An Interview with Nancy Shaffee – Flights of Fantasy, Charles Cottage Studio, Well Urned Rest

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Tell us a bit about the artist behind your beautiful creations.

With such a tortuous route to what I am doing now, this is a tall order! I am sure it will be no surprise to anyone over 40 that when we look at our full CVs they often bear little relation to what we end up doing.  I look at mine and wonder why I took so long to travel in several unrelated yet intertwined circles!

You could look at bilingual secretarial training leading to publishing, PR and years running a medical practice for consultants in Surrey. But interwoven into this are time at art college leading to fabric and fashion design and a job in Finland, then round again to the delight of working with textiles, willow and plaster!

I am lucky that apart from odd glitches and occasional personality clashes, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every one of the fifty-odd years I have been working, whatever I was doing at the time!

Have you always been creative or did your talent evolve over time?

My mother taught me to make what we called pinwheel lace when I was a child, and I always helped her make my dresses (party dresses being the best, of course!)

Growing up in Africa, I had a wonderful opportunity to appreciate all sorts of craft from ceramic beads to rush basketwork, metal work and fabric printing.  So I guess it’s ‘in the blood’!

While working with textiles has been ongoing, it took until 2009 to discover feltmaking,  and quite a lot longer to find a way of making my ideas for plaster casts work, via some very helpful YouTube videos and generous teachers.

What is it that you enjoy most about your work?

Coming up with the ideas – that’s the bit I like the best. I can never understand people who ask ‘what do you do if you run out of ideas?’   I have more ideas than time to try them.

I don’t think in 2D, so can’t draw my ideas out. I do envy the people I meet who have bulging artbooks with notes and drawings interspersed with snippets of fabric and paint samples.

Each time I have an idea I have to try it out in a 3D format. Not everything works, but when it does, the excitement beats even the biggest bar of chocolate. You should see the archive boxes I have of failed experiments! Nothing gets thrown away, though, as with felt you can always reuse bits and incorporate them into other work.

Have you achieved anything in your crafting life that you are particularly proud of?

It sort of depends on where my ‘crafting life’ starts.  I set up a magazine for mums to find useful information when my oldest son was a baby.

I sold it ten years later and remember being asked back for its 15th, then it’s 20th anniversary parties.  Now, with its third owners it is still going strong some 30+years later!

I’m pretty proud of being chosen as Surrey Guild of Craftsmen’s Chair after just three years of membership, but do remind myself that maybe everyone was quietly saying ’Phew, got out of that job’. We’ll soon find out. I have to find someone to take the job on next April as I will have been in the post for four years by then!

Other than crafting what else do you like to do?

I am boringly predictable. I like all the things that most people have on their CVs – eating out, photography, walking, travel, reading!

But with so many different craft interests, I usually find something creative to try – from copper foiling glass to weaving willow or cord baskets. I go round big craft shows with so many enthusiasms I really have to keep my hands in my pockets. My work-room is pretty much a storage cupboard for all the fabrics, wools and gadgets I have gathered over the years!

If you had to choose your favourite from your creations, which would it be?

A bee skep I made for an exhibition.  This is a ‘coiled fabric basket’ but upside down – I call it a key-safe.  It’s made with totally recycled fabrics, even the bees were my son’s outgrown corduroy trousers!  I used to be a beekeeper, but had to give up when I discovered I was allergic to their stings, so I cherish it as a reminder of my beekeeping years.

What advice would you offer to someone new starting out in the craft world?

  • Do be sure you really love what you do.
  • Be original.
  • Find your own niche – don’t just make something because you think it will sell, make because you love it.
  • Don’t expect to make money instantly.

Not necessarily in that order!

If you could change one thing about what you do, what would it be?

I wish I had started on this path sooner.

If I could stretch the hours to fit in more, I would.  I do have a ‘day job’ as well so time is always tight, but conversely I think if I were free to just create stuff all day every day, it might take the joy out of the hours I can dedicate to pleasing myself!

What do you think has helped your business the most?

Flexibility and being willing to give something a go even if I am not sure it will work.

My new business Well Urned Rest is one such gamble. As well as my own work, I also am actively looking for people who make lovely things that I can add to the website as memories to cherish, so I hope this will grow too as it encompasses other creative souls.

Has any person helped or supported you more than any other?

My husband. I know that sounds a bit twee, but while he jokes about what I do, he has never begrudged me the time or money to attend workshops, cover the house in equipment and materials or fill it with people learning from me, because as well as learning from others myself, I do try to pass on my passions and so I teach regularly!

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

I still can’t swim!


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