Welcome back to Candy Conversations! It’s time to meet Sian, of Siansburys, and chat about monkeys!
- Name : Sian Hughes
- Hometown : Sheffield
- Craft : Sewing (Sock Monkeys)
- Company Name : Siansburys
- Website : http://siansburys.net
- Etsy : http://siansburys.etsy.com
- Folksy : http://www.folksy.com/shops/siansburys (empty at the moment!)
- Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/siansburys.net
- Twitter : http://www.twitter.com/siansburys
- Likes : Monkeys, Otters, Badgers, Foxes, animals, wildlife, trees, plants, walking on the moors, drawing, painting and pottering.
- Dislikes : Spiders, enclosed spaces, public speaking, rude people, drizzle. If you combined all these things into one event I would probably self-destruct!
- Hello Sian! Welcome to Candy Conversations. Thanks for chatting to us!
Hello, thanks for having me!
- So…tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 33 and live in Sheffield with Andy, my partner of many, many years, our cat Mia and some fish. After school, I went to Sheffield College to study my Art Foundation before realising I wasn’t competitive enough to ever make any money at it, so went on to study Geography at the University of Derby. I specialised in Landscape Ecology, which mostly involved going out into the countryside with ranging poles and looking at trees. I’m not sure how I thought I’d make any money with that either, but that’s what happened.
- Have you always been creative though, or is it something you rediscovered again later on?
I know everyone says this, but I have always been creative. I remember sitting round my grandparent’s kitchen table and being taught how to draw stars using two triangles, and then showing off my skills to my new friends at infant school, only much later realising I’d drawn the second triangle sideways rather than upside down. Actually, that probably shows how artistically inept I was, but creative, right?
My Dad is an architect (or was, he’s recently retired) and has always been a major influence. He had a drawing board at home so my siblings and I had unlimited access to paper and art materials, as well as his expertise of course! I remember ‘helping’ him with posters for the rugby club and being allowed to sit next to him and draw while he worked. My Mum likes to deny that she’s creative, but she sculpts, carves, knits and sews, and both of her parents painted, so it’s definitely in the blood. Every Christmas we would get drawing paper and pens as well as whatever it was we’d asked for, so I think you could say we were encouraged!
I always really enjoyed art as a subject at school but don’t feel like I ever found my ‘style’, or if I did it wasn’t necessarily encouraged. I was definitely pushed in a certain direction at A’ Level and at College, which is why I lost interest for a few years, as it wasn’t a direction I was comfortable with.
In terms of ‘craft’, I was in the knitting club at junior school (first rule of knit club… etc) I think I knitted a snowman. I made a teddy bear at junior school as well, though I don’t know what I did with that either. Later, I received an excellent report for Home Economics, and considered it a huge joke because I was also quite academic. However, since leaving school I’ve had to thread a sewing machine and cook potatoes about a thousand times, and I have never needed to know the molecular structure of… well… anything, so thank you Home Economics teacher!
- So, what is your craft exactly? Will you tell us about what you do, and how you started off?
I make sock monkeys, which basically involves taking a perfectly good pair of socks, cutting them up, and stitching them back together again in the shape of a monkey. The craft itself started off in Depression-era America, where wives would take their husbands worn out work socks and make them into toys for their kids.
I started making sock monkeys after a few things conspired towards it. Firstly, I have always loved monkeys. My favourite programmes when I was little were ‘Monkey’, various documentaries about wildlife and ‘Animal Magic’ with Johnny Morris.
Second, I was given the gift of a book called ‘Sock Monkeys (200 Out of 1, 863)’ by Arne Svenson and Ron Warren, which contains black and white portrait photos of vintage red-heeled sock monkeys, with their life ‘histories’ written by American authors.
Third, I discovered Myspace and a whole community of people making stuff, and selling on Etsy.
Fourth, we went to visit my sister and her husband in Michigan, and I was enamoured with the culture of homemade, which is so much more prevalent over there. I also picked up a copy of ‘Stupid Sock Creatures’ by John Murphy at a gift shop in Chicago, which must have been a turning point. After making a few sock creatures inspired by John’s designs, I did a couple of trades with my contacts on Myspace, and didn’t think anything more of it until I got made redundant from BTCV (an environmental conservation charity).
So finally (sorry, this is turning into my life story), I got made redundant and needed some income. I started selling my creatures on Ebay to make a few pennies while I looked for other work. Soon I discovered a lovely community of UK makers on Etsy, where I had intended to sell all my crafts: paintings, prints, greetings cards etc, and sock creatures were just a sideline. However, the monkeys were an immediate success, and all of my other crafts dropped to the bottom of my listings, so I gradually admitted defeat and removed them. My ‘Super’ sock monkeys started as a result of the UK Etsy Challenge theme of ‘clouds’, for which I made ‘Monkey’ monkey. I took some (what I thought were) emotive photos of him riding his pink cloud, and was absolutely over the moon to actually win the challenge, and sell the monkey! The rest of my custom orders were off the back of that really.
- Where do you currently sell your monkeys, and how do you go about self-promoting your work?
I sell on Etsy and at Craft Candy fairs – I will be at the next one: Candy Cane at the Millennium Galleries on November 27th which I’m really excited about, and I’m looking forward to doing my Christmas shopping!
I have a Facebook Page and a profile on almost every social network, but find Flickr is probably the best place for getting your work seen by people who wouldn’t otherwise have found you. Twitter is great for chatting to people and staying sane, particularly when you work from home and don’t have any workmates! I don’t tend to promote too much except on my Facebook page, as that’s what that was set up for – I don’t want to annoy people too much with links to my shop!
I also have a blog, and everything is linked together, so people who are interested can click their way though a maze of technology to find me all over the web! I think I’ve had sales through all my profiles, either by people finding my Etsy page or by sending me a message, so it’s all good.
- Are you able to produce one off commissioned pieces for people who would like their own personalised monkey?
Yes, I am usually working on two or three custom orders at any time. I’m happy to say that I am booked up for Christmas now, but am open to more commissions for the New Year. The best way for people to contact me is to see my website, where I set out the basic process, and you can see examples of my previous work. Then you can email me at email@example.com with your ideas!
- Do you work from home, or have a studio space?
I work from home in the spare bedroom and it’s an absolute tip, which really annoys me. I love to be tidy and organised, but I have a habit of dragging everything out at once and then being too overwhelmed to put it away. I tend to find its easier then to pick up the essentials and move to the sofa, and keep on bringing more and more stuff down until practically my whole room is on the sofa. We’ve just got our own place after ten years of renting, so I’m hoping that getting permanent shelving in a permanent space will sort my messiness out. I doubt it though!
- Is monkey-making your main job, or do you have a day job too?
I have worked as an animal care worker, as a rocking horse painter and restorer, as a volunteer and as a project officer for BTCV. I currently work for a rocking horse maker, my main responsibility being managing their Sheffield toy shop. I have worked for the company since I graduated in 2001, but have been in my current role since about 2008. I work part time and my hours can be fairly flexible, which usually works quite well as it gives me time for crafting, but obviously it’s tricky that both of my ‘jobs’ get busy at the same time in the run-up to Christmas! My job doesn’t relate to my craft as much as you’d think, because although my monkeys look like toys, they are intended as works of art (in the least pretentious way possible!) and collectors items. My craft does however draw heavily on childhood, nostalgia and play, so it’s quite a good combination in a lot of ways!
- Who or what inspires you, and how do you think this comes through in your work?
Oh gosh, I find inspiration in everything. I love colour and line. Some of my all-time favourite artists are Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Van Gogh, and many children’s book illustrators including EH Shepard, Alexis Deacon, and Lane Smith.
Yellow Submarine and anything produced by Jim Henson’s monster factory and Pixar. Movies and music from the 80s (mainly thanks to my Dad’s VHS, without which I would have missed most of it); Watership Down, The Muppets, The Kenny Everett Show, Tom & Jerry and The Goodies. Most of these influences come through in the stories I write for my monkeys, and in the ‘Superstar’ monkeys that I make.
Above all I’m a country-girl, I adore the bleak, sweeping moors that surround the south west of the city, and the plants and creatures that inhabit them, I find them endlessly fascinating and beautiful. Does that make me sound odd? Probably, but I’m okay with that!
- Which of your contemporaries do you admire?
Becky Gould of Scrumptious Delight – I discovered Becky through the Etsy Plush Team, of which we are both members. Her work is brilliant and hilarious, she made a plush Chopper for goodness sakes! I love the look of surprise on his face, and the fact that he has a face. I want to go and live in her head; I imagine it’s like the Chocolate Room in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I can’t omit to mention the rest of the Plush Team here, as they are all unbelievably talented people! You can peruse their work at http://plushteam.com
- http://www.etsy.com/shop/scrumptiousdelight -Becky Gould
Joey Ramone of Joey’s Dream Garden – I met Joey through Craft Candy and saw her work at one of the fairs. She is such a lovely person, and her stitching is simply sublime! I have bought a few of her things for friends, but I’d like to think that one day one of her ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ sets (a collaboration with artist Claire Hoey) will adorn that highly organised, opulently-shelved work-room I’m dreaming about.
- http://www.etsy.com/shop/Joeysdreamgarden – Joey Ramone
- http://pinfactoryart.blogspot.com/ - Claire Hoey
Louise Evans aka Felt Mistress – This is a new one on me, but her (or their – ‘creature maker’ Louise works with her partner, illustrator Jonathan Edwards) work is mind-boggling. You can find Felt Mistress designs at Selfridges in London up to Christmas – she even has her own window display, which is not only awesome in itself, but is a brilliant boost for other Plush makers across the UK.
- http://feltmistress.com/ – Louise Evans
- What’s your favourite thing about being creative?
It helps me relax definitely (although the opposite is also true at busy times), but the freedom of being able to earn money selling things I have made, or at least having the skills to make something out of nothing (physically or notionally), is definitely a big part of it. And just being able to find fun in almost anything – I’m easily entertained!
- Of all the sock monkeys you have made and sold, which has been your favourite?
My favourite monkey was Braveheart – I made him as a custom order for a brilliant couple over in the USA. It took ages and ages, but the photos still make me laugh every time I see them. I took the photos at one of my most favourite places in the world, so it’s also close to my heart for that reason.
- And do you have a favourite craft item that you have bought?
The very first thing I bought on Etsy has to be my favourite – Peaches the sock creature by Kittypinkstars. She’s got so much character and she always makes me smile! And the sock creature’s pretty special too… hahah
I bought Peaches in about 2003 and then bought one for most of my friends! I would definitely recommend Kittypinkstars as a maker – she is amazing, and has enough creativity and positivity for possibly everyone else in the world ever. My sister recently bought me a ‘custom doodle’ by Kitty for my birthday, which is really cute.
I’ve also got the original of a beautiful painting called ‘Crowfolk’ by Deb Champion, and a big print of ‘Why People Never Visit’ by Siobhian Carroll which reminds me of the village where I grew up! These two ladies are both absolutely fantastic in every way too. Apologies for harping on about how lovely everyone is but I have met so many wonderful, talented people through crafting, its impossible not to!
- http://www.etsy.com/shop/kittypinkstars – Kittypinkstars
- http://www.etsy.com/shop/champignons - Deb Champion
- http://www.etsy.com/shop/bunny - Siobhian Carroll
- Besides crafting and monkey-making, do you have any other hobbies or interests?
Sock monkeys are definitely my main pastime, but more than anything I love to draw and paint. I’ve recently begun drawing again and have started a blog – http://sianhughes.blogspot.com to try to make myself keep up with it. I’ve been going to Sketchcrawls – http://www.sketchcrawl.com/ round Sheffield, and have just started going to an art class this week for the first time in ten years. I also enjoy taking photographs but I am fairly rubbish at it as I haven’t got the patience for the technicalities of it at all. When I was a teenager I was heavily into horse-riding (I even had my own pony – I still can’t believe how lucky I was) so um, yes, I used to go to Pony Club! I would love to get back into riding one day too but for now I’ll just stick to the arts and crafts!
- What do you like about being a Craft Candy member, and how do you feel you benefit from being in the group?
I think I’ve been a member of Craft Candy for about 2 years, having found out about it through Sarah on Etsy. I joined mainly for the social side of things and I think (I hope!) I’ve made a few good friends along the way!
In my first year I made the gigantic step of doing my first ever craft fair, and it was made such and easy and friendly experience by the team that I’ve applied for every one since. I haven’t yet taken advantage of the workshops, as for a long time I was working every Saturday, but hopefully I’ll be able to join in with those soon.
- Last but not least, what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I’m hoping to build my Etsy store back up and restock my Folksy shop in the New Year. I would love to eventually have my own online store to sell directly through my website, but that’s a while off yet! I’d also like to be an amazing artist and photographer. Hey, you said I could dream!
- Thank you for chatting Sian!
No, no – thank you!