Stitches in time with glass of wine for busy mums
Chrissy Harris meets members of a 'swig and sew' group whose creations are in high demand.
It started off with an informal get-together, involving needles, thread and the odd glass of wine.
But for Helen Baker and her friends, their casual "swig and sew" group has led to bright futures in the world of arts and crafts.
The Truro-based mothers have developed their sewing talents and gone on to launch online shops and regularly take part in craft fairs across Cornwall.
Their unique designs, many of which are inspired by the landscape, are worked on in between school runs and the daily chaos of family life.
"I just like the fact that I get to indulge in my creativity," said Helen, 34. "I love the way I can pick it up and put it down again. Sewing is such a flexible craft. It fits around my day and I find it so rewarding when I've been able to make something so personal for people."
Helen, who has two boys, Louis, five, and Max, three, worked as a primary school teacher but found the job difficult to balance with two young children.
"I went back to work after Max was born but it was really draining," she says. "It just didn't seem to fit – school had to be the focus or my family did. It was too hard to juggle both.
"I left work and concentrated on being a mum, but as a bit of light relief, started going to a 'swig and sew' group some friends of mine were involved in."
Helen has always liked getting creative and grew up with her mum making the family's clothes. In addition, her grandmother ran a wedding dress-making business. "I went to the group which was basically a chance for us all to meet up at each others' houses, bring our sewing and have a chat and a laugh," said Helen.
"I started making things for myself while I was there and then a friend asked me to do something for her. Then I had the idea to start making personalised PE bags for the kids and word quickly spread in the school playground."
Now Helen has an online shop to showcase the personalised gifts she makes, including baby blankets, tea cosies and even applique collages of peoples' homes, using textiles.
She works from home, often on her landing, using her grandmother's old dress-cutting board and her trusty vintage Singer sewing machine.
Many of the materials Helen uses, including some of the threads, are recycled and she likes to use fabric that has sentimental value to people. She has had orders from all over the world, including Switzerland and the USA, as well as many playground requests from other mothers in Truro.
"There's definitely a market for people who want personalised gifts," said Helen, whose work is influenced by Cornwall's coast, in particular, St Agnes where she grew up.
"I get a real kick out of it because I can see that it means so much to the people who are giving and receiving what I've made," she said. "I didn't start off thinking I would make money out of all this but I definitely am. And to think it all started with swig and sew."
Emmie Rowlands-Pritchard also credits the "swiggers" with helping her to re-discover her love of sewing. The 37-year-old used to be a nurse but took a career break when she had her children, Joseph, now five and Ollie, two.
She said: 'I'd always liked making things and sewing, before I had the children. I went back to work as a nurse in Bristol after I had Joseph but then we moved down to Cornwall and I decided to be a stay-at-home mum.
"The 'swig and sew' group helped me to focus on what I enjoy. Going every week made me give myself projects to work on and helped move me on to bigger and better things."
Emmie, who also lives in Truro, now has an online shop and regularly has orders from overseas for her handmade bags and accessories.
She spends every weekend and evening working from home and will have more time to devote to her fledgling business, once her youngest son starts pre-school.
"It's like any job," she said. "Sometimes it's hard to motivate yourself when you've had a tough day at home with the kids but I absolutely love it. It's meant I can be at home with my family, which was important to me. I'm excited about the future now. I want to expand what I'm doing."
Heidi Morgan, 41, wants to see her sewing business grow too. The fellow "swigger" makes quirky hot water bottle covers in the shape of sleepy owls, badgers and foxes.
Her designs have a growing fan base through her online shop and Heidi, who also has a part-time job with a charity, is keen to develop her sideline interest.
Heidi, mother to Imogen, seven, and Xanthe, three, says she never dreamed she would one day be selling her hand-made designs.
"I don't think I would have even started doing it if it wasn't for 'swig and sew'," she said. "I went along and saw what other people were doing and it just grew from there.
"It's a really lovely feeling that you've sat there and created something at home that someone else likes as well and wants to buy.
"It's just so nice to have something else that isn't work or children. It's a fantastic creative outlet."
For information, visit sewcoastal.com, emmieshop.etsy.com, folksy.com/shops/HiDesigns and etsy.com/shop/SpideyDesigns.