Frankly, The Folksy Magazine

Meet… Claire-Louise Barlow

by Emily. Average Reading Time: about 6 minutes.


Button jewellery is a popular craft these days. You’ve got to think outside the box to really stand out in, what is now, a crowded marketplace. Claire-Lou of Folksy shop Realicoul has managed just that. She’s got a killer eye for colour, shape and pattern that forces her seriously funky range to get noticed.

First off, tell us about your work?

I primarily make button jewellery. Buttons are an object that we are all familiar with, often taken for granted and certainly not expected to be transformed into jewellery and accessories. For me buttons new and old of all sizes, shapes, textures and colours offer me an unlimited number of design combinations enabling me to offer consistent designs but where each item is in itself unique.

Realicoul - Giant Button Necklace
Realicoul - Giant Button Necklace

What’s your favourite piece of work? 

At the moment I’d have to say my cluster button brooches. Out of all the pieces I create these are the most enjoyable to make from mixing the colours to searching my button jars for that perfect tiny button to fit in that teeny gap. They may take the longest to make but it’s totally worth it as I don’t think I have ever made one that I didn’t like. I get great satisfaction making these, and luckily for me they are also one of my best sellers, so I get to make a lot!

Realicoul - Vintage Button Brooch
Realicoul - Vintage Button Brooch

How long have you been a maker?

I’d say I have always been a ‘maker’, from being a small child and turning twin yoghurt pots into puppets using wool and buttons, to selling my work when I was seventeen at craft fairs and galas for extra money at Art College. I have only been selling my work professionally as a full time career for the time that I have been on Folksy.

Tell us about your work space? 

I work from home, and being honest I think you could probably say my work takes up most the house! I mainly do all my ‘making’ at the kitchen table. My enormous collection of buttons and art materials are kept in my beloved welsh dresser in my living room, and my computer and stock drawers are in my spare bedroom soon to be my 4 month old son Reuben’s nursery. So it’s not entirely ideal but at the moment I make it work for me, as I can fit in a little work whilst my son naps without me being too far away. In the summer I enjoy working outside in my garden and I take all my button jars outside for the day.

Claire-Lou at work
Claire-Lou at work

Claire-Lou - one of many workspaces...
Claire-Lou - one of many workspaces...

How do you keep your work unique?

Owning and wearing a piece of jewellery that you know is unique and one of a kind is something quite special, this is what drives me to make each item a one off. Every item I create barring the ‘single’ button items are all unique. I never sit there and make two bracelets the same, where would be the fun in that?!

Realicoul - Bright Button Necklace
Realicoul - Bright Button Necklace

Describe your day as a maker? Are you organised/disciplined?

I’d be lying if I said that I was very organised as my home is a little more than chaotic at the best of times. Balancing a new baby and business is hard work and tricky (as well as dangerous) but I’m getting there. I do like to make a lot of lists though, lists of lists. It’s a running joke in my family but it’s what helps clear my head and gets my jobs done. Neither me nor my day is very organised but as you can see from my photographs my buttons and stock drawers are!

Realicoul - tidy desk...
Realicoul - Tidy desk...

What three tools could you not live without?

Camera, Internet and Scissors (I must own at least 15 pairs of scissors, they’re everywhere!)

What gets the creative juices flowing?

It’s got be shopping for new supplies, I love it! I spend far too long scouring the net, antique shops and charity shops searching for the brightest and prettiest buttons, I’m like a child in a sweet shop once I have found them. Supply shopping is guaranteed to perk up my creativity as I’m desperate to make something pretty as soon as I get my hands on them. Also being a Sagittarius I get bored far too easily so l like to have a few projects on the go, I’m always jotting down new ideas and designs. I’m a bit of a geek and I love learning, I like to keep ahead and learn new skills, incorporating them into new designs. Sticking to just one project the whole time would dry my creative juices up in a flash.

Realicoul - Vintage Button Necklace
Realicoul - Vintage Button Necklace

Are you inspired by any artists from the past or present?

I’m not inspired by any particular artists. I’m inspired more from what’s around me day to day, it may be a colour combination in a friend’s wall paper or it may be a pattern spotted on a vintage ceramic tile at my local antiques hall. So I suppose I am inspired in a way, just by the unnamed artists we are all surrounded by.

How do you know when a piece is done?

Once I’m happy with it. I’ve been known to completely undo a whole necklace if there is just one button that I feel doesn’t look right. I think as a maker you just know.

What do you love most about being a maker?

To know someone has spent their hard earned cash on something you have taken the time to design and make is a fantastic feeling. Knowing people wear my jewellery all over the world from the UK to Tasmania is an incredible feeling and I am immensely proud. It’s always been my ambition since being a child to be an artist/designer and now I have achieved it I could never go back to having a ‘normal’ job.

Realicoul - Cream Flower Ring
Realicoul - Cream Flower Ring

Where would you like to be in 5 years time?

I have so many ideas and aspirations of what I’d like to be doing and where I’d like to be but to be honest I’d still be grateful to be earning a living working from home as a designer maker as it enables me to also be a stay at home Mum. Although I‘d also quite like a larger house with a room big enough to call my studio. A room I can lock and keep as tidy or untidy as I please without the fear of my son swallowing a button!

What would you say to any makers starting out?

Go for it, you’ll never know unless you try. I’d also say invest in a decent camera. If you want to sell your work online high quality images are so important. It’s your photograph that is going to catch a buyer’s attention and ultimately sell your work. I have never bought something from the internet that has a bad photograph.

You can browse and buy all of Claire-Lou’s collection for her Folksy shop Realicoul.