Every Wednesday The Folksy Blog will be finding out a little bit more about one of our sellers in this new series called ‘Shop Talk’. This week we’re talking to Stewart from ‘Tree Gems’ (he has some great items for Father’s Day which is on the 20th June!!!)
“Tree Gems – Beauty from the Woods”
When you take a look through this shop it’s easy to see how Stewart happened upon the name ‘Tree Gems’. Each piece is unique and allows the beauty of the wood grain to shine through – this is particularly striking when you realise that the piece in question is actually not just a beautiful pendant but a really useful memory stick – nature and technology very skillfully combined, even a luddite might be pursuaded!
Could you describe your shop?
Although my raw material is wood in its many varieties, I have tried to avoid going down the road of most craft show woodturners. I do have a woodworking lathe, but it’s just one of many tools that I use. Most of the wooden pieces I see at craft shows are turned bowls, clocks, ornamental mushrooms and lightpulls. I believe the things I have on the carefully crafted oak shelves in my Folksy shop are quite a bit different. Yes, some are turned, but equally, they might be hand-carved, left looking like twigs or, in the case of my boxes, jointed in various ways. I do enjoy making things from wood that a traditional cabinetmaker wouldn’t even look at; wood with what is often seen as faults – knots, twisted grain, fungal staining and so on. I do prefer home grown timbers; yew and figured elm or oak especially. If it’s ‘found’ or recycled, so much the better. As for style, the range of things I have made is so wide that it’s difficult to categorise, but I have a tendency towards what might be called rustic, retaining the bark edging on some of my work, especially boxes.
Who will ‘Tree Gems’ appeal to?
Small well finished wooden things do have a really wide appeal. Anyone looking for a gift that’s a little different should find something here. One of my earliest sales was to a young couple in Wales about to be married. They were seeking a pair of wedding rings crafted in wood. They were delighted with what I made them, packaged in a rustic double ring box. I send out all rings that I sell, in a ‘surprise’ wooden box. My memory sticks are frequently bought as gifts, often for menfolk ‘who have everything else’. As well as those currently on display, I have made them as twigs, a golf ball on a tee, clothes pegs and cotton bobbins. Browsers shouldn’t be afraid to ask me if they need something that’s not on show. I can often do a special commission.
Is running Tree Gems your day job?
Running my little shop is by no means a full-time interest. Several years ago I was made redundant after a lifetime in the electricity supply industry. I had the notion of making jewellery & keepsake boxes, and joining the craft fair circuit. As soon as my extended family recognised my skills, there was a whole queue of requests such as: Can you just make me a bedroom suite in sycamore, a seven foot elm dining table; an unfitted kitchen with an eight foot oak dresser and many many more. I also made smaller things that we gave as birthday and Christmas gifts, as well as ‘cluttering up’ our home, but I never did get around to the craft fairs.
I’m extremely lucky in that there is no pressure on me to do my craft work. It’s an extension of the hobby that I love. I go to my workshop when I feel like it. I’m fully supported by my wife in what I do, and I support her in her passion for knitting. She has no issue over my growing stash of wood, and I have none over her mounting wool stash. Erm, what was the question, oh yes, do I work elsewhere? Yes and no; our days are filled with the things that retired folks do. I’m the Honorary Curator of the local Folk Museum in Hornsea. I’m also a keen family history researcher, having started in 1985, and no nearer the end; there is no end. I stumble along trying to play guitar and ukulele, and our lovely grandchildren give us enormous pleasure.
Have you been into craft and the handmade lifestyle for long?
Although I only signed on to Folksy just over 12 months ago, I have always “made stuff” from being a child. I enjoyed my woodwork class at high school, and won the school Handicraft prize at ‘O’ Level. Throughout the years of raising a family though, my woodworking was practical rather than artistically creative. But my DIY was always ‘proper’ DIY, starting with raw materials rather than buying self-assembly kits. As I said, “Mrs Tree Gems” and I encourage each other in our respective crafts, and there is invariably one craft or another happening here most days.
When you’re not selling online where do you promote and sell your stock?
I don’t have outlets other than Folksy. Certainly, up to Christmas, sales were as much as I wanted them to be. I’m happy as long as things keep ticking over and paying for my consumables (glue and sandpaper!). That, plus something towards eventual replacement of tools and machinery.
Do you have plans to expand your business in the future?
I’ve been happy with how things are running without pushing much. Having said that, sales have been a little too slow of late. I have quite a few ideas for products, but with my preference for “things that can be held in the hand” rather than Welsh dressers etc., my stock of timber is going to last a lifetime! (Image shows a chess piece memory stick)
What advice would you give to someone thinking about opening up a shop here on Folksy?
I have been delighted with over 100 sales in a year. I have done very little marketing; don’t have a personal website or blog. Although I signed up to Twitter and Facebook, I rarely tweet(!) or do whatever I’m supposed to do on Facebook. So, I’m doubtful that I’m qualified to give advice to newcomers. Those approaches are, however, regularly acknowledged as being beneficial. I would definitely say it’s a good idea to seek out a niche product. Search for ‘beads’ or ‘jewellery’ on Folksy and you’ll come up with nearly 12,000 results. That’s a lot of competition.
We’d love to hear your comments!