Blog, Meet the Maker

Meet the hooked rug designer maker, Debbie Siniska

As Charleston, the Bloomsbury home of art and crafts, holds the exhibition ‘Post impressionism living Omega Workshops’ 14 Sept 2019- 19th January 2020 . I interviewed one of the designers selling in their shop, Debbie Siniska.

Debbie at work in her studio

I know you as a Hooked rug maker, Can you tell me did you train in textiles?

No, I’m self taught

Did you go to art school and what did you study?  If not what did you do when you left school?

I used to practice drawing at life class, but never went to college. I did a City and Guilds in Feltmaking.  My very first job when I left school was for Barclays bank in a tying pool, it was deathly boring

Rug hooking is a very old rural craft born out of necessity.  What got you into hooked rugs and why?

I was interested in learning to weave, but that didn’t quite do it for me. One day whilst foraging for fabrics, I came across some old hand tools, and began to make hooky mats, its recycling in its purest form. 

Have you ever worked for anyone else, or done any collaborations? If so, with whom?

I have been part of Creative Partnerships, a government initiative, in schools.  I was also sponsored by Brighton and Hove City Council and Kent County Council, with the War on Waste team, to take my ‘Creativity in Schools’ textile eco-art project into primary schools in Brighton and Hove, and in Kent, which was televised  on local TV, and culminated in a public exhibition of children’s work in Brighton.

How do you get your commissions?

People see my work at shows and commission me.  I also get commissions via my website . http://www.debbiesiniska.co.uk

One of my most recent largest commissions was a 7’ x 4’; Treescape, which I made for a friend of mine who had just retired

What is a typical day for you?

No two days are the same for me – If I am teaching at a school that day, the morning will sometimes be prep – I often have work on the frame, so I may do a couple of hours in the workroom.  I have to attend to emails and also spend a lot of time searching for teaching opportunities, and contacting galleries. If there is hand stitching to do or assembling prints and cards, I can work listening to great music or watching a film.

What do you love most about what you do?

Making, and watching pieces come to life on the frame.  I love hand stitching and working with colour.

What do you dislike most about what you do?

I don’t really dislike any of it, It’s all your own work and it’s what you make of it!

What made you want to start your own creative business?

I couldn’t work for anyone else – if I wasn’t following my own creative passions, what was the point of anything.  Being true to my own instinctive creativity is what keeps me going. Sometimes its not all about the money!

Felted boots

Can you describe your creative process?

For my own work, I get an idea, an image in my mind, anything can inspire me, music, nature, colour, texture, stories, bonfires and people.  This idea stays with me, and I start to search for textiles in the colours I need – I wait and watch for an image to come to me, then I will set my frame up and chalk out my design.  If I am working on a green man, or animal, I always begin with the eyes. If they work, then the rest of the piece does!

I do love hares, the green man, birds, fishes, plantlife, sky, trees – lots of my inspiration comes from nature, of course.

Hare inspired chair cover

If I am commissioned, I have already spoken at length with the client, and if we agree, I can begin with confidence that I can create what they are asking for.  The best commission is from someone who likes my work and trusts my judgement!

What are your biggest challenges?

Working to commission is always a bit nerve racking  – talking about your work to 250 people, while you are being filmed, that’s quite challenging.  Making decisions about a certain colourway, when nothing is working, and putting the right price on a piece of work, when its taken a month to create! Working on your own, in your studio, making all the decisions is hard sometimes.  Lastly, trying to find time to experiment and go off on a tangent, a rare thing for me.

In what way has social media impacted on your work

I am on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/debbiesiniska/this helps me chart my pieces of work, and I get feedback from other artisans that I follow – and sometimes I get commissions/sales from Instagram.  I advertise workshops, and of course it’s a great way to see what other people are doing.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field today?

Starting out, starts with learning your particular craft, and having a passion for it – go to textile shows and events, and talk to the makers.   Don’t be put off by mistakes, see a project through even if you don’t think it’s working – because it just might.  Sometimes great things happen when you least expect them.

Green Man rag rug being made on the loom

Compared with when you started, do you think it is easier for designers to set up on their own nowadays or more difficult? Why?

Everybody’s doing the ‘creative thing’ these days – I try to be true to my ideas when I work, and not be too influenced. Sometimes people cannot tell the difference between mass produced or hand-made, and won’t pay the price for pure artisan hand-made piece of work.   There is a certain saturation point and seeking of approval that comes with social media.  In the end it all becomes a blur.  Creating/designing something new is becoming harder and harder. 

Debbie’s mantle piece full of her work and inspiration

One of the reasons I am interviewing successful women who are over forty is that they have often had to take a career break, or had to slow down to deal with child care and or aged parents. Have you ever had to deal with either of these of issues and did it impact on your creative life or business?

As a mum I had to care for both my parents, whilst running my shop and working as a maker, and teacher. At times, it was impossible to keep focused and find the momentum to continue creatively. 

Have you exhibited? If so, where?

I have been featured in the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph newspapers, My work has been exhibited in the V&A, I appeared on channel 4 TV with Kirstie Alsopp, on her Homemade Home series 2. I created several Bloomsbury rag rugs for the Tate Gallery shop in London to accompany an exhibition of Bloomsbury art. 

I was commissioned by Charleston Farmhouse, home of the literary and art group of the 1920’s and open to the public, to create a facsimile of an old Bloomsbury style rag rug, that now lies in Maynard Keynes bedroom in the house. I take part in Brighton Open Houses, and am part of the Heritage Crafts Association.

Bloomsbury Acrobat rag rug inspired by door panel by Duncan Grant 1913/14

Have you written or contributed to any books if so which ones ?

I self published my books Rag Rugs Old into New. Most recently I contributed projects to ‘Craft’ by Dorling Kidersley, and have also had projects in several other project based ‘how to’ books in the past. I created projects for two craft magazines, and was sponsored by a couple of beadwork companies.

What are you currently working on?

My next two shows coming up this month, and in November. I also have three commissions that I am currently working on.

Wren

What is next?

I want to exhibit with my daughter, who is a painter, and do a ‘makers’ book for kids. 

Do you teach or run workshops? If so where and to whom?

I run my own textile workshops in East Sussex, and I occasionally teach for the National Trust and in adult residential colleges, including West Dean College near Chichester.  I also teach in schools, and sometimes visit a school for a day for arts week/green week/eco week. I currently run Eco Art Club, at two primary schools in East Sussex.   I have done, and will be doing many one day workshops for the WI, these are great fun, and I get asked to talk/teach for the Spinners, Weavers and Dyers and Embroidery Groups.  

Thank you very much

Blog, book review, Book Reviews

HOW WE CHOOSE TO PLAY

By Fran Heath 2016

Abel’s illustrations copyright Roscoe Cattle 2016

Heather’s illustrations copyright Cleo Cattle 2016

I was browsing in the children’s shop a

Pocket Full of Pebbles, in Cowes Isle of Wight when I came across this delightful book by an Isle of Wight author and artist. She has taken a dolls house decorated it and created scenes for her story. This book is an excellent example of crowd funding working, to produce a book with a clear message that is : Parents and other adults should not limit the activities of children or choose how or with whom they play .

As someone who wrote children’s books in the nineteen eighties I was somewhat surprised and saddened to find this message is still needed.

         I grew up with Janet and John books, where John did things with his father and Janet looked on passively. At art school I was, and still am, a feminist. When I had my own children, boys first, I bought them dolls and buggies and wouldn’t let them have weapons of any sort. This didn’t prevent them from making them out of sticks, lego or anything else they could lay their hands on . My daughters played with Meccano and Lego. They climbed trees, learnt to sail , drew, painted and played with dolls, and one has studied disaster management and the other has a degree in architecture.

         Getting back to the book. It is made up of wonderful rhymes.

“ The princess loved skateboarding and she found it rewarding

to use the rainbow as a half-pipe when she flipped it upside down

She was liking being reckless, while the ninja made a necklace

of the brightly coloured flowers as he sat upon the ground. “

It is a story about a brother and sister and the different ways they are treated. Happy to say by the end of the book things have changed, the parents have seen the light and the children play together doing both quiet and physically challenging activities. The drawings done by the children in the story, have been created by the author’s own children and are fabulous.

A great book and thoroughly recommended.

Blog, book review, Book Reviews, Uncategorized

The Art of Pressed Flowers and Leaves

By Jennie Ashmore Published by Batsford £16.99 Artworks by Jennie Ashmore, photographs by Euan Adamson.

This is the most unusual and beautiful pressed flower book I have ever seen. It is full of amazing compositions that are reminiscent of traditional American Quilts.

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Early leafwork (1998) using sycamore leaves and fennel seed heads. 15 x 15cm (6 x 6in)

As the publisher describes it, this is a contemporary twist on a traditional craft. It is a must-have guide to pressing flowers and leaves packed with exciting ideas and practical information for creating beautiful botanical works of art.



Kirklea Garden (2017). Rich summer colours using iris and poppy petals with small leaves and flowers. 30 x 30cm (12 x 12in)
 

         Jennie Ashmore, flower artist, breathes new life into traditional flower-pressing techniques with a unique and spectacular kaleidoscope of floral and plant designs, using everything from flower petals and leaves to seaweed and lichen.

 Jennie studied painting and printmaking at Exeter College of Art and for many years taught in art schools and worked in environmental education, conservation and gardening. Her work has always concerned the natural world and she has a strong interest in surface texture, pattern and geometry, which are key to her designs. She teaches workshops and sells her work.


Threave Garden Quilt (2016). This intricate design features plants collected in Threave Garden, a National Trust property in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. 40 x 40cm (16 x 16in)

         The leaf works, guide and inspire through every stage of the process, from working seasonally and selecting the right plants for a vibrant colour, to experimenting with interesting texture and pattern. There are also tips for incorporating watercolour, gouache and other exciting materials into beautiful botanical creations.


Simple landscape using variegated balsam poplar leaves (1998).
13 x 18cm (5 x 7in)
 
 

The art of pressed flowers and leaves will inspire readers to celebrate the beauty of their local landscape, a favourite walk or garden, or even capture special memories through eternalizing wedding bouquets or plants collected on a holiday.

Blog, Makes

Quick and easy chair transformation.

The made over chair in Annie Sloan Antibes green
The before shot looks quite nice, but believe me, the chair was not in a good state.

Recently a friend was throwing out a very old wooden child’s chair. It had been left in a shed for the last fifteen years and the seat was lifting up from the frame and the paint was peeling.

To restore the situation and to make a suitable chair for my grandson, first of all we tacked the seat back onto the frame. 

Always wear a mask when sanding

Then my grandson and I sanded the chair.

Next we painted it with Annie Sloan pure chalk white , and once it was dry we painted it with Annie Sloan Antibes green paint. To finish off and give it a smooth finish, we gave it a coat of Annie Sloan chalk paint wax clear.

A happy boy sitting on his new chair
Blog, book review, Book Reviews

Want a fun sewing book with a difference? CHLOE TELLS YOU HOW TO SEW

I have been reviewing practical books for over 25 years and used to review for the magazine Inspirations back in the day. I think it is a pity that books are now sold in the same way as other items, such as clothes and groceries, with a short shelf life. With the Great British Sewing Bee being very much on our minds I think this book deserves a second look, it is fun, practical and original.

Textile artist Chloe Owens http://chloeowens.com/is inspired by all things vintage, and much of her work is made from 1960’s fabrics. She is also a lover of annuals, that she read as a child. Their brightly coloured illustrations, and instructions mixed in with activities, puzzles and games has been a major influence in the design of this book.

Make a headdress – great for a summer festival

Instead of a run of the mill craft book, Chloe has ingeniously made an annual complete with games: follow the thread, strings and needles, lotto.

Cat basket with a difference

 Included are translations of rhyming slang, for example: Bangers- “bangers and mash” (sausages and mashed potato)=cash. As with the best of annuals it has many illustrators, so that each project is almost like a mini book in its own right. Each project starts with a witty heading or a pun, so a reclaimed chair is called ‘The best seat in the house’.

‘She’s a pin board wizard’ pin board is taken from the song of the same name from The Who’s ‘Tommy’ album. Many of the projects are written as if a friend or animal has made them and so they take the comic book form in both layout and story line. The result of all this is a very busy looking, book of fun.

How to re-upholster a sewing box to make a cat bed

I like the way Chloe writes, her instructions are clear and she encourages you to have a go! This is a hip book, full of diverse projects, and lovely photographs by the late Claire Richardson. Projects range from felt biscuits to soft toy animals, a very cute baby dress and some furniture projects and home accessories. Amongst my favourite projects is “A must have for the modern man”, the deluxe felt beard, now with optional moustache. I am not sure if I will be sporting it just yet but when the chilly autumn winds blow you never know.

Make your own winter warmer -a beard

by Chloe Owens  http://chloeowens.com/Published by Cico Books http://www.rylandpeters.com/ourshop/craft at £14.99

book review, Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Wreaths by Katie Smyth and Terri Chandler from Worm London

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My last blog post was on making a floral headband wreath for Midsummer day celebrated in Sweden. This post is for those who wish to go larger and make a wreath for their home.

Wreath  Fresh, Foraged & Dried Floral Arrangements

It was the architect, flower loving,  boyfriend of my daughter Alice, who first introduced me to Worm London, the young hip flower designers and stylists.  They  design flowers for weddings, supper clubs and parties. They also work as stylists for magazines, books and TV Shoots. Katie Smyth and Terri  Chandler are inspired by seasonal wild, foraged materials and the meaning for flowers.

This is Katie and Terri’s introduction to making your own seasonal decorations. With natural materials and foraging having a renaissance at the moment, this book shows you how to use your finds in a most creative way. As they say in their introduction

“Nurturing that connection with the world around us and its changing seasons is important to us, and we want to encourage you to experience this too.”

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The authors use the experience of their global travels where they have  studied garlic garlands on the first day of May across the Greek islands, midsummer  wildflower wreaths in Scandanavia and flamboyant adornments to celebrate Thanksgiving in the US, wreaths can be a warn welcome, an original gift or simply a beautiful addition to your home.

Most of the projects in the book are relatively straightforward to make. The materials and methods of making are accessible and it looks very different from traditional formal floristry.

The book is divided into  four main sections, Fresh, foraged, dried  and  festive wreaths. Their is an introduction and basics on tools materials and making basic shapes. The book finishes with a  glossary, suppliers list and index. The midsummer wreath is glorious and I particularly like  the mobile made from honesty the enormous Christmas wreath and the kitchen herb bundles. I really enjoyed this book, particularly the lovely photos by Kristin Perers and very much look forward to making some wreaths.170724_Worm8645

Worm London

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Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Studio – Creative Spaces for Creative People

 

by Sally Coulthard

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If you are a designer, or just love creative people and enjoy seeing how and where they work, then this is must have book.

It is full of inspiration. The author, Sally Coulthard, lives on a farm where she rents out barns to artists. As she says ‘it’s a scruffy space, but the people who work there have transformed the building into something truly special. Not only have the artists organized their studios into useful spaces, they’ve also created rooms that express who they are and inform the work they produce. Each space reflects the personality of the person who works there –studios are like fingerprints, totally unique.’

The first part of the book has inspirational pictures and descriptions of different kinds of studio’s. Included are brights, mono, natural, industrial and collected.AlunCallenderPhoto_SarahCampbell_31_0125.jpg

The second part of the book is divided into different kinds of artists and designers and includes crafters, fashion and textile designers. Fine art, graphics and illustrators studios are featured as are the work shops of bloggers writers and photographers and last but not least are workshops and up-cyclers. nathalie leté 20(1)

Different kinds of buildings are as unique as the artists and designers themselves. One artist works in a shepherds hut another in a barn others in industrial warehouses and lofts. Some work together others by themselves.AlunCallenderPhoto_SarahCampbell_02_0045.jpg

The final section of the book deals with practicalities of how to plan your studio, getting organized, desks, lighting and storage are all explored. As are work tops and drying spaces. If you want to set up your own studio you need look no further than here. The book is truly international showcasing designers and artists from many different countries.CathDerksema_FINAL_HIRES-7.jpg

A joy to read and a very useful handbook.

Published by Jacqui Small at £25

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