Sue MacDonald talks about how Sue's Nicknacks came about and why you should never give up on your creative dream.
Have you always worked in the creative world?
I trained as a hairdresser which was a career I really enjoyed until I took a career break to have my children. I then spent 20 years in nursing followed by care work for the British Red Cross.
Eventually, in 1989 I started my interior design business and fulfilled my dream of making my living by sewing. The work was exciting and varied – in addition to traditional loose cover and blinds I had commissions for page boy outfits and even hats for horses!
On moving to Devon in 2004 I was able to concentrate more on artistic projects and embroidery – and I still find time to carry on with care work which I love.
Do you come from a creative family?
Yes – my mother always sewed and my father loved woodwork, making many of my toys. I still use the wooden boat my father made me to keep my pins in! Holidays were spent at my grandma’s house in Amersham - she was a tailoress and taught me sewing skills - and gave me a love of sewing – a gift I truly value. My grandfather was a graphic designer and photographer who worked for Kodak.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
That’s a big question! I take my sketch book everywhere with me in case I see something interesting – out for a walk, on a train, a visit to the pub – my head is always full of ideas – and I really love people watching.
What does your workshop look like?
A bit untidy!! It’s very much a scrapbook of inspiration and work from my life – lots of my favourite things: posters, paintings and photos, my dolls house furniture, fabric, threads, an embroidery my mother started in 1940 which I finished last year; it’s definitely a me place.
The apple white paint on the walls makes it a light, reflective space and whilst it’s small it’s warm and bright and is the perfect place for me to feel creative.
In July/August I pack up a mini-workshop and take my small machine with me to set up in our vintage caravan wherever we are for the summer!
What do you do when you’re not in your workshop?
I love spending time with my two daughters, stepdaughter, stepson and their families. As they live in Buckinghamshire, Yorkshire, Norfolk and the USA I travel a lot which provides me with plenty of inspiration (and I always take hand-sewing with me on the train).
My husband and I love camping and walking and we have a beautiful caravan which is a like a home-from-home in the summer.
I’ve recently come to the end of my term as President of Chulmleigh WI which has been a lot of fun – we have a very active local group. Chulmleigh is a remote hill town in north Devon, but the people who live here are very sociable – I spend a lot of time catching up with friends in the local deli and golf club for coffee and lunch.
As sewing is such a big part of my life I belong to various creative organisations – the West Country Embroiderers (the Cheriton Bishop group), the South West Quilters and the Bideford Quilters. We hold local shows and exhibit nationally – it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in textile art?
Go along to a local group – even if you have never sewed before the members will welcome you in and help you to explore the medium whether it is embroidery, quilting or painting on fabric – we are a friendly bunch!
Many craft shops also hold introductory workshops which are brilliant – plus you can pick up the bits and pieces you need onsite. YouTube has lots of instructional videos which are a good way to learn too.
Why the Fox Terriers?
My daughter has a Wirehaired Fox Terrier and it is such a fun little dog with
a huge personality. I’m also very fond of Welsh and Lakeland Terriers – they love to pose and their square shape really lends itself to recreation in fabric. Some of the money I make through the sale of my little dogs goes to the Terrier SOS charity (terriersos.com).
And don’t worry about doing things the wrong way – I think there is no such thing as the correct way to do something as long as you get the result you want. So go for it! Even after 60 years of sewing you can always learn something new!
What led you to start Sue's Nicknacks?
Sue’s Nicknacks started in 1977 and the name stuck as it seemed to cover all the things I made. I was working as an Auxiliary District Nurse at the time, and the extra money that came in through my sewing helped pay for school trips, music and ballet for my children. I found the little girl in my logo in one of my daughter’s reading books!