How did you get started as a designer-maker and is it a full time job?
I’ve always been inspired by my Mum and her natural talent towards textiles/craft and from a very early age I was introduced to a lot of art and craft techniques. After A-levels I went on to do an Art and Design foundation course and thought that the most sensible option would be to pursue my interest in graphic design! But it wasn’t long before I missed working with textures and combining different materials and eventually using my sewing machine to stitch into everything!
At this point I realised my heart and passion is with textiles and I went on to do BA Hons Textile Design (Mixed Media) at De Montfort University, Leicester. Here I gained a first class honours in 2006 and had my first taste of exhibiting and selling my work at the university degree show and New Designers, London. I was addicted and I knew at this point I want to continue to use and develop the skills gained at university and keep on creating! I did however want to experience working in industry and over the 3 years following I gained experience working for the Laura Ashley Design Service, a knitwear company and gained teaching experience at a local collage. These experiences were fantastic I learnt many business, customer service and communication skills which have helped me to develop the business that I have today and given me the drive a determination to turn it into a full time job.
Talk us through your collection
My textile collection includes a range of accessories to wear and to adorn the home. It began initially as a collection of corsages (textile art to wear) but over time it has developed into a luxurious gift range. Along with the corsages there are other arty products including embroidered cuffs, purses and framed embroideries. I’ve also added some fun items in the collection too such as Scottie Keyrings, cushions and a range of appliqued brooches developed from the little doodles I find myself drawing in my sketchbook. I try to keep the range fresh and unique, I have quite a distinctive style and colour palette that keeps the collection recognisable.
Tell us about your practice and making process
Many of my products are either hand or free machine stitched, which is quite a contrast. I love the control over hand stitching and the bold distinctive stitches, but it’s also great to get on the machine and be free with the needle using it to draw in a much looser unique way. With free stitch embroidery I know that whatever design I’m making it will end up with its own personality. My framed embroideries are also very unique I have developed my own style of layering different mediums and textile techniques to create intriguing pieces of framed art.
Do you have any tools unique to you?
Not really unique to me but a very interesting tool and one not many people seem to use or know about is the Princess Pleater. A British made machine I use to pleat my fabrics ready to be turned into the corsage range. Needles sit between the rollers that are then threaded ready for the fabric to be rolled through, once rolled on to the threads the fabric has a lovely even gathered pleat. I use it in a very simple way now but there are lots of possibilities with this machine for fun experimentation.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
Inspiration for the collection comes from nature the outdoors and the quirkiness of everyday life. Walks in the countryside, tea at the farm shop and visits to steam fairs have all influenced the current range. I look everywhere for interesting patterns and textures, my camera plays a big part in recording what I find and quick sketches in my journal help too. A love for the vintage tractor sparked an interest in collecting rusty washers, springs and nuts – the washers are now intricately sewn into the corsages adding a wonderful contrast to the luxurious fabrics and felts. The vintage tractor is the inspiration for the Ferguson, Little Deere and Lillian’s Lace Corsage Collections. For years now I longed to have a little Westie dog and somehow a slight dog theme has appeared in the collection too! On a personal note it is my 30th Birthday next week and you never know my hubby may surprise me!
What’s your favourite book at the moment?
Good photography is so important whether it’s for selling online, for my website, social media or for the catalogue that’s sent out to all my current and potential stockists. Fortunately I enjoy photography and have a wonderful SLR camera that I’m just getting to grips with. This book has helped with technique and styling ideas to create those important photos that show the product of to its best and create a beautiful lifestyle photograph. I have in the past had professional photography taken of my work and I think it’s well worth it but I find now that the turnaround of making and shipping the products is so quick I cannot get a big enough collection set aside to do this, so having my own camera and product photography set up is essential.
Who are your favourite makers on Folksy?
Love Julia Smith ceramics – my husband secretly got me a couple of pieces of her work last Christmas through Folksy and they sit very nicely in my kitchen, beautiful colours I adore them. I’m also a big fan of Kirsty Elson and Helen Hallows.
Do you have a craft hero?
Julie Arkell I attended one of her exhibition openings with a talk at the city gallery in Leicester many years ago and thought it was fantastic. Her whimsical work and her style I find so enchanting, such a wonderful lady. I loved the story she told us of a time when she met a lady and said I love your earrings, the lady then turned to her and said you should do you made them about 8 years ago! When I walked out of the gallery that evening I was even more determined to set up my own craft business.
Do you have one great tip for other makers?
Packaging and presentation is key – from my experience working in industry a term constantly used was retail is detail! As my business has developed I have worked hard to develop the presentation of the products and create a range that makes a great gift for yourself but also one that people would love to give to friends or family. I feel along with my products my packaging also has a distinctive yet consistent style. As I gain more and more stockists throughout the UK I want to insure my range is recognisable and can compete against the big names too. I have to bear in mind that my product could quite easily be sat next to a Cath Kidston or Orla Kiely product! I want it to keep its integrity of being hand made by a British maker but look just as appealing.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I’ve worked extremely hard over the last couple of years and the business has naturally expanded. I’d like my number of stockists to continue to grow and I love exhibiting at events/shows but I love that all the products are hand made by myself and I’m not sure that I want that to change!
See all of Alex’s work in her Folksy shop Alex McQuade.