If you’re a regular visitor to Standard Issue, you won’t need telling that we’re lucky enough to have a cracking team of contributors who we love dearly. We thought it was about time we let them introduce themselves properly. Today, please meet Emma Mitchell.
Name: Emma Mitchell
Location: The edge of nowhere (The Fens)
Official job title: Mum, jewellery and crochet designer, writer, blogger.
What was the first thing you wanted to be? When I was four I wanted to be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz because of the excellent shoes and the puffed sleeves, but mostly because I really wanted that scarecrow to be my friend.
When did you know you wanted to be what you are now? In 2002. I was still working as a consultant in an office but had my first jewellery stall at a local plant fair.
I sold lots of necklaces, which I didn’t expect. There was a crowd around my trestle table. I remember thinking with horror that I may have chosen the wrong career.
What’s your strongest memory from school/education? Feeling left out, socially very awkward and being bullied. I worked bloody hard at my schoolwork to try and get something good out of the whole shebang.
When you’re not working, what else do you like to do? I’m determined to become better at baking so that I can whip something up without necessarily needing a recipe. This involves practising a lot of sponge cakes and brownies and biscuits. My children are COCK-A-HOOP about this. Apart from building up my cake skills I take at least one, sometimes 50 photos a day, have recently become addicted to very keen on Instagram, and am learning to play the ukulele.
What has been your proudest creative moment to date? I had an idea for a craft magazine to raise money for Comic Relief. A Mollie Makes special edition: The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon was the result and I co-edited it with Jane Toft, one of my creative heroes.
It was sold in Sainsbury’s, several well-known folk (including Miranda Hart) modelled knitted beards for us and it sold so quickly that there was a reprint. Hundreds of felt guinea pigs were made round the country and we raised quite lot of money.
Oh, and once I crocheted a poo with a grumpy face on for Sarah Millican.
What was your favourite day at work? I’ve had lots: a day when I’m making silver birds, imprints of leaves and tiny silver houses can be pretty excellent. Days when I’m working with other designers or creative folk can be wonderful because there’s often a like-mindedness that can lead to laughter and new ideas or projects.
What would you like to erase from your past? The times I have witnessed or experienced the effects of the stigma of mental illness.
What brings you the most joy? Making things with my hands: a tiny silver blackbird, some crocheted mittens for a little Mitchell, a willow birdfeeder, a good cake. The whole process: initial idea, making notes, the crafting itself, the ‘oooh’ moment when you’ve finished/are eating your results is utterly wonderful.
“Days when I’m working with other designers or creative folk can be wonderful because there’s often a like-mindedness that can lead to laughter and new ideas or projects.”
There is increasing evidence that it releases serotonin and dopamine – feelgood neurotransmitters. Human beings have been selected to be bloody good at making things: shelters, clothes, utensils etc. Those that weren’t would have starved, been picked off by predators or succumbed to some grim wintry illness.
We no longer need to knit or build or weave our own stuff but when beginners make something for the first time, they describe feeling surprised at the elation they experience. I reckon this is the ancient craft pathways waking up and studies have shown that it can help to combat depression. It certainly has for me. In recent times craft has been lost from most of our everyday lives yet it’s part of being human.
What makes you angry? When people blatantly burgle my friends’ designs or the excellent things they’re sharing on their blogs to boost their own profiles or purses. So much design and content robbery goes on and nothing is said: it is simply accepted (accompanied by gnashing of teeth). I have spoken out about it a few times, which can also be rather tricky.
Professionally, who has been your biggest inspiration? I couldn’t choose a single person:
Angie Lewin, Clare Leighton, W Keble Martin and Lucienne Day for their botanical designs,
Jane Toft for inventing a new kind of craft magazine,
Lucy O’Regan of Attic24 for her crocheting skills,
Sara Tasker for her photography knowledge.
Have you ever met someone who made you go weak at the knees? Yes, in 1994.
I rush into a train head down, hair everywhere, wearing an enormous backpack:
Me to a nearby person: “Is this the train to Brighton please?”
I push my hair out of my eyes.
Michael Palin: “Yes.”
Me: (knees transform into cake batter as extraordinarily dishy comedy hero is suddenly in front of me) “Oh, it’s YOU!”
Michael Palin: “Yes it is.”
Me “Oh. Lovely. Thank you.”
I go and find my seat. Smooth.
What advice would you give a woman who wants a career like yours? Make things – make all the things you love to make. Blog about them, put them on Twitter and Instagram, learn to take the best photos you can of them, open an Etsy shop, talk to and meet up with as many other makers as you can, apply for stalls at the Crafty Fox markets, Renegade Craft Fairs, Bust Craftacular etc.
“We no longer need to knit or build or weave our own stuff but when beginners make something for the first time, they describe feeling surprised at the elation they experience.”
Write about what inspired you to make the things, start online and real-life groups of other makers, hold your own craft fairs, collaborate. Two or more designers together can often be noticed more easily than one on their own.
How do you define success? When my two small daughters aren’t squabbling and telling one another they’re pooheads/bumheads and instead they’re making a stop motion film of a plastic Minecraft pig together, or making an elaborate den out of soft furnishings under the dining room table. Also, when either of them is ill and I can help them by swaddling them in a quilt, doing a silly dance and/or making things with them out of wool or Hama beads or paper and Pritt.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever had? I told a friend about an idea I had for a craft magazine in aid of Comic Relief. “Do it,” he said, without missing a beat.
Another friend was listening attentively whilst I told her how stressful I found my job back in 2003. “The jewellery you make is beautiful,” she said, “why don’t you make that your job instead?”
What’s your favourite photograph of yourself? This one, with my tiny lasses at Cambridge Botanic Gardens, summer 2014. It’s one of our favourite places for scampering, drawing flowers and scoffing cake in the caff.
Where did you go on your favourite holiday? Tuscany with my other half before we had children. Oh the food. THE ICE CREAM. The pasta of joy. The tiny, ancient towns clinging to hillsides. Also there were fireflies and nightingales. It was bloody beautiful, all of it.
Who can’t you live without? Mr Mitchell, the small Mitchells. Four truly excellent friends: Val, Fleur, Laura and Mich.
What can’t you live without? Tea made in a teapot, a quilt to snuggle in, yarn and crochet hook.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? When we received the news that The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon had made £60,000 for bloody brilliant causes. I nearly fell off my perch.
Who is your favourite person? Do I really have to choose?
Who’s your favourite animal? Minnie our geriatric lurcher, whom I wrote about here.
Which song could be used to soundtrack your life so far? Underground, by Ben Folds Five. It’s about being an outsider but finally finding other slightly different folk to be with/crochet poos with. Its opening line is “I was never cool in school…”
What are your favourite three articles at Standard Issue?
Every single Hoovering by Jess Fostekew,
Linda Cockshott’s incisive and terrifyingly accurate horoscopes,
Daisy Leverington’s brilliantly candid pieces on the horrors and joys of motherhood.
Which question would you have liked to have answered in this questionnaire, but weren’t asked? Which is your favourite Twitter feed? Answer: @trouteyes.
Emma makes nature-inspired silver jewellery in a shed at the bottom of her garden and teaches people to make their own in her dining room. Her workshops and designs have been featured in the Guardian and Country Living Magazine and she’s taking commissions for the c-word.
At the moment she’s running a project on her blog, Instagram and Twitter called Making Winter. It’s a creative survival guide to the colder months in which she’s encouraging people to share how they get through the dingiest days by baking, scoffing stews and swaddling themselves in soft furnishings.