We’re delighted to have Mark Francis from season 6 of The Great British Sewing Bee join our Juki Club Team of contributors. Read on to find out about Mark’s penchant for forgotten fabrics and linen cupboards.
New stuff from old sheets
Our first blog post from British Sewing Bee contestant Mark Francis is inspired by his great Aunty Rene who lived to the ripe old age of 96 and left behind, among other things, a glorious linen cupboard. Do you remember the linen cupboards in your parents or grandparents house? I do!
When Mark’s Great Aunty Rene passed away, he found himself drawn to the forgotten linen cupboard stuffed full of faithful sheets and duvet sets, patiently waiting in the warm dry space to be put to good use. Mark and his sister had the unenviable task of clearing Aunty Rene’s house prior to the sale. We’ll leave Mark to tell the story.
Clearing the house
No one enjoys this task I don’t think, it’s usually dusty and dirty work. You’ve probably no idea what half the stuff is, or was, but you’re also aware that your loved one kept it because it meant something to them. Its origins and history may be lost forever. Nevertheless, I was keen to make sure that these formerly prized possessions were reused, recycled or re-homed. I love to start with the linen cupboard.
Aunty Rene’s house had a marvelous linen cupboard, well stocked with valuable sheets and duvets. My sister was helping clear the house and is very pragmatic about these things. She just wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible. As someone who didn’t sew, she was happy to let all this valuable cotton go to be ragged, or relegated to the landfill!!
Tribute to a sewist
Such a horror could not be the fate of Aunty Rene’s prized linen collection! Although I had no use for them as linen, I just had to rescue them! I was sure that I could do something more with them. As a fellow sewer, I felt that Aunty Rene would approve of my decision to save the valuable fabric and put it to good use. But this did beg the question, can I really sew with bed sheets?
A friend of mine describes sewing as alchemy. We take a large piece of fabric, chop it up into strange shapes and stitch it back together again. In light of that, of course, any fabric can be used to make something. The innate potential is there waiting to be discovered. So don’t pass up that old duvet cover or upholstery fabric off-cut in the charity shop. It could be your next masterpiece.
I had no idea at that point, exactly what I would make from the heaving stash. My usual way of working is to fall in love with the fabric first, and figure out what to do with it later.
The sheets were not just plain white & cream. They were all kinds of lovely 1960’s or 70’s shades and designs; floral, striped and plain, in yellow, lilac, blue and green. I was itching to transform them.
The heavy load was heaved home, along with an antique electric Singer sewing machine and loads of haberdashery bits and bobs. There were lovely skirt lengths of tweed fabric that were never used and a jacket all cut out and ready to be sewn up. I even saved a couple of her wool skirts she’d made and repaired for decades. These were going to be dismantled and reassembled as something else one day. I was going to make Aunty Rene proud.
Now at this point, I’d only been sewing a very short time. I thought my rescued linen would have to wait patiently for my skills to improve. But my turning point came when I realised that I could use this vintage fabric NOW while I was learning to sew and use it to improve my skills. If I made a mess of it, it wouldn’t matter. Then again, it just might be a success. Either way, the rescued linen had a purpose. It became something that I could practice on.
Looking back, the vintage bed sheets have been used to make many things; shirts, pj’s, linings, quilts and toils. Many of them are currently being used and worn on a regular basis. They are rich high grade cotton, really strong and will wash perfectly again and again without shrinking.
I was even able to wear a bed sheet shirt on my first episode of The Great British Sewing Bee. I was very proud when Patrick hadn’t noticed the fabrics origin or that I’d made it myself, until I told him. It was difficult to choose what to wear for GBSB each week. Once I realised that it was an opportunity to show off our skills, I decided to wear at least one thing I’d made for every episode. Until I ran out of TV worthy handmade clothes, of course.
Now I keep up this tradition with my regular appearances on Sewing Street TV. My challenge is to make sure that the fabrics don’t strobe on camera!
Rescue and Re-use
In closing, I think we should all do our best to keep fabric from landfill. There are many charities and business such as The Worcestershire Resource Exchange and AMO Threads, that sell fabric and haberdashery. It’s a better option to re-use and re-purpose fabrics that were once destined to the eternal depths of the earth. I’m relieved that Aunty Rene’s sheets and duvets were saved from that dark and uncertain fate.
I love saving resources. I love discovering hidden treasures and it pains me to think of the amount of usable materials going to waste everyday. I’m so glad that I rescued the contents of Great Aunty Rene’s linen cupboard. You really can sew with bed sheets.
Two years ago, Mark’s husband Clive (who also sews on a Juki machine,) applied for him to enter series 6 of The Great British Sewing Bee, and life hasn’t been the same since. Mark’s time in the sewing room, working alongside an incredible bunch of creative, enthusiastic and hardworking individuals, both in front of and behind the camera, gave him the push he needed to be able to change his life and refocus on the things he loves the most.
You can find out more about Mark and visit his shop at www.sewmarkfrancis.com and follow him on Instagram @sewmarkfrancis. Mark is a regular contributor to Sewing Street. We look forward to enjoying more of his posts here at Juki Club.