Interview: Steve & David of Cottonwood Workshop

cottonwood turq frames

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.

cottonwood brown pallet coastersTheir 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.”

cottonwood nice cushion shot

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.

Cottonwood stool “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.”

Cottonwood blue knit cushion
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! 

Interview: Debbie of Weaversfield Jewellery

Copper Malachite TOL 3

Debbie of Weaversfield Jewellery, who is one of our artists for the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on June 11th, makes primarily wire-wrapped and wire woven jewellery, in silver and copper, often with accents of semi-precious stones and interesting glass beads. She began Weaversfield about five years ago as a spare time activity and went full-time about two years ago.

“I felt I was wasting my life in my job, and I wanted to challenge the idea that you can’t expect to love your work. I’ve always loved making things and I felt that regret for not doing what I was desperate to do would be much worse than regretting actually doing it.

Weaversfield coral and turquoise earrings

“It was by accident that I found an aptitude for jewellery. I took a beading class because my husband usually works really late and I wanted something creative to do on my own. It was so enjoyable that I started to research techniques, and when I discovered wirework, something clicked. Not only do I think it looks beautiful, it can also be demanding, rewards experimentation, and is totally absorbing. I’m excited by the look of woven and wrapped wire, the translation of textile techniques to metal and the juxtaposition of the textures you can create with wire.

Nadra II pendant and earrings 1

“For me, making for a living means being keen to get up in the morning, feeling as though there’s a treat in store for me when I’m about to make a new piece, being excited when I realise I’ve got a few hours on a Saturday that I can spend making — even though I do it during the week too. It also means taking myself seriously as a creative person, perhaps even as an artist, something I had trouble with for a long time. I’m taking part for the first time in Cambridge Open Studios this year, and just a couple of years ago I never would have dreamed of doing that: I would have felt like an impostor, basically, but now I think ‘why not?’”

Inspiration

Debbie is inspired by natural forms and by artistic movements such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau – probably, she says. “because of books of colour plates I had as a child and used to look at constantly”. She also loves the Middle Eastern decorative arts.

“In terms of style and technique, I am totally in awe of the wire artists that come out of Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Some of their stuff is literally jaw-dropping. On the flip side, I try not to look very often, because it’s not always good to compare yourself. You can start to wonder if there’s any point in your own stuff when there is such wonderful art in the world, and that’s a destructive way to think! We all bring something unique to our work.

White pearl marquise TOL pendant 2

Obstacles & Advice

Debbie identifies other issues that can be difficult for makers, saying that “lack of confidence and self-belief” were early obstacles for her. “I struggled in the first couple of years of making when something didn’t turn out well: I had no resilience and would despair that I was no good and had wasted loads of time I didn’t have on making something unsuccessful. Now I still don’t like it if I make a piece I’m not happy with, but I do have the sense now to put it down and go to bed, in the knowledge that when you’ve just made something you have limited objectivity about it. You also have to learn how to encourage yourself and not wait for external validation.”

To anyone thinking of starting a creative business, Debbie says: “You probably have to expect to make very little money for the first couple of years, and be sure you can weather that. If you can, get it to the point where it makes you a bare living before you quit your day job (I didn’t do this!). Try to be different in what you make. Remember that you are in it for the long term, and don’t despair at the inevitable setbacks. I have that famous poem by Samuel Beckett on my wall, and it’s helped me out so many times!

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better

See Debbie’s 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 event page. If you plan to pop in for a browse, do click to say you’re Interested or Going! 

Interview: Emma of The Beach Hut Studio

 

Emma of The Beach Hut Studio always wanted a beach hut, so she built one to use as a studio for creating coastal inspired ceramics in her garden.

“My studio space meant I could make more pieces and gave me a gallery space to show my work, so a few years ago I started doing Cambridge Open Studios, which was a great success, gave me confidence to continue and show my work in galleries.”

As a passionate beach comber Emma says, “I love the North Norfolk coast and have spent many a childhood holiday jumping off the dunes and crabbing at low tide. The wildness of the Norfolk coast is amazing, with its ever changing coastline after each tide. I use many items I have found on the beach in my work, making each piece totally unique.”

Emma recommends that those starting out join Cambridge Open Studios. “I was lucky really as galleries have approached me, which is great. Being part of the Cambridge Open Studios means you are on their website, which has a big presence, so customers and galleries can find you easier. Also the other people you meet doing open studios have really helped me, and given great advice.”

You can meet Emma and chat with her and other makers at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on the 11th of June, 10am-5pm at St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church (near Arts Picturehouse), Cambridge. Here’s our Facebook event page. If you plan to pop in for a browse, do click to say you’re Interested or Going! 

 

Interview: Anna of Berries for Bella

Anna of Berries for Bella taught herself how to crochet from books and videos while she was pregnant with her first baby. “As I got better I wanted to share my creations with a larger audience. It was really easy to open up an online shop on Etsy and list a few items. I was so excited to see people from around the world visit my shop and look at my work. My business has grown steadily and I now do ceramics and grow live plants in addition to my crochet flowerpot cosies.”

Anna is inspired by her Scandinavian heritage. “I love the playfulness and simple lines of Scandinavian design and its bright colours. I love to work in natural materials like wool and cotton.”

“Making means responsibility. My ambition is to provide great quality, long lasting products that don’t harm the environment. When designing a new product I always consider its usefulness. I find satisfaction in making products that can be loved for a long time in their new homes.”

Anna has wise words for those thinking about starting their own craft business, “Go for it if you think you’d enjoy it! With a craft business it’s possible to start out small without any big investments and grow at your own pace. Listen to advice from fellow small business owners. The crafting world is full of friendly people who are happy to share their experiences.”

You can meet Anna and other makers at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on the 11th of June at St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church.

Interview: Ulla Cronin of Finesse Knits

Ulla Cronin of Finesse Knits started her own knitting business after closing down her fair-trade clothing and gift shop in London, “I was looking for permanent part-time work, but didn’t find anything suitable so I gave up and started to do what I love, knitting. I’m a practical person, so what I make has to be useful. Therefore, I knit ponchos, scarves, hats, fingerless gloves, cushions and throws.”

Ulla gets her inspiration from her surroundings. “It could be a stone wall, fence, window or even a manhole cover pattern, being a Scandinavian I find that very often the simplicity of the Scandinavian design and colourways take over my designs.”

Running her own business she enjoys “the freedom to explore all aspects of a design from start to finish, the satisfaction of making an item and the enjoyment of selling and seeing the item in use! But in the beginning the hardest thing I’ve had to overcome was putting the items on display – I thought that my work wasn’t good enough to sell. However, I applied for a few local craft fairs and each time I nearly sold out of my knitted accessories.” Ulla’s advice to those starting out is, “Don’t give up!”

Within five years she hopes to have a regular customer base and would like to explore the wholesale side of the business.

Ulla is just one of the many sellers you can meet at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on the 11th of June at St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church.

Interview: Louise Richardson of Two For Joy

Louise Richardson of Two For Joy Illustration & Design loves making and drawing, “I really can’t go a day without doing something creative. Even if it’s just a doodle I have ideas every day which have to be written down.”

“All my designs start as little doodles and drawings in whatever notepad I have to hand! I design mostly paper goods, which are then handmade here in Suffolk. I also design and hand make a range of cushions, pencil cases, personalised mirrors and hand finish all my own cards and prints. Everything is small scale, which is just how I like it.”

It’s Louise’s passion for creating that has motivated her to start a business which she pursues in the evening after a long day at work. Her biggest challenge to overcome is “Tiredness! My day job keeps me out of my studio until 6pm, so I’ve had to learn to push through my burning desire to nap, but baby steps each evening keep me on the right track!”

Louise would advise anyone starting out to keep it simple. “I would get overly excited about all the things I could make, then stay up all night making. But then I would get completely drained by boring things like costs and all the things that could go wrong. So I suggest just start small and set yourself little targets. Grow slowly and surely.”

“Also, to do lists are great because you can motivate yourself by ticking off your achievements, no matter how small. There’s a lot that goes into a small creative business so it’s easy to get bogged down with what you need to do next, or what you haven’t done, so it’s super important to take a step back and see how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved!”

Within five years Louise would like “to be working for myself for quite a few more hours than I am able to do now. Hopefully I’ll have a few collaborations under my belt and I’ll have been able to buy my dream sewing machine! I’m already lucky enough to have some cards in Paperchase and Funky Pigeon, so hopefully a few more high street stores will stock my cards too.”

“Basically I want to sit in my little studio all day drawing and sewing with my cat while listening to whatever I fancy!”

Louise is just one of the marvelous makers who will be selling at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on the 11th of June at St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church.

Interview: Anne-Doreen of OKKO

 

Anne-Doreen Kopischka of Okko Skincare uses a subtle blend of natural oils to create beautiful silky smooth solid moisturising balm bars. She says, “Envision a beautiful clear lipstick, but bigger and for the whole of the body. It meets our busy everyday needs; you can throw it in your bag and use it at your convenience. It is a quick and easy way to keep your skin perfectly hydrated while on the go.

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OKKO Skincare was born out of the realisation that all of us deserve a little extra tender loving care. “I started a family and needed something that would fit the family schedule as well as the fact that most skincare contains nasty ingredients and I just started to pay serious attention to this with the products I used on my children.”

“I started with reading, researching and experimenting in my kitchen. Developing formulas together with a chemist. Having lots of people testing and giving feedback until I reached a result I was fairly happy with. “

The greatest hurdle that Anne-Doreen faces running Okko is “the juggle of organising the house, children and business. Sometimes it is impossible to be fair to everyone and satisfy their needs. This was and still is the biggest challenge.”

Her advice to anyone setting out to start up their own business is to “…stay focused. Don’t stop! Continue and don’t lose your goal, regardless of what happens. Don’t pay for x amount of courses because you think they may help. I noticed that most of what you really need is available on a small budget.”

You’ll find more of her wonderful products at the Cambridge Made Summer Fair on the 11th of June at St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church.