Steve & David of Cottonwood Workshop are two of our newest Cambridge Made members, with an Etsy shop that’s been open for only a short time but is already well stocked with Scandi-influenced, modern homewares, handmade and hand finished in wood or yarn. Upcycled wooden items with rustic paint finishes and textile trims keep company with fully handmade pieces, often created from pallet wood, such as their clever hole-in-the-middle coasters stored on a wooden dowel. Chunky hand-knitted and crocheted soft furnishings harmonise with all.
Their experience in retailing may have some bearing on the coherence of their work. “We launched just a few months ago, in April, but had been planning and developing ideas for over a year before that. Both of us had been working for an ethical giftware company that was in the process of winding up. Having a lot of experience in retailing, we decided now was the time to start our own business. We see our first year of trading as one where we find out what does and doesn’t sell, and adapt our vision accordingly.”
The two have strong ideas and principles about their crafts: “It is deeply satisfying to make anything with one’s own hands, and over the years to broaden and develop one’s range of skills as a craftsman. Traditional crafts were passed down in a family from generation to generation. These days we learn via friends, books or the internet, mostly prompted by our mistakes.
Being able to look at something and say to yourself ‘I made this and it is beautiful’ is one of life’s great experiences.
“Making is a creative outlet for us both, and a way of contributing to, and enhancing, the world in a positive way. We think it’s important that things are made and finished well, because, after all, we’re making these beautiful items in the hope that other people will like to buy and have them in their homes.
“It’s also incredibly satisfying to produce something from simple raw materials. Being able to look at something and say to yourself ‘I made this and it is beautiful’ is one of life’s great experiences.”
It’s no secret that creative partnerships can be challenging, and Steve and David name “learning how to work collaboratively on a project” as one of the obstacles they’ve had to overcome in starting to establish their business. “Though it has produced some of our best work, we have markedly different working processes. This did prove to be a source of friction, but it has forced us to communicate better, deepen our understanding of each other, and, more importantly, to adjust our assumptions.”
Their advice to those contemplating their own business is characteristically thoughtful: “Start from what you know, like, and have the skills for. Try to be as objective as you can be about what you make. It’s only natural to love what you create, but don’t let that mean you are uncritical about what may be wrong, need improvement or require a change in vision for your business.”
Although they’ve launched Cottonwood online, in the long term Steve and David have set their sights on bricks and mortar: “In five years time we’d like to have opened a successful Cafe and craft-shop/workshop on the North Norfolk coast.”
We won’t be at all surprised if they reach their goal, but in the meantime we’re lucky enough to have their work at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on June 11th!
See Cottonwood’s lovely work and that of our other artists on June 11th at St Andrews Street Baptist Church (near Arts Picturehouse) in Cambridge on June 11th, 10am-5pm. Here’s our Facebook event page. If you plan to pop in for a browse, do click to say you’re Interested or Going!