She's sew fine
PUBLISHED: 11:56 07 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:56 07 April 2015
Tessa Allingham meets talented stitcher Marion Stephenson
On my bed is a cushion with a felt appliqued fox. He – or is it a she? – gazes upwards with a naive, dreamy expression, a white-tipped tail sweeping under a handsome foxy-red body that sits between squares of richly-coloured vintage fabric. He was supposed to be a Christmas present, but I fell in love with him – I’ve decided, he’s a he – far too deeply to give away.
He’s the creation of talented stitcher, Marion Stephenson. Sitting at her kitchen table, Marion produces more of her work – a pink pony doorstop, creamy-white wool for a mane and tail, fragrantly stuffed with lavender and pearl barley, a leggy bear with floppy ears and soft corduroy legs, a traditional Steiff-like teddy, smoothly jointed, precisely stitched. Over the back of a chair hangs a cot blanket made with squares of vintage pony fabric backed with softest pale blue fleece and edged with purple polka-dot.
Shelves in Marion’s sewing room at the front of her house are chock-full with folded fabric. Some sections are colour co-ordinated (“I must reorganise the rest!” she sighs) and it’s all a mix of vintage, new and traditional pieces picked up in charity shops or on eBay.
A 1972 Rupert Bear fabric is a favourite. Marion loves children’s book illustrations and has a sizeable collection of vintage titles. I recognise a pink flowery design as a duvet cover from my 1970s childhood, there are flighty pieces of costly Liberty lawn carefully wrapped in brown paper, and some rare Laura Ashley material with Marion’s favourite horse motif. Glass jars hold buttons and ribbons collected over the years, and rolls of thread are ordered on a rack made for Marion by her husband, Paul.
“With a blanket, I start with the backing fabric then rummage through my shelves to see what goes well,” she explains, pulling out a vibrant green, folksy, almost paisley-patterned fabric and homing in on a purple and white spotty piece by way of demonstration. She holds them together.
“That works, don’t you think?” The green fabric has been used in a recent piece, a striking oblong, bobbly-edged cushion in shocking pink with an appliqued rabbit.
“I love the design, I love how bright it is.” She works, self-taught, on a scarlet sewing machine, a basic John Lewis model, that sits on a table in the window, though she threads an antique manual machine when she’s making bears as it’s more effective on thick fur.
It all began with jam.
“I love making preserves, jumbleberry in particular – hence my business name. I used to sell jars at local fairs and I would make little lavender hanging hearts to sell alongside. People started asking me to stitch stuff and it grew from there. Word got round, I suppose.”
Jumbleberry has now officially been open for two years, an enterprise that Marion wraps around the needs of her two teenage daughters, Amber and Lauren, and nine-year old son, Arthur.
“I’ve always been creative, loved cooking, sewing, drawing. I’d love to have more hours in the day – if I get a couple of hours at the machine, then maybe a few minutes cutting fabric when dinner is cooking I’m doing well!”
Lack of time doesn’t prevent Marion from wanting to fuel her business, however, particularly through the power of Facebook. She also sells through the Handmade Shop & Gallery in Bury St Edmunds, and at the monthly March Hare Collective events.
As we meet, Marion has just finished making a ‘strawberry tea party’ patchwork blanket using her favourite vintage fabrics, some on-trend Union flags, and Cath Kidston-esque reds and blues. It will be offered on Facebook to raise money for research into type 1 diabetes, which her son, Arthur, suffers from.
See Marion’s work at www.facebook.com/jumbleberry or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is happy to discuss commissions.
To have a chance of winning Marion’s beautiful throw, simply make a donation to the JDRF charity at www.justgiving.com/marionjumbleberry. A winner will be drawn from the donors on May 2, Arthur’s 10th birthday.