Crafting and making is something which Sue Orfila has always done, from making clothes for her Sindy doll and making her own crib at Christmas at the age of 5. “I’ve always made something from nothing” says Sue “I’m a thrifty kind of artist”, something which is evident when you take a look around Sue’s workspace and shop; OriginArta.
When Sue left school, she went to work in an office “that went against the grain, I wanted to be a hairdresser and be creative, I should have stayed on at school but I wanted money to buy clothes”. That office based work continued until Sue came to live in Gibraltar with her husband, an advert for a part time job at the Caleta Palace Hotel at Catalan Bay was the catalyst for a change in direction.
The job advertisement was for a hotel gardener but also offered the chance to do some flower arranging for weddings and that pushed Sue’s creative buttons. She got the job and after 2 years it became a full time position. “I realised my creative side” says Sue, “the pinnacle was at Christmas when they asked me to dress the Christmas tree on a tight budget – I was in my element”.
After having her son, Adam, Sue stopped working but continued her creativity by returning to drawing, something she hadn’t done much of since childhood. As Adam got older, Sue went into partnership with another girl in the early 1990s and and opened ‘Suzie Willow’, a shop selling dried flower arrangements. In 2000 Sue left the shop but she continued drawing and making things for herself in the meantime.
Then, ten years later, the time was right for Sue to open another shop and OriginArta was born. It’s first location was on Governor’s Street, just a short distance from it’s current spot and was “a great little shop, but when it rained it leaked like a sieve” reminisces Sue. When her current shop became available she was really happy “I got a window to dress!”
Sue’s shop window is an absolute delight (regular readers of the Postcard from Gibraltar blog may remember seeing it featured before in Sunday Sevens). Following the same principles of form and depth as in flower arranging, Sue takes great care in dressing her shop window to reflect the seasons.
As well as selling items she has made and upcycled, Sue offers a range of craft classes from flower arranging and ‘stencil and stitch’ to decoupage and still life drawing. “I don’t want to influence my students” says Sue, “I want them to find their own style”.
In her stencil and stitch classes, students make their own design and cut out the negative before painting it onto fabric to creative a positive image. They then use embroidery to embellish it further. The designs can be used to make cushions and soft furnishings like trims for curtains.
Another passion for Sue is upcycling things which are no longer wanted, from picture frames to pieces of furniture. She says “I like to take a photo before and after the process”. Using things like tissue, paint or wrapping paper and pieces of tile or pottery found on the beach.
Beach walks are a regular feature of Sue’s routine. During the summer months she takes morning walks from her home in town round to Catalan Bay and forages along the beach for anything interesting the sea has washed up. “I love it in summer, I get everything from Catalan Bay – I’ve got bags of stuff” says Sue, although she just collects man-made items leaving the shells and pebbles behind.
Having her own workspace and shop means that Sue is free to please herself about what she creates, “inspiration can come from anywhere, it might result in a painting, up cycled piece or a new stencil design. What’s brilliant is if someone likes it enough to buy it, that’s a real buzz”. Sue also takes commissions.
Born and brought up on the south coast of England, a cross Europe road trip in her early twenties brought Sarah Devincenzi to Gibraltar for the first time. She loved it so much that she came back and made it her home. Now married and with three children in school here, Sarah has been able to devote some of her time to her first passion; arts and crafts.
Sarah says she has always been creative: “Always… it’s my default setting! I’ve always been creative in a visual way”. As a child, in her free time, when she wasn’t at school or competing in athletics, she was to be found drawing. She was sporty but teachers forced her to choose between sport and art – art won out. Sarah continues, “after A-levels I got a bit disillusioned at school, so decided not to go to art school like my friends”.
Instead of taking the academic path, Sarah began an apprenticeship with a sign writer who was a friend of the family. “I went along reluctantly,” she said “but I had an amazing 3 or 4 years, it was really creative stuff; we painted murals by hand”. It was after this apprenticeship, that along with her two best friends, Sarah set off on the adventure which was to become documented by Rebecca Faller in her book Renault 5 (which Sarah designed the cover for). “It was an escape from reality for all of us – we just thought what now?”
When Sarah first came back to Gibraltar to live, it was hard for British citizens to get ‘proper’ jobs, so she spent several years waitressing before landing a job at a sign writing company here. Sarah says that her time working with lettering forged her love with letters and type “and that morphed into art”. When Sarah’s children were born though, she said that the creativity stopped for her “I couldn’t be creative and have kids”.
Sarah found her stifled creativity frustrating so began making cakes but says it was a lot of hard work. Then three years ago, a friend suggested that she should get involved with Gibraltar Arts & Crafts Association, she says “it gave me a purpose and reignited everything! I had always drawn and painted, so I started on paper maché”.
Sarah began experimenting with paper maché “I love getting dirty so I enjoyed making it”. She was soon producing bowls, brooches and other items for the Gibraltar Arts & Crafts Association’s two shops in Casemates Square and the cruise liner terminal. One of her best sellers has been fridge magnets with collages of the Rock of Gibraltar, of which she has sold “hundreds” – there may be one lurking on a fridge near you….
Along with the Arts & Crafts Association, Sarah has been a stall holder at the annual Convent Christmas Fair. Her beautiful Gibraltar baubles are a real hit at the fair and in the shops as visitors like to have a souvenir from their holiday to hang on their tree.
Sarah became part of the committee which runs the Arts & Crafts Association, although she has now stepped down to allow her to follow her creative journey to the next stage. “I feel torn” she says, having to produce a lot of stock for the shops limited her time for other creative endeavours but “it was a catalyst for me, I got clients through being with the Association and they wouldn’t have known about me otherwise”.
Sarah’s paper maché creations led onto collage, another passion of hers.
Sarah has been able to put her love of all things paper to good use and recently created a piece of work to raise funds for a very worthy cause. After attending a talk given by Dan Teuma, a Gibraltarian who has worked in migrant camps in Greece, Sarah decided to make something to raise funds for the cause The World Wide Tribe on the Rock. She covered a chair with découpage made of Beano comics and managed to raise a substantial amount of money.
The power of Facebook meant that the chair was seen by thousands of people. Sarah says she now plans to make more items like this and donate the proceeds to The World Wide Tribe on the Rock and support the work they do.
The future looks bright for Sarah, who is currently working on a project she has always fancied having a go at “I’ve been asked to illustrate a children’s book, I’m really excited by that”. Sarah also teaches craft classes to middle school aged children at the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. Working alongside Eli Farrell, a retired teacher, she says the children are taught about a subject from Gibraltar’s history and then they create something along that theme, be it a mural of the Battle of Trafalgar “with water skiers and piranhas or cannons which the boys really enjoy!”
From making clothes for her Pippa doll out of scraps of discarded fabric, to creating the dress worn by Miss Gibraltar the night she became Miss World and setting dozens of sewing students off on their own making and designing careers, Dorcas Hammond tells me how she turned her passion into a creative business.
Christened with the name of a seamstress from the Old Testament, it would seem that Dorcas Hammond was born to sew. Her father, who Dorcas describes as a very religious man, had liked the name and as his wife was a keen seamstress herself, he thought it appropriate to name his second daughter Dorcas. Little did he know at that time, what an accomplished designer and dressmaker, she would later become.
Dorcas began sewing at a very young age. Her mother made curtains at home and she picked up the remnants of curtain fabric and hand sewed them to make dolls clothes. By the age of six, she was using her mother’s sewing machine in secret with the help of her older sister, Ingrid. “When my mother was out, my sister helped me get the sewing machine to work” she told me. The pair would operate the tredle-powered machine until Dorcas was able to manage on her own using her tip-toes to reach the pedal.
Her secret was only discovered when “the ironing lady (who came to the house) said she needed two sheets sewing together but as my mother wasn’t there it couldn’t be done. I told her I would do it and machined them together for her … the ironing lady told my mother that it was me who had done the sewing”. After being rumbled for using the sewing machine, Dorcas’s mum put her to work doing embroidery but she hated it, “I remember embroidering this bird and it was rubbish, I just wanted to sew”.
Later on in childhood, she would make simple clothes using Burda and Simplicity patterns and experiment with her cousin. They would lock themselves into a bedroom and measure, sew and fit the clothes. No one was allowed to see what they had done until they were completely happy with the finished result.
Dorcas’s passion for sewing continued into her teens, she began making clothes for clients at the age of 18 while working in a cosmetics shop on Main Street. Each lunchtime she would rush home at 1 o’clock, her mother would have her lunch prepared for her and she’d spend her lunch break sewing garments for clients before returning to work at 3pm for the second half of her shift.
In the evening, Dorcas would begin her sewing work again with the help of her mum. “My mother would go to bed when she got tired, but I would carry on until I’d finished. I couldn’t sleep until the garment was on the hanger – sometimes I’d sew until 2am”.
Sewing has run in Dorcas’ family for generations. Her grandmother had a workshop with her own mother making clothes. When Dorcas told her mum that she would like a workshop like her grandmother’s (at a time when no one else had one in Gibraltar), her mother said she was crazy and said she was to keep working at her job in the shop.
It wasn’t until the age of 26, when she’d been married and had her two sons and “had a load of problems that I decided it was the time to do it”. The ICC shopping centre had just opened in town and she opened her first shop there.
At that time, Dorcas created her garments using manufactured patterns but soon discovered that they didn’t always work well for her clients. “Someone would want a dress with a sleeve from this pattern, the skirt from another pattern and a top from the other pattern”. Dorcas then had to decipher how she was going to join all the elements together.
She’d had no formal training but was given a book of instructions on how to cut your own patterns by one of the ladies who did sewing for her. “I still have that book to this day” she says, “it was very old but I went through it and as I have always had a good eye, I knew some parts were wrong for what I was making. It was the first steps to the pattern cutting system I use and teach now”.
The first made-to-measure garments Dorcas created (using her own patterns) were for her mum before implementing the method in her shop. Because she’d not been formally taught how to make the patterns properly, Dorcas says she was always scared that she wouldn’t have enough fabric to fit the garments properly. As a consequence, she cut huge seam allowances. It wasn’t until she went to a crash course in pattern cutting in Madrid in 2000, that she learned the seam allowances only need to be 1 or 2cms.
While in Madrid, she was asked by one of the teachers why she had come to the course as Dorcas had created the best sample jacket sleeve the teacher had ever seen. It was thanks to this compliment that Dorcas left filled with the confidence to truly believe in her designing and dressmaking capabilities. That was almost seventeen years ago and since then her business has gone from strength to strength.
Alongside her dressmaking and designing business, Dorcas inadvertantly ended up teaching the skills she’d developed over the years to others. During the time she had run her shop, people had occasionally asked her to teach them dressmaking. She also took on interns every now and then from University, however it was an ecclesiastical request which set her on the road to teaching properly.
“I was at a song contest and Father Caruana asked me if I would teach some of his social cases. By the time I said yes, a room had already been set aside at Nazareth House and six sewing machines had been bought”. Dorcas spent several years volunteering at Nazareth House teaching not just sewing but life skills to the young women who attended the classes. She says “we discussed things like what you should wear to go to a job interview and how to behave” a bit like a mother or big sister might.
The lessons came to an end when Father Caruana died, but there were still a few students who wanted to carry on being taught. Eventually, Dorcas needed to find new premises for the lessons and converted the rear of her workshop into a classroom and began the Dorcas Hammond Fashion Academy. After perfecting her own method of pattern cutting, she compiled all her notes into a four year course to teach dressmaking, from beginners through to tailoring and wedding dress design.
Dorcas says she has had many highs throughout her career including fashion shows in London, Marbella, Morocco, Madrid and Portugal. She designed and created the Gibraltar National Costume worn by the Miss Gibraltar contestants when they attend pageants, and is most famous for creating the dress worn by the 2009 winner of Miss World, Gibraltar’s Kaiane Aldorino.
Dorcas says she still gets a thrill out of making dresses “I love what I do… I get butterflies in my stomach when it looks good”. The biggest highlight for her though, is seeing her students go out from her Academy and make the most of their great potential. So far she has seen former students go on to study fashion at University, get PGCEs and go into teaching themselves and one has opened her own fashion boutique. “I want them to achieve what I haven’t and fulfill their dreams” she says.
So what does the future hold for Dorcas? “Well I’m a chicken” she says. “If I haven’t done more things it’s because I take a long time thinking about doing them. When I was young I just jumped into things, but not so much now”. Her small alterations and dressmaking shop developed into a fashion design business and academy and the next step will see her selling her fashion designs online. “Some days I wake up and I say who will buy my clothes? But then I think if other people can do it why can’t I?”
Dorcas is currently working on her first online collection and is looking forward to launching it later on in 2017. You can find Dorcas at her shop on Governor’s Street and on Facebook and Twitter as Dorcas Hammond Fashion Design.
Gibraltar may be small, but it is such a creative place. This month on Postcard from Gibraltar, I’m casting the spotlight onto some of the very talented people who call the Rock their home. Throughout February, in my ‘Creative Gibraltar’ series I’ll be talking to people from all sorts of creative backgrounds.
In this episode of the Postcard from Gibraltar Podcast, I hear from writer and poet, Rebecca Faller about her latest book Renault Five. The story is an autobiographical account of a road trip across Europe with her two closest friends which brought her to Gibraltar for the first time.
Throughout the month of February here at Postcard from Gibraltar, I am taking a look at some of the very talented creative folk who live here on the Rock. Today, it’s the turn of Deborah M Lawson..
Deborah M Lawson is a Yorkshire born artist who specialises in watercolour painting. She came to Gibraltar around ten years ago, when her husband’s job moved here, leaving her job as a social worker in England to become a full-time artist on the Rock. Deborah now accepts commissions and offers watercolour classes to students.
Deborah says she has always been interested drawing and painting and enjoyed art as a child. Her father was a good artist, so she believes she may have been influenced by him. After studying art at A-level, she considered going on to Art School, but was encouraged to follow a more traditional and better paying career path, and so went on to study and take up a career in social work.
When Deborah’s children were in full time school, that’s when the opportunity arose for her to get back in touch with her artistic endeavours. Enrolling in a foundation course in Art & Design led to her achieving a degree in the subject. From that moment on, Deborah juggled four jobs, that of mother, part-time social worker, artist (painting for exhibitions) and art teacher. The move to Gibraltar allowed her to leave social work altogether and focus solely on her painting.
Portraits, landscapes and plants are her inspiration and Deborah particularly likes some of the architecture here in Gibraltar especially “old buildings which look like they are growing out of the Rock like Parson’s Lodge”. She says she’s interested in experimenting with abstract too but that’s harder in watercolour than in oils, a medium she has now given up.
On the subject of teaching, “I love watercolour so I enjoy passing on techniques,” she said “and the excitement it can generate when a student produces something they’re pleased with”. Many of Deborah’s students come to her as complete beginners and when they find they can actually paint under her instruction, she finds that very satisfying. “A lot of people find it therapeutic, so that’s rewarding,” she added.
As for her teaching style, Deborah says that she didn’t do much watercolour at Art College, so she has had to develop her own techniques and style by trial and error using books and looking at other artists. She says she made “a lot of muddy messes” before getting the hang of the medium. For that reason, she remarked that she’s “quite directive – you learn a lot faster if you’re shown how to do it”.
Her goal as an artist is to continue developing and hopefully sell more paintings. She says she would like to develop some more abstract work too.
Does Deborah have any advice for aspiring artists? “Work at it, it takes a lot of practice. Do courses, read and look at other artists’ work. Find some artists who’s work you like and borrow their techniques to develop your own style”.
Deborah’s work can be seen on her website : www.deborahmlawson.com. She also sells small items at the Arts & Crafts Centre in Casemates Square and the Cruise Liner Terminal.
Creative Gibraltar is a series by Postcard from Gibraltar