As part of our series My life in crafts, we’re interviewing friends and colleagues of The Crafty Kit Company to learn about their lives and love of crafts. This week we’re speaking to fibre artist, presenter, and all-round wonder woman Stephanie Lester - whom you might recognise from her fantastic video guides to our kits! Read on to learn more about just how Stephanie manages her many projects and passions, and her top tips for needle felters!
How would you describe what you do?
I would say that I’m a fibre artist, creating 3D sculptures using the needle felting technique. Normally I’d then have to spend ten minutes explaining what exactly needle felting is - and would say that it’s the same process as putting your jumper in the washing machine to shrink it, just a lot slower!
What drew you to needle felting?
I discovered it on Pinterest, where I saw a photo of a needle felted fox by Mikaela Bartlett and thought ‘what is that made from?!’ I then discovered that it’s one of the most versatile mediums that you can use: with it you can recreate everything from the muscles of a racehorse to a bird’s feathers - the realism it offers is incredible. There are also so many different fibres you can try, from plant fibres to wool made from recycled plastic bottles - I call them my paints, and love experimenting!
Have you always been an artist?
I have to admit that I’ve only recently become comfortable describing myself as an artist at all, after attending an online mentoring programme for creatives. I met some wonderful artists through the course, and we decided to set up our own artists’ collective called The Bloomz, which has been fantastic to be involved with!
I’ve always enjoyed making things, and come from a family of keen sewers, but I started off as an auditor, and was a civil servant for ten years. This was before computers, and when they first came along I was fascinated by them. I went to night school and studied for a degree alongside my day job, before joining a graduate programme.
I spent years working as an IT consultant, and really enjoyed my job, until I reached a point where my role was becoming more and more stressful. In my spare time I was constantly making things and trying new crafts, like macrame and Chinese brush painting - friends were always asking ‘OK Stephanie, what are you making now?!’
As I became more and more stressed at work, I was reaching to craft for an outlet, and eventually made the decision to leave IT to set up my own interior design business. That was great fun for a few years, but I gradually found that I was spending all of my time focusing on the running of the business, rather on the design element of the job, which was the part that I really loved - so I went back to IT! I found that technology had changed, but picking that up was the easy part: I still needed all of the communication skills I’d developed over the years to mediate and translate between clients and programmers.
What happened next?
I still wanted to work with crafts, and then I met my partner, Steve, who was a landscape gardener, author, and radio presenter. We decided to set up an events business together because we loved exhibiting at shows, but we soon found it was a very different experience as an organiser.
I began exhibiting at craft shows, showing my sculptures, and demonstrating how I create them using needle felting. I realised that people wanted to have a go themselves, so I looked around for a company that had already put the kits together and found The Crafty Kit Company!
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, and in-person events were cancelled, Steve and I set up our trade stand in our kitchen, and began filming videos every time we would have been at a show. (Steve creates handmade, upcycled lamps, which you can see via his website, Wacky Lamps.) We both started our own Facebook and Instagram accounts and I later created a YouTube channel. We also co-host a podcast together, alongside running our publishing business and speaking agency. Steve finds it hilarious: at first I hated being on camera, and now he says he has to wrestle the microphone away from me! I really don’t mind if I end up looking like an idiot, and it’s so easy to talk about something that you love!
How do you manage to handle so many projects, such as creating your sculptures, filming and editing YouTube videos, and running your publishing company?
I get bored easily, and so I never do everything all of the time. I’m also a last-minute Charlie: give me a deadline and I will get the work done, five minutes before it’s due! I find that I need deadlines to keep me motivated, but it also helps that I only work on projects that I love doing (though in every business of course there are always things that just have to be done, like accounts).
Could you describe your working day?
We wake up late and go for a walk each morning to see the swans near our home in Stratford-upon-Avon, picking up a coffee from our favourite cafe en route. I’ll spend the rest of the morning working on whichever deadline is most pressing until 2pm, when I switch to working on needle felting projects until the evening - so actually, I do use the method of blocking time to manage my workload! Steve is always listening to something while he works, but I need absolute silence. That said, I do talk to myself as I work - which probably makes recording tutorials easier!
What advice would you give anyone thinking about trying needle felting?
Just start! The biggest issue beginners have is a fear of starting, but there is no getting it wrong in needle felting. I love the fact that anyone can begin felting, and quickly create something - whatever you do can be undone, and there is no ‘right’ way of doing things!
I think it helps to start with a beginner’s kit - pick something easy to get started, and watch videos to see how it’s done.
There is no such thing as perfect, it’s all practice - the worst thing that can happen is that it looks hilarious, and you can enjoy that, too! Just get started with it and keep going - every make goes through an ‘alien’ phase, and remember that at any stage you can adjust it.
Once you’ve got the hang of things, and want to start making your own creations, I’d always recommend downloading pictures of the thing that you want to create, and drawing it, as that will help you to understand the form and shape you’re aiming for. If you’re creating an animal, I’d advise downloading an image of its skeleton, too.
Remember, everyone will create their own work, and don’t worry about the process. You just have to have a play - and it is playing!
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