For the past month or so I have been floating on cloud nine enjoying flicking through the latest issue of Homespun Magazine and suddenly landing in lampshade and cross stitch heaven. First glimpse is a gorgeous picture on the contents page and a little later ... 12(!!) pages of Shannan's incredible Rose Garden Cross Stitch Lampshade.
Isn't it lovely when planets collide and a like minded soul slips happily into our lives? That's what happened late last year when Shannan Grierson from Sewing with Bobbin & Fred contacted me about a possible collaboration.
While Shannan lives in the UK, I live in Killcare, Australia, so we've been emailing and having a couple of lovely chats on the phone at strange times of day. What came out of this wonderful little collab was this incredible lampshade - that Shannan spent countless hours beavering away creating beauty and usefulness - truely a woman after my own heart!
Recently Shannan published a little interview she did with me. After the interview I wanted to know everything about her - all the things she had asked me, I wanted to find out about her and more! Really we could have talked for hours!
So without further ado, I'd like you to meet Shannan Grierson from Sewing With Bobbin & Fred.
Hi Shannan! I love the name and play on words. How did Sewing With Bobbin & Fred come about?
Bobbin's my childhood knitting dolly and she's been with me through all of my crafting adventures to date, through all the highs and lows. Fred the goat came to life when I was studying for my English Literature degree (through the Open University) my tutor showed me this goat video and then I saw tree climbing goats in Morroco and they become a metaphor to me that it's possible to climb seemingly unattainable heights and that you've got to keep pushing forward no matter how tricky the climb becomes because eventually you'll get there. Mum gifted me Fred who I later went on to decorate, here he is now.
Fred before his makeover:
Fred after his makeover:
Bobbin and Fred came about because I really wanted to show the things I was making on Instagram. I used the name as a bit of a beard to hide behind, because I didn't want to show my face at first. I was just looking around at the things that I had and found Bobbin, and I was like, "Oh, she's lovely." I'd had her for a really long time, ever since I was a kid. And then Fred, my mum gave me Fred whilst I was studying. I hadn't painted him or anything and he was just plain. I just thought, "Oh, Bobbin and Fred, that's a really good play on words," I liked that.
Where and how did you learn your skills?
I've always been a crafter and a maker of things, ever since I was really tiny.I think a lot of my inspiration for getting into textiles came from my Mum because she used to be a textile designer while I was growing up. Now, she's a knitter.
Then when I did my art Foundation (the UK’s equivalent to the HSC in Australia), I started messing around with needlecrafts and bit of knitting and machine embroidery, mostly on the sewing machine and knitting. Then I went to uni and studied textiles. I was given, by one of Mum's friends, all of this lovely thread and these little Anchor books that briefly covered needlepoint pictures and embroidery. I was casting round for something to do and I thought, "Oh, I'll pick those up. They've been on my bookshelf for a few years, I haven't touched them. I'll pick them up." I started stitching and then I found a love of hand stitch. I guess I’ve taught myself, really.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I think it is problem solving, because a lot of the things that I'm making, I'm just dreaming them up and then figuring out how to make them. In the plastic canvas, especially, because there's not really anything to go off, so I'm looking at how the sewing patterns are constructed and then how I can interpret that in the plastic canvas and what will work and what won't, and kind of experiment.
Also, I like that is not an expensive activity. I like things being affordable because it makes craft accessible to everyone. Sewing is such a cheap craft to start. I love that.
How did you get your designs noticed and then published in magazines and other media? Apart from Homespun, which other publications have you been featured in?
I set up an Instagram and I posted all of the best projects that I'd made in the last couple of years, particularly ones that were my own design. Then I researched craft magazines that featured embroidery and cross stitch and hand stitching. I wrote off to them with a link to my Instagram and explained who I was and what I was about, and obviously showed them what I could do. I basically said that I really wanted to be involved and is there something I could do for them.
I had the mindset that if someone says no to me, that's fine. I don't really mind. It doesn't bother me. I'm really lucky to have that, because I think a lot of other people would be maybe a bit hesitant. But I just see it as a not yet, rather than a no.
I wrote off to about 8 or 10 initially, so I was lucky to have the 3 responses, and a couple more at a later date. I wrote off with a link to my Instagram account showing my best projects and asked if I could be involved with the magazine as I loved what they were doing and wanted to be a part of it. I was asked to make something similar to three of the projects I'd posted on Instagram but with a new stitch pattern so it would be new for their magazine and readers. I've been published in Homespun Australia, Be Creative With Workbox, Just Cross Stitch, Needlepoint Now and Bead.
What advice would you give for someone wanting to share their designs with a larger audience?
Take amazing photos of the things you've designed and made, the more gorgeous the better, as they're your portfolio.
Write off to magazines you know and love and think your style will fit in well with. Research some others you don't, follow them on social media to get an idea of their aesthetic. Order an issue to see what they're about.
You want to make sure that your style fits in with what they like to publish. There's no point writing to a crochet magazine with a papercraft project for instance, or to a magazine that usually prints neutrals with a pitch including lots of bright colours.
If you don't get a reply, don't worry about it. Don't take 'no's' to heart, see them as not right now's and move on to the next thing. I know many people find a 'no' hard to move on from but 'no's' make us better, they make us improve our designs and hone our pitches until our submissions are so damn good editors just can't say no. I think the trick is to keep looking forward and keep putting yourself out there.
Who are your favourite designers - needlepoint / embroidery / other?
My favourite needlework designers are Gera by Japanese designer, Kyoko Maruoka. She did a series that were really beautiful images in cross stitch of folktales from around the world. Her work is very folksy and detailed, I particularly love The Lady and Unicorn, Pride and Prejudice and Swan Lake.
And I love Satsuma Street by Jody Rice. She does amazing explosions of color and she has this really cool illustration style ... I think her influences come from mid-century coloured illustration and painting.
Then, I also love illustration and painters because, obviously, cross stitch and tapestry design really is just illustration in stitch. Molly Egan does really beautiful, bright things. There's a French artist called Nathalie Lete and Unskilled Worker.
Tapestry wise I love a lot of what comes out of Ehrman, their designers are really talented and produce some gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.
I really love folksy designs with historical influences and I love all over patterns... I strive for that in my own designs, apart from the lampshade, I always stitch backgrounds because for me it's about covering the entire surface with stitches. My project bag was published this year and is another of my favourites and its influences are found in Gauguin.
I write a regular monthly post for a needlework supplier called SewandSo, and I basically hunt around Instagram for things and post my favourites of the month.
What challenges have you faced?
My biggest challenge has been to overcome quite debilitating perfectionism. I am a real perfectionist and I really strive to make things and finish them as beautifully as possible. Do you know, it's not until I see people that aren't as experienced that I realise I am, which sounds really crazy, doesn't it? I have to remind myself and give myself credit.
I have a catchphrase which I find works really well if I'm getting OTT and things are spiralling out of control, I just tell myself that done is better than perfect. Also, I don't know if it's Islam or Hindi, but basically, everything that their artists create has to have an imperfection because only God is perfect and humans aren’t.
So, how I taught myself to get over being a perfectionist was, when I made a mistake, particularly a chart while I'm stitching, I left the mistake in, and I just changed the chart so that it matched the mistake.
If the mistake was something that wouldn't be seen by other people, if I was backing it with felt or it was hidden, I would also leave it and I'd force myself to do it. It was really hard at first. But slowly, over time, I've trained myself to be okay with it. I'm definitely a lot more productive because of it.
I really enjoy the photography side of things. When I started out I was I was taking hundreds of photos just for one shot. I was looking through all of them for the best photo. It was nuts. I've curbed that as well now. I'm taking a lot less photos of each project, which is a lot better.
What's been your favourite project to make so far?
Do you know, it's definitely the lampshade. I just loved every part of that. The actual stitching was wonderful. Stitching onto the linen was just gorgeous. The colours that I chose, they're all my favorite colours so combining them was really kind of special. Plus I do just love making things that aren't sewn, as well.
The other thing about making the lampshade that I so enjoyed, was turning the flat fabric into something 3D and cylindrical.
My mission in life is to cover as many things with hand stitch as possible. I never imagined I could do a lampshade, so it's been a really incredible experience to make that happen.
What's new at the Bobbin & Fred? Or where do you see yourself heading in the future?
I want to teach myself new skills and hone those I have so I'm heading to Skillshare to take some classes. Followers can expect to see instructional videos showing how I make and finish my designs and me covering more things around my house and in my wardrobe with hand embroidery!
What I would really like to do is develop a stronger voice for myself because I think that, at the moment, I'm doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I'm starting now to unify them with colour choices and the actual design of each piece. I want to make the aesthetic of Bobbin & Fred more recognisable, stronger and more solidified.
Well what an absolute pleasure it has been getting to know you Shannan and seeing just how beautiful cross stitch can be! You have truly modernised the craft and what you're producing is so unique and so much fun!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and I look forward to following along with your latest projects.
Happy lampshade making!