Sunday, 10 May 2015

Q&A with Claireabellemakes: Talking Creativity, Crafts and Cambridge

Following National Stationery week and with the Just a Card campaign still playing on my mind, I wanted to talk to a crafter and blogger who I admire about what they do and why. The first person who sprung to mind was Claire from Claireabellemakes who makes Cambridge and Scrabble
inspired cards, jewellery and artwork. Here's what Claire has to tell us about her business, her shop and the need to constantly make lists.

Congratulations on recently celebrating your 3 year blog birthday! Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started your blog?

Thanks Sally! Well, my name is Claire and I run the creative brand Claireabellemakes. I joined the blogging world because I really loved reading blogs and I felt as though I wanted to be part of the community. Now I can’t imagine life without my blog and business and I wonder what I did with my time before it!! I live in Cambridge in the UK which is my dream city and I pootle around on my bicycle most days visiting the yarn shop or grabbing frozen yoghurt. Well that’s about once a month if I manage to have a day off! Mostly I spend time in my home studio which is usually a mess, despite what you see on Instagram (the mess is all on the floor!!). It’s here I write my blog posts and work on projects for book and magazine publishers.  My Persian cat Tammy is usually curled up with me and causing trouble with my beads and yarn.

You also run a successful Etsy shop and Cambridge Craft Parties. For people who aren’t familiar with your Etsy shop and products, tell us a little bit about what you make and where you get your inspiration from.

My Etsy store is a mix of all things that inspire me about my city. I make bicycle themed accessories and Scrabble inspired gifts and jewellery. One of my most popular items is the Scrabble inspired wall art pieces. The backgrounds are made with custom fabrics which makes them a little different.  I’ve recently added stationery products to my range too as I’m a massive paper geek and I love creating cards and postcards.
Cambridge Craft Parties is another part of my business where I get to share my love of crafts with others.  It’s a workshop with a party feel where attendees work on a project to take home at the end of the day. The next workshop I am doing is exclusively for bloggers and we will be working on flower crowns and marbling projects. I can’t wait!

Custom Scrabble Artwork - Etsy
Have you always wanted to run your own handmade business?

Actually no. I wanted to be a dancer, so I trained for years and years and even worked as a performer for a while. I soon realised the money wasn’t all that great and it was a competitive industry to work in. Although tons of fun!! It wasn’t until I completed a Masters in Arts Management in 2011 that I really discovered my entrepreneurial spirit and love for handmade. This led to a blog which in turn led to the shop, and then came the craft parties and freelance writing work. Now I’m doing this I feel like I’ve found my THING and this is exactly what I was meant to do. 

What was it like setting up your own blog and business? Did you have to learn any new skills?
IT WAS HARD WORK. I am someone who always works as hard as I possibly can. Everything I have learnt through setting up a blog and business has been through trial and error. I’m lucky enough to have a boyfriend who works with computers, so he has shown me some basic coding for my website, but has largely left me to it and guided me along with huge levels of support and encouragement. I researched a lot of creative business advice and prior to my launch and made an effort to immerse myself in the creative community.  I had to learn bookkeeping skills which I still find really boring and not the most fun part of running your own business.

Is there a particular moment or achievement that stands out for you as the proudest?
I think the first time my work was published in a book was pretty special to me. It was a bit surreal to see my crafts and name in print. Another fun moment was when a Sewing Bee contestant wore one of my Scrabble Inspired pins on the TV and I didn’t know until she popped up on the screen. I made the bf pause the TV so I could take a photo. It was very exciting.

Wooden Scrabble Inspired Brooch - Etsy
You have a series on your blog called Productivity for busy people. What are your 3 tips for being productive and staying organised?
I actually work a full-time job alongside Claireabellemakes so my life is currently filled with around 80 hours a week working time. Hence I need to be super organised with my life or else I’d never wash my hair, have a date night or see my friends! My top 3 life hacks for keeping organised are –  1) Gmail canned responses; if you’re sending the same email responses out all the time, set up canned responses to save time. 2) Get a slow cooker if time is short, batch cooking is perfect for busy people and I’ve always got a tasty stew in the freezer for my working evenings. 3) Get a planner! If your life involves lots of different things like business, work, childcare etc, get a filofax and divide your life. Each Sunday I plan for my week and use bullet journaling as a task list for being productive. My goals for 2015 were to be positive and productive. These 3 things are the main ways I keep on top of those goals. 

What are your can’t-live-without craft-room essentials?
My glue gun, my single hole punch (once you have one it is surprising how much you use it!), my SLR camera, hand cream on the desk, slippers, blankets and good lighting. Oh and a bit of Taylor Swift cos everyone needs a dance party break every now and again.

Have there ever been any negatives of running your own handmade business?
Exhaustion. It takes a lot of dedication to really make it in the handmade world and sometimes that means working really hard. I still strive for a better work life balance and many of my self employed friends say the same. Because you love your work it can be hard to switch off from it sometimes. I burned out after Christmas and it was tough to recover from. I had my busiest month ever for the store though!

Bronze Bicycle Necklace - Etsy

In a society where cheap mass produced items are available at the click of a button, why do you think it’s important for people to buy handmade?

To me handmade items are often an expression of someone’s personality. When I make something, I am choosing a style or colour that appeals to me, I am creating an item that speaks to my humour or I am making and remaking until it is perfect.  Sharing that with someone and having a customer part with money for my handmade item is a truly special feeling. Knowing where your item came from often makes you want to take care of it more. A cheap disposable item which can be easily replaced is not always treasured in the same way. I truly believe you are buying a story or a feeling when you buy handmade. I guess it’s about value and collecting useful and beautiful things that have meaning. 

What have you learnt about yourself throughout this whole process?
I have learnt that I love learning. That I am determined. That I love lists. That I need my monthly dinner with girlfriends to remind me to keep a balanced life. I have definitely learnt to dream big.

Lots of people, myself included, find you and your blog inspiring. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering starting their own handmade business, what would it be?
Thank you so much! My best advice is to connect with those people who inspire you. I receive weekly emails from people who tell me they have inspired to start their own blogs and I can’t tell you how amazing and proud that makes me feel!  It’s great to hear that our community is growing. We are privileged to have a free voice through blogging, and sharing that with other people who relate to you is a special thing. I definitely think embracing the creative industry and the people who drive it is one of the most rewarding and motivating things you can do. Without people supporting me, my business wouldn’t exist so I appreciate and enjoy that every single day. 

Scrablle inspired postcards - Etsy
Do you have anything exciting coming up that you could tell us about?
I’m super excited to be a vendor at the BUST Summer Craftacular in London on 17 May. My friend Kate and I will be heading to Bethnal Green to sell Claireabellemakes goodies and we can’t wait. I know I’ll have a few fan girl moments with other vendors and will be spending way too much of my pocket money if I get a chance to speed shop.

Unrelated to my business – I’m also off to Disney later this year. Expect Mickey Mouse related vlogs on my You Tube channel! 

Be sure to check out Claire's Blog and her Etsy shop for  all of the products listed and much more! You can also find her on all of the usual social media sites so do go and say hello!

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