Today I would like to introduce you to the lovely Ellie of Hunted and Stuffed. I first came across Ellie, well, take a look here when I saw an Oscar de la Renta one-off cushion on her site with this fabulous Kabuki performer. It just had to be mine!
Forward a couple of years and I caught up with Ellie again in her studio. She’s been rather busy and doing all sorts of wonderful things, so thought it best to give my readers another little insight into yet another talented woman!
Tell us a little about your upbringing and studies.
My mum was always very creative and was a big influence on me. She was a home knitter in the 80’s making outrageous jumpers for a local designer and always had a personal project on the go, usually where she would be teaching herself a new skill using books from the library, such as re-upholstery or cross-stitching. My uncle Charlie was also a big creative influence when I was a child, he taught Advertising in Stockport and I would often meet ex students of his as clients on photo shoots in London – they’d ask if I was related because of our unusual surname!
I trained in Fine Art – Sculpture at Kingston and fell in love with process. I really got into arc and oxy-acetylene welding under the guidance of a bemused old-school technician and then really fell in love with photography on a trip across the USA mid degree. I think I realized then that it was the making that I loved, I naively couldn’t understand how artists like Anish Kapoor could get other people to make their sculptures for them and then sell them as theirs – it seemed inauthentic in an ‘artist’.
What made you start Hunted and Stuffed?
I’d worked as a pro photographer in London for the previous 12 years (much of that on interiors shoots with loads of lovely product samples) and had to stop when I had my son. I was in nesting mode, had my attention focused on the home, couldn’t leave my baby to go out to shoot as the hours were too long and had a massive creative itch that I had to scratch and it all started with a quirky idea about tea towels.
How did you start? Do you think that any creative can start their own business?
I’d been a freelancer for ages and I think that trained me to be determined, consistent and brave. There’s a great quote by Deborah Meaden (Dragon’s Den) “The difference is that successful people act on their ideas” and I think that is key. You could have the best idea in the world but if you never do anything with it….
In theory I think any creative CAN start their own business but there is a world of difference between business skills and creativity. It will pay to keep that in mind. Many creatives start off by working in their spare time to test their ideas and get things off the ground and I think that’s wise. Only jack in the day job if you know you’ve got something that works and can support you.
What have been the ups and downs?
The ups are when you get great feedback from a happy customer – that really makes me feel all warm inside! Other highlights have been winning the Brand Amplifier award for female entrepreneurs, that really gave me a confidence boost, and when Cico Books said yes to my book proposal – those were amazing moments when you get to feel that all your hard work is paying off.
The downs are when you find yet another person trying to copy what you’re doing or when sales are slow.
How do you get your ideas? Do you ever run out of them?
I attended an amazing talk by the incredibly inspirational Paul Smith and I think he answered that question best by saying
“You Can Find Inspiration in Everything*: (*and if you can’t, look again)
Obviously with the upcycled vintage pieces it’s about taking something that someone else has designed in the past and reinventing it by upcycling, adding my own choices of fabrics and trims to create a finished work. I’m working on new pieces, named ‘Hunted and Stuffed Editions’, which will combine elements of vintage artwork and/or photography into completely new designs that I can print digitally – I’m very excited about this new departure!
I know that Provenance is important to you. Can you expand?
I think basically I’m a straight up kinda gal – honesty and authenticity are paramount to me. If something is ‘vintage’ I take that to mean that it is over 20 years old – not made last month and aged to look ‘vintage’. My customers appreciate that too and that’s why they come to me.
Also, I’m realizing I’m a research junkie. I love finding out about the history of the vintage textiles I use, trying to exactly date them, researching the print or design, the symbolism of the motifs etc. Then I pass on what I’ve discovered so that my customers can know as much as possible because it’s all part of the story of the fabric. It’s part of what makes the pieces different from what you’d find on the high street.
How was it writing your first book and how did that come about?
I had so many ideas of how to upcycle things, vintage items that you’d come across on boot fair raids or antique market rummages, and many I upcycled just to make things for myself. They weren’t necessarily right to create products out of for my business, some were just one offs, a lot weren’t even textile based, so it seemed like a good idea to collate these ideas into book form with detailed instructions on how to make them so that anyone with an interest (and of any skill level) could try making them for themselves. I pitched the idea to Cico Books because they have an excellent reputation for this kind of book and they very kindly accepted. It was a lot of intense work in a short period of time, sourcing, making, writing, but I like a challenge! It was so satisfying to see the finished book and I can’t thank Cico enough for all their support – they were amazing.
Can you share any future plans for H&S.
I’m releasing two new collections. The first is made with upcycled vintage Gannex wool, which is a British fabric created in the 60’s and made famous by Harrold Wilson (who always wore a Gannex coat). It was made in the Gannex Mill in Elland, Yorkshire which is now demolished. I sourced the last of this fabric to create two limited editions of 25 hand-stamped and individually numbered cushions, ‘The Harold’ which is navy blue and tartan/plaid and ‘The Duke’ (grey and tartan).
Named after The Duke of Edinburgh who ordered Gannex coats from Harrods for himself, the Queen and the royal corgis which resulted in the firm receiving the Royal Warrant.
This fabric has quite an amazing history which I’ve written about on my blog here:
The second is a collection of 3 digitally printed cushions with beautiful designs inspired by Victorian Calling Cards – These are fascinating pieces of social history often with elaborate decoration loaded with symbolism- hands offering ‘forget-me-not’ flowers being one of the easier ones to decipher. Common amongst the middle and upper classes, how they were used is fascinating too –there were many rules dictating when and how to visit a household to leave a card, what particular message is conveyed by turning up a particular corner of the card and how receiving a card in return placed inside an envelope basically means you’re being given the brush-off.
What are some of your dreams in life?
I’d love to travel to Japan but will wait until my son is a bit older!
Thank you Ellie and talking of Japan, I’m the lucky girl who got this wonderful cushion as a Christmas present.Thank you O. It fits beautifully in the Colourliving abode.
What kind of cushions do you buy? I’d love to know! I have got the Book and it’s totally fab. Happy weekend everyone.