January 25, 2021
Nature or Nurture? My Working History

A potted history of my work, from 1979 to the chaos of 2020.

Nature or Nurture? My Working History

In 1979 as a 14 year old school girl the needlework teacher gave me 10 out of 10 for my hand worked buttonhole. She’d never done that before! (I’d never done a hand worked buttonhole before!).

In 1983 rather than study and revise for my maths A level I spent an evening making a coat for my soft toy fox!

The school I went to for my A Levels was primarily chosen because they were the only one offering A Level Needlework. I jumped at the chance of doing an O level Embroidery too.

So that’s a glimpse of the Nature now for a glimpse of the Nurture.

In 1983 I was accepted to study BTEC Diploma Clothing at Medway College of Design, as it was known then. Great, you may think, but I was disappointed! I’d applied for the Fashion Design course, but as the whole of my portfolio consisted of made work, embroidery and hand stitched examples and no fashion design work they thought it would suit me better. Thankfully this course was also an introduction to fashion design. I truly became hooked by the fashion world when one of the tutors showed us a fashion show video of a Claude Montana catwalk show from Paris. I had never seen anything so incredible and inspiring.

Looking back now I am forever grateful for that clothing and textile course to be my only choice at the time, as I received a fantastic base on which to build my skills and experience. I fell in love with pattern cutting and making, and finally I was able to start to express my designing ability. 2 years later at the end of the course, and being given the honour two years running of the Best Student Award, I went on to study BTEC Higher National Diploma Fashion. I got the best of both worlds!

I got to design many products, collections and textile projects for a variety of assignments and the things I were particularly interested in came to the fore. My two great loves and emphasis were knitting and menswear. Yes that’s right! Menswear! I particularly loved working with Pigskin, fine wool, silk, machine knitting and handknitting and my final collection was all menswear.

As I was coming to the end of that course my tutor suggested I might like to go on to do a one year ‘top up’ degree course and I jumped at the chance, choosing knitting and knitwear and I was accepted at Winchester, the future seemed set.

The summer holidays of that year provided a surprise. A student (Sue) who had been a couple of years ahead of me at college, remembering my abilities, contacted me to ask if I was interested in joining her team in the pattern cutting department for a designer called John Galliano. Oh my word! Was I? Yes please! An incredible opportunity to work for one of my favourite designers was unimaginable, but it was happening. It was exactly what a 22 year old fashion student would dream of but rarely gets the chance to do. Covent Garden, London, busy working studio, commuting, a throw into the real fashion world. At the ‘end of show’ party, John suggested I might like to stay on the team and he’d be happy if I did. Now what was I to do….. work for a Designer or give up that opportunity and go to Winchester for a year to study knitwear?

Never a harder decision have I had to make as I wanted to do both. But I took the ‘bird in the hand’ and stayed. 3 years of hard work, long hours, pressure rising as the show dates grew nearer and nearer, meeting and working with incredible people, learning every day, honing skills and abilities, creative excitement, and working backstage at the London and Paris fashion shows as a dresser once the collection had been finished. Magical, all consuming, adrenalin rush and, conversely, utter tiredness at the end of a collection, then gearing oneself up for the start of the next. The strangeness of always being out of beat with the clothing times became normal. In winter working on summer clothes and visa versa.

Next was a period of working as a freelancer and Sue contacted me again to do some pattern grading for the evening wear designer for whom she was now working, Jenny Packham. This led to a full time job as pattern cutter for Jenny. Amazing times there too. Jenny’s designs are beautiful and the work was specialised and complicated but I loved it. Her business grew and a third sample machinist was needed to keep up with the growing size of the collection and a temp was engaged for the busy season. Debbie arrived in my life. That could have all ended there but at the end of the busy period, and because Debbie was a gifted maker, Jenny offered her full time employment.

Debbie and I quickly hit it off. We gelled, we understood each other, we loved working together and so a throwaway comment about the wedding dresses both Debbie and I were making for friends and that we should do it together, turned into a germ of a business idea. Evangeline Rose was born.

Evangeline Rose was the steepest learning curve of all, running and growing your own business being the roller coaster ride that it is. We focused on making bespoke clothing, especially wedding dresses, but also mother of the bride outfits, mother of the groom, evening wear, special occasion wear and, for one client, a whole wardrobe of separates and jackets for her corporate world needs as she struggled to find appropriate attire because of her height and body shape. We built up a good and excellent business and as time went on we concentrated on designing and making our own label wedding dresses and selling a small selection of Designer label dresses from our lovely shop in Godalming. One short paragraph doesn’t describe any of the immense effort, sacrifice and sheer hard work of it!

17 years on, Debbie wanted to change directions and so we decided to sell the business and go our separate ways. (She started Redhound for Dogs after having a gift shop in Totnes for 3 years.) I didn’t want to continue with Evangeline Rose alone, it had always been a team adventure. I decided that this was an opportunity to follow another dream of mine - painting.

We sold Evangeline Rose to the wedding dress designer Beverly Lister, whose collection we also sold through the Godalming shop, and I continued to work with Beverly as a pattern cutter and technician at the same time as pursuing my painting, getting involved with the artist world and exhibiting in various exhibitions and one man shows.

July 2011

Then I was introduced, by a mutual friend Helen, to a lady who lived in Grayshott who needed the help of a pattern cutter and maker to produce very small runs of garments for her growing business. Enter Linda and Tall Yarns (now The Slow Wardrobe). She had a smock she had designed and needed to have a small amount of stock in a few sizes to sell at the yarn shows she attended. I would take away an armful of different coloured linen and return with an armful of clothing that, once sold, would require us to repeat. I straddled the worlds of painting, wedding dresses and linen garments for a while until Linda needed a second person to help her at a knitting show (Yarndale in Skipton) to replace our mutual friend whose visit to Australia to see her son and his family clashed with the show. A whole new chapter was emerging.

Over the next few years I transitioned to doing more and more for Linda as her needs grew, including helping her at all the shows she attended, less and less for Beverly on the wedding dress front and less and less painting.

The Slow Wardrobe stand at Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2019

On one of the long journeys travelling to a show Linda and I talked about the need for premises where she could expand her business and I could have a dedicated workroom for the ever growing amount of production her business needed and to pursue my desire to make my own designs. Within weeks, and after a search for a suitable building near to our homes, a shop became available in the village where we lived and the decision was made. January 2014, we moved in.

In autumn 2017 I started the process of designing and making my first jacket for my Andrea M Franklin business. I knew I wanted to concentrate on bespoke because that is where my passion lies but, because I could do so many things, trying to clarify and narrow down the possible fields of bespoke took some considerable time. I have always loved British tweeds and focusing the spotlight onto only using those was one way of drilling down to a specific pathway. As a pattern cutter my passion for creating interesting style lines and perfect fit was always going to be paramount and together with such beautiful fabric the jacket range started.

In January 2020 my creative space, a garden studio, was finished, to provide a separation from busy workroom, all the bustle and action that is entailed not only making for Layercake (Linda’s brand) but making Andrea M Franklin, and a space solely dedicated to designing, pattern cutting and toiling my bespoke jacket and dress designs and seeing the clients who buy from me. This space has became a game changer for me as it enables me to really concentrate on pushing my range forward.

Summer 2020

But 2020! Well what can be said! The plans to see clients in my new space only worked out for 3 ladies and now we are back to a very uncertain future. Surprisingly for me, this year has been one of growth and determination to push forward, not despite the serious and strange nature of our world but because of it. Waiting for that perfect timing and for things to be ‘normal’ again just isn’t helpful so I decided to take action and the plunge to build a website to help communicate the service I provide. This tops the year off perfectly. The problem of being able to see clients is still one to be solved but for now I am using that fact as a spur to design garments that need less precision fitting and we shall see where that leads.

As I draw this dash through my working history to a close I am aware of all that I am leaving out! Friendships with Debbie, Beverly and Linda. The day to day workings of growing a business, the ‘talking into the night’ I have done with so many people, the Eureka moments, the tremendous support and encouragement from so many friends and family, the knitting shows and all the new friends I have made, the difficult times when it would have been easier to give up than go forward, hitting brick walls, being gripped by procrastination and waiting for the right time, the dark times and the struggles with forging a direction but getting up and doing it anyway.

However, I am filled with thankfulness and gratitude to be in such an amazing position with the conviction that I am constantly blessed, amazed at how much hard work and dedication does pay off eventually when added to those mysterious ‘coincidences’ and the opening of unpushed doors! I am filled with excitement, rather a lot of trepidation and the feeling of anticipation as I know I am only scratching the surface but I will continue to push and pull myself forward as well as ride the wave beneath my feet.

Andrea M Franklin

Andrea Franklin

Clothing Designer
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