A few weeks ago I posted an image of a hand carved brooch featuring a Mummy fox and her cubs huddling together under a tree. Titled Fantastic Mrs Fox the image gained more likes and shares than any I’d posted previously. With a reaction like that, it only seemed fair that we meet the maker…… meet Gabrielle Reith.
Hello Gabrielle! Talk us through your collection.
My collection ranges from cards, decorations, tea towels, cushions, baby apparel and jewellery to bespoke, one off pen and ink drawings. Most of the Small Stories find their way into more than one item that I make, although usually drawn in a different format to suit the item I am making. For example ‘Burglar Bird’ has found his way onto a cut and sew tea towel and then snuck onto some baby apparel! I’m sourcing fair trade clothing and sustainable wood sources for my decorations, I feel it’s important to my work & practice.
Where did it all begin for you?
I graduated from Art School with a degree in drawing and painting and worked as an artist part time for about 8 years. My work totally changed when I was pregnant with Poppy (now aged 6) and all I wanted to draw were birds! Poppy and now Vaughan too have inspired my work to evolve and I am constantly filling sketchbooks with new ideas! Having the kids meant that I was able to work from home and has inspired and enabled me to make Small Stories a full time commitment.
Tell us about your practice and making process.
All my designs begin life in my sketchbooks and are drawn and redrawn until I get the design aesthetics, pattern and content just right. I then work on pieces on the computer, usually just to tidy them up. If it is work going off to get printed (like my cards and tea towels) then my husband works them up to a professional standard with all the Small Stories branding in place. My jewellery and decorations are all laser etched, editioned and hand finished (sometimes with painted details) and packaged with love! My baby apparel is all hand screen printed on organic cotton tees, vests and bibs. I try to be as ethical and environmental as I can in my practise!
How do you plan your work?
I fill sketchbooks all the time… my husband thinks I have what he calls ‘hypergraphia’! I was in hospital after having my son (and he was put in the unit) I filled my baby-less time by drawing monsters, some inspired by hospital induced dreams! When I work on large drawings and paintings however my work evolves on the page
Where do you draw your inspiration?
My children and the stories they tell me and our experiences with them are my inspiration, hence the name, Small Stories!
I also collect children’s story books and vintage china (mainly coffee pots although I don’t drink coffee) and have recently become addicted to collecting inspiration on Pinterest.
If you could spend a day with any designer maker who would it be?
Belinda Lyon made some designs and illustrations for Oxfam in the 1970’s. She produced a range of tea towels and cut and sew patterns for cushions and toys. Her work was all screen printed with the most beautiful choice of colours and patterns! I still have my Belinda Lyon cat and snail cushions that my folks bought and made for me when I was a kid and my Granny had the most amazing fox tea towel by her on her kitchen wall! So if you can just transport me back in time then a day with her would be simply fantastic!
How do you manage your time between making and the other commitments in your life?
At the moment I make most of my work when the kids are in bed or when my youngest has his daytime naps. Emailing and packaging up orders can be done with the kids ‘help’! I do carry a small sketchbook wherever I go just in case something inspires me along the way and it usually does. Small Stories can arise wherever I am!
What’s your favourite book at the moment?
Does it have to be just one? We are reading The Hobbit to our daughter at the moment and loving every minute of it again! We have also just finished “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” to her and those books are full of weird and wonderful tales and imagery. If I was to chose books for their illustrations however I could spend hours pouring over the work of Mark Boutevant! Beautiful, colourful, imaginative images that tell their stories so well.
Do you have a craft hero?
Clothkits! I was brought up wearing Clothkits clothes and my Mum and Dad kept them all for us in the loft and now my wee ones are wearing them too! I love all the patterns, colours and designs they used especially in their early designs. Their bold images came screen printed on fabrics in the form of pattern pieces ready for you to cut out and make into clothes. To me they are the essence of handmade!
Do you have one great tip for other makers?
My branding has been so important for me! My husband created the Small Stories branding for me as soon as we realised my making career had begun. Having that kind of presence at a show or fair with your collection packaged well and a banner beside you makes you stand out as being professional. It just ties everything together when the colours within my products can be quite diverse.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Hmmm.. in five years both my kids will be at school, I will have a studio to work in instead of the sofa in our front room, I will have designed a collection for wide scale production but will still be satisfying my need to make by producing bespoke collections and one off pieces! I’d also love to be a featured in some illustration books. My sketchbooks will still be filling up!
See all of Gabrielle’s stunning work in her Folksy shop Small Stories.