The Design Trust Interview

I was thrilled to be included in the Design Trust's Sunday night interview on their Facebook page last month. If you are not aware of them, The Design Trust is an online training for creative businesses run by Patricia van den Akker. It is an excellent resource full of articles and advice for a creative enterprise like mine. Art school is a wonderful place to be creatively, but there is little to no business advice, and so Patricia and her team provide an invaluable service.

I have included a transcript of the interview below to read as well as links to the Design Trust's website and the original Facebook page interview. If you are a creative start-up, then I highly recommend you take a look.

At By Cecil, I create modern textiles using traditional weaving techniques to provide a sustainable alternative to today's mass-produced and environmentally damaging textiles.

I sample all my work on a handloom in my north London studio where I hand weave a selection of products such as cushions and snoods. I also work with a micro mill in Bristol to produce oversized merino wool scarves and blankets.

What did you want to be when growing up?

Everything from a dolphin to a vet through to a wildlife photographer (I was a bit obsessed with David Attenborough). I didn't have a clear idea until my Dad took me to see the Turner paintings at the National Gallery. I distinctly remember standing in front of these paintings, hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, thinking "how do I get other people to react like this?". From that moment on, I harboured this desire to go to art college but never had the confidence to verbalise it. Then, an A-Level art teacher was looking through a project of mine and turned to me and said: "you know, you could go to art college if you wanted to?". I went into my art college foundation, thinking I would follow the route of photography through to graphics but discovered weaving and got sidetracked.

What does your job involve?

Everything! I often think that to be a creative running your own business, you have to be a master of all trades. No day is the same, but I try to allocate each day of the week to a specific aspect of the business. I am an accountant, a social media manager, a photographer, a planner, a web designer, and occasionally I get to weave too. I enjoy the variety though and am always thrilled when I push myself beyond my comfort zone.

What does your average working day look like?

I start the day by getting the kids up and out to school and then head back home. If I have been really organised, then I'll have planned out what I need to achieve the day before using the bullet journalling technique, but quite often I do this first thing. I try to get the admin done in the morning as otherwise, I am easily distracted if I need to weave. After a quick lunch, I have a 2-3 hour stretch before picking up the kids. I allocate a different task to each day; Monday is dedicated to planning/learning/business development. So, this year, I'm working my way through the Dream Plan Do book. Last year I completed the Digital Mums Digital Retox course. I also try to sort my social media posts for the week. Tuesday/Wednesday is allocated to designing or making. Thursday is taken up with parental commitments and Friday is kept free to tie up loose ends. Of course, this is all theoretical, and life is nowhere near as neat and orderly as this, but I find it a useful structure to work around.

What is the best thing about your work?

Weaving. Everything I do is designed to facilitate my deep need to be making things. I enjoy being my boss, and I am happy to be constantly pushed to learn new skills. I enjoy the markets. Before I started, I thought that, as a shy person, I would struggle with this aspect. However, I love meeting my customers face to face and having that immediacy of feedback. I love meeting other makers and seeing the same faces at markets. It feels like being on a gig circuit. Everyone is so supportive and generous with their time and knowledge. I think makers are one of the nicest bunch of people you can spend time with.

And the worst?

Being my own boss. I love the flexibility it gives me, and, as a mum of two young boys, I don't know how else it would work. But, it can sometimes be hard to motivate yourself. And it can be hard to know what to do next when you are being pulled in several directions, all of which are vital.

Who or what is your inspiration/motivation?

Inspiration wise, Anni Albers is an obvious choice, and I loved seeing her work at the Tate last year. The thing I loved about it was seeing a craft like weaving being elevated to that level, but also seeing her joy in experimenting and discovery. That idea of "what happens if I do this?". I have always loved Eleanor Pritchard. I love that sense of aesthetic that she has. Her brand is threaded through every aspect of what she does. Another source of inspiration is my maker's group, Muswell Hill Creatives. We meet regularly, and they are a wonderful group of supportive makers. Being a maker can be lonely and having a group of people there who understand what, why and when has meant that I have been pushed so much further collectively than I ever could have done alone. In terms of motivation, I think my own personal drive is figuring out how to earn a living from my craft. Finding a job that allows me time with my family but still keeps me satisfied is a hard task, especially when you are asking it to pay you as well. I'm a way off from figuring this out, but it feels like I am continually tweaking how I work to get it on the right path.

What area of your work is challenging you most at the moment?

Having enough time to work. I work 9-3, four days a week during term time only, which has been a significant shift for me. I am finding that the answer is to let go of the idea that I can get everything done and just to do what I can.

We love the film you made with Muswell Hill Creatives. How did that film come about?

Amanda did a whole range of films for the other members of Muswell Hill Creatives last year, and I found them to be so utterly compelling. I find the process of weaving so therapeutic and intricate that I wanted to share it with people. It was also a chance to do something that made me uncomfortable, as the idea of speaking on film to share with people made me extremely anxious.

How have you used the film for promotion?

I have shared it on my website and social media so far. As I have been a bit quiet over the summer, I didn't want to push it too hard all at once. I will use it to help promote my upcoming markets this autumn though and hope to have it on a tablet to show people at fairs. I think it is essential to communicate with your customer the process they are buying into. The reason my work is more expensive than a scarf you can buy on the high street is that, not only do I decide what happens at every step of the way, but I also am also physically making everything too.

Has the film been well received?

Yes, very much so. I was nervous about showing it people, but everyone has said it is well executed and that my passion for my subject shines through.

Have you got any events coming up soon? If so, when, where etc?

(The original interview was published on 22nd September. For up to date event info, see below)

Yes, my next event is the Muswell Hill Creatives Autumn market on Saturday 28th September. I really enjoy our markets. We generally have most of the members attending plus guest stalls. Rachael, our leader, is very good at finding the right balance of high-quality makers so visitors can always expect to get a good choice of products.

What do you do to take time out?

I sew all my clothes. I started about five years ago as a way to reduce my fast fashion consumption, and it has become a fully-fledged passion. If I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed, an hour's sewing will always help. It has that same slow, methodical rhythm as weaving but without the added pressure of earning a living from it. I have had lots of people ask me to make them something for money, but it is always a firm no. Sewing is all about balancing out my mental health and doing it for cash takes away that element. I have also started running recently, which I am surprisingly really loving.

Cecilia ChildComment