Crewe's Jan Constantine on fashion

Jan Constantine produces heirlooms of the future with her hand-embroidered soft furnishings. Gillian Hook finds out why all you need is love...PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS

Life is coming full circle for Jan Constantine. She started out as a fashion designer before setting up her own business creating embroidered 'heirlooms of the future' and now clothing increasingly features in her collections again.

Her soft furnishings are in great demand both here and abroad and range from the eye-catching bright colours of her Love collection and Union Flags to the more delicate traditional embroidery of hearts and flowers. Sitting in her large farmhouse-style kitchen in Betley, near Crewe, Jan explained how it all started: 'I was a fashion designer in London for ten years and had a great career. But increasingly I craved green fields rather than the hustle and bustle of the capital.'

While visiting family in the North West, Jan and decorator husband, David, saw a house in Betley that was up for auction and bought it. 'We'd never done anything like that before,' says Jan. 'It was a former doctor's house and we just fell in love with it.'

They sold their house in London and although David moved to Cheshire straight away, Jan commuted to the capital for a further 18 months until she finally joined him with their daughters Mary Flora, ten, and Camille, 15.

Once settled in Betley, Jan began an interior design business. 'But I really wanted to produce my own soft furnishings and create a collection of interiors using embroidery. So, six years ago I began by sitting around my kitchen table with friends, sewing lavender bags.'

Her creations were a big hit at trade exhibitions and soon her work was stocked by Liberty, Selfridges, Harrods and the Victoria and Albert Museum. She now employs four full-time staff and six part-time workers at her home-based workshop. 'It's been very hard work but it's all happening now. I have a website that has opened doors around the world. I've had a big order from New Zealand, I know there's a market for me in America and in Europe too.'

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Also helping to spread the word is a book written by Jan called Heirloom Embroidery, which is set to be published across the world. It shows how to make soft furnishings similar to her own products. Says Jan: 'I had never intended to write a book but the publisher, Jacqui Small, had seen some of my products in Liberty and came to see me at a show in London to ask me to write it.

'I had to prepare all the projects, try them out to make sure they worked. I did all the sketches and illustrations. It's hard to write a book and still run your own business - I must have driven everyone insane!'

Fortunately, Jan was able to retreat to work at their holiday home in Port Isaac, Cornwall, which incidentally has been used by the makers of the Doc Martin television series as a set.

So is she excited at the prospect of her first book? 'I am, although at the moment I am sick of the sight of it! It's going to be published here and in America first and then across the rest of the world.' If Jan's flying the flag for traditional British embroidery, it's hardly surprising that the Union Flag collection is one to throws, cushions to scarves, bags to bunting.

'I like the Union Flag because I'm proud to be British and I sell hundreds of them, especially in London,' says Jan. Other themes in her work include traditional country garden scenes, mouth-watering strawberries, beautiful flowers, tiny bees, colourful butterflies and dragonflies, delicate hearts and striking nauticals.

Her newest line is the Diamante Collection, inspired by the opulence and glamour she saw on a visit to Venice earlier this year. It features cushions and throws handstitched with diamantes and silver thread embroidery onto luxurious cream or black velvet. So where does her inspiration come from? 'My favourite things - colours, emblems, words - and traditional embroidery,' Jan answers, then adds: 'And the word Love, because that's what it's all about.' Jan's work can be seen at and her team can be contacted on 01270 821194. Her book Heirloom Embroidery will be published by Jacqui Small and will be available in all good bookshops.

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