Jenny Sibthorp: how one upholstery class led to a life as a designer

jenny sibthorp, interview, British screen printer

Screen printing is a total treat because it means I can switch off my computer and totally absorb myself in it for a few hours

Jenny Sibthorp used to dream about earning a living by working with her hands, but it was while taking upholstery classes that she realised this dream could actually become a reality. So she moved from London and her job in mental health and addictions back home to Dorset, and started a new life as a textile designer and printmaker. We caught up with Jenny to find out more..

Can you introduce yourself?
Hello! My name is Jenny and I’m a textile designer based in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. I’ve lived in Brighton and London but made the decision to return to where I grew up in 2013 and haven’t looked back. Dorset has a sneaky way of getting under your skin; I sometimes wonder how I stayed away for so long. Living close to my family and my three little nephews and being part of their lives is also something that’s really important to me.

How would you describe what you do? 
I screen print much of my range by hand in my farm studio on to linen and leather, and these designs are made into contemporary homewares and accessories.

what does craft mean to you, jenny sibthorp, craft, screen printer, british craft

How would you describe your aesthetic?
I’m a huge fan of colour, and the bright and the bold. I’m inspired largely by my beautiful surroundings – the Isle of Purbeck is a bit of a gem with a stunning coastline, rolling hills, amazing wildlife, but also anything that might be a bit tongue in cheek. When I first started I was fascinated by the relationship between man and beast, and how this could be portrayed in a fun and different way, hence Lobster Pot and Bass & Hook were born.

Have you always been creative? 
Before I set up my own business I worked for the NHS in London, in mental health and addictions. I took upholstery classes there and it was then that I started to think I might need a career change! Office work never really satisfied me, but I found it really hard to realise my dreams of working with my hands while living in London.

jenny sibthorp, bass and hook cushion, screenprinted cushio

I left London, back to where I grew up in Dorset and felt incredibly inspired to create, draw, print, and basically do anything that meant I’d created something tangible at the end of the day (this included wine making ☺). I tried for about six months to save some money and then went self-employed towards the end of 2013.

Are there any artists or designers you particularly admire?
Edward Lear for whenever I feel like I need a pick me up; his Book of Bosh sits firmly by my desk in the studio. Three favourite people at the moment include, Josephine Noel makes the most incredible ceramics, Amelie Mancini for her prints and Kaye Blegvad who is just an amazing illustrator/jewellery designer.

Who or what else inspires you?
I like to try to see the beauty in everything; I don’t think are many things where I haven’t thought, “Ooh, I wonder if I could turn that into a print!”

jenny sibthorp, screen printed textiles

Can you describe your making process? Do your prints start with a sketch?
Yes, totally. Once I’ve picked a subject I’ll draw from photographs or still life, and I have a vast and ever-growing collection of ancient books that I refer to as well. I then work to simplify the image, while ensuring it’s still recognisable and I’ll be thinking about colours throughout. Then I need to think about the repeat – usually I can tell quite early on if an image is going to lend itself to a structured or more random pattern.

What is it about screen printing that appeals to you?
Screen printing is so instant, so tangible and can be applied in so many settings using so many different materials. The process itself is now a total treat, because it means I can switch off my computer and get away from admin and totally absorb myself in it for a few hours. It’s methodical, repetitive and almost relaxing (depending on how taxing the registration is!).

jenny sibthorp, screen printed textiles, interview

Where do you work?
I’m so lucky to have a beautiful studio on a farm around the corner from my house. It takes me less than two minutes to cycle here. It’s incredibly basic but I have electricity, water and the most incredible views. My back door opens on to a field that currently has the sweetest lambs in. There’s also a highly unsociable resident bat, living up in the rafters.

jenny sibthorp, screen printed textiles

What I love most is given the basic setting I feel like I’m outside, which might sound a bit unusual but I really struggle when I have to be inside for long periods of time! My working habits are also defined by the seasons, and I have to adapt the structure of my day accordingly. Winter here means frozen printers and chilblains, oh the glamour! So over Winter I’ll do my computer based work in the morning at home whilst the studio thaws a bit. Summer’s a bit more dreamy as I can work outside in the field when the lambs let me.

Folksy Printing 3

What’s your most treasured possession?
I am particularly fond of my stuffed pheasant who I picked up at a local fair a few years ago. He’s not the finest example of taxidermy in the world but I think that’s why I like him so much – he looks like he’s lived a little! I am also totally and wholeheartedly attached to the first upholstered piece I did with my own fabric. It’s a Victorian button back nursing chair and I had it listed for sale for a few days before I realised I would be heartbroken to part with it. The chair was also featured by Design*Sponge back in January, which was pretty incredible.

How would you spend your perfect day?
Being outside in the countryside all day long: a good sea swim, a hike to a favourite pub and maybe a BBQ on the beach. These days, I really value the simple things in life, so good company, good food and good views are really all I need to make me happy. Oh and one of my greatest ambitions is to have my own dog, so a day spent with my future dog would be just perfect.

Leather zip purses, jenny sibthorp, printed purses,

What’s the best thing about being a designer-maker?
There are three things that make this job insurmountable to any other in my eyes:

Firstly, getting to meet my customers and see their reaction to my products is so special. I still get so excited by every sale, it’s like a validation of the choices I made all that time ago to change career and take a risk. I’m so grateful.

Secondly, knowing that I’m solely responsible for the success or failure of my business. I guess this could be a negative, but it’s what really spurs me on and I can look back at big achievements and think, I did that!

And finally, the designer-maker community is so good! Everyone I meet has a fascinating story to tell, beautiful products to admire and sometimes if I’m lucky, have crafty swaps with.

Jenny Sibthorp upholstery, lemon print fabric, chair

What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
I think the most important thing is to get it out there! Believe in yourself and your product and remember that mistakes are how you learn and improve. Talk to anyone and everyone about what you’re up to (you just don’t know who they might be or who they might know), ask for advice, listen and be patient – there’s a long road ahead. I always think of myself as sitting on a see-saw and every sale and bit of positive press is a tiny weight on the other end; there’s a tipping point and sometimes it’s so subtle you might miss it, but it’s there. You just have to keep chipping away at it. Being wildly optimistic, thick-skinned and resilient doesn’t hurt either! It’s certainly not an easy path, and you must be prepared to make sacrifices along the way.

What does craft mean to you?
Craft, in my mind, can be simplified as using your hands to create something beautiful, and/or functional. Getting to know your materials, your tools, telling a story and injecting a bit of personality along the way – all of these things feed into the craft and the creation of something that didn’t exist until you’d thought of it.

lobster pot print, jenny sibthrop, handmade washbag

See more in Jenny Sibthorp’s shop >>

To celebrate being a featured maker Jenny is offering 20% off everything in her Folksy shop using the discount code JENNYS20. Valid until Sunday 14 June 2015.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusFacebooktwittergoogle_plus
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusinstagramFacebooktwittergoogle_plusinstagram

1 Comment

  • June 6, 2015

    Ruth Petersen

    Lovely fabrics. I particularly like the lobster one.