Hand-made stitch skills have got it all sewn up

Sewing classes are being run at the Rowantree Workshops, Nassington, where people can learn how to make & mend. Pictured is owner and teacher Margaret Rowan with Anne Russell, who is re-covering cushions.
Sewing classes are being run at the Rowantree Workshops, Nassington, where people can learn how to make & mend. Pictured is owner and teacher Margaret Rowan with Anne Russell, who is re-covering cushions.

As household budgets come under even more pressure, more and more women are trying their hands at making their own clothes, soft furnishings and gifts.

Laura Bird explores this blossoming world of make do and mend.

A growing army of Northamptonshire women – and men – are turning their backs on the high street in favour of making their own clothes, soft furnishings and homeware.

Some are even taking their new make do and mend skills a step further by selling their home-made wares at craft fairs, like the one being held at The Naseby Hotel, Sheep Street, Kettering, tomorrow.

Spurred on by the likes of Channel 4’s craft queen Kirsty Alsop the trend for home-made and hand-made items is at an all time high in the county, as Fran Sherborn of Kettering-based website Little Gift Store verifies.

“I am not sure why there has been such a resurgence,” she says, “I think it could be to do with the recession. People are really interested in making things from old items. There is a lot of up-cycling going on.

“People are really learning new skills, they are not just re-hemming items or patching up holes, but making something interesting out of things they just have lying around.”

Margaret Rowan, of Rowantree Workshops in Nassington, has a wealth of qualifications and experience in fashion and textiles and runs a variety of classes teaching everything from knitting to making rag rugs to lino print cards at her Station Road studios.

She has seen a significant increase in the number of women signing up for her classes since she opened her business a year ago.

“I have some older women who have retired and have a bit more time to use skills they learnt as youngsters, but I also have young mums who just want to become creative and have never made anything before,” she explains.

Participants in her classes range from the age of eight to 80.

“I think people are beginning to realise how good it is to create something for yourself. I also think people are once again becoming more homey – they are focusing much more on their homes. People are more interested in food and growing their own. It is not just about crafts, but a general resurgence in being busy at home.”

Many enjoy making their own clothing and soft furnishings to give their home a unique look with bespoke items, which would cost considerably more to buy than to make.

“There are so many ways to make your living space unique or what you are wearing stand out. A lady came in today who had knitted a lovely cape to go over her coat and my class pounced on her when she came in to admire it. It looked amazing. All it took to make was two balls of yarn, but it looked as if it was worth quite a bit.”

Margaret recommends people interested in learning a new skill look for a class in their area. She believes it is easier to learn new skills like handstitching or knitting after being shown what to do,

“I think you are less likely to give up if you have someone to ask for advice,” she says.

Although some may be put off by the initial cost of a class, she says it is easy to recoup your costs if you continue to employ your new skills.

“It may cost around £120 to take a one day course to learn how to make a Roman blind, but if you had one made for you it would cost at least double that. If you take the course and only make yourself two blinds you have saved yourself a lot of money.”

Fran recommends using the internet to help learn new skills as there are an abundance of ‘how to’ films available online.

As well as helping save money, mum of two Fran has found making her own items has had benefits for her health too.

“The main reason I got into craft was because I struggled with post natal anxiety. It was something that was recommended to me to busy my mind. A lot of people I have met in the craft world have had anxiety issues or post natal depression.”

Fran established her website in September last year for her own and her mum’s interest, but has seen it grow dramatically and unexpectedly in the past four months.

It contains a wealth of information about how to get involved in crafts and things that are for sale and going on in the north Northamptonshire area.

Fran believes this is a great place to embrace the new make do and mend culture. There are thriving fabric and craft shops in our town centres, classes at places like the Rowantree Workshops, and, importantly for her, a bustling car boot sale at Wicksteed Park every week where you can pick up unworn items of clothing for pennies rather than pounds and turn them into something different.

“This way of living is very accessible for all, no matter what your budget or your skills you can get involved and make your own items.”