Making her own clothes has always been a passion for Birmingham sewer Lauren Guthrie. She talks to Betti Hunter about starring in BBC2's Great British Sewing Bee and her plans for a new shop to encourage others to take up the craft.
IT’S long been said that you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure.
But one Birmingham-based couple are disregarding that advice and have joined forces in a bid to beat the recession.
Lauren Guthrie, aged 27, and her husband Ayaz are riding the recent wave of thrifty enthusiasm and using it to their advantage.
Spurred on by the success of their online craft shop Guthrie and Ghani, the duo are now preparing to open their first fabric boutique in Moseley.
Scottish-born Lauren is currently a front runner in the hit new BBC2 show The Great British Sewing Bee, made by the same people as Great British Bake Off and presented by Claudia Winkleman.
Lauren has long been a craft fanatic and remembers being taught how to sew by her mother at the tender age of five. Years of honing her superior stitching skills paid off when she won a place on the TV show.
“Sewing has always been such a big part of my life so doing the Sewing Bee was such an amazing, surreal experience,” laughs Lauren, who impressed the judges in the first episode by making her own bias binding on the A-line skirt they had to rustle up in a morning.
“I saw an ad on Facebook last year and applied. The producers had a look at my projects so they could judge my skill level. I think they were impressed by my attention to detail – I’m a bit of a perfectionist.
“Performing under time pressures was so hard, but after the first challenge I got used to multitasking and explaining what I was doing as I went along.
“Doing the show has increased my passion for sewing clothes – being tested with such difficult challenges has increased my confidence in what I do.”
This renewed zeal encouraged Lauren to go full steam ahead with the shop launch. Ayaz had bought an old Victorian house in Alcester Road a few years previously but the couple weren’t sure what to do with it. The economic climate combined with work commitments meant it took a special set of circumstances to realise their dream.
“After school I studied to be a physiotherapist and went on to work in the NHS,” explains Lauren, who owns three chickens.
“I loved it, but after a few years I started to get these creative cravings. My husband had been working hard and saving up and the people in Moseley were sad that our building looked a bit tired and run down. I don’t blame them because it’s not just a building, it’s a piece of history.
“The two situations collided and I had the idea to open a fresh, modern craft shop which would also inspire people to create.
“We’ve been working on it for the past year so it’s been such a long time in the making but everything is really coming together and we’re seeing how great it’s going to be.”
The online Guthrie and Ghani store specialises in contemporary textiles, bright colour and quirky haberdashery pieces.
Lauren tried to capture the website’s original aesthetic when designing the shop interior in a bid to attract customers of all ages. The vibrant pink colour scheme she eventually settled on is worlds away from the stereotypical tired-looking fabric outlets of old.
“I hope it will bring something new and exciting to the city,” Lauren enthuses. “Traditionally people think that sewing or crafting is for older generations, but I want to show that it can be something for the younger generation to enjoy, too.
“It’s going to be a fun place to come and hang out. We’re going to have a coffee counter at the back where people can look through the pattern books while taking in the atmosphere.”
Lauren won’t just be selling her wares. Despite being an accomplished dressmaker, she’s decided not to sell her own creations and has instead opted to pass on her skills by offering workshops on a variety of craft techniques. She plans to teach a few of the basic classes herself, and has gathered a group of keen experts to run the more specialised courses. “We have a massive room upstairs which will be dedicated to teaching different skills,” she says. “We’ll be offering anything from beginners’ sewing and dressmaking to patchwork quilting and felt making. I want to try loads of things there at first to see what people enjoy before setting it in stone.
“I like the idea of inspiring people to make things for themselves. I think you appreciate a garment a lot more if you’ve made it yourself. I invest so much emotional attachment and care into my own sewing, so I’d like to help other people to experience that feeling for themselves rather than just selling clothes.”
The launch date for the shop opening is April 27 and plans are on schedule for the opening party. Treats, cakes and homemade lemonade will be passed around throughout the day and prizes from the shop will be up for grabs for those who fill in one of the invitation postcards that have been left across the city.
“We’re going to have a little ceremony when we open. We’ve had loads of support from locals, and I’m so excited.”
* Guthrie and Ghani is situated in Alcester Road, Moseley, and is due to open on April 27. For more information, visit www.guthrie-ghani.co.uk
* The Great British Sewing Bee is on BBC2 on Tuesdays at 8pm.