to take a huge risk but who knows where it might lead,! Look at the fantastic success of the Cambridge satchel company. Inspirational and most certainly life changing.
More locally (Leicester UK) we have Sew Sofia selling beautiful and practical bags and other items for adults and children all sewn by Louise in high quality fabrics. Louise is self taught, after being made redundant in 2011 she turned her hobby and what was a few sales to colleagues into a business. Now she is so busy selling her work she would’nt have time to go back to work, this is now her career. We also have the multi talented Sarah Wadely who offers a bespoke design and make service for your wedding attire. She specialises in vintage inspired styles, well worth a chat with Sarah before you buy a mass produced style!
The other life changing way is all the good work done by groups like Project Linus, a caring project started in America and now also in the UK. The idea is to make a quilt and give to a sick or traumatised child providing something comforting to them in a time that is difficult.
I was also fortunate enough to be involveed as a volunteer teacher in South Africa in a fantastic school in a small village called Nieu Bethsda. Jeni Couzyn the founder of this school, set it up to help the disadvantaged community of Nieu Bethesda. The school works on the basis of volunteer teachers going in to teach their specialist field. All arts focused. Teachers have included art/drawing teachers, a mosaic artist, drama and dance teachers. I was the first to teach women and the first to teach textiles, it was a huge success the ladies were passionate and dedicated.
My favourite story was of a little girl aged 13 called Amanda who came to my class and was the most timid and shy I can imagine a girl could be, she virtually cowered with fright if I went near her, but over the course of a few weeks her confidence developed and she would shout me to go and assist her. I smiled that she had come on so much.
Near Christmas the whole school turned its attention to a lantern festival, where all students made a lantern to parade around the township on New years eve. This particular year the theme was ‘what you wish for’. Amanda said she wished to go back to school. School for her meant a fee of £20 a year and she would live away in the near town. This was not possible due to having no money and therefore no education! The amazing ladies that run this school sold the work the students did with no profit at all. After a few weeks Amanda sold 2 of her hand made bags and was given the money to return to school. T
I hadn’t given this angle much thought really until on the show chatting to Jim Horne the sleep expert, on and off air we chatted about the possibilities of sewing to help insomnia, he explained that doing something was what would help insomniacs but watching telly or reading a book didn’t help because the mind would go back too quickly to what you were thinking about when you couldn’t sleep , therefore you would still not be able to sleep.
We explored the possibilities of a hand applique project that could be sewn together by machine at a second stage. It could even be a man project so both male and female could be catered for!
The other thing I notice at the end of classes and also when I make something is that feeling of pride and almost euphoria similar to the endorphin’s being released after exercise which keeps us addicted to the gym! Their are many organisations that help people less able bodied or unwell through the arts, confirming their is therapy in sewing and art.
What I call the heritage value of sewing is the desire to pass down such a skill to your children and grand children. This is certainly the way i came to discover my love of sewing. My mum was of a generation where it was totally normal to make your own clothes because you could at a fraction of the cost. I remember shopping as a child with her and she would whistle at the price of clothes in the shops. With cheap imports coming in this has all changed. Perhaps sewing had a dip in popularity because of this, but I believe for all the other reasons and probably many more, sewing is well and truly back on the map!
Having children makes you go through a roller coaster of thoughts, emotions and decisions. It made me think about how my children do and will view me now and in the future and also what things they would say ‘well I know this and do this because my mum taught me’. I am immensely proud that my mum taught me to sew and started my lifelong passion for sewing, she also taught to cook another skill I am so pleased to have. And I am hoping I can show my little ones everything she showed me and more.
Along side the passing down of skills through the generations, you might pass down family heirlooms like hand made christening gowns or a handmade quilt. What a beautiful thing to own and know that it is truly part of your family.
7. Social element
Lastly but by no means least is the social aspect of sewing. We live in a day and age of email, text, twitter and facebook all are great but what about chatting,? Getting together? Brainstorming ideas? Showing ideas? Seeing facial expressions? After having my first child I realised how you live on different time scales to all your working friends and become reliant on emails and texts to keep up with whats happening in their lives. I loved becoming a mum and was happy to be totally absorbed in that world for several months. After a while I did crave just having a couple of hours here and there that was me time doing something that was just different. I figured out the best way to do this was to leave the house and go to a class.
There is something really wonderful about a group that all have a common interest its empowering, interesting and creative. There are little things that seem quite subtle that happen in groups but make you go away and think, there is visual inspiration, ideas born, discussed and developed.
I love going to classes as much as I love teaching classes. I always stay open minded because sometimes I don’t learn the things I expect to, but I learn something different, but I always get something out of going to a class, something special that you can’t get from an online video.
With that said if you’ve not been tempted to put needle to fabric I hope you are now! Go on try it………who knows where it might lead!!