Meet the Maker: Chris Parkinson from Just to Say…
Chris Parkinson from Just to Say makes genius little keepsakes in crochet that are half-way between a gift and a card. Here Chris talks to fellow maker and Folksy seller, Melanie from Melanie Made Mud about growing up in a home where everything was handmade, the comfort of craft and her love of a good pun.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
My name is Chris and I live with my husband, our grown-up son and our high-maintenance cat in the Surrey Hills. Our daughter lives and works in London.
I trained as a teacher and most of my working life was spent in schools. My favourite parts of the job were the creative ones, such as producing teaching materials, creative writing or art activities with the children and running an after-school sewing club.
Since giving up work I am free to indulge my love of creating and I try to keep mornings free for the purpose. Once my stash of crafting paraphernalia had taken over every nook and cranny in the house, it was agreed that I should have a designated craft area and we had a smart timber workshop built just across the patio. My ‘shed’ is a complete joy to me and it’s where I spend my mornings.
I try my hand at all sorts, but for my Folksy shop, I mainly crochet small, keepsake items designed to act as a cross between a small gift and a card.
I would love to know how you got into making crochet. What’s the story?
I grew up in a truly handmade home. My mum was a trained artist and my dad was willing to give anything a go. Apart from the kitchen tiles, crazy paving slabs and jeans, much of the furniture, the curtains, lampshades, Christmas cards, most of our clothes and all of our winter woollies were homemade. It was almost inevitable that my siblings and I would inherit a love of crafting from our parents.
However, I was first taught to crochet by a classmate in primary school. She was busy making a large blanket in fashionable oranges and browns and I was fascinated. Over a series of playtimes she taught me the basics and from then on I was properly hooked. Years later, when visiting a National Trust property quite a distance from where we grew up, I bumped into my classmate again and was really pleased to be able to thank her and tell her how important crochet has turned out to be in my life.
What was your first crochet project and how have you progressed to the projects you make and sell now?
My crochet progression has been full of stops and starts.
My very first projects were granny square-based as making granny squares is a great way to learn and practise crochet. Luckily, I also had a lovely granny frequently on hand to provide yarn and hooks and to sort out woolly disasters. The squares were mainly used to make small blankets (apparently my sister remembers ‘something purple and black’) and I do also remember making a very ’70s waistcoat, and a tie for my lucky dad!
Years later, while living in France as part of my degree course, I found a wonderful wool shop and was inspired to pick up a hook again. When I should have been out and about learning the lingo, I spent a bit too much time attempting to crochet jumpers instead. I rarely ended up with anything wearable and my spoken language has never been what it should be, but at least I can follow a French pattern!
The general idea is that my shop name, ‘Just to say …’ appears on the front of the posting box and the wording on the tag completes the message.
After another long break and having given up teaching, I happened across blogs by Lucy @Attic24 and started using her lovely patterns to make crochet decorations. I quickly grew to love making small, brightly coloured items and soon had enough owl, cat, rabbit and floral hanging decorations to start a small shop. Which I did. On Folksy!
It was early enough in Lucy’s journey for me to be able to contact her and some other designers directly to ask permission to sell a few items based on their patterns. Now I produce my own as well and have a head brimming with ideas!
From the beginning I wanted the items I made to act as a vehicle for a message and I experimented with attaching my crochet to tag-shaped greetings cards. These days, where practical, I still enjoy creating cards with a removable keepsake, however, they can tend to topple if the crochet is too heavy, so now I mainly attach tags with personal greetings to the crochet items themselves. The general idea is that my shop name, ‘Just to say …’ appears on the front of the posting box and the wording on the tag completes the message.
How are your designs developed? What’s your creative process?
I tend to make many of the ‘bits’ for my crochet projects in the evenings in front of the TV. If it’s an item I haven’t made before it will involve lots of research, trial and error and scribbling of notes on scraps of paper. If it’s a trusted old favourite, the pattern can be found in my collection of scrappy bits that I try to keep organised in wallets in an old gift box. For some reason I use a mixture of UK and US terminology when jotting down my instructions, making them very confusing to others!
In the mornings I transport all my bits to my shed and assemble the finished items before starting new ones. I print the wording for the tag and photograph each piece in my small photo booth before uploading it to my Folksy shop. Each sale usually involves personalising a new tag, labelling a box, cutting tissue paper to size, assembling a business card, writing a personal note and finally wrapping the package in brown paper. It’s an extremely laborious but very satisfying process.
My ‘shed’ is a complete joy to me and it’s where I spend my mornings.
I love the combination of colourful crochet mixed with kraft card. How did that idea come about?
I decided to team the colourful cottons I use with the slightly speckled browns of kraft card and paper to slightly ground my finished products. I felt they looked very stark against a white background. True to my upbringing, I wanted to home-produce my packaging as far as possible and so also chose to use kraft products to give a more cohesive look to everything from the tags, to my labels, to my tag-shaped business cards.
In the early days I used to make gift bags to post my items in, but that was too time-consuming even for me and I always worried about how the bags would fare in the post. Now I use large letter posting boxes. Well-meaning friends have offered to tell me where I can get labels and cards printed professionally, but I enjoy the added homespun feel of my DIY packaging and think it helps to give my shop a more personal touch and to set it apart a little.
I would like to claim I’m inspired by something noble such as Mother Nature, and while it’s true I have enjoyed finding ways to crochet an iris, a kingfisher or a panda, the truth is that I do love a pun…
What inspires you?
I would like to claim I’m inspired by something noble such as Mother Nature, and while it’s true I have enjoyed finding ways to crochet an iris, a kingfisher or a panda, the truth is that I do love a pun and often an idea is sparked by one. At other times I come up with a little project I would like to make and then have to hunt for a suitable pun or witticism for the tag.
One year I decided to make crochet alternatives to Christmas crackers, with the emphasis being on a ‘cracker’ of a joke. I found ones where the punchline or some other element could be made into an animal-themed keyring to serve as the gift. They were labelled and wrapped in Christmas paper. The idea was that they would be used as table gifts and the tag on the front of each parcel would set a joke and, once the parcel was unwrapped, the tag on the keyring gift supplied the punchline. I had a lot fun.
Often a customer will ask me to make something unusual, such as a model of her brother-in-law and his dog inside a jar or two teddies in a carriage based on a vintage wrapping paper design from her childhood. I always say yes to a request and then enjoy the challenge of coming up with a suitable product.
Your colour schemes are very vibrant. Do you have a favourite colour or colour combination?
I absolutely love green and feel it works well with any other colour and can give a project a real lift. I love the harmony of toning colours but also enjoy clashing combinations from opposite sides of the colour wheel, such as purple and yellow or turquoise and orange. I will often throw in a contrast colour to liven up a piece. One of my favourite colours of the cotton yarn I use is a rich purple. I can’t resist using it frequently, even though I find it so hard to photograph that I curse myself afterwards!
What do you think is your most unusual crochet make and do you have a best seller?
Like Autolycus in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, I have always been a “snapper up of unconsidered trifles” (although I do draw the line at stealing), so when my friend offered me some small empty Mateus Rosé bottles I duly snapped them up. I thought their round, flat sides looked a bit like faces and decided to turn some into head bud vases with crochet covers. I enjoyed making them and they sold well and then Mr Mateus in his wisdom, changed the shape of the bottles. They still work as head vases and I have made more to look like Frida Kahlo or a Green Woman but I do miss the shape of the earlier bottles!
The same friend gave me a large decorative matchbox and I decided to make a pair of matchsticks with crochet heads and a tag saying, ‘We’re a perfect match!’ It sold straight away and I have made many pairs of matchsticks over the years which are one of my best sellers.
I think one of my most unusual and fun makes was a tiny weedy sea dragon for and from a drawing by the very talented Folksy seller Sally of Sally and the Freckles. Weedy really made me smile and he stays in touch from his new home in Wales!
What does craft mean to you?
Craft is hugely important to me and always has been. As a child I loved fripperies and my parents not being of a mind nor in a position to over-indulge us, most things I wanted I tried to make. Some that stick in my mind are a marionette based around the cardboard insert from a new shirt, the pipe-cleaner ballet dancers that illustrate my Folksy bio, as well as numerous felt mice, tiny dolls’ house items, jewellery and high-heeled dressing-up shoes made from a wooden building block and corrugated card!
I am forever grateful that I was allowed to cut, stick and sew to my heart’s content and that I grew up in an era when not too many craft kits were available to children. We were also so lucky that we were free to paint and do junk modelling at school with no particular attainment target in mind!
As an adult I have flirted with mosaic, watercolour and oil painting, as well as painting on silk. I love designing cakes and make and decorate quite a few of them for family and friends. Starting a new craft project actually makes my heart race, so is it ok to call it exercise?
We sat wrapped in blankets on picnic chairs at a suitable distance apart and, with a flask of coffee each as anti-freeze, we happily crocheted away for a couple of care-free hours. Such get-togethers were very precious to us at a difficult time.
At stressful or sad times in my life I have found craft can be a great solace. I get so totally absorbed in what I am creating, especially during my crafting mornings, that although I would love to use that time to listen to books as well, I usually find them too distracting.
Over the past two years of the pandemic I think it was crafting that kept me almost sane. With my husband and daughter working from home at the time, it was such a joy to be able to escape to my shed and lose myself in yarny projects.
Now that it’s become more popular (or now that we’re older,) several friends have taken up crochet and it is even become part of our social life. We frequently get together in groups in someone’s home or a willing teashop to chat and create things that don’t require too much concentration. On the chilly Christmas Eve of 2020, when we were briefly in zones and were facing a very pared-back festive period, a friend and I met up on the veranda of the cricket pavilion outside her house. We sat wrapped in blankets on picnic chairs at a suitable distance apart and, with a flask of coffee each as anti-freeze, we happily crocheted away for a couple of care-free hours. Such get-togethers, when they were legal, were very precious to us at a difficult time.
Shop Just to Say on Folksy
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Melanie from Melanie Made Mud. Melanie is a potter based in Wales who makes beautiful handmade functional and sculptural ceramics.