Lydia Lane | Sew She Stitches Co
Lydia Lane is the one-woman show behind the slow fashion brand ‘SewSheStitchesCo’. It’s a cloudy Sunday morning when I call her and she’s sitting in her bedroom – she’s currently staying at her parents’ house in a small village in the Scottish Borders. Even though she’s isolated from her friends, she’s really close with her parents, so it’s nice to be home in the countryside.
How did it all start? When Lydia’s older sister finally passed her driving test, Lydia wanted to give her more than just a card to celebrate the occasion so decided to pick up a needle and thread and design a T-shirt for her instead. Shortly after that, SewSheStitchesCo was born in November 2019. She describes her brand as more of a hobby than a proper business, and that’s exactly how she wants it to be.
There’s no need to discuss goals and projects with Lydia, she’s very much relaxed and grounded, letting things come her way and seeing how they work out. “The only thing I want to be is happy. I don’t think I can measure success by certain goals”.
All her embroidery is hand-stitched onto the garments and this is not a fast process. It can take anything from 4 days to a week for one piece. The less detailed designs can take a couple of hours but intricate designs like her adaptation of ‘The Great Wave’ and Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ take about 4-7 days – she backtracks and softly adds that the Van Gogh can now be done much quicker because she makes this pattern so often.
Lydia is pleasantly surprised by her own talents with a needle and thread, especially considering how little sewing practice she’d had before – other than the odd school project where the teacher had to help untangle her whenever a bobbin needed threading or there was a knot in the stitching. She actually taught herself how to do embroidery and confesses that she still doesn’t really know the names of the stitches but has a few books somewhere around the house if she ever needs to look something up.
Although Lydia hadn’t any idea of embroidery beforehand, her enthusiasm shines when we discuss her creativity. She can also knit and crochet but with those crafts, she finds that you can’t just sit down to do them without having to go and get all the equipment. “I’ve got a very gung-ho attitude when it comes to creative stuff”. She fondly remembers once seeing a beautiful cake in the shape of a Le Creuset pot and thought it would be a great present for Mother’s Day. She wouldn’t generally consider herself a baker but why not? How hard could it be? Surely she could apply her creativity to baking too, so she decided to give it a go! It turned out awful.
Thankfully, unlike baking, Lydia continued pursuing embroidery and found it to be much more therapeutic than other hobbies. In November 2019 she set up her Etsy shop on a whim and with the lockdown in full swing throughout 2020, people took to online shopping and that was when things really picked up for Lydia.
She knew she couldn’t continue her business with her chilled mindset and took some time to work out a system and invest in new packaging, tailored to reflect her brand and she’s delighted with how well it’s going. “It’s great, I love it. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done”.
Early on when she started setting up SewShe StitchesCo, Lydia bought an enormous amount of silky satin material. “I don’t know why I got it to be honest”, but not wanting to waste the fabric, she decided to make scrunchies and hair-bands. Originally she would hand sew all of these and it took nearly an hour per scrunchy, which wasn’t viable, but luckily she has a beautiful bright blue sewing machine that is her pride and joy, even if it was slightly daunting at first.
Having gotten over the fear of the sewing machine, Lydia would now love to learn more about free-hand machine embroidery and found a course in Glasgow but sadly due to the pandemic, the studio had to shut and the lessons couldn’t go ahead so she’s had to put a pin in that idea for the time being.
For now Lydia is appreciating the time off over the summer to focus on her own ideas. “You know when the inspiration hits and you’re like ‘wow, this is the best moment ever’?”. She’s excited to show me a floral pattern on a pink sweater that she’s working on – the pink flowers are starting to become a trademark emblem on her designs, inspired by the blossom in full bloom at this time of year. She’s a beautiful illustrator too and often draws pictures before transferring them to fabric – admittedly, she still uses her biro to do this but she is looking out for a proper fabric pen, maybe one day!
We sit talking for a while and she teaches me about some techniques for embroidery. One of her favourite things to do is to adapt portraits of pets and stitch them into items of clothing like hats or t-shirts. She would love to practice this technique a bit more – it’s a really lovely idea and always gets a good reception.
Her brand and creative ideas are constantly evolving and she’s happy with how it’s all looping together. “I started off embroidering Primark tees but I really wanted to get my own brand on it”, which she found hard to do when ‘basic stretch’ was stained across the label. Nowadays there is a more considerate and eco approach to all parts of her brand. “My suppliers are amazing! They have 4 different ranges, all promoting different things like carbon neutral, or fair wear”. Lydia normally buys from the carbon neutral category where the t-shirts are at least 40% organic cotton, the rest is recycled plastic.
Lydia also proudly re-uses her delivery bags from other items she’s bought. “Sometimes my packages can look a bit [insert icky face] on the outside” but she assures me that they’re lovely on the inside. This also trims the costs and helps keep the prices of her garments affordable.
Between moving back home, the pandemic, starting a part-time job, studying, and keeping up with the growing demand for her hand-embroidered clothes, how does she balance everything? “I do the thing that I enjoy the most, which is sewing”. There’s no surprise and no shame when Lydia looks away and grimaces, “I won’t lie… I think some of my uni work has been neglected”.
Lydia is due to start back at Stirling University in September, having decided to weave a different future for herself. Initially when she was applying for uni, she was feeling a lot of pressure, especially as her older sisters had also gone to Glasgow and Edinburgh for their studies.
Lydia received her unconditional offer from the prestigious University of Edinburgh and darted up to Edinburgh to study German and History but wasn’t so hooked on it. “I just wasn’t in the right mindset”. It didn’t help that a lot of her friends had settled on Edinburgh too and she could see how seamlessly they had integrated to the new environment, but that just wasn’t the case for Lydia, “they were happy; they weren’t lonely; they weren’t missing home”.
Bracing herself against everyone’s reaction that she didn’t enjoy the University of Edinburgh, Lydia decided to put her fraying mental health first and left Edinburgh after finishing her first year. She did a lot of research into the universities she originally overlooked and knew that Stirling University would be the right choice for her. “It’s a really beautiful place and the mental health support was really good, which was really important”.
Still feeling the knot in her stomach from Edinburgh, she decided to defer a year before going back to university and found a classroom assistant job, which set her up quite well for her new beginning: primary teaching. Her mum is a childminder, which made Lydia consider the move to primary teaching. She’s always happy to help her mum and is used to being around children all the time – something she missed when she was in Edinburgh.
Due to the coronavirus, Lydia unfortunately lost her job as classroom assistant but was quickly able to secure a part-time job at Morrisons, who were hiring at the door to cope with the apocalyptic shoppers.
Despite losing her classroom assistant job, Lydia is much happier since the lockdown hit. Of course she recognises it’s very privileged to say that, but for Lydia, being able to sew and just work without any pressure has done wonders for her mental health. “I’m a different person to the person I was when I was in Edinburgh”.
When studying on campus during the pandemic, Lydia was one of the more careful students, which caused tension with some of her flatmates who questioned why she was even bothering with uni if she didn’t want to be part of the mass house parties. Between the pandemic and the strain of socialising at university, her confidence has been knocked. Although she’s excited and ready to move back to Stirling, she openly talks about her anxiety to make friends. “I don’t feel like I need more friends but it is something that I worry about. I’m not the type of person that has loads and loads of friends – I need to have a genuine connection there”.
Prior to starting SewSheStichesCo, Lydia was quite nervous and felt like she was apologising for everything she was doing. She was worried about other people’s perceptions and didn’t dare share any of her designs on her personal instagram account. But then one day she thought about how encouraged she feels when she sees other people doing the things they love. “I think that’s the coolest thing in the world, so why am I believing that [other people] are going to think negatively of me? And if they do, that’s probably their problem”, she says with an assertive edge, radiating with her newfound confidence and strength.
One of the best things to come out of SewSheStitchesCo is the kindness that people have shown her. “Just people telling me that they like what I’m doing. Any support, any orders”. SewSheStitchesCo has connected her with a lot of new people and after such a long time of doubting herself and apologising, Lydia is starting to rebuild her confidence and come into her own. She trusts that it will work out in a new city and that people will genuinely like her and see that she is actually a cool person. “It’s ok if people don’t like you. Just be yourself and that will attract the right energy”.
Any advice for someone who might also be feeling a weight on their shoulders? “Probably something generic like: ‘Do what makes you happy’”. One thing that she is personally working on is being more forgiving to herself, not comparing herself to others and working towards what she wants. When things don’t go to plan, she’s learning to accept it and go along with it. “I’m on my own path and what I’m doing is making me happy”.
The clouds taper off and the sun peeks through as we talk about our plans for the rest of the day. Lydia glances outside her bedroom window and decides today will be a “nice, chill Sunday”.
You can see all of Lydia’s designs by following her on instagram: @SewSheStitchesCo
All her designs are sold through her Etsy shop, which is updated with new pieces when they’re available – you can ‘Favourite’ the shop to keep an eye out for new releases
All photos belong to Lydia Lane, @SewSheStitchesCo.