It’s a Thursday afternoon, the sun is shining outside but the workshop at Little Hands is packed with children. As the newest member of staff, with little to no experience in sewing and design, I wanted to really understand what in particular drew these girls and boys back into the workshop week in, week out. I had been promised an interview with Lola, who has been attending Little Hands every week for over a year.
Lola is your typical fourteen-year-old from North London. She’s intelligent, very quick witted and obsessed with Instagram and street wear. Her personal Instagram is filled with her dressed in quirky outfits and we quickly get onto the topic of how boring school is.
However, Lola is a recovering from Anorexia Nervosa. Despite her large smile, she is very slim and despite being so open with me about her disorder, it has by no means been an easy year for her. She was inpatient at the Royal Free for five months last year and despite living back at home now, she still very much struggles with body image, mood swings and the constant feeling of judgment.
However, the way Lola is describing her emotions outside of Little Hands to me, doesn’t match the mannerisms of the young girl before me. She’s extremely bubbly, extremely open and most of all, doesn’t seem all too pre-occupied with the food or feels the need to discuss. If anything, she seems like a very happy teenager. She explains to me that once she’s in the workshop, she finally feels at peace. It’s a space for her to focus on herself and no one around her. She doesn’t have to think about her next meal and she can use her brain to come up with new ideas rather than counting calories. It’s her space away from judgment and away from the constant voices inside her head.
It’s her space away from judgment and away from the constant voices inside her head.
Lola first came to Little Hands when her phycologist asked her to find an activity that would occupy her thoughts without her engaging in too much physical activity. She automatically fell in love with Little Hands. “I love clothes and I had always wanted to create my own outfits” she tells me. Lola is certainly creative. She spends a good ten minutes describing her eclectic style to me and then informs me that she once created her own Topshop replica skirt when she realised they had run out of her size in the store. “It doesn’t fit as well as I wanted it to” she tells me. “But I can always just adjust it now at home with the skills I learnt here”.
Whilst Lola natters away about Duke of Edinburgh and her recent decision for a drastic haircut, I really start to understand why Little Hands means so much to her. She feels unashamed here and the guilt that comes with Anorexia doesn’t arise because she is more focused on the process of creating a piece. Of course, sewing is an enormous contributor to Lola’s love of Little Hands but it’s also the atmosphere. “It’s not like school because at school some people just don’t get it. Here people don’t have to get it. They just don’t comment. They see me for Lola. I’m just another girl in class”.
As a recovered anorexic myself, I feel very optimistic both in Lola’s ambition in design but also in her recovery process. We both agree that if she begins to see recovery like the process of creating a dress, she’ll soon be back to full health. She’ll have to be patient, she may make a few mistakes here and there and will probably get angry at herself more than once, but eventually that dress will be Lola’s and she will wear it beautifully.
She’ll have to be patient, she may make a few mistakes here and there and will probably get angry at herself more than once, but eventually that dress will be Lola’s and she will wear it beautifully.
In the middle of me and Lola’s stalking of each other’s Instagram accounts, an design assistant comes to grab Lola and take her back to her dress. Lola has agreed to come out for lunch with me one day this week and I’m sure, she will be ready to bombard me with more stories of antics at Little Hands. Lola is a great teenager, a great designer and a real inspiration to me. I’m just hoping that I can re-create the incredibly re-assuring atmosphere here in Little Hands when I take her out for lunch.