Like many Bengali women, Clarke’s mother had learned to make her own clothes, so took up work stitching denim in a factory and at home, improving her English at night school. ‘Textiles were always there in the background. She sewed all day, and gave us scraps and bits of fabrics at home,’ remembers Clarke. ‘We were pretty much surrounded by it. Until she retrained as a teacher – then we never saw a piece of fabric again.’
When Majeda Clarke recounts the tale, you sense a kind of rift, between the world of textiles and craftsmanship so integral to life in Bangladesh – ‘a country of makers’ – and their new life, as an aspirational Muslim family on the outskirts of 1970s’ Manchester. The eldest daughter, Clarke was encouraged to study academic subjects that would land her ‘a sensible job’, and took up a post as an English teacher after university.
And though, by her own admission, she fell into the profession, she proved a natural, clambering quickly through the ranks to become head of English at a secondary school by the age of 29, and later an educational consultant. By the time her third child arrived, however, she was keen to change tack, taking up a place on a year-long textiles course at City Lit, followed by a degree at The Cass. ‘I was 40 when I started the BA – nearly 20 years since my first degree. It was scary, but I’ve never looked back.’