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Matilda Belle handmade ceramic buttons and jewellery

Meet the Maker: MatildaBelle Ceramics

by Camilla

Lucy from MatildaBelle Ceramics

Lucy from MatildaBelle makes ceramic buttons, statement jewellery and homeware from her workshop overlooking the garden in beautiful North Yorkshire. Here she tells fellow Folksy maker Ruth Markwell the touching story behind her beautiful handmade buttons and why craft is so important to her…

Treat yourself to 10% off MatildaBelle for the month of May 2023 – just use code ‘maker’ at checkout

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Matilda Belle handmade ceramic buttons and jewellery

Hello Lucy! I love your ceramic pretties. Please could you introduce yourself and your creations?
Hi Ruth, I’m Lucy, the person behind MatildaBelle Ceramics. I make a whole range of ceramic pretties from soap dishes to earring, statement pendant necklaces and buttons. I predominantly work with earthenware but do sometimes dabble with porcelain and stoneware clay.

What is your background? How long have you been working in ceramics and why did ceramics appeal to you?
I grew up around fabulous women who always had a make on the go, be it a knitted jumper, a summer dress or cushions, so as a youngster I was always being creative. After school I went to art college and thought I would have a career in the industry. However, life had other plans and I spent many years away from art and craft.

Before the urge became too much, I started to dabble again. In fact, before I had my daughter I taught myself basic silversmithing and, for a time, really enjoyed jewellery making. I’ve been making ceramics on and off for around seven years now, taking the full-time leap about 18 months ago. I pretty much fell into ceramics – it chose me.

MatildaBelle ceramics

I love the story about your mum’s little knitted jackets, that they inspired you to make your own special buttons. Can you tell us more about that?
My beautiful mum was a fabulous knitter and sewer. When I had my daughter she would knit her the most beautiful little cardigans and jackets, but finish them with generic plastic buttons. It just didn’t feel right that they were created with such love, yet the final component was mass-produced and pretty ugly.

I already had a little kiln that I used to make jewellery so, just like that, I decided I would have a go at making ceramic buttons. I was determined Mum’s beautiful makes would be adorned with my equally beautiful hand-crafted buttons. Oh, I was so naive! It wasn’t quite as easy as that. But over time I made them and they got better and that’s how MatildaBelle was born.

What gave you the idea to create the beautiful patterns and textures on your buttons?
I love pattern and texture and the way colour combinations work together. Anything that has a tactile nature captures my attention. I had been lucky enough to spend some time stone carving and it enchanted me. The idea of chipping away at a surface to create another surface is just magical. Obviously I couldn’t lug a huge stone into the dining room, so I have found an alternative for my carving fix.

Matilda Belle handmade ceramic buttons and jewellery

I pour plaster of Paris into moulds and, once dried, use these to carve a whole range of different different illustrations. I then use these as a mould for the clay. The plaster transfers the pattern to the clay, so I have a permanent mould to use. This is how I achieve the surface pattern on my Paisley soap dishes and my beach hut buttons.

Matilda Belle handmade ceramic buttons and jewellery

Where do you work. Do your surroundings inspire you?
I work from home in a freezing cold, damp, outhouse-type shed, overlooking the garden. It’s teeny tiny, super cold, completely uninspiring but mine and I love it. I look out on to the garden, where the herb patch is, with all its seed heads swaying in the winter and the bees buzzing in the summer. The view beyond the garden is pretty special too: a hillside with frolicking rabbits, a resident owl and a whole chorus of birds singing away. I also have a warmer, drier office space upstairs, overlooking the same wonderful views. I’m pretty lucky.

Matilda Belle handmade ceramic buttons and jewellery

What is the process of making your work? Do you have a typical working day?
The process always starts with a little thought that keeps buzzing away. I have a zillion sketchbooks and notebooks dotted all over the house. I jot down ideas, sometimes it’s just words like “lime & lilac” or for months it was the word “stitched”. The word “stitched” evolved to sketches of traditional embroidery stitches and over the course of a few months the physical pieces took shape to what are now my stitched statement pendants

Matilda Belle handmade ceramic buttons and jewellery

I work much better intuitively, so although I rely on my notes and sketches I never make detailed plans. I prefer to just get my hands doing and let things evolve. I do, however, write down the process as it progresses. If it’s an idea for a carving that’s buzzing around my head, then I will cast a new piece of plaster and literally just sit with it. My mind fills in the white and then I just go. It all just flows naturally – a mark here, a deeper grove there. It unfolds as I take away the excess plaster. I’m already thinking about colour at this stage. I can see the colour of the finished piece in my head, which helps the picture unfold into a tangible mould. 

I wish I could have a more typical day of work but as a single parent and daily migraine endurer, I have to go with the flow quite often. When the migraines are particularly strong I do things that are second nature and comforting, like a new carving. When I’m not as poorly, I try to catch up on the business side of things upstairs at the computer, taking new product photos, doing social media etc. Most days I have to take an hour out to be still and quiet. This allows me to regain control of how the migraines affect me and I can then go back to my task. 

Matilda Belle handmade ceramic buttons and jewellery

What is your favourite part of the whole making process?
My favourite has to be when I think I’ve finally got a carving to a stage where I’m happy, and I roll that first piece of clay over it, transferring the mould into pattern on to the surface of the clay. It’s like magic and I love how different it looks. It comes to life.

You create a wonderful range of items. What is your favourite piece to make?
I will never tire of making the beach hut buttons. There are so many memories and emotions tied into those buttons. Those were the first buttons I was proud of. I’m from Scarborough and so spent my childhood at the seaside with my mum. It always felt fitting to make the beach huts for my wonderful mum’s knits. I don’t have Mum anymore but every time I make a batch of the beach huts I think of her, my childhood with her and my beautiful daughter wearing her knitted cardigans with my beach hut buttons. They make me smile!

Do you have any useful tips to pass on to someone starting their own creative business?
Being a maker can be quite lonely. You spend so much time alone that you second guess yourself. I think especially if you’re self taught, you can be plagued by self doubt. So my advice would be to reach out and build a support network. Build relationships with others in the industry who understand. Sometimes just a little chat with someone who knows what it feels like when sales are up and down can be enough to give you the confidence to value yourself and your work.

What does craft mean to you?
What doesn’t craft mean? It’s everything and it’s everywhere. Can you imagine a world without craft – heritage crafts in particular? Metalwork, weaving, stone carving, woodwork, ceramics, textiles – it’s a wonder! Skills that take years to harness leave me in absolute awe.

Craft means everything to me. It is the backbone of my life and of communities. Craft makes the world around us such an inspiring place to be.

MatildaBelle Ceramics handmade buttons and ceramic jewellery

Use code ‘maker’ during May 2023 for 10% off MatildaBelle Ceramics

folksy.com/shops/MatildaBelle


Ruth Markwell textile artist

Meet the interviewer

The maker asking the questions this time is Ruth Markwell. Ruth is a textile artist based one the edge of the Peak District who makes pictures with fabric, print, thread and paint.

Shop Ruth Markwell on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/RuthMarkwell

Read more about Ruth – https://blog.folksy.com/2023/04/03/ruth-markwell

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