Claire is genuinely one of the loveliest people I've met through instagram. I had the pleasure of hanging out with her, along with Jo of Hello Sunshine and Jenny of Copper Boom in Cambridge last year, punting and eating excessive amounts of ice cream. Claire's cat Tammy has such a wonderful expressive face which I always enjoy seeing pop up on my feed alongside Claire's pastel coloured crafts, so I thought it was about time I interviewed Claire about her fluffy pal and her creative career...
How and when did Claireabellemakes come about and how has your business changed since you made the transition into full-time freelance last year?
I started Claireabellemakes as a personal project in 2012 with a blog to keep up with my creative projects. Soon after, I opened an Etsy store and really fell in love with the idea of building a brand around my interests. Over the years my product collections and blog topics have developed and I have branched out to include craft workshops (I call them parties!) so that I can share my creative passions with people IRL. My business has evolved over the years to become one with multiple income streams, so as well as the Claireabellemakes side, I work on styling projects and blog writing for freelance clients too. It can be pretty varied. Right now I'm working on some crochet commissions for a magazine and a custom pencil order for a tech company in NYC.
You've had Tammy for 11 years right? Tell us how you two found each other!
Actually I think this year we will have had Tammy for 12 years, wow! Tammy originally belonged to our South African friend from University. He and his wife had a child who was unfortunately allergic to her lovely white fluffy fur. They went home to see family for Christmas and asked us if we could host Tammy at our house for the month. Of course we saw her squishy face and said yes. When they came home, they told us it was a test because they wanted us to keep her!! After much convincing, G agreed we could keep her as long as he didn't have to clear the litter tray (she's a house cat). He has stuck to that to this day!
What are some of Tammy's quirks? It must be nice to spend more time with her now that you're working from home!
Tammy is SO happy now I am at home more. I'm not sure if it is a persian thing, but she is the most affectionate cat ever. She has to be touching you at all times. If you're not paying her attention she will persist until you do. If I'm working on my laptop she wants to lay on my arm to be close. If I can coax her onto our mountain of blankets by the sofa I can manage to get some work done! For Christmas we gave her one of those electric butterfly toys that spins around and she loves it. We're trying to keep her more active in her older years. But she still loves to sleep on my pillow like a hat each night.
You sell quite an eclectic range of products. Which would you say is your most popular and why do you think that is?
My most popular products vary depending on the time of the year! When the Tour De France came to Cambridge the bicycle bracelets were a massive hit as I have lots of local customers. Now, the motivational pencils have become popular and were the best seller for stocking fillers at Christmas. I think it's because people need a bit of a lift and there are so many stationery fans out there. My favourite at the moment is the glitter heart pins - my female customers love a bit of sparkle.
Tell us a bit about your craft parties - they look like a lot of fun! How often do you get to host one and are they usually run totally by you or are you employed by companies to create them?
My craft parties are a way for me to take my DIY blog projects and bring them to life in a real life workshop. I love meeting people who share my passion for creating and they are really an opportunity for people to just have a go. One of my favourite parties was when we made bath bombs and candles. The whole venue had this amazing scent! After a short hiatus last year, I am looking to hold more in 2017. Each party is a chance for participants to finish a project within 2 hours. They are all run by me and I work with local independent venues in Cambridge to find the best places to hold them. This year I want to collaborate with other people in the community to find the best supplies for us to use when we party. And I want to find the most fun decorations I can because I love that part too! I also work freelance to run workshops for clients - last December I worked with Disney to create a workshop for the launch of the Pete's Dragon film which was a lot of fun.
You're very open about suffering from migraines and how it affects your work. For people who don't know, can you tell us a bit more about that and also what you find helps you recover from them best? Does having a pet around help at all? I find sleepy cats to be very therapeutic!
I've suffered from migraines since I was 12, but they became more problematic after age 25 (I'm 33 now). It's important to me to share my experience with migraines because there is a misconception that they are just a headache and unfortunately it is so much more than that. Before I went freelance, I worked in a busy desk job and was sat at a computer all day, which really didn't help. Often I can be out of action for a few days with an attack and sometimes they can be mild enough that a bath and a slower morning can help. It's really a spectrum of symptoms and recovery because sometimes I feel really sick and dizzy and other times I have to be in a dark, quiet place. The day after is a like a hangover so I always grab Tammy for cuddles when I feel poorly. It's such a comfort! Working my own hours has really helped because I can rest when I need to and work later in the evening if that is when I feel well.
Alongside creating your own work you write freelance for other companies such as We Make Collective and Laura Ashley. What's it like working for existing brands, whether it's creating a DIY or writing a blog post? Do you tend to have freedom to create anything you'd like or are there usually strict guidelines?
I love working with brands and other creative companies! We Make Collective is a really fun one because I Kickstarted Fran's idea when she first started it. I really believe in the message behind it, so it's easy to create DIYs and social posts for them. Each brand and company is so different, but I love the variety. I write interior posts for Homedit which is great, because I get to submit ideas for consideration alongside some really great contributors. With some brands I have free reign or a lose brief to work from. I mostly love the projects where there is a concept or material to start with and then I get to create something from there. It's like a creative challenge each time.
You're a self-confessed planner addict! What do you look for in a planner and can you recommend your favourites?
I sure am! I have always been someone who needs to write things down to get them in my brain or to solidify goals and dreams. I've always had a stationery obsession after I had a Fun Fax in the 90s (remember them?). After that I had a pocket FiloFax to note down all my reminders and lots of notepads on the go. Now, I look for planners that are pretty and functional because it motivates me to use them. I love spiral bound, ring bound and hard bound - any that keeps me productive will be a winner! At the moment I've got a Leuchtturm notebook to Bullet Journal for my business. It's a great analogue system that you can customise to make it exactly what you need. Each page is designed by you, so if you need a calendar page you make it. If you need a list or goal tracker - draw it up! The flexibility of the BuJo makes it really popular and the fact that you just need a pen and notebook to get started means it's so accessible. I'm loving it this year.
Who are some of your favourite instagrammers who share photos of their craft and their pets?
Oh there are soooo many! After looking after her kitties in person, I have to say Sunshine Jo for Toby and Pegs, Finest Imaginary for her cute puppy pictures and fellow Persian owner Oh No Rachio's posts always make me smile. I also LOVE Nikki's feed and seeing Frankie and you can't beat seeing Indy's pink tongue on Pup Tart's feed. Oh and I love Hello Harriet and Kim Haskins so much too!
If you enjoyed this post you might like to read the other interviews in the series, many of the makers mentioned by Claire in the last question have already taken part! Got a recommendation for a future Crafty Critters interview? Let me know on instagram, I'm @zabbyallen!