Tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi there, I’m Christen and I live with my husband and two little girls in Port Melbourne. I grew up in Warrandyte (in the bush about 45 minutes from Melbourne) and after moving around quite a bit I’m thrilled to have ended up in a place where seagulls fly over my house and I can walk to the beach or city. Before I had kids I was a lawyer in a large commercial law firm in Canberra. Loved the people but the rest not so much. So when all our stars aligned and we moved to live in Rome for three years, I chucked it in. I had the time of my life in Rome and basically just swanned around shopping at amazing fresh food markets, visiting art galleries and Roman ruins and learning Italian. Yep, it was truly la dolce vita! I had my first baby, Sophia, there (that in itself was quite the experience) and I remain TOTALLY obsessed with Italy. I miss Rome terribly but feel I’m on the mend as I only cry with nostalgia about once a week now!
Can you explain your craft/art and the material you like to use? I make accessories for little girls but have discovered that I am selling just as many pieces to grown up girls! At the moment my focus is on making my fabric and felt hairclips and brooches and my 1950s-style sun visors. My main materials are cotton fabrics and gorgeous fair trade wool felt from Nepal. I do lots of hand stamping on muslin for my clips. I love a good stamp. I also have 7 drawers jam packed full of crafty bits and bobs so I’m basically prepared for whatever crafty mood takes me. For the next 50 years. I’ve also developed the requisite fabric obsession and could probably clothe the entire population of Tasmania with my fabric stash.
Where do you get your inspiration and what is your creative process? It sounds corny but I really do derive inspiration from everything around me. Since I’ve started creating stuff, I notice colours, textures and patterns everywhere I go. I also find looking at art so nourishing and uplifting and love to flick through the books I brought back from Italy with me. It’s not as if I then go off and create a renaissance-inspired piece (sun visor in red velvet and gold brocade anyone?) but I find it just gets ideas flowing. I take more modern inspiration from the many craft and design blogs that I subscribe to and read pretty much religiously. There are some absolutely amazing people making stuff and blogging about it out there. Quite awe inspiring.
My creative process is really as simple as contemplating the materials I have and trying to come up with new ways to use them. Many of what I consider my best ideas have popped into my head either while I’m in the shower, drying my hair (a long process) or feeding Olive. I suppose these are the times when I’m not necessarily occupied with the other demands of the day and can really let my mind roam without interruption.
How long have you been creating and how did you get into craft/art? Well, they say necessity is the mother of invention and Sophia’s baby mohawk hair necessitated firm action. I searched high and low for clips I liked that would stay in her fine hair but everything I found was just too pink and fluffy for me. So I went and bought a few pieces of fabric I liked and then started experimenting with fabric and glue and after a few failed attempts, managed to come up with some clips in the fabrics I liked. Things just went on from there.
The funny thing is, until I made my first hairclip for Sophia 4 years or so ago, I really did assume that the creative gene that ran through all the women on my mum’s side in particular had skipped me. I always played piano and studied languages though school and uni but that was really the extent of any kind of right brain activities. In hindsight, the demands of studying for such a long time and then working in a high pressure job I think meant that I just didn’t have any space for anything else in my life. When I was pregnant with my second baby, Olive, I was bitten really badly with the crafty bug. I’m as shocked as anyone really that the creative drive didn’t recede, as I had thought it might, with the hormonal surges of pregnancy! In fact, Olive has just turned one and if anything, my urge to create is just getting stronger and stronger. I’m not really sure how I ever lived without art and craft and in my life.
How did you come up with your business name? Betty was my beloved Grandmother. She was an extraordinarily strong and sweet woman and she influenced me enormously. She used to tell me stories about my Grandfather, Edgar, twirling her around the dance floor at the Palais de Danse in St Kilda when they were in their twenties. I think it’s an achingly romantic image and I was always drawn to the poignancy of the fact they knew nothing of the impending war that took Edgar overseas for 7 years. When they were dancing it was just Betty and Eddo and the hope of a future full of love and promise.
What resources 'have or do you' use to help your creative pursuits (i.e. groups, classes, shops, websites etc)?
I source most of my supplies online, buying from fellow crafters where I can and often emerging hours later from a mission to find new supplies in a kind of delirious, internet induced fog.
I also subscribe to LOTS of blogs (a little tip: if you like to read lots of blogs, Google Reader will change your life) and I’ve been led to the most amazing tutorials, suppliers and general handmade inspiration through these. There are lots of people in the blogosphere who are extraordinarily generous in terms of sharing their time and skills.
I source my wool felt from a great shop in South Melbourne that has direct links to the fair trade factory where the felt is hand made in Nepal. That makes me feel good.
What's your best advice for someone starting up?
Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and don’t compromise it. Be prepared to work hard and be brave! I can’t tell you how many deep breaths I’ve had to take before I pressed send on emails sending examples of my work to people.
Don’t discount any creative ideas, jot them all down.
Be lovely to your customers. I can’t stress how important this is. Bad customer service makes me incandescent with rage. Luckily its extremely rare in the handmade world. Apart from just being the decent thing to do, going that extra mile for customers will make them much more likely to provide repeat business as well as recommend you to other people.
Without wanting to sound too trite, I think the most important thing is to keep following your passion and do what makes you happy and nourishes you. I know this is so weird but I once read a Leunig cartoon that summed this up and it changed my life. In the cartoon, a fellow has buried his soul so deep down in himself that his feet have swollen up with it! One day he finally realises that he needs to nourish his soul rather than trying to ignore it and as a mark of respect he goes barefoot for ever more! In all seriousness, this cartoon inspired me to quit my job and move to Rome! Don’t ignore what your soul needs.
Do you have any advertising/promotion tips for sellers to be successful? I don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to about this. Self promotion is actually something I (and I think lots of people in the handmade world) find really hard. I am studiously trying to overcome my reluctance though because if you don’t take appropriate opportunities to promote yourself then you’re not doing the best by yourself or your business.
There are some brilliant biz resources out there for new handmade start up businesses. Sites like oneprettything.com have regular roundups of crafty business articles full of invaluable tips.
Everyone says blogs are a great way to drive sales to your business. In fact, an article I read recently by Diane Gilleland of craftyPod.com argued that your blog won’t drive people to your shop, but it will drive people to you. I agree wholeheartedly with that view. Sales will hopefully follow later as people get to know more about you through your blog (and recommend it to all their friend because you’re so scintillating and witty!). Once you’ve engaged with people they will be more likely to want to look at what you create and perhaps buy a little bit of “you”. Imperative to this is that you are passionate about what you make and do and use your blog to make genuine contributions to the crafty world rather than just trying to get people into your shop. Don’t underestimate your blog readers. They can smell a hard sell a mile off and they will run away. Screaming. You can pop over to my blog here.
Can you share any lessons that you have learned the hard way? Don’t try to do it all. I made the mistake of trying to set up my business, be a great mum to a 3 year old and a newborn, keep the house clean, cook healthy meals, make every gift a handmade one, exercise, meditate, study and find some time for myself whilst being fully present in every moment. Ridiculous. Just writing that exhausts me. And I did exhaust myself. I’m learning to let the unimportant stuff, like the washing and dishes, slide. I’m still not great at doing that and continue to try to do too much but I pull myself up short by reminding myself I won’t get this time when the girls are little back. Dishes or laughing with the kids? Easy decision.
What do you like to do besides creating? I love cooking and reading food mags, studying Italian and hanging out with my family. We’re lucky enough to have a large extended family and I love it when we all get together. It’s freaky but we all get on really well.
What is your favourite music, television show, film, book, website? Music
I am a total Top 40 tragic when it comes to music. 10 Million Fireflies anyone? Is that even the name of the song?
I’m currently lamenting that Season 3 of True Blood is only in the filming stage and I have a long wait ahead of me before that’s released. Also, Rex in Rome. This has to be the worst and yet the best show on tv. I can’t believe anyone but me (ie, a Rome addict looking for a visual fix) actually watches it.
Oh gosh I don’t know if I can admit this (*takes deep breath*) but my favourite film is...Titanic. I’m sorry, but that scene where Leo drifts away into the dark water gives me goose bumps. I even love the soundtrack. Is anyone still reading after that? Hope so!
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Katzantzakis. I love it for so many reasons but mainly because it’s a tale about seizing life with two hands and it’s set in one of my favourite places on earth, Crete.
Seriously too many to mention.
What would be your perfect day?
A sleep in after which the kids are delivered to me cleaned and watered and ready to go. Brunch somewhere local then shopping at South Melbourne market and browsing fabric and craft supplies for an hour or two. A movie in the afternoon then drinks in the city and dinner with my husband at a lovely restaurant. Returning home, we would discover we had won tatts and would stay up late packing our bags for our trip back to Italy. On that airline that has sky nannies.
Who is one of your favourite madeit seller, explain why in less than 10 words? Ensparkle Ceramics - Clean, clever design