Meet the Maker: Lois Bell from Bees and Blossoms
Lois Bell from Bees and Blossoms is a professional dressmaker who hates to see beautiful fabric go to waste. So she developed a way of using her offcuts to create one-off bags, embroidered fabric cuffs and textile jewellery. She has been sewing for as long as she can remember, so we thought it was about time we caught up with Lois to find out more…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I’m Lois from Bees and Blossoms. I make textile accessories – soft, squashy fabric bags and fabric jewellery. My main income comes from bespoke dressmaking, and that leaves me with wee off-cuts of beautiful fabrics. These are too good to waste, so I developed a way to use them. I piece them together to make one-of-a-kind fabric lengths and then use these panels to make my bags and jewellery designs. It’s a lovely way to use teeny pieces of often very expensive fabrics. I mix these with purchased fabrics to sew my own bag designs.
My main income comes from bespoke dressmaking, and that leaves me with wee off-cuts of beautiful fabrics. These are too good to waste, so I developed a way to use them.
How did you learn to sew?
I grew up surrounded by creativity at home and have always found myself drawn to fabrics, threads and yarns. My earliest sewing-related memories involve playing with my granny’s button boxes and embroidery threads. I don’t remember not sewing, but I probably started by making clothes for my fashion dolls and was taught how to use my mother’s sewing machine when I was still quite young. I studied at the Scottish College of Textiles, graduating in 1990, and worked as a commercial product designer until early 2006, when I set up my own dressmaking business. I’ve been sewing and textile crafting on an almost daily basis my entire life, one way or another.
How would you describe your style?
My work is colourful, rustic and outdoorsy with a Scottish twist. I couldn’t think of what to put, so my husband came up with that and I think it’s pretty accurate.
Who or what influences you?
The natural world is the biggest influence on my work, and especially the area immediately on my doorstep. Our home is in a village on the north side of the Forth estuary and I can walk from the front door to the beach in just a couple of minutes. We’re also right on the edge of the woods, so get occasional glimpses of deer, owls and buzzards from our garden. Nature has always called to me, and as a child I spent many hours hopping around in the rock pools and wandering through the woods building dens, enjoying some peace and quiet away from my three noisy siblings.
I’ve been sewing and textile crafting on an almost daily basis my entire life, one way or another.
Where do your ideas come from?
Ideas come from everywhere. I have an A4 hardback book that I use as a moveable mood board, adding in cuttings, photographs, fabric scraps, postcards, bits of my own work, scraps of lace and yarns, essentially anything that catches my eye. I’ve been using it since my college days, so I’d be devastated to lose it. I also have a few dozen sketchbooks dotted around the place and notebooks galore.
How do your designs develop?
I take a disciplined approach to the way I develop my bag designs and follow the same process each time. Sketches and ideas come first, followed by the initial pattern draft. I then make a toile to test it, adjust the pattern as necessary and then test it again before creating a production pattern. Why I make a new design varies – sometimes I have a specific product in mind, at other times I have an idea and want to explore it. Product development is great fun for me – I love solving problems.
I’m confident in my colour work and trust my abilities, so always follow my instincts when it comes to making up my assembled fabric pieces. I just open up my stash and start playing with the different colours and textures. This bit is the fluffiest, dustiest part of the process, so it’s best done when there are no dressmaking projects in my workroom.
By being open minded and prepared to do something using what I have, there’s ultimately very little waste, and that’s really important to me.
What about your textile jewellery pieces? How did they develop?
Smaller items like my textile necklaces come from my preference to avoid waste. The main fabric panel becomes a bag but, of course, there are scraps from that too. By being open minded and prepared to do something using what I have, there’s ultimately very little waste, and that’s really important to me.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Every item I make becomes my favourite piece. I feel that I sew a little piece of my heart into each and every item I create and, as a consequence, some of my bags and necklaces never quite make it into my Folksy shop. I excuse my behaviour by claiming I’m testing them.
Can you describe your workspace? Where is it and what’s in it?
My workspace is the spare room in our late Victorian house. I often dream of a separate studio but know I’d miss the sheer convenience of working from home. My elderly cats appreciate me being home too, and would really suffer without their treats dealer being on hand at all times. I’d love the room to be twice the size but I know how lucky I am to have it at all.
Into this small space I’ve squeezed three tables, including my drawing board, several sewing machines, my laptop, a couple of dress forms, a chest of drawers just for sewing threads, boxes of beads, embroidery silks, buttons, fibres, tools, yarns and enough fabric to make a circus tent out of, plus all my reference books. It’s supposed to all stay in this room, but I tend to spread out a bit…
I can’t imagine not being able to be creative all day, every day.
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
I can’t imagine not being able to be creative all day, every day. The most emotionally satisfying part is the relationship that’s created between me as a designer/maker and my clients. It’s incredibly rewarding. I also enjoy the flexibility I have – some weeks are manic and I’m no stranger to long days, but I also get chunks of time where there’s less happening and I can take a breather to recharge my batteries.
How would you spend your perfect day?
A mixture of solitude and socialising works perfectly for me, so it would involve a combination of studio work, some quiet time reading, a gentle walk, cooking something delicious for dinner with friends and an evening of chat and laughter. All of that on a cool, sunshiny September day would make me very contented indeed.
What does craft mean to you?
For me, personally, craft is the way I earn my living and the place I belong in the world. It involves using my creativity, imagination, passion, skill, originality and the very simple act of creating something using my own hands.