Jenny Clark is Blackout’s manager of manufacture department and also the longest member of our team (joining in 1994). With her wealth of knowledge, she oversees the day to day manufacture of the drapes, starcloths and also works alongside project managers on various projects involving bespoke drapery.
Tell us how did you start your career and when did you first become involved in the industry?
I started as a Wardrobe mistress at the Royal Court Theatre in 1975. While my children were growing up I had my own soft furnishing and curtain making business, I returned to the Theatre briefly in 1991 but then in 1993 had the opportunity to work at Blackout on a freelance basis in the very early days. My theatre training and knowledge of drape making were a great grounding for projects at Blackout which at that time was expanding fast with more diversity into creative draping. This led to becoming a permanent member of the team in 1994.
How did your role evolve at Blackout throughout the years?
I started as a machinist in a small team of three. As the business expanded I became Manager of the sewing department which at the time could be anything from cleaning and repairing drapes to working on creative projects from concept to completion. My role has now evolved to include working with our project managers to fulfil our clients bespoke manufacture design. I source fabrics worldwide and ensure that they meet our requirements. This can range from an elaborate fabric sourced from the far east to a simple calico from a UK supplier. I oversee all the manufacture carried out by the departments fantastic team of eight seamstresses.
What have been some of the best learning experiences in your career?
The manufacture of drapes for the opening ceremony of the Millennium dome in 2000 was a leap of faith for the sewing department. It was the biggest project that we had dealt with and involved hundreds of metres of fabric to be manufactured into supersize drapes and a temporary expansion of staff to satisfy the demands of the job. I had to master time management, managing a separate team alongside our other projects and how to successfully meet an immoveable deadline in 6 weeks in addition to keeping the team happy and motivated against long hours and a very demanding schedule. This was a huge project which would be watched by the world and had to be right. No pressure there then!!!
In contrast the manufacture of backdrops for the Radiohead OK computer tour where with 2 contrasting fabrics we created readable barcode borders. A much smaller scale but attention to detail was paramount.
How did the draping and technologies of manufacture develop over the years?
At the start the manufacture department was working off the floor with 3 sewing machines in our first warehouse, we mainly made Black wool serge drapes or the occasional projection cloth. As the demands of our clients and the industry increased and became more technically demanding we had to expand our skills to match. We now have a huge range of fabrics which meet industry standards available to us and a fully equipped department that can handle any manufacture project.
I am sure that there have been some challenging jobs in past. Could you remember one or two and how did you overcome these challenges?
Every job has its own challenges. There are many aspects of each job that must be adhered to. We have to meet the demands of our clients vision up against the technical restraints and practicalities of every project. My way of overcoming these challenges is by good communication, determination to find a solution to any problems however impossible they may seem and making sure we have the right team of people and resources to deliver.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I am lucky enough to work within a great team of people at Blackout. I like problem solving and new challenges. Seeing a project progress from a technical drawing or even a rough sketch to finished drapery which can stand alone or be part of a larger stage set interacting with other components is the reward.
When you are not working, what do you enjoy to do the most?
Movies, Beaches and spending time with friends and family, especially my 4 grandchildren who always make me laugh!!