Meet the Maker – Debby from Bearlescent
Debby Coatham from Bearlescent first started making hand-embroidered bears when health issues rendered her sofa-bound and unable to work. As a means of therapy and distraction, she picked up her needle and embroidery thread and started to stitch. She is now a full-time bear artist, and has also added heirloom dolls and textile art to her box of skills. Here Debby talks to fellow Folksy artist Lisa Le Quelenec from Seaside Studios UK about her influences, her love of Victorian style and her passion for heritage craft.
To celebrate being our featured maker Debby is offering a 10% discount on all purchases until 12th September 2021 with code ’10FEATUREDMAKER‘
Shop Bearlescent on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/Bearlescent
Bearlescent was born from an inability to do the things we take for granted, independence and a need to keep my hands and mind busy.Debby Coatham, Bearlescent
Hi Debby. I can’t wait to find out more about you and your work. Can you introduce yourself?
Hi Lisa, I’m Debby from Bearlescent, I still can’t quite believe I’m a Folksy featured maker – it’s such a privilege and very exciting. I live in a small village in East Yorkshire and I’ve always enjoyed crafts, particularly hand embroidery, and I love heritage styles and Victorian vibes.
In 2012 I suffered my first spinal problems and made an embroidered bear while laid on a settee recovering. Fast forward to 2014, and two failed spine operations later, I had no choice but to resign from the office job I had enjoyed for 14 years. I started making hand-embroidered bears, joined Facebook and began selling to local customers. Bearlescent was born from an inability to do the things we take for granted, independence and a need to keep my hands and mind busy.
I see that you have a background in fashion but also worked at a steel fabrication company before starting Bearlescent. Steel and stitching seem polar opposites, can you tell me more?
Many years ago I trained to City & Guilds Design for Fashion Parts 1 & 11. I had made simple clothes for myself from being quite young and hoped to make it a career one day. I started working at a local steel fabrication company when my youngest went to school and used crafts, particularly embroidery, as a way to relax in the evenings.
The City & Guilds course taught me one thing: I really did not enjoy machine sewing, so never pursued the dream of being a seamstress.
Can you describe your workspace, which I imagine to be an inspiring mix of colours, textures and materials?
It’s an upstairs bedroom overlooking the garden and actually quite plain. I like plenty of wall art decor, so most rooms are just painted in neutral colours. It’s a good-size room but full to the brim with threads, fabrics, yarn, lace, equipment and desks. I have huge storage cupboards and it’s a mismatch of furniture, with a single bed where I sit to sew.
I’m not big on colour – I like soft tones and calm surroundings but I do love texture. Perhaps that’s where my love of hand embroidery comes from.
I can visualise the finished product before I’ve even started.Debby Coatham, Bearlescent
Looking at the bears and dolls in your shop, they all seem to have very individual characters. What’s your inspiration and process for making them?
I’d have to say that my inspiration comes from the fabrics and my own imagination; I can visualise the finished product before I’ve even started. Colour and fabric determines whether a bear will be a boy or girl. It’s the finished face of a doll that determines her character and I’ll often substitute an already chosen dress fabric at this stage. I always make the doll first, then the hair and lastly her attire.
The embroidery in your work is very interesting, like painting in stitches. I also enjoyed looking at your sketchbook pages on Instagram. Do you always start with a sketch for embroidery projects and what is your favourite stitch?
Thank you, Lisa, that’s a huge compliment. I can actually embroider a scene but can’t draw one. Most of my work just evolves from my imagination, working freehand, but I do sometimes draw a rough sketch, particularly when embroidering a picture or for a commission.
I take inspiration from nature but rarely embroider a plant or flower as they should be. I prefer to do my own interpretation. I like to use soft muted colour palettes, so a fern could be soft lilac or beige – whatever I think works in a piece.
My favourite stitches are French knots and fly stitch. I use these in most of my work and often get carried away with them.
What’s the most enjoyable type of piece to make?
That’s easy: hand embroidery, a freestyle picture, probably in my signature style of a wild flower border or hedgerow. I also enjoy making the heritage-style dolls, as I love all the details that can be added.
I love the doll I call Miggler – she still makes me laugh when I see her huge smile and she sits watching me work in my sewing roomDebby Coatham, Bearlescent
Is there a piece you’ve made that stands out in your mind? Do you still have it?
My house is full of my own work and I have some pictures that I’m especially fond of. However, I love the doll I call Miggler – she still makes me laugh when I see her huge smile and she sits watching me work in my sewing room. Since starting Bearlescent I would say one piece that particularly means a lot to me is a cushion I made as a commission, which really triggered me to return to my passion of hand embroidery.
What about Bearlescent are you most proud of and what are your plans for the future?
Ooh that’s a hard one. Obviously being asked to be featured maker on Folksy is a particularly proud moment. Another one was when Hochanda TV approached me to join them with my bear-making kits. I did decline the offer but it was such an honour to be recognised.
The amazing reviews I’ve received both online and in person have made me less critical of my own work and inspire me to continue creating.
Going forward, everything will be hand embroidered. I’m scaling back the amount of products I make as I feel Bearlescent’s identity has been slightly lost over the past couple of years. So I’ll be concentrating on the embroidered gifts, heritage dolls and the embroidered bears that started me on my bear-making journey.
What does craft mean to you?
Craft means independence, a sense of self-worth and being able to share my work and skills. It’s actually a way of life now – a 24/7 job but I get to choose what I do and how I do it.
Use code 10FEATUREDMAKER for 10% off Bearlescent – valid until 12th September 2021.
Shop Bearlescent on Folksy
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Lisa Le Quelenec from Seaside Studios UK, a painter and printmaker based in Dorset.
You can read our Meet the Maker interview with Lisa here – Meet artist Lisa Le Quelenec.