Tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Jennie Barnes and I'm the chief designer, maker and dogsbody for Mrs Beckinsale. I'm married to an Englishman and we have a lovely red-haired son plus another bub on the way. We live in Northcote in Melbourne's northern suburbs. I use our house's master bedroom as my studio - it's large but has very poor lighting and yellow walls, and half of it is devoted to a playspace for my toddler!
Can you explain your craft/art and the material you like to use? My craft is Melbourne-themed and created using textiles. My 'W Class' range is inspired by Melbourne's iconic old trams and includes appliqued cushions, screenprinted teeshirts and cards and hand-stitched felt badges. I'm also developing a 'Marvellous Melbourne' range using images and style from the 1880's - so far the range includes covered journals and handbags.
Where do you get your inspiration and what is your creative process? I'm inspired by Melbourne's European architecture, which I hadn't appreciated until I'd visited Europe. There really is a lot of beauty right where we live. My creative process usually task place lying in bed at night, and I can't get to sleep until I've figured out every detail of my construction method and the finished product.
How long have you been creating and how did you get into craft/art? Like many crafters I started off sewing for my Barbie dolls. I was often given latch hook and long stitch kits as birthday presents and still have some of the finished projects lying around. I learned to use a sewing machine and read dress patterns in Textile Technology classes in high school, and after that I made it up as I went along. A few years ago I studied pattern making with Dragana Edwards and was running a home dressmaking business - mostly I was sewing for bridesmaids, very dull and with a lot of client-related frustrations. After my son was born I started visiting craft markets and found the idea of craft, rather than dressmaking, very appealing - no fittings for a start! I developed the idea for my W Class Cushions, had my first market stall in May 2009 and opened my Made It shop the next week. In March 2010 I joined Olive Grove Studios in Brunswick, a collective where makers pay rent on a shopfront and each keep the profits of their sales. Between Olive Grove and Made It I'm reaching a diverse audience and keeping very busy!
How did you come up with your business name? When I started doing craft markets I was still using my dressmaking business's name, which had no relevance to my crafts. The Market Development Coordinator at Craft Victoria advised me to choose a business name that was personal to who I am, but generic enough to be applied to my tram theme, my next craft range or even if I returned to dressmaking. The name Mrs Beckinsale came to me pretty quickly - it's what my married name would be if I took my husband's surname! I like the contrast of the traditional, conservative sound of Mrs with the quirky, feminist nature of the indie craft movement.
What resources 'have or do you' use to help your creative pursuits (i.e. groups, classes, shops, websites etc)?
A few years ago I studied pattern making with Dragana Edwards - seven terms of a few hours a week. Learning from a teacher rather than a book or figuring things out on my own was a wonderful experience, as I'd never had formal sewing lessons before (apart from high school). Markets are a great place to meet other craftspeople and talk about what you've been working on and different directions you could take it in. I'm a co-founder of Northside Makers, a group which has run our own markets and is now looking at forging new ways that local craftspeople can support each others' businesses and develop creative ideas.
What's your best advice for someone starting up?
My view of running a craft business is fairly cynical but I think it's important to be honest with yourself. Be realistic about how much "fun" it will be to try to get a return on investment from your hobby. Don't expect a craft business to give you a $50,000 income working 35 hours a week - if that's what you're after, go back to the office where you'll be given holiday pay and super as well. Trying to make a profit from craft involves no time or energy for personal projects, late nights uploading photos to Made It and early mornings driving to markets - and for a lot less money than you'd get as an employee! If you're determined to not outsource your making to other people and your craft is labour intensive, you need to recognise the limit of how much stock your business can produce - you can't sell products you don't have time to make.
Do you have any advertising/promotion tips for sellers to be successful?
I'm a bit of a poor example as far as marketing goes as I've had a lot of opportunities fall into my lap. Saying that, those opportunities have only been presented to me because I've worked very hard on creating a unique, well-made product. Listing my cushions on Made It led to them being featured in an email mail-out, read by the staff at Frankie, who then featured my cushions in their mag which resulted in more Made It sales. Applying for a stall at Craft Victoria's Craft Hatch market led to one of their curators recommending me to a stylist doing a Melburnia feature, which resulted in my cushions appearing in The Age's M Magazine. I didn't make any particular efforts at promoting my cushions in a special way but I did have a great product and I put it in places where influential people found it. If I'd been making them half-heartedly and only putting them on my blog none of these opportunities would have occurred.
Can you share any lessons that you have learned the hard way? When I started my craft business having my work stocked in shops felt like the pinnacle of achievement. I sought out and quickly found a shop all too happy to buy my cushions at a wholesale price. I felt good that they ordered so many, but while I worked to fill the shop's orders I was missing opportunities to sell cushions directly to customers at markets and online, at full price. I had to accept that my business is simply too small to offer wholesale, especially when I've got people lining up to buy from me directly. I might consider wholesaling again in the future, but only for items I can produce very quickly in bulk amounts.
What do you like to do besides creating? I waste too much time on Facebook, I take my son to the playground two or three times a day and I go to bed early. When I have the energy I read.
What is your favourite music, television show, film, book, website?
I love David Bowie, Jens Lekman, Blondie and an eclectic range of pop from the 60s to around 2006 - I have no knowledge of music after that year.
On telly I love Peep Show, Project Runway, 30 Rock and Doctor Who.
One of my favourite films is Hedwig & The Angry Inch, which features wild drag costumes, a heartbreaking love story and some of the best songwriting I've ever heard. Books I read repeatedly are Pride & Prejudice, Of Human Bondage, The Great Gatsby and What A Carve Up.
What would be your perfect day?
First I'd take delivery of made-to-order jewellery and clothing from Melbourne makers Katzinka, Ali Alexander, Peta Pledger and Anthony Capon. I'd then visit New York's Costume Institute at the Met Museum and gawp at the amazing costume and fashion. Next I'd go to Parsons to be guest judge on a very special edition of Project Runway, in which all the judges from the US and Australian series' have to creature a couture dress in twelve hours. Myself and fellow judges Austin Scarlet, Laura Bennett and terrifying Santino Rice would use phrases like "It looks homemade" and "That hemline is unacceptable" while the judge-designers whimpered about how hard the challenge was and they didn't have enough time. Tim Gunn would then take us to dinner at a shamefully expensive restaurant where we'd be joined by David Bowie, who'd serenade us between courses. When I got home I'd find magical elves had done all my sewing and I had time for a week's holiday with my family. The perfect day!
Who is one of your favourite madeit seller, explain why in less than 10 words? TramFriends – have delightful felt accessories and of course I love their name