Deborah Sax of Piccalilli takes vintage wool blankets, haberdashery and accessories, and turns them into impeccably tailored and beautifully finished children’s clothing. Deborah combines these vintage finds with contemporary fabric to make beautiful and robust modern day heirloom garments.
What do you make?
Children’s clothing from vintage and contemporary fabrics. Combining the best of the old and the new to make beautiful, unique heirloom pieces.
How did you get into your craft?
I’ve always been an “arty type,” and repurposed things through necessity, but never a sewer per say. Time and opportunity – after having two children in quick succession it became my sanity time when the children slept. I started making children’s frilled hem jeans from my maternity jeans and those of my antenatal group. These wonderful ladies were incredibly supportive and inspired me to go for it.
The range has evolved with my family: slippers for Oscar for preschool, cape for Scarlet because she wants her arms free to play at the beach in winter, and so on. Now they are 7 and 5 they have outgrown my demographic but without doubt still continue to inspire me.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
No. I’m actually an architectural historian and winemaker by profession. Having children changed everything for me, my focus and priority. It has taken me down a more creative path where I can work from home, really be part of their childhood and enjoy huge fiscal challenges on a daily basis.
I have attended many night classes though, advanced sewing, pattern drafting – and I’m always trying to push my own creative boundaries and improve. My mother is a phenomenal seamstress and my grandmother was a milliner at Liberty London so it’s kind of in the blood – it just took a few decades to manifest itself with me.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Without doubt the wool blanket. I’ve become a bit obsessed with it. I love it not only for its properties as a natural fibre, its quality and warmth but also its history. The emotions it evokes in people when they see one repurposed into a child’s coat, sharing their memories of having that exact blanket on their bed as a child, are quite wonderful. I love that my pieces make a connection with people.
I also love finding the perfect vintage notions to adorn them with. There is something rather lovely about giving such exquisite lost pieces of craftsmanship a new calling and incorporating them into something that will itself become an heirloom item. Every piece I make is crafted individually and hand finished. I hand cover my buttons too so every part is, to me, as perfect as I can make it. I get great joy from making things, which hopefully translates into a really special, one-of-a-kind garment.
What inspires you?
In clothing as in life: joy, positivity, colour, texture, reinvention, uniqueness and great design, perfectly executed. I’m definitely more interested in the quality of workmanship than prolific output. My ideas may come at the speed of the hare but I prefer to work methodically with great attention to detail, like the tortoise.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I’m far from perfect but I try to be mindful about minimising waste in my production and about the contribution I make to the consumer world. By repurposing fabric into high quality garments that are both durable and beautiful, I’m hoping to make a small but meaningful impact.
Describe your workspace:
Bijoux. I’ve literally just moved house so it’s a work in progress. But I’ve progressed from the dining room table to a small bedroom with an amazing view (see photo). I’ve had to be very creative with shelving in my cupboard and under my sewing table but everything I need is at my fingertips.
A cluttered room makes for a cluttered mind. I’m a neat freak for sure. I can’t work in a chaotic space but do enjoy the process of making an industrious mess then tidying up the craftermath. [That is a fantastic word! -Ed.] It’s quite cathartic.
Five words that describe your mind: Really, really, really, really busy.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
“Thank you so much for the wonderful tunics, they just look perfect on my little girls. Piccalilli takes pride in what she does and it shows in her work, a beautiful job. Well done.” I can go for months on a compliment.
What are you currently listening to? Beautiful Freak, The Eels.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Anything by Spike Milligan or Roald Dahl, which I’m currently reading with my children. David Walliams has become my new grown-up, favourite children’s author along with the beautifully illustrated books of Oliver Jeffers. Children give you permission to relive your childhood all over.
What are you reading now?
I have a couple of books on the go, Consumer Detox (Mark Powley), 100+ Tasty Ten Dollar Meals (Sophie Gray), The Prosperous Heart (Julia Cameron) Hiking & Tramping in New Zealand (Lonely Planet) and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (Kim Edwards). For me reading is without doubt one of life’s greatest pleasures. I would secretly have loved to have been a writer. Maybe next time.
A favourite quote: “She believed she could, so she did.”
Do you have any pets? My children have two rabbits so by default I now have two rabbits. Sooty, the maudlin, formerly grey buck who mopes around and honestly changes colour every season, and Loopy Lou, the white Rex doe who sways like she’s a little, well, loopy, hence the name.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Blanketgirl – saving the world from discarded fabric one blanket at a time. I’d also be able to unpick stitches with a single glance and rethread my overlocker blindfolded.
You can see Deborah’s gorgeous winter range, in a range of beautiful vintage blanket colours, right now in her Felt shop Piccalilli.