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Make do and mend all sown up
9:30am Wednesday 11th April 2012 in Features
NATALYA WILSON learns a useful new skill at a Ryedale craft workshop
AS I awkwardly teetered along the makeshift catwalk, the newly-created skirt that was hanging around my waist was something I was quite adamant I would never be seen in ever again.
This was 1986, and our latest home economics project at school had just come to a close.
We’d been taught how to make a skirt and were showcasing our finished garments, though most of our efforts resembled some kind of hybrid between a tent and sheet tacked round our waists – not quite the latest creations by Vivienne Westwood or Ossie Clark.
This was hardly a reflection of the dressmaking skills that my nana had always displayed over the years, having made beautifully-crafted clothes for my brother and me when we were small, complicated, gorgeous items for my mum and auntie and lovely dresses for herself.
However, as part of the war generation when make do and mend was the mantra, she had developed some fine skills which she, like many ladies of the era, had developed when money was tight and clothes had to be created by employing handy dressmaking skills or fixed with a nifty needle and thread.
Fast-forward nearly 70 years, with the current challenging economic climate, people are reverting back to this ethos.
However, creating a piece of clothing doesn’t just involve backstitching a seam or hemming a trouser leg. To make a good job of a sewing project, there are plenty of skills to learn and sewing groups and classes are gaining in popularity as people strive to gain the skills to make their own garments.
The Silver Thimble, at Barton Hill, welcomes sewers of all ages and skill sets. Kath Allaway, who previously worked in a high-pressured job for a police authority, always had a passion for sewing, having been taught by her aunt from being four or five years old.
When she took early retirement six years ago, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to turn her passion into a business, and so she teamed up with Nicola Hulme, who previously had a craft shop in Malton, and The Silver Thimble came into being.
Both Kath and Nicola, who is a member of the Embroiderers Guild, teach a number of workshops consolidating many needlework skills and crafts, including patchwork, crewel work, ribbon work, hand embroidery and stumpwork.
They also run workshops led by other specialist tutors, including quilt work, beading, gold work and even watercolour painting for those whose creative skills extend beyond a needle and thread.
There are also oneoff workshops on subjects such as covering lampshades, making bags and boxes and Japanese Saishiko, plus a course on getting to know your sewing machine.
Kath also offers a quilt finishing service using a Gammill long-arm quilting machine – a giant sewing machine which looks like a cross between a loom and a printing press, on which she can put together people’s quilts.
Kath says that they will also be running dressmaking workshops soon, due to popular demand.
“More and more younger people especially are getting interested in dressmaking,”
said Kath, who believes that this is a reflection of the demands of the economic climate.
“It is often cheaper to make your own clothes – not to mention that it would be bespoke and made-tomeasure and of high quality – and you can also say ‘I made that myself’. Dressmaking has become the new fashion.”
The Silver Thimble also runs sewing sessions on Wednesday daytimes and evenings, Thursdays and some Saturdays, when people can bring their own projects or finish something they started earlier, with help and advice on hand from Kath or Nicola.
“These are four-hour drop-in sessions where people come along with a whole range of projects,” said Kath.
“We don’t teach as such during these sessions, but we offer plenty of tips and a helping hand. It’s a regular group and many also come along for the social side as it’s really friendly.”
Armed with a needle, thread and plenty of enthusiasm, I went along to one of these workshops to learn some essential sewing skills and encountered people from all different backgrounds, working on many different projects, who regularly travel from as near as Malton and as far away as Driffield and Shipley, near Bradford.
Carol Holt has been coming two or three times a week since Nicola opened her Malton shop.
“I was taught sewing by my grandmother, including dressmaking, and it’s very rewarding as it’s a lot cheaper and you can make something to fit exactly,” she said.
“There are so many things going on here and everyone takes lots of pride in their work – everyone is very friendly and we all get a lot out of discussing each others’ work and techniques.”
Angela Fuller, tackling her colourful patchwork, said she enjoyed being able to sit and concentrate solely on sewing, and get plenty of help and advice.
Mary Harris has been travelling to the workshops for three years from her home in Driffield and was finishing off a beautifully colour-co-ordinated patchwork quilt.
“The thing most people struggle with is colour,” she told me.
“It’s something I have learned a lot about through coming to workshops here. There was one workshop all about colour balance which was really useful as I didn’t have a clue about it.
“Here, we don’t learn through books but through experienced tuition.”
Materials, cottons and the tools needed for the job, including Pfaff sewing machines, are also for sale at The Silver Thimble. Kath and Nicola can offer plenty of advice about colour coordinating materials and what materials and machines suit a particular individual’s needs.
“Being here is like being in a sweet shop, with all these gorgeous materials to choose from,” laughed Mary.
“People take up sewing for all sorts of reasons,” added Kath.
“There’s so much scope and so many techniques that it can become quite addictive.”
The Silver Thimble is hosting an open day on May 26. For details, visit www.thesilverthimble.co.uk