Posted 18th Aug 2014
Born in Cornwall, textile designer Poppy Treffry is living her dream creating beautiful freehand machine embroidered crafts made and sold in her home county and in her online shop, helping to support Britain's textile manufacturing industry. We caught up with Poppy to find out more on her love for embroidery and how she got started
Where did your interest in textiles begin?
My family are all creative in different ways so I’ve grown up amongst it. My mum used to knit beautiful fair isle jumpers and I learnt my love and sense of colour from her. I’ve always sketched too, holidays usually involved a fresh sketchbook and sharpened pencils. Textiles wasn’t my first love, I was more interested in print making but discovered that freehand machine embroidery was an effective and relaxed way to create a surface pattern.
When did you learn to freehand machine embroider?
I taught myself to machine embroider with an old machine my granddad had found at a dump – its electrics kept shorting out the power at my dad’s house! For me, I love the way it is so close to sketching and you can cover a surface so quickly. It felt quite natural to me, swapping pencil for the machine needle and then just drawing away. This was back in 2003 after I returned from developing a project for the marketing of indigenous crafts in Guatemala, Central America.
We know you like to use vintage Singer sewing machines, why is that?
I’m a firm believer in simplicity, both in design and in process. For me the vintage Singers are beautiful machines and they work so well, there’s so little to go wrong on them. I do love the tradition behind the machines too, there’s a serial number you can look up on the Singers and find out when their birthdays are and mine are about 80-years-old – think how much they’ve seen and sewn!
What made you decide to start up your own business?
I was a bit unsure about what my future held after my return from Guatemala, but I’d loved the challenges I’d overcome in the jungle when setting up the business there and I had a stash of bags I’d been creating. When a friend volunteered to take them to some local galleries for me I thought why not? See what happens. When the first batch sold quite quickly I saw the possibility to forge a career out of what I loved doing and I went for it.
What inspires your designs?
My designs are very much inspired by everyday life. I like spotting the potential in the usual, so the way a cup of tea can become a repeat print tea towel design with rows of quirky teacups. A rummage through my sketchbooks will throw up the story behind most of my range, from bathers at the jubilee pool to fishing trawlers in Newlyn harbour.
Your products are all made or sourced here in Britain, why is that important to you?
I’m very proud of providing creative employment in my home county of Cornwall and I love that I know who from my team made each and every one of our stitched products. We took the decision quite early on that we wanted our full range to be sourced in Britain and for me it was partly about control, it feels hard to control something that’s happening thousands of miles away, and partly about being proud to be British and wanting to keep our country actively manufacturing. It’s sad the way industries like lace in Nottingham and ceramics in Stoke-on-Trent have decreased to almost nothing, there’s skill and knowledge that could be lost forever if we don’t do something.
Our readers would love to know more about the embroidery courses you run, what do those involve and when are they running?
I’m actually taking a break from courses this year but we plan to run more in 2015 again. The courses are a real introduction to the technique and with quite small groups I can cater to various abilities. Participants spend the morning practising the technique and experimenting and then in the afternoon they create a finished project like a bag or a cushion. It’s amazing what my students have been able to create. It’s best to make sure you’re signed up to receive our newsletter as that will be the first place we let people know about new dates. Click here to sign up.
Do you have any ideas for simple craft projects our readers could try at home?
I always say cushions are a good place to start as the construction can be so simple. Both my books have an array of projects and templates and give you a real introduction to the technique, or I’m also starting to add regular projects to my blog here.
If you’re starting with freehand machine embroidery then I always suggest the most important thing is to relax and not be too precious about neat lines. Embrace the squiggles and always make sure your fabric is hooped to a really taught tension so it’s like a drum skin. Oh, and enjoy!
Visit www.poppytreffry.co.uk to browse Poppy's online shop