Have you ever considered a Career in Sewing? Do you dream of ditching the 9-5 and pursuing your creative dreams? In this blog series we will be posting interviews for a range of different sewing jobs to give you a taste of what possibilities are out there. Today we interview Elisalex who is the Head Designer at cult pattern company By Hand London.
What is your background and how you have ended up working where you are?
Having grown up in a fashion household – my mother was a designer and ran her studio from home – I went on to study shoemaking when I left school with a view to becoming the next Christian Louboutin. I started up my own label fairly soon after I graduated, and despite being incredibly young and naive, I had some success on the London eco-fashion scene until the credit crunch hit! My son was born around that time too, so I quickly realised that juggling an impossible career in sustainable fashion and being a full time mother wasn’t going to work. After I quit the shoes, I set myself a sort of grace period, where I allowed myself 6 months to not freak out over my lack of career and focus only on what made me happy, which at the time was pretty much my son, sewing, other types of making, my son, and then some more sewing! During that time I discovered the wonder that was/still is the online sewing community, and then a random coffee with my old school pal Charlotte resulted in the beginnings of BHL. The rest, as they say, is now history!
Can you tell us about your job and where you work?
I, together with my partner Charlotte, design and produce digital sewing patterns. We both work from home.
What do you do in a typical day?
A typical day at By Hand London will vary enormously dependent on what stage we’re at in the pattern production process. I’ll either be sampling, designing, writing instructions, blogging, fabric shopping, replying to customer emails, the lot. One day a week Charlotte and I spend together, and we’ll try to take that time to plan future patterns and products, take pictures of each other’s recent makes (because solo blog photography is sooooo painful!) and snuggle her new baby!
What are the best and worst bits?
Having total autonomy of the way you work is the best and the worst part of my job! It’s a double edged sword. On the one hand I get to dictate my hours, be around when my son gets home from school, and let my work take me on fun and creative tangents. But on the other hand, I have to keep myself motivated, accountable and in check – which can be a real challenge when I’m just not feeling it!
Did you always want a creative career?
Absolutely. Other than the time I wanted to be a private detective, I’ve always known I would end up on a creative path. I grew up with my Mum who ran a womenswear label and I loved the buzz of her home studio, and I’m sure that gave me my first taste! I had a few jobs in retail when I left school which I loved, but as soon as I set up my first business (high end sustainable footwear label Nina Dolcetti) and had my son aged 24, a steady 9-5 was never going to cut it for me…!
What qualifications, skills or experience did you need to get your job? Have you continued to train since starting?
Technically, none! The beauty of starting your own thing is that no one’s going to be checking up on your CV. I was already an accomplished and experienced sewer, knew the basics of pattern cutting, and had a diploma in shoemaking. Add to that a failed footwear label behind me, and I’d say I was equipped with a pretty good range of skills and experience when we started BHL! And while I’d love to go back to university one day for some more formal training/education, I’d say that one of the best things about running your own business is that you are constantly learning and adapting as you go.
Do you have any tips for someone looking to get into the same thing as you?
Don’t go it alone! Having a business partner is the best. Running your own creative business can be very lonely at times, and there’s nothing like loneliness to annihilate your inspiration! Having someone to bounce ideas off, celebrate the highs and share the lows with makes it all the more exciting and bearable.
If you could do anything else what would it be?
A professional figure skater, a jewel thief or sex therapist! I’d also love to be a shoe designer again one day.
What is you favourite sewing tool?
Oooh that’s a hard one. I think it would have to be the humble ole needle. What an invention! I remember seeing one of those survival documentaries years ago and the guy was showing us how to carefully snap the tip of a certain cactus off, while continuing to peel away the fibre down the length of the leaf, resulting in a sharp needle point with essentially a length of leaf vein thread trailing behind it. So cool.
What are you sewing right now/will be your next project?
I’m currently working my way through my Summer Sewing List, with the Charlie Caftan by Closet Case Patterns on my sewing table right now. We’ve also got a pretty serious winter pattern in the works, another party dress pattern, and a little fun and frivolous something extra…