Friday, 14 August 2009

Silver smith and jeweller Jemima Lumley tells us about inspiration, career changes and her USP.

"Waking up to the dawn chorus (not a happy event for this night-owl) sets my mind off in a whirl of activity. Hmmm… birds on a feeder, birds in a tree, two birds chatting to each other…. Jewellery is always on my mind! Much of my current work features my little lovebirds, and I’m always thinking about what they could do next. They have sat on their lonesome, cuddled up for a quick cheeky kiss, had a baby (or two), balanced on blossom filled branches and even performed circus tricks.
It was only three years ago that I was a freelance graphic designer in children’s publishing. My early morning musing would have consisted of how to design yet another dumper/digger/fire engine cover for the next set of 4 year olds who hadn’t seen the last set I’d designed. After almost twenty years as a graphic designer I was thoroughly bored of it. What had started as something new and exciting was now something I did for money, and spared little love on it.
One day in 2005 while waiting for various clients to get back to me with comments and corrections on the latest books I had been working on, I started making a crocheted wrap for a friend. I’d always crocheted, though my mother, a once a professional hand knitter with her own businesses, always despaired at how we three girls lacked knitting capabilities. Once the wrap was finished, I made another for a friend, and then another… and next thing I knew I had a craft stall at a local fair. Soon I was making scarves and hats, and then corsages. Always one for looking for the next thing while still making the present thing, I thought I if I could make the corsages small enough they could become jewellery.
Before long, that wasn’t enough, and I joined a silver jewellery making course, one morning a week. Six months later I had enrolled on a one day a week NOCN course at the art college – and I was off! No more children’s books for me! I found a space in a small studio space at the end of my road, and ploughed on.
I soon realised that the income from the few passing people would not keep me in silver, let alone pay for my shoe collection, so I looked around for where to sell my work. I found a few stockists in the West, and a couple of fabulous galleries, but I knew that what I had to do was get people through the door, paying full price to me. I’ve done craft fairs and participate in the local arts trail, but more was needed.
Then I read an article in the paper about craft websites. The ones I had stumbled upon already were either too big and US based, or you had to pay vast sums to be one of many selling jewellery, not all handmade. In the article
Folksy was mentioned and I had a look. I love the mix of crafts, and the range of prices, and the community. Though my work is on the high side for the site, I have had a dozen or so sales in a few months, been a featured seller and had a piece on me in Make Jewellery Magazine thanks to them coming across me on the site. It may not make my fortune, but it spreads the word for absolute minimal cost.
I’ve got a very good and clever friend who advises me now and then on promotion and marketing. Her favourite question, which she insists I should always be considering is ‘What is my USP?’ Why should you buy my work and not the next jeweller. I always struggle to answer this, but I hope that it’s a mixture of things, including originality, value for money and wearbility. Each piece is unique, handcrafted from start to finish, but the cost is not prohibitive – or not too prohibitive! Nothing is cast or copied, every piece of lace I use is destroyed in the process of being printed onto the silver, and I get bored making the same thing more than once. Naturally some items like my earrings I repeat many times, but my signature pieces are always different in some way.
My clever friend also tells me I should think about the future – what will I be doing in 5 and ten years time? Well I know one thing, and that is that I will still be beavering away in my new shop as I’ve recently committed to a ten year lease on the local busy, and hopefully thriving, main shopping road. There are six of us crafts people working and selling from our gorgeous place, and enjoying being together, influencing and helping one another. I love the atmosphere and simply being with people creating wonderful things. For now that’s fine, and hopefully for the coming decade too!
Sometimes my morning reverie consist of worrying about what will the next influence? My lovebirds, butterflies and bees I can trace back to my work in children’s publishing. The whimsy and the silliness where all around me, and now I have a tiny garden full of birds to entertain and influence me. But then I’ll see a picture of some new work by Tord Boontje, or someone will send me one of Rob Ryan’s cards and I’m off again. And there’s always my stash of Victorian jewellery catalogues and vintage lace, and I’m off in a new direction. At the moment it’s Victorian jet mourning jewellery…. tomorrow? Who knows?"

Jemima Lumley


  1. what a fabulous read, I am so pleased you shared this with us: hopefully it will encourage more people to venture out into the world of crafts x ps your jewellery is gorgeous x

  2. Thank you for sharing your story and your work. It's great to hear how others made the change to what they love.