Shelagh Pickford is the creative force, storyteller and self-proclaimed ‘messy to the point of being dangerous’ maker behind Flossie Limejuice. Her textile creations have a folk art spirit, to which she adds a good dose of whimsy, characterisation and humour. We caught up with Shelagh and found that it all began with a pair of cardboard and string flip-flops, aged four…
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?
Hello, I’m Shelagh and I live and work in an Georgian cottage that had links to the textile industry, with my husband, youngest son, and two dippy dogs. I was born in Lancashire but grew up in Devon. I then moved to Yorkshire and married my husband – who is my glamorous assistant at makers’ fairs.
Where does the name Flossie Limejuice come from?
Flossie Limejuice was the name my Mother-in-Law gave to a soft toy rabbit she had bought for my youngest son. I always loved the name, so that’s where it came from. I still have the little rabbit.
What was the first thing you ever made?
The first thing I can remember making was a pair of cardboard and string flip-flops at the age of four – I was desperate for a pair but my mother had refused to buy any for me as they were bad for the feet. I made two pairs in total and only stabbed myself once with scissors, and continued being a maker from there on in.
You originally worked as a graphic designer. What made you move to textiles?
I’ve always loved fabric and spent more time making clothes for my dolls than actually playing with them when I was small. The change from graphic design to textiles took a long, tortuous route. When motherhood beckoned, computers were just beginning to be used in graphics, so by the time I was ready to go back to work I was at a major disadvantage. As graphic design had previously been ‘hands on’, I also realised that I didn’t want to sit behind a computer all day. I eventually managed to get an ‘arty job’ that didn’t involve using a computer and did that for a number of years until I became ill and reverted back to doing all sorts at home – portraits, murals, altering clothes and making the odd pair of curtains.
At that point I started painting watercolour landscapes and sold them at the occasional craft fair. I also started making primitive/country style appliqué and patchwork mini-quilts and ended up selling those too (ridiculously cheaply). This reawakened my love of fabric, but I realised the quilts were too time consuming, so I did a bit of research, bought a couple of primitive doll patterns, made them up, was thoroughly disgruntled with them and started to making my own patterns, which I sold at fairs along with my paintings. I was then offered a job teaching art and craft in adult education – I was just about to sign on the dotted line when I panicked and realised that if I took the job I probably wouldn’t make another thing. So I turned it down and became Flossie Limejuice!
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Quirky, odd, naive, whimsical. My aim is to bring a smile!
Are you influenced by particular artists or periods?
Janet Bolton and Julie Arkell are probably the most influential artists – I just love their folk art style. But my parents had a massive influence on me – my mother sewed and knitted and my father did everything from painting to making furniture. I think my favourite period is the 1940s – I love the clothes and the inventiveness of the ‘make do and mend’ era.
One of the things I love most about your work is that it tells a story. Have you always loved storytelling?
Yes, I’ve always loved books and stories. I’ve written children’s stories too, always in poetry form and always with a happy ending. I did send a couple to a big publisher and got the best rejection letter ever! I haven’t done anything with them since – but I may try again, one day.
If you could recommend one book you think everyone should read what would it be and why?
It’s difficult to pick just one book but probably A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens because it’s so evocative of the period and each time I read it I find something that I missed before.
Where do you work? Can you describe your studio?
I actually work in the living room and in the kitchen. I machine sew at an old Victorian serving table and then for stuffing and finishing the dolls, I build a nest on the sofa. Papier-mâché and painting, the messy stuff, is carried out in the kitchen. I originally worked in the dining room, but the light is poor and I’m incredibly untidy, to the point of being dangerous, so I’ve left the dining room to just storage and photography now (light tent and lights are a permanent fixture on the table) and occasionally dining!
You have an impressive collection of old sewing machines. How did that begin?
My eldest son bought me the 1919 Singer that I use all the time, really as a decorative object, but at the same time my electric machine shuffled off its electrical coil. I started to use the Singer and found that if the fabric will go under the foot, it will just sew without changing the tension or needle. I was amazed and that was the start of my love affair with old sewing machines. The oldest I have is from about 1860 and the newest about 1937. I also have a treadle but haven’t mastered the foot work yet and I also have an electric machine which I use for free-hand embroidery.
You collect tins too. How many do you now have in your collection and is there a favourite?
I probably have about 60 vintage tins and my favourite is the one pictured below on the left, with the mouse peeking out. This was my mother’s button tin and contains, among others, buttons cut from my childhood clothing. It’s a bit of a memory tin.
Can you talk us through your creative process? How do you start?
I usually start with a rough sketch if it’s textile (and likewise for papier-mâché, although sometimes I will just go for it). I’ll then draft a pattern, tweak it until it looks right, cut it out, lay it on the fabric and draw round the pattern – that’s the stitching line. I then machine stitch on the drawn line and cut it out. It’s much easier and more accurate if you do it that way and especially if you’re making something small. In my sofa nest I then stuff and do all the hand stitching and finishing.
With papier-mâché, I start with a cardboard, paper and masking tape armature and then cover it with torn strips from an old book, glued with undiluted PVA, which gives it a tough coating but can be tricky to do as it becomes sticky really quickly!
The best part for me is the painting because at this stage I can experiment and if it doesn’t work out I can paint over it and start again.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
Hand stitching and finishing, which is the point when the doll becomes ‘real’.
If your dolls could talk, what stories would they tell?
Maybe they would talk about the little scenarios that I place them in before I make them or what a disorganised, untidy and chaotic maker I am!