Meet Carolyn Denham from Merchant & Mills

Carolyn Denham and Roderick Field are Merchant & Mills. The company was formed in 2010 to elevate sewing to its proper place in the creative world, respecting the craftsmanship it entails. They work from their studio in Rye, East Sussex where they also have their shop. We spoke with dressmaker Carolyn about sewing and creativity.

Hi Carolyn, what makes you passionate about your craft?
I think making of any kind is a source of great pleasure. It is an escape from the day-to-day into your own world vision. As children we love to make – we make anything and everything. Somewhere in growing up, that gets lost and we decide shopping is a much more worthwhile activity.

As I have cultivated my skills I can now make what I want and I want what I make. There is always so much more to learn and the very best way to learn is to keep making. I sew every day and there is nothing else I’d rather do.

Which is your most cherished childhood memory?
Learning to sew at my mother’s sewing machine was always my most cherished time. As one of four girls all close together in age, I loved the feeling of being the one quietly making things as the noise and chaos became faraway the more engrossed I got.

What sparks your creativity?
It hits like a conker falling from a tree onto my head. I see something – it can be fabric , a garment or even a genre, like military. I say to myself . . . well, I like that! I don’t stop to ask why, I take that influence and see where it takes me. There is a lot of messing around to go through to get what I want. Although I often start with a firm idea, in creating it I may find its failings and so I persevere until a metamorphosis occurs. It is a frantic, tough and wholly engrossing experience to arrive at something that is exactly a Merchant & Mills product.

Could you describe a typical crafty day in your life?
Almost every day is a craft day – lucky me!  I sew every day and still even if its just production, I still get a great deal of satisfaction from a well stitched seam. I am a born maker so if I am not sewing I will be more than happy to create something else like woodwork, cooking or card making. I like to see the different outcomes of the same hand in various modes and materials.

Organised mess or creative minimalism? What does your working space look like?
My intentions are good yet I tend to end up with a great big mess on an industrial scale. I am quite good at the epic tidy up at the end of the day but when I am making, I am not conscious of the rest of the world. That’s what makes it wonderful.

Merchant & Mills Workbook is published by Pavilion, £25. Merchant & Mills are also authors of Merchant & Mills Sewing Book and Elementary Sewing Skills.

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