I haven’t featured a crafter on here for quite a while, mainly because a lot of the Craft Challenge Winners have not taken up the opportunity to promote themselves with a feature and also due to my laziness at not promoting this feature more. But I must apologise to this crafter as she sent me her article the middle of September and it has taken me until now to be able to find a good slot for her. (The Craft Challenge does get in the way sometimes, lol!)
Please tell us a bit about your background and your business and how you got started?
Penny Jane Designs emerged in 2007 and followed on from my years of involvement in community arts across Birmingham. I realised I was spending all my time putting together examples for workshops and all my energy was going into running workshops with no time for my own artistic pursuits. My background is in textiles and I was running workshops covering every art or craft category under the sun but at a basic level. I really wanted to take more time to develop an art form of my own. After my partner encouraged me I took a chance and exhibited a somewhat eclectic range of pieces at Birmingham’s Artsfest. At first it was excruciating putting my work on show but I was so pleased when I sold some of it. During the weekend I was also asked if I was interested in taking part in several craft fairs, which was to be another huge learning curve for me.
Tell us about your experience in crafting? Did you require any special training and/ or qualifications to make your crafts? Do you think it is essential to get training and would you recommend any courses or training?
I did a Fashion and Textiles degree way back in 1993 – when the internet was just a twinkle in everybody’s eye and I have just got my Masters in Art, Health and Well-being, which although it was very academic gave me some useful bits of information along the way. The most useful bit of training I have done is various short day courses with the International Feltmakers Association at Ridware Arts. I have learned so much from Melanie there. Her knowledge and patience are second to none!
I don’t think it is important what level you are working at but I think a well-planned course can help with organisational skills and give the confidence and help to see a design through from the sketching stage to the final product.
Where do you sell/ exhibit your work and what has been most successful for you? What if any are your future plans for your crafts?
Most of my sales come from face to face contact with the lovely people I meet at craft fairs. I have sold work online but this has been slow and I admit I haven’t really gone for it big style yet….
I have various online stores and I am experimenting with paying a small fee to Etsy for a few weeks which gets my listings up when people search. We’ll see how that goes!
I am listed with some other online shops but am working hard to get them up and running alongside my others. It’s certainly a challenge to keep track of what is for sale in them all, along with updating them regularly so things don’t look stale.
I really enjoy the feedback at craft fairs. I try to really listen to people when they say “Oh that would be nice if it had a different backing” or “ I would prefer it like this.” I am also ready to do little things like swap a brooch back for a clip if the customer pops back in five minutes. It can make all the difference to a sale sometimes and I want people to be happy with what they have bought from me. I made some little needle-felted babies recently and a customer held it up to her jacket and said she would like it as a brooch so that’s how they developed further. I have also been asked recently by other crafters whether they could buy some pieces of my hand-made felt that they can cut up, sew and craft with. They are now on my sites and will be for sale at my next event!
What have been your favourite or most challenging pieces that you have made and what inspired you to make them?
What a difficult question! I put a lot into each piece so it’s difficult to choose a favourite really.
I am fond of my dry-needle felted babies.
But then I love my hairclips too – both the flowers and the Art Deco style ones.
And then there’s my embellished records and felted wall hangings.
It’s just too difficult to choose as I have times when each of these is a favourite and it’s all I ever want to make. It’s the obsessive artistic streak in me. Each one is a challenge to make the first time round.
Where and how do you keep your creative inspiration?
I find that the more I do, the more inspired I get. I have always been an ideas person with scrapbooks and envelopes full of magazine cuttings and postcards. One thing I remember from art college was that none of us design in a vacuum. Ideas can come from everywhere at any time. If I am blocked however I won’t carry on. I will go out in the garden, take the dog for a walk or go for a mooch round the shops. I find that switching off can be the best way for the spark to happen!
What keeps you motivated to continue in this business?
After I left Uni I really didn’t have the knowledge or confidence that I needed. I am amazed by young people now who are so business minded and savvy about marketing. It’s taken a while but I now believe in myself, my products and my ability to show them off to people without cringing (too much!)
What are your goals/plans for the future of your business? Do you have any plans to further your skills or to learn something new?
Well, I don’t really think I will be going for world domination with my felt-making as there are so many talented textile/ felt artists out there but I think there is room for us all. I would like to see my work in galleries and shops so do let me know if there are any outlets looking for stock! I have ridiculous amounts of ideas about where I want to go and items I wish to make – and not just from felt. Watch this space!
What would be your 3 essential pieces of craft equipment if you were stranded on a desert island?
These would have to be my felting needle and sponge (for nights in front of the camp fire or if I can’t get hold of any water.
My bamboo rolling mat and soap for when I have room to fling warm water around and stick my elbows out.
I think that’s four but I reckon there’ll be room on the island.
When you first started if you could have been given one piece of advice what would it have been and what advice would you like to pass on?
Be business like and don’t be apologetic about your work. Ouch, I’ve done it!
Have cards ready because if you don’t a potential customer is more likely to get in touch with the one whose card they have.
Phone, email or send a link if you say you will as it will be remembered.
Be positive – it’s catching!
That’s a sort of three in one bit of advice. I’ve never stuck to the rules.
Lastly where can we find you?
All these places!
www.pennyjanedesigns.co.uk with lists of craft fairs I shall be at.
I would love to hear from you. I am also looking for constructive feedback on my online shops as I really value it!
Penny Jane Designs