Craft Heroes: Mistress of Monsters
From the depths of Bristol comes the sound of a sewing machine busying away, with steam coming out from its lead. It's whizzing up a ton of little monsters and they are coming to a house near you!
Jenny Hall (aka Mistress of Monsters) has been making critters for the last two years out of her huge stash of fantastic fabrics. She embellishes them into one of a kind monsters that each have their own personality.
I was lucky to be able to catch Jenny in amongst her stash and her huge convoy of monsters to interview her about her creature making.
You started sewing relatively recently, but became very proficient at sewing in a short time. Who were your main inspirations in helping you to become a monster maker?
The single overwhelming influence on my journey as a monster maker would have to be my mother. I come from a creative family, my dad paints and my mum is great with fabric and thread.
Above: Jenny hard at work in her studio.
My mum is a proficient seamstress, turning out pretty dresses for me when I was tiny, and is also a super speedy knitter. I would have to say that most of the techniques I know and use now, I picked up from watching her.
One of the major things she used to do, was to make character dolls of her colleagues at the school where she works. They were like little caricatures, incorporating the subject's quirks and personality.
They each had a little injection of humour like a pair of union jack knickers hidden under a skirt, or a controversial toupee. I think this must be where a lot of the silliness of my monsters comes from.
She stopped making them years ago but recently came out of retirement to
make a doll of me, complete with half finished monster in hand and my
trademark mismatched socks.
Right: Sugarplum Tinkelton isn't sure about going on top of the tree this year
What's the first thing you made or your earliest craft memory?
The one thing which really sticks out in my memory is the first piece I made as part of my textiles GCSE course aged 14.
Although mum and dad always got me doing lots of arty and crafty things, I'd never designed and constructed a textile piece from scratch before. I decided to make a purse and looking back on it, it was hideous. Silver lamé with a marabou trim and an awful beaded star on the front. At the time I was pleased as punch with it and it definitely marked the start of a journey to where I am now.
What made you start making monsters as opposed to clothes when you were first given your sewing machine?My trusty sewing machine was a Christmas gift from my parents the year I left university and set up home for the first time.
I hadn't sewn for many years but had grand plans of making curtains and cushions, and bought a couple of dress patterns too but my skills were too rusty. After a few minor disasters I lost faith and my machine lay unused for a long time, moving house with me several times.
The monsters came about one rainy weekend when I got a bit bored and fancied getting my teeth into a project, which led me to start looking at videos on the net on how to make sock monkeys.
Monkeys evolved into monsters thanks to John Murphy's brilliant book 'Stupid Sock Creatures', and once I had exhausted socks, I started designing monsters of my own. It just grew and grew from there to a point where I couldn't get through the day without working on a monster.
My challenge for 2012 is to brush up my dressmaking skills as I'm getting married in October and have fanciful ideas about making my own wedding dress and blogging about the process. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but what better way to learn than with a goal like that?
Above: The Amberwoods all wrapped up for a winter's stroll.When making your creatures do you start with the fabric first or do you design the monster and choose the fabric around that?
It varies really, I have a large and some would say out-of-hand fabric stash, so often I start with a vague idea and then search through my many boxes and bags to see what fits.
I'm not a particularly tidy crafter and am not one for organising things, but I find that this works for me. Often I will see two bits of fabric casually flung together in the same box which complement one another nicely, a combination which I otherwise might not have thought to try.
I'm lucky that there is a well stocked fabric shop just around the corner from my flat so if I don't already have what I need for a project I can easily pop in there and they're sure to have something suitable.
Although I do find it hard not to come home with a few other little treats too!
I really love your idea of creating monsters from cherished babygrows. What made you come up with this concept? How do you begin when creating monsters for little monsters?
The babygrow venture actually started when a friend of mine saw my monsters online and asked if I could use some of her favourite clothes of her two children to make keepsake monsters for them to grow up with.
She popped them in the post and I must admit that it was pretty scary taking scissors to such cherished garments. They were very cute babygrows, one with a dinosaur print and one with birds, and knowing a little about the characters of her kids I created monsters to complement them.
It took me a LONG time as I wanted to get them just right but their mother was thrilled with the end result.
Making these keepsake monsters is different every time. It depends on the pattern and detail of the fabric as well as how much of it there is available.
I like to try to learn a little about the child who wore the clothing so as I can work some of their character into the finished monster. I really enjoy this aspect of my work and love to think of these little monsters being cherished as a part of someone's childhood.
If you could make any monster for anybody, who would your dream customer be?
That's an easy one. Although I have my parents to thank for a huge part of my creative education, I would not be where I am now without my GCSE and A-level art teacher, Sue Smith.
She instilled in me a passion and confidence which I would not have been successful without, and encouraged me to develop my skills and push myself.
I still hear her voice in my head telling me to keep going when a seam pops or an ear goes wonky and I'm ready to give up.
She and I kept in contact by letter for a few years after I finished school but eventually lost touch. I've tried to contact her recently but haven't been able to find her to show her my work and tell her how grateful I am for everything she gave me.
If I could make a monster for anyone it would be for her.
Above: Pompanette out waiting for her sisters
Finally, what's your craft weapon of choice if the zombie apocalypse strikes?
I think I would have to use my fabric stash to assemble some kind of zombie costume to try and blend in when the first wave struck.
Although, I would keep my pinking shears secreted up my sleeve in case the zombies cotton-on!
Fantastic idea, Jenny, hopefully we'll never have to use our preferred weapons of choice on zombies, but if we do your idea of blending in may possibly work!
Thanks Jenny and good luck with the wedding plans.
Left: Captain Gaydar awaits his next mission
[All images © Jenny Hall]