Jenni Smith

The latest interview within my Wonderful Women series is Jenni Smith, a contemporary quilt artist producing unique pictures, prints and stationery, many of them for children.

She also runs a successful sewing school in Ilkley in Yorskhire and works with expert tailor Ann Ladbury, author of 40 books on dressmaking.

Jenni previously worked in TV production and was nominated for a BAFTA for the CBBC film Ballet Boys in 2011. She has 3 children aged 10, 7 and 3.

Describe a typical day

I sew almost every day, a happy mixture of my textile-based art, quilts or clothes for the children and I.  I also do a lot of teaching, which I love because it provides interaction with other creative people and stops me from getting lonely working from home.

In amongst all that, I draw sketches, source fabrics, process orders and engage with other crafters worldwide via social platforms, especially Instagram. I also do the school run every day and the endless after-school activities. I’d like to say that I whip up delightful, well-balanced meals for the family but it is more likely that I am busy dashing between my sewing machine and the cooker, causing chaos as I go.

What are your biggest achievements?

I am proud to have created a job that I love doing and that fits entirely around my children, with a little help from my husband, family, and friends.

In the past 5 years, I have taught over 80 people to sew and ignited in many of them a passion that will hopefully be with them for the rest of their lives.

The BAFTA nomination was also a highlight because when I first met Jamie, Michael, Adam and Clare who are in the film, I knew that they were very special people.

Five years on we are all very good friends and witnessing all of their achievements makes me very happy.

What’s in your handbag?

Well, firstly it is one that I made myself and it is pretty massive to fit in my phone, sketch book, fabric samples to share with my excitable friends, my diary, possibly a pen, Lego, emergency raisins and wipes (still, after 10 years!)

What are your ambitions?

A lot of my current work features fabric by Liberty of London. I have collected their prints since visiting the Lancashire based factory as a child with my nan. I would love to be able to pop into the store one day and see one of my products on display!

I also want to continue to build a community of talented crafters and to inspire the next generation to sew, including my daughter Edie, who is my young apprentice. 

I am starting up a club at school next term.

What would be your advice to your pre-children self?

Don’t panic about taking a career break but try and find a circle of inspiring, like-minded friends to hang out with and be open to the idea of a change in direction. 

Being a mum gives you so many experiences that can shape and change your future: I dug out my sewing machine to make a pair of baby bloomers and that’s where it all began.

Also, do be a little bit selfish and keep up your interests to some degree, or learn a new skill so that you don’t lose confidence in your own abilities and a sense of who you are.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

I hope to have made many of the pictures that are currently in my head and I would love to have a completely handmade wardrobe.

I have pledged to donate 10% of all the profit from my business to the Railway Children charity – I would love to travel to India and Africa with my own family to show how the money raised can make a difference.

Most importantly I want to manage my career so that I continue to be at home with the children as much as possible, in 5 years I might be attempting to help my eldest son with his GCSE’s.

What advice would you give to a budding craft-based business?

Practice your skill and learn from as many people as possible then work hard to find your own original style.  Create what you love and be authentic. 

Happiness is…. Walking and picking berries on Ilkley Moor with the kids or hanging out with my sewing girls drinking Yorkshire tea and eating cake.

For more information visit Jenni’s website, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook

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