For those of us who love to see an expert making something, even if we could never dream of producing an object as well or under similar circumstances, this sounds as if it is going to be a brilliant read. Mary Jane Baxter’s stories of being on the road with her sewing van is published on 27th May – an unusual and possibly inspiring treat! Here is an extract which reveals how it all began…
Sew on the Go – A Maker’s Journey by Mary Jane Baxter
You know the score. You’re sitting at your desk thinking for the millionth time about leaving the rat race behind. It’s just you, your rucksack and a rough plan on a piece of paper. There are no e-mails to answer, no deadlines to meet, no daily commute, no people vying for your attention. Just the freedom of the open road stretching before you. Then the phone rings and you get back to work with a sigh.
Of course there are many reasons why most of us can’t make our dreams come true most of the time. There are debts to pay off, family commitments to keep us at home, jobs to hold down and health issues to cope with – all the difficult stuff of life that means we can get stuck in a rut. But what if for a few brief, glorious months nothing was actually preventing you from breaking free? Would you do it? Would you dare quit the day job and take the risk? It’s sometimes very easy to find reasons for avoiding challenges, and frightening to embrace the uncertainty of saying ‘I do’.
This had certainly been my story. For many years I’d combined several different jobs. Whilst working as a BBC correspondent I’d also trained as a hat maker. I worked for two years with milliner-to-the-stars Stephen Jones, sold my first hat collection to Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge and ran creative workshops for the likes of Liberty and Topshop. Somehow I’d even managed to squeeze in a series about ‘make-do and mend’ for BBC Newsnight, two weeks in Paris working for Marc Jacobs and a part-time teaching job in London. After a while I began to feel I was spreading myself too thin. I was juggling too many different balls and felt in danger of dropping them all.
Around this time my Godfather died and generously left me some money. I immediately decided to spend part of my inheritance on an old campervan. I fantasized about doing it up and filling it with all the materials I needed to make beautiful things as I journeyed. I’d create the perfect travelling craft studio and then set off around Europe exploring French fleamarkets, swimming in rivers and meeting a clutch of colourful creative characters. My van of choice wasn’t a trendy VW (too expensive) or a quirky Citroen H van (too heavy on the steering) but something of a plain Jane – a boxy Bedford Bambi in need of some TLC. Once purchased, I drove it back to South East London and parked it on the street outside my little flat. It didn’t matter to me that Bambi’s top speed was 60 mph, that the interior electrics didn’t work or that the fridge was broken. Bambi would be my bolthole, my crafty retreat from the world – my very own Mobile Makery.
Whenever I had the chance I’d spend a few hours working on Bambi. It felt like I was building an escape-pod outside my front door. First I papered her interior with the pages of a 1950’s dressmaking book and then started reupholstering the seats with a mixture of funky fabrics and souvenir tea towels. I changed the curtains and added over-the-top trims spending many happy hours hunting down enamel mugs and crochet blankets to cosy up the space. The dream of having a Mobile Makery kept me going through the dark winter nights and the long shifts working in the BBC newsroom.
My neighbours watched my upcycling activity with mild amusement and a certain amount of cynicism. But when I started découpaging the outside of the van with posh wallpaper foraged from a Brighton skip they decided I’d completely lost the plot. To me however, it seemed like a perfectly sensible idea. I couldn’t afford a state-of-the-art vinyl wrap, so why not just do-it-myself? It was extremely therapeutic. Once I’d finished, I coated the design with several layers of outdoor varnish and hey presto! My Bambi had been transformed into a Magical Mobile Makery complete with a travelling craft library and a mini gas stove – essential for fry-ups on the go…