How City & Guilds’ craft qualifications are providing the right skills for a new ‘make-do’ generation
20 June 2013
Televised this year on the BBC, The Great British Sewing Bee saw amateur sewers compete to be named Britain’s best. Its huge audience (2.7 million tuned in to the final episode to see 81-year-old Ann Rowley win) has claimed it a second, longer series to air next year.
There’s no doubt that the recession has revived a ‘make do and mend’ mentality, and City & Guilds offers a wide range of design, craft and textiles qualifications that aim to develop learners’ skills and put innovative ideas into practice.
Sandra Newton recently gained a City & Guilds Level 2 and 3 Diploma in Design and Craft Stitched Textiles (Patchwork and Quilting) after four years of training – but she was 50 before she decided to change her lifetime hobby in to a certified asset.
‘I grew up sewing,’ Sandra says. ‘We had to sew our own uniform summer dresses at primary school, and then I went on to do a tailoring course during sixth form. When I left university I became a student accountant and had to look smart even though I didn’t have much money, so I made all my suits myself throughout my 20s until I became qualified.’
A busy and successful career in accountancy – Sandra now works in the trading division at Oxfam – meant that stitching took a back seat for most of her adult life. ‘When I turned 50, I decided to spend more time on my hobbies and pursue textiles properly,’ she says.
Sandra was impressed with the comprehensive syllabus City & Guilds offered after visiting the exhibitions of previous students and going on a taster day, first for machine embroidery and then in patchwork and quilting. ‘I really liked that the quilting course incorporated so much design. You walk around outside, see something that catches your eye, draw it, and then come back and translate it into a piece of textile design.’
The Level 2 and 3 courses at Missenden Abbey, Buckinghamshire, a few nights a week allowed Sandra to explore a passion that is practical and rewarding: ‘It’s lovely to come home from work and just sew or draw. It taps into a different element of your person and it’s very fulfilling.’
Sandra’s tutor Rosa Maria Welsh says: ‘Sandra’s work shows an inquisitive approach to ideas and testing craft techniques. Her cut work on miniature quilting is quite exceptional.’
Sandra’s success since completing her diploma has been impressive; she won second prize and a highly commended award for two entries in the 2013 Festival of Quilts out of 700 entrants. In addition, she was also recognised with a City & Guilds Medal for Excellence earlier in the year.
‘Having your work appreciated by your tutors and peers is one thing,’ Sandra says, ‘but having experts and the public admire what you have made is great. People come up to me and say that they would like to give quilting a try and I tell them that I only got into this a few years ago from a standing start – so they can do the same.’