Meet the Maker: Kirsty Hartley from Wild Things
Designer and maker Kirsty Hartley started her business Wild Things in 2011 as a ‘happy distraction’ from domestic life with three small children. It has since grown to become one of the most successful and inspiring handmade businesses in the UK. We caught up with Kirsty to find out how she went from a making a mouse dress for her daughter’s first day at school to making her very own book…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I’m Kirsty Hartley, designer and craft author. I run the children’s clothing and lifestyle brand Wild Things. I create wearable everyday cool clothes for kids, which inspire fun and imagination, handmade here in the UK and sold worldwide. My first book Wild Things: Funky Little Clothes To Sew has just been published. The book aims to encourage makers both experienced and new to sewing to have fun creating heirloom-quality clothes for their own little ones.
Wild Things is a culmination of my past career as a children’s product and textile designer, design lecturer and constant maker. It started as a happy distraction from domestic life with three young children, but quickly evolved into something far more substantial and demanding.
Have you always been a maker?
I’m a prolific maker, and always have been. I’ve been fascinated by working with fabrics since I was young, and my passion became firmly rooted as a teenager when I started making outfits for a big night out ahead. I had my first sewing machine at 11, and I had a mum who had always sewn to guide me. I love to create and especially – as any good designer does – to create with purpose.
When did you make your first product to sell and what was it?
For Wild Things, my first memorable product was my mouse dress. It’s a simple A-line dress with an integrated yoke, designed using a bit of plain grey cord. The image of my daughter taken on her first day of school (yes she went to school with painted whiskers and nose) went ‘viral’!
The image of my daughter wearing her Mouse Dress was taken on her first day of school (yes she went to school with painted whiskers and nose) and went ‘viral’!
Did you always know what Wild Things would be or did it evolve over time?
Wild Things was a culmination of my past career as a children’s product and textile designer, design lecturer and constant maker. It started in June 2011 as a happy distraction from domestic life with three young children, but it quickly evolved into something far more substantial and demanding. I’ve worked as a freelancer and entrepreneur throughout my working life, and I saw there there was a demand for children’s clothes made with a little more heart and soul, not mass produced, and made here in the UK. Working on a small scale has allowed me to develop new designs organically.
I saw there there was a demand for children’s clothes made with a little more heart and soul, not mass produced, and made here in the UK.
When did you know Wild Things had taken off?
I knew Wild Things had taken off when I knew I needed help! To begin with I worked closely with a sample maker, and we worked side by side. Creating a balance for everyone involved was really important. As creative makers it’s important for us to keep what we do manageable and contained so we can remain creative and enjoy our craft.
Where do your design ideas come from?
Watching my children develop though play and drawing has really helped me decide on certain designs, and I often run the ideas by my two daughters as I’m working. For example, I added full-skirt dresses to my range because this was all my youngest dancing daughter wanted to wear. I’ve found that simple shapes and imagery work really well, and they’re great conversational pieces for a parent and child. Children love the quirkiness of Wild Things clothes. As a textile designer, I love pattern and colour, and working with a simple appliqué technique has allowed me to add this simply to clothes. My new print designs are equally as bold, and with the addition of digital print, the possibilities are endless.
With the book I wanted to create something new for children, and inspire makers of all abilities to create something exciting for their children that they will really want to wear. I really want this book to add a spark of adventure to everyday clothes.
Your first book, Wild Things: Funky Little Clothes To Sew, is on the shelves of actual bookshops! That must be really exciting. Can you tell us more about your book and how it came about?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to secure a two-book publishing deal with Orion Publishing. Orion Publishing actually approached me after seeing Wild Things featured in the press and in magazines. Following the success of the brand, we both felt confident there was a new wave of makers looking for inspiration to start to sew for themselves, so I worked on a proposal for the book. Doing the book feels like a natural progression for me, but it’s also a great honour to be recognised for what I do, and I’ve been lucky to work with a great publishing team and agent.
With the book I wanted to create something new for children, so the aim of Wild Things: Funky Little Clothes To Sew is to inspire makers of all abilities to create something exciting for their children that they will really want to wear. All the shapes are pretty simple, and I created step-by-step projects that are hopefully easy to follow! I took themes like enchanted woodland, and created tutorials where you can sew a Red Riding Hood Cape and Mr Wolf jacket, as well as cute kids’ outfits like a baby mouse dress. I really want this book to add a spark of adventure to everyday clothes.
My design heroes are children’s illustrators and authors, like Maurice Sendak. I also love the simplicity of Scandinavian design and simple blocked colour.
You’ve been one of our design heroes for a while now, but who are your heroes?
I’m inspired less by other designers and more by children’s illustrators and authors. Maurice Sendak, of course, and by simple imagery, especially children’s illustration from the ’60s and ’70s. I also love the simplicity of Scandinavian design and simple blocked colour.
Can you describe your workspace? Where is it and what is in it?
I work from a home studio, so I have everything in there – fabric, sewing machines, a cutting table and my desk – plus endless bits of inspiration.
Is there anything in there that you couldn’t live without?
I use an ‘old school’ Brother Exedra sewing machine, which I’ve had for many years. Of course, new domestic machines have a greater flexibility with stitches and finish, but I’m a creature of habit and I love the finish I get with this industrial model. I’m also lost without my Apple iPhone 6. It’s a must for social media, as well as managing my day in general.
I use an ‘old school’ Brother Exedra sewing machine, which I’ve had for many years. Of course, new domestic machines have a greater flexibility with stitches and finish, but I’m a creature of habit
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
Being creative for a living can be hugely rewarding. The work-life balance can sometimes be tricky with three young children, but I feel closer to their lives working this way.
How does it feel to be part of the UK craft scene?
I feel incredibly lucky to be part of an era of makers, designers and crafters working to keep fundamental but dying craft skills alive. Sewing has traditionally been passed down through generations, but as a design lecturer I noticed how fewer new students could actually sew. We had become a nation of upcyclers and forgotten how to cut and sew a beautiful garment from scratch.
To sell your work you need to understand the demand for what you make, and see a point of difference in what you do. Aim to innovate, not replicate.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Firstly, research your market and know your skill. To sell your work you need to understand the demand for what you make, and see a point of difference in what you do. Aim to innovate, not replicate. Know your audience. Selling on a platform such as Folksy allows you to create a simple shop and brand image, and guides you though the necessary detail and policies to make your business viable from small beginnings into a more established business.
Selling on a platform such as Folksy helps guides you from small beginnings to a more established business.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft for me means working with my hands, imagination and skill to create something for the moment.
One of my favourite pieces is my spectrum rainbow dress. It’s such a simple versatile shape, yet the colour and simplicity put a smile on my face when I see anyone wearing it.
If you had to choose a favourite piece that you’ve made, what would it be and why?
One of my favourite pieces is my spectrum rainbow dress. It’s such a simple versatile shape, yet the colour and simplicity put a smile on my face when I see anyone wearing it. It’s made from a digitally printed design, engineered to fit the shape of the dress pattern, and printed locally (always shop local wherever you can!). The design of the dress is based on a rainbow umbrella and raindrops – a nod to the good old British weather!