'You’re giving somebody a product they’re going to cherish' says Alfreton trader who is making special patchwork comfort blankets
Jo Mepham runs Patchworkz Reloved in Alfreton Indoor Market. She will sew you a quilt made of old clothes from a lost loved one, or from your grown kid’s toddler outfits so you can wrap yourself in moments you want to keep.
Jo will also wrap you in an unavoidable optimism as you listen to her talk. Her smile a comfort blanket in itself, her laugh that sunlight on a grumpy day. As we sit chatting in her sewing room across from her market stall, the conversation takes an unexpected turn.
“What was it my nanna said to me?” Jo says, then pauses, smiling.
“When I was pregnant with my eldest, I was sixteen at the time. I’d basically gone to Skegness for a weekend, and was there for six months… Ended up staying there, came back pregnant.”
Jo pauses again, the smile now a grin. “And I went to tell my nanna that I was pregnant, and she was like ‘Well, you’ll still be young enough to enjoy life!’”
Jo laughs. “And like I say, I had him at seventeen and had my daughter at nineteen. People don’t believe me when I say I’m forty-seven and I’ve got a thirty year-old son… I’ve got three grand-kids now as well!”
You get the impression that Jo accepts a challenge with a grin. She tells of the process in making what she makes, the intricacy and attention in each stitch apparent. The mixing of materials a definite brain-tickle, be it a quilt, a cushion, or a peg-bag. Her re-purpose of materials certainly an offspring of the make-do and mend culture.
“Giving it a new lease of life… I love the idea of giving an unwanted or unused piece of material, whether it be old clothing or an old pair of curtains, a new lease of life. That’s where a lot of my smaller products come in, because I don’t like wasting anything… If something is reusable, can be mended, I’ll do it.”
When asked where all this started, Jo pulls a near-pesky thinking face, then nods.
“We moved to a bigger property when my daughter was coming up to two. So she was going into her own little bedroom. I wanted a proper girly bedroom for her. I still torment her about it now, and she’s twenty-eight… I wanted a pair of pink gingham curtains for her bedroom. And I couldn’t find any anywhere, without going anywhere to have them made which would have cost me an absolute fortune.”
“I didn’t have the budget. So I thought ‘Right, I can do basic sewing’. I actually borrowed my dad’s sewing machine. Which actually belonged to his mum. A semi-industrial 1960s Jones. My dad used to refurbish motorbikes. He’d use the sewing machine for repairs on the seats. Repairs on the bags. So, I borrowed it, and made the curtains. I was quite pleased with myself.”
“And I don’t know how, but I got into collecting vintage fabrics and textiles. I don’t know how because I was a teenage metal-head. And I wanted to do something… so I did a very basic patchwork quilt.”
As Jo tells this story, it feels Jo herself has the character of one of her quilt creations. Different colours and shapes making a characterful and unified whole. The need to make her daughter some curtains. A borrowed sewing machine used to make motorbike seats. A teenage heavy metal fan who’d developed a love for vintage material. A quilt is made. Happenstance odds and sods that all come together as steps towards where she is now: her stall of self-made quality items.
“I’ve always liked this market. It’s always had a really nice feel about it,” Jo says with a nod.
And how does it feel doing what you do? “It’s a great feeling. It’s feeling that you’re giving somebody a product they’re going to cherish.”
‘Cherish’ seems an important word here. Jo tells of the process of making memory quilts.
“Memory quilts are basically made out of items of clothing that belonged to someone, for instance, a relative that has passed away. One particular order I did last year was for a lady, and she’d got three bags of clothes that belonged to her late mum. She just couldn’t bear to part with them.”
“Her mum was in the RAF so she had a lot of shirts with logos on. She wanted me to make three throws that could go on the end of a bed, back of a sofa… out of as much of this clothing as possible. One for herself, one for her brother, and one for her nan.”
“One of my regular customers I did a quilt for, from her little girl’s first clothes. And tried to incorporate as much of the motifs as possible. And there was one particular item, it was a red and white checked romper suit, that had a little pocket on the front with a tiny little teddy bear on it. And I incorporated that. She was over the moon with it. She’s having another baby, and she’s said ‘I’ll be back for another one’.”
There’s a glow about Jo as she tells this. Far from ego, this is delivered with an authentic pride of making someone happy, and the trust that is given to Jo’s skills.
“I love the challenge… and I will rework it until I’m a hundred-percent happy with it. If I’m not a hundred-percent happy with it, then my customers aren’t going to be a hundred-percent happy with it.”
Jo Mepham: the patchwork lady who wins with a grin.