As part of our series on ‘Sustainable, Clean and Creative Balsall Heath’ we feature Deb Day: The Sewing Room, based at The Old Print Works at the heart of Balsall Heath. Elisabeth Charis spoke to Deb about her work and why she chose to base her business in Balsall Heath.
Can you introduce your work and tell me something about how you got into it?
My mum taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was younger and I’ve dabbled with sewing on and off over the years. I got into sewing seriously though in 2014. My lovely husband and I had decided to get married and I wanted to add a little colour to my wedding dress so I had a big purple net and organza petticoat made to go under my ivory dress. The seamstress had made a decent job of it but it did cost me quite a lot of money. I thought that I could have made it myself. So…. I returned one of the pairs of shoes I had bought to get married in (I was quite undecided so I had bought a few pairs!!) and with the money I bought myself a new sewing machine – from there I taught myself to make clothes – when it got to the point where my wardrobe could hold no more, I started to make clothes for others. I did a short course on making bridal wear and then started to make wedding gowns too. Then I held an informal class at home to teach a couple of friends to sew – that turned in a weekly session – I decided that I would like to turn my hobby into a full time career. I found the studio at The Old Print Works and, with the help of my very talented husband, turned it into my lovely Sewing Room.
I also like to dabble in a bit of textile art and am part of an exhibiting group called Traverse. We usually do 3 to 4 exhibitions a years – mostly for pleasure although we do sell our work too.
What do you find most rewarding about it? What do you enjoy?
I love teaching people to sew – I especially love the beginners class – people arrive a bit nervous and excited – often with little confidence in their abilities – they leave the sewing room happy and proud of what they have achieved – what’s not to love!!
What is challenging in normal circumstances (not COVID related)?
My biggest challenge was building my own website – I was determined to do it myself and am very proud of it – the biggest day to day challenge I suppose is marketing the business and making sure I stay financially viable. There’s a lot goes on behind the scenes of the Sewing Room!
How long have you been at the Print Works?
I signed my license agreement at The Old Print Works in March 2019. We spent 4 months getting the room ready, there was a lot to do – the room was an empty shell… everything needed doing – floors, walls, ceiling, building shelves, fitting the sinks and kitchen space, and some electrical work. I opened on 29th June 2019.
What made you choose this studio? Can you tell me about the set up of the studio?
I had arranged an appointment to look at a different studio at the Print Works which wasn’t right for what I needed – I was then shown the space I have now – it was love at first sight! Even though it was more expensive to rent and it needed a lot of work I just couldn’t walk away from it.
I have 10 sewing machines so can have up to 10 participants in a class but I usually like to stick to 6 or 7. There’s plenty of space for everyone to work and the room is fully equipped with machines, tables, ironing stations, cutting table, kitchen area and a fitting room. There are 6 massive windows along the front so the light in the room is lovely.
Can you tell me about the local community (either in the building or not) and your interactions/ impressions?
There is a wonderful community of creative people in the building, from photographers, printers, artists, makers, woodwork, upholstery, crafters, potters, book shop, bike refurbishers and textiles – The Old Print Works is the best kept secret in Balsall Heath and the Sewing Room fits in well. Everyone is so lovely and supportive – ready with an ear if you need one and a helping hand. Nearly everyone who attends a class at the sewing room is from either Moseley or Kings Heath – it’s great to be part of the local community.
What were you doing before?
I worked for an organisation called Sense, supporting deaf blind people with associated disabilities. I started working there as a support worker in 1991 and worked my way up through the organisation to Head of Operations for the Midlands and Head of Holidays and Short Breaks – it was a massive wrench for me to leave but I knew it was the right thing to do. I had a wonderful career at Sense, it became my extended family.
How has the pandemic affected you, your business and your own making, if at all?
It’s been a really strange time hasn’t it! When we went into the first lockdown almost a year ago – my business was just taking off – people were getting to know about me and bookings were rolling in – then I had to close. I was heartbroken – I didn’t know if my business would survive. Sadly, I didn’t qualify for any government help so was left out on a limb.
Then the debate began about whether we should be wearing face masks or not. In April, a friend of mine suggested that I should start making them – I advertised on local social media groups and couldn’t believe the response I had – for a couple of months I was working 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week and had to enlist some help just to keep up with orders.
I felt guilty about making money from the pandemic so as well as making masks, I also volunteered to make scrubs for the NHS. I was able to open briefly during the summer and ran a few classes before having to close again at the end of October 2020. By this time the mask orders had slowed right down – everyone was making them and you could buy them everywhere. Then on the 2nd November I broke my wrist so was out of action for about 6 weeks! I am so grateful to all my customers, they have helped me to keep my business afloat and I will be able to carry on after this is all over.
I had a look at your website, which looks great, btw. Can you say something about your online presence and interaction?
As mentioned previously, I built the website myself – probably the most frustrating thing I’ve ever done!! I have an Instagram page and a Facebook page and regularly post in the local social media groups.
What’s next? What are your plans/aspirations for The Sewing Room?
I have been thinking about the people who have attended classes and, based on their feedback, I have planned some new classes. The beginners class will, I’m sure, remain the most popular, in addition to that I will be offering an introduction to using an overlocker and some dress making classes based on some Tilly and the Buttons dress making patterns. While we’ve been in lockdown I have set up a small haberdashery shop in the Sewing Room so that class attendees can pick up some essentials while they are there.
I would also like to develop some textile art classes – they are a work in progress and the moment…
Head to Deb’s website where you can book a class or course, shop for facemasks and more, as well as link with Deb through her contact page and mailing list. You can also follow Deb Day Sewing Room on Facebook and Instagram.
Sustainable, Clean and Creative Balsall Heath is a series of portraits of local people and projects supported with funding from The Active Wellbeing Society.