Kirsty Neale is a freelance writer, illustrator and designer-maker specialising in fabric and paper crafts. Her unique creations have been featured in numerous books and magazines including Mollie Makes. I chatted to Kirsty about her style, her favourite crafts and her latest book, Hoop-la!…
How did you learn to sew?
“I’ve loved making things for as long as I can remember, and my mum taught me to sew and to knit when I was about five. My knitting has yet to improve, but I’ve been sewing pretty much ever since. I also loved drawing and, at around the same age, had a picture shown in the gallery on the BBC children’s show, Take Hart. It was a snail, made from paper, plasticine and orange lentils – totally retro, a couple of decades before I had any idea what that even meant!”
What’s your favourite craft?
“I like different things for different reasons – sewing and fabric-based projects are probably my first love, but I also like the relative speediness of paper-based projects. Although I’m quite new to crochet, the novelty of exercising and expanding that new skill (plus getting to use beautiful yarns) is also very appealing. When it comes to techniques, I love embroidery and appliqué. For me, it’s the perfect mix of sewing and drawing, getting to work with pattern, colour, texture and line.”
“Like lots of people, I regularly look for inspiration online (hello, Pinterest!), as well as being influenced more generally by things like books, films, museums and galleries. But I think the best ideas often come from more unexpected sources. For instance, the lighthouse project in Hoop-la! was inspired by a real-life lighthouse we found by accident when we were lost on holiday last year.
Necessity is often a big inspiration, too. For instance, if we need new cushions but can’t find anything we like ready-made, or if I have fresh flowers but no vase to display them, those things would inspire me to think creatively and make something to fix the problem.”
“Fresh, clean, bright and retro-inspired with lots of attention to little details (I’m pernickety!).”
What’s your favourite colour and why?
“I tend to prefer cooler colours – fresh greens and aqua-ish blues, but I also love white, grey and acidic or mustard-y shades of yellow. I’m not sure why, although blue, green and white all have a reputation for being calming colours, and calm is something I definitely need a little more of in my life!”
What are you making at the moment?
“A quilt. My sister commissioned it for a friend of hers who is heading back to the US after living here for several years. We’ve added a custom-printed label into the binding with a special message, and I hope it’s something that will be a happy reminder of their friendship for a very long time. I’m not a quilting expert by any means, but I really enjoy the process and think it’s a lovely idea for a ‘going away’ present.”
“Keep in mind that simple projects can be every bit as beautiful as those that are more complicated. Finishing a project and being proud of the end result will hopefully inspire you to keep going. Try not to worry about making mistakes either. They’re a natural part of any learning process and working out how to fix them can be hugely satisfying. The worst that can happen is you give up on the project and start something new! If you’re worried about wasting materials, try making a test version of the project from inexpensive supplies first – it’s amazing how much more confident you feel making something the second time around.”
Do you have a favourite fabric designer?
“When I’m not buying vintage, my favourite fabric designers include Liberty, Orla Kiely, Lotta Jansdotter, Melody Miller and Rashida Coleman-Hale.”
Are there are any crafters whose work you admire?
“I could write you a very long list. Jessica Jones, Tif Fussell, Pip Lincolne, Lucky Jackson, Christine Schmidt, Alice Burrows, Sania Pell… so many amazing and admirable people.”
“I think I’d probably say Hoop-la! It’s the biggest single project I’ve ever undertaken, and just completing all 100 hoops (there are actually 153 individual hoops in the book, including the cover) felt like a pretty huge achievement. For me, the acid test of any given project is whether I’m happy enough with the end result to use or display it in our house, and I’ve been very happily surprised at the number of Hoop-la! projects which fit that bill.”
Kirsty’s brand new book, Hoop-la!, features 100 unique and innovative ideas for using your embroidery hoops, as well as some creative ways to decorate the hoop itself. It’s also available as a downloadable PDF ebook, so you can start sewing straight away! Take a look at Kirsty’s blog for more information about Kirsty Neale and to find out what she’s working on at the moment.