It began with knitting.

As a child I liked drawing, and even showed some modest talent. Once adulthood came the demands of first studying (I studied History at Sussex in the UK, and then a year or so of Mandarin at Renmin University in Beijing) and then work took up most of my energy, leaving little time for creativity.

Working in recruitment for 10 years, most of it in a sales function (with sales targets!) and then as a director in a bank for another 8 years, meant that when my brain was fired up it was mostly focused in the direction of furthering my career. At the end of the work day I was happy to switch it off and spend any free time reading, cooking, and playing daft computer games when I had a spare minute from the husband and kids.

The bank where I worked had an employee volunteering program where you could claim annual leave days in return for specified volunteering activities. In my first year there my (male) boss was tasked to recruit volunteers from his team for the “knit a scarf for the needy and get one day leave” program (I forget the exact name..). Although he was not much of a knitter he sat with some of us in the staff canteen, pushing aside the empty dimsum baskets to demonstrate how to knit with string and a pair of chopsticks. Keen to get the extra day’s leave I figured out how to knit the scarf, and that was how I learnt to knit.

From the misshapen squares at the beginning (which had a habit of ending wider than they started) to my first sock, and then my first wearable sweater, I caught the knitting habit hard. I still knit almost every day. But I did wish there was a faster way to produce garments. As a young girl I had one of those fashion plate toys – the ones with interchangeable pink plastic plates with various outlined shapes of wardrobe items (tops, skirts, pants, etc), and you could choose a top, bottom and hairstyle plate combination and snap them into the base. Once the plates were in place you place drawing paper on top and rubbed a crayon over it to create an outfit. When my drawing improved, I dispensed with the toy and spent days daydreaming and sketching imagined catwalk outfits.

I looked online for sewing courses and found a beginners’ class at ITS Education, where I learnt basic stitches on sewing machine, how to make a buttonhole, install a zip, and use interfacing. Here I learnt that fabric scissors are NOT for cutting paper or indeed anything other than fabric. And that ironing is indispensable and makes everything look more professional. My first sewn garment was a button-down shirt for my son, and Hayley Charlotte was my patient and inspiring teacher. She also showed me how to sew knits and helped me with my first hoodie using cotton lycra knit.

These days, I don’t have as much time to sew as I’d like to, and to be honest I am still not the best sewist. I can whip up some simple t shirts, joggers and leggings, and the most complicated thing I sewed recently was a Hufflepuff lined cloak for Halloween for my daughter. 5 hours of sewing (with a satin lining!! I hate satin..) and I think she wore it once for one morning at school. I am still not a huge fan of button holes or zips, or indeed anything that can’t be sewn entirely on the overlocker. But I am grateful to sewing as it has led me to my true creative outlet – fabric design.

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