Meet the Makers: Robyn Parker

Brixton-based textile designer Robyn tells us how her great-grandmother’s notebook inspired her brand, and of the links between creativity and mental health.

  • Tell us a bit about Archie Mac London, what do you make or do?

Textile design. It’s all about stories! I use these story-telling textiles to make cushions and purses, and I’m currently working on a range of washbags, make-up bags and iPad covers. In future I plan to create fashion-wear too.Robyn Parker

  • What do you mean by ‘story-telling textile design’?

It started from a project about childhood. I had the intention of bringing the fun elements of childhood into a more adult form of design.

I interviewed a friend who gave me a fantastic collection of childhood pictures from the ’80s. They were wearing garish T-shirts with Simpsons cartoons on, and I was fascinated by the hair shapes of the characters. I began to manipulate them and use them to create patterns. In this way the designs originated in elements of a childhood story, and carried them into the future. Icons of my own childhood, such as a headless doll, now feature in my designs.

  • What kind of processes are involved in creating your cushions?

I begin with childhood images and objects and create collage – using both old-style paper and scissors and computer programs – to explore these shapes and take them backwards and forwards. Sometimes surprising patterns result: some have come up with an Islamic look and then on the next iteration been reminiscent of African prints, others have the look of fractals.

The final designs are printed onto fabric, which I sew into cushions, bags and other items. Commercial printing is extremely expensive, so I’m currently learning screen-printing so that I can also do that part of the process myself in future.

  •  What inspired you to get started with Archie Mac?

The precious discovery, about a year ago, of an album my great-grandmother, Annie, had kept of her own notes and the charming sketches and cartoons of my great-grandfather, Archie McMillan. He signed each one with his monogram – AMcM, combined to make a little spider – and this inspired the name (Archie Mac) and logo of my brand.

It was so exciting to find this creative ancestry in my family. There has been something of a gap in creative expression in the intervening generations!

I didn’t come from an art background. Until recently I worked in social care, as a mental health support worker with the Community Options Team, and I repeatedly observed the importance of creative activity in restoring confidence and self esteem. This sparked the idea of setting up a social enterprise aimed at developing creative opportunities for other women (which I’ve recently started with workshops at the Eaves Centre in Brixton). Newham College recognised my enthusiasm and took a chance on me, offering me a place on their Fashion Foundation course, which gave me the opportunity to start experimenting with textiles.

  •  What makes your products special?  

The storytelling aspect. I’d love to create bespoke designs for clients which reflect what’s important to them – perhaps featuring images or icons from their own childhood, or those of their children – and incorporate these into textiles or products which are unique to them. A wedding dress, perhaps! I work primarily with fabric but there is no reason why the designs shouldn’t be used to decorate other products. Your own story-telling kettle, or toaster?

I currently hand-stitch my logo, derived from Archie’s monogram, onto every piece. I love that personal connection with each item of my work.

  • Tell us about the exciting new workshops you are involved with?

These are workshops in embroidery and beading at the Eaves Centre, a Brixton-based centre for supporting women who experience violence. Currently they are monthly, but I am keen to make them more frequent. The workshops teach new skills and an outlet for creative expression that bypasses any fear about drawing.

The women who attend are each making small panels. We’ve also been making up embroidery packs to send out to women who cannot or do not choose to come to the centre, to encourage them to participate. We are using the theme of ‘hope’ and will combine the small pieces we make into one large panel. We intend to display the final panel to raise awareness and possibly funds for the Eaves centre.

We’ve received a lot of support from local sources, including Simply Fabrics, Freecycle, and Fiona of Oh Sew Brixton!, for which we’re extremely grateful, as we had no funding for the project.

  •  What attracted you to get involved with Makerhood?

The network is such a wonderful precious thing: there is this lovely cycle of kindness there. It can be lonely being creative and it’s great to know that there’s somewhere so welcoming and supportive in the borough.

  • What do you like about living &/or working in Lambeth?

I don’t know what it is about the borough, but it attracts so many creative people. There is a really good network of creatives here, and I have received so much support from people such as Sinead of Crafty Fox, and Colin Crooks and Lydia Gardner on the ‘start your own enterprise course’  run by Tree Shepherd, and also getting  involved with Brand Amplifier has been amazing and brilliant!

Also, I greatly value that working in mental health gives me the opportunity to meet people with such different lifestyles and life experiences from my own. Being exposed to such a multicultural, multi-layered community is exciting and inspiring . For example, in the Eaves Centre workshops people bring so many different experiences and ideas to the table.

  • What’s your hot tip for a hidden pleasure or treasure in Lambeth?

One best memory I will take with me if and when I leave will be the conker trees by the Lido – I think I will always feel that childhood excitement from picking up shiny conkers!

To see more of Robyn’s unique, original textiles & products visit www.archiemaclondon.co.uk

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Meet the makers: Ellie Laycock

When Makerhood launched two years ago, Ellie Laycock of Hunted and Stuffed was one of the first makers to sign up – and her journey over that period has been as momentous as ours! So we thought we’d catch up with what’s happened to Ellie’s business in the past two years.

portrait-hunted-and-stuffed-01

• Tell us a bit about the products you make.
All of our products are inspired by the rare vintage textiles that we discover. It’s all about how to reinvent them into something modern, relevant, beautiful and useful for the home. A lot of people love vintage style but wouldn’t necessarily know where to find originals or how to bring them to life.

We do all the sourcing, editing, cleaning, designing and upcycling so you get the best vintage finds but re-imagined for the 21st century into something unique, current and beautiful.

Our main offering is a selection of cushions ranging from small throw pillows made from vintage handkerchiefs right up to large statement bolsters made from rare vintage Japanese wedding kimono silk brocades. Most pieces are totally unique (we only make one like it), others are very limited editions where we might make three the same.

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Working with original vintage, it’s not like you can order five more metres of a popular design from your printer. It’s what you can hunt down that dictates the rarity of the finished pieces.

We’ve also recently launched a brand new range of luxury handmade aprons with upcycled vintage ‘kitchenalia’ tea towel pockets, made with all-British materials. They’re proving quite popular, and Country Homes and Interiors magazine called them their ‘Buy Of The Day’!

• You were one of the first people to sign up to Makerhood when it started – how did you get involved?
Makerhood started up at around the same time (and in the same place) as Hunted and Stuffed did. I was a new mum and had just decided to go for it with my new business, so when I heard that there was a new collective of like-minded people forming right on my doorstep, I didn’t hesitate in signing up straight away. I thought that there would be nothing to lose, it sounded exciting and like a good opportunity for both the business and for meeting more people in my community.

The things I love about Makerhood are the emphasis on community both online and offline, the friendliness and unlimited optimism – I like their attitude!

• You won the Platinum Brand Amplifier Award for female entrpreneurs – what effect did this have on your business?
Yes, I was very surprised and honoured. The biggest and most powerful impact of winning that award was to gain confidence in my business. Prior to the win I viewed my business as an experiment; after the win I started to view myself as a businesswoman, and that was a crucial pivotal moment for me.

ellie - brand amplifier

Also, all the finalists received mentoring sessions about PR, marketing, branding and other practical advice that helped us shape our business visions, and I found women in business who were willing to mentor me and offer the benefit of their experiences and vice versa. It was a very nurturing and encouraging experience.

ellie-book-coverOff the back of that I applied to the Startup Britain Pitch Up award and won the chance to pitch to a major British high street retailer.

I also plucked up the nerve to approach a publishing house with my proposal for a book on upcycling vintage, and they took a risk on me and agreed to publish it, for which I’m so grateful.

It’s called Creating the Vintage Look (Cico Books), features 35 step-by-step upcycling projects that repurpose vintage finds into beautiful homeware, and will be published worldwide in September 2013.

• As a single mother, how do you cope with running your own business?
Well, I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy – because it’s not. It’s a hard slog. I have certain times when I can act within my business and it helps me focus on what needs to be done. It’s working to deadlines all the time. Ones you impose on yourself but know will move the business on: create a new product, get that bit of exposure that might lead to new customers finding you.

I find myself thinking about work a lot of the time. I think the key may be to try and compartmentalise things a bit. Focus on what you are doing completely, whether that is the business, your family or time off, otherwise you lack effectiveness by spreading yourself too thin.

• And now you are at the School for Creative Start Ups – tell us what this involves and what you have learnt.
ellie-cushion1S4CS has been great. It’s a year-long course for creative start ups and kicked off with a three-day boot camp given by Doug Richard (a former dragon on Dragon’s Den). Doug is truly inspirational and has devised his course to get you to ask the right questions of your business and research where your place might be (although as Doug is fond of saying, “Just because there’s a gap in the market, doesn’t mean there’s a market in the gap!”).

We met every month and the course culminated in the Startup Showcase at Somerset House in spring, which was a fantastic venue to exhibit in. The course runs again this year and I thoroughly recommend it.

One of the many things I learnt is what my strengths and weaknesses are, which means I’ve identified the kind of help I’d like to employ/find and what’s holding back the business from certain goals.

• How has Makerhood helped you on your journey?
Without Makerhood (and especially the forums) I would never have heard of Brand Amplifier and won the award that kick started it all. The workshops Makerhood put on are great and contain really valuable information that is hard to come by for indie makers on a budget. I just think it’s such a fantastic endeavour to create a social enterprise that helps build a community and encourages people to flourish.

• What advice would you give to other makers wanting a successful full-time business?
Well, firstly there’s no shame in doing a day job to support another passion. We all have to eat. Use evenings and weekends to start with and get the foundations in place.

I would say make use of the excellent workshops and events that Makerhood put on. Jane Doxey’s workshops are great for demystifying the retail world and she is a real fountain of knowledge and experience!

ellie-cushion3Sign up for a market stall opportunity, because it will increase your exposure and even if you feel you haven’t got much to sell then you could always use it for market research. Take products with both versions of that packaging label you can’t decide on and ask people which they prefer and why, or research prices people would pay for your product. Talking to potential customers is the best way to find answers.

Starting a business requires wearing many hats. Find your strengths and let yourself delegate your weaknesses.

If you decide to do it, then really go for it. It will be tough at times, you’ll wonder what you’re doing, the little negative voice inside will pop up and try to ridicule you. Learn to ignore it -it’s just jealous.

Take stock of every success – you’ll progress in baby steps, but after a while you’ll realise that you’ve come a long way. Be proud of that.

Whatever you make, it’s all ultimately about people. Being nice is free. You’re an artist and you make things that bring joy to people, or feelings they want to feel. They’ll pay you for that. Then you can make more. It’s a simple and beautiful thing.

Creating the Vintage Look is published by Cico Books on 13 September. Hunted and Stuffed, in collaboration with Cico Books and The Old Cinema, will be presenting projects from the book and new upcycled pieces for sale  in a pop up exhibition from Friday 20 September – Sun 22 Sepembert at The Old Cinema, 160 Chiswick High Road,  London W4 1PR.  The Old Cinema is famous for championing upcycling in the UK. Pop along, pick up a copy and have a look at what else this amazing vintage and upcycling emporium has to offer.

 

Meet the makers: Ellie Laycock

Ellie Laycock, who makes beautiful cushions from vintage scarves and linen, talks to us about hunting, stuffing and the challenges of combining making with being a single mother

Ellie Laycock with cushions

1. Tell us about the name – Hunted and Stuffed. It conjures up visions of giant moose heads – but you make cushions!

I liked the cheekiness of the name – I didn’t want anything too serious. It’s quite appropriate: I hunt down vintage fabrics and buttons, turn them into cushions and stuff them!

2. Where do you source your vintage fabrics?

I scour eBay, car boot sales, Sunday markets. It can be hit and miss. Sometimes you don’t see anything, but at one sale I went to on Wandsworth Road there was a pile of vintage silk scarves in one corner and a heap of old linen in another. The stuff I bought there kept me going for months! It’s a bit trickier now with Malakai [her 10-month-old son], as I can’t carry as much as I used to.

3. You’re a professional photographer – why did you move across into making cushions?

I trained in sculpture, and I’ve been a professional photographer for 11 years. But when I had Malakai I was stuck at home and I wanted to do something creative. So I made some cushions from some vintage kimono material and showed them to a friend who is a stylist. She really rated them, so I went ahead and started making more of them.

4. What gave you the idea of using scarves and tea towels?

I kept coming across beautiful scarves, but I don’t wear them myself. I’m more into accessorising a room than an outfit! And tea towels are the same size as a standard pillow. Other cushions made from tea towels usually fold the tea towel in half, so you lose the impact of the full design.

5. Which designs sell best?

The iconic graphic designs, such as Penguin classic covers or London Underground maps, are quite popular. I’m drawn to souvenirs of London or royalty, street maps and illustrations of Britain.

6. You already have online shops on Etsy and Folksy. What was the appeal of joining Makerhood?

I just think it’s an excellent idea to promote local makers to local buyers. I also wanted to meet other people with something in common – not just craftspeople but people interested in buying locally.

7. How can I find out more?

My blog is at www.huntedandstuffed.blogspot.com, and you can see my photographic portfolio at www.ellielaycock.co.uk.

8. What do you like about living in Brixton?

I’ve lived here for 10 years. Before I lived here I kept coming here and then had to get home, so I decided I might as well move here! It has a centre of its own, and I found it welcoming and fun. It’s the friendliest place I’ve lived in and it’s got everything I need – I don’t want to live anywhere else.

9. What’s your top tip for a bit of “hidden Brixton”?

Go for a café latte at Café Tana on Brixton Hill. They’re really friendly and do great coffee.

You can see Ellie’s fabulous cushions at http://brixton.makerhood.com/hunted-and-stuffed.