I began to do patchwork in the 70’s when you could buy a bag of fabric scraps from Laura Ashley, which were the off-cuts from their dresses. In those days I did patchwork by hand on cut-out shapes of paper and fabric. It was also a very flamboyant and hippy time and you could walk through the North Lanes in Brighton and discover bags of leather off-cuts. We used to glue squares of suede and leather together in all sorts of colours and make handbags! After College, my very first flatmate Ros and I both loved to sew. Ros was more proficient and would complete more of her projects. She once made a brief-case size patchwork bag for me to take to work on the tube each day to the City! We measured it so that the FT newspaper could fit – the two things seem quite incongruous now, but I loved it.
My mother sewed beautifully; she made all our dresses as children and later on ball gowns and bridesmaid dresses! I had not shone at needlework at school! We all made the embroidered cross-stitch hankie cases as gifts for our mothers and I learned to knit by making a wool puppet; I was more inclined to chat and giggle and used to stretch this puppet each week in the lesson, so that the lack of progress was not so noticeable! My grandmother taught me to crochet as my mother was left-handed and therefore, using different hands, we were sewing, knitting, crocheting in different directions. (I still sew both left and right!).
At secondary school we were finally allowed to use the sewing machines; my progress was slow. It took me months to complete a sleeve-less, collarless dress. It was not impressive! Later, having sewn and embroidered many projects, I wondered why this was the case and I think it’s because you had to follow the rules – you could not jump ahead or cut corners or work it out for yourself. You had to pin the pattern, cut it out, pin it, tack it, remove the pins and only then could you stitch it together. So frustrating – I was impatient to see the end results of my ideas! My great friend Tina has since shown me more effective sewing techniques so that I can bring my ideas to fruition and I have poured over books for hours and hours working out how items are put together.
Many years ago my mother decided to renew her interest in patchwork and quilting and joined an evening class. She had the very good fortune to attend a class run by our neighbour Mandy Shaw, who has worked out all the short cuts and her enthusiasm and creations are so inspirational! Fired up by this my mother went on to make quilts and hand-made mohair teddies (more of this later!) and re-ignited my interest.
Mandy has since gone on to create the successful company Dandelion Designs. She has published several wonderful books and project packs which people flock to buy online and at shops and fairs such as the Spring Quilt Festival, Ardingly. (I have to go there each year for supplies and inspiration!) Her success has even brought Kirstie on Channel 4 to learn from her!
The textile artist whom I most admire and with whom I most empathise is Caroline Zoob. I also love her hand-painted pottery and china, which is now hard to come by but so pretty. When I first discovered her book ‘Childhood Treasures: Handmade Gifts for Babies and Children’ I couldn’t believe it, I knew exactly what she meant. I too had watched the A-level needlework students with envy as they created beautiful cut-thread and white-work embroideries. I wanted to sew as if writing and drawing freehand and that became my style.
My inspirations come from a variety of styles. I love French Country, mixed with English Country Home, historic samplers, Scandinavian cool linens, American Pioneer and New England blues and reds. I adore the delicate muted shades of fabrics from Cabbages and Roses and the slightly more formal faded linens from Kate Forman. I love Greengate. And of course Cath Kidston’s faded paisleys, florals and jaunty spots still have a place amongst the enduring favourites.
Keep an eye out for more of my own projects and ideas in my next post!