We are delighted to have Laura Howard on our teaching team this autumn! Her hand-sewn felt projects often grace the covers of craft bible Mollie Makes and she is the author of two books, Super-Cute Felt and Super-Cute Felt Animals and a contributor to many more. We are crazy about her style, which is both whimsical and modern and always fresh and fun! Read on to find out more about Laura and browse all of her upcoming classes here.
Have you always been crafty or did you discover your love of making things as an adult?
I was definitely a crafty kid! I was very much an “indoor child” and loved reading and drawing and making stuff. I had a big box in the bottom of my wardrobe that I filled with anything interesting I came across that I thought might be useful for making things – empty matchboxes, scraps of fabric, bits of shiny paper, etc – and spent many, many happy hours crafting.
Later, as a teenager and a student, I discovered the joys of knitting, started an ugly (and still un-finished) patchwork quilt, and made lots of cards for birthdays and Christmas (everyone loves a handmade card!).
You describe yourself as ‘completely obsessed with felt’. What drew you to felt and how do you keep coming up with new projects for it?
I first started making things with felt when I was a kid. My mum bought me a little sewing machine but it sat gathering dust as I much preferred hand sewing. Because the edges don’t fray you can just cut out a shape and go, which makes it easy and quick to work with but also easy to use to design things. I loved using it to make things like little outfits for my sisters’ Sylvanian Families.
I got back into felt crafting in 2006, after University. I was looking for things to make for my friends and neighbours for Christmas and thought “ooh, I could make some felt ornaments!” I went online and found that people were making some really wonderful things from felt – it was very inspiring.
It turns out that nowadays you can buy so many different types of felt, and in so many gorgeous colours. It’s a material people often associate with bright primary colours and simple kids crafts, but you can get some really subtle shades and the possibilities for what you can make with it are pretty much endless.
If something exists (even just as an idea in your head) you can probably make a little felt version of it. I find coming up with new ideas less of a problem than finding time to make them all!
You’ve been blogging since the very early days of blogs! What was it like to start a craft blog nearly a decade ago?
My New Year’s resolution in 2007 was to open an Etsy shop and see how it went, and it turned out that lots of people on Etsy had blogs so I thought “oh, I should start one of those too!”. I’d never really read a craft blog before and definitely didn’t know what I was going to do with mine, so I just sort of made it up as I went along. I definitely didn’t expect to still be blogging (and loving it) almost 10 years later.
There was such a wonderful blogging community in those early days. Everyone read everyone else’s blogs, commented regularly and had a list of links to their friends and their fave reads in their blog sidebar so it was easy to find new bloggers to follow. All over the world, people who had previously just been making things in the privacy of their own home could connect with all these people who loved to make things, share their projects with them, get inspired by what other people were making, get tips and advice and find tutorials to try. It was very exciting!
When and how did you go about turning making things from a hobby into a full-time job?
I was picked to be a “Featured Seller” on Etsy in October of 2007. After just selling a few things a month, suddenly my shop was on the front page of Etsy and I had a huge flurry of sales. The exposure boosted my sales in the run up to Christmas, too, and made me wonder if I could turn my shop into a proper, full-time business.
I eventually became a full time crafty lady in the spring of 2009. To get there I designed loads of new things and tested them out in my shop to see which would be popular, gradually expanding my range of brooches, ornaments and masks. I hung out in the Etsy forums to pick up tips and read as many craft-business-related blogs as I could (though there weren’t that many in those days!). I sold my work on Etsy, Folksy and DaWanda (with listings translated into German by my kind sister!) and set up a shop on my own website. I worked to improve my photos and my packaging, and to always have the best possible customer service. I blogged a lot and sold ads on my blog to supplement my income. I also expanded my business into selling craft supplies (felt squares and other crafty things) and designing things for craft books and magazines.
Running an online shop solo – and hand stitching so many things to keep it stocked – was fun but kind of intense, especially in the months running up to Christmas. I relied on my then-boyfriend to help out in the busy times, taking things to the Post Office for me or cooking dinner every night when I was busy sewing and packing parcels.
When I was single again I realised that I couldn’t continue to juggle making and selling and designing and writing and still have a sensible work/life balance so I decided to re-focus. I sold off my stock and shuttered some of my online shops, and now mostly design things for craft books and magazines. I’m also currently working on some printable patterns, which I’m very excited about – the first ones will be added to my Etsy shop this autumn/winter.
How much of your days do you get to spend making things, as opposed to other parts of running your business?
It depends! Some weeks are all about the making, and others are filled with things like emailing and photo editing and blogging. There is a LOT of “other stuff” you have to do than just craft if you want to have a crafty business.
I try to write focused To Do lists and to work as efficiently as possible. For example, social media is really important when you’re running a business but it can eat into your day. I schedule lots of my Facebook and Twitter posts in advance and use apps to auto-post on multiple accounts to save time. I also try to have a “no internet after 7pm” rule which I don’t always manage to stick too, but which helps keep my evenings just for me… which means I have time to work on my personal crafty projects.
Any advice for makers who want to turn their hobby into a career?
Work hard, be nice to people, be original, pay attention to the money side of things, connect with your peers, read as much as you can about running a crafty business (there are so many great resources out there and there’s always more to learn), and no matter how busy you are don’t forget to eat lunch.