WEEK 3, JULY 20 - 26 (all weeks run from Monday 9am GMT)
THEME IS EMBELLISH, sponsored by Mahliqa
This week with our Instagram challenge, you can win a beautiful item of jewellery or a kit from Suraya’s shop – you get to pick from a wonderful selection that I’ll be showcasing this week on Instagram!
PLUS – everyone can get 15% off at Mahliqa until the 31 July – use the code 100ACTSJULY
I’m delighted to introduce Suraya Hossain as our week 3 sponsor. Suraya creates incredible jewellery using precious metal, wire, gemstones and crystals. She uses knitting and crochet techniques in her complex pieces and has increasingly been incorporating hand-dyed yarns to add unique texture and colour.
Formally a solicitor by profession, Suraya took a career break from law to bring up her young family and took up jewellery making as a hobby. She developed her own techniques using wire and gained formal qualifications in jewellery design and making before launching Mahliqa in 2008. As a London-born British Asian, Suraya draws on her cultural heritage of arts and handicrafts from the Indian Sub-continent. She is inspired by the classic jewellery created in India and Persia in past centuries, as well as the natural world and themes of environmentalism.
I asked Suraya some questions about how her business has developed and how things might evolve as lockdown lifts.
You'll be celebrating 12 years of your jewellery business this year. If you could go back and tell yourself one thing that you've learned about the business over that time, what would it be?
Yes, I officially started the business in 2008, and attended my first Knitting & Stitching Show in 2010.
I think there are so many elements to running a successful business, and as a designer-maker I learnt those as I went along. It can be a steep learning curve at times. Having a clear website that is easy to navigate, but also engaging is so important. As technology has improved, I've been able to update the online side of things regularly. I'm still working on my newsletters, but regular communication is important in maintaining a presence. Good photography is also key.
I think what has made the most difference in my work, and when I seemed to gain greater recognition, was when I started to collaborate with other makers. I always look for new ideas when it comes to kits and finished jewellery, and when I started to incorporate other mediums like hand-dyed yarn, it was an opportunity to connect with others and tap into their unique skills. With collaboration comes the ability to share and cross-promote, thereby gaining a bigger audience overall. I think if I had my time over, I would have collaborated a lot sooner - my jewellery is niche in that it appeals to other crocheters / knitters, and when you add yarn to the mix, it becomes a product that's hard to resist!
Yes I think collaborations can be an amazing thing - I've learnt a lot from working with other designers and craftspeople and also customers. You also deal directly with customers on personal commissions - is this something you have always done and how do you find the process?
Yes, commission work has been a main part of my income from the very beginning, and I have a loyal client base through it.
One of my very first commissions was way back in 2005, before I'd even participated in shows. I used to do a monthly outside market in Camden passage in Islington in London on a Sunday. A visitor took my card and decided to commission me to make her wedding choker and the jewellery of her bridesmaids and close family members. We met up and liaised about colours and precious gems/crystals she wanted in the pieces. She showed me the dress design and materials from her outfits. Her wedding theme was refreshingly vibrant and colourful and it was an absolute joy to create something that was so precious - nerve-racking, but very satisfying at the end.
What I love about the process is that it is personal and unique. As a maker, boredom can quite easily set in when you have to churn out the same piece or colourway over and over again. It can become monotonous, with little sense of achievement at the end. When I get a commission, it's a time to experiment and create something that is truly one-of-a-kind. Also, the client will bring their own ideas of what they want, and sometimes this inspires fresh design ideas - many of my new designs have been born of having created bespoke pieces. Also, it creates a real connection between you and the client, a chance to get to know them, which is lovely when most of your dealings are normally with regular orders that come through online.
My own silver wire hoops with yarn that Suraya created as a commission
It can be a time-consuming process, with much trial and error and discarded samples - but it provides scope for experimentation. To my mind, these are never wasted hours, because even the rejected samples can provide ideas for the future.
Seeing my work in the flesh gives an idea of how a piece could look with some modifications. When I do attend shows, I will always come away with bespoke work in the order book.
You attended Vogue Knitting Live in NY earlier this year and had a large scale piece of work, your Earth Skirt and Top, featured in their runway based show. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience of attending the show and the reaction that you got to your work?
Getting selected as a finalist for the VKL Kaleidoscope Fashion Show was an amazing experience. I was one of six other winning finalists from around the globe. The brief was to think outside the box in terms of materials, style, texture and shape and produce three coordinating designs for the runway. These could be existing or completely new designs.
In 2017 I had been part of a collaborative exhibition called "Where Wool Meets". This was with two other textile artists, Tina Francis of @tinafrancistapestry and Judith Watson of @judeworks. The theme was to look at each of our respective disciplines and to highlight that whilst we were all different, our practices all encompassed the common process of stitch, hence the name '...where wool meets'.
I produced a full length skirt knitted in wire and yarn, incorporating Swarovski crystals throughout. A jewellery collection to complement the skirt also formed part of the exhibition. The Earth Skirt was knitted in strips or panels and then hand sewn together, adding a lining and wire waistband. It was painstaking work and the piece took three months to complete, sewing the wire panels together seemed to take forever!
I decided to enter the skirt for the VKL competition, and also designed a new garment to go with it. It was a short, sleeveless top knitted in yarn and wire, which I called the Earth Crop Top. New jewellery also accompanied the ensemble, I added an Earth Cuff Bracelet which was hand knitted and sewn using the same yarn, wire and Swarovski crystals.
The full ensemble walked down the runway to gasps from the New York audience. The music and lighting, and lilting strides of the model, literally made the crystals and wire dance as if on fire, it was truly a surreal experience for me. I cannot tell you how uplifting it was to see the reaction of those in the crowd, many of whom knew nothing about me and had never heard of me before.
The runway moment at Vogue Knitting Live
As makers we are so engrossed in getting a piece finished and meeting deadlines, that we have little time to actually step back and see our work with fresh eyes.
From those who did know me, there was astonishment. I am known mainly for my jewellery. Garment design was a never on their radar as far as I was concerned, so this was a welcome surprise to my friends and followers.
For me, garment design was always in the background, I had always knitted and made and adapted patterns for my own wardrobe, jewellery designing was an off-shoot of that process, not the other way round. Needless to say, requests have come in for me to produce a pattern for the crop top, and since the pandemic lockdown I have been working on a knitting pattern for a top which has the signature crystals running through it, but it is early days!
So you think that pattern design could be an added strand to the business?
I'm certainly working on a design at the moment. Being in lockdown during this pandemic has given me time to explore this avenue a bit more. I think all designer-makers and small businesses were really badly hit by the sudden loss of income in the last few months.
Has any of your experience during lockdown given you cause to pause and reflect on your work and how you might take your business further or in new directions for the future?
Although a portion of my sales are online, I do still rely on the physical shows to get me through the year. With everyone worried about their health and safety, and the threat of losing income and jobs, it was inevitable that spending on non-essential items would take a tumble.
Most business owners have had to re-think their working model, looking to alternative selling platforms and other possible streams of income. I sell some downloadable jewellery patterns online, and so I promoted those in the early weeks of lockdown. Patterns are a good source of passive income, and don't require much work once it's uploaded onto a website. This got me thinking of perhaps working on a more substantial garment pattern. With all physical craft events cancelled, I didn't have the pressure of show preparation, so I've been able to concentrate on this a bit more.
For now I have a working outline of the concept, style, colours and yarn I'd like to use. As I mentioned, it will of course incorporate my beloved Swarovski crystals! It's quite a steep learning curve trying to get your head around colourwork chart construction and numerical grading for different sizes. It is one thing making a garment for yourself, quite another when you have to put together a coherent set of universal instructions for other knitters. There's an enormous amount of maths involved, just when you think you have the figures right, another set of measurements don't make sense! Let's just say it will be a while yet before it's ready to be unleashed on the public!
I would add that, regardless of lockdown, any small business should always look at other ways to diversify - the creative industry is constantly changing, and as a designer you need to be reading the signs. My original vision for what I was as a brand has changed in many ways over the years, from only ready-made jewellery, to designing kits; taking part in gallery exhibitions; moving into mixed-media pieces and collaborating with indie hand-dyers, and most recently at VKL, venturing into fashion. Who knows what's next on the horizon!
Thank you so much Suraya for taking time to answer my questions and to sponsor this week's prize! The winner will be able to select from a kit or a piece of jewellery that I will be showcasing this week on Instagram.
Stitch Marker bracelet in sterling silver with swarovski crystal charms and sterling silver charms
A RECAP ON HOW TO TAKE PART IN WEEK 3 OF 100 ACTS OF SEWING JULY
First of all you'll need at least one sewing pattern from the 100 Acts of Sewing collection.
Make a version of it that ties in with the weekly theme - this week the theme is EMBELLISH! You can interpret this however you like!
Then take a photo of your garment (preferably of you wearing it!)
Post your finished 100 Acts of Sewing garment on Instagram FROM 20-26 July. Use the hashtags
plus the garment hashtag, e.g. #shirtno1
and tag us both to be in with a chance of winning the prize!
Pattern hacks and adaptations are welcome but your garment must have initially come from a 100 Acts of Sewing pattern and should link to the weekly theme. Please only post garments that haven't been entered in previous years, let's keep it fresh!
One winner will be chosen at random each week from Instagram and they will get the sponsor’s prize.
Competition is open worldwide.
You can also win prizes in our private Facebook group - please answer the questions to gain membership and get sewing!