This week’s interview is with Australia-based Jill Ffrench from Fantails and Feet, who makes beautifully detailed bird sculptures by hand. The peacock tails, in particular, are just gorgeous.
And now Jill will answer some questions about her life and career:
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started in your handmade business?
Hello, my name is Jill Ffrench and I’m a textile artist from Melbourne, Australia. I began honing my craft a few years ago after being inspired to hand stitch a gift for a close friend. Interested in only using biodegradable materials, I was drawn to natural felt fibres, wire and wax that I still use in my pieces today.
What first made you want to become an artist/craftsperson?
I have always been a maker, though it’s exciting to now have a clear direction in mind. I studied clothing production and pattern making at a tertiary level, but knew that the fashion industry was never going to fit my personality. Now I use my patternmaking and textile knowledge each time I begin a new project so it’s nice to put some of it into practice.
Apart from crafts, what do you like to do in your spare time?
My kids are pretty young still so spare time is very limited but we often explore the bushland surrounding our home and collect treasure as we go. We also draw a lot and most of the time there is music being played somewhere in our house.
How long have you been creating art/crafts and how long have you been selling online?
I discovered embroidery from a young age but only in the last few years I have become really excited about what I can make with a simple needle and thread.
How many different places do you sell from?
Do you have another job? What is it?
I have worked for many years in an academic library so I have prime access to an amazing collection of art and science books and I regularly lose myself amongst the collection. Also a lot of my embroidery is done on the train during my daily commute.
What’s the most difficult part of your craft?
One of the challenges with hand embroidery is the time it takes to finish a single piece. On average it takes me about 3 days to finish a small bird, but larger birds have taken me up to 3 weeks to complete. I guess hand embroidery is considered a slow craft and is something that I’ve learned to embrace over time.
What is your favourite part of your handmade business?
I love handling the felt, but the best part of my handmade business is in the needlework itself. I like that the traditional blanket stitches that are exposed and add an element of wabi sabi handmade authenticity.
What are your hopes and aspirations for your store and where do you see yourself going from here?
I have so many ideas and at the moment I’m focusing more on making flocks of small birds. In the future I’d like to tackle some large species such as pelicans or tropical parrots and I know it will happen when the time is right.
What are three tools in your workspace that you could not live without?
Sharp scissors (not easy to find in a household of creative people), needle nose pliers – always handy for bending legs and especially essential when making authentic looking knees, and sandpaper for hand shaping the wooden eyes.