Getting to know Eleanor Churchill: fibre artist

Most business owners will tell you that the first year in business is the hardest. Creating a product is just the start; being able to align your own values and capture an audience in the depths of social media is no mean feat. Where ordinarily support and sales may spring from in-person networking and browsing customers, for the businesses starting in lockdown, their entire base has been enclosed within the four walls of home.

Eleanor Churchill, a fibre artist based in Manchester, is now the owner and designer at Ellamé Designs. What started as a way to keep her plants away from her cats and to decorate a newly purchased home, has led to an influx of macrame orders from eager shoppers. But, Eleanor’s business seems to have popped up at the right time – not only are her customers making a space for themselves that’s practical for working and comfortable for living, Eleanor’s seen a huge shift in her own wellbeing through its creation.

Could you tell me a bit about your background first of all?

Eleanor Churchill, Owner of Ellamé Designs

Yes! I’m Eleanor (Ellie) – I’m a fibre artist, drummer and cat enthusiast from Manchester.

Of course, we have to hear more about your feline friends…

Sure! I have one very fluffy ragdoll called Avalon, he loves eating peppers. He’s also the size of a small dog. My other cat is a European shorthair called Jefferson Bootsie Collins (Boots), he’s an absolute terrorist to be honest, but incredibly affectionate and cute. It’s lovely having them as work companions.

How did you go from a genius hack to setting up your business?

I’ve worked in Digital Content Production in various places including the BBC and Hull City of Culture 2017 and I fancied a change. I worked a couple of very different roles whilst at the BBC and the one left me feeling a bit deflated as it was in Production Management and to be honest, it was draining and a bit boring. I preferred my time working on CBeebies and in my previous Digital Content roles. Because of this, I ended up being even more creative than I was and I tried out making a plant hanger for the first time; it went well, so I made more.

I eventually moved on to wall hangings, and everyday accessories which led me to setting up my Etsy shop. I worked a full time job and came home to work on my macrame every night, most lunches were spent in the post office! I found the response to my work overwhelming and by October last year I left my Content Producer job at the British Council as I felt ready to take the plunge.

How did it feel to receive your first commission or sell your first piece?

The first time I sold something was actually on Facebook marketplace, I couldn’t believe somebody wanted to actually buy it! The first time I was asked to do a commission I actually felt really confident because I’d been knotting away for so long I felt comfortable doing it. It felt great though.

How have you found the physical act of crafting and making during the pandemic? Has it contributed to your wellbeing?

Yes, so much. I can be a very anxious person at times even when I don’t necessarily show it. Macrame helped me relax when I felt stressed in my last BBC role, it gave me more of a sense of purpose a little like my drumming does and it helped keep my mind from overthinking about everything. I’ve certainly had my dose of anxiety over lockdown, but if I didn’t have my business keeping my brain occupied I’m not sure what I would be like right now.

How do your products make a difference to people’s spaces now we’re spending so much time living and working in the same area?

It gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing that people are buying my products during lockdown especially. Their home is their personal space that I’m helping to make a brighter one for them. Whether it’s a guitar hanger, wall hanging or even a small plant hanger, I like the thought that someone will be looking up at it everyday and it could make them smile.

What challenges and successes have you faced developing a new business during the pandemic?

It’s been a year since I first started selling my products and I’ve already gone full-time with it, which to be honest I didn’t think would happen this early. So I would say that’s a success.

The challenge I had was working a full-time job to support what I was doing in the early stages as I was literally working all the time, day and night, I was very tired but I just persisted with it and knew I could succeed in it if I kept trying. I did a lot of research into Etsy as well, I don’t think a lot of people realise that it’s pretty much a big search engine so it operates differently to how they might think it does. In order to sell on there it isn’t enough to have great products, you have to understand its thinking and how to get your products seen. I find stuff like that really fun though, thankfully!

If you had free reign to create one mega bespoke design for a northern business which would you choose and why?

There’s a really lovely bar I like to drink at in Manchester called Wolf at the Door, it’s a pretty boho kind of place with heaps of plants and I love the interior, it’s really cosy. Upstairs they have a large piece of art that covers the whole wall and I remember thinking I would love to create something that huge for that space when I was last there. Perhaps something geometric and modern with some of my metallic rope.

You can find Eleanor @ellamedesigns on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.

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Northern Business and the World of Etsy

As we move further into the digital era, curating an online presence is more significant than ever. Etsy is helping creative individuals in the North of England gain exposure and cultivate success by selling their homemade products, writes editorial intern Lauren Beesting.

Etsy was founded in 2005 and has become a thriving business model, chosen by many for its strong community ideals and unrivaled popularity. Etsy gives crafters and DIYers the chance to sell and distribute their products across the UK and overseas, allowing creative success wherever you are located.

Lauren spoke to Sophie and Kristyna; two Etsy shop owners based in Leeds, about their experience creating and selling products online. 

Sophie Howarth: Owner of SillyLoaf

Sophie Howarth and her SillyLoaf Cactus Scarf

Sophie opened her Etsy store in 2011 when she found herself unfulfilled in her office job. The store started as “extra pocket money for a fun hobby” says Sophie, but she soon realised the costs that would come with opening a store. She never expected the shop to become a full-time business, but it has been an enjoyable experience to flex her creative abilities. She is self-taught in all of her skills and has an abundance of support from her family, especially her partner. Sophie is a one-woman band and designs and produces all of her products. 

How has Etsy helped your business?

Etsy has provided me a lot more income than in the early days. It provides me with an incredible platform to get involved in the community and being part of an Etsy Team has allowed me to communicate with Etsy staff and actually influence how the platform itself runs, which is very rare.

They also have a ready-made audience that loves handmade, loves products with a story and really cares about what goes into the items in their home, and gifts they give to their friends. The opportunity to tap into that is unmissable for me as it’s exactly what my business stands for too.

Was it hard to become popular on Etsy?

I think if you do your research and learn and experiment it can work out really well for you.

What advice would you give to people wanting to start up their own store?

My best advice is to start now. Get involved in everything you can, share your knowledge and learn from everyone you meet. Don’t rely on your friends and family too much because they are not your target customer and trust me there is a customer out there for every weird and wonderful thing you could dream up. Finally, rest, learn, evaluate and change. Never give up.

Statement earrings available on Sophie’s Etsy page

What is your opinion on the stigma surrounding creative success up north?

I do think it’s a common misconception that there isn’t much of anything outside London. There are a lot more people just like you than you think, it’s just that sometimes you have to be the catalyst to bring those people together. Here in Leeds we have some incredible independent shops, a huge collective of artists selling in a shop in the centre of Leeds, lots of creative markets and fairs. If you don’t have them in your area – start one! You can probably find fellow local people hanging out online!

Kristyna Baczynski: Owner of Kriski

Wild Woman Risograph Print by Kristyna

Kristyna grew up in the Pennines of Yorkshire, her family weren’t the most creative of people, but her mother always supported her to work hard and do what she loved. Kristyna moved to Leeds for university and shortly afterwards opened her Etsy store as a side job, selling her illustrations as prints and stationary sets. 

She used the platform as a way to become accessible to her existing customers so they could find her online rather than just at events and fairs. In 2017 she became a full-time Etsy business owner, as she shared “hustle for a decade and your dreams can come true.”

Why did you choose Etsy to create your online store?

I think what encouraged me was a mixture of feeling like it was the next step naturally with selling all these products [at fairs], and then there were people who wanted to follow up and keep track of me through the internet, and then there’s the aspirational aspect what people were doing who were slightly ahead of me and I wanted to get to that place too.


Dream Studio – A3 Screen print by Kristyna

How has the experience been moving online?

Nowadays people are taking social media into their own self-promotion. Whereas when I left university no one was talking about building portfolio websites or running an online shop, and running a business, there wasn’t that focus on products and how you sell them and how you use the internet to establish it. People are so hungry for it because it’s so visible and it works. So, trying to figure out the internet at the early stages was weird, but then also being on the early edge of it I did well on Instagram initially and now I’m a steady account. My Etsy kind of grew at that point in the same way that my online presence did.

Making Things – Risograph Print by Kristyna

Have you ever encountered struggles with living outside of London?

People think moving to London is a badge of legitimacy like ‘ah I’ve made it I’m living in the capital this is where everything is happening’.

But to me I always felt like by not being in London I had way more advantages. I know someone in London who rents a room in a shared house, for the same money I pay to have a flat with my partner who is also a freelancer and we both have an extra bedroom for studio space.

In Leeds we are still connected to a city centre. We can get the train to London in two hours and yet people who live in Greater London’s commute are going on two hours as well and you just think it doesn’t really compare. I think for how much of a premium you pay on everything it isn’t worth it. 

I go down to London all the time, I work with publishers and clients in London. If I am down for a meeting with someone, I will also arrange deliveries to my stockists, and I’ll get a wholesale order for some of my products and I’ll meet about a job.

Sites like Etsy are helping to revolutionise the national success of small business owners, and creatives. No longer are we living in an age where you have to move to the capital in order to make it in life, there are growing opportunities across the country that are allowing women the creative success they’ve always dreamed of, from the comfort of their hometowns. 

A strong community is a huge deal breaker in business, without having that stronghold of support you lose out on potential to grow. Etsy is providing people from across the country with a platform that brings together crafters and creatives, providing individuals with the support and guidance of like-minded and inspiring people. 


Words: Lauren Beesting

You can find both Sophie and Kristyna’s work and creations here: SillyLoaf and Kriski