Jennie is the Queen of Calico

From broken bones to new beginnings

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Sewing star Jennie Rayment looks every inch the queen bee of the patchwork world as she shows off her craft for the television cameras.

Standing in front of quilted wall hangings in bright geometric patterns, she talks to her living room audience in gentle but commanding tones.

Jennie Rayment, pictured in her sewing studio in Emsworth

Jennie Rayment, pictured in her sewing studio in Emsworth

And then Jennie launches into one of her equally colourful tales.

‘If you’ve been married as many times as I have, old wedding dresses and husband’s shirts make excellent scraps of material,’ she tells viewers of shopping channel Create and Craft.

Now with husband number three, Jennie likes to liven up broadcasts with details of a life as intricate as a patchwork quilt.

Back at home in Emsworth – where she’s married to Nick Diment and very happily settled – she’s laughing.

‘I don’t think Create and Craft know how to take me. They never know what I’m going to say next. And it’s live too, so if I say it, it will go out.’

The telly job is the latest development in a remarkable career that has seen Jennie progress from a mum looking for work to international celebrity of the needlecraft world.

A patchwork, appliqué and quilting expert and something of a pioneer in technique and design, Jennie is also known for livening up quilting festivals with her comic and slightly risqué routines.

Beginning her demonstrations in demure attire, she soon whips off the floral frock to reveal home-made bustier and skirt, worn with fishnets and thigh boots.

She then tells her mainly middle-aged female audiences how everything has been made.

Now Jennie’s legendary performances have progressed and she’s introduced a bunny girl outfit to her repertoire.

‘People love it, the WI think it’s hilarious,’ laughs the petite and lively 60-year-old, who loves chatting as much as breaking the mould. ‘It’s all very decent of course, you can’t really see anything.’

Jennie has to be better behaved in front of the cameras. But you can imagine viewers dropping their stitches as she makes them laugh.

On one show she advises: ‘Always remember your current husband’s name – for when you’re flouncing out of rooms. It ruins the effect if you get it wrong.’

Create and Craft includes demonstrations and Jennie has her own slot as well as selling a range of patchwork equipment alongside the regular presenters.

‘I’ve been told that more people are watching it because they don’t know what I’m going to say next. Some viewers’ husbands love it,’ she says.

Nick doesn’t mind the stories. ‘He knows I’m settled and not about to learn another man’s name. I think he’s quite glad to get rid of me half the time,’ she laughs.

Jennie travels to Peterborough, where Create and Craft is filmed, three times a week, regularly appears at festivals across the world and teaches at home and world-wide.

‘I really never expected this to happen,’ she says. ‘My car’s doing nearly 30,000 miles a year. Luckily I’m the sort of person who’s either asleep or doing something.’

The sewing celeb’s inspirational story began when she was in her late 30s and looking for work.

A former postmistress whose experience of stitching was limited to household repairs, she took a job serving tea and clearing up at patchwork workshops.

And that inspired her to study for patchwork teaching qualifications.

But it was writing books and a bold visit to one of the world’s biggest quilting shows in Houston, USA that really helped her make her mark.

Jennie roped son Alexander into accompanying her to the festival, where she would teach and show off some of her creations on a catwalk.

But she didn’t realise instructors had to take their own equipment.

‘People in the class were passing around the thread and scissors. I was running on adrenalin trying to think on my feet. I don’t think they ever forgot it.’

Even more memorable was 6ft tall Alexander taking to the catwalk in his mum’s creations – including hat and handbag. ‘

‘He was supposed to be announcing as I went on but he’d been out on the tiles and had a hangover so we switched.’ laughs Jennie. ‘By the time he got up there he was loving it – and so was everyone else.’

He is, she admits, cut from the same cloth as his outgoing mother. It certainly got her groundbreaking skills noticed.

Jennie specialises in material manipulation. This cosmetic surgeon of the material world creates textured 3D effects by folding, tucking and scrunching fabric.

Her name is now up there with the big stars of the hugely popular American patchwork scene.

Known as the Calico Queen and Mistress of Muslin, Jennie has even appeared at conventions in Qatar and Dubai – no striptease there of course.

She’s frequently astounded by her success.

‘Sometimes I wake up in strange places and can’t believe I’m there – and I think it’s all because I took up patchwork and wrote a book.’