Maker Profile - Jenny Sibthorpe

Hello! My name is Jenny Sibthorpe, I’m 31 and I design and screen print textiles, usually in linen and leather. I’ve also recently expanded into having chopping boards and pot stands made in my designs, which I’m rather excited about! I live in an old cottage in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset with my ridiculous cat Harvey and work in a very rustic farm studio round the corner.

I launched my business in late 2013 but I think you can safely say I didn’t have a traditional route to get here. Whilst I loved art and textiles at school I ended up studying Politics & Anthropology at Sussex University and lived in Brighton for 4 years. I then went to London and stayed for nearly 6 years working for the NHS in mental health and addictions until the call of the countryside got too strong! In my last year in London I’d taken up upholstery evening classes and it was then I started to wonder if it might be possible to make a living by using my hands. I took a chance and moved back to Dorset where I grew up and after saving up some money, I just made a decision, stuck with it and haven’t really ever looked back!

The business has evolved gradually from 2013 and it’s been imperative to remain flexible and adapt to discover what my strengths are as a designer and a small business owner. The constant learning is what keeps each day fresh and exciting, albeit sometimes a bit terrifying! I sell accessories, home wares and kitchen-wares in linen and leather and I also have a small stationery range of greetings cards and notebooks with images taken directly from my screen-printed fabrics. And finally as I mentioned above, my newest line is a culinary range encompassing chopping boards and pot stands. It’s fun to push the boundaries a bit and it’s also important to try to offer something a bit different.

I hand screen print all of my leather and about 80% of my linen. I outsourced the printing of four of my designs (Lemons, Bass & Hook, Clams & Lobster Pot) some time ago to enable me to sell them by the metre for upholstery and interiors. They’re still screened but by rotary and on a much larger scale than I could achieve in my studio.

For each product I pre-cut the pieces for printing to try to reduce wastage. This is particularly important for the leather as the hides tend to come with blemishes and marks that need cutting round. Then I tend to do short printing runs, maybe 10-20 of each product at a time. These then need cutting to size again and I have lots of cardboard templates in my studio for this!

The linen needs to be heat set with an iron to make it colourfast, and for a few products I also need to press interfacing onto the reverse of the printed material!

Then it’s a question of cutting up the appropriate linings, backs and pressing the leather tabs using my enormous Arbor Press and bringing all of the component parts together for making. Then once they’re all sewn together they all need pressing one last time and we’re done! Phew! Loud music is the key to the success of the production line I find!

I’ve always loved pattern and colour; I love the way bright colours can affect your mood in such a positive way. Inspiration comes in many forms, I particularly love trying to transform an everyday object into something of beauty, and I’m directly inspired by my surroundings too. My design process has evolved over time and I hope it continues to do so but it usually starts with colour and then I work from there.

Leather is fantastic to work with, the results are immediate and the colours just pop too. I love how hard wearing it is and how I still have customers who bought pieces from me years ago tell me that the design and the product still look fantastic which is just an incredible feeling.

I have a small studio on a farm near my house. It’s part of what used to be a milking shed, so it’s not particularly glamorous but its red brick, has an incredible beamed ceiling and overlooks fields that are filled with lambs come the summer so its certainly got charm! It’s a work in progress as I find out what I need as the business grows, twists and turns. I’ve built two big workbenches for printing and packing and am now the proud owner of a plan chest to help keep me organized! It’s cold and basic and draughty, but as soon as spring arrives the hardships of the long winter miraculously disappear and there’s no place I’d rather be.

Coffee and music get me through the day! Most likely BBC Radio 6 Music, but sometimes Radio 4 too. Its nice to think about other things and feel stimulated whilst doing some of the more repetitive tasks that my work requires. Other things that I definitely take for granted but that I can’t do without include fresh air and open space. My daily commute ensures I get a good dose of both.

Being a small business owner sometimes the creativity takes a back seat whilst the running of the business takes over and it’s important to have a happy medium. I would love to explore moving my designs to ceramics soon as I think that could be great fun. As for future collaborations, there’s such a wealth of incredibly talented and inspirational people within the designer-maker scene. As a huge Instagram fan, I would love to work with Ariele Alasko and think about how her incredible woodwork could combine with my textiles via some neat upholstery. Hanging out with her beautiful dog would be a bonus too.

Running workshops is so much fun! I really want to push myself and develop more skills so running more workshops felt like a natural step to me for 2017. The process of making in a workshop setting becomes so collaborative, it’s lovely, and just being able to share some tips and best practice that I’ve learnt myself makes it incredibly rewarding for everyone. Knowing that each person can take away something so tangible and beautiful at the end of each session as well as new knowledge and confidence is great; that they can feel proud when they tell anyone, ‘I made that’, is an amazing feeling.

My plans for the future include new designs, new products and to further develop my teaching skills, hopefully by expanding the repertoire which I’ve already started slightly by running workshops in Primary schools for a local art festival charity. I’m saving up to buy a house at the moment, so I’m having to plan things particularly carefully this year, but my ultimate dream would be to find somewhere big enough that might enable me to offer residential courses too. Imagine that!  

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