The sound of rooks cawing in the avenue of trees leading to the ancient village church is broken periodically by the gentle hum of Emma Brennan’s 1980s singer sewing machine as she stitches the seams of a vintage-inspired bag.

It’s a protype for a new sewing pattern she is designing, which will be photographed in rural Suffolk near her studio. 

For decades, journalist Emma’s focus in her native county was unearthing stories, building campaigns and highlighting the achievements of Suffolk’s residents.

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma with her Nedging Beret with Edwardstone mini Messenger BagEmma with her Nedging Beret with Edwardstone mini Messenger Bag (Image: Jim Keenan)

Now she is putting her beloved local towns and villages on the map worldwide by naming after them the sewing patterns she designs, writes and publishes. 

One of her most popular patterns is the Lavenham Beret, which pays homage to the village where Emma’s grandfather spent his youth, while the Orford Bag is named after the coastal beauty spot – a popular summer day-trip destination for her family.

Her Boxford Clutch Bag pattern gives a nod to the village where Emma’s father was born.

The latest bag pattern (due out in March) is named Wattisham, after the Suffolk airbase established during the Second World War.

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma's Wattisham Bag with Lynford Hat Emma's Wattisham Bag with Lynford Hat (Image: Jim Keenan)

The new designs are shown annually at international quilt markets in the US.

Emma said: “I like the thought that the bag samples and patterns are sold all over the world, taking a little bit of East Anglia with them. The pictures for the pattern covers and publicity shots are all taken in the our countryside or on our beautiful beaches. The colours of the landscape and its big open skies also inspire the palette I use to make my bags and hats.” 

A former EADT journalist, Emma recently decided to take a step back from her 30-year career to concentrate on her health and former ‘side hustle’ of designing and publishing sewing patterns.

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma's Dunwich bagEmma's Dunwich bag (Image: Jim Keenan)

She still enjoys writing, and uses the skill in the technical wording for her patterns, social media posts and her blog, Harking Back with Charlie’s Aunt. This gives creative tips to those interested in sewing vintage style accessories, and highlights how the history of the local area and its unique environment influences Emma’s work. 

“I’ve always loved storytelling as a journalist and am still able to do this with the stories behind the patterns in my blog,” Emma said. “I try to write about things that are useful as well as giving an insight into my family history and how this has inspired what I do for a living.

"Suffolk is such a wonderful place. It’s a privilege to live in such a perfect spot in such a beautiful county with so many talented and inspiring creative people.” 

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma's Groton beretEmma's Groton beret (Image: Jim Keenan)

Emma’s vintage-inspired sewing patterns for bags, hats and other stitched accessories are influenced by styles ranging from the 1920s to the 1960s, with the 1940s a particular favourite. 

The patterns are entirely designed, written, illustrated and published by Emma, with photographs by her partner Jim Keenan, and ex-EADT snapper Phil Morley.

Emma also sells kits and supplies for bag and hat making and vintage and retro sewing materials at her online Etsy shop

The business is called Charlie’s Aunt, in honour of Emma’s nephew. His mum, Emma’s sister Sarah, was one of her biggest supporters. She died from breast cancer aged just 37.

Emma grew up in Suffolk where her family is still based.

Photographs of her mother Anne (now 86) with her late friend Dianne taken in the 1950s feature on her pattern covers and kit packaging.

The business is now based on the edge of a village in south Suffolk.  

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma's Charlie's Aunt sewing patternsEmma's Charlie's Aunt sewing patterns (Image: Jim Keenan)

Emma's career as a journalist began in local radio as a newsreader and then spanned 10 years on newspapers in Perth, Western Australia, and a further decade at the East Anglian Daily Times as West Suffolk Editor.

Following a sustained period of poor health, Emma finally made the difficult decision to concentrate on Charlie’s Aunt. She hopes to inspire others to take up a needle and thread.

“Sewing and crafting has become very popular because it is very good for wellbeing,” she said. “So much in life is about passively sitting in front of a screen these days. I want to inspire people to make and create instead.”  

The bag and hat samples are all made using traditional British fabrics such as tweed and corduroy. These are sold through independent local shops and craft galleries.

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