It’s been a little while, but I’m back with another story! Getting an insider look and championing small independent makers and designers once again, I’m sharing the story of Connie Mabbott, an embroidery designer and the owner of the growing solopreneur company, Lint & Thread.
At Lint & Thread, Connie sells clothing with high quality and detailed embroidered designs that have been created on her sewing machine. Many people get the impression that Connie’s designs are created digitally, so I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look into how Connie really does make her designs at her studio in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham.
In today’s story, Connie’s sharing her creative journey with us, which starts in Wales, heads over to Birmingham, takes a detour down to London and back up to Birmingham again!
Connie’s story begins when she was at high school in Wales. She’d always had an interest in art, especially fashion, with a keen interest in wanting to learn how to make clothes. There was a great opportunity for her to do just that in the final two years of high school, but by the time it was her time to select this as an option, it had been removed!
But that didn’t put Connie off for too long, because she later went on to study Art & Design at college, after her teachers advised her to study that instead of doing her A Levels, especially since she knew her heart was set on studying a fashion design course at university.
“Again, I didn’t get to learn how to make clothes, it was all art, drawing, painting and not much embroidery.”
This gives you an idea of one of the issues Connie had to face whilst living in Wales, which was the lack of opportunities available for her to study a fashion design course purely because it wasn’t a popular career path.
“I think I knew that I just wanted to do something creative. I always wanted it to be fashion. I was just never really given the opportunity to learn how to make clothes and fashion design itself, just because of where I lived.”
So Connie worked her way through the Art & Design course, and decided it would be better to move away to learn the area of the creative industries her heart was set on - fashion design. After attending some open days Connie was under the impression that in order to study a fashion design course she needed to already know how to make garments. In the end she went on to study a textiles design course at Birmingham City University, but little did she know this would be the better option for her future career.
“I think it worked out better because from doing a degree in textile design I quite quickly came to realise that what I liked the most about fashion was the embroidery that was on them, as opposed to the making of the garment.”
It was during her second year at university that Connie specialised in embroidery, and from then on things have worked out pretty well for her. Connie went on to use her embroidery skills at internships for various companies, and even landed her first full-time role after university because of it. That company was Hawthorne & Heaney, where she first spent one month interning in London whilst still a student, with the added bonus of paid work each weekend. The role varied from running errands, going to the post office to post orders, preparing for classes in the evening, but also working in shopping precincts with Kipling doing personalised embroidery on digital machines.
“We went to a different shopping precinct every weekend with these big digital machines to monogram the bags, and because it was outside of my internship contract, I got paid for those weekends. I think that’s how I got the job there, because I’d already worked for them before.”
After graduating Connie continued to live in Birmingham, but also started working for Hawthorne & Heaney in London. This was a great opportunity to be given straight after finishing her studies, but commuting from Birmingham to London everyday wasn’t ideal, especially since she’s such an active person! Connie’s plan was to move to London once the contract for her apartment was up, but six months into her employment, she decided to drop her hours down to part-time, purely because commuting everyday got a bit too much. Then she started to work part-time in a bridal shop in Birmingham, which was great because it allowed her to continue using her skills in embroidery, but this time without the long journey to and from work every day.
By the time Connie decided it was time for her to start her own business, she had left her London job and was working two part-time jobs in Birmingham, the first being the bridal shop, and the second in a restaurant. After a while of doing this, she decided it’s time to take matters into her own hands - it was time to start her own business!
“That’s how it started. It was planned out, but not. I started doing it just on the side thinking I was going to work for somebody else. But then there’s no other embroidery jobs in Birmingham, so I thought I’ve got to make my own.”
Starting her own business was a great move. Beginning with an Etsy shop, Connie attended as many creative shows and markets as she could, including the Paperdolls Handmade and the Crafty Fox market, whilst still doing two part-time jobs. The hard work started to pay off, because soon she was able to move into a studio in the Jewellery Quarter, working alongside a small group of other makers, but also quitting her job at the restaurant! Making these changes meant that now Connie could focus on embroidery full-time.
It’s lovely to hear throughout Connie’s story how she was able to discover her love for embroidery, which then led on to working with some amazing companies thanks to getting to know potential employers whilst interning with them. But as you know, I want to make The Artisan Detour a place where we can share our struggles. What is it that we as creatives have found difficult on our journeys? Connie’s answer is one where so many creatives can relate:
“I think probably the unknown. Just not knowing where it’s going to go. The thing that I struggled with the most is the transition between working two part-time jobs plus my business, to then quitting my restaurant job to work on my business.”
Yep, the unknown is a scary place to be. But luckily, in Connie’s case things are working out well! When I arrived at her studio I was able to see her working on a big order, but she’s also proactive in finding out what events she can attend throughout the year. As I’ve already mentioned, she’s been part of London’s Crafty Fox market, the Paperdolls Handmade Market in Birmingham as well as Etsy events. The important lesson here is that when things do seem uncertain, don’t let it stop you from actively getting your business in front of customers, instead let it fuel your hunger for wanting to make a living out of it.
Finally, I asked Connie what aspect of her career to date she is most proud of?
“The way I make the embroidery. At past events I’ve struggled with getting people to understand that it’s not digital. If they think it’s digital, it must be good! I try and bring my machine to events with me to demonstrate how it’s made. So, I’m quite proud of that.”
I hope you enjoyed Connie’s story and the behind the scenes photos of her working on her orders. Please do head over to her website, and follow her on Instagram, where you get to see plenty of behind the scenes peeks into her embroidery work on IG stories!