slow - simple - soulful - sustainable
Craftpod | Jo Pillinger
‘I have strong memories of the smell of elderflowers and lavender, the sound of wood pigeons, the taste of blackberries and roaming the fields and woods as a child.’
Jo is the founder of Craftpod, a seasonal creative subscription box, inspired by nature. Each box is filled with stitching and other crafting projects, designed to celebrate the joys of that season.
We asked Jo about the inspiration for Craftpod, how she chooses the projects for each, and how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected her plans. We also talked about the realities of running a creative business, and how she juggles it alongside her life.
words by Fiona Barrows and Jo Pillinger / images by Jo Pillinger
Craftpod is such an original idea, how did you come up with it?
‘I used to work at a Steiner school leading groups for parents and their young children. We would always begin with a nature inspired activity which would celebrate the season and bring the outside in. It was fun to come up with projects through the year that had a connection with nature.
I also ran crafting groups for friends which were such nice occasions. At first I thought I’d like to write a book with some of the projects in, but then I saw other subscription boxes and loved the idea of receiving a surprise package in the post that almost ‘bottled’ the experience of a craft group. It reminded me of a sticker club package that I used to get through the post as a child. The anticipation and excitement was huge!
I thought I’d give it a go and tried to make the Craftpod in a box experience as close as possible to the craft groups where people chatted and had tea whilst making a project – an online crafting club that people from anywhere in the world could join in with each season.’
You sell both a subscription and one-off boxes. Have you always done both or did one follow the other?
‘I’ve always offered both, so that people can try it out to see if they like it.’
Craftpods are very much inspired by nature and the seasons. Why is this? Do you think there is a link between crafting and nature?
‘I guess it’s just a big part of what I wanted to work with – bringing a connection with nature into people’s lives. I particularly love botanical embroideries. It combines two of my favourite things – stitching and plants.
But yes, there are also great crafters living in the natural world such as spiders spinning beautiful webs, bees making honeycomb, and birds weaving nests.’
How do you pull each Craftpod together?
‘I begin by thinking into the season, remembering the things I love about it that give me a sense of excitement and joy. I scroll through past photos I’ve taken from previous years to transport me forward into the next season as I have to work a season ahead which is not always easy!
There’s always a stitching project, and I try to include another craft too. I put project ideas together to see if they’re harmonious next to each other and to see if they can share some materials and threads in their making process.
I spend a long time putting colours together – it’s one of my favourite elements of designing a box. The colour of each thread is important and any additional items need to feel right, especially when placed together. I want my customers to feel joy just from seeing the contents of each box. I always arrange the threads in ‘rainbow order’ to make it look satisfying!’
Do you have a favourite craft?
‘I really enjoy botanical embroidery. Studying the botanical structures and patterns and then turning them into stitches is a bit like growing your own plants but quicker! I use DMC embroidery threads which have a lovely sheen to them which lends itself well to the natural shading and colours found in plants.
I also really enjoy print-making and am hoping to include a printing project in a Craftpod box soon.’
How do you manage running Craftpod alongside your life?
‘People often think that Craftpod is a big company with lots of people working for it. It’s actually just me with a little bit of help during the preparation and packing weeks. This incidentally is the easiest and most fun part.
My children are 18 and 22 now, and I can’t imagine running a business like this with young children. My eldest daughter, Immi, helps a lot with admin and packing, and a friend helps with the packing and sometimes the graphic element. I’m very lucky to have their input.
I don’t use a fulfilment centre to pack the boxes because there are too many little details and personal touches which I worry would become lost. I like to have that connection with the product, and discard contents or packaging that doesn’t quite meet the standard.
Photography, writing the instructions, designing projects and sourcing stock are all enjoyable parts of the process but I would sometimes like to go slower and spend six months on each box instead of three.
I think of Craftpod as a Slow Business. It’s growing fairly organically. I don’t have a background in business or marketing, I just feel my way as I go. I’ve learnt a lot over the last few years. I’d rather sell less and get the projects and contents right, than rush the product or compromise it in any way.’
Is there any part of the business that you particularly struggle with?
‘I struggle with the fact that I can’t take much time off. The subscription model means that there always needs to be another box in the pipeline! Three months comes around very quickly and it’s not actually that long to come up with a new box each time. I’d like to get better at having a work structure, but there’s always something that needs to be done, and time off can easily blur into working!
The only real decent break I’ve had lately was in April when I was unwell for two weeks during the pandemic! Much of the world slowed down and I did too. It’s as if many of us were given permission to stop. It’s sad that we live such busy lives and spend less and less time doing fundamental things which connect us to being in the present moment.
I’ve recently enjoyed more gardening, making bread and mending clothing. I’ve vowed now to keep hold of some of these things even though I have a business to run – ultimately these things are good for wellbeing which in turn feeds into a creative business like Craftpod.
Sometimes sourcing supplies is difficult. I try to buy from the UK whenever possible but not many wholesalers hold stock of over a thousand pieces of the same item. So I have to plan ahead and guess how many boxes I’ll be selling, and place my orders well in advance. This can mean that I’m sometimes planning a summer box in the middle of winter!
The other side of all this though is the flexibility of being able to decide when I take time off. If it’s particularly lovely weather I can take an afternoon off and work later that evening.’
What are you most proud of with Craftpod?
‘I’m proud to have created a business which works and is centred around a good quality product, which inspires people to be creative and have a go at making, even if it’s something they’ve never done before. I have the loveliest customers! I’m so grateful to them and for their feedback. I watch fellow craftpodders on Instagram sharing their makes from each box and I see that I’ve helped to build a crafting community which I feel proud of.’
Do you have any future plans? How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted these plans?
‘I have plans for more variation of crafts in future boxes. The wait for supplies can be long anyway but it’s even longer now with the pandemic.
I’d also like to get some Craftpod gatherings happening where Craftpodders can meet up in real life and craft together. This will need to wait for now, with social distancing in place, but maybe next year.’
And finally, what does slow living mean to you?
‘Slow living to me is allowing time and space to savour the simple things in life, making sure I notice and appreciate the smaller details. I have strong memories of the smell of elderflowers and lavender, the sound of wood pigeons, the taste of blackberries and roaming the fields and woods as a child. It’s now my therapy to walk in the woods, or park, or a meadow. I notice what’s around, what I can hear, see and smell.’
THE TOOL BOX
What materials/resources do you use: I’m mostly inspired by the outside world but also many wonderful makers and ideas on Pinterest and Instagram. The book I wouldn’t want to be without is probably The Concise British Flora in colour by William Keble Martin. The author took 60 years to illustrate this!
I’m also inspired by the effortless style with which Lucy from Attic 24 runs her business and the community she creates. She’s a prolific crocheter and just writes about what she loves. Lucy has been really generous in her support of Craftpod and has also contributed two projects to the boxes.
How do you get in the mood to work: I usually go for a walk in a local park and look on Pinterest for inspiration. I also listen to music whilst I work. My favourites at the moment are anything by This is the Kit, Erik Satie and Alabaster Deplume’s recent instrumental album ‘To Cy & Lee’.
What’s in your mug beside you: Fresh garden mint tea, but in the mornings I start the day with English Breakfast tea.
How do you relax after work: I love countryside walks and playing my saxophone and melodica with friends. I also have a favourite little Spanish bar near where I live which hosts live musicians and serves tapas. I’ve missed it a lot through the pandemic and I’m looking forward to it reopening hopefully later in the year.
JO’S TRADE SECRET
Keep your fabric tension even
‘Something which is really important when embroidering is keeping the fabric tension even in your hoop, and tightening the screw when you notice the material has become slack, which inevitably happens many times whilst stitching.
Then, before committing the finished piece to the hoop, either by a running stitch or gluing, make sure the fabric is evenly pulled again. I’ve seen beautiful embroideries where you can see people have spent hours stitching, only to be finished off in the hoop with dents and unevenness in the fabric, which doesn’t help do justice to a labour of love.’