Kirsteen Hoare from Stitch Studio makes the cutest felt animal decorations, as well as retro brooches and pictures inspired by flora and fauna. Her gorgeous designs are likely to induce a heavy dose of nostalgia in anyone who grew up dressed in Clothkits and playing with Fuzzy Felt. Here, Kirsteen talks to potter and fellow Folksy seller Kate Cooke about childhood memories, how she goes about creating her creatures and the versatility of felt…
My animals have a retro style, a wink to my childhood and a baby animal cuteness – big heads and eyes. They have the distinct characteristics of the animal, a likeness, but they’re not literal.Kirsteen, Stitch Studio
Hi Kirsteen! Lovely to meet you. Please can you tell us a little bit about what you do and how you started your business?
Hello Kate. At Stitch Studio I hand cut and hand sew cute animals, brooches and pictures using 100% wool felt in all my pieces. My business began after a close friend gave me a book on making Japanese dolls. After playing with felt and the patterns from the book I started making little animals too. I made quite a few and family, friends and friends of friends kept asking me to make different animals for them, so I decided to start selling them online.
Your creations are so cute and fun, I love them! Where do you find your inspiration?
My inspiration is mainly from my childhood memories, from how I remember my toys, TV programmes and cartoon animals. I have older siblings and therefore lots of hand-me-downs, so I have vivid memories of their toys too.
My mum is a big inspiration. She was, and is, very crafty and was always making things. She knitted my jumpers and cardigans when I was little and I recall the patterns and colour combinations from my homemade dresses and cardigans. They are so comfortingly familiar and nostalgic.
I’ve always loved animals – I have to admit it’s mainly the soft cuddly ones – and I love to make my felt animals as kawaii-cute as possible.
My mum knitted my jumpers and cardigans when I was little and I recall the patterns and colour combinations from my homemade dresses and cardigans. They are so comfortingly familiar and nostalgic.Kirsteen, Stitch Studio
Where do you make your creations?
I work from a small corner of my home in Nottingham. We moved from London to Nottingham five years ago and my youngest son was born here, so we’re firmly rooted here now.
What materials do you use?
I use 100% wool felt to create my creatures. I love working with felt because of its versatility and sculptural possibilities. It’s very strong and forgiving, so I can poke and pull it about quite a lot. Forming an animal out of felt and seeing it take shape is so exciting and I discover each one I make has a whole new personality.
If I’m making an animal from scratch, the first thing I do is decide what aspects of it make it look like it! What characteristics does it need? Then I decide the pose, shape and how I want it to look.Kirsteen, Stitch Studio
How do you start your creative process and do you have specific steps you take from an idea to a finished creation?
It depends what it is I’m making. I can often tweak or adapt a pattern I’ve used before. If I’m making something from scratch then the first thing I do is look at images of the animal and decide what aspects of it make it look like it! What characteristics does it need? If I’m not working to a customer request, then I decide the pose, shape and how I want it to look. Sometimes I draw it, sometimes I just know in my head how I think it will work.
I then draw out the flat pattern. This used to be quite laborious with lots of trial and error but now I have the basics of quite a few shapes, so I have a better idea of what the pattern will need to look like. If it’s a totally new animal I cut out a paper pattern and stick it together with tape and play with it and adjust it until I have something I think is ready to be cut out in felt. I then make it up in felt, possibly a few times, tweaking the pattern as I go if I need to.
Forming an animal out of felt and seeing it take shape is so exciting and I discover each one I make has a whole new personality.Kirsteen, Stitch Studio
I create animals in a distinct style – they are soft sculptures but they don’t have the über-realism of needlefelting. Instead they have a retro style, a wink to my childhood and a baby animal cuteness – big heads and eyes. They have the distinct characteristics of the animal, a likeness, but they are not literal.
When your business is what you love doing, what do you do in your spare time or to give yourself a break?
That’s a tricky one right now. My two children are at home with me at the moment and the way I work is quite time consuming, so I do find myself fitting work into every spare moment. In pre-Covid time I embroidered when I had free time. I love to do embroidery and don’t do enough in my work time to satisfy my urge. But I guess that’s not really a break! I like to take walks with the family, seek out some nature. I like to visit the deers and Woolton Hall (when local restrictions allow, of course). I’m pretty good at not working evenings and I like to watch a film with my other half with a nice beer – ‘rock & roll’!
This year, like 2020, is throwing up additional challenges for everyone. Can you tell us what your typical working day is like and how you’re balancing that with family life – and possibly share your top tip for managing your business in these times?
Pre-Covid days I would work while my kids were at school and knock off at home time, but at the moment my day is mostly filled with looking after them and trying to give them some sort of learning experience. We do home learning until lunch, then go for a walk or do something more ‘fun’. I then have an hour or two to work until it’s time to make dinner. My husband bought me some good headphones for my birthday last year, so I pop them on and I’m ‘at work’. Unless I’m super busy or have a tight deadline then I don’t work weekends… well, maybe if I’m really into something and there’s nothing else going on with the family, I finish off!
My top tip? Just keep going, I think!Kirsteen, Stitch Studio
I started 2020 with big plans, proper ones written down. Of course they mostly went out of the window and I was very disheartened at first. This year I haven’t made any formal plans. I learnt from my experience in the run up to Christmas that I’ll need to look out for opportunities and take them. My top tip? Just keep going, I think!
You mention that you are happy to have suggestions about what to make. What’s been the most fun or challenging creation that you’ve made for someone?
I made a few fun and unusual things last year. I was asked to make a mushroom of my choice for a fungi lover. That was nice to make and turned out really well, I think. I was also asked to make a crocodile, which was a bit nerve wracking at first as it wasn’t my usual soft, fluffy, cutie animal. It was really fun to decorate it’s scaly back though!
I was asked to make a mushroom of my choice for a fungi lover. That was nice to make and turned out really well.Kirsteen, Stitch Studio
Do you have any particular goals or aspirations for 2021?
I haven’t made any formal plans for my business this year, I would just like to keep going and grow a little more. I hope to get through 2021 with my loved ones, healthy and happy.
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Kate Cooke. Kate is a potter based in Sheffield, who makes beautiful ceramics turned on the wheel in her converted garden shed and inspired by the colours and landscape of the nearby Peak District. Read our interview with Kate here and shop Kate Cooke Ceramics on Folksy here – https://folksy.com/shops/KateCookeCeramics