Meet the Maker – Poppy Darling
Annie and Elsie from Poppy Darling are a mother and daughter duo who create playful needle-felted and crocheted pieces. They use craft as a form of therapy, taking pleasure in the creative process and using it as an opportunity to connect with each other, have fun, smile and escape chaotic lives and serious responsibilities. Everything is made using natural materials, using one material and one tool each, and nothing is rushed. The longer a piece takes, the better. Here Annie talks to fellow Folksy maker Cal Scott from Rudy and the Rowan Tree about mindful making, mental health and the beauty of wool.
Treat yourself to 15% off Poppy Darling with discount code ‘folksyfeature15’ from 7-21 June 2021 – https://folksy.com/shops/PoppyDarling
Away from Poppy Darling our responsibilities are serious, messy and complicated but our crafts aren’t any of those things: they’re simple, playful and without serious consequences.Annie, Poppy Darling
Hello! Could you introduce yourselves?
Hi Cal, we’re Annie and Elsie (aka Mama). We’re known fidgets who needle felt and crochet through difficult days. We make colourful, quirky pieces, creating space to think outside the box and play in our otherwise chaotic lives.
Poppy Darling is our need to connect, with ourselves but also with one another. Even our name is a nod to both of us: Poppy is the name Mum wanted to give me and Darling is my surname translated into English.Annie, Poppy Darling
How did you come to start a business together?
It’s funny because I’m not sure Mama and I view ourselves as a business – it all sounds very serious. We’re content enthusiastic hobbyists! The story behind how we started is a bit of a puzzle and doesn’t lend itself to a straightforward answer but the crux of it is, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Mum.
When I was little, Mama was a big advocate for learning through play and she really is a big kid herself, so on wet play days she would make me playdough and casually bring out the crochet hooks and introduce crafts she was taught as essential skills by her own mother. I was lucky that she encouraged me without any pressure or wild expectations, unlike her own experience. I picked them up, put them down but like others toys and hobbies I put them aside after a while and we got on with life.
Later on, in my adult life, I felt a renewed appreciation for crafts and the time and headspace it offered me to think outside the box. I was having a really difficult time at my workplace, which certainly wasn’t a creative space, nor was it going to bend or incorporate a flexible approach. Enter needle felting! Funnily enough, once again, it was mama who brought it to my attention. She knew once I got hold of that sharp needle my focus would shift, and she was right. My renewed excitement and curiosity in needle felting sparked something in Mum too because, literally the next day, I found her with her crochet hooks, bag in tow, going shopping for yarn.
Mum told me once how happy she felt when I really threw myself into crafting again because she had been waiting patiently to play again, like we did when I was little (she’d been waiting a long time!). Poppy Darling is our need to connect, with ourselves but also with one another. It’s always felt very personal and a love we both share. Even our name is a nod to both of us: Poppy is the name Mum wanted to give me and Darling is my surname translated into English. I feel like Mama gifted me with a love for crafts, so it made sense to finally give her this gift.
It’s still very much a side project, when we need space between ourselves and challenging periods in our lives. Away from Poppy Darling our responsibilities are serious, messy and complicated but our crafts aren’t any of those things: they’re simple, playful and without serious consequences. We give each other licence to make unusual pieces, be ourselves, make each other smile and, if they make others smile, that’s the cherry on the cake!
Where do you make your beautiful pieces?
Our workspaces aren’t very inspirational – in fact, they’re quite sparse. We’re lucky that neither one of our crafts requires a lot of space or specialist equipment. We’re both neat workers in a compact space! We usually make from my home in South West London- it’s the greenest borough but noisy, as with all cities, so you’ll often find me with my ear defenders on, escaping into felt. Mama has a more relaxed approach and has made peace with the hustle and bustle around her, so she can work with the TV on, while sitting on the sofa.
I imagine our days are the same as other makers, trying to squeeze in making in between other responsibilities that want to take over the whole day!Annie, Poppy Darling
What does your typical day look like?
Covid really changed a lot for so many, including us. It’s a good thing we don’t do ‘typical’ because for quite a while we’ve been in fire-fighting mode and we’ve been pushed and pulled in lots of directions. Mum’s attention has been pulled toward her charity supporting stray dogs in the Caucasus and mine has shifted from full-time work in the third sector to heavy caring responsibilities which take up the majority of my days. We seldom have control of our schedule at the moment – it’s often dictated to us by the fallout of the pandemic, so we’re really still just taking each day as it comes.
Until September 2020, Poppy Darling lay dormant. We were quietly making for ourselves but I felt a deep need to connect with other like-minded people and get into a different zone, so we opened our Folksy shop. We’re very much figuring it out as we go along and we’re always open to change. Our Folksy days are a fine balancing act between managing those dependent on us and our own independence, as well as our online shop. That usually involves juggling making, social media, making, admin, making, mood and making!
It can get very overwhelming and we really do have to step back sometimes to manage our own mental health. I imagine our days are the same as other makers, trying to squeeze in making in between other responsibilities that want to take over the whole day!
What do you most enjoy about working with wool and yarn? Do you have a vast supplies stash?
Both of us really enjoy the simplicity of our materials, but it’s because of their versatile and tactile nature that we remain content with them and rarely include other textiles. Wool and yarn do it all and they are the perfect fit for us.
I really do love working with wool but it wasn’t always like that. Before felting, I thought of wool as itchy, expensive, high maintenance. My grandmother would make me the most beautiful jumpers and accessories and I never appreciated the skill and love she put into them because they were from itchy, scratchy wool and I was too young to really understand she had sourced the very best material for me. Thankfully, as a material, wool has moved on leaps and bounds, from production to colours and awareness. Ironically, today most of my own wardrobe is wool!
Wool roving was a game changer. After many experiments with roving I settled on merino. It’s luxurious and uber-soft– a grade below cashmere. It can be hard to work with because the fibres are so fine but the finish it gives me is just as I want it to be. It challenges traditional ideas we have about how wool should feel, and what we should and can make with it. I continue to marvel at all the possibilities.
Storage can be a problem for us. We manage this by buying small quantities, working with what we have and being resourceful with what’s left. This usually involves making acorns, which is no bad thing! We’re not zero waste but we usually have a balanced approach and keep waste to a minimum.
Can you tell me about your creative process. Do you keep a sketchbook for all your ideas?
The nature of felting allows for a lot freedom, even at the design stage. We’re both mood makers, so our creative process is somewhat ad-hoc. Mama is able to make notes, write patterns and revise them accordingly but to be honest we’re both ‘work it out as we go along’ makers.
Mama finds a lot of joy in cute, quirky pieces, while my ideas are heavily influenced by the changing seasons and nature, so I really do have an endless supply of inspiration but ideas can pop up from very ordinary times, like watching TV. One of my current landscape brooches is based on a very quick shot in an old Only Fools & Horses episode called ‘A Touch of Glass’, showing the Reliant Robin moving through a yellow field. The rest of that scene is quite dull, so I reimagined what it could look like!
I do take a lot of photos when I’m outside, and a camera is never far away. I’m always looking around me, at colours and shapes, and doing a quick assessment in my head as to whether that would translate using roving or yarn. But I never really know if it’s going to work until I try it. Often one of us will make a piece and the other then tries to recreate it using their material, just as a personal challenge, and this can lead to other ideas too.
I love the fruit and veg pieces – they were the first pieces I felt summarised us and our personalities.Annie, Poppy Darling
What’s your favourite item to make and why?
Oh gosh, so many, all of them in fact. They all have a different story and have been created in varying headspaces. Having said that, the acorn collection holds a special place in my heart because Mama and I collect the acorn caps together and it’s become our annual ritual. I do love the fruit and veg pieces too – they were the first pieces I felt summarised us and our personalities. They’re certainly a cue for some humour at markets. Mama really is a kid at heart, so for her it’s the Christmas bits. When she hears about a little one excitedly decorating their own tree with our pieces, she squeals like a little kid herself!
Do you ever make commissions for customers? If so, do you have any interesting ones you can share with us?
It feels like we shouldn’t say this but, although a lot of makers love taking commissions, we’re a little different. I think we’re moody makers. By that I don’t mean that we’re grumpy, but that we make when our mood, time and physical capacity are in-sync. Life can get very chaotic and the time we spend together making is without those extra pressures. We’ve taken commissions before and found our style of working isn’t suited to the structure a business needs to fulfil commissions and create collections. Nothing is concrete though, so let’s say commissions are a work in progress and part of the learning curve for us as a team.
Needle-felted pieces wonderfully tactile. Can you describe the making process? Does it take a very long time to get such a lovely smooth finish?
Thank you and, yes, they are very tactile. There isn’t an exact science behind needle felting – it’s a little bit of a ‘no process’ process. The only thing I can tell you for certain is that it’s slow and a real labour of love! In theory, the making process is a simple one, using one material and one tool to bond fibres together. In practice, it’s very unpredictable and you have to feel your way around and compromise when the wool isn’t cooperating!
Like many other crafts, process depends on the piece and size. I only focus on one piece at a time and adopt both needle and wet felting for nearly all our pieces but timing is difficult to judge. There is no piece that is finished in a day. On average, it can vary from 2- 3 days each, longer if the weather isn’t on my side and they’re taking an age to dry between stages – or if I lose my mojo and leave the piece alone because something else needs my attention.
Since many of my pieces are designed to be worn and touched, my aim is always for them to be smooth, with a neat finish. I also need them to withstand wear and the occasional fun fair ride in the washing machine, when a customer forgets to remove them from their garment!
There is no piece that is finished in a day. On average, it can vary from 2- 3 days each, longer if the weather isn’t on my side – or if I lose my mojo and leave the piece alone because something else needs my attention.Annie, Poppy Darling
My pieces all start their journey as loose fibres that I layer and loosely shape into a form using my felting needle. Many stabbing hours later, it goes under hot water when I agitate and manipulate the fibres by hand to shrink them down further (it’s the same concept as putting a woollen jumper in a hot wash). Once dry, I stab on details and repeat the process of wet felting, matting fibres further still, though it’s at this stage where it’s very changeable.
Flat pieces may start the other way round by blending multiple layers of coloured fibre to make a felt sheet using wet felting first and needle felting later. Both methods are doing the same thing – matting fibres – it’s just the starting position is different and wet felting demands more physical space.
Felting does require a lot of flexibility but there is a freedom in that too. I can put two of the same roving under exactly the same conditions and they will come out differently because there are no machines or templates for the pieces – it’s all free hand, and there’s no way of measuring exactly how much wool I used last time, the exact spot where I stabbed or the pressure of my hand on that day! The barbed needle is the work horse, bonding/gluing fibres together, I just have to make sure I stab away as evenly as possible.
Every element is made by hand, from the stalks for the fruit and veg or berries for our mistletoe. I try to minimise the use of embellishments but sometimes it’s necessary to be a little kinder to my hands.
I love your miniature wearable scenes. Is it quite challenging creating something so small but still so recognisable?
Making small pieces is fiddly, especially the landscapes because of the level of detail involved, so to manage this I have to break it down to the bare necessities of what I want to include. There are a few that come purely from my imagination but, for the most part, I have adapted them from my archive of photos.
Trees and water are a challenge but I stick to subjects we are all familiar with, so our brains make sense of the scene and recognise it immediately. We all know what a tree or flower looks like, so even though you may not have seen the particular one on that landscape brooch, it’s likely you’ve seen a similar scene on your travels.
What does craft mean to you?
Individual beauty, thoughtful details, with a level of skill and expertise that translates into a piece made with passion and love, made for the love of making. It’s about mindful making and connecting with our purest selves.
What are your plans for Poppy Darling?
Is it too early to mention the C word? This is the first year in a while we’re planning to make a full Christmas collection again, so that’s exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. Last Christmas was unusual and this year I think we’re all going to be making up for it!
I’ll be picking up the slack with needle-felted pieces, so the bulk of my fruit and veg pieces will be making an appearance for the first time in our Folksy shop (I’m super excited for this) and then my other favourites, my toadstools and poppies for the autumn.
Yikes, that seems like quite a lot. Let’s see how we get on!
Treat yourself to 15% off with discount code ‘folksyfeature15’ from 7-21 June 2021 – https://folksy.com/shops/PoppyDarling
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Cal Scott from Rudy and the Rowan Tree. Cal is a maker based in Renfrewshire, Scotland, who makes and screenprinted wooden houses and other hand-crafted pieces in wood. You can read our Meet the Maker interview with Cal here and shop Rudy and the Rowan Tree on Folksy >