I’ve always been lucky to be surrounded by creative environments. Working at Salts Mill for five years was an amazing experience – there were Hockney pieces on just about every inch of wall available and two amazing book stores filled with inspiring reads from floor to ceiling. The Mill is where the Scott and Yates (now Young!) story began – two like-minded twenty-somethings running the Diner’s little coffee bar, discussing all things film, art and books from 10am to 6pm every Sunday.
Olivia is one of the most talented people I know. I was lucky enough to meet her at 17 and she was the big sister I never had – funny, talented and wise are just three of her many amazing attributes. But the main thing I remember and still admire is her creativity. She kindly gave up some of her time to answer a few questions for the blog about her work as a memorial textile artist…
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
My name is Olivia. I live in Leeds, hail from Leeds and am totally 100% proud to be from Leeds. I try to tie my love of my hometown into all of my work; easy to do when most of my work at the moment is First World War based and in honour of the Yorkshire regiments and The Leeds Pals.
I haven’t always lived in Leeds though; I like to think of myself as quite an adaptable person and I have lived and grown up in Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Liverpool and Middlesbrough. I live in Rothwell but we are currently looking for our ‘dream’ Victorian terrace to make our own, it is difficult to sew and create in the corner of our spare room and I would love some studio space or an outhouse to spread my wings a little bit.
I am currently a Media Studies teacher and have a degree in Media & Film from Bradford University. Although I don’t have an art based background, I have always been interested in art, dabbling in craft and embroidery work. I have been running my Facebook page for two years now although it has changed in direction completely since I started it in 2015.
Another passion of mine is history, a subject which I never enjoyed at school due to a heavy focus on politics; my interest being social history in particular. I am fascinated by the First World War, architecture, interior design, fashion and generally anything which gives me an insight into the way that people lived, worked and loved before 21st century modernisation and the creation of the internet! I think that is why I am so interested in embroidery and other traditional art forms.
When and how did the Liv & Sew: Memorial Textile Artist come about?
I knew that I wanted to set up a small business on Facebook for a long time and the idea came to life on the ferry from France in 2015. I originally began by making and sewing craft items such as bunting, cushions, Christmas decorations and to be honest I would have a good go at anything anybody requested.
I enjoyed every minute but it was only a matter of time before I began to get restless. I felt like a crafter and deep down I wanted to feel like an artist. This is when the direction of the page began to change. I wanted very much to combine my love of sewing and my interest in history; this is when the page became ‘Liv & Sew: Memorial Textile Artist’. I was aware that this would possibly mean less sales, maybe even less interest, but I booked my first exhibition at Rivers Meet in Methley and got to work. And get to work I did; 50 sweetheart pincushions, each dedicated to a Leeds Pal who lost his life on the first day of The Battle of the Somme went on display in February of this year and the rest is history.
I have since sold many of the hearts, displayed them at three exhibitions, created custom hearts for relatives of soldiers and dedicated hearts to the Battle of Arras and the Barnbow Lasses.
Where did your passion for your craft come from and what inspires you?
I am inspired by stories. Stories fascinate me. Personal stories, historical stories, poems, novels and basically anything at all which I feel deserves to be remembered can be inspiration for my work. My current obsession is the long forgotten craft of ‘sweetheart’ pincushions; sawdust stuffed hearts given to soldiers to decorate with pins and buttons whilst convalescing in hospital during the First World War. They would then pass on these hearts to loved one, a message to say ‘I love you’, ‘Remember me’ or ‘I’m doing just fine’.
I found the whole idea extremely moving, that these men, after witnessing and experiencing everything they had, used their hands and their time to work on these special pieces, using techniques which at that time were classed as belonging to women. I began to research the hearts and create my own, using as many of the traditional methods as I could (with a little bit of help from my sewing machine!).
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am in the process of planning a big exhibition to mark the end of the war in November 2018. I myself am going to be presenting a series of hearts dedicated to all of the men from Yorkshire regiments who were shot at dawn during The First World War; it is set to be a very moving piece. However I have also invited a number of other artists to join me.
The the exhibition will be called ‘For the Fallen’ and the brief is anything which marks the centenary of the end of the war, however I will be encouraging work which in some way gives a nod to the city or county. I am also working on a series of smaller hearts dedicated to the war poets and their poems.
What advice can you give to others thinking about opening a business or starting a craft-related hobby?
Just go for it. If your business is all about making a profit then that is one thing, but if deep down that isn’t the main focus, then my advice would be to put that to one side. You should love what you do and it really shouldn’t feel like a chore. Also, be brave. For every one person who doesn’t like or understand what you do there will be three who do, maybe you just haven’t found your target audience yet.
In regards to Facebook, don’t do like for likes and don’t obsess over page likes! There is nothing more unhelpful than followers who aren’t really interested in what you do and yes, that does include family and friends. You are better off with less followers who love your work, support and maybe even buy your work and engage with the page regularly than dead wood who cause your posts to reach a smaller and/or less relevant audience.