But don’t worry! It’ll all be ok! You can STILL keep in touch with news, updates, sewing classes and special offers over at Reddskin.
It’s been a blast! Don’t go changing.
But don’t worry! It’ll all be ok! You can STILL keep in touch with news, updates, sewing classes and special offers over at Reddskin.
It’s been a blast! Don’t go changing.
I remember sitting in my local Craft Emporium, Stag and Bow, during one of their legendary Friday Evening Socials having forgotten my sewing project (but remembered the wine…go figure). I was watching Big Daddy Cyrus juggle feeding their baby daughter Bertie whilst simultaneously hand sewing teensy hexagon shaped pieces of fabric around card. It looked fascinating (the sewing not the feeding…) I wanted to have a go. So Cyrus instructed me in the basics, whilst Bertie covered herself in hummus. Then he left me to it. I purchased a pack of small Quilting templates the next day and began in earnest. This was April 2014.
I cleaned out an empty icecream tub – an excuse to buy some more – and filled it with fabric, templates, scissors, thread and a needle. Sewing Warrior ready, I took my Crafty Quilting container almost everywhere. I quilted on the Tube and on the Overground. I quilted in cafes, in parks and on the beach. I quilted whilst watching House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Masterchef (two series) and The Great British Sewing Bee to name a few. I quilted in Banbury, Nottingham, Helsinki and Barbados.
My growing quilt never failed to spark a conversation. Others became fascinated by the colours, patterns and skill. They marveled at the tiny hand stitches and my patience. Complete strangers wanted to know what I was making. Many shared treasured memories of family or loved ones who had quilted or other types of sewing. Some said they wanted to go home and finish (or start) a crafting project. I loved those journeys.I quilted from heavily stressful times into hopeful ones. My quilt allowed me to move slowly but steadily through uncertainty and ill health to strength and encouragement. It grew and it spread and gathered momentum just as I was forced to make some major decisions about my own life. Every scrap of cotton reminds me of something I made, or a memory of the person I created an item for, or where I was when I bought it. The abundant variety and stunning colours never fail to lift my spirits. Each piece has significance, however small. I often wonder why I chose, for my first EVER quilting project, to attempt something so vast and potentially so daunting. Why didn’t I just make a very simple cushion cover…or a placemat? It didn’t actually occur to me. I just thought ‘patchwork’ and then ‘quilt’. That was that really. I focused on the process, not the end product. I really loved watching my quilt grow, create its own space, until it almost developed a personality of its own.
It’s now May 2015 and my Quilt of Wonder is complete. It took fifty-six weeks. Had I know this when I started I would probably never have done it. Over a year to sew something together? Bonkers! But I’m SO glad that I started. Not only has it been my therapy, its an absolute, all-encompassing beauty. And I made it. ME. *grins*
Credit: Cushion and lamp (just seen) by Arhinarmah
*blinks in the sunlight*
Well HELLO there! It HAS been a while!
I’d really like to report back that I’ve been super busy making and selling and being uber-productive. But the truth is that I’ve been stepping down, having a ponder, making things for me and learning to simply ‘be’.
More on that later.
Fair warning as Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close this post WILL actually touch on mental health. Mine. So if that makes you a little uncomfortable then now’s the time to go and make a cuppa.
Still here? Oh. Good!
A few months ago a respected friend, Momtaz aka @TheCraftcafe , asked me to guest on her, then new, weekly show on One Harmony Radio who are a community internet radio station based in Brockley, SE London. At the time I was in, shall we say, a ‘difficult place’. I had been off work for months and the doctors had been chucking scary words like ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Depression’ in my direction. Frankly I was in a bit of a state about it all. Talking sense? To an actual person? Over the airwaves? Not uppermost in my thoughts.
But I had HOPE (wonderful stuff. I highly recommend). So we made a flexible plan and, several weeks later, I found myself sitting in front of a microphone at an unheard of hour on a Saturday morning.
Momtaz introduced me as her ‘Best Dressed guest ever!’ thereby cleverly ensuring that I would be putty in her hands for the duration of her show. Good one, Momtaz. Although it was nerve-racking, (watching Momtaz in action was like an masterclass in Radio to me. So effortless!), the topic is so close to my heart that I found it easy to chat and open up. The hardest part was shutting up when the little coloured lights were on/off/whatever they do. Flash?
I learned to sew in my teens thanks to the patience and expertise of my mum. Newly single and working to a tight budget she would turn her creative hand to most things out of necessity. I liked it. Loved it, in fact. Now my mum ‘persuades’ me to sew everything for her. Fair enough.
Throughout my life the Arts, in a variety of forms, have always been my place of solace. My natural home. I became a kick-ass (not literally. Illegal apparently) dance teacher and always marveled at my students ability to create and express themselves regardless of ability, age or gender. When, after a pesky injury, I began to focus more on my sewing skillset it never occurred to me that the same wouldn’t apply. People are often surprised that I taught boys to sew. ‘SACRE BLEU!!’ they exclaim. (French-speaking of course….with a flair for melodrama). Craft knows no gender. Fact. It’s SO much more than the activity. It’s that feeling of pride, of making something from practically nothing. Learning a new skill or perfecting a new one. That feeling of worth and achievement. It can’t be beaten! One of my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE things is to show others how and then watch them run away with it. (not literally because that’s dangerous) To those of you who say ‘Oh I’m no good at *insert suitably creative activity here*” I say ‘Pah’! And ‘Try!’. And other (clean) one syllable expressions.
The advice for the millions (yep. Worth keeping in mind next time you feel like you’re on your own) of people out there experiencing Anxiety or Depression is well documented. And a great deal of it involves getting out and ‘doing’ things. In the spirit of ‘doing’ you can’t go far wrong with trying a new skill. Can you see where I’m going here? My experience has always been that when the going got tough (seriously resisting the urge to embed THAT Billy Ocean tune into this post) if I could get to my sewing machine, or pick up a crochet hook or teach myself to knit half a sock *glances feebly at half knitted sock* then I’d be moving in the right direction. UP (in case you hadn’t figured it out).
It might work for you.
Back to Radioland. So Momtaz and I chatted and I made a bit of sense (allegedly) and we how we laughed and Momtaz played some FAB-ulous music (what happened to PM Dawn? Anyone?) and before we knew it the show was over! *sniff*
At time of writing I am still a Work in Progress. But aren’t we all? I’ve made some positive and life-shifting changes (to put it mildly). But I know I won’t be giving up sewing (or teaching others to sew) anytime soon.
Of course now I also want to be a DJ….
It’s no secret that I love to create. I just can’t help it. I am currently making yet another hat with the fabulous Katty Janneh at her millinery workshop. My latest creation is a purple cloche of perfection that I’ve worn almost constantly since it came off the block. There is now a luscious leopard print sun hat in progress. It’s an addiction for which I hope there is no cure.
At 17 I hastily dropped A Level Design and Technology after a particularly off-putting brief that involved designing a plug. Just, NO. Up until the day of reckoning I had completed some lovely projects. My absolute favourite was a resin and brass brooch in the shape of a womans pout (it was the late 70’s…shush). Yet as far as I was concerned my foray into jewellery making stopped there.
Fast forward several decades.
I have been admiring Victoria’s exquisite creations from afar and love the quirky take she has on her silver jewellery designs. When the chance to attend her new workshop in silver smithing arose I jumped at it.
I was going to make the necklace for myself. Again. But as every hat I’ve ever made has ended up on my own head I decided to make these tags as a gift for mama. *polishes halo*
So one windy weekend we descended upon a quiet unsuspecting part of South West London. After a welcome cuppa (perfect) Victoria took us gently through our paces. We learnt to use a Band Saw without breaking a blade (oh yeah), work a bow drill (harder than it looks but so soothing once you ‘get’ it) and sand pieces of silver so that they glowed with pleasure.
We practised on bits of copper then moved swiftly (for us novices) on to the real thing. We frowned and concentrated and giggled and chatted whilst we worked (there may have been whistling) Victoria did an amaaaazing demonstration making one of her signature love heart necklaces that made it look so easy!
We drank more tea and then we ate Victorias delicious homemade cake. Lots of it. Seemed a shame not to really.
My tags stayed behind so that they could be machine-polished properly into their final shiny glory. When they arrived in the post a few days later I literally gasped with delight! Not only is it a beautiful necklace but I made it – with lots of help but even so – I MADE IT!
So I’m hooked on creating. Again. That sense of achievement cannot be easily beaten.
If you want to book one of Victorias silver smithing workshops contact her here.
And/or if you want to try your hand at making hats with Katty Janneh try here.
What about YOU? What do you love creating? Is there something new that you’d like to try your hand at this year?
Do tell… *pats sofa*
They came bearing gifts.
My three fresh-faced crafters – one Nervous and Quiet, another Mature and Polite and her younger sister grinning with barely concealed EXCITEMENT – brought a huge bag full of fabric goodies…and a cushion. Not just any cushion but a ma-HOOSIVE cushion “I’d like to make a cover for THIS!”, Mature and Polite announced with a flourish and a winning smile.
How could I resist a challenge put so optimistically!
These lovely girls, eager to learn how to use a sewing machine properly and make something useful in the process, descended upon my kitchen workshop one Tuesday during half term.
As the day progressed their confidence developed as the projects they had merely imagined began to take shape. We talked of favourite subjects at school and ballet vs contemporary dance and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes. We imagined a world where you could sew only using strawberry laces for thread (don’t ask). Meanwhile Nervous and Polite was morphing into another entirely different character – Excitable and Curious – whose favourite phrase became “but what’s the point of that”? Fortunately I knew the answers. Honest.
After a break (my trio had scurried home for lunch “to give you a rest” as one of their mothers succinctly put it) all three bundles of energy bounded back inside to finish their projects.
A couple of hours later a MASSIVE cushion cover, a colourful Kindle Bag with a strap and an hand-appliqued Tote Bag emerged. I was so pleased with their application and their relentless efforts. But, more importantly, they were thrilled and couldn’t wait to show off their creations at home!
A Half Term Tuesday very well spent.
Tiring? No doubt but worth every moment. Nothing beats that sense of pride in creating something from scratch and learning a new skill – or passing one on. Priceless.
What about you? Have you made something you’re really proud of? What gives you a sense of fulfilment?
A little Forest Hill Fashion for y’all.
The second is a short featuring my designs by Media production company IndieVisual
Picture the scene. A skinny ten year old girl lying on the floor in her mothers bedroom. Underneath her slight frame a brightly patterned length of folded stretch chiffon in purple and pink. A borrowed felt pen in hand and an oversized pair of forbidden dressmaking shears nearby. She wriggles as she hastily tries to draw her rough outline from ankle to underarm on either side of her body. Stops briefly to listen to sounds of her mothers soft footsteps – just in case she is caught in the process of fabric butchery – especially as said fabric happens to belong to the unsuspecting adult. Reassured, markings complete, the excited youngster carefully cuts a hole for her head on the centre fold of the fabric and threads a needle with novice hands. Finally, rough back-stitch and half an hour later, The Most Beautiful Kaftan In The World is born.
Ok so it wasn’t perfect. I (yes the youngster was me – how did you guess?) had completely overlooked the fact that I would need to actually move around in my creation so it was a little tight on the legs. But, oh, when I raised my arms and shimmied (hobbled) down my mothers bedroom catwalk, I felt like the most celebrated fashion designer slash model alive!
Fast forward 40 years. Having rejected ‘Fashion Designer’ as a viable career (too competitive for my inherently ‘lazy’ nature ) I chose Dance instead. Go figure. I continued to design and sew clothes for myself and later, my family, whilst a pursued my teaching career.
In February 2013 the first Forest Hill Fashion Week (FHFW) took place and I was lucky enough to become involved with my business Reddskinbags. September 20th – 25th 2013 saw our second event, it’s bigger, brighter and altogether more glamorous sister.
A Live catwalk show took place at The Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill. The evening kicked off five days of talks, demonstrations and workshops related to craft and fashion. On the evening of Friday 20th September a magical Horniman conservatory was alive with vibrant stalls showcasing the creations of local talented designers, most of whom also had their unique designs in the show.
For my part, I had (finally) taken the plunge and designed a tiny collection of four pieces to accompany my bag designs. Undoubtedly, THE best decision I’ve ever made. It was a fan-TASTIC evening. The Forest Hill area exploded with Fashionistas and their friends eager to find out what the fuss was all about and support a wonderfully exciting event.
So much energy and enthusiasm converged to display a warm community spirit that was a pleasure and a privilege to witness. A huge thank you to Penelope Else, the visionary and driving force behind Forest Hill Fashion, and to the human dynamo Charlotte Cameron who organised the Catwalk Show and Cherrelle, bubbly stylist extraordinare.
These photos are a teensy snippet of my part in Forest Hill Fashion Week. There are many more pictures of the designers, characters and their work by London Photographer Sara and Belle Studio. Have a look. Take your time. Is ‘history in the making’ too grand an observation? Who knows?
How FHFW will evolve only time will tell. It wouldn’t have been so successful without the time and efforts of many brilliant volunteers – take this as a Big Fat Thank you! *holds applause card up for a very long time*
What are the next steps for Reddskinbags?
As usual … watch this space!
Why hats? I have NO idea. I think that, as usual, I wanted to set myself a challenge…push a few boundaries. I don’t know whether I had heard of Katty Janneh or whether I was browsing for courses. But either way suddenly all roads seemed to lead to Katty. I was powerless to resist!
Lets be clear here. I knew (know) nothing about hat making and, if I’m honest, I completely underestimated the time and effort it takes to make just one simple creation. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
Katty Janneh is a extremely talented milliner who makes fabulous bespoke creations and whose stockists include Selfridges in Londinium.
Katty was uber-organised and spent time and effort compiling a list of items to purchase and bring along to the first session. So, naturally, I spent 4 weeks ignoring it and only looked on the day. BIG mistake. Already at the bottom of the class and I hadn’t even started yet!
Luckily Katty is an accommodating soul with a generous spirit (I’ll have my payment in cash please) and magicked up some sinamay; a natural fibre from the Philippines, to make a fascinator from. There were some techniques, like attaching the wire to help keep its shape, that made me swear under my breath.
And there were sublime parts where Katty showed me how to make sinamay bias strip. Seriously cool! Anyway I’m pretty darn proud of my first attempt!
Katty is an amenable soul with a wonderful sense of humour. Lets face it, you’d have to have a huge one of those to teach a gaggle of women with a mixture of abilities and personalities. Katty is definitely a natural.
So for my next trick, I decided a hot pink trilby would be the way forward. Clearly, subtlety has never been my forté.
I purchased a parisal cone (check me out with my millinery jargon!) then had to treat it with a concoction that looked suspiciously like skimmed milk although I’m assured that it wasn’t. Next I had to wrap cling film around a wooden block in the shape of my hat and stretch the cone over it, pinning in place as I went.
Now, I consider myself as having decent upper body strength. Pah! Katty came along – removed most of my pins (that had taken eons to push in!), re-stretched a portion of my Trilby-to-be with the combined strength of the Williams sisters and reattached the pins with a “now do the rest like that!” flourish. She is GOOD. *completely impressed face*
I have always respected creatives. Obviously. Having a vision and making it REAL is a skill that many, sadly, find hard to appreciate. But I now have a new found REEEEE-spect for milliners. Hats off to you all!
And thank YOU, Katty, for putting up with me and allowing me to enrol on the second millinery course! This time it’s bright red wool. I can’t wait!
Have you taken up a new hobby or challenge recently?
I was lucky enough to have been involved in Forest Hills very own Fashion Week, scheduled to coincide with London Fashion Week. “Who needs LFW when you can have FHFW?” was the strap line. It took place during half term from February 15th to 19th. Gosh it seems like an age ago now!
Penny, Louise and their trusty team of SEE3 volunteers worked tirelessly to produce A Fashion Week to remember! After a Sunday afternoon of photoshoot fun the posters of volunteer models arrived in local shops and outlets. It’s me!
It all happened so quickly! The first I heard that I was on a poster was when the boys at the school I teach in started saying ‘Miss! We saw you in Sainsburys!’. Huh?
We even made in to Time Out!
The Week kicked off with an opening night at The Sylvan Post, a wonderful restaurant and bar converted from the old Forest Hill Post Office and with many of the original features. That Friday also saw the opening of a new pop-up shop in Forest Hill Love Ur Look run by stylist and businesswoman Ronke Fashola. This quirky outlet has lots of beautiful outfits and gifts to suit many budgets. Ronke will be taking her fabulousness elsewhere very soon so don’t miss out!
Forest Hill became a happy hive of activity! There were fashion upcycling workshops and craft workshops as well as events and sales in lots of lovely local shops. I ran a free Corsage making session at Forest Hills newest Art gallery The Montage. We had great fun turning scraps of fabric into fabulous accessories!
My next workshop was at the same venue teaching keen newbies how to upcycle a plastic bottle into a beautiful bangle. Maria Ramil Photos popped along to take photos some of which you can see in her funky slideshow .
Later that day I was able to squeeze myself into one of my favourite shops Stag and Bow where a knowledgeable Pascale was teaching how to make a detachable collar. I joined a group of women with a range of sewing abilities and had a grand old time chatting and creating. I’m thrilled with the result too!
Sunday evening saw Soul Train event at Art Gallery and workshop space Canvas and Cream who were also celebrating their first birthday. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun! It must have been my lucky night because not only was I handed a free glass of prosecco as the 20th person to arrive but I also won a goodie bag for being ‘Best Mover’. Oh yeah!
On Monday (I do hope you’re keeping up here) , on the way to the Catwalk Show dress rehearsal, I popped in to Stag and Bow again (I can’t keep away) to browse the Twisted Vintage sale. They make delightful pieces upcycling discarded or broken pieces in to delectable jewellery. This piece of gorgeousness is now one of my favourite bracelets in my collection. Because I’m worth it of course!
The final Catwalk show was filled with fabulous fashion creations and outfits from local designers and shops including, Best of Both Boutique, Doopodoopo, Bunka, Stag and Bow, Love Ur Look, Twisted Vintage, Katherine Harrison, The White Room SE4 and so many more! It truly was a night to remember. For me not least because it was the first time I had seen a selection of my bags ‘in situ’ on the catwalk. I’m definitely hankering for more of that fashion action.
You can see more pictures of the Catwalk Wrap Show here
The worlds first Forest Hill Fashion Week was over almost as quickly as it began. I thoroughly enjoyed filling my half term with fashion and craft and creating. Frankly I cannot wait to do it all over again!
What? Did you think that was IT?
Missed it? Want to catch the next one? Follow @SEE3PortasPilot on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to their email newsletter .
A couple of months ago I was approached by Joanna at Canvas and Cream, our new Art Gallery in Forest Hill, to run a craft workshop for a hen party. The bride to be and her friends and family were due to descend upon this gorgeous space for bubbly, tea and baked deliciousness one Saturday in September. Corsage making was to be the icing on their proverbial cake.
Crafty parties are an original way to celebrate any occasion with friends or family in the comfort of your home. The best part is that you don’t need to have any sewing experience, just a willingness to nurture your creative spirit and some mates to share it with!
So let me see…crafting….AND cake? How could I refuse?
Now many of you already know that I have been a teacher for a looooong time so you wouldn’t think that this kind of gig would daunt me would you? WRONG.
Teaching a class of 30 pupils, whilst extremely challenging at times, could no longer be described as daunting. Teaching a room of your peers, some of whom will probably have consumed at least one glass of a bubbly beverage is an entirely different matter.
My lovely daughter gave me advice on the drive over: ‘Mum, you’re fabulous! It’ll be FUN!’
I needn’t have worried at all.
The lovely ladies were seated, fairly sober and eager to get started. Some ladies were avid sewers and some had little experience but all wanted to find their creative side which was the most exciting part!
I gave a short demonstration and before I knew it they were reaching frantically to choose from colourful scrap fabrics and embellishments.
I was impressed by their enthusiasm and the combinations they all came up with and I think that they surprised themselves too! I hope that they all had a great afternoon…I know that I did!
Oh…and the cakes were delicious too!
Just me and my head like a pea, eating all the vegan food.
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