While looking for handmade Christmas ornaments last Fall, I happily discovered Puffin Patchwork on Etsy and instantly fell in love.
Who could resist the beautifully crafted felt owls, kitties, Airedales and poodles (all with charming names)? Or the quaint little houses and layered hearts? I could tell by the meticulous attention to detail — the lovely embroidery and appliqué work — that everything was made with a lot of love and pride. I like Sylvia’s color sense and how she incorporates vintage fabric scraps and buttons in her pieces. And I like her endearingly neat stitches that give each item a distinctive handmade look.
In addition to felt ornaments, Sylvia makes wonderful wallhangings, coin purses and phone cases. She does all the designing, cutting, sewing, and decorating in her seaside home in South-west Ireland, and draws inspiration from the dramatic landscapes and colorful fishing towns. Sounds like an idyllic setting for an artist, don’t you think?
I’m so pleased to welcome Sylvia (a fellow Beatrix Potter fan!) to Alphabet Soup today. She’s been making and selling handmade for 30 years, and I know you’ll like hearing more about her inspirations and process. Thanks for visiting, Sylvia! 🙂
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♥ MEET SYLVIA OF PUFFIN PATCHWORK ♥
Name of shop or business: Puffin Patchwork
Year established: 2003
Items you make:
Embroidered and appliqued felt and fabric ornaments and accessories. Also embroidered wallhangings with patchwork borders.
Studio Location: Dingle, Ireland
Three words that best describe your art: Colourful, detailed, intricate.
Self taught or formal training? Self taught
Tools of the Trade:
The two needles I always use, which are exactly the right sizes, small scissors, my seed trays (more about them later), colour-sorted thread box.
Inspirations and influences:
Gardens, the sea and coast, home-décor magazines, books, period costumes, Jane Ray.
I was inspired to start making wallhangings by the work of Janet Bolton.
Three significant milestones in your career:
In 1990 while living in England I opened my own shop selling the handmade toys and dolls I made at that time.
In 2003, a few years after moving to Ireland, I gave up my business making furnishings and altering clothes, to do craft work full time, and took the name Puffin Patchwork.
In 2011 I opened my Etsy shop.
Food that inspires your best work:
Very simple, tea and biscuits. Or cake!
My new bestseller is the puffin ornament I created last summer.
What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?
When I was 2 or 3 years old I got hold of my Mum’s artists oil paints and painted the inside of a cupboard door dark green. I don’t think my creativity was appreciated on that occasion!
The machine-embroidered wallhanging “Dolphin Dance” was a new style of work for me and was one of the first things I felt could be called “art”.
When and how did you first become interested in sewing and needlework? Any other crafters/artists in your family?
My Dad made me a wooden sewing box for my 9th birthday, and my aunt, who had a dressmaking business, sent me a parcel of remnants, tools and haberdashery in the post. I began to make clothes and furnishings for my Sindy dolls, and would look forward with great excitement to further parcels, when I would design a new collection of outfits with each new lot of fabrics. I also started to make soft toys and dolls, and in my teens made many of my own clothes.
My parents work / worked in horticulture, but as hobbies my Mum painted and did leatherwork when I was young, and my Dad built boats, furniture, and toys for my brother and me. When he retired he took up woodturning, and making wooden toys.
Please describe your surroundings and explain how where you live influences your art. What is a typical day like for you?
I live with my partner, son and cats in a small house on a hill, with Dingle harbour below and mountains behind. I’m slowly creating a garden, and putting plants together is similar to mixing the textures and colours of fabrics, although plants are harder because they grow and change!
There are many beaches and cliffs nearby, and having lived on a small island before moving here, I’ve always been inspired by the sea, and coastal colours, birds and flowers.
I don’t really have a typical day, but an ideal one would include a visit to the beach or a family boat trip, some gardening and some sewing!
Your felt and fabric ornaments are so charming. How long does it take to make them, and what is your favorite part of the process?
It can take a long time to make them initially, as I find it difficult to design new things. Occasionally I draw something and it works straight away, but often I find it really hard, and have to discard a lot of ideas before being satisfied. It usually means simplifying to create a pleasing look.
My favourite parts are putting colours together and trying out new colour combinations for existing designs. Also sitting down with a stack of cut-out pieces and sewing them together while listening to a good radio drama or audiobook.
Are any of your ornaments inspired by children’s books? Who are some of your favorite authors? What kinds of books do you like to collect?
My early designs, when I opened my shop in the 1990’s, included lots of mice in elaborate costumes, some with very frilly dresses and beautiful hats! These were inspired by the books of Beatrix Potter, and also Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge books, as well as my enthusiasm for period costume. I learnt to make soft toys from a wonderful book by Margaret Hutchings, called Toys from the Tales of Beatrix Potter. I learnt so much from that book, which I still treasure.
Like many people, I was captivated by Kit Williams’s book Masquerade, inspired by the strange and mysterious paintings and longed to be able to create something that amazing.
Nowdays I collect old Ladybird books and the Puffin books of the 60’s and 70’s. I also have a lot of the old green and white Penguin murder mysteries, but I wouldn’t say they inspire my work!
What is the most interesting (or unusual or fun or surprising) custom piece you’ve made so far?
I was asked to make a leaving gift for someone in the breastfeeding support group in which I’m involved. I made a wallhanging depicting a group of mothers, babies and children meeting for an outdoor tea and playing on the beach. I used raw-edge machine applique, which I hadn’t tried before.
Please select a popular item from your shop, tell us what inspired it and how you made it.
The layered red and green heart ornament is popular. It started as a brooch, just the central heart with leaves and a flower, and tiny button berries. Then I had the idea of stitching it to larger borders of felt and making a stuffed ornament.
Describe your studio. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?
My workspace is a tiny bedroom with a cabin bed built into an alcove along one side. My table is in front of the window, and I have various sets of drawers and a bookcase with folded fabrics on the shelves. I have an ancient set of filing drawers, rescued from an old Post Office, which hold all my small pieces of fabric, sorted mainly by colour. My embroidery threads are wound onto cards and stored in a wooden box so that I can find them easily, as I use specific colours for each design and need to keep them to hand. I make all my own patterns, and these are stored in envelopes in a drawer. I have lots of tiny buttons which are kept in miniature jam jars in a painted wooden cabinet on the wall.
My ironing surface is fitted on top of an electric piano keyboard, as there is no other space for it in the house. Books and files live under this, behind the piano pedals! There is usually at least one cat keeping me company, and I always listen to BBC radio drama or audiobooks.
The sewing box my Dad made me is there, and my special seed-trays which hold my works-in-progress. These used to be the drawers in a toy cupboard belonging to my brother and me, and have been with me ever since in all my sewing spaces. I have a photo of our beloved cat Puffin, whose name inspired Puffin Patchwork.
How do you chart your growth as an artist? How do you define success?
It’s very satisfying to design and make something which goes on to sell really well, but I think success is really creating something which you yourself are satisfied with.
What do you like best about the creative life?
I really like to be at home, so working from home is something I feel very happy and lucky to be doing.
I love the excitement of a new idea, or the discovery of new materials which may inspire a new item or range.
Any new projects you’re especially excited about?
I’m planning a new range of Kindle and phone cases featuring Alfie, one of my felt terrier dogs.
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♥ Do visit Puffin Patchwork to see more of Sylvia’s creations. I was very pleased with the items I ordered and I think her prices (including shipping) are very reasonable, considering the labor involved in making each piece individually by hand. Sylvia also accepts custom orders. 🙂
♥ Find Sylvia on Facebook here.
Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.