career lizzie joel's
Cheltenham - Fashion Degree Show

An unanticipated and adapted career path

I watched as a child while my Mum made our clothes, helped pin the patterns onto fabric, and played with the scraps when the work was done. Mum even clothed my dolls. I saw how cutting fabric into shapes, and putting them together created garments. I learned the rules, played with them, and sometimes ignored them altogether. I bought remnants from the market, cut, pinned, sewed them, experimented. Eventually I decided what I wanted to wear.

At 18 and starting Art College (Gloucestershire College of Art and Design, Cheltenham) I was already making tailored jackets for my then-boyfriend. My final Degree show collection in 1979 included menswear, even though the course was for Womenswear.

By January 1980 I was a trainee designer for ladies-wear manufacturer Lerose Ltd, in Birmingham, designing collections for their own shops. Missing the variety of individual problem solving for private clients after less than a year I returned to Cheltenham.

It takes a while to build up a clientele, so I also worked as a freelance designer / sample maker / pattern cutter for a small Ladies-wear shop specialising in Liberty prints, in Newent, Gloucestershire, for a couple of years.

I enjoy working alongside Fashion students. It is a collaborative venture where real learning takes place. Students are eager to translate sketches into finished garments. Their final collection is the evidence of learning. So I was delighted to be asked back as a sessional skills tutor by my old college from November 1982-May 1983.

Bespoke design is very satisfying. Restricted design criteria forces more creativity. My experience of designing within companies highlighted the lack of creative problem-solving opportunities for me.

I became self-employed in February 1982, keeping my maiden name for business after I married in 1983. Running a studio was expensive, so I worked from home.  I again worked freelance as a designer/sample maker for a local dress manufacturer in central Cheltenham from 1984 until 1987 when my client orders really took off.

In August 1988 a new job for my husband meant we moved east towards Cambridge, and the Gloucestershire client grapevine spread eastward with me. In January 1990 our son Joseph was born, and he travelled with me to clients in the east and west.

In August 1993 we relocated this time to North-East Hampshire, where I am now based.

Passing on technical skills to the next generation remained an ambition and by May 1996 I had completed a City and Guilds Adult and Further Education course. Plans for another baby would mean I would lose my workroom at home. Teaching would be perfect.

After a few years and several false starts I decided to pursue my other passion, and in September 1999 I enrolled on an HNC course in Garden Design at Sparsholt College, in Hampshire, whilst continuing my client work.

Lizzie arrived mid-course in June 2000, at last a daughter I would share a love of fabric with, and pass on my skills to. I completed the HNC in January 2003, but by then it was obvious that Lizzie was profoundly disabled. A very different existence had started. Somehow I still managed to continue with a few client commissions through 2003/4/5.

I was contacted in April 2005 by Skillfast (the Sector Skills Council for apparel, footwear, textiles and related businesses), inviting me to be a judge for the London heat of the National "Clotheshow Live Can You Cut It?" technical competition for Fashion students to be held that summer. Students original design work was to be judged against "Catwalk appeal" and technical skills criteria. Meeting other judges from fashion colleges and industry was educational. But I wondered how relevant and up-to-date my own skills were?   I wanted to up-skill before judging again in 2006.

Prestigious Central Saint Martin's College in London offered me a place on their 2006 Post Graduate Course in Innovative Pattern Cutting. At CSM I had a creative few months surrounded by enthusiastic fashion students, working together, analysing and recreating work of top international designers. My personal choice for the main project was Yohji Yamamoto.
By May 2006 I had completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (Post 16) through the University of Portsmouth. Following the Clotheshow competitions I was invited to join the University of the Creative Arts (UCA) at the Epsom Campus as a sessional technical skills tutor for Fashion Degree students, starting in early 2007.

In January 2007 we also started extension work on our house to give Lizzie the extra room and equipment that she needed. Client work was halted until completion in May, due to excessive dust.  It was good to be out of the house, teaching, and away from the noise and disruption.

At Epsom my sessional work for 2nd and 3rd year students continued through to April 2008. I enjoyed the energy and challenges that students bring with their work. Unfortunately Lizzie's unpredictable health and increasing care needs had to come first, and I decided to leave teaching.

I now had space to work from home, but I was now primarily a full-time carer for Lizzie. I was open with clients about my variable availability due to these circumstances, but continued fitting in occasional client work where possible, which I still do.

Over the last 18 years my daughter Lizzie has become my very Special Bespoke client. (see Dressing Lizzie) Sadly, having made 64 wedding dresses over the years I know that's one wedding dress I won't ever be making.

Homemade Doll's Clothes Cheltenham - Degree Show Skillfast - Clotheshow Live: Can U Cut It? Central St. Martin's - Innovative Pattern Cutting
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