I learnt to sew as a small child at my mother’s knee. Like many 70's children home crafts were the weekend activity of choice, and my Sindy doll regularly needed a new outfit if Action Man was going to notice her during one of those romantic camping trips they used to go on in the Sindy beach buggy!
Scraps of delicate fabric, stashed in my mother’s sewing basket from outfits she had made for herself, and heavy weight William Morris style prints from home furnishings that she had expertly conjured up whilst we were at school lay there waiting, no fabric got lost in action at the hands of my mother, and there it sat in her basket until I got my hands on it. Sindy was a lucky lady or so I thought!! I wasn't given pocket money like my best friend who was able to go to the toy shop in town to buy a new outfit for her doll, my mother was not prepared to spend money on those tiny clothes whilst there was a needle, thread and fabric sat at home, and where was the fun in buying something when you could make it? So, left to my own devices my crude little outfits with slashed armholes and plaited wool belts got lashed together with a combination of running stitch and back stitch. As I got older I was allowed control over the sewing machine, progress was much quicker, but just as I learnt to sew properly, my Sindy fell out of favour and besides at the hands of my brothers, Action Man had tortured her; I found her dangling upside down and naked from the top of the stairs one afternoon, but the final blow was cast when her and Action Man ‘accidently’ fell in the bonfire, abruptly ending their torrid love affair.
Undeterred and encouraged by my mother and my Grandmother’s, who had assisted in the dolls clothes making (Sindy and Action Man had matching knitted jumpers and corduroys) my sewing journey continued. I learnt to applique, I made little scenes with the fabric scraps, I enjoyed the story telling process, I even won prizes for my creativity.
Admittedly the GCSE sewing years were a bit of a wilderness. My very strict textiles teacher whose name I have blanked from my memory was a smartly dressed woman that hadn’t caught up with the 80’s vibe. She was determined to teach 1950’s couture with sharp lines and budgeting, whilst we all wanted neon and more slashing and Boy George style outfits. Needless to say, we clashed, when she gave us an inch, we took a mile. My giant hamburger cushion with stuffed tomato, bacon, lettuce, and an appliqued sesame seed bun, the perfect 80’s kitsch item for a teenage bedroom was the kind of thing that made Miss whatever her name’s hair turn instantly grey and wish that the youth of the day had a little more control and restraint. I think she retired soon after we, her first GCSE year finished the course!
I decided after this educational torture of feeling creatively squashed that textiles would always just be a hobby and that sculpture and photography would be the thing. I merrily set off on my A Levels following a new path but kept textiles in my life, waiting to make another debut at some point. That point came just a year later after completing my Art Foundation when my tutors suggested I take a degree in Textile design.
Fast forward a million years, and a career in printed textiles, here I am at my sewing machine creating intricate sculptures, still living in a bit of a fantasy world, believing that anything is possible. My childhood passions gave me the skills and ability to find my way. I’m sure if my weekends had been filled with cooking or gardening or bike mechanics, then my path might have been different. Communication via creativity is an incredibly important life skill that my mother taught me, she has never discouraged me, she’s always been there to cheer me on at the side line, even in the burger years!
I have encouraged my own daughter to express her creativity; our extended time at home together has thankfully been a luxury. We’ve talked, baked, drawn, walked and laughed together, more than today’s average teenager usually would with a parent, it’s been like a return to the seventies without the sexism and the power cuts! I’ve also let her get on with creating alone and just as my own mother did with me, I have been there to help when asked.
Being creative is not all about following a formula although that is sometimes necessary, creativity is about learning to put your own spin on something and playing with ideas. The most beautiful things do not come from a copy, they come from what’s inside of us and our life experiences. Often if you dare to step out of the comfort zone, magic happens.
Sindy and Action Man were clearly leading a double life depending on whose hands they were in however both my brothers and I have found that expressing ourselves creatively in adulthood has come remarkably easy, with all credit to our parents who have always encouraged and believed in us. I am positive that this is not every child’s experience but if I could offer just one little piece of advice to all parents it would be to let your children explore as many creative opportunities as possible and encourage them, even throughout the burger phase!
I’d love to hear of your creative childhood experience, did it feature the making of tiny clothes or a ghastly teacher??
Food and crafting are high on the list of activities here.
I am happy to discover Sindy and her Beach buggy on Pinterest although I will be having stern words with my brothers as they seem to be valuable these days!