EMILY PARKES meets Jenny Arnott, a very talented textile designer based in Somerset. Jenny makes a variety of lovely textile products, ranging from badges to beautiful embroidered cushions.
When did you realise that you wanted to do what you do now? How did you get started?
I was always drawing, colouring, painting and sticking from a very early age. There are many photographs of me at my painting easel as a toddler, and this creative streak stayed with me throughout my education. Art class was always one of my favourites, and I was lucky enough to get to try out many different mediums and techniques over the years.
However, it wasn’t until I began my degree at Winchester School of Art that I really focused and developed my love of fabric and textiles. I specialised in printed textile design, which encompassed many techniques including traditional screen printing, digital printing, repeat design and embroidery. I enjoyed them all, but absolutely loved screen printing. The whole process, from mixing up the dyes, all the design work involved, and the actual printing, processing and finishing of the cloth was something I really enjoyed. I would have loved to have continued with this after I graduated. However, the reality is that the equipment you need for it is so big, expensive and frankly messy that it just wasn’t possible (especially from the second floor city flat where I was living at the time). I therefore had to look for another way of transferring an image to fabric...
I had been experimenting with stitch and embroidery for a few years by this point, but as more of an embellishment to my printed designs than anything. Using some of the materials that I had accumulated during my degree course, I began to create entire designs using only fabrics and the stitched line. Although it was kind of born out of necessity and circumstance, it was a real turning point and the starting point for my whole collection.
What jobs did you have before this?
After I graduated, I did a couple of work placements at commercial London design studios. Although I enjoyed them, I soon realised that the hectic city lifestyle and long daily commute wasn’t for me. I also knew that in the long term I would be happiest working for myself, with the freedom and control to make things I really loved. This idea of having my own business has actually always appealed to me, but things evolved quite slowly at first and I worked part-time in retail for a couple of years whilst I developed my range and commissioned my website. I also did bits and pieces of freelance commission work on the side, until finally I was in a position to be able to concentrate on my business full time.
How did you find your style? Has it changed?
Initially, I concentrated on printed products, including greetings cards, canvases and prints. They were all based on my embroidery work, but scanned in and digitally manipulated. My thinking behind this was mainly that it would be less labour intensive to sell a printed range, as well as allowing me to work without a huge amount of materials or space. However, as time progressed, I discovered what I loved the most was actually working with fabrics and making the finished products myself. I introduced a new range of small handmade textile gift products including badges, magnets and lavender bags, which I’m so happy with. They are proving really popular and it’s definitely the right way forward for my business at the moment.
What advice would you give someone starting a creative business?
My advice would be to aim high and to believe in yourself, your products and your ideas. The amount of capital you have to put behind your venture does obviously make a big difference of course. I started on a shoestring budget, but the good thing about this is that I’ve been able to develop my ideas and products slowly without making too many costly mistakes. Things don’t happen overnight and you do have to have a lot of patience and perseverance, but it’s important to keep going!
I've also found from experience that even if you have amazing products, if nobody knows about them then you are not going to get very far. Marketing and promotion is such a massive part of success and it is something I am slowly getting to grips with. Places like Facebook and blogging are really good places to start promoting yourself and building a brand, as well as having the added bonus that you meet lots of other like-minded people.
If you had time what new craft would you like to learn?
I would love to try my hand at stained glass one day. I’m not sure if I would be any good at it, but there is something really stunning about coloured glass, and I have wanted to do a course in it for years now. I also wish I could knit or crochet as I would love to make one of those colourful patchwork ‘granny’ blankets! I did try and learn a few years ago but I was absolutely useless at it, I just didn’t understand what my fingers were supposed to be doing, so I gave up pretty quickly. I’m very patient though and don’t like to be beaten, so maybe I will give it another shot sometime!
What keeps you motivated?
I spend a lot of time working by myself, which can sometimes get lonely, although generally I’m very good with only myself and the radio for company! My days are usually quite busy making stock, packaging up orders and doing all sorts of other little jobs, so I rarely have time to get bored or down. I’m naturally very organised and methodical and write a list each day of everything I need to do. This gives me a focus and structure, which really helps me to work productively. A couple of other things that inspire and keep me going are positive feedback and comments from customers. As a small handmade business, it is lovely when the care and hard work that you put in to each and every product is appreciated.
Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
There are of course some days when I don’t feel particularly creative, and all I really want to do is slob out on the couch! Motivation and inspiration are funny things, and sometimes they are just out of your control. I do occasionally have ‘creative blips’, but they doesn’t usually last more than a day or two, and I almost always seem to have a surplus of ideas and things to do waiting in my head. If I ever do have a day where I feel stuck or unproductive though, I tend to just wait for it to pass. Unless there is something really pressing that has to be done there and then, I will take the night off, have a long hot bath and will often wake up the next morning raring to go.
What is your main goal for the next 6 - 12 months?
At the moment, I predominantly sell my products through a number of online outlets, but I hope to increase my stockists and begin supplying my products to more boutiques and galleries. I’m also hoping to attend a couple of the big tradeshows in the next year or so, to showcase my products to a much wider audience ... I just need to save up some more pennies first!
Is there anything you would go back and change?
No, I honestly don’t think there is. It has sometimes been a learning curve over the past couple of years, but I’m in a good place at the minute. If anything, I may not have put so much emphasis initially on the printed products if I was to do it all over again, but it has evolved naturally, and that surely has to be a good thing.