I work full time and I’ve always enjoyed my job. That is, until relatively recently. There are a few reasons why this has changed but mostly I think it’s because I never have a spare moment and the battle to find time to do the things that I get the most pleasure out of, is a losing one. Working full time, having a full life and a busy social life makes you time poor. I want to redress that work / life balance and see if I can go back to my countryside roots at the same time.
I was born and grew up in the rural north east in the middle of nowhere. The street we lived in was one of what should have been thousands of streets built to house miners and their families. The coal seam this mining town was to exhaust was found to be a tiny seam with no promise of enough coal to sustain a town of miners. The building work stopped after the completion of 45 two up two down terraced houses that were left in the middle of the Durham countryside. It’s still a strange sight to drive through.
Growing up, mum made all our clothes, mostly my brother & I wore outfits made in the same fabric but styled to suit our age and gender. She baked, knitted sweaters for dad and kept home. Dad had left farming and tried different jobs varying from the farming he had been born into, to a cement technician. None of these jobs seemed to satisfy and he eventually settled into running a small holding in east anglia. By this time, he was no longer with us and was starting a new family with 2 step sons and a new baby. My two new brothers and my baby sister!
All during this time, I had learned to sew with my mum, knit with my Gran and was constantly painting and drawing. More often than not, I’d disappear over the fields for the day or down to the beck and just draw. I was a very solitary youngster and found great solace in the peace and creativity. At the time, my favourites thing to paint and draw were trees, plants and flower, particularly primroses.
Eventually my art turned more and more to sewing until I was quite handy at making my own clothes. These thrifty skills served me well as a fashion conscious teenager. There was no spare money in the house and the tiny bit I got from my saturday job in a toy shop was either for buying fabrics or going to the pub with my friends.
My mum had won a sewing machine in a competition in Stitchcraft Magazine and she gave it to me at Christmas when I was about 13. It made a huge difference to me and meant I could make all my own clothes but I also made soft toys that I advertised in the local paper and sold to supplement my meagre shop earnings.
That wonderful little sewing machine stitched it’s way through my ‘O’ levels and my ‘A’ levels and I still use it now. It is a bit of a strange colour as it has not maintained it’s original creamy colour but it has travelled all over the UK, and beyond, with me and I love it. The day will come when it gives up the ghost and I will be gutted but I don’t want to think about it.
Straight after ‘A’ levels and with a considerable lack of direction regarding careers, I took a job as a Nanny for 4 small children in Highgate, North London. It meant leaving home of course, so off I headed not really knowing what to expect.
I’d never been to London before, apart from the interview for the job and was quite home sick at first but realised that there were great opportunities there and great inspirations. I still made my own clothes, knitted my own sweaters and sewed my own room decorations as well as various items of clothes for the kids I looked after and for my baby sis as she turned into my little sis.
I was constantly being thrown out of boutiques for sketching or photographing what I’d just tried on and then disappearing home to rustle it up on my machine. I wasn’t earning much for my efforts in child care so I took sewing jobs from the mums of the other kids as well as piece work for a ladies fashion designer in Mill Hill.
I moved out of london with the family I nannied for and kept sewing until I decided that I had to find a direction for my artistic talents. Art school it was, and for a year I studied all the options open to me through a foundation course. The disciplines varied from ceramics and textiles to photography and jewellery design and I loved them all in their way. But I chose to pursue a career in spacial design or more commonly called interior design.
I qualified in Newcastle before moving back to london and I have been a london based designer ever since. The early 90s recession was tough but I survived it and I think I might survive this one. But it has made me seriously think about the work life balance. I enjoy what I do mostly but it isn’t something I would chose to do in the evenings or at the weekends, though it seems that that happens anyway. I do know, however, that I would sew and make stuff all day, into the evenings and at weekends too.
There are some great things that have come out of my life in London though. I have the best friends ever, a cute wee dog and I also have a wonderful better half. We live in a flat in an interesting part of North London and it is very close to most of my friends. But it is time for the balance to change. JC (same wonderful better half) & I decided not to move into a bigger place in London but to invest in a little house out in the countryside. We looked at lots of different places but we chose the house we have so we could be near my sis, niece and some other members of our family. It is about 2 hours from London but nicely out in the sticks and comes with access to thousands of acres of farmland (not our thousands of acres unfortunately), horses, shooting, walks and a fabulous conservation pond that is a real escape. All these fabulous things have made me yearn for the joys of my rural childhood.
Our little house hasn’t much by way of spare space but it does have a yet unused small bedroom at the back and I have been slowly formulating a plan to turn it into a compact little workroom and office so that I can give up the city and earn a country living doing my sewing and making. JC, however, has just installed his telescope, his full size drum kit and my full size keyboard, so I think my plan may be on hold for a moment and the sewing machine will be set up at the kitchen table when required, as it is now……..
It’s difficult to make that leap from one thing to the other when it also involves a move from one type of home life to a completely different type of home life. When time permits, I’ve been sewing for myself and when friends have had babies, I’ve made blankets and quilts. I’ve also taken commissions or have been making gifts for friends and family but the move to making a living from my sewing works isn’t quite happening yet. I’ll admit to it being a bit of a daunting prospect. What if I fail? I’ve received quite a bit of positive feedback about my work from friends and family but they aren’t the buying public and the buying public may not feel the same about my hand made stuff as my friends & family do.
JC has even offered to be my ‘dragon’. The conditions are that he get 80% of my business and I stop full time work altogether in order to pursue it properly. That is a tough deal – 80%??????. So what is stopping me? We would rent out the flat to cover the mortgage and live off one salary until things picked up. I have to admit to wanting to do it without help, I want to do it slowly so I can adjust and I don’t want to answer to anyone but myself. That is the top and bottom of it. As a result, it will take a bit of time yet before it is a done deal.
Whilst slowly working my way towards my goal my sis needs to design and build my web site for me (handy having a web site designer in the family) and I need to get into blogging as well as a miriad of other things to help with ‘traffic’ to my site and ultimately my stuff for sale.
In the meantime, I should get on with the quilt I’m doing for Liza’s little boy Bertie, before he’s ready to go off to university.
perhaps I ought to get off to bed for an early night as JC & I are getting married tomorrow!!!!!