Oh, I wish we could have a real launch party with champagne and cake and fabulous home made outfits, but we’ll have to enjoy the next best thing – an online celebration. ‘Laura’s Handmade Life’ is being published as a paperback novel today!
Little, Brown were kind enough to send me an advance reading copy and Amanda Addison, the author, has agreed to a blog interview. It gets better, readers! For UK readers, we have a blog giveaway of two copies of this book.
But first, what did I think to the novel? How does sewing translate into fiction?
Laura has left London to live in Norfolk and feels stranded. It’s only when a fire in her home sends her life into turmoil that she discovers the reassuring, liberating and inspiring habit of sewing.
‘I’ve been sewing every free moment I’ve had,’ Laura comments.
‘Sewing gets you like that,’ her companion replies. Sound familiar?
I was fascinated to read the amount of sewing background and research that was seamlessly squeezed in. Want to know how to learn embroidery as a left-handed person? Sit by a window and watch the reflection of someone else sewing. Ever curious about the history of rose prints on fabric? Listen to Laura’s new friend, Hannelore. Elsewhere, we’re told – through Laura’s love of vintage clothes – that outfits prior to the 1960s didn’t have size labels in them. Did you know that? I didn’t.
The novel features charming little pen and ink drawings to go with each chapter head. The illustrations are of a bobbin of thread, a thimble, darning needle or set of buttons and are accompanied by a different embroidery stitch definition for each chapter heading – Lazy daisy stitch or Renaissance stitch.
It’s clear that an awful lot of thought has gone into the writing and lay out of this novel. There’s an appendix with instructions on making a lavender bag – hello, Handmade Jane! – and sewing a spring chick. Then there are the links for crafting inspiration – I definitely want to check out The Women’s Library in London.
I’d say this novel is a great beach read for someone who’s been forcibly removed from their sewing room to lie in the sun. But what does Amanda think and how did she start writing this novel? Let’s find out…
Hi, Amanda. Thank you so much for joining us on such an important day for you! Can you talk us through the inspiration for ‘Laura’s Handmade Life’?
There were several strands to my inspiration. Firstly, as an artist/maker I wanted to explore fictional ways of telling stories about the artistic process. Craft has often been seen has the poor relative to art & design and with the current resurgence of people returning to crafting and the whole handmade movement now seemed the right time to write about craft. Laura, a collector of vintage clothes and textile artist, who in many ways is every an everywoman juggling work, family and trying to pursue her own dream was a good vehicle for telling a fashion and textile story. Secondly, the sub-plot of Hannelore and the real need in the former Eastern Europe to make-do-and-mend, coupled with tales of stitching in the workhouse gives Laura’s Handmade Life an added depth.
Can you tell us a little about your own sewing history?
Like many of my art school contemporaries and textile teaching colleagues, our training taught us a lot about ‘process’, developing ideas and thinking skills but missed out on the rigour and the basics of craft skills, such as hand embroidery. In fact a straw poll of my art and textile department colleagues (all graduates) reveals that no-one knows the A-Z of hand embroidery stitches. We tend to use stitching more as mark making.
So when my eldest daughter was a toddler I attended a hand embroidery class. This was before the numerous classes which are springing up all over the country. Originally with the sole intention of using different stitches within illustration work. My agent sold mixed-media images for the greetings card market which I embellished with stitching. At that time I was the youngest student in the class, the eldest being 92! It was good that the other students all knew what they were doing as at first I needed a lot of help to realise my ideas. This also led to producing pieces of artwork for exhibition which included my own dyed and printed fabrics embellished with stitching and more recently larger scale works.
Hand embroidery, unlike painting, fitted perfectly with the stop-start nature of my work once I had children! A piece of embroidery can be left mid stitch, whereas a painting is often ruined if left mid brush stroke.
You’ve achieved what many of my readers dream of and have turned your creativity into a career. Do you have any tips for sewing fanatics who want to make this more than a hobby?
I think as life becomes more digitalised there will be a trend for people to want to furnish their homes and themselves with hand-made things – so good news for crafters. Working for yourself is never 9-5, but personally I love being about to think about one of my projects whilst doing something seemingly dull or repetitive, such as chopping vegetables or sitting in a boring meeting! Finally in a global economy it is important to try and create something unique, which defies mass production techniques – easier said than done!
You’ve produced several textile installations, including a recent shimmering wall of ribbons at Bergh Apton Sculpture Trail. How do you start putting together ideas for a textile installation? Do you have a collection of fabrics that you use?
I have an attic filled with bags and boxes of fabrics, which one day I must sort out. When putting together ideas I use my formal training in art as it is literally back to the drawing board. I also talk to my husband, a designer and arty friends and colleagues because I really believe in brain storming ideas to get the best result.
Little, Brown has done a great job of packaging and promoting your novel. How closely did you work with the publisher on the cover design, the inside illustration and the added extras of activities and links? Did these ideas come before the writing of the manuscript or after?
Little, Brown has been fantastic to work with. I’ve been told that authors usually have very little to do with the cover design. But in the case of Laura’s Handmade Life the story is so visual that myself and Caroline my editor collected lots of bits and pieces to make a mood board to brief the design team. Poppy Treffry, the Cornish designer was then commissioned to illustrate the cover, as in some ways she is very much a Laura Lovegrove (our heroine) with her own textile business.
The added links, such as museums and galleries were places which I visited and used for my own research, both for the book and my own artwork.
I wrote the textile ‘recipes’ at the back of the book and then tested them out several times and fingers crossed they are fool-proof!
Do you have any tips for would-be writers out there, especially on the subject of craft?
I think there is a craft readership out there. For me, the best writing comes when the writer has a particular slant and includes little bits ‘n’ pieces of information, which leave the reader thing – I didn’t know that.
Thanks, Amanda! Now, for the giveaway. If you’d like to have the chance of winning one of two free copies of ‘Laura’s Handmade Life’ answer the following question in the comments section:
If you were to write your own novel inspired by sewing, knitting or any craft at all, what snappy title would you give your book?
The giveaway will end midnight GMT 27 June 2011. Two winners will be chosen by a random number generator.
Good luck! Thank you to Little, Brown and to Amanda.