This all started with my Grandma. She was the first person who got me to try out sewing. I don’t know if it was the first time I ever sewed but I have a really clear memory of being on the floor in my grandparents living room, aged about 6 or 7, making a purse. It was blue, made from some fabric recycled from something they had, maybe a sheet or one of my Grandad’s shirts. I sewed up the sides and made a flap and drew a rainbow on it. I messily sewed on a press stud. It was just fun.
This isn’t one of those ‘my Gran taught me all I know’ things. No one really taught me everything, just picking up little bits as I went. Over the years, I did a lot more sewing with my Auntie. We made costumes for school fancy dress days and she helped me with school projects. Those were some of my happiest days. My Grandma always encouraged me and my brother to make things. I was always going home from her house with old plastic containers glued together, driving my Dad crazy by bringing home random creations made from empty yogurt pots and loo rolls. I was never the most artistically talented child and everything I made was neither useful nor beautiful, but it didn’t matter.
I made things for my Grandma all through my life. Terrible drawings that she praised as if they were incredible, right up to a handbag that I made when I was learning pattern cutting that she modelled up and down the living room, delighted that I still wanted to make things for her now I was doing it ‘properly’. When I moved into working in costume she made me send her a copy of every program with my name in and wanted to see photos of all the costumes I’d made.
Now that I’ve started my own company and I’m trying to get the name out there on social media, I get very consumed by the worry that it doesn’t look good enough, the photos aren’t professional enough, the patterns aren’t what people want. My ethos and aesthetic are governed more by what I like and find useful than by any idea of trends or what’s popular. I’ve got an invisible judging customer sitting on my shoulder while I do things, criticising my every decision. I forget the main thing my Grandma taught me all those years ago - making things is fun. I love making patterns and samples and working out how to create something. At heart I’m still that little girl drawing a rainbow on a purse and I really think we all are.
My Grandma passed away very recently and I hadn’t been able to see her for a while due to Covid and dementia, but she was never far from my thoughts and will continue to be. I wanted to pass on the two things she taught me just by being who she was and I hope I can take them forward with me in this business. Firstly, that idea of making things being for pleasure more than anything else, getting absorbed in the process. Sometimes it will turn out great and sometimes it will be totally rubbish but you’ve done it for you and spent your time doing something you really enjoy.
The other thing she taught me is that showing people that you’re proud of them and of what they’ve done is so valuable. I wouldn’t have kept creating, despite how much I enjoy it, if every time I made something that was rough and messy it had been criticised. There’s a real joy in knowing that when you make someone a gift and put love into it they will treasure it. Just knowing that someone genuinely believes in you is so important. I’ve taken some big leaps in my life and could only take those risks because I knew that if I failed then my family would still be proud that I tried. There’s a power in that.
I don’t think we have to contain that to our family. I get very stressed about putting my work out on Instagram and putting it up for scrutiny but I know that there’s a supportive community out there that is all too ready with an encouraging comment. I try to be that for other people and it really makes me feel great to compliment others on the gorgeous things they’ve made or the things they’ve achieved.
So, while I’m never going to be the type of person that isn’t anxious at all about putting myself and my work out there, I’m going to keep those lessons of fun and encouragement with me all the time and just do it my way. Realising that in this huge world of creatives there’s room for us all to be who we are without having to fit the mould. Everything is just so much more pleasant when we are proud of ourselves for doing things the way we want to, just for the joy of it. My Grandad has a little piece of advice that he always tells me when I’m worrying about what to do or what other people will think of me - “You just do what you want, love”. And I think I will.