Insight : Chloé Burrow of The Merry Bobbins

17 August 2012

One side of the family are farmers from Devon who survived World War II on lashings of clotted cream and hearty English breakfasts (do bear in mind that the rest of the country was living off powdered egg and corned beef). Meanwhile a grandmother was a dressmaker from Paris who worked for the couturiers.

What sort of woman is forged from such stock? A highly creative, thoughtful and ambitious one with a passion for marmalade, that's what.  And so may I introduce Chloé Burrow, co-founder of the craft evangelisation company, The Merry Bobbins

Miss Chloé Burrow

Following her degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central Saint Martins, Chloé had the usual slew of suitably fashiony internships. However, the revelation struck that pursuits of a polished "make do and mend" nature combined with home economics were what really got her excited. As a means of promoting her passion to the masses she established the Merry Bobbins with her chum Kirstie Beaven.

Past workshops have included forging slippers from old jumpers, Adventures in Marmalade Making (February only. That's when the Seville oranges - which make the tangiest marmalade with that hint of citrussy bitterness - are in season) and Make Your Own Lipstick.

"Ho hum!" I hear you cry, "But why are Chloé's ventures any different to the rash of pop up workshops that typify the twee revolution resulting from these economically straightened times?" An excellent point, and one that Chloé herself is mulling over. Whilst it would be easy to make her millions  by cynically exploiting hen party after hen party with promises of lipstick and pompom'd slippers 52 Saturdays of the year... there's something rather soulless about such a path.

An afternoon helping a self-contained clique make a souvenier is not enough. Granted, an exceptionally high-quality product of a souvenier, but a souvenier nonetheless. Where's the heart in that? 

Chloé wants to create spaces to form new, intergenerational communities bound by the glue of craft and cookery. Chloé works at Age UK's Camden Activities Resource Centre for the over 60s. She creates contemporary and edgy projects for the members to deploy lifetimes' worth of knitting, crocheting and sewing skills.

And they love it. And they want more.

"For that generation, resourcefulness is a way of life" says Chloé. So combining new looks with old skills is a chance to flex those creative muscles. Rethinking and reworking objects and materials is all a part of the adventure.

Meanwhile the most incredible stories of love, loss and risqué frolics are recounted over tea, cake and crochet. Guidance and tips are exchanged whilst friendships are formed and strengthened. Each week the community's roots grow ever deeper.

Yeah, you can kind of see why Chloé would want to bring this feeling into the Merry Bobbins. We live in a society that promotes consumption at speed, a world in which unachievable, photoshopped beauty brings misery to the richest people on earth. Children are demonised and oldies are portrayed as incapable societal burdens. Loneliness abounds.

Pfff... I feel depressed just thinking about it.

But to learn and engage with the older generation, enjoy the skills and products you then make, followed by the chance to pass on the knowledge yourself ... it sounds terribly fluffy, but oh so simple and oh so...


But how to combine this wholesome simplicity with a business, without corrupting the inherent good of such projects by the need to make a living? Now there's a conundrum upon which Chloé is currently pondering.

If you want to help her work it out, whilst keeping some terribly useful skills alive and joining this fledgling community of intergenerational crafters, keep your eyes on the Merry Bobbins website. Future workshops include Recreate your Favourite Dress or Blouse (a snazzier title is in development as we speak) weekender, bow-tie making for the dandy in your life as well as vintage dress adjustments. All body-shapes and ages are catered for!

For now we at TWIHM HQ will be keeping an eye on Miss Burrow's progress. There's an intriguing profundity to her mission, one that has much wider societal implications for pompom'd slippers and marmalade than you would otherwise think.

(Images: The Merry Bobbins)

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