Angela Hume of Pale Grey Skies was brought up in wild and beautiful Northumberland, in the North East of England, and now lives in equally wild and beautiful Aotearoa. The scenery and changing weather are an inspiration for her products, which are hand made from natural linen and cotton in colours which reflect the surroundings and skies that inspire her.
What do you make?
I make homewares and accessories in natural linen – aprons, market bags, cushions, hand towels, and cosmetic bags, in simple, functional designs.
What brought you here?
I am originally from Newcastle in the North East of England, I lived there with my husband and twin boys until February last year when we decided to up sticks and move lock, stock and barrel to New Zealand.
In the UK I worked for over 20 years as a pharmacist but had become quite unfulfilled in this career and yearned to do something more creative. In my 40s with two teenage sons I started to feel like it was now or never. With life seeming to pass by so quickly and the children growing up so fast it felt like the right time to look for a change of pace and lifestyle.
A friend once posted on Facebook that “You are only one decision away from changing your life,” and that struck a chord with me. Within a few months, we were on a plane to New Zealand with all our worldly possessions (slowly) following us on a container ship. The start of an amazing family adventure.
So, that was the life change but now what? Here we were in this beautiful country, my husband had a job lined up and the kids were quickly settled in school, I needed to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
I have always loved interior design, textiles and crafting, so set my mind to creating things that I would love to have in my own home, with the hope of making a business out of it. Choosing natural eco-friendly linen to work with and a simple, unfussy design style, Pale Grey Skies was born.
How did you get into your craft?
My Mum sewed a lot when we were children, she would make my sister and I clothes when we were young and I always thought it was quite magical how she could turn a piece of fabric into a pretty top or a dress. I had wanted to learn to sew for years, but it wasn’t until I took a sewing course at evening classes that I became hooked.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I am mostly self taught when it comes to sewing. I took a beginners’ sewing course originally which covered the basics such as choosing fabrics, cutting out, and how to use a sewing machine. After that I became a bit obsessed and through a process of trial and error improved my skills on the machine. Making anything and everything to begin with, from clothes to bean bags to curtains, gave me a wide range of different skills.
My philosophy is to create simple, unfussy designs which are both useful and beautiful.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Favourite material has to be linen, linen, and more linen! I love the way it feels, the way it gets softer with every wash, the way it looks and also its eco credentials. Linen can be grown with little or no pesticides and uses a lot less water to grow than cotton – and is sustainable and long lasting. It is cool and breathable and looks fantastic but is also a lovely material to sew with. It has a really pure, rustic quality that I am really attracted to.
Tell us about the techniques involved in designing and producing one of your pieces:
I first think about what I would like to have in my own home, then go about designing the basic pattern for whatever it is. My favourite part is picking the colours of linen I am going to be using, usually neutrals, greys, blues are the colours I am drawn to. The linen will then be washed and dried a few times before it is cut, this is both to soften it and prevent any shrinkage after the item is finished. Then it is on to cutting out the pattern and sewing it.
What inspires you?
I am inspired a lot of the time by other craftspeople, I love seeing the things other people produce and the time, effort, imagination and talent that goes into these unique products. For my designs I think nature offers the most inspiration. I love walking and collecting shells, pebbles and driftwood and often use these to inspire the colours in my designs.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Keep it simple! My philosophy is to create simple, unfussy designs which are both useful and beautiful. Linen is such a beautiful fabric, it doesn’t need embellishments, just functional clean lines. I always use the best fabrics I can find, good quality linen and threads results in a piece which is timeless. I make things I love and would want in my own home.
Describe your creative process:
I sketch out the design then work out a pattern. Next I look for the most suitable linen for the project. Some items, such as market bags, look better with a raw, rustic linen, but others, such as cushions, lend themselves to a finer, softened linen. Then it is on to cutting out the linen and sewing it up. Often the design is not perfect first time and needs a bit of tweaking before I am happy with it. I try to make everything a little bit unique; different linings for bags, different pockets on aprons etc, just so no two pieces are identical.
Describe your workspace:
Although I would love to have a separate work room, at the moment limited space means I have taken over a small section of the living room as my workspace. A beautiful old wooden desk that I hand painted in a french grey chalk paint is my sewing bench, and houses my sewing machine and notions. We live in an old weatherboard villa with high ceilings, sash windows and beautiful light, so although it is not ideal as a workspace, it is a lovely creative space nonetheless. I have old rustic crates and pretty ceramic bowls as storage to try and stop my things from taking over the whole living area. A piece of corrugated iron on the wall doubles as a mood board for my designs.
Five words that describe your mind:
Dreamer, curious, optimist, wanderer and idealist.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
“It arrived, I’m in love, I’m never taking it off.” What more could you ask for really!
What are you currently listening to?
I often listen to music when I am sewing and at the moment that is anything from The Killers, Gregory Porter, Aretha Franklin, Mumford and Sons, and Florence and the Machine. A bit eclectic I suppose!
Recommend an album:
The Lumineers‘ self titled album is a favourite of mine and we often have it on in the car when we go on road trips.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Anything by Roald Dahl, particularly Danny the Champion of the World. I was desperate to live in a gypsy caravan like Danny (still am really). I bought them all again when my children were small and it was lovely to get the chance to introduce them to the stories too. I was a real bookworm as a child and could easily spend hours with a good book hidden away in my room.
What are you reading now?
Cloth by Cassandra Ellis. It is a beautifully photographed reference book with lots of background information on different fabrics including history and uses and also includes some beautiful sewing projects.
A favourite quote:
My favourite quote relating to design is by William Morris. “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Tell us about your pets.
We do not have any pets here in New Zealand. We have a beautiful cocker spaniel called George, but unfortunately he was not up for the big journey over here, so he is living with my best friend back in the UK now. We Skype him regularly and all really miss him, but he is thoroughly spoiled where he is and quite happy.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Pick something you have a real passion for. It is not always easy starting out but if you are making something you truly love and believe in, it is worth the setbacks.
I love the way [linen] feels, the way it gets softer with every wash, the way it looks and also its eco credentials.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
The last handmade item I was given was a beautiful little dish by a fantastic potter named Adie Smith. It is a gorgeous piece. I was situated just next to Adie at the first fair I ever took part in. I was admiring her work and told her that I would have to come back later on and buy one of her beautiful bowls if my day went well. Well, it did not go well! The market was outdoors and there was a terrific storm which almost brought the gazebo down, all the stock was soaked and the customers ran for cover. However at the end when we were packing up in the pouring rain she came over with a little gift of the bowl I had been admiring. Such a thoughtful thing to do and I treasure it.
What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
I am busy preparing for some more craft fairs. I will be at Alberton market, Auckland on the 12th November and 10th December, and am really looking forward to getting out and meeting some of my customers.
I have also just got my first stockist, a beautiful little gift store in Browns Bay, so hopefully I will continue to find people and stores who love linen and my products as much as I do.
Angela has very kindly offered an gorgeous prize for one lucky Felt reader of a stylish large natural linen tote/market bag, valued at $45.00 (see below).
To be in to win this lovely prize, simply leave a comment telling us what you loved about Angela’s story and her creations. The draw will be made on Friday 8 September and is open to New Zealand residents only.