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Why the Best Sewing Journey is a Messy One

If I see one more perfect sewing journey I’ll lay eggs of rage. Over and again I read magazines where a maker takes us through their sewing journey. It’ll invariably involve them gaining a textiles degree, feeling the unassailable urge to work with, say, luxury chenille and then launching a boutique business from a Wigan studio weirdly lit with Swedish light. We’ll read about their inspirations, their style tips, their design process… but we never learn about the reality of their sewing journey. That they once fell out of love with stitching, pawned their sewing machine or developed RSI from too much embroidering is never mentioned. Thing is, their stories are much less inspiring because of that. Well, allow me to present the very honest low and highlights from my sewing journey. It’s not magazine-perfect but it is the truth…

The button box

It was my gran’s and fascinated me but not because it was in an antique box which oozed mystery. It was one of those flat, metal Peak Frean biscuit tins. I’d rummage through said box before being allowed a Babycham and falling asleep in her rocking chair. If they’d have known, Social Services would have called in armed guards.

The (assumed) sewing machine

It was my nanna who showed me how to use a sewing machine but I know this from a process of elimination. I don’t have any specific memories of us in a bubble of grandmotherly love while her secret-recipe stew bubbled on a range. It’s just that she was the only person I knew with an electric sewing machine. Sorry, kraken lovers. It’s the best I can do without a large dose of regression therapy.

The school

Christ, I despised needlework lessons at school. My sewing journey certainly didn’t start with the teacher I hated. In fact as soon as I could I dumped needlework and did Technical Drawing. Worse, I had to make domestic items including a lilac gingham apron and oven gloves. It was 1985. The idea of stitching “Fucker in charge” on a hoop hadn’t yet been brought to my attention.

The bullies

You won’t hear this on many a sewing journey. For a fortnight in comprehensive I was bullied by two girls in my class: Michelle Cunningham and Janine Ali. The form of bullying? To stick pins in me while walking past so needlework classes were a laugh a minute. Anyway that stopped when I strode up to my head of year and told him to sort it out. I still remember the joy of them being dragged out of class only to return two hours later with tear-streaked faces. Take that, you pin-addled bitches!

The university

Here I swapped sewing for collecting hangovers and traffic cones (I am such a cliché). I didn’t so much as lift a needle between the years of 1990 – 1993 upon which I was spat from Cardiff University with a degree and membership of the local Jobclub. That was when I started on…

The cushions

Thing is, I don’t even recall owning a sewing machine but I was clearly cobbling something together because these covers actually exist, worse with felt appliqued shapes on them. Well, it WAS the Nineties. I also embroidered my knackered cardigans with brightly coloured wool which made me look like Kurt Cobain minutes after falling foul of a random loom.

The clothes

At this stage in my sewing journey I was comprehensively unemployed and fashioning dresses from remnant bin fabrics. My unemployment benefit didn’t exactly stretch to dupion silk. A moment of glory involved buying this weird cheap black fabric (another remnant) on a Saturday morning and making a black sleeveless dress in time for the evening. My friends adored it. I didn’t show them the seams that look as if they’d been stitched by Shrek.

The Sew-less years

Yup, from 1995 – 2014 I didn’t so much as pick up a pin. In fact I’d forgotten that I had ever sewed at all. I was snout-deep in my career in journalism. I mean, why would I sew when I could repeatedly headbutt a laptop until words came out?

The mother-in-law

Upon Ena’s death I inherited her sewing stash, a comprehensive collection of haberdashery, patterns and coursework from her time studying needlework at college in the 40s. She was still alive when I started sewing but she scared me shitless. I can still imagine the look she’d have given me had I showed her my stitching. It would have been gimlet-eyed, through a cloud of cigarette smoke and decidedly withering.

The recovery

Leap forward 20 years and not only have I forgotten how to hold a needle but I’ve had a massive breakdown. I’m unable to work but need something to do other than sob, sleep and stare at Cash In the Attic. The thing is, my breakdown had destroyed the last 20 years of memories so my clearest ones were, bizarrely, of my sewing yoof. The next phase of my sewing journey had begun, hence the new first time I walked into…

The fabric shop

It sold upholstery fabrics and was so newly alien to me that I Googled “How to buy fabric”. I shit you not. Worse, I walked into that shop as if it were made of landmines. Christ knows what the shop assistants thought but I suspect that when I’d finished laying my cheek against the bolts of cloth they called security. And to demonstrate of how unhinged I still was, I bought a feather boa from there a week later so I could dress as Liberace when I played my spontaneously bought piano.

My Christmas sewing machine

Bought for me by my mother, it was £60 from The Range. To my addled mind it looked even more complicated than the Large Hadron Collider. Thankfully I was more persistent in learning to sew than I have ever been in finding the Higgs Boson. A working seam was born.

The dressmaking course

I shan’t name the teacher because she is still alive. Anyway, she was back then. She was 82, I was 43 and she also scared the shit out of me. She was so obsessed with being technically perfect that for an ENTIRE TERM of three hour lessons she made me re-pin the pattern onto my turquoise crepe. Reader, I didn’t go back.

The embroidery

Two weeks into a hospital stay for disastrous facial surgery and I was climbing the walls like a chimp with a firework up its arse. In a fit of desperation I told Conjugal Kraken to return with enough thread and calico to keep me entertained. He did, along with a hip flask of rum. The embroidery I did publicly. The rum swigging I did not.

The consultant

Obsessed with the anatomy of my face, thanks to my surgeries, I started embroidering the facial muscles. This coincided with an appointment with my surgeon who, upon seeing my stitched parotid gland (as well as the real thing) bought it from me there and then. I knew I was onto something more than a new obsession with oral morphine.

The business

Do you mean the culmination of a sewing journey that’s been anything but glamorous and beautifully lit? Yup, that’s Kraken Kreations. While it’s professionally run (I defy you to say otherwise), getting to the point of starting the business has been messy, meandering, confusing and strewn with skirts with upside down waistbands. It’s also proof that you don’t need to have an Insta-perfect biography to be good at what you do. Instead it can be strewn with left turns and the judicious use of a seam ripper.  So celebrate your own sewing journey whatever it looks like. It might not fit the pages of a glossy magazine but it’ll be a damn sight more interesting at dinner parties.

So how does the journey to your craft look? Is it as messy as mine or have you sailed through? And how do you feel about glossy stories of perfection? Do they inspire you or do you want to see more realistic tales?

***If you like this blog post you might like this one about the importance of swearing in sewing or this one about the myths of running a creative business.***