When I discover a new crafter or artist whose work I enjoy, I always want to know more about them – where they draw their inspiration, how their ideas develop, why a particular piece took that particular direction, why they use one technique rather than another, or any number of things about their personal ‘story’. Sometimes an artist is especially open, and all sorts of information might be available, but many people – myself included – simply don’t know where to begin when talking about themselves and their work. With this in mind, I have drawn up a series of questions designed to extract the kind of information that I would often like to know, and I will be asking fellow crafty types to share their answers.
Below, I have answered just a few of my own questions, but I will ask & answer more as time allows (and/or as the whim takes me), interspersed with some of the answers I receive from other artists and crafters whose work I think you will also enjoy. (It’s also possible a zine or two may emerge as a result of the project…)
CraftSeller Q&A: TangleCrafts
Name: Su Mwamba
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When/how did you begin crafting?
If asked, my mother will deny owning an ounce of creativity or crafting ability. However, I was raised in the mid-seventies and much of my early clothing was mum-made, we had a large advent calendar on the wall every year which she had handmade from felt, and my sister and I were always encouraged to creative pastimes, from dancing to music lessons (outsourced), baking together, embroidery and needlepoint (home-taught), and always had well-stocked supplies of paper, pencils, paints, scissors, and whatever other crafty essentials you can imagine. (Not creative my elbow!)
In addition to this immediate ‘resource’, my grandparents on both sides were definitive examples of the make-do-and-mend era, providing endless crocheted and knitted blankets, hand-sewn toys and clothing – not to mention hand-sewn & hand-knitted clothing for toys! Oh, and my grandad should not be overlooked – not only an extremely skilled woodworker (crafting cabinets and bookcases still in use today), he also made a hobby of copying great works of art (signed by himself – no attempt at forgery!), so that the walls of our home boasted several very-nearly Constables…
In short, craftiness was all around me while I was growing up, so it is far from surprising that I have turned out that way inclined. (And while my sister, like my mother, denies an artistic streak, she will nonetheless turn to card-making or needlepoint when the mood takes her.)
What is your earliest crafting memory?
Well, I distinctly remember my Grandma failing to teach me to crochet when I was 6. Whether or not my other memories precede or follow that moment, I can’t be sure. Many memories of collecting fallen autumn leaves to make rubbings and prints. I also made story books from around the same age, either drawing my own pictures, or making up stories to go with stickers or other illustrations – a first indication of the zinemaking to come!
What kind of craft/s are your speciality?
Whether or not zinemaking is a craft is a potentially contentious issue, but it’s definitely one of my specialities. Otherwise, my current focus is collaging with upcycled postage stamps.
How did you learn this craft?
Both of the above were self-taught. I scoured the internet for every kind of zinemaking resource, then experimented and found the forms I was most comfortable with. The collaging grew from my love of postage stamps. As well as designing my own artistamps, I started accumulating used postage stamps which I upcycled into button badges. Eventually, my collection far exceeded the number of badges I would ever be able to conceivably make, so I had to come up with an alternative use.
There are all kinds of postage stamp arts and crafts out there, if you do but google it, and it’s possible to collage or decoupage stamps onto all kinds of shapes and objects (see Britta’s craftiness in this post) but my own compulsion has been, predominantly, to collage notebooks. As a ‘writer’ (term used loosely), I am drawn to the potential of the empty notebook, the possibility of the stories that might fill it – and with the addition of collage, a whole new story is applied to the outside of the notebook, as well. I think this is the combination which makes it impossible for me to resist…
One additional thought – perhaps creating ‘pixelated’ images using postage stamp ‘building blocks’ is a throwback to my days of cross stitch and needlepoint. It’s something I’ve been more aware of when creating geometric patterns with Machin stamps; but there’s definitely a crossover.
What is unique about the items you make?
I have the advantage that working with used postage stamps, even if I used exactly the same design of stamps within each collage, the result would still be unique every time due to the random, fragmented postmarks and cancellations creating character for each individual ‘building block’. Even so, there are lots of people out there creating art and crafts, and, specifically, collage, with the postage stamp as their medium. I think what makes my work different is more apparent in my ‘imaginary landscape’ notebooks, which involve very subtle graduation and combinations of colour, led by the faded colours of the vintage stamps themselves. On a personal level, I’m drawn to particular colours and combinations, which is something that can be used to recognise ‘me’ in the work. I haven’t so far come across anybody else creating collages in quite the same style as mine, although I’m sure it’s only a matter of time!
The fact that my collages are applied to notebooks is something else that creates a unique aspect. However the life of a notebook begins, whatever the finished collage looks like, it will continue to evolve in the hands of its new owner. Whether a notebook is carried around in a bag or stored safely in a desk drawer, it will acquire bumps and bruises, scuffs and maybe tears, not to mention all the words that are written inside, contrasting to the fragmented stories of the stamps on the outside. It may not live out its life retaining the static ‘perfection’ of a framed picture, but at least it will live.
What is your personal favourite of the items you make? Why?
In general, I do love my imaginary landscape notebooks. I love the way that the ‘picture’ evolves of its own accord, depending on the stamps I have to hand, and how they blend together, and I love how the finished ‘picture’ is never quite how I imagined but has a life all of its own. Specifically, I have lots of favourites (one of which recently travelled to Australia!) but this one is possibly top of my current list:
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If you sell your arts/crafts online and/or at craft fairs, and you are interested in joining in my CraftSeller Q&A project, please drop me a quick email & I will send you a list of questions in return (you can choose however many you would like to answer). No guarantees that I will be able to feature everybody who responds & priority will be given to those working with DIY crafts, mail art, and upcycled/recycled crafts. However, I will try to include at least a link for as many respondents as I can. 🙂