Have you noticed that sometimes in life, things are just meant to be?
So when Joanna Wakefield (who grew up in a family of seamstresses) first started making jewellery, wasn’t it kind of inevitable that one of her first makes was a tiny silver button?
And then that her whole business became themed around sewing and haberdashery?
I just love Joanna’s enthusiasm for making jewellery, which shines off the page. I first saw her work at Art & York, it’s so gorgeous and made me smile. But it seems I’m not the only one who finds her work so endearing…
How would you describe your jewellery?
I’m currently doing my Autumn/Winter events and it reminds me that it really is happy jewellery! My work makes people smile, whether it’s one of the vintage props that supports the theme, or a miniature bobbin with colourful thread. My jewellery evokes a sense of nostalgia, and the reaction it receives whether it’s through a sparked memory, or a hint of quirkiness makes me feel that I do create something that brings joy. And that makes me happy too!
My jewellery very much reflects my memories and musings, my family history, and the things that I love and feel passionate about. I’m quite a reflective person and love the symbolism of objects, so I think my work very much mirrors my personality too.
Your jewellery is inspired by sewing and haberdashery. How did you first get the idea of this theme and why is sewing so important to you?
I grew up in a family of seamstresses and creative women so I was always around sewing, knitting, buttons, homemade clothes etc and when I was at school I naturally gravitated towards the arts, especially textiles and design. I went on to do a Degree in Design, specialising in Textiles. And I then worked for over ten years as a Fairtrade Designer, where I think I stayed so long as I loved the design and development and graphic design aspects but I also got to travel.
However in this period I did miss practical elements and doing something with my hands and so I retrained at York School of Jewellery as a Designer Jeweller on an evening. I began to learn the skills to make jewellery and my first makes were the use of vintage buttons and setting them in silver and making silver buttons and stitching them with thread.
I didn’t sit down and think what do I want to design, the pieces naturally seemed to happen and the theme progressed from there. It made me feel as if it was meant to be. My family history, my Yorkshire roots and my initial education came through in my jewellery making and it felt right. I feel very grateful for this connection and progression.
As well as the textiles and haberdashery there’s also a strong vintage collections theme. I spent many summers visiting French brocantes and flea markets with my Mum, as she has an antique business. My finds support or inspire my work further and continue to do so, always adding old bobbins, thimbles or button cards to my collections. They also bring my displays and product images alive, supporting the designs, and creating those all important smiles from customers.
What materials do you use?
I use sterling silver and now 9ct gold, which is really exciting. I love the mix of metal colours and look forward to doing more with the addition of this new metal.
Where do you create your jewellery?
I call it my happy place! My beloved studio. Which I will always feel eternally grateful for. My house is only teeny and when I bought it more than ten years ago I couldn’t afford the garage. I started spilling out of my spare room and nearly four years ago now I acquired that garage.
It was an actual dream come true to have my own individual creative space. It has so much light, and it’s the perfect space to dress for open studio days. I feel very lucky. I wish I could spend more time in there sometimes, as life can get in the way. But I love it when I can have whole days shut up in there listening to the radio and podcasts!
What’s your most popular piece?
In terms of the coveting aspect it was always my haberdashery cluster piece, I think it was a mixture of the sewing elements that drew the customers’ preference. But recently and to my delight my ‘measured’ jewellery gets a lot of interest. It seems to really attract people’s attention.
Overall however it’s my stitched button earrings. They never cease to amaze me in their popularity. I think it’s the cross stitch and the addition of colour that draws sewers and non-sewers alike. And it’s one of the first pieces I made – how wonderful is that?
I have added a new element to this for this season’s events and created a board where customers can mix and match their button earrings.
Whereabouts in the UK are you based? And why do you live there?
I’m based in York. I actually grew up just outside and feel so fortunate for that. I always thought I would move back out to the villages but I think once you live in York it’s hard to leave. I’m in a perfect spot and York over the years becomes to feel like a village anyway. Its friendly, and you’re never too far away from anything but can get out and breathe easily enough too! It’s also very, very beautiful. Us Yorkies are extremely lucky!
What’s the favourite piece in your jewellery collection?
So at the moment it has to be my gold needle necklace. I initially created a silver one. It was hand-forged from silver, and took ages to get right. I actually did a couple of prototypes and sent the best one off to be cast into silver.
I never expected it to be received so well. So when it was, I had the feeling it was now time to venture into gold. I’d been wanting to for a while, but wasn’t sure how to take the leap.
The school nudged me and my Mum actually subbed me to have five needles cast, and they sold straight away. So I cast five more! Sometimes you have to try things to know whether they’ll work, and I had to try this. I’m so pleased I did.
Where did you learn to make jewellery?
I trained at York School of Jewellery. I’m still learning, which will never end. I love that there’s always something new to try or learn. The school has supported me so much and gently nudges me along too! I can go in with an idea and we hash it out, I get inspired there through conversations too about design and what skills can create certain effects. I love the workshop atmosphere. It’s very inspiring.
What’s the piece you’re most proud of creating?
I think it’s the ‘measured’ range, because I really didn’t know where I was going with that. It was inspired by a seamstress’ tape measure draping on my studio mannequin and twisting and curling.
I found hand engraving very daunting, and I also wondered if people would wear such pieces. But it has been received so well. And I get such satisfaction from finishing a piece too, I love the punched numbers, I love the satinised finish against the shiny reverse. These pieces have made me proud to learn a new skill and to create wearable pieces of jewellery merely from a haberdashery object that appealed to me in my surroundings.
What’s your favourite part of being a Jewellery Designer?
Perhaps it’s the freedom. From the day to day routine being down to me, to the choice in what I can make. I make what I make because it makes me happy. I think this is important in any design or making. Why would you make something that you didn’t love yourself?
Sometimes I forget they’re objects to be worn which is why I’m shocked when my work’s received well. I love being creative – when I want, how I want and I love the freedom in that.
I find making very therapeutic too, apart from when there’s a deadline, I think I’ve developed a skill in mini meltdowns, but there is always a buzz too, and I can always smile about it afterwards!
What’s your proudest moment of being a Jewellery Designer?
Now I’ve been fully doing this for nearly four years there are a few defining proud moments. The first was being accepted into York Open Studios for the first time, after traipsing around for years visiting myself and aspiring to one day take part as an artist in my own right.
My hallmarking makes me proud. I love that my jewellery is actually stamped, the curve on the bobbins still make me super proud. It was even selected for the Sheffield Assay Office Calendar one year. Signing the paperwork a few weeks ago to renew my makers mark for another ten years was quite a moment too!
Being invited to show at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park over Winter 2018/19 was a super biggie in my jewellery journey. And I’ve just been invited to for a 2nd time, for their Spring showcase 2020. I am totally over the moon about this. (Sorry that’s three things!)
What’s your design process?
My mind tends to wander and I usually make a few sketches. I’ll think about my brand and how things work together. I’ll make prototypes and test ways of doing things and talk to the jewellery school or my Mum. A piece would grow from that and develop along the way. I usually create a range from one idea and play with variations.
A perfect example of this is recently using my needle casting and adapting it into a bangle with a vintage button on the opposite end. Simple really but so effective and also one of my new fave designs. It’s quite important for me to add some sort of quirk too. Like adding a small dent to interpret a needle eye on my hand forged French ear wires.
How important is jewellery design to you?
It’s really important and as a designer maker it is important that you and your interests are reflected in your designs and makes. It’s like you have your own stamp on it. I’d love to learn more jewellery skills and I can’t wait to see what work may develop from this.
What are your aspirations for your business?
I do tend to try and enjoy for the now. Although this year I am trying to plan ahead and think about next year.
I’d like to develop my textiles side a little more, create a special edition range maybe, and connect a little more to my textiles background.
I’d also like to grow my eco-side (which I have a strong leaning to from working in Fairtrade for so long). I’m also aware that as a small business and in my 3-4th year that you have to grow and evolve a little all the time, for yourself and others, and I intend to implement some new aspects in the coming few years.
But other than that you have to see how it goes, don’t you? You can’t predict the future. You just have to enjoy what you can and do the best you can all the time. I didn’t start out in my jewellery to have huge business aspirations, just that people enjoy what I make is enough. And that I can survive doing it, is a bonus!
Where do you feel most inspired?
I feel most inspired on those full days in my studio. Where I immerse myself in making and the mind wanders. I think this is when I can let go of other life thoughts and so therefore can think about the work in hand, my progression as a jeweller and the pieces I want to create.
What inspires you?
Definitely my surroundings, my memories, the nostalgia in objects. The use of objects. Colours and texture of cottons and fabrics. The progression of my work inspires me, techniques inspire me. My Mum inspires me, all the time!
How do you juggle all the different aspects of the job?
I don’t! I struggle with this all of the time. And always trying to find ‘balance’. But recently I am thinking that maybe it’s all about being okay in between that balance. Now that’s a thought when I’m in my studio making and thinking!
There’s always something to do when you work for yourself and it’s difficult to juggle the aspects of being self employed. Especially with actual life thrown in the mix!
I can be at my bench, as that’s where I think I should be. But then I’m always thinking I need to write that email, I need to update my books, that silver needs ordering, I am running out of some castings, I need to print some more earring cards, that stockist needs more stock, I need to take a photo, what shall I post and write next on my social channels.
My website needs updating. I need to copyright that design. Ooh shall I reopen Pinterest? Eek, I need to plan my next display at a show smartish. I need to go to the shops for food. Haha. The life of a self employed maker!
Yes, lists help and a little structure helps. 2020 goals… And I’ve already bought my wall calendar!