We spoke to the Bristol-based maker about her inspiration, writing her book ‘Weekend Makes: Punch Needle’ and the popularity of punch needle crafting.
Hi Sara, why and when did you decide to start Whole Punching?
I started Whole Punching in May 2018. I had been punching for a little while and absolutely loved it. I wanted to be able to share this with others and was frustrated with the limited range of materials available in the UK so I started testing and sourcing my own. The idea behind the name is that I wanted to be able to provide the ‘whole’ service, from materials, kits through to education and teaching workshops.
What had you done previously?
I worked for a university in the area of student experience enhancement, synthesizing the student voice in order to recommend and effect change. It involved reading and analysing a lot of student feedback which could be quite amusing at times.
How would you describe the brand’s ethos?
Whole Punching welcomes beginners, experts and everyone in between to embrace a slower-paced sustainable lifestyle through contemporary craft, as we provide high quality materials and guidance along the way.
Can you tell us a little about the processes used to create your work?
I am very much inspired by nature and abstractions of it. Often when I’m creating a new design I’ll start with a colour palette and build from there. Simple designs work well when using thicker yarns, which is lucky as drawing is not my strong point!
You’re a punch needle enthusiast – why do you think punch needle crafting has become so popular?
Crafting on the whole has seen a huge rise in popularity during the pandemic. I think this is for a variety of reasons; limited options to be able to do activities outside the home, a need to find some calm and peace, and maybe to an extent to feel like you have a little control over something. Punch needle is relatively easy to pick up and has limited stitches. Once you have mastered the rhythmic punching movement it’s quite quick (in yarn terms) to make something. It’s easy to see the progress that you are making and I think this makes it quite addictive.
Which is your most popular product? Why do you think that is?
The complete beginner hoop kits are the most popular. They include everything you need to get started and come with a simple design to follow. You can often fall down when learning punch needle due to poor, or misaligned materials. It’s important to get the right tool which works with it’s corresponding fabric and yarn. These kits take away the possibility of ending up with the wrong materials which mean you can concentrate on making and learning; the fun parts. They are also very giftable.
Hard question: do you have a favourite design?
I love my latest fern design. I’ve had it in mind for a while as keeping my real life fern alive is proving a struggle! I think the white silhouette is striking in design, but the colours are muted so that it will be suitable for many different decors. Great for those who are green fingered and those who aren’t.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It really varies. I try to mix it up so that I don’t spend either a whole day doing admin or a whole day packing orders, (although sometimes this is necessary). I try to get admin out the way in the morning so I can spend the afternoon packing orders, designing or making. Admin for me includes answering any customer queries or emails, checking stock levels on the website, Etsy and Not On The High Street and ordering more stock where necessary. Plus, taking and editing photos, writing and editing content, planning social media posts, any professional development (various online self-employment/creative business workshops) and reconciling accounts so they don’t become too unwieldy. Then there are more ad hoc tasks such as wholesale orders and making projects for publications. Actually spending time doing punch needle normally ends up as an evening activity!
How do you approach PR and marketing?
I try to approach it so the customer doesn’t feel like I am marketing to them. I try to create organic traffic from engaging with my community on different social media channels. I want to provide helpful and useful content so that customers choose to shop with me rather than an algorithm just sending them my way as they fit a certain demographic. I do think it would be naïve in this climate to ignore the opportunities and reach that paid advertising can offer though so I do use some relevant paid marketing.
How does your location inspire you?
Bristol is an incredibly creative city. I have been so inspired by all of the wonderful people I have met here through various creative/self-employed avenues. I am relocating later in the year to Cumbria where I am excited to be inspired by the landscape as well as be situated in ‘England’s Natural Capital of Creativity and Culture’. With a wealth of heritage in the textile industry it will be interesting to see how this may impact and change the direction of my work.
What’s been your highlight so far?
It’s really tricky to choose just one as I feel that I’ve had a few different experiences in my business that have been amazing, so I’ll narrow it down to two. Travelling to Vermont in 2019 to study at the Oxford Rug Hooking School under Amy Oxford (a veteran punch needle rug hooker) to become one of her certified Oxford Punch Needle Rug Hooking Instructors, one of only a handful outside of North America. Secondly, writing my first book last year during the first lockdown, Weekend Makes: Punch Needle; a collection of 25 beginner friendly punch needle projects along with step by step instructions and templates.
If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business, what would you say?
Do it! I absolutely love being self-employed and having my own business. I knew pretty much nothing about running a business when I started and have managed to figure it out as I go. Once you start learning about running a business it can become a little daunting and there are lots of things that people will tell you you ‘should’ be doing. I’d probably steer clear of any books claiming to tell you the business secrets of the pharaohs! Trust your gut and don’t create products because you think people will like them, create them because you like them and concentrate on staying true to yourself.
What are your creating rituals?
Comfy seat, range of different yarns and no expectations of the output.
Tea or coffee?
Tea (milk, one sugar, strong).
Mountains or sea?
Night owl or early bird?
I wish someone had told me…
You don’t need a formal education for a lot jobs (of course there are exceptions where you need professional training); a keenness to learn and ability to get stuck in will get you where you want to be a lot of the time.