If you love her creations and want to sample them for yourself, you can visit her shop or support the Maker Movement this holiday season and purchase a MakerMail package – Jen is one of the marvelous makers who made this exclusive gifting edition possible! This is the first in a series of features on our MakerMail makers-learn more about the stories behind their products and how to support their awesomeness.
Tell us a bit about yourself & how you got started with Pikelet Workshop
I am a wife and mother of one living in Toronto, Ontario but am originally from Perth, Western Australia. We’ve traveled quite a bit with my husband’s work over the years so my focus hasn’t been on a career outside of the home. During a spell actually living in Perth my daughter started school and I found myself with some spare time. I had shelved so many creative ideas whilst wading my way through her early years and navigating the challenge of living in Brazil (no English!), it was a little daunting realising I finally had time to play around with them. I made my first stuffed cotton toy for a friend, and everything just snowballed. Lots of friends wanted to place orders so I set up a business page on Facebook to keep things away from my personal page. This was back during Facebook’s heyday, when likers could actually see your page and interact with you, the feed wasn’t so clogged. It was a huge success, and I quickly gained over a 1000 likers. This gave me the courage to do my first craft show and then another and another. At one point I outsourced my machine stitching so a friend as I was just too busy to do it all myself.
Have you always wanted to run your own creative business, or was it a slow realization?
I think I really stumbled into this one. My dream was always to be a theatre director and I had reasonable success with that, but it’s supremely exhausting and I didn’t want to pursue it at the expense of my family life. Then we traveled and I was too busy setting up shop in foreign countries (an enormous workload!) those sorts of dreams rested in the background. Pikelet Workshop just happened. I feel quite strongly that the things which have worked best in my life have happened organically, opportunities pop up when you are just living your life and being true to yourself. I find that works better for me than chasing down dreams in hot pursuit. Little things turn out to be so meaningful. Like joining the Oh My Handmade Goodness community online. I’ve made some really exciting connections via the forums already, lots of fun things are in the works like the Maker Mail. Also, being a fairly chatty person I often find that doors open via general conversation. I have met lots of new business-y friends in Toronto online, all through word of mouth. Building a supportive community around yourself is essential, particularly when you work from home. I lost a lot of that when we decided to move permanently to Canada so it’s exciting to see the road being laid again here. I’m pushing myself to work harder on the business now I’m in North America. Jumping in, which is scary but also very exciting.
It’s funny now to remember that my Dad gave in on his teaching job when I was in high school. He started working from home in the shed, making models for architects. I guess this influenced my life in more ways than I’d expected. I lost him some years back which was very hard, but in some ways I feel like I carry him around with me while I work.
What is the story behind the name “Pikelet Workshop”?
A ‘pikelet’ is a bite-sized pancake which Australians, New Zealanders and the Brits enjoy for afternoon tea. Usually with jam. Small and sweet and delicious, it seemed the perfect name for my business. I give out a postcard with all purchases which has my Mother’s pikelet recipe printed on the back. Particularly helpful now that I’m in North America and people are clueless as to the business name.
Tell us about your products & how they have evolved & your product line has grown since you first got your start?
My first Poppet was fairly naive in it’s construction but the pattern hasn’t changed that much. I’ve learned now to double stitch all of the seams and build in as much extra strength as I can, for all those cuddles. I have built up an extensive fabric range (more in storage coming over to Canada next year, gulp!) which gives me the freedom to make each piece unique. I can spend way too long pondering fabric choices but it’s a very important part of the process. Certainly my handiwork has improved over the years since starting Pikelet Workshop. A friend told me recently that she thought my toys were of the best quality she’d seen anywhere. This is a huge compliment which I carry with me for inspiration. I now make other critters and little felt characters, Christmas decorations and finger puppets. I want to make everything! But who has the time, really?
What is your favorite product to make?
My favourite Poppets change depending upon what I’ve been working on. If I’m up to the eyeballs in Christmas stock, then it’s delightful to make a Superhero for a change. Certainly designing something new for a specific customer is one of my favourite occupations.
What is your most popular product?
Tricky. I have a hardcore group of loyal customers in Australia who are gradually collecting my whole range. When I do a market, it’s usually the Superheros and Pirates which sell out first. Customers can’t always find good soft toys for boys. I’ve started making fun female Supers and Pirates which sell well too. Also my new range of little Pocket Poppets sell very well and offer customers a smaller price point.
What’s a typical day for you as a maker?
My family are early risers (whether I like it or not) so I’m usually up around 6/6.30. Husband has left the house by 6.30 and my own “Poppet” (age 9) is up watching Minecraft on youtube by then. We eat breakfast then do the usual getting ready stuff before I walk her to school. I go for a walk, or hit the grocery store at this point. Then home to make sense of the house (I’m a neat freak, unfortunately) and then check emails. Emails, social media, forums, blogs and newsletters. These are so important but also massive time-wasters if I’m not really focused. I try to chunk them out over the week so it’s not too overwhelming. I’ll figure out what’s on the to-do list for the day and get down to it. Break for lunch, squeeze in some laundry and chat with the cats. Then I return to the basement and my lovely new workshop to keep going. I pick up my girl from school and then it’s family time until after dinner. If I have a big workload or a market coming up I’ll sit down on the couch and do some hand sewing before bed. Generally I need to be in bed by 10.30 to cope with the early mornings. But I’ll often linger over Pinterest a bit too long, damn those new phones and the lure of bedside internet.
What do you know now that you wish you know when you first started?
That there’s a huge amount of work outside of my comfort zone required to keep things on track. I have to keep really good lists to make sure things get done, especially the clerical stuff which bores me to tears. I’m becoming better at diving into new opportunities (travel does that to you) and though I’m usually fraught with anxiety I don’t let that stop me anymore. It’s also hard to focus properly on one task at a time, and I can be a darn good procrastinator if I don’t keep an eye out. Did I already mention Pinterest?
How do you like to relax when you take a day off?
Usually just hang out with my family. Maybe catch up with friends. I like to go for long walks, especially now in the Fall. We love movies and going to gigs. I’m not allergic to a little shopping either…
What bit of advice would you give makers just starting out on their creative journey?
Work super-hard on getting the quality of your work up to scratch. It’s imperative that you can release it into the world knowing it won’t come back to you tomorrow. Customers who have confidence in your product will come back a million times and tell their friends. Don’t sit in the background and let your work ‘speak’ for itself either, especially at craft shows. People are very curious about the person behind the product. I think that handmade products are bought because of the story behind them and the knowledge that they’ve been drawn up in someone’s living room. It drives me crazy when people cower behind their tables and won’t make eye contact. Be proud and friendly and make connections with your customer. That’s what they want. Network, network, network. You cannot succeed in a vacuum. The crafty industry thrives on it’s supportive nature. Promote work you believe in, promote handmade. Don’t be afraid to approach someone who’s been around for a while, most crafters are more than happy to chat about things and answer questions.
Aside from MakerMail where can people find you & your products?
My Etsy store is my only online storefront at this stage, but people can also email me regarding custom work. I’m very active on Facebook (for what it’s worth, don’t get me started on how I feel about Facebook for business these days) and am getting better at Twitter, and Instagram now. Pinterest is one of my favourite places (I think I may have said something along those lines already?) and I have lots of followers there.