At college, I studied a foundation art and design degree. This prepared me for entry-level at university.
This course covered a few different areas of design from experimental drawing and painting, 3D work, textiles and fashion.
It was at this point that I was introduced to pattern cutting and immediately fell in love with designing patterns and manipulating fabric to create garments. I also took an evening course in pattern cutting.
I did work experience in textiles arranged by the college, manipulating fabrics at Larch Rose.
From college, I created a portfolio for my interview at London College of Fashion. This was one of the hardest universities to get into, and I ended up re-working my portfolio several times.
Studying to become a seamstress
I moved up to London and enrolled on my fashion, design, technology womenswear course at the campus based on Curtain Road.
In the first year, I learned how to be a seamstress. I was taught how to make every garment from scratch, learning pattern-cutting techniques, and practices for sewing different types of materials.
In my third year at university, I was encouraged to do work experience to improve my understanding of the ‘real’ world of fashion. I undertook a position at Pam Hogg fashion house and was immediately thrown into pattern cutting and creating garments.
I learned very quickly that speed was the key to the industry. Garments had to be prepped in time for upcoming fashion shows and the unveiling of new collections. The hours at Pam’s place were long and tiring but the skills I learned on the job were incredible.
I also did work experience at Alice Temperley. This was a completely different practice. Their patterns were created using CAD/CAM, and my main focus was cutting fabrics and prepping ready for the seamstresses.
This was more like a production line with a heavy focus on computer-aided design.
My first job in fashion
I graduated from university, moved back down south, and interviewed at Larch Rose (where I did my first work experience) for my first job as an international sales assistant.
In this role, I visited fashion brands in the UK and America selling them textiles and garment ideas which they would later develop into a garment sold on the high street.
Unfortunately, Larch Rose closed down.
From here I worked at Dickes (now Greys Suit Hire) in Worthing.
I became the main seamstress creating bridesmaid dresses, mother of the bride outfits and flower girl dresses. It was here that I started altering wedding dresses.
This was really exciting for me because I already had background knowledge in sewing and pattern cutting, but I was using my skills that I had learned from university and work experience to delve into a completely new area of design – bridalwear.
There was a lot of pressure in this job but I enjoyed every minute. Unfortunately once again I was made redundant due to the company focusing on mainly suit hire.
Going out on my own
It was at this point that I realised I had the skills to start my own company as a seamstress.
I registered as self-employed and set up in my flat, simply doing alterations.
I didn’t know much about running a business but with the help of family, friends and, of course, the internet I soon learned the basics.
As the business grew I had to find a larger place to work from which was more suitable to have clients visiting. I rented a small room above a hairdressers which was a big leap for me.
I visited networking events in my local area for small businesses, and I learned so much about how to run a business as well as being introduced to different people.
All the extra meetings I did helped me to build my business. I became friendly with various bridal shops in Worthing and started to take on their work too.
Growing the business
I outgrew my room and moved to a bigger room within the hairdressers.
I then had the opportunity to offer work experience to those in college, which was amazing because I could pass on all the skills that I had learned from the industry and my time at university.
This was amazing because the girl that came for work experience I have now employed as my junior seamstress.
My most recent adventure was opening my new shop in the town centre, with my main focus on bridalwear alterations, but also venturing into creating my own bridalwear designs.
The importance of getting experience
Without my work experience, I wouldn’t have known what direction to take my career.
I always knew I wanted to do sewing but I had never even thought about bridalwear.
Ask companies to join them for a day, a week or even longer. The inner workings of the industry cannot be learned at college, only by experiencing it first hand.
For Emma’s website, visit: emmaguarddesign.com