My story...


Hi, I'm Elizabeth 👋  


I couldn't be happier spending my days doing what I love, seeking out beautiful discarded fabric and transforming it into something that will be used and cherished. A Circular Story has been many years in the making... this is the story of how I got here x



My mum taught me how to sew and I started making clothes and tiny bags for my dolls; one of my grandmas taught me to knit and the other how to crochet.

a young girl learning to knit in the 70s 


I loved needlework classes at school and passed with the top grade. The lessons were pretty old-school - in a good way. There are things I learnt then that I still do, like proper tailors tacks. Not so properly, I’d raid my mum’s stash of 60s fabric that lurked in the bottom of her wardrobe along with a box of sewing patterns from the same era, running up skirts in an afternoon to wear out clubbing later.


early 1990s

I had to leave my sewing machine behind when I left home, so I’d spend hours stitching clothes by hand in my student bedroom. I was more interested in that and rummaging in junk shops and charity shops than the course I was taking, and I got busy making dresses from old curtains and skirts from remnants, for me and some of my friends.

a 1990s student sits by a window wearing a blue roll neck and short grey skirt


mid-late 1990s

I moved to London and started working on a teen magazine, first of all making tea and opening the post and eventually writing short pieces for publication, and that lead to a career in magazines that involved some amazing trips (to Tokyo, Havana, LA, New York and Reykjavik to name but a few), celebrity interviews galore and many glitzy parties over the years.

a woman floating in a hot spring in iceland


In my spare time I carried on doing what I really loved - trawling junk shops, car boot sales etc, hunting down old fabrics, collecting old craft books and making my own clothes, bags and sometimes cushions and things.

I did an evening class in fashion styling and another in fashion design at LCF. I sold some skirts I’d made to a shop in Brighton and some tops with appliqué trompe l’oeil collars and ties in a shop on Portobello Road. My friend and I had a weekly stall at Upmarket at the Truman Brewery off Brick Lane, selling appliqué cushions and some mini capes I’d made out of vintage fabric... very A Circular Story when I look back now!

a woman wearing a black T-shirt with trompe l'ceil collar and appliqué tie in Lucienne Day fabric


early 2000s

I started making my first patchwork quilt - all hand pieced from worn-out clothes and offcuts. I’d take piles of squares to the park, on train journeys etc and sew them together with tiny stitches. The hand piecing took literally years ( I used to think machine patchwork was cheating - lol) but when it was eventually finished, it sat on my bed for the next 10 or so years, and I still treasure it.

I started studying pattern cutting in the evenings, then worked for my tutor two days a week for a couple of years to learn the trade. I learnt so much from her, and I was keen to know even more, so I applied to Goldsmiths University of London to study Textiles.


late 2000s

I was so excited when I got a place on the Goldsmiths Textiles BA, but for various reasons I only lasted a year. I never stopped being obsessed with making what I could visualise but couldn’t find in the shops, so while magazine freelancing to pay the bills, I used my collection of old craft books to teach myself how to make lampshades. I’d strip down old shades I found second hand and re-use the metal rings, covering them in recycled fabric. 

a woman in a brown top teaching a lampshade making workshop at the Vintage at Goodwood festival 


I set up a little lampshade company called Midnight Bell (named after the pub in one of my favourite novels by Patrick Hamilton), sold some on market stalls and through my website, started teaching lampshade-making workshops and in 2013 had a book published, Make Your Own Lampshades.

 Book Make Your Own Lampshades by Elizabeth Cake on a patchwork quilt

Before long, I was teaching pattern cutting too. I ended up teaching classes all around the south of England at galleries, private homes, sewing schools, trade events, festivals including the upcycling tent at Vintage at Goodwood, Selfridges Christmas department and museums including the V&A (twice!)

V&A programme 2014

I was also writing a blog called Glad You Could Make It, with all the best bits from my craft book collection, with free patterns and some great pictures.

 screenshot of a blog Glad You Could Make It about vintage craft books


In 2013 I moved to the seaside - Ramsgate - and gained a sewing room - yay! For a while I also had a stall selling vintage clothes, and occasionally worked as one of the vintage pickers on the conveyor belt at a ‘rag yard’ textile recycling plant, picking out the good bits from sackloads of discarded textiles, which taught me a lot about textile waste, fast fashion and what actually happens to our clothes after we donate them to charity.

a applique and embroidered wallhanging on vintage purple fabric background picturing a lady with a hat that is exploding with flowers made of vintage lace and crochet

I started an instagram account called Wall Warmers making and selling appliqué and patchwork wallhangings and banners made from preloved materials I’d sourced from various places. But sadly, soon after that I had to put everything on hold for a few years to look after my dad… 


Some months after he died, I came across one of my dad's favourite striped shirts and decided to make it into a memory quilt of some sort. Each patchwork square is a slightly different colour from where the shirt had worn and faded unevenly and the stripes go in all different directions. I made the patchwork into cushions, hand quilted them and backed them with fabric pieced together from one of my dad’s woollen jackets.

two patchwork cushions on top of each other made of a blue and white striped shirt, with red piping


After that I couldn't stop. Everything I’d learnt, collected, saved and been inspired by over the years came together and A Circular Story was born.  

 A book about Sonia Delaunay open on a chapter headed A Circular Story


(You can read the story behind the patchwork memory cushions in this article on the Marie Curie UK website)