Is it normal for someone my age to be doing this?
- Credit: Su Anderson
Emma Howlett is full of surprises.
For a start, she doesn’t conform to any stereotypes or preconceived ideas.
She works as a beautician but she’s certainly wouldn’t shy away from doing anything that might entail a broken nail. Emma loves the countryside and spends whatever free time she has in her wellies, mucking out stables and riding horses.
And there can’t be many 20-year-olds who spend their evenings after work and weekends making cushions, can there?
“Yes,” laughs her mother, Linda. “She does sometimes say to me, ‘mum, do you think it’s normal for someone my age to like doing this kind of stuff?’.”
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In fact, Emma doesn’t just like textiles and making her country-inspired cushions. She loves it. So much so that she’s set up her own business, Bunty and Em’s, which she runs alongside her day job, making a range of unique homewares in quality tweed fabrics with sewn-on silhouettes of dogs, pheasants, hares and other animals.
Linda has even joined the cottage industry too, making a complementary range of lampshades to go with her daughter’s designs.
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The dining table at the family’s farmhouse-style home just outside Stowmarket has been all-but taken over by Emma, her fabrics, sewing machine and completed cushions.
“I only started making the cushions in November last year,” she reveals. “I was in between jobs. I had qualified as a beautician but couldn’t find any work so had been a dental nurse for a bit – and absolutely hated it.
“When I was at high school, I did a textiles course and really loved it – I actually made a similar cushion for my GCSE to the ones I’m making now – but there wasn’t the opportunity to take it any further when I went into the sixth form so it kind of went by the wayside for a while until I took it up again last year.”
After leaving dental nursing behind, Emma did eventually find full time work as a beautician, in Diss, but by then she was having too much fun making the cushions to stop.
“I just do it on days off, evenings and weekends,” she says. “It’s fairly full on, working until 10 at night sometimes but people seem to like what I’m doing and that encourages me. I get asked to do silhouettes of specific types of dog, according to whatever breed of animal someone might have as a pet. I do lots of labradors, spaniels and jack russells.
“It’s quite a niche style and it’s something I’ve always liked myself –lots of tweed and country fabrics.”
The business, which takes its name from Emma and her dog, Bunty, is in its infancy but she’s already having success selling online and at various shows around the county and further afield. She’d like to branch out into making curtains in the future and perhaps be able to devote even more time to the business. She’s even thinking of doing some more textiles courses to learn new skills and add to her repertoire.
“I don’t think it’s something many young people are into,” she says. “My friends are supportive of what I’m doing but they’re certainly not into it like me. I think customers appreciate things that are good quality and hand made. All the products I use, including the cushion pads, are sourced locally in East Anglia.”
Sometimes, she admits, after a day working in the beauty salon it can be hard to motivate herself to start work all over again in the evenings.
“But I make myself do it,” she says. “And once I start, it’s fine.”
In the early days, she even overcame the difficulties of grappling with a hand-operated sewing machine given to her by her grandmother.
“I couldn’t get on with it at all,” she says. “But I persevered until I was able to get something a bit easier to operate.
“I just really enjoy what I’m doing and have been surprised by the response I’ve had. It encourages you to continue. It’s weird to think that things I’ve designed and made are now in random people’s homes.”
To find out more, visit www.buntyandems.co.uk