Behind the Seams: Adaku Parker of Dovetailed
This week, we chatted to our Designer of the Month Adaku Parker to discover how she has built up a unique business and how her endless quest to learn more about her craft has led her to some unexpected places!
I’m Adaku Parker, the owner of a company called Dovetailed. I’ve been in business since 2017 and I’ve curated a range of products especially for people who love to sew with African wax print fabrics. We sell fabric, patterns, subscription boxes and a range of essential supplies.
The first spark of this business started when I was thinking about what I might do after having my second child – other than returning to the Bar, because I had been a barrister for about 15 years at that point. I remember I was watching an episode of the Sewing Bee and I’d never watched it before – I was really taken aback by the fact that a lot of the contestants had really surprising day-jobs. A lot of them were engineers or doctors or worked in a lab. I didn’t understand – I couldn’t see what the connection was or what would draw these people to sewing. I was curious to know why they were so taken with sewing. Then when I heard the winner say that winning the Sewing Bee meant more to her than her PhD, my reaction was pure shock! I thought “Wow, how is this possible?!” It’s really stuck with me.
About a month later I saw an advert for classes in textiles at my local adult learning centre. By September I was sitting in my first sewing class and I was soon sewing non-stop! Come January I was already making things that people around me were envious of. We’ve all experienced this - when you start sewing, people start asking you to sew for them, don’t they? I wasn’t part of the sewing community yet – but I was pattern hacking and making patterns my own.
Before long, I started taking my pieces to a market. My first was ok, some were awful, some weren’t bad. Eventually I found a rhythm where I found out where I was best place to show myself. There are two types markets you can go for as a sewist – there are people buying the finished objects, and people who want to make it themselves, the hobbyists. It took me a while to work out that my market is actually the hobbyist and that’s the direction I decided to take the business in.
A part of this decision was also because shortly after I started the business, I became pregnant again with my third child. Until then I had been predominantly making things to sell – scrunchies, headbands, bags, things like that. Then I thought “maybe I should just sell fabric for now” because the production there is so much simpler and would be much more manageable with a tiny baby than sitting behind a sewing machine all day!
African waxed print fabric is so easy to sew with. It’s really stable so it doesn’t move around too much on your cutting mat or when you’re sewing. It washes really well – there’s rarely any fading even after many years of use. It’s printed on both sides of the fabric which opens up so many options for sewing. The fabrics all have a real depth of colour too – there’s really nothing else quite like it.
I just went all-in!
I was so lucky to be able to take a wide range of classes to build up my skills. I took 20 different classes overall, included pattern cutting and pattern drafting, how to use commercial patterns and so on. I also took two units in African fashion, clothes making, decorative techniques, and I took three classes in tailoring. I just went all-in!
I did a bit of freehand cutting as well, which is a different approach. It’s a lot of maths really! You learn to plot the measurements directly onto the fabric and cut out the fabric without ever using a paper pattern. I also spent a month working with a Nigerian tailor, which was an incredible experience. I wanted to see the inside of freehand cutting – I never really thought it would be what I’d do but I wanted to understand the principles. All of that has fed into my patterns.
So I now have skills in pattern drafting and pattern cutting, which I’ve been able to use to create patterns with African wax prints in mind. For the most part, commercial patterns are designed for plain fabric, or perhaps stripes. Prints aren’t often that high on the agenda. For example, a common rule in sewing is to always cut with the grain of the fabric. When I tell people to ignore that and go with the flow of the print, they can panic! But I know that when the fabric is being created, the fabric designers aren’t wanting to restrict the way you use the design.
Try one of Adaku's patterns FREE!
The Marianne Dress from Dovetailed London by Adaku Parker is available for CraftWorld Premium members during the month of February 2022.
Stand out from the crowd in this stylish fitted dress with gathered bodice and sleeves, to fit UK dress sizes 8-26. This classic dress has an empire line cut, with a fitted waist which flares out to a gentle A-line. The neckline and sleeves are finished with elastic, to give a gentle puff, which works perfectly with African waxed cotton prints. Oh and of course - it's got pockets!
That’s around when I started getting more involved in the sewing community online as well. The sewing community is so great and genuinely very inclusive. It’s not just culturally inclusive either, there are so many aspects. For example, ageism is a problem that is often overlooked in society but it’s regularly addressed in the sewing community. Just today I was doing a shout-out for models for a show that I’m doing in March. It was great to be able to put that invite out to the Sew Over 50 community, to make sure all ages feel part of it. It’s a great community and I’m very happy to be a part of it.
Size inclusivity is so important as well. I’m very proud of my book which has patterns up to size 26. Due to costs, my first pattern only went up to a size 18 but I quickly cottoned on that this could be better! Ever since then, I’m happy that all patterns have included up to a size 26.
The next step for me was my book, “Sewing with African Wax Print Fabric”. To start with, I had been thinking about writing an A to Z of African fabrics. I had written to about ten publishers. Most ignored me – their loss! – but one said yes and that’s where it all started. One publisher got back to me and said “No but…what about a sewing book?” I thought there must already be enough sewing books out there but apparently there can never be too many!
The reception to the book has been great. Feedback has been so good and I’ve had a lot of really good comments about the book, that it’s easy to understand, has great instructions and people have enjoyed learning about the history of the fabric.
There have been so many wonderful moments with the business. Sometimes I wish things would slow down just a little so that I can appreciate them all! When I won the CraftWorld Award, I went straight out to buy some Prosecco. My family asked “Why are you buying this now, it’s only a Tuesday?” Well, you have to mark the wins otherwise they just go by!
Looking ahead to 2022, I am exhibiting at Stitch Festival in March. I’m also working with bloggers throughout this year. I’m looking forward to sharing more updates on my YouTube channel. New fabrics and patterns are in the works too – the next pattern will be launched probably after Stitch Festival. If you are interested in learning more, why not join me for a workshop? You can find all the latest dates here.