It was with huge trepidation and not a little persuasion that I entered the running for the Walpole Crafted class of 2014
Previous recipients include the wonderful James Ducker of Carreducker who is injecting youth into bespoke shoe making. It was with the help of Walpole’s mentoring program that he was enabled to have a workshop in the window of Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes. I sometimes dream of his bespoke hunting boots. A few other participants that I really admire are Cumbrian Crystal who are passionately keeping alive the skills of British glass blowing in the Lake District, Method Studio - a husband and wife team whose artfully crafted and engineered leather steamer trunks are perfection, and the witty Sophie Coryndon whose crocodile screen would look smashing in my Atelier. I also have a soft spot for Mr Smith’s letter press work that comes with that delightful smell of fresh ink.
These and a few more of the so justly exalted ‘Makers of the Exceptional' had made it through the rigorous panel of judges before.
After practicing my pitch in the mirror - and to anyone who would listen - and supported by my new scallop coat which I have at last perfected, I thought I might just, on a good day, be in with a chance.
The day arrives, an unexpectedly hot day in March. I arrived already boiling in my tweed scallop coat - designed more for protection on the way to such nerve-racking events than actual armour.
Then the nerves kick in! I know some dragons. Indeed one of my biggest supporters is one! I have successfully pitched to some. However, these luxury Walpole dragons were of the fire breathing variety.
Melting in my coat and with seven minutes to do my worst, I handed over my favourite swatches of Harris, Ardlandish, Linton a few of the wonderfully soft cashmeres from Joshua Ellis.
I explained in rapid succession, words tripping over each other, about my beliefs in tailoring, creating new proportions and methods that can elongate and lengthen a body. I rambled though the scallop coat and the inside of the unlined pre-fitted shawl collar on a man’s smoking jacket that I have been working on since Christmas.
Questions were fired - appropriately for fire breathing dragons! First by Guy Salter, the founder of ‘Crafted’ and creator of the ‘Make Britain Great’ campaign and the panel’s eloquent Chair Sarah Elton, who has been so instrumental in the success of Smythson and now Chairs the English Bible of taste and behaviour (Debretts), and by Ed Mason, owner of a great tailoring company.
Stumbling out after the interview: I thought ‘well that’s blown it’. I think I even said at one point ‘this is frightening’. When Sarah said 'how do you take criticism?' I replied ‘Well, I actually enjoy it’ - far too defensively.
An afternoon of self-berating, a stiff drink and an evening of moaning and analysing every point followed. By about 9pm I had settled on the 'well, at least I tried' resignation. The ritual email check before bed delivered news from Keri Beak, the organiser. A subject line that did not reveal anything but to my mind screamed ‘sorry’ and then my huge disbelief in opening it. Stunned, amazed and delighted, I realised I had made it on this year’s selection of Walpole Crafted!
Now the real panic set in – what to display at short notice? A call to Helen, my good friend, and MFH who dispatched her bespoke hunting coat that I made for her this season. It came directly off the field, complete with pockets of safely pins and mud. A stark realisation dawned on me that my summer collection did not sit all too perfectly with the hunting coat.
To the drawing board and the most complex fabric I can lay my hands on - a soft, part cashmere, Magee fabric that I had used four years ago to make a piece for Stephen Fry. I developed a new stitch for the velvet on the collar and the back belt panel. The result is the proud Mary coat with a 3 meter skirt and horn buttons.
An then we were there in the Royal Academy. An expertly curated showcase featuring previous mentees. This time I am not wearing tweed!
Thank you Walpole Thank you Vacheron Constantine.
Please see the below links to my fellow classmates.
Zoe Bradley – Paper Artist - www.zoebradley.com
John Galvin – Furniture designer and maker - www.johngalvindesign.co.uk
Heather Gillespie - Glass artist and engraver -www.gillespieglass.co.uk
Naomi Paul – Constructed Textiles -www.naomipaul.co.uk
Geoffrey Preston – Architectural Sculptor -www.geoffreypreston.co.uk
Michael Ruh – Designer Glassmaker -www.michaelruh.com
Mia Sabel – Leather design -www.sabelsaddlery.com
Emma Yeo – Milliner - www.emmayeo.com