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Where did Makers Anonymous come from?

With the Summer School coming up, I’ve been asked a lot recently how Makers Anonymous came about and how it got its name. So here goes.
Summer School poster

I’ve been to a lot of craft fairs and met up with a lot of makers. I’ve read books and blogs and all the available advice out there, as have most of you, yet we all have problems that we can’t get past and opportunities that we don’t quite manage to take.

It’s not a matter of more advice and it definitely isn’t about telling us to just do more. I’ve read enough blogs that leave me feeling overwhelmed and under-motivated. It’s more about having a support group who understand your joys and troubles – which is where the name Makers Anonymous came from.

And, yes, I had the same self doubts that we all have: was I “proper” enough? Who am I to run something like this? Would anyone come?

The reason that I thought I could do it was that my ‘past life’ had given me access to an unusual amount of training and broad experience: coaching colleagues to grow and gain confidence; facilitating a technique called group coaching; training on better decision making, leadership and project management. My work was to help organisations get better at quality, efficiency and risk management. And before that I worked at a supermarket managing national marketing campaigns. I thought about the way my coaching had worked and wanted to create a space like that, where you could think again about areas you’d got stuck on and leave feeling recharged.

It couldn’t have worked without an affordable venue and when Charlotte at Fox and the Magpie said that we should hold it there, I had a plan! We sat down and worked out what kind of thing MA should be: how long should a session be, how often should we meet, would it be ongoing or a set programme… Charlotte was awesome and really supportive in sharing the risk, spreading the word, and working with some of her other partners to include taster sessions on photography (thanks Geoff!) and finance (thanks Becca!). Most importantly, someone else thought I could do it.

I brainstormed all the things I wish I’d known when I started up, then thought through all the ways I’d found my training useful in solving my problems. Key to Makers Anonymous is that the learning is interactive and then the second half of each session is all about trying it for yourself.

Makers Anonymous has been a really positive experience. Every session is different and, as host, I can flex what we do to how much people already know and what problems they want to work on together. I love that I’ve been able to use old skills in a new context. On our first taster session, group coaching solved a problem in sales conversion rates that had seemed impossible… in just twenty minutes group work! Another maker managed to fix their social media ‘addiction’, which was taking up far too much time, on their first session with the group.

A common comment is how the group has helped us see our businesses in a new light. It’s also been great networking: I got a part time marketing job! I found a workshop. I made new friends. And I’ve got help back from the group for my business too.

Here’s what our makers have said:

Informative and relaxed with lots of good positive ideas from a lovely bunch of people.
It was a brilliant night. I’m full of optimism and ideas now!
the programme looks excellent, it is going to be such a valuable resource for everyone who comes along
It was a lovely, productive, supportive and informative evening – thank you Lucy

With thanks to Dawn at Fabrication, we can bring the group to people who couldn’t make it out to Shipley, or who can’t do evening sessions. We’ll be right in the centre of Leeds for three Wednesdays starting on the 6th August. I’m rewriting the course so it works in the new format and I can’t wait to see how it differs from the evening sessions, it’ll all depend on who comes and what they want to bring to the group.

We’re hoping for a rerun in the New Year and may well repeat the Summer School three day intensive in October for anyone worried about being ready for Christmas sales.

If you’ve got a bit excited, book online here. If you’re curious, join our facebook group and see what we’ve been up to.

Inspiration from the wild

daytime moon

The moor is at its wildest this time of year. Even on a bright day, the cold blue light is a clear reminder of how far north I am. Low in the sky, it blinds me when I look to the horizon.

winter light

There are no bright, yellows of Impressionist colour here and I’m reminded why paintings that ‘prettify’ the moor with a Mediterranean colour palette grate: the grey-brown-sepia shades are the right backdrop to the vivid leaf greens of the Scots pine, holly and grasses. You don’t get this chocolate and pale blue silhouetting effect further south. It needs no ‘prettifying’ to be beautiful.

scots pines from inside

Walking, I try and guess how much of the white noise above me is from leaves and how much from water. It’s an attention-grabbing sound and I’m inclined to follow it, without knowing why. The bracken lie with broken backs and curled palms around me.

bracken with broken backs

There is something about a wide space dotted with birch trees that makes me suddenly intimidated. I’m intruding on their space. Two hundred yards on, from a different angle, I can’t work out why I thought that at all.

birch070114

I’ve come in search of tree shapes and I remember doing exactly the same for A level Art on Kendal Heights. I want to capture their curves, which are more exaggerated up here on exposed ground. Rowan, birch, Scots pine and holly. Trees that hold on. Groups that all lean the same way. I sketch quickly with my favourite new pen, perching on the ground or standing on the path, no one else around.

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Lichen still holds my attention and sitting on a rock I discover a whole colony of flowering lichen. The flowers look like trumpets or something a little unnerving from under the sea. I take photos and sketch a few of them.

lichen flowers

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Taking a moment for inspiration is what I’ve missed in the rush of Christmas, this breath of fresh air is like… well. The moor has given me exactly what I needed, beautiful images, exercise and some sketches to use and play with. Then it reminds me that it isn’t entirely safe as I slide down a steep ‘path’ and do something minor but painful to my knee.

Not safe but wonderful. That’s my moor.

My Indie Christmas pressies: delights of local talent…

Now that everyone has opened their presents, I can share some of the Indie hits with you all. I hope it gives credit to some of the fab talent around and some ideas next time you need a gift…

My present came from InkyLinky, a gorgeous silver and copper pendant with etched and enamelled detailing, I also got my cousin some of Liz’s earrings. My husband loves his hand tooled leather map of Middle Earth too.
The Italian wool handbags came from Becky Moore, the pretty tea towels were from Emily Maude, my aunt’s jewellery roll was from Tableau Gifts in Headingley.

Helen Riddle provided the winter hedgerow embroidered painting, the woolen mug warmer for our London commuter and a woolen pin cushion in the shape of a cup cake. The iridescent blue Raku fired pot was from Old Brewery Pottery in Keighley. Sadly, I can’t recall the name of the stained glass co I got the sunrise landscape from, which was for my second cousin who’s just moved out of home (she was next to Helen Riddle at Heart and Craft if anyone knows).

My sister asked for a pair of my shoe clips, and I also found a lovely vintage pair of driving gloves at Peacock Blue Vintage for her. A mug with microscope images came from Sci-Art Images. The Futurama themed t-shirt was thanks to Quertee.

Chocolates were courtesy of The Chocolate Chest, they went down a storm with my lot…

For the nieces and nephews, the board games Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride came from Travelling Man, and the fabric for my niece’s dress (which she designed herself, aged eight!) came from The Shuttle [who haven't yet embraced the internet].

I may also have got myself a couple of things along the way including Myroo Geranium hand cream (good enough that I actually remember to use it!) and Joe’s Toes felt slippers. I don’t think December would have been as good without the buns in aid of The Samaritans that came from Creative Breads.

I can’t work out how to add other people’s photos on this blog without nabbing them, which feels a bit mean, so you’ll just have to follow the links if you’re curious… Happy New Year!

Merry Crimbo lovely people!

stockinggarland1212
On the twelfth day of Christmas,

My true love sent to me

Twelve landmark badges,

Eleven upcycled dresses,

Ten unique commissions,

Nine stoneware buttons,

Eight greener ribbons,

Seven ivy pendants,

Six linen cushions,

FILLED WITH DUCK DOWN!

Four landmark mugs,

Three new tees,

Two viola shoe clips,

And an allium and an ash tree [cushion]

Going Indie

I was very keen this year to change my ways further towards buying Indie.

Opening my own business has given me exposure to how many very talented people there are around us and how hard it is for them to make even a modest living.

You might remember that I did a check on my own spending last year and although I considered myself a thoughtful shopper, the amount I actually spent Indie was tiny. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned in my year of being more Indie…
Indie Xmas bauble
1) Buying Indie puts about ten times more money back into the economy than buying chain or large online. When you buy from chains or large online stores, 95% of that money flies straight out of your local economy. We need that money circulating locally to have healthy towns and cities. Without a huge public regeneration fund, buying Indie is possibly the best action each of us can take to boost the economy. It’s the sound and logical thing to do to help your home town survive tough times.

2) This wasn’t an excuse to spend lots of money. This was purely about how I spent money I was already spending. Why can’t a lip balm come from Little Shop of Lathers rather than Boots? We all make choices on how to spend what money we have. I’ve looked at the things I bought from chains and tried to swap to Indie.

3) Planning helps me make good decisions. When I kept running out of milk, I had to buy from the supermarket. Now we get our milk weekly with the veg box so I don’t have to remember to make the ‘right choice’ each week. It’s the same with greetings cards – if I’m in a rush, it’s going to come from the supermarket! But there are so many beautiful handmade cards that I buy several when I see them and pick one out when I need it.

4) My biggest challenge was having to completely rethink what I mean by “value” and what I think I can afford. I was so used to the special offers and low prices and I’ve been brought up to prize finding a bargain. I think I’m most of the way there, so here’s my checks:

… If I’m tempted by tat, I remind myself of the slavery footprint concept and watching Youtube life laundry videos has helped me think about why I’m bringing extra stuff into the house.
… If I want something cheap and cheerful, it needs to be secondhand. Whether charity shop, ebay or vintage, I can get my bargain fix whilst recycling.
… I look from scratch at how much things cost and whether I’m happy with it. I’m no longer going to trust the knee jerk ‘that’s too expensive’ reaction. I want to think about it. I recently got a chair recovered. I loved that chair. But the quote gave me that knee jerk reaction. I had to think about it and actually it wasn’t too expensive, it reflected well the hours needed and the training to have the skills to reupholster an armchair. I’m really proud of that chair now. It’s unique and beautifully made, it’ll last many years and it is a reminder of a different kind of ‘value’.

5) I’ve stopped myself if I start thinking that this is like going on a diet. I’m not ‘depriving myself’ or ‘being good’. It doesn’t matter if I make bad choices occasionally – I’ve been inside plenty of supermarkets and fast food chains this year. This isn’t about being holier than anyone else, feeling guilty or making life harder. I haven’t failed if I buy from the chains, I just know that each Indie choice is helping one of my neighbours make a living.

6) There are a few different resources that show me where my Indie businesses are so I know what’s out there. It’s a lot of fun to go discover something new and see if you like it. I’ve got to know more people where I live and have even made new friends thanks to buying Indie.

7) Having found the Indie options, I’m only going to buy something if I really love it. I’m no fan of badly run businesses, crap craft or anything else that you can come across. It has to be good to get in my basket.

So that’s what I’ve learned. It’s been really challenging to rethink some of my habits – had to dig up my old Cognitive Behavioural Thinking skills. But you can change a habit, you can change an unhelpful way of thinking, they’re just what you’re used to doing, they aren’t barriers to a different way.

When you spend time among really talented, savvy, hard working people who are still wondering why they can’t make a living from their efforts, it gives you an imperative to change. This pro-Indie movement we’re seeing can grow. It only takes a few more pro-Indie decisions from each of us to make a difference to our neighbours and to bring some much needed novelty to our own lives.

Love where you live

Love where you live is my local collection. There’s a lot to love about our part of Yorkshire.

One of the things I’ve concentrated on is our urban landscape. Huge icons of past building booms are all around us, like seeing our past fashion decisions in a photo album. Is that really who we were?
corn exchange
I’ve never been a big fan of the twiddliest fussiest Victorian styles that were fashionable when many of our landmarks were built, so I made them my own by capturing their essence in a simpler graphic form.

I want to bring something new to them in a way a photograph couldn’t add. By picking and choosing which aspects to capture, a building becomes an icon. A brand for where you live. A public community brand.
Lister Mill stencil
These landmarks earned their place in our hearts over decades. We reuse them and reinterpret what they mean. My Bradford City Hall design means pride in our football team to some, defiant pride in Bradford itself to others. Leeds Corn Exchange embodies high fashion, celebrating indie living, teen culture… all at once.
city hall no borders
Wearing a local landmark is a way of branding ourselves. Sharing our ownership of these landmarks. So if my rock what you’ve got range is designed to make it easier to live green, love where you live is here to help us love local.
cityhall_t_pack

listermill_t_pack

badge image
All available in my shop on Etsy and in Fabrication in Leeds.

A bit about how they’re made…

All my t-shirts are organic cotton and made to WRAP standards. WRAP is an international system of independent audit and no notice inspections to make sure abuses do not take place where the t-shirts are made. It’s the best assurance I can find that my t-shirts are free from the poor treatment and abuses found in many high street products.

My mugs are printed by a local independent designer, Neil Taylor of Sci-Art Images. My badges are printed locally by a young indie print company Awesome Merchandise.

I create my designs digitally, which lets me get badges and mugs printed, but then hand cut an acetate stencil, each design taking 2-3 hours to cut accurately. I use my stencils, along with an “eco” water based fabric paint, to screen print designs onto the t-shirts, waiting for them to dry before sealing the paint with an iron.

Q & A: Shoe clips

Are you new around here?
Shoe clips are new this summer. They’re my replacement for the popular embellished shoes I made last year. I think that they’re more useful as you can wear them on any of your shoes and it makes the most of the shoes you already own.

shoe clip

You know, I’ve managed pretty well without shoe clips so far…
Me too… but I’ve realised something: my shopping habit is strongest when there’s some reason to dress up. A party, a wedding, a night out… If I can make my own shoes more fabulous, it helps me resist buying a new pair. That’s good for storage at home, it’s cheaper and much greener than endlessly buying more shoes.
I also think that fabulous shoes tend not to be that comfortable, but with a shoe clip you can glam up your most comfy shoes – ballet pumps, flats, flip flops, wedges or heels.

Shoe Clip blog3

Is this a frill too far?
A lot of occasion shoes are already embellished with a pattern, beads or a bow. Your shoes are a blank canvas and they have that brilliant thing where they still fit whatever size you are, which is why glamorous shoes always cheer us up.

Shoe clip blog4

Ok, but I’m not wearing something that rubs…
No way, scout’s honour, I’ve tested them myself. The findings I use have also been used in shoe clips for ages by other makers. They’re very smooth jewellery quality metal (nickel and lead free) so there shouldn’t be any reaction even if you wear them with bare feet. Nevertheless, if anyone didn’t get on with their clips, you can rely on a full refund for any undamaged pair.

Shoe clip blog2

There’s this outfit I want to match…
I’ve got designs in my shop to meet most of our needs, clips that go with posh frocks, denim jeans, or black trousers. If you fancy a colour match or something special – like a coordinated set for a group of bridesmaids – get in touch, I’ll source fabric, check it with you and make up just what you need.

I’ve added shoe clips to my range because I think they’re a brilliant way to stretch the wardrobe you already own, to rock what you’ve got. I’m hoping that even if it’s a new idea, you’ll start to wonder about just how fabulous those shoes at the bottom of your wardrobe could be, next time you go out.

Shoe clip blog1

With thanks to the old worn out shoes from the bottom of my wardrobe, that agreed to be glammed up for the occasion.

A button is born

One of my collections is designed to make the most of our existing wardrobes: upcycled clothes, shoe clips (of which more later), fat quarters and buttons make up the collection. There’s nothing like a new set of buttons for giving life to clothes and this is the story of my how my stoneware buttons come to be.

I’m very lucky to have access to the pottery and kiln at Hive in Shipley. A community kiln is greener – their kiln only goes on when there is enough clay to fill it and all the unused clay gets recycled. It’s also social as there are several experienced potters who use the drop in too. I love making buttons… I love how experimental buttons can be and also the meditative precision needed to smooth the edges, create neat holes and finish them properly.
Yesterday, on my walk down to Hive, I paused to collect kerbside plants as I spotted them.

A collection of wild plants

(They are all very common, but even so I only picked very small amounts from big groups so as not to interfere with their growth and return next year.)

My buttons start as croxton clay so that they can be fired at the higher stoneware temperature – this makes them stronger than earthernware. It’s rolled to a consistent thickness by using wooden guides on either side. Cutting strips, I can cut squares that either become square buttons, or form the basis for cutting circular buttons.

Button blog2

With the batch I created yesterday, I wanted to use the plants as a texture and pattern for the buttons – a traditional technique with gorgeous results. This (slightly blurry, sorry) image is of the Groundsel being gently pressed into a round button:

Button blog3

Here are the first few buttons, using buttercup, shepherd’s purse and groundsel – they still need some work to smooth the edges and don’t have holes yet. The clay takes the print best when wet, but then I have to wait until it’s dried enough to create neat button holes.

Button blog4

This is the full collection waiting to dry enough to put the holes in. The maple leaves look great as statement buttons for a shawl or jacket, but took rather a long time to cut out neatly! I can’t wait until I can put a pale green glaze over them. The groundsel were my favourite for the beauty of the marks they made so I made two sets… and a larger brooch front.

Button blog5

Making holes is a five stage process. To create a neat finish you make an initial hole, slice off the excess clay with a kidney from the back and then remove any loose clay at the front. So that your thread doesn’t get stressed once you’ve sewn it on, I push a paintbrush into the hole for a sloping edge and then neaten it again.

Button blog6

The previous batch is waiting to be bisque fired (the first firing) and with some of these buttons, I used underglazes for some really strong and vibrant colours. I’ll put a transparent glaze over the top when they are stone fired.

Button blog7

Finally, here are my first two batches. The ones at the bottom have been glazed and refired already. The white ones at the top are waiting for me to glaze them. I used a vintage lace on some of the second batch, which I’m going to highlight in dark blue and cover the rest of the buttons in white.

Button blog8

The only drawback to a community kiln is that I can’t control when the firings will happen. So while I’ll definitely be taking my first batch to Brighton at the end of the month, the other batches may not be available until Saltaire festival. Whether you’re making do, making new clothes or just can’t resist lovely shiny things, I hope you’ll find good uses for these buttons.

A Year in Life Class

I don’t sell my life drawings, but I love doing it because it keeps my eye sharp and my pencil moving: it makes sure I’m always drawing and observing. Obviously, there’s some nudity involved so look away now if you don’t want to see it. Here are a few examples of what I’ve done this year and a couple of my favourites at the end from the olden days…

LD7

LD5

LD6

LD4

LD10

LD9

LD3

LD2

LD8

LD1

LD12

LD11

LD17

From previous life classes:

LD14

LD13

LD15

LD16

Eco things and ethical decisions

I’m aware that it’s very easy to say “I’m trying to be green and ethical” without giving you any actually useful or reassuring information, so this is a blog on what it means in practice. It’s a bit long, so don’t feel obliged, it’s here if you want to know more.

There was a great blog a couple of years back about how as crafters we can accidentally offer a fig leaf to the unfair big business practices that made people want to buy from us in the first place.
I was very wary of this when I set up and have become ever more wary as I learn about how cotton is grown, fabrics produced and metals mined.
As I always emphasise, I think feeling guilty is pointless and wastes time: we live in this world, it’s hard to avoid exploitation and we should pat ourselves on the back every time we find an alternative. Exploitation is a quick way to make a profit and it works because us customers don’t meet the people being exploited. Anything we do that challenges that set up is for the good.
As a small business, there are some things I can do easily, some things I can work towards and some difficult decisions. Buying organic t-shirts that come with an independently inspected guarantee on working standards was one of the easiest decisions I had to make. Great product, still affordable, job done.

Fabrics

Working with fabrics has meant a variety of solutions because I don’t have the buying power to order bespoke fabric. Organic Fairtrade fabric is the best solution ethically, because it supports that supply chain and enables them to grow, but recycled fabrics are a good back up as they reduce waste, make sure the original production effort is fully used and don’t need transporting across the world:
• I’m sourcing organic Fairtrade fabrics for my larger pieces where people can pay enough to cover the cost
• I’m investing in quilt wadding made from recycled plastic bottles (amazingly, just as soft as the ordinary sort), although it’s a lot more expensive
• For my other projects, I use offcuts, with an assurance from my supplier that they are genuinely post-commercial use – fabrics that have been used by the fashion industry but are left over and would otherwise be thrown into landfill. Some of my best fabrics come from this source and I’m lucky to have a great supplier in “The Shuttle”.
• I don’t waste fabric either: smaller pieces become smaller items and the tiny remnants become stuffing
• I recycle clothing and homewares to create new fabrics for my products: if you have some of my denim or jersey appliqué – I wore that once!
• My ribbons and findings are usually offcuts or recycled but occasionally I have to use new if I can’t find what I need.
Still to go are solutions to cushion stuffings – the recycled bottle option doesn’t seem to be available. I’ve tried using shredded jersey but it looks lumpy and is denser than stuffing. But, I’ll keep looking and trying different things.

Metals

The metal I use on my jewellery is recycled. Having been used once, it’s daft not to reuse it and it means that there’s no need for further pollution and hardship in mining more.
I use aluminium from drinks cans and from the printing industry – that’s been reused twice as I get reused offcuts from a local artist! This is the greenest of my metals as it hasn’t been processed after its first use: it’s just directly reused and then hand cut and made with cold connections needing no power or heat to create.
For my copper and silver jewellery I buy recycled bullion from a supplier in London, this comes as sheets and wires and is still hand cut but needs heating and soldering to create jewellery so it is a little more energy intensive. Occasionally I use fine silver clay, which is all recycled too and also needs heat to finish it.
Still to find is a source of recycled bullion findings – e.g. earring clips, necklace fasteners and so on. So some I can make for myself and others I have to buy new.

Packaging and marketing

One of my compromises has been the plastic covers for my t-shirts. There isn’t a green alternative that has the same performance available yet and I’m not yet big enough to commission from one of the innovative bio-plastics companies (I’ve rung them, they have large minimum orders!). So I make the stiffening from recycled magazines so that the plastic is the only compromise. Protecting t-shirts in plastic has also reduced my energy consumption in re-washing and ironing t-shirts after each fair.
When I post out packages I use as much recycled packing material as possible, which I’m aware is not as pretty, but it’s important to me to keep the values going here too.
My website is hosted by EcoWebHosting, who are UK based and plant trees to “offset” their carbon use. ecowebhosting.co.uk/ecocredentials

Working practices

The biggest element here is my range of products that make use of things that have already been made – good clothing made better, shoe clips rather than new shoes, vintage linens into cushions and quilts and so on, but how I make things is important too.
I’m used to minimising my energy use at home, being a thrifty soul at the best of times, but I’m particularly aware of the power hungry elements of my work and make efforts not to leave them running longer than necessary… my iron, my kettle and my computer. The sewing machine actually uses very little energy – about the same as having the radio on (which I usually do).
My tools such as jewellery tools and screenprinting equipment are just standard. No one is making green alternatives, but I’ll buy second hand where I can. My inks and paints are all water based and marked “eco” and non-toxic: Dylon and Permaset Aqua.
I’ve moved from painted stencils to screen printing partly to reduce my use of spray mount, which is a solvent. The paper I use for leaflets and printing is recycled. Working at home means I only use my car occasionally.

So eco and ethical have different meanings but they often overlap. Eco is minimising my impact on energy use, pollution and biodiversity. Ethical is minimising any negative impact on other people. By combining them in the way I source, make, package and sell my work, I plan to offer a real alternative to the big guys.

As the Cafedirect ad said it recently: “while big is busy growing bigger… small is growing better”. I’m better now than I was when I first set up and as I continue there’ll be more opportunities and more options to learn. I’m finding that a lot of ethical companies were set up a few years ago and are closing down. By keeping up the momentum on change, I want to help fair trading companies that put their neck on the line to find customers.
If you want to know more or have ideas on being green and ethical, do use the comments box below and get in touch x