As an animal lover who once thought of opening a pet weight loss clinic (yes you read that right), I’m always interested in finding out more about different types of pet businesses. And when pets meet crafting, so much the better! I loved finding out more about Stacey Chapman, who published her first art work aged 4, and now runs a pet embroidery portrait business. Working on a commission basis, she takes 4-6 weeks to complete each piece: sometimes only 1 stitch is sewn before she needs to change the thread! She’s kindly taken the time to satisfy my curiosity below and I hope you enjoy finding out more about her as much as I did 🙂
Look at the detail in this portrait! Wouldn’t mind one of Mr Moah (the horse I used to ride) myself!
Tell us more about how your business started.
I only began embroidering less than a year before starting the business. My mum got a rescue dog and I wanted to make her a Christmas present. I had seen Kirstie Allsopp learning freehand machine embroidery on her show a couple of years beforehand and had logged it in my brain. As I was attending an adult education class in dressmaking, I had a sewing machine and I married everything together with my degree in illustration. After being surprisingly happy with the first result, the rest is history…
I knew I wanted it to be my full time job as soon as I came up with the concept of producing pet portraiture in an original way and that lends itself so perfectly to thread. I was lucky enough to be just starting to recover from M.E.and it gave me an excellent reason to get better. An amazing focus, therapeutic gain from the creative output and the flexibility to control how much work I could cope with. It was perfect and a big part in my journey to wellness.
The lovely Stacey with her pooch! (And check out the fox portrait in the background)
I love how positive you are! Not everyone would see recovering from ME as being lucky! 🙂 What do you like best or worst about what you do?
I absolutely love what I do. I love being able to come up with a concept and produce a pleasing end result from it. I also adore having a reference photograph and rending it in a way that has a recognisable likeness, but with a slight twist. Utterly satisfying and soul soothing. The worst thing is not being good at the things I need to do, such as maths.
Having run my own business, I find that it is a passion project, so you love what you do everyday but it can also be isolating. Now is that just me or do you experience the same thing?
Yes, like you Zen, I do find being an entrepreneur a little isolating, especially when there is no Christmas staff party to attend 😉 However I love going to exhibitions and talking non stop for days on end to fellow exhibitors and customers. It is like having a big fill of happy, creative chat that sees me through the next few months. I recently also joined a ladies business networking group and that has been great too. On the flip side, I find the quiet actually really conducive to getting more work done.
Best and worst moments to date?
Best moment is too hard to choose. It could be, the first of many actual physical jaw drops that I have seen, when a journalist viewed my work and realised it was embroidery not painting. That was awesome. Getting the chance, after exhibiting at her show for 3 years, to look Kirstie Allsopp in the eye and thank her for inspiring me and changing my life. Or, being told in all sincerity after explaining the process of producing my owl, that despite all of the terrible things in the World, that I had restored this persons faith in humanity being able to produce such a thing. I mean, Wow. Or when I hand over work and grown men cry or the baby who paws at the glass calling after their dog as they recognise it behind the glass. Honestly, it is all just too amazing. Pinch me 🙂 Worst moments, having the odd commission fall through as they do not have the money to proceed. Or being a merely few footsteps away from having Mary Portas see my work so I could ask for her advice, yet life getting in the way of that happening. Frustrating.
This little doggie is obviously amazed by how lifelike the portrait is!
That does sound amazing! What have you planned for Stacey Chapman in 2017?
My future plans are ever evolving. Currently at the front of my mind, I am looking to set up a workshop/textile gallery/vintage haberdashery in my home town of Margate. I have recently finished designing a collection of freehand machine embroidery kits that I am very proud of. I am looking to get these into high end haberdashery departments and shops. I am going to create a subscription online tutorial where you can choose to just watch and follow, or have a monthly, ready to go kit sent out to your doorstep for a premium option. Plus I am looking to continue creating more generic animal portrait, aimed at high end galleries. I will be teaching again at Kirstie Allsopps Handmade Fair at Ragley (May 2017) and Hampton Court (Sep 2017). I am proud to say I have just been taken under the wing of Janome and will be teaching their Masterclasses at their head office in Stockport in April and November 2017.
Wow, those are all big names in the craft industry- you’ve certainly achieved a lot in a short time! What advice would you give to anyone wanting to go into a craft business or specifically an embroidered business?
The advice I would give anyone about starting up a business, is just to do it! As the book says, feel the fear and do it anyway. Take baby steps and begin to create your collection whilst keeping working. Ease the financial pressure on yourself. Build up your skills/confidence and get feedback by getting your work out there in whichever way you can. When exhibiting, try and pick out the repeated lines, for me a couple are, “I would love to be able to do something like this, but wouldn’t know where to start”. And, that “I cannot draw”. These comments led to me creating my kits. Things evolve constantly and learn to lean into the evolution rather than fight against it. I believe it will take you where you want to go. Once you are confident that your business is viable through experience and market research, maybe go part time and grow from there. Failure is an excellent place of further education.
Don’t give up!
Here are her 3 tips for how to land partnerships & opportunities with big brands such as Janome & Handmade Fair
1, Ask! The worst that someone can say is no. If it is your hearts desire to create a major work/collection, exhibit somewhere, sell somewhere or work somewhere – just ask. Even if you think it is way above you – the majority of us are cursed with the imposter syndrome (i.e. who I am I to do such a great/cool/highbrow thing, I am not good enough). Well, I think, if you can think or dream that big, then you are that big. Just do it. Don’t die with the music still inside of you. That is infinitely worse than being turned down!
2, Always be nice to people. As the quote by John Templeton says, “It is nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice”. You never know who you are speaking to. Some amazing opportunities that have happened and are still in the offing for me because I speak to everyone at events in an open and friendly way. I am very grateful for visitors giving up their time to look at my work and even more grateful for their kind comments. If someone is willing to choose to exchange their hard won earnings for a concept that came out of my head and was made into a product, that is truly an extraordinary blessing. Being kind also creates an energy that is attractive to be around and that includes influential movers and shakers.
3, It may sound obvious, but you have to create the work. The fabulous idea sitting inside your head will never be snapped up by Selfridges or John Lewis if it doesn’t even make the light of day. You must create. And you must expect some failures. But take them for what they are – great learning curves. The fear of creating something not good enough will imprison your ideas for eternity. Who benefits from that?! Just make whatever work you were meant to bring to this World. The World will thank you for it and you will live a more fulfilled life because of it.
And with those thought in mind, Stacey would like to ask for some help to achieve something:
I rang Buckingham Palace when I set up the business to ask for a good picture of the Corgis to work from as a gift for Her Majesty, but they could not provide me with one – so if anyone can help – do let me know!
Bye for now!
That’s all from Stacey but do watch out for her work in stores! 🙂 And if you need a gift for a pet lover, why not get in touch! 🙂 You can find her on Twitter as @artseacraftsea