Ellie Pearce makes adorable outfits for children from vintage linen under the name Ellie's Heirlooms. We find out more about her kitchen table business and what inspires her...
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started.
I am a mother of two gorgeous girls, living in East London with my husband and Rolo the dog. We grow vegetables in the garden and try and practise as much self sufficiency as possible; this fed my appetite to be able to make clothing. I have always been fascinated by fabric and the story of costume, and I was already creating patterns on ceramics and unbleached cotton, so when a friend offered her grandmother's linen from her trousseau (her mother didn’t want it), it was a dream. I taught myself how to screen print, and started to shape these linen sheets into as many things as I could, wasting nothing. Antique linen has great flexibility, beauty and strength so it was perfect. A year later my friend asked if I had made anything from the fabric that she could give her mother, so we made an apron out of her grannie's linen, and her mother treasures it and uses it every day. The concept was clear, this linen must be repurposed and passed on, not only to honour where it has come from but so that it can be given another life and purpose again.
What drew you to making children’s clothing?
My first draw to making children’s clothing was that I have 2 girls who are very fussy and particular about what they wear, and a desire for them to wear natural fabrics that are beautiful and not unethically made. I also found that it brings great pleasure to adults to buy gifts of clothing that have a story and purpose for their grandchildren, godchildren or their own kids. The other aspect is apart from how gorgeous they look small scale, I can make more items from the linen sheets and more heirlooms can be passed on and worn.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
During the war, feed sacks were used as printed fabric for making clothing while rationing was going on - this practical idea, as well as the incredibly bold prints that were used, totally inspired me. The ‘make do and mend’ initiative during the war, to reuse and repurpose, helped me focus on practical and beautiful items for everyday wear. I also am obsessed with wild flowers and the patterns are often related to those and other important environmental aspects, like bees!
What are your favourite creations?
I love the shirt dress, because it's so easy and represents the practical aspect that's at the heart of my work. It can be for all seasons, it's timeless as a style and can be made up of panels if I have many bits of linen, rather than larger pieces. You can shove it on at the beach, with tights, over a dress, or with leggings. I also love the skirts which are easy to put on - kids can put them on themselves and they are lovely and full. I just love seeing them with a woolly jumper, cotton tights and wellies. I have to say I love the dresses too. Each item is made one at time and unique, so actually they are all my favourite!
Please tell us about your working space.
This is work in progress, as it is my kitchen table. I wanted to be able to work from home and be there when I am needed, but my printing is small scale and I hate tidying up, and I have to do that a lot. I love being at the heart of the house, but have to admit I would rather like a shed or a studio soon!
What is your favourite tool of the trade?
I do love my screens for printing and the process is so rhythmic and satisfying, but I also love my button maker! Wow what a brilliant tool.
What are your goals for the next few years?
I would love to expand, to have a team and make specifically for small producers or businesses that nurture ethical fashion, unique clothing and upcycling. Having a range in small boutique shops all over the country would be wonderful as getting out there myself is very tricky and I want this repurposed linen clothing to be worn.
What advice can you give someone starting a creative business?
Tricky, as I still feel like I need so much advice on the business side of things, as I care too much. It takes so much time though and you need to be patient. Make sure you're not undermining yourself to make things happen quickly if its a unique business. Don’t let people tell you what works or doesn’t and trust in your own creativity. I also think having as many meetings or chats with mentors or other people in the same field is fantastic; there are so many courses and groups available, particularly for small creative businesses and women trying to create a business that fits in with motherhood.
How do you balance work and life?
It's very tiring. I have an amazing husband who is also a self-employed artist, so he understands and we take turns. I am trying to find a more steady balance, however, which is why I am looking to sell through shops rather than fairs as it can take huge amount of work and energy and I'm not good at preparing in advance. I find our life is very scheduled and determined by the routines the kids are in, such as going to school, so I am trying to adhere to that in order to not make it stressful (which doesn’t always happen). Holidays are vital, and terrifying as you always have to give up an opportunity of work, but so, so important to life.
Describe your perfect day.
My perfect day involves sun and coffee, garden time, printing and easy sewing. Kid time, chatting, crafting. Then wine and dinner, in the garden with the children playing in the tree house, possibly a period drama film in the evening and spending time with my husband.
Where can we find your work?
My website is the first place www.elliesheirlooms.com, I am also on Not On The High Street and work with Urban Makers East, who are a wonderful team curating fairs and pop-ups.