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On Sharing Needles.

October 29, 2017


For the past 4 years Ive been working on and off on The Constant Thread- a stitched social history armchair and footstool, which can be found on my other wordpress blog aconstantthread. This Summer with funding from the small grants team at Northampton Borough Council I teamed up with School for Life and Voluntary Impact Northampton to try out a community sewing workshop at a couple of local events.

abi at rocking roadrunner

Good friends who stitch helped with the embellishments as well as sewers from Brookside Hall.  The chair draws people in and encourages them to share stories about the places where they worked.

The chair formed one part of a larger project this Summer to engage the local community with sewing and making. We planned a workshop which used proper sewing skills and not just glueing a few glittery sprinkles onto a bit of paper.  I wanted to plan something which was ambitious and encouraged people to plan out their design and concentrate.



Rocking RR

World wide knit in public day was in June and saw hundreds of knitters descend on Abington Park to spend a great day together, enjoying the sunshine and each others company.  We pitched up our sewing workshop and spent the day showing  folk how to make a mini skittle doll.


kate at RR

August saw us in Abington Park again for the Rocking Roadrunner event .  We had an awesome full-on day teaching folk to sew and make.



Doll outline RR

We screenprint the outline onto cotton which can be decorated using stamps, textiles pens, sequins or fabrics.  No glue allowed.  We encourage people to sew as much as possible and surprisingly the children will always try patiently to stitch as best as they can.  Their parents not so much. We incorporate skilled techniques into the workshops like  casting off properly, bagging out, applying sequins and beads and using the correct stitches.  For those in a hurry they can always take a bag of bits and bobs home with them to finish at their leisure.




workshop RR



Mostly though, people get immersed and sometimes a bit competitive and sometimes a bit compulsive too.  Everyone leaves proudly with something they’ve made themselves. There’s no better feeling.

Tamsyn at RR


Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate

January 1, 2017


Ive been working with Ria Rich who screenprints and handpaints her own range of one-off lampshades, cushions and prints for interiors. She has a super little studio/shop over at the Old dairy Craft Centre in Upper Stowe. Since she outgrew her studio in Burns St her work and range of commission pieces has began to sell well.


I loved the haphazard and painterly nature of her work. Earlier last year we talked about working together to produce clothing. However, after my first attempts to teach Ria to sew it became apparent that we would be waiting a long time to become millionaires. She’s better working with the screens and Im better sitting on the sewing machine.


Working with another persons input allows you to consider different colourways, because whether we like it or not we all work with our preferred colour palette. I would pass quickly over a chocolate brown or pale grey preferring always to opt for orange, pink and green . But we were working on neutral backgrounds, something I don’t often do so we had interesting discussions when considering our colour choices. Although they always started with coral.


This range is a complete departure for me. I’m used to working with a lot more “pattern” in terms of surface design and garment structure. I’d had requests from my customers for a looser well designed piece of clothing which had attractive surface design and above all was functional, comfortable and had pockets. We chose linen because as its washed and worn it becomes softer, has a lovely drape and yet is hard wearing. The prints also absorb into the linen and have a “lived in” look, which is very aesthetically pleasing.


I designed a cross over apron dress with large front pockets. This design is based on ones that florists wear and is by no means exclusive. Our combination of hand-painting, printing and surface design elevate them to unique original pieces and you’ll never find two the same.


I like to take cuttings of Swiss embroidered ribbon, vintage trims and buttons to make tags for the pockets, they serve no purpose but look great and our customers love them. I also take snippets of vintage fabrics and incorporate them into the design making petals or larger floral motifs which I can then free machine embroider around.


We’ve called our range Tissu Touchante based on the French linens we use. We have linen in stock which we’re taking to fairs so customers can choose their own and liaise with us when choosing their apron dress. We’re really looking forward to taking our new range out on the road and our first fair is at  landmark Arts in Teddington in March with an introduction to the range and our own workshops at The Artists Table night market on Nov 17th in Northampton.


In the meantime you can buy here.

Upside down. Back to Front. Inside Out.

December 5, 2016


I’ve just returned from 2 weeks wardrobe install aboard the Ms Maasdam, flying to Sydney and cruising around New Zealand. Within the past fortnight I have flown around the world, eaten my own body weight in airline meals and spent a whopping 33hrs traveling home. After a 12 hr flight from Auckland on Friday morning we arrived in Los Angeles 2 hrs before we took off, which means that at some point when I was in the air I’d ceased to exist,(must be the space/time continuum Spock)Now I have finally returned home and the jet lag has jangled up my bits and exhausted my brain I’m feeling upside down and inside out. Ive been awake since 3am so have decided to utilize my time and write a blog post.
I was surprised by how familiar New Zealand felt. The country was coming into Summer and the trees and plants were similar to those at home. It was like crash landing into my 1970’s childhood- shops had an individuality about them, time was slower and the race for mass consumption rampant capitalism hadn’t yet tightened it’s grip on the Western world.


New Zealanders’ are very protective of their native species, proud of their produce, heritage and culture. Auckland was simply stunning and once industrial areas alongside the waterfront had been re-developed into neighborhoods. Old shipping containers had been decorated and re-designed into spaces for yoga classes and lounges for reading and hanging out. Bars, cafes and restaurants had been built from old warehouses. And on summer evenings classic films are projected onto the sides of silo grain stores for pic-nicers. Duck ponds, benches, basketball courts and running tracks meant that people spent time together just hanging out and being.

It was a pleasure to see so many thriving bookstores.  In a trendy shopping street called Ponsonby Road there were vintage clothes shops, boutiques, tattoo parlours, barbers, cigar shops, wine merchants, bike shops, cafes and coffee shops, art stores, galleries and sex shops. No chain stores in sight, not one Starbucks or McDonalds.



There’s one hell of a lot of delicious ice cream parlours, most of them have won awards of one type or another and all of them use milk and cream from local herds. I had a date, honey and orange cone from Joy ice-creams where the queue snaked out of the door and onto the pavement. Being English I understand the rules of queuing and was rewarded with a waffle cone of complete and utter deliciousness.


Definitely the best way to see any place is to wander aimlessly and sniff the air. If it smells rough you’ve probably wandered into the public toilets or the bushes. New Zealand folks seemed nice and friendly so I asked in shops “where should I go” “what should i eat?” or in the ice cream parlor “what flavor should I buy?” as an aside I also got to sample rather a lot of delicious flavors!
I used to think that the English have grown quaint,eccentric and have peculiar habits like Morris dancing due to the fact that we’re an island race and we have a rich unique history to draw from. We’ve always been more stylish in a shabby eclectic type of way with our tweedy jackets and interesting hosiery. But more and more we’re being drawn to the beige side of life with our clone towns, black leggings uniform and desire for Next homewares. I despair and wonder what will happen? who will be there to fight for the honey bees, save our native species and fight to be individual? why don’t we want to be original?
Like they do in new Zealand.

All the world’s a stage…

August 7, 2016


Its been an aeon since I last wrote a blog post and loads has happened in that time. I get asked a lot about what type of work I do and how the whole set up works. So I thought I’d write a (lengthy) blog post about it because It’s fairly interesting.  Plus, as well,  you don’t plan for a job like this, you can’t do a course at university on it. It’s just something that I fell into through a series of happy circumstances, luck and being in the right pace at the right time. Is that serendipity ?

I had been working in my studio, making stock, booking in sales and making plans.  At the same time I was working freelance for a production company here in Northampton. Altering and making costumes for cruise ships going working in their wardrobe department when they were busy.


Costumes waiting for fittings.


The cast (singers and dancers) are auditioned from far and wide.  Lots of the dancers are from Russia or the Ukraine and the singers are from all over. Many have worked for the company before.  Auditions are held in London, Moscow, new York or by Skype. All the rehearsals take place in Northampton and last about 2 months and at that time the cast live together in a big house.  All the fittings for costumes take place in this time too. Typically there’s 3 dance couples and 2 male and 2 female singers although this depends on the ship.  Each show has a number of costume changes, anything from 3 up to 7 or 8 depending on the show.  And there could be up to 5 shows , depending on the length of the cruise and again the size of the ship. All in all,  it adds up to a lot of costumes hundreds and hundreds plus shoes.  Every costume has to be fitted onto the person and altered in such a way that it can be let out  or in again for the next person.  This all adds up to some tricky skillful alterations. Sometimes the costumes need re making.  In which case we make a pattern from the old costume and try to find matching trims and fabrics.  All of the costumes are either flown or freighted over to the ship.  Sometimes, we have to take extra cases of costumes with us. It’s a huge logistical operation.


Taking in dancers costume between shows.


Then I fly out with a small wardrobe team  to wherever the ship is. It could be in The Med but the ones Ive done this year have been in America or the far East. This normally entails a long haul flight a transfer flight to the ship, lots of airline food,  an overnight in a hotel and an early morning pick up.



Ms Veendam in drydock in Freeport the Bahamas.



We embark the ship, this normally takes a long time because we are service staff, not crew and not passengers. Very often we don’t appear on any list so there’s hours of waiting around.  When we arrive on the ship we go backstage and unpack and hang the costumes  get our bearings, sort shoes. It’s  always a strange and long first day. Often we’re feeling wired from a long flight and jet-lagged.  The ship’s often empty when we embark and we’re familiar with the layout so can just nip and get a cup of tea (I take Yorkshire tea bags with me now) and set to work .  Some hours later when we’ve finished, the ship is teeming with wandering passengers who are all discovering things for the first time and are very excited and also very lost. We go to the front desk to discover which cabins we’ve been allocated.  Allocation of cabins is a bit of a lottery really and depends on how many passengers have booked onto the cruise.  Sometimes, we get passenger cabins and other times it’s crew cabins and we also move about from cabin to cabin too. Nevertheless, It’s always a relief to get in any cabin after the first days work,  unpack, watch some tv  (because there’s no satellite the programmes and films are shown on a loop) and pray that sleep will come quickly. Inevitably you wake in the morning not knowing were the hell you are.

The next day the fun begins…


Myself (standing) and Amy backstage enjoying a lovely holiday.


We have a show schedule of  shows which will be on the cruise.  Some of the shows will not have been fitted and usually dancers costumes won’t have all been fitted either.  Dancers  are easier to fit because they all tend to be a similar size. I have a bursting pride for our dancers who are incredibly disciplined, seriously fit and nearly always cheery and happy.  Its hard to leave home and travel to a different country when you’re so young, they miss home and

for some of them It’s their first contract and they worry about being sea-sick .  I make sure I take plenty of sweets with me to share around.  It’s a good ice-breaker it’s good to have a chat and relax backstage.  I’ve learnt to say “Bullshit” in Russian. Helpful .



Wardrobe fittings with the dancers.


Our tasks are different for each day.  We liaise with the choreographer to organize when fittings can take place .  We also mend the accessories and head gear, label stuff, clean and have to go shopping for stuff which could be missing from a show or costumes.  The first time I ever went on a ship I had to get off in a very snowy Copenhagen with no idea where I was going and buy 2 pairs of white plastic clip on earrings, fishnet tights , hairpins and handcream. Some days we have rehearsal and dress rehearsals which is another opportunity to see outfits on stage. Lots of hems need to be re-altered because the sight line has changed.



Rehearsals and wig fittings for Classique.

After the dress rehearsal we usually have “notes” a list of all the things which need fixing before the show.


Dress rehearsal for Atlantic Crossing.


Although by the night of the show we may have sat through it about 3 times it always feels different with an audience. The shows are always the thing that passengers really look forward to on a ship. The atmosphere has a real buzz and we always get a great reception.  We have 2 shows a night and have been known to have wardrobe malfunctions between shows which need fixing.  Dancers put their heels through dress hems, zips on flyholes bust, poppers come undone. Luckily this isn’t a regular occurrence.


Headpieces for Droom.


I work for 2 or 3 weeks at a stretch so there’s no Friday feeling and no weekend.  Eventually, there’s a point when the days begin to blend . In the lifts they have a carpet with the days of the week on.  Eventually you only know what day it is by checking in the lift. When the ship docks the passengers go on day trips and the ship’s silent save for a few doing a jig saw. Sea days are long and we sometimes get bewildered lost passengers wandering backstage. Only if the weather is really rough is the show cancelled and this does happen, the dancers won’t perform lifts and the show will be re-blocked. I so sometimes wonder what passengers expectations are because I hear them complaining that the ships moving too much! It’s something they don’t mention in the adverts.   We do still go to work if we feel sick but usually tablets work ok.  The ship has stabilizers and its nice to be rocked to sleep.



Costume parade.


If we can’t manage to complete all the fittings before we’re flown home we do a costume parade.  This is where everyone puts on each outfit their wearing for the remaining shows and we check them.  Its like a quickie version of miss world.  We work on the notes for these costumes in the remaining days.

Apart from the wonderful team of people I work with, the luxury confines of the ships and the wage.  I get to visit some beautiful places in the world. I’d never in a lifetime get to see these places so my job is on the whole a privilege. It’s surreal sometimes and I have moments where I miss my family a lot.  But they get lots of foreign sweets with rude names..


Singapore the world’s busiest shipping lanes.


Fisherman somewhere in Indonesia.


Homage to the Twin Towers Singapore.



Puerto Rico.


Woman sewing cambodia.



Bali-The day David Bowie died.


Half Moon Cay-BVI






Curry House Skagway Alaska.



Glacier Bay national park. Alaska.