The Slow Down – a brief history of my sewing habits

Something is happening to me as I get older. I am slowing down. I don’t mean in the physically ageing sense but in a more philosophical way, in the way I approach life. I have more patience now for certain things than I did when I was in my twenties or thirties, or even my early forties. Take sewing for example.

I started making things in my teens. An elderly friend of my mothers had given her an old tin full of sewing paraphernalia and some oddments of fabric. I remember following a pattern from an old magazine and on the hand crank Singer that my mother owned but never used, I made a little duffle bag and a matching ‘smoking cap’ style hat out of a remnant of deckchair fabric. I used the bag a few times but I don’t think I ever had the confidence to wear the hat outside of my bedroom but what I liked about that first project was the speed at which I was able to bring those functional items into existence.

That was around the same time I got my first job as a Saturday girl in a soft furnishings shop. One morning I was tidying the remnant basket and found some scraps of plain glazed cotton. I remember distinctly there was some peach, a minty green and a denim sort of blue. I asked my boss how much they would be with my staff discount applied and she let me have them for nothing! In my lunch hour I nipped to the haberdashery store round the corner and bought a couple of metres of elastic and not being the sort of teen who had a bustling social life, I spent my Saturday evening making hair scrunchies in my room, listening to Pink Floyd.

Those first teenage projects all had one thing in common. They were fast makes that I completed in one sitting. Even the first skirt I made was run up in an hour or so, no pattern, just some fabric and a bit of elastic for the waist. I liked the instant gratification of being able to finish something in one sitting and that didn’t change for a good few years. I made pull on trousers and bloomers for my kids because they were quick and easy. I made a few pairs of pull on trousers for myself for the same reason. Anything else seemed far too complicated so I didn’t bother trying. I made the curtains for our house and I did cross stitch but even the time that took frustrated me! It wasn’t until my fourth daughter was on the way that I started experimenting with making other things and by the time she was born I had an Ebay shop selling bunting, baby bibs, kids t-shirts with motifs appliqued on, Christmas stockings and very crude versions of the hand stitched cards that I still make and sell now. But I still wouldn’t make anything I couldn’t finish in one sitting!

Then life started to get complicated for one reason or another and I found that more and more often I was having to abandon a project for days, weeks or sometimes months before I could see it through. More often than not the half finished things got tossed, either into the bin or back into the fabric stash waiting to be ripped apart and made into something else. Eventually I was able to pick an abandoned project up and continue on with it and what a revelation that was. It meant I could prep more complex multiple items for selling for a start! By this time I had opened my first Etsy shop and my confidence was growing. But life wasn’t straightforward and over the years I shut up shop, started another, moved to Folksy, back to Etsy (and all the other platforms in between that sprung up and have since folded!), had creative droughts and crises in confidence. I have recently emerged from such a period and this time I have been able to simply pick up where I left off with all the unfinished projects.

There is something very freeing about being able to put down and pick up. I’m sure there are many creatives out there who have always been able to do this but for me it has been an important stage in my creative evolution. Apart from a few cross stitch kits and my Strawberry Thief tapestry I have really struggled to go back to things, but now I actually have multiple projects on the go and I’m quite enjoying the flexibility of being able to choose whether to knit, embroider or baste and sew hexies together when I have space in the day for it. I love that crafts I once felt were beyond me are now open to me, like patchwork for example. My youngest has just taught herself to crochet and I no longer see it as a craft other people do but as another one for me to pick up when I’m ready. Hand sewing patchwork pieces together was once something other people did and I never thought I would even give it a try! Now I fully understand the virtues of slow stitching anything. My mantra has changed from ‘machine it if you can’ to ‘can I do that by hand’.

My Strawberry Thief tapestry – 21 years and I’m still not done!

When my second born was just over a year old we moved house. It was 1999 and at some point during the year that followed I set foot in my first craft superstore. I always thought it was a Hobbycraft, but after a little digging about on the internet I realise it can’t have been, not in the area where we lived and on reflection I am wondering if it was actually a whole store, or if maybe it was just a department within another store. Either way, it was the first time I had ever really been in a craft store of any description. Prior to that I had only ever been to small independent drapers and haberdashers. Anyway, I came away from that craft store with a couple of Fat Quarters (although I don’t think I even knew what a Fat Quarter was then), a stencil that I never ever did use and of course the star prize. A William Morris tapestry kit.

I can’t actually remember how much I paid for this Strawberry Thief kit but I do remember that if it hadn’t been massively reduced in the sale right when I had some birthday money to spend, I wouldn’t have got it.

Twenty one years later and it’s still not completed! I was quite shocked when I did the maths but my eldest is turning twenty five this year so I think I’ve got some facing up to do about the passing of time and all that.

It has been stored in various places over the years. When I first got it the detritus of life hadn’t yet started to build up, so it lived in a carrier bag in the under-stairs cupboard with nothing else but my Nana’s 1960s Singer and a Teletubby scooter that started playing the theme tune whenever it felt like it. I think Baby Annabel may have got lobbed in there at a later date for a similar reason. The under-stairs cupboard was always a handy holding area for all things noisy and annoying while I located a screwdriver to get the batteries out. Pretty sure I put the Chicco Animal train in there to die too!

Anyway, fast forward to 2021 and the kids are mostly all grown up, I’m no longer married to their dad, I live in a different county and life has not been easy. If this tapestry could talk I’d be telling it to shut up and leave the past in the past! It has seen me through some tough times and I think that may be the reason it has been left for such a long time prior to my recent revisiting of it. It had become something I went to when I was too stressed to be truly creative, but still needed to do something with my hands. It being a printed canvas meant I didn’t have to do all the counting that’s often required with needlepoint or cross stitch kits so I could just pick it up and put in a few stitches here and there whenever I felt like it.

You’re supposed to work these things from the centre out, but you can see where boredom or the need to mindlessly work a simple block has taken me to the border on many occasions. Sometimes I look at an area of stitching or even a single stitch and I wonder what was going through my head as I pulled the thread up through the canvas then. And then I have to triage the memories as they come, pulling the happier ones to the front if I can.

I’ve decided. It’s now time to break the negative associations and get it finished and made up into the cushion it was always meant to be. I’ve even got some velvet put aside for the back now, which is helping me to visualise it finished and on the sofa, next to the other William Morris cushions that I’ve acquired over the years. I’ve spent a few evenings on it recently while re-watching Inspector Morse and All Creatures Great and Small. It is not going back into storage this time, it will be completed!

Hair scrunchies are back?

I’ll never forget my first scrunchie. My Nan bought it for me off a market stall sometime in the 80s. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was in the lower half of secondary school and probably not as grown up as my peers. I lacked style and was clueless about fashion, but I did know I liked these puffy bits of stretchy fabric the other girls were suddenly wearing in their hair. Out of all the scrunchies on the market stall that day, I chose a day-glow yellow one. I still to this day don’t understand why.

On the first Monday back to school after the summer holidays, I couldn’t wait to wear my new scrunchie. For once I would be wearing the latest fashion and maybe, just maybe, I might fit in with everyone else! I was wrong of course. Perhaps if I had been in primary school my day-glow yellow scrunchie might have been the cause of much admiration and even envy, but I wasn’t in primary school and instead it just gave my teenage peers another reason to ridicule me. I will never ever forget the boy who came up behind me, yanked at my ponytail and said I looked like I was wearing a pair of yellow knickers in my hair!

So yeah kids, in answer to your question, I do know what a scrunchie is! Can I make you some? Oh okay, but honestly they’re that easy you could do it yourself. Yes you are allowed to use my sewing machine and yes you probably can remember my slightly more stylish black velvet one and the sensible navy jersey one that I was still wearing when you were little. Make me one while you’re at it.

Scrunchies made by one of my daughters.

Seriously though, I’m now considering making a few in vintage fabrics to sell so if you fancy one and would rather buy than sew your own then watch this space. I definitely won’t be making any day-glow yellow ones though!