Sewing teacher Asma Begum gives us an insight into her daily life, from creating a community of mothers to finding a home for her parents’ vintage sewing machine.
Poplar resident and full time mum of four Asma Begum, 39, works as a sewing teacher at More Life Home on Aberfeldy Street.
Begum grew up in Shoreditch and went to Mulberry School for Girls in Shadwell. After dropping out of a business administration course that she didn’t enjoy when she was 19, she went back to university ten years ago to study creative writing and journalism studies at the University of East London.
Begum now writes heritage pieces on topics such as female seamstresses in the rag trade, and does interior styling for photoshoots and store displays.
In her sewing classes, Begum teaches people how to make simple household items like fabric bookmarks, phone cases, pencil cases and scrunchies.
“My whole ethos is reviving the craftsmanship of sewing, making and mending,” Begum says. “Now everything is shipped from China and Bangladesh, we’re losing those skills.”
I prepare for the day by… Trying to wake myself up with a nice cup of tea, while trying to get my four year old ready for school and tiptoeing around my eight month old. Very precarious mornings I have.
My typical day involves… After I walk my four year old to school, I’ll do some sewing lesson planning and pick up things I need from the haberdashery shop. I’m like a child in a candy store in there. I like to go to Fabians Haberdashery and Trimmings by the Shadwell railway arches for essentials, but I get most of my sewing and making resources from craft stalls at local markets in the borough. Then I’ll drive to Aberfeldy Street for a sewing class with a suitcase full of haberdashery, fabric and the odd sewing machine in the boot.
The best thing about my job is… I wake up and I feel like I’m not going to work. It’s something I enjoy, it doesn’t feel like a chore. Since my sessions are at 10am on Wednesdays, they attract mums who are not yet working or who have young children at school. So it’s an opportunity for them to get out of their four walls, and if they’re stuck in a rut, to have a session and a tea. I always tell them that after COVID and lockdown, I need them as much as they need me.
I got into this line of work because… Both my parents used to work in the rag trade back in the 70s and 80s. Having lost my parents three years ago, I feel like I pay homage to my mum by teaching other people to sew. She taught me so many things, and I get fulfilment from teaching others those skills she shared with me.
I wind down by… Doing crafts and colouring with my daughter. I also sew to wind down, sometimes I do embroidery while I watch TV.
My favourite places to eat around Poplar are… Two Magpies on Commercial Road for breakfast, they’re consistently brilliant and very generous with their portions. Ariana in Mile End is brilliant Afghan food, I highly recommend the lamb shank Qabuli palouw. In Canary Wharf, I like the Indian food at Chai Ki, and the coffee from Cafe Brera.
The most unexpected part of my job is… Even after I teach, I still help people over the phone. Sometimes they’ll set up their machine on a Sunday or late in the evening when they’ve put their children to bed and they’ll WhatsApp me when they get stuck on something, like how to secure a strap on a bag. I do feel like I’m on call.
A fun fact about me is… My parents’ old sewing machine will be exhibited at the Museum of London with their story beside it. My mum always told me not to throw it away because it’s a family heirloom, but it’s very expensive to maintain a machine like that, and space is an issue as well, so I wrote to some museums about it. I can’t wait for it to be on display.
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