I have been “making things” for as long as I can remember. I started sewing soft toys when I was just nine years old. My father remembered me disappearing into my bedroom and emerging three hours later with a family of plush mice, resplendent in sailor outfits. In my early teens, I made rag doll versions of all the band members of U2 complete with drum kits, wooden guitars and tight jeans. (My first foray into “make-do-and-mend” was when I asked my gran to unravel a yellow jumper so that the wool would replicate Adam Clayton’s curly blonde perm). I was soon commissioned to make replicas of my friend’s favourite rock stars, although I drew the line at trying to make my own version of my all-time hero Johnny Marr – or his mate Morrissey. Even then, I knew my limitations.
I branched into making my own clothes during the 1980s, mainly because I wanted to look “different”. My early creations certainly made me stand out from the crowd, including a particularly loud jumpsuit made out of a pair of bold red and white striped kitchen curtains, a tie-dyed green and yellow dress (also made from curtains) and an orange skirt, created from one leg of a pair of extremely wide flared trousers (left over from the 70s) donated by my aunt.
Mercifully, as the years passed my skills and tastes improved, and by the time I was in my mid-20s, after first training and working as a broadcast journalist and newsreader on BBC and commercial radio for five years, I took the plunge and launched my own clothing label alongside freelancing as a journalist.
The business originally concentrated on vintage inspired clothing and hats, and then more recently on handbags and jewellery influenced by the styles of the 1910s to 1950s. I sold through boutiques, craft fairs, fashion shows and galleries, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The business satisfied my need to create and my passion for all things vintage.
With a move to Australia on the cards and the shine of sitting at a sewing machine for six hours a day beginning to wear off, I decided to broaden my skills. I read heaps of books, studied and gained more qualifications in journalism and further education teaching, and taught classes in handbag and jewellery design at colleges in the UK while writing my first book Making Vintage Bags. The transition to sewing pattern design was a natural progression really, combining my design skills with a love of traditional fabrics without the labour of having to create dozens of each item to sell. The first book showcased 20 of my sewing patterns for handbags based on the styles of the first half of the 20th century.
Migrating to Western Australia permanently in 2003 forced a career change and I returned to journalism virtually full time working for Community Newspaper Group in Perth. I still couldn’t put the creative urges entirely behind me though and my second book Making Vintage Jewellery was written and published soon after my arrival in Australia.
I love journalism and the opportunities it presents to meet interesting people and find out about the culture, history and politics of another country. However, much as I try, I can’t seem to live without fabric and design. I wrote Making Vintage Accessories while in Australia, which was published in October 2009.
Now back in my native Suffolk, UK and working for a regional daily newspaper, I still design and make jewellery for the gallery market and for magazine projects when I get time. I have a big stash of terrific vintage buttons and beads which are just begging to be turned into wearable art. I love jewellery design because no two pieces ever need be the same. I am a big fan of variety.
Because the books have been so well received by lovely sewing enthusiasts around the world, I have now launched my own range of sewing patterns. PDF patterns and sewing kits are available at my Etsy shop www.charliesaunt.etsy.com. I also have a range of Charlie’s Aunt printed sewing patterns, which are distributed in the US to the wholesale market and sold through sewing shops and boutiques. In addition, I have designed four paper patterns for Indygo Junction. For information on any of my endeavours, check the Charlie’s Aunt Facebook page to see what projects are on the agenda for the coming season. Become a Charlie’s Aunt fan at our Facebook page. Visit the Etsy shop to buy patterns and kits.
Other random skills and passions:
- Running (at least four times a week…British weather permitting)
- Playing the oboe and piano
- Devising soup recipes
- Going for long walks in the countryside
- Sharing good food with the people I love
- Sausage dogs (I so want one)
- Birds (especially sparrows…like me, they are insignificant to look at but feisty on the inside)
- Scotland and its wonderful tweed
Why Charlie’s Aunt?
I named my business Charlie’s Aunt in honour of my nephew Charlie. We lost Charlie’s mother, my dear sister Sarah, to breast cancer in 2002, aged just 37. She used to be the perfect model for my clothing business and her enthusiasm and encouragement for my work was boundless. I still miss her every single day and she continues to be one of my biggest inspirations.