Meet the Maker: Lizzie Mabley from My Blue Shed
Lizzie Mabley from My Blue Shed is a textile designer based in the Cotswolds who creates beautiful fabrics and homeware that draw inspiration from nature, her garden and her love of the coast. Like many other makers, Lizzie’s creative business started at her kitchen table, working around her children, but as her confidence grew she moved from her kitchen to a (blue) garden shed and then into her own studio. Lizzie talks to fellow Folksy seller and textile designer Elizabeth Ballon at E.Ballon Design about her work, the importance of sustainability to her business and the joy of being able to create digitally printed fabric by the metre alongside hand-printed textiles…
Lizzie is offering a 10% discount on her textiles and homeware while she is our featured maker. Just add the code FOLKSY10 when you check out. This offer is valid until midnight on Sunday 1 September 2019. Click here to shop My Blue Shed on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/myblueshed
I realised that I needed creativity in my life – I felt as if, without a creative outlet, I wasn’t really me.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
Could you introduce yourself and tell us how you started your surface and homeware design business?
Hi Elizabeth. A little over 20 years ago I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Textile Design and Surface Decoration – it seems crazy that it was so long ago! I then got (happily) sidetracked and worked in an office for a few years, before getting married and having my two children, who are now 15 and 17. However, I realised that I needed creativity in my life – I felt as if, without a creative outlet, I wasn’t really me. So I started lino printing on my kitchen table, just cards and tea towels to begin with, as it was something I could do with small children around. Well, I was bitten by the bug and I haven’t stopped printing since.
My little business has grown organically and fits in well with everything else life throws my way.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
I began selling my designs at any local fairs I could find and took a stall at our local farmers’ market. As my small business became more established, I moved from my kitchen table into my garden studio: My Blue Shed. Eventually I felt confident enough to rent a small studio at Victoria Works Studios in Chalford. I’ve since moved into a bigger studio and my product range now includes hand-printed and digitally printed fabrics, cushions, lampshades and gifts. My little business has grown organically and fits in well with everything else life throws my way.
When people visit my studio, they often say it’s a happy place, fresh and cheerful.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
Does your creative business have a particular ethos?
I suppose my personal ethos has always been ‘family first’ but now my children don’t need me at home so much, that balance can shift, and my business can grow. In terms of my design ethos, I love my work to make people smile. When people visit my studio, they often say it’s a happy place, fresh and cheerful. That makes me happy and reminds me why I love what I do.
I’m a passionate gardener and so plants and flowers always sneak into my designs.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
You have such lovely printed fabrics. Where do you find your inspiration? Is there anything in particular inspiring you right now?
Block printing is experiencing a huge resurgence right now, but obviously it has been around forever. I love the work of printers like Marthe Armitage, Angie Lewin and mid-century artists like Lucienne Day. I always love to find out how a piece of art is made, and lino prints are so recognisable, it’s easy to spot a fabric that started life as a lino print. My inspiration is literally everywhere – I find pattern all over the place. That said, nature is a massive influence. I’m a passionate gardener and so plants and flowers always sneak into my designs. I also love a bit of fun and quirkiness, which shows up in my dodo and fish for example. My recent ‘Alpina’ collection was based around an old sketch I did years ago. I do like to look back at old sketch books with fresh eyes. Currently, I’m trying to re-visit some of my older lino blocks that didn’t make it as far as fabric. I have a paisley design that has so much potential, hopefully I will have a collection based around that ready for Christmas.
My recent ‘Alpina’ collection was based around an old sketch I did years ago. I do like to look back at old sketch books with fresh eyes.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
How do you design your prints?
All my designs start life as drawings in my sketchbook. I then use tracing paper to play around with the shapes and create a design that I am happy with. I transfer the design to lino and carve it out – this part is so satisfying. I use traditional grey lino which smells and feels lovely due to the natural oils in it. After test printing and tweaking, I create a mood board of colour ideas and set the scene so I can get a feel for where and how the finished fabric might be used. Once I am happy with my colour choices, I take it to off to a very clever textile designer friend who scans it and uses photoshop to colour the print. I then have a digital file that I can send off to my fabric printer.
Some designs I transfer to silk screen rather than making a digital version. I love screen printing, so I don’t think I will ever go completely digital. I print my lino on to acetate and then, using a very home made method, I simply use the sun to expose it on a screen with a light-sensitive emulsion. I whooped for joy the first time I did this successfully – and the first screen is still going strong some six years on! My favourite hand-printed pieces include my Handsome Dodo, Mackerel, Bumble Bee and Crab, they can be found on cushions, tea towels, lampshades and tote bags.
Which practice do you prefer – hand printing or working with digitally printed fabric?
I adore hand printing – nothing beats the moment when you lift the screen or peel away the paper to reveal the print. It’s so satisfying. Carving lino is also a wonderful and therapeutic process, I can easily lose a few hours doing it. The fact that each print comes out slightly different appeals to me and often imperfection is best.
I’m not very tech-savvy, so it’s a bit of a miracle for me to send off a digital file and receive a lovely piece of fabric in the post.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
The beauty of digital print is how accessible it is. My studio is quite small, so printing longer lengths of fabric would be difficult. The quality of digital print is great and it’s really fun to see my design repeated across a large piece of fabric. I also love the fact that I can order as little or as much as I like. Digital print is a very eco-friendly process – it uses no water and no ink gets washed away. I’m not very tech-savvy, so it’s a bit of a miracle for me to send off a digital file and receive a lovely piece of fabric in the post.
Which do I prefer? It’s hard to choose but at the end of the day I think it is probably hand printing because I’m involved in the whole process from start to finish.
I really like making lampshades. I love the way a piece of fabric transforms from something soft and floppy to a rigid structure.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
Do you have a favourite piece to make?
I really like making lampshades. I love the way a piece of fabric transforms from something soft and floppy to a rigid structure. I am quite quick now and can make a 30cm drum in about half an hour. I also love to make my cosmetic bags – they’re functional, useful and pretty!
I am a bit of a collector of old furniture and can’t resist a lonely looking chair. I love giving old, tired pieces a lick of paint and a new life.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
Did you always want to design homewares and interiors?
I think so yes… I am a real home maker and I love to tackle an interior project. I probably read too many interiors magazines! I’ve always been a keen maker of cushions and curtains. I am a bit of a collector of old furniture too and can’t resist a lonely looking chair. I love giving old, tired pieces a lick of paint and a new life.
Sustainability is very important, and my work sometimes acts as a reminder that we must take care of our world.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
Nature clearly inspires your prints and you use eco-friendly processes. How important is sustainability to your practice?
I love my environment. I’m a country girl at heart and so, of course, observation of nature is key in my work. I cannot be without my plants and flowers and all the insects that join them. My inks are water-based and non-toxic and, as I mentioned before, the digital printing process is clean and produces minimal waste. Sustainability is very important, and my work sometimes acts as a reminder that we must take care of our world – my Bumble Bee cushion is a good example. I try to print on linens and use organic cottons whenever I can. I dislike waste, so try to keep it at a minimum and any scraps big enough get made into little purses!
Craftmanship seems to be at the centre of your beautiful designs and you share these skills by teaching lino printing. Does teaching offer a new perspective on your own work?
Absolutely, yes! I really like teaching my workshops and find them so inspiring. I love sharing my creative skills. It’s very fulfilling. It’s wonderful when a room full of students leave with a bundle of things they’ve made and a smile on their faces. It’s always exciting to see what ideas they come up with or how they use my existing lino blocks in a different way, creating their own patterns.
I do have fun creating my designs. I tend to create my quirky ideas on a whim… I’m waiting for one to pop into my head at the moment!Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
You seem to have a lot of fun making your designs, especially your printed fish! Are there any new ideas or themes you would like to explore in the future?
I do have fun creating my designs. It’s at the heart of me and my business. I tend to create my quirky ideas on a whim… I’m waiting for one to pop into my head at the moment! In terms of my collections, I want to design more co-ordinating fabrics to go with my current ones, for example a stripe or spot in matching colourways. I also want to add new colourways to each collection, increasing the choice people have. I would really like to sell more fabric by the metre too and see what customers do with it. Ultimately, I think this is the way my business will go and I’d like to offer a furnishing making service alongside it one day. Having said all that, I would also like to increase my collection of hand-printed products to include tablecloths and napkins. So much to do!
Creative people need to be creative. It’s a hard way to make a living at first, so I would recommend starting it as a side-line and keeping a part-time job, maybe.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
Are there any tips you would give to someone just starting a creative business?
I would say follow your heart. Creative people need to be creative – it’s in them. It’s a hard way to make a living at first, so I would recommend starting it as a side-line and keeping a part-time job, maybe. There is loads of help and advice to be found at The Design Trust. I’ve used their blog posts and webinars, which cover everything you could possibly want to know about starting a creative business.
The hardest thing when you’re beginning is that you’re the sole plate spinner… so as soon as you are able, outsource some of the things you are not so good at.Lizzie Mabley, My Blue Shed
I think my tips would be to work hard, don’t shy away from the financial side of things, be as organised as possible and don’t give up! The hardest thing when you’re beginning is that you’re the sole plate spinner, and this can get rather overwhelming. As soon as you are able, outsource some of the things you are not so good at – for me, that’s colouring my digital files and getting them ready for print… and getting my husband to help with my tax return!
Get 10% off all textiles and homeware by My Blue Shed until Sunday 1 September 2019 with code FOLKSY10. Shop My Blue Shed on Folksy >
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is designer Elizabeth Ballon from E.Ballon Design.
Read our interview with Elizabeth here – https://blog.folksy.com/2019/08/07/elizabeth-ballon-sustainable-fashion