Crafty ideas

[PAGEBREAK]My creative passion

Ever wondered if you could turn a passion into a career? Caroline Rees talks to three women who have turned their arts and crafts hobbies into real work

Read about these inspirational women, who have turned their hobbies into their careers and get motivated into action!


Katrin Moye, 38, runs her own ceramics business in Nottingham, where she lives with her husband Rob and their two children, Ewan, nine, and Finley, five.

Old job: Bookshop fiction buyer
New job: Potter
Start up costs: £5,000
This year’s earnings: £12,000

“I enjoyed my job at Waterstone’s bookshop, but I’d been doing pottery as a hobby for years. When I went on maternity leave, I started a BTEC ceramics course and that fired me up.

When we moved back to Nottingham in 2000, I went back to work part-time at Waterstone’s. We set up a studio at home in a big outbuilding with a kiln and a wheel and I borrowed £1,000 from my parents to get it set up.

I sold all my first pieces to friends and work contacts at Christmas 2003, which boosted my confidence. Orders from friends of friends snowballed and I’d fulfill those while Finley had an afternoon nap. When he stopped having a nap, I didn’t have time. So I left work two years ago and did two days a week in the studio.

My experience of marketing and events at the shop was invaluable because I knew how to promote myself. I got a grant from the East Midlands Arts Council to get professional photos taken, then I did a mail-out to 15 galleries – and about half placed orders.

I was under-confident to start with, but that changed when I got into shows. At the Top Drawer Trade Fair in January 2006 I got enough orders for the whole year. One lady placed one for 60 pieces. I kissed her!

Last year I applied for Origin: The London Craft Fair, but didn’t get in. That prompted me to put together a coherent collection. It’s decorative domestic slipware on the theme of family history. I started shaking when I got in this year as it’s the Crafts Council’s showcase event.

I’ve got two part-timers working with me now, which is great, as I was starting to get lonely. I feel a bit guilty about not giving my children enough time, but the job satisfaction just doesn’t compare with before. I feel proud that I’ve done it without any formal training.”

My best move: Joining the Design Factory – they took me to the Top Drawer Trade Fair, which started me off with large orders.

My worst mistake: Promising somebody 35 pieces for last Christmas and not delivering them until December 23. They were not happy. I took too much on and should have kept them informed in advance.

Top tip: Be aware of what you can do to make your work better and keep looking for new ways to develop it. I always listen carefully to comments from the public who speak to me at shows.

Katrin will have a stand at Origin: The London Craft Fair, which takes place at Somerset House, WC2, from October 2 to 14. Tickets, £7. Call (020) 7845 4600.

[PAGEBREAK]The Glass Designer

Amanda Simmons, 36, designs pretty kiln-formed glass at her home in Corsock, Dumfries and Galloway, which she shares with her husband Dan.

Old job: Clinical technician.
New job: Glass designer.
Start up costs: £10,000.
This year’s earnings: £20,000.

“Being a glass designer is the realisation of a dream. I’d done an art foundation course, but I didn’t have the confidence to be an artist and thought I’d earn more as a scientist.

By the time I turned 30, I had become hooked on glass and swapped full-time NHS work for part-time agency work. It paid well, which enabled me to do a postgraduate certificate in glass and architecture at Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design two days a week. I was thrilled to get a distinction, which validated what I finally wanted to do with my life.

I bought a kiln and started off in my mum’s garage. Unfortunately, every time the power surge went on, her neighbour’s lights flashed! I became a full-time glass maker when we moved to Scotland in 2005. Our downstairs is a gallery space and I work in a double garage-sized tin shed, which I’m renovating myself.

Public work brings in the most money and I’m just finishing my very first public commission, which is a large Perspex sculpture for a regeneration project in Sheffield.

I fell back quite hard on my savings at first because I wasn’t selling enough. But the work is beginning to be profitable now. Being in Scotland is completely inspiring my work. I’m in the studio seven days a week if I can get away with it.” 

My best move: Moving to Scotland. There were too many people in London trying to do the same thing.

My worst mistake: I said yes to more exhibitions than I could really handle when I moved up here.

Top tip: If everything’s going wrong in the studio, step away. I take the dog for an hour’s walk and the problems are almost forgotten. I also have a punch-bag in the studio!

For more details, call 05601-470120


Jan Garside, 59, produces woven art textiles and lives in Nottinghamshire. She and her husband David have two grown-up children, Ben, 31, and Tiffany, 29.

Old job: Midwife
New job: Weaver
Start up costs: £7,000
This year’s earnings: £5,000

“I really enjoyed being a midwife, but I’d always had an underlying interest in the arts. I’d been going to evening classes, but was looking for something more serious, so I did an Access to Higher Education course in art and design at North Nottinghamshire College in 1998. I still had to work four days, so they allowed me to fit it in around my shifts.

Starting a degree was a bit of a gamble because I wasn’t sure how I could afford it, but my tutor encouraged me. I applied to Loughborough University and was accepted. I used to drive there five days a week, then be at the hospital at weekends. I often had to work all night to catch up with course work. I took out a student loan and the fact that my husband had a decent job helped.

Going to university at 50 was brilliant. The younger students treated me as though I was their age and used to take me out clubbing. I met friends on the course who specialised in weaving and they persuaded me to take it up.

When I finished my degree in 2002, I was chosen to go to New Designers, a big show in London. I went to a talk there by the Crafts Council about an award scheme called Next Move. I applied and was offered a place at Manchester Metropolitan University. I had free studio space for two years, plus a maintenance grant. That’s when I gave up midwifery

When I came home from Manchester, I couldn’t afford a studio, so I converted a room in the house. The regional Arts Council also awarded me money to buy a loom.

My textiles are bespoke wall-hangings and my clients are mostly private buyers. Commissions start at £900, so I don’t sell a lot but, when I do, it’s so worthwhile. My biggest thrill was selling a piece to West Dean College this year – my first public commission. I’m not earning a huge amount; without my husband’s income, I would probably need a part-time job too. I know self-employment is hard work, but it’s so exciting.”

My best move: Applying to the Crafts Council’s Next Move scheme, which provided access to equipment and training for two years.

My worst mistake: Not changing my career sooner. There’s so much I want to do and sometimes I feel frustrated that I don’t have enough time and energy.

Top tip: Don’t be afraid of trying something new. Embrace it if you think it will work for you.

For more details, call 01777-838791

[PAGEBREAK]Crafty help

Help for turning your creative passion into a career

* The Crafts Council is the leading body in the UK and has several awards schemes. Call (020) 7806 2501

* In Scotland, try Craft Scotland: 0131-4476575

* The Design Trust has published a business start-up guide, available to order on (020) 7320 2895

* Craft-making can be lonely work, so join the relevant guild or association.

* Advice and grants are available from regional arts councils.

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