Meet The Makehouse: Say Hello to Jenny Ambrose

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Have you heard of The Makehouse? It is the coolest maker space here in Victoria, BC. Jenny Ambrose is the owner and founder of The Makehouse which provides a space for all ages to get together, share ideas, shop supplies, and sew your own projects. The space hosts a variety of awesome workshops and Make Camps to learn different skills and techniques, and the retail space has the best patterned fabric, one-of-a-kind notions, and supply of vintage patterns.

The Makehouse is a fixture in the Victoria maker community, and I am so excited to partner with Jenny and share more ways to make things. I will be sharing workshops, patterns, events, and tips and tricks in collaboration with The Makehouse that will inspire you to make your own stuff. You can follow what events and workshops I cover with The Makehouse here on my blog and on The Makehouse blog.

To announce this partnership, we decided to answer some questions so you can get to know each of us. Below is my interview with Jenny, and you can find all my answers over on The Makehouse blog.

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Cady Brimacombe: Why did you start The Makehouse? And what drew you to entrepreneurship?

Jenny Ambrose: The Makehouse is an amalgamation of all the things I love under one roof. I adore sewing, people, music, teaching and collecting things from the past (mostly things to do with sewing). I love to be surrounded by fabric, trims and patterns as well as old furniture (I have a thing for suitcases).

Sewing has been around for so long, but so many people have lost touch with how things are made. This lost connection presents itself in so many areas of our high-tech busy lives including our relationship with food! I love being part of a global community and helping to grow the numbers within that community by engaging people to sew for the first time, or re-opening the portal for those who had left it in the past. 

Life should be enjoyable, and that includes a person’s working life. In my early adult years, I had so many different types of jobs in all kind of places both fancy and dingy. I learned a lot of things including how to get along with pretty much anybody from any background. I was a quick study and was able to take on a lot of responsibility quickly. I also learned what I didn’t want from my working life and who I didn’t want to be. It took me a while to figure out what I did want, and now I’m able to share my idea of a positive work environment with my awesome team and our amazing customers! 

I’m a builder by nature. I always need to be building, making and figuring out how to make things better. I was the person always trying to change things in the places I worked in as a server, caregiver, retail assistant, or receptionist. I learned that ideas are not always that well received, especially if you’re on the bottom rung of the ladder (or the new person). Eventually when I had my first small business goal in mind, I knew there was no looking back as it took over every part of me. I knew I could never be 100% happy being employed because I still had ‘work’ to do! I enjoy being able to make decisions which allow things to sometimes develop very quickly from an idea I might have had yesterday! What I enjoy the most is creating the physical space in which we work. I am forever moving things and changing things. I doubt this aspect of my personality will ever change (no pun intended…).

 Jenny at age 2 helping her mom sew. 

Jenny at age 2 helping her mom sew. 

CB: What is your background with making and sewing? 

JA: I dabbled in sewing as a child as I grew up in a house where my mother sewed most of our clothing and home decor. I would say that my turning point when I really started to focus on sewing was in 2000 after a long break from creativity. Once the desire truly set in, I became totally obsessed. All I could think about at my 9-5 job was how to figure out the next hurdle on a project or how I could finance the next machine I needed to get a better finish on my garments. 

I set up my first business when I was 25. It was an eco-fashion label which I worked on for over six years. I often moonlighted to bankroll myself through the peaks and troughs (oh the troughs). I learned that many small and big indie fashion labels also struggled. But through it all, there were some amazing highs including getting my work into London Fashion Week’s Estethica showroom for three years! My work moved from womenswear to lingerie over the span of the business and I was able to navigate working with a small factory towards the end. Over the years, I had quite a few wholesale accounts in the UK and other European countries. Towards the final years of running the label, I started to teach and was often asked to come and speak at fashion colleges about setting up as a small business. There was a new calling on the horizon and before I knew it, my dream gig came along. I had an offer to teach at The Makery which had just opened in Bath, England where I was living at the time. I jumped at the chance, and before I knew it, I was nearly full-time teaching adults and children everything I knew about sewing and having the time of my life! The only time I’ve ever shed a tear when leaving paid employment, was leaving The Makery when I decided I needed to be back in Canada again. The happiness that I felt working in Kate and Nigel’s space was something I always dreamed I could one day create. I returned to Canada in 2011, and by 2012 my calling took over and I had to begin. I started working on The Makehouse.

 Jenny's sewing work circa 2004-2010.

Jenny's sewing work circa 2004-2010.

CB: What is your favourite workshop to teach? Favourite thing to make? Why?

JA: My favourite workshop to teach is Sew Your Own Bamboo Underwear. I love making underwear myself, but I especially love showing other people how they can make their own. Some of my students have gone on to sell their undies when all their friends started placing orders after seeing how awesome the underwear turned out in the workshop! 

 Jenny's sewing work circa 2004-2010.

Jenny's sewing work circa 2004-2010.

CB: What does zero waste fashion and sewing mean to you? How has that changed the way you sew?

JA: To me, zero waste fashion means taking all of the off-cuts from the sewing room or clothing piece that would otherwise be dumped at a thrift store or in the garbage and turning them into something new (either wearable or something else that’s useful). I was always on a very tight budget when I started getting into sewing, so I was aware of making the most of things, and learned to scavenge early on in thrift stores and auctions. We don’t throw much away here, and when we do have too much in terms of scraps or fabric donations, we tend to re-gift them to someone who can use them. I’m passionate about building a business around what I believe are logical and sensible values including how fabric waste can be made into something else. When taking waste into consideration you can further challenge yourself as a maker/designer because you have to work with what you have. This can result in something truly amazing that you would have never thought of had you always purchased everything new for each project

CB: In one sentence, what is The Makehouse?

JA: The Makehouse is a place for people of all ages to gather, share, shop and sew. 

I am beyond excited to work with Jenny and The Makehouse through this partnership. Jenny and I have a lot of similar values when it comes to building a business and creating and sewing with the well-being of the planet in mind. You can read all about me over on The Makehouse blog, and look forward to workshops, pattern reviews, and more from me for The Makehouse.


xx Cady