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.
This post is about Fashion, Photography and Mental Health. If any or all of these topics make you a little squeamish I suggest you LOOK AWAY NOW.
Still here? Good.
I was hoping that the old adage ‘third time lucky’ would prove itself to be true when I found myself making plans for a Reddskin photoshoot last month. It had been a long time coming. I had saved up my hard-earned pennies. I had gathered my favourite, talented and (most important) fun loving models, Layia Johnson and Jordon Bolessa. I had nabbed the wonderfully warm MUA I had been busting a gut to work with since Forest Hill Fashion Week in 2014, Muna Hassan. And, finally, I was thrilled that my favourite photographer – for her work and her open spirit – Sara Atteby, was available and actually excited to work with me. Everything was in place. All we needed was some amenable weather. Cue praying to Gods and putting a LOT of positivity into The Universe.
Please note: No animals were sacrificed during the planning of this event.
Why ‘third time’? Weeellll…hmmm…ummm. Honestly?
Attempt 1: March 2015.
Thwarted by being off sick from my actual (ex) job. The threat of Gross Misconduct did not appeal to me (‘working’ whilst off ill). Plus I had lost the will to sew therefore I didn’t have any new stock to photograph.
Whilst we’re on the subject. There aren’t powerful enough words to accurately describe what it feels like to lose the will to do something you have always loved. Something that has always given you life. Uplifted you. Completed you. But Depression (yep. Big ‘D’. That’s what we’re talking about here) does that. For me it was like watching the world continue without me through a pair of Vaseline-smeared sunglasses…under water. Something like that. Frankly, it was shit.
Attempt 2: June 2015.
In theory this would have a been a better time to steam ahead. I was feeling a LOT better**. We had fairly predictable fine-ish (this IS Britain after all) weather and my willing, talented team were almost assembled. I was conveniently overlooking the fact that I had recently left behind a 28 year teaching career and suffered a bereavement in the family. I was trying to execute a Will, had organised a funeral (My first one. Not recommended) and was trying to ‘manage’ my grief. (Seriously? Who does that? Lesson learned), amongst other things that I won’t go into here (who said ‘Phew’?). Plus I *still* hadn’t produced many more creations. But, I was worrying frantically, I had postponed the first planned photoshoot and I couldn’t let anyone down (I know, I KNOW!).
It would HAVE to go ahead, wouldn’t it?
Well actually it wouldn’t. The Universe was clearly listening HARD. One of my lovely models had a car accident (!) on the morning of the shoot and ended up in hospital, unhurt mostly, but in shock. She called to say she was late but on her way (Dedicated? Yes. Bonkers? Definitely!) and I told her to go home and rest. My understanding co-collaborators were gracious and everything went ‘on hold’.
Third and final attempt. September 2015.
I was ready. WE were ready. All systems go! Transport For London tried to hold us back with their all too usual weekend engineering works but we were having NONE OF IT! The skies held up and the sun even made an appearance. George, the wonderful owner of a local cafe Kente, fed and watered us when we had finished. The team were on top form, we got some great shots and, most importantly, we had FUN!
The results are dotted throughout this website. I hope you like them as much as we do!
I considered filing this post under TMI (too much information) but I figured ‘Why not?’. I am acutely aware of the awkward shuffles and embarrassing silences that STILL surround the topic of Mental health. I’ve been on the receiving end and, to be honest, it just makes you feel worse.
I am a human being who happens to be a Fashion designer. I, like all of us, am a Work in Progress. Many things have occurred throughout these 12 months. They’ve brought me to now… as I write these words. Some factors I felt able to control and some simply happened. I am eternally thankful to some amazing friends and family who supported and continue to check in with me. Yes I feel (much) better. I am also fully aware that whatever this is isn’t over (is it ever?). How I approach my own mental health, and that of others, is VERY different now. I am kinder to myself and I am open to change.
So to anyone reading this who is having a tough time and feels that life is being an absolute bugger (understatement Klaxon), you’re going to have to trust me on this one, things can and do improve. You never stay still. All those old cliches and adages, especially the one that goes ‘This too shall pass’ (the jury’s out on who said this first) Well its true. Living proof right here y’all!
If you made it to the end of this post, thank you for staying.
Feel free to comment on any or all of the above. Don’t be shy…I would love to hear your views.
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
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?
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!
As with many of my ideas, this one came from a casual conversation with some friends over a glass of wine, possibly in my kitchen I can’t honestly remember. Maybe it was more than one glass. Hey ho!
Our comprehensive survey – four slightly tipsy women and their mates – concluded that many people have a sewing machine at home but haven’t a Danny La Rue what to do with it. When one friend quipped “Wouldn’t it be great if we there was a local expert who could teach us?’, aaaaaand then they all stared in my direction, I thought “Actually, they might be on to something”.
Add one flustered neighbour ringing my doorbell one evening who was having ‘a bit of trouble’ with her sewing machine. In a fit of thriftiness and blind optimism she had agreed to make the costumes for her children…all three … for the school play…the next day.
I figured that it was time to don my proverbial sewing cape.
Never one to shy away from a new challenge (Flamenco style wedding dress with 14 metres of fabric, anyone?) I set about making plans.
I love teaching – I love textiles – and I LOVE teaching textiles. This seemed like a wonderful opportunity to combine the two without leaving my cosy home!
We’ll chalk that up as a WIN.
I have never described myself as an ‘expert’ but I do know my way around a sewing machine. I like to think I have a way of working that gets the point across without it being (too) baffling and is fairly good fun. What’s the point if it isn’t?
Naturally we all started with a welcoming cup of tea. It’s the law apparently.
My lovely clients were keen and enthusiastic and we had a LOT of laughs! They even did their homework!
Jo and Lea made a fabulous zipless cushion cover. Jo would like me to highlight the fact that she made the back panels match. On purpose. Honest!
Kirsty made a Christmas stocking for one of her boys so successfully she’s making another one as I write. So clever!
Now no self respecting Sewing Course would be complete without a congratulatory certificate. My ladies are ready to go and wield their talent as fully fledged Sewing Warriors!
I’m so PROUD of them! *sniff*
There is something really special about creating. That overwhelming sense of achievement – gained from doing something you never thought possible – takes some beating….in adults as well as children *turns death stare towards the current Education Secretary*
I raise my glass to Jo, Kirsty and Lea, my FIRST Sewing Warriors. May they share their zest for crafting with many more!
Sewing classes are popping up everywhere – as the combination of penny saving and new challenges kick in. If this whets your appetite, why not make finding a local sewing class your New Years Resolution?
I’ve always been a sucker for a bargain and it’s no secret that I LOVE clothes. So when Penelope – genius founder of Frockcycle – invited to me join her and Paulina Palian – fabulous fashion designer – on a visit to a recycling warehouse I jumped at the chance.
“Don’t forget the gloves…” read Penny’s last message.
We arrived in the blistering heat (yay Summer!) to be greeted by a spectacular sight – hundreds of clothes items drying in the sunshine.
Our mission was to find some fashion faux pas’s for a Frockcycle event on Saturday 28th July. This exciting day is for anyone who wants help and inspiration to transform an beast of a garment into beautiful creation.
Chris Carey Collections is a family run business in South East London whose mission is to recycle unwanted clothes responsibly. Clothes are sorted in to sections according to value or condition by knowledgeable staff. Once signed in (it’s worth calling first) you can take your pick then pay by kg or item, depending on the items, on departure.
So, gloves on and sporting a fetching neon vest (no pictorial evidence…you MUST be joking!) The Frockcycle Three were ready to rummage!
Except for one thing… I had forgotten how truly rubbish I am at the rummaging part. Pun intended. You see I’m more of a ‘Clothes in neat colour-coded rows on rails’ kinda gal if I’m really honest. *Diva face*
So whilst the Dream Team Penny and Paulina filled their recyclable sacks with all sorts of fabulous finds, I leant more of a critical eye. I’m really good at that!
I DID find this over sized skirt though…
However I wear it as a vibrant top! I LOVE it!
Come along and have some fun at Frockcycle…or have a go yourself at home! Trust me – an afternoon trying your old clothes on backwards and upside down is the new shopping! (and with friends and wine – hey it’s a party!)
What about you? Do you dive in regardless and rummage?
Are you a Diver… or a Diva?
by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'
Twenty something taking control of her mental health. Anxiety & depression sufferer. Learning as I go.
Sewing, making and creating...most of the time.
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artist and embroiderer
Fashion Stylist. Fashionista. Naturalista. London.
Story telling, bad dancing, much eating.
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