I was 14 when I first used a sewing machine creatively. I “drew” an apple with the needle and was blown away. I was never amazing at art but I loved the results and a needle has been my tool of choice ever since. This was lucky as I failed my art GCSE and the first (drawing based) year of my degree!
After my A levels, with a place to study history at university, I followed my heart and my sewing machine onto a BTEC in Fashion at Cheltenham Art College. Then, after that disastrous first year at college, I went on to gain a 1st class honours degree in Multi Media Textiles at Loughborough. I loved it and won major international competitions for my experimental fabrics. I applied for a place at Central St Martins on their infamous Fashion MA and got in!
However, during the last few months of my MA my belly inexplicably swelled up as if I was five months pregnant. After collapsing at my parent’s house in Cheltenham one evening I was urgently taken into surgery. A cyst the size of a grapefruit emerged, which had twisted and strangulated my left ovary. I remember lying in the hospital bed crying my eyes out, worried I would never be able to have children.
Life-threatening situations often create huge life evaluations. I packed up my things and left London. I loved the Cotswolds and had always planned to return one day – now it seemed like I shouldn’t wait.
Thankfully just before I was taken ill I had signed with an amazing textile agent and started selling my fabric samples to the likes of Balenciaga, Dior and Chanel. The samples are almost like ‘fabric recipes’ incorporating techniques such as machine embroidery, patchwork and needle felting. Sometimes they are directly translated for production but more often they provide the seed of an idea for a print or a weave. Almost always they revolve around grids, stripes and checks and if I do draw I keep it simple!
I ruled out a high-power job in fashion and took a studio at Brewery Arts in Cirencester, where I created more samples, designed upcycled fashion for boutiques in London and fulfilled my ambition to be in Vogue. Later I moved my studio to Frogmarsh Mill in Nailsworth, where I began writing craft books. I have always been impatient with my work, needing to see results quickly, so my books were aimed at beginners and based around the techniques that I used in my samples.
At this point I was living in the tiny village of Elkstone with my cat and had almost given up on the idea that I would ever have children. One of the villagers announced that a young man had rented a cottage in their garden, he had a lip piercing, I would surely love him! We began a whirlwind romance that found me pregnant two months later. I hadn’t expected it to be that easy – my doctor had said I should have had children by 30, I was 37 and over the moon.
We moved to a live/work barn in Dumbleton and our daughter was born in November that year. I never stopped creating. I would be breastfeeding in the middle of the night, think of an idea then slip into the studio at crazy o’ clock and make it. I had always been a night owl so it suited me perfectly.
A year later I was contacted by Channel 4 to ask if I would like to teach Kirstie Allsopp how to needle felt. By the time we filmed the shows I was pregnant with my son and exhausted! I didn’t look my best, particularly as the location was a hot conservatory and I hadn’t done my hair or make up, but I loved every minute of it!
I’m now involved in Kirstie’s annual Handmade Fairs, teaching super scale workshops to a hundred people at a time. The night before the first show I barely slept, five shows later and I can confidently speak in front of very large audience!
Shortly after my son was born I became a single Mum. The children’s Dad is still very much involved in their lives but it has meant that I have to constantly re-evaluate my business to make sure that it works for our family. It’s been hard but creativity is a great healer.
My studio has always brimmed with vintage fabrics and, faced with the prospect of having to send some to the charity shop to make space, I decided to start running regular workshops to use them up! I love inviting people into my studio space, particularly because for most of the week I am working alone on books and samples. I get such a lovely response, I think people just love the escapism, rummaging through all the haberdashery and creating something unique from start to finish! I never really have a strict plan for each class and, with small numbers, often everyone ends up doing something different. I also run bespoke workshops for groups of up to six people and have had wonderful birthday celebrations with three generations all crafting together. There is something so special about learning a new skill especially in good company!
I am so happy that I have been able to build this creative life around my family and especially around single parenting. I constantly try to keep the balance right and its often the housework that’s last on my list – as long as my children are happy and I am creating a little dust can wait!
A Guest Blog from Jayne Emerson
Jayne is a single mum of two. She works from her studio in Dumbleton where she also holds regular workshops. There are a few spaces left on her Christmas Decorations Day workshops on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th of December. She is also taking booking for bespoke workshops in 2018. Her new book Boho Felt Crafts is due to be published in May next year.
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