This week, we meet Ann Petrie of the House of MacAlba, a teacher and historian who gave up an academic career to pursue her love of sewing. She now creates hand embroidered and appliqued textiles which are guaranteed to brighten your day.
Tell us about yourself
Oh do I have to? It is always the worst question and changing career from the traditional CV based application surely means that you can be exempt from this type of awkwardness! Ah well – if I have to then I am a relatively spritely 40 year old who lives in a very entertaining multi-generational household in the Scottish countryside with my mum, my wee boy, a dog, a cat, the robins – all the other birds and the garden snails. My favourite thing at the moment is being wakened by the deafening dawn chorus and the hills are my church.
Give a brief description of your career path up before you started your creative business.
In my mid twenties I went back to University and gained a 1st class degree in History. I then went on to complete a Ph.d on the First World War. I loved research and was able to get a couple of jobs researching and writing, but I was inevitably sucked into the teaching world! I taught at University and College level and published a few pieces on various things. I was always sewing in the background, but for at least twenty years history was at the forefront of my thinking and I still do tend towards having a very long world-view!
What prompted you to pursue a creative career?
I decided to change career when I fell pregnant with my little boy. When I was teaching I was often working at least twice my allotted hours and I knew that it would be impossible for me to continue doing what I had been doing once I had a child who also needed my undivided attention. I was also disappointed with the way the sector I was working in was being managed so I took a voluntary redundancy package to enable me to start House of MacAlba.
What was the most difficult thing about this decision? And what was the easiest?
The decision to start House of MacAlba was easy in the sense that I had known for so long that I wanted to do it, but what has been surprisingly difficult is changing my own self-view. I had been an academic for so long that it had become part of my identity and I never saw myself as an arteeeest! I still don’t, but I can feel a transformation happening and it feels right.
How supportive of your decision were your family, friends and (former) colleagues?
Without my family and friends (many of whom are former colleagues and students) I would not have been able to start House of MacAlba. They have told me that the items that I make are good constantly telling me ‘oh that’s lovely’ and so on when I feel doubt. They were my first and are still my best customers and they are kind enough to keep being interested and provide encouragement as I find my way through the initial start up phase. Oh and of course they are brilliant and I love them – I’d be lost without them really.
How has pursuing a creative career been compared with your previous career? What are the challenges, and what are the highlights?
To a certain extent both careers have been creative. I loved writing, and enjoyed putting teaching materials together, but House of MacAlba has enabled me to be myself in a way that I was never able to enjoy when I was teaching. I can join heart and head, prioritise things that I think are important and get a balance that was never possible before. Marketing is a challenge because really you just want to sit and make things and being ‘businessy’ is a learning process that I think I may always be on, but when you deliver a commission and the recipient tells you that it will make them smile for years to come then you have done your job well. More than this, I believe that you have made a difference to that person and that is a very good thing to be using your time to do.
Have you had any regrets about choosing a creative career?
I have absolutely no regrets about starting House of MacAlba. It has been a fantastic journey so far and long may that continue.
What has been the best thing about your decision to pursue a creative career?
Feeling like a human being again and regaining a perspective that lives beyond the four walls of an office. Marching to the beat of my own drum and to have people appreciate that is life changing and makes you feel valued in a way that I never felt in a traditional workplace.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering taking up a creative career, what would that be?
Do it, but be prepared to work hard. If you think that your hours will go down – they won’t, but they will be decidedly more flexible, and if you think you will make a fortune you won’t, but the likelihood is that you will be happy and to me that is worth the sacrifices. Join the handmade revolution – you will change your life and others!
What are your plans for the future?
I am in the middle of writing my website, which I hope to finish in the near future. It will be at www.houseofmacalba.com – please watch that space, but in the meantime you can find me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HouseOfMacAlba. I am hoping to be able to get out and about at craft fairs in the near future. And really I’d just like to keep on building my little world at House of MacAlba – my head is bubbling over with designs – enough for several lifetimes I reckon so if I could learn to stitch twice as fast that would also be good.