FEATURE: Crafting’s a stitch for city’s Lisa

The art of sewing dates back to the beginnings of mankind. Literally.

Archaeologists have discovered needles made from animal bones and antlers; and 25,000 years ago, during the last ice age, it’s believed man would sew together fur, hide, skin and bark for clothing.

“ewing has seen a resurgence in recent years - it’s become cool again!

During the Middle Ages, needles and pin cushions were commonly included in the dowry of European brides whose job it was to make and extend the lives of their families garments, which were an expensive investment. And though sewing fell out of favour for a while in the last century, as clothing became more affordable to buy, it’s seen a massive resurgence in recent years - a combination of a harsher economic climate and the creation of websites like Etsy supporting cottage industry and giving crafters a worldwide audience to sell their creations to.

“Put simply, sewing is cool again,” Lisa Birkett smiles.

“Yes it’s a great way to be cost effective, and save a few pennies, but it’s also a fantastic creative outlet, allowing for very personal fashion styles.

“And, another major draw is that it’s a relaxing hobby, a chance for our hands to be busy and our minds to be idle, which in our busy society is an important thing to get when we can.”

And it’s this very train of thought that led Hillsborough lady Lisa to the world of sewing a few years ago. As a vocational rehabilitation consultant, she regularly worked with people with physical disabilities and mental health issues, introducing them to crafts such as knitting and sewing as part of their therapy.

“I was at a point in my career where I was working too much and was feeling the strain,” explains Lisa.

“I was on the verge of becoming one of my own clients - overworked and overstressed - and I decided it was time to make a change.”

Havin fallen in love with the crafting world, Lisa decided to quit her busy corporate job and did a complete 180 career change - buying and opening her own fabric shop, Happy Hare, in Chapeltown.

“I’d started taking a fortnightly sewing class and it was wonderful, because on that night - no matter how busy I was - I would finish work on time and go and work with my hands and relax, I found it truly therapeutic and it completely switched me off from whatever other stresses I had going on.

“I knew I wanted to own my own fabric shop and have been so happy since the day I made the decision to go for it, I opened Happy Hare in mid-February and haven’t looked back. It was scary at first, as I hadn’t done retail since I was a teenager, but I’ve had fantastic support. An existing fabric shop in Hillsborough allowed me to come and work with them for a little while; they introduced me to suppliers, le me get comfortable working on the tills and taught me basic things like how much money to have in the till. I was so grateful to them, that’s what I love about Sheffield, the northern mentality of helping each other out, it’s fantastic.”

In addition to running the shop in Sheffield, Lisa, aged 43, also hosts a number of regular classes and she says people have really embraced them.

“We have beginners patchwork, beginners dressmaking, knit and natter, classes on how to handstitch and how to use a sewing machine - they’re really quite popular,” says Lisa.

“There really is something to the satisfaction of finishing something and being able to wear it or display it and think ‘I made that,’ it’s quite addictive! I make lots of my own clothes now and there’s something fabulous about just being able to ‘run something up’ and put it on.

“I also think there’s an ethical element to it; so much of the stuff we buy is mass produced in some sweat shop in Bangladesh. At least, if you’ve made it yourself, you know it’s only your own sweat that’s gone into it!

“One of the ladies who comes to a sewing class I run has two small children at home and works part time as a nurse. The class is her time for herself.”

Business has been building nicely for Lisa in the past four months and she’s braced for it to get even busier since The Great British Sewing Bee hit our screens again this week.

“It’s always the same,” says Lisa, who also makes a point of supporting other local businesses, stocking wool that’s spun in Huddersfield and patterns from independent designers in Yorkshire.

“When Great British Sewing Bee is on, everyone decides they want to have a go, so I’m looking forward to helping a whole new group of people to fall in love with the wonderful world of crafting.”

CLASS TIMETABLE

- May 21: Craft Saturday, 10am-4pm

- May 22: Beginners’ Machinework Patchwork, (making a square quilt) 10am-4pm

- May 24: Knitting in the Round, (making a beany hat) 10am-4pm

- May 31: Knit and Natter, 10.30am-12.30pm

- June 1: Intermediate Machinework Patchwork, (making a chevron cushion) 6pm-8pm

- June 7: Advanced Booties, 10am-4pm

- June 8: Crochet and Chat, 10.30am-12.30pm

Visit Hansmade Happy Hare for details.

The new series of Great British Sewing Bee has started on BBC2.