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Master craftswoman

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One of South Woodford’s most senior residents, master craftswoman Wendy Lawson, is surrounded in her home by beautiful examples of her own handiwork. Bernice Butcher meets a woman of many talents

Years ago, ‘make do and mend’ was a practical necessity for many people, especially in wartime. It’s interesting to see those creative skills, such as sewing, coming back into fashion, as people begin to appreciate the contribution that recycling and ‘upcycling’ make to a less wasteful and healthier world.

Almost everything sewn in Wendy Lawson’s home has been made by her. The quilts, in particular, are stunning, but Wendy’s achievements also include furniture making, gilding, drawing, painting and photography.

Born in 1928, Wendy attended boarding school during World War Two. Her father was a senior officer in the RAF and had to move around the country. Wendy’s mother travelled with him, volunteering in the WVS (now WRVS), driving ambulances and other heavy military vehicles, often without headlights. Wendy enjoyed boarding school, where her interest in needlework was encouraged. Its foundation was in her family background, however. “Mother was an excellent seamstress and made several garments out of parachute silks.”

Her father was also good with a needle and made various tapestries. His uncle was Sir James Hawkey (of Hawkey Hall fame) and the family had a house built on the Monkhams Estate. “I remember that the opposite side of the road to our house was forest – no houses at all,” recalls Wendy.

Following a short period at the Bank of England (where she was shown the gold reserves!), Wendy joined the Royal Navy and then the Merchant Navy, where she met her husband Ashley, a civil engineer. She organised activities for passengers’ children and still loves to be around young people.

After leaving the Merchant Navy, Wendy attended the London College of Furniture where she studied furniture restoration, making a pair of chairs and a writing desk, both of which daughter Charlotte is the proud custodian. Charlotte recalls a family project on her brother Jolyon’s car. Wendy went to Connolly’s Leather Yard, then in the East End, to choose the hides for the car seats and roof, which she then upholstered.

Wood carving and upholstery led to soft furnishings, which eventually became her chosen field. Encouraged to teach, she eventually took over her tutor’s classes when she retired. Patchwork and quilting were a natural progression, and she later developed City and Guilds courses in this and other sewing crafts at Loughton College. Wendy’s quilts have been featured in shows in America and the UK.

These days, Wendy takes pleasure in her garden – and is still sewing at 93. “Sewing has always been an enormous part of my life, giving me great satisfaction and comfort.”

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