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.
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
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.
One of my most recent largest commissions
was a 7’ x 4’; Treescape, which I made for a friend of mine who had just
What is a typical day for
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!
Can you describe your
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
I do love hares, the green man, birds,
fishes, plantlife, sky, trees – lots of my inspiration comes from nature, of
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This innovative up-cycling book makes use of a material we all have around us – Men’s shirts. Those of us with men in the house will undoubtedly have, no longer, used shirts lurking at the back of wardrobes. Those who don’t have a shirt-wearing male to acquire shirts from can pick them up fairly cheap from the charity shop. Plus of course there is no reason why women’s shirts can’t be used for these projects either.
The projects in this book are cleverly catagorized by type of shirt used to make them: businessmen’s shirts, creative men’s shirts, outdoorsy men’s shirts and sporty men’s shirts. The projects include soft toys, quilted duvet cover, a beach bag, storage boxes, and a pretty peg bag and they make use of the whole of the shirt including, cuffs, collars and buttons.
The instructions for each project are set over several pages with large step by step photos to guide you as well as a photo of the finished project plus any templates you need are at the rear of the book. The book is easy to follow and would be suitable for all levels of experience.
I loved this “Joseph” sweater, I bought it second hand when my daughter was a baby. I had worn it to death and washed and washed it. In the end it was so felted I got a very talented lady to knit me a new one and I made a cushion out of the original.
You will need
needle and wool
Old cushion pad
Using the seam un-picker, open up the side seams.
Cut two rectangles from the front and the back of the sweater, and with right sides facing, pin and then using a 1 cm seam allowance , sew them together round 3 sides. Leave what was the bottom of the sweater open, as they are neat edges.
Turn the cover through, insert the cushion pad, close with an over sew stitch.
Being very aware of all the plastic and rubbish that lands up on many of our beaches, and in our parks and roadsides, I thought I would come up with a project that could put some of that plastic to good use. The result is pom-poms created from plastic bags. I suggest you use and reuse the bags until they start to get holes. When they are finally of no further use, make pom-poms out of them.
need very little in the way of materials, just scissors, plastic bags,
cardboard and string or twine. You will also need something to draw round to
make a large circle with a smaller one in the centre.
Draw round a small saucer or a large roll of tape onto the card to create a circle. Use something like an eggcup and draw round it to make a circle in the center. Cut out the two cardboard shapes, with a hole in the centre. Cut the plastic bags into a long strip about 1cm wide.
one cardboard circle on top of the other and then start to wind the plastic
strips round the two circles as in the picture. Carry on until the whole of the
cardboard is covered. The more strips you add the fluffier the pom pom will be.
a piece of string or cord and put to one side. Holding the plastic covered
discs, insert the scissors between the two outer circles and start to cut. This
is the tricky bit as you don’t want to end up with a load of plastic on the
floor. When you have cut all the way round the outer ring insert the cord and
pull the two ends together, drawing together the pom pom at the same time. Tie
the string ends together.
We used our Pom poms to decorate a basket, but you could use them to decorate anything. Have fun creating crafting and recycling.
who live on the Coast are probably more aware than most, of the changing
seasons. The skies are overcast and dark, the sea becomes rough and the sea
gulls soar and wheel on the updrafts. With this image in mind I have designed
an appliqued blanket. I have kept with the dark almost monochrome, but with
suggestions of seasonal colours. The method of making is very easy and the end
result has a Hygge Scandinavian feel.
I made this blanket out of two old
woolen blankets purchased in a charity shop. They are easy to come by and often
thin enough to use as a double thickness. If you don’t want to use old woolen
blankets buy 160 cm woolen fabric that is 160cm wide. You will need two pieces
in two different colours.
If using old blankets, clean by washing
on a wool wash. You can dye them, as I did one of ours, in a washing machine.
We dyed it Jeans blue. The blanket must be made out of wool or another natural
fiber for the dye to take. If you dye a blanket in the machine it will felt a
little. Once the blankets are washed dyed and dry, then cut them so they are
the same size as one another.
What you need
Tracing paper or baking parchment
x woolen blankets or 2 pieces of 160 x 160cm woolen fabric
Jeans Blue machine dye (optional)
yarn or an odd ball of wool (we used pale blue)
How to make
copyright free images of flying seagulls on the internet, scan to enlarge and
print them out. Draw onto tracing paper and cut out using paper scissors. Or
just copy the bird shapes shown here.
Pin the paper
seagull onto the darker blanket. Being very careful to keep the shape, cut out
the gull. You will need to repeat this with the other gulls depending on how
many you want.
Pin the darker
blanket on top of the lighter one. Round each edge, pin one blanket onto the
other. Pin round the gull shape holes.
Using running stitch, sew round the edge of each gull.
Make sure the blankets haven’t stretched. If they have cut away any overlaps. Using blanket stitch, 1cm deep x 1cm wide, sew one blanket onto the other all the way round the edge.
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.
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.