A natter with…What Delilah Did
Photo credit: Secret Garden Embroidery – What Delilah Did
A few weeks back, I was really excited to see that the latest book by What Delilah Did (created by Sophie Simpson) is about to be released. A limited number of advance copies of Secret Garden Embroidery (pictured above) were available to buy so I snapped one up! I know people always say that you should never judge a book by its cover, but this is one that you can instantly fall in love just by looking at the beautifully stitched bee and the sweet cover illustrations. These illustrations run right through the book, and the projects are all tied together with the story of Mrs Merriweather and her wonderful garden. I am a big fan of Sophie’s books and wanted to find out more about What Delilah Did, and I’m delighted to say that Sophie very kindly agreed to do a little interview for Hello! Hooray! to tell us all about it…
Tell us a little bit about What Delilah Did, and how you got started.
I started up the business about seven years ago after being made redundant. I had always known I wanted to work for myself and do something creative, so it was a blessing in disguise. I had just rediscovered cross stitch but couldn’t find any patterns I liked so I started to design my own – at that time the choice was between teddy bears, kittens and Disney characters, none of which I would let within a mile of my house! I opened a little online shop and blog to sell my patterns and original stitched pieces, and word spread quite quickly through design blogs, Flickr and the like – apparently I wasn’t the only young person wanting to stitch something a bit different.
After a year or so my mum told me about the Best of British Open Call at Liberty, and I put together a prototype range of kits to take along – they bought the whole range and launched the kits in their London store a few months later. I sold my kits through Liberty for the following three years and it provided the exposure and opportunities I needed to expand my customer base massively. I now sell my patterns, kits and books to customers all over the world via my website, www.whatdelilahdid.com, and through boutique haberdasheries and lifestyle shops throughout the UK.
Little Bug Magnets from Secret Garden Embroidery by Sophie Simpson – Credit Rachel Whiting
Describe your creative process – how do you develop your designs?
My designs almost always stem from how I want the end product to look or function, so I often begin with a particular kind of linen or type of frame or style of cushion in mind and then design something to fit it. For larger patterns I sketch out different versions of an image in black and white until I am happy with them and then transfer them to the computer to make them into something stitchable. If I am making a very small pattern though I generally prefer to just use a pencil and some graph paper and play with the crosses until I have something I like the look of. Once I have the chart, I start to test colours and fabrics until I come up with a combination I like – this can be the longest part of the process because for threads can look completely different once they are stitched, so even if a bundle of colours looked beautiful together in your hand, they may look hideous on the fabric. I also like to check that there are not too many lone stitches and awkward little fiddly sections as these can make patterns a nightmare to complete. I never release a pattern until I have stitched it myself and know that everything works.
Mr Magpie Cushion PDF Pattern – Credit What Delilah Did
What is your typical day like? Do you design and write full-time or do you fit it around a day job?
Running What Delilah Did has been my full time job for the past couple of years (and by ‘full time’, read ‘all the time’!), though before that I did have to fit it around a number of day/evening/weekend jobs until I was confident that it was strong enough to stand on its own two feet.
There isn’t really any such thing as a typical day for me; every day is so different. Things always take so much longer than I think they are going to, so more often than not I end up spending a whole day/week on one thing and just keep going until it is done. That might be photographing new products, updating my website, answering emails, putting orders together, working on a commission, or designing new patterns and kits. Actually getting time to stitch in the day is a rare luxury – I normally end up doing that part in the evenings. I have tried many times to change the way I work so that I have more of a routine, but I still haven’t managed it yet.
Gigantic Circus Letter PDF Patterns – Credit What Delilah Did
Where do you get your inspiration? Do you have any favourite crafters/artists/bloggers?
I actually follow very few blogs and other artists now, partly due to lack of time, but also because they can sometimes leave me feeling a little overwhelmed – there is so much amazing design about that it is all too easy to be swayed by what other people are doing or feel that your own work isn’t good enough. I feel much more inspired when I shut myself off from all of that and rely on my imagination.
Most of my inspiration comes from sources that are not directly related to artists and crafters: old houses, stories, period dramas, film scores… Most recently I have loved the styling and music in Far From the Madding Crowd and Wolf Hall. Often I will try to capture the feeling that I get from a film or piece of music, or take a particular element such as a colour or a shadow in a piece of cloth or a building, and then translate it into my own work. I listen to a lot of period film scores while I work, so that has a strong influence on me.
Bee Cushion PDF Pattern – Credit What Delilah Did
The garden in your latest book, Secret Garden Embroidery sounds wonderful! Is it based on a real place?
The garden itself is fictitious, but the house and the setting is real – it belonged to a kind old man who lived down our road when we were children. I’m not sure how faithful my memory is to the true interior; I still look at it through a child’s eyes so it would probably seem smaller and less rambling if I were to view the inside as an adult. The house still exists but it has been made over and no longer has the overgrown trees at the front, or the orchard, or the air of romantic dishevelment. The dark rabbit warren of rooms that I remember being inside have probably been knocked through to suit modern tastes – arguably more practical, but less charming to me. Despite that, I have always hankered after that house and if I was ever in a position to buy it I would snap it up in a heartbeat.
Projects from Secret Garden Embroidery by Sophie Simpson – Credit Rachel Whiting
Secret Garden Embroidery is your third book – can you tell us a little more about what goes into writing and getting your books published?
I adore books and had always wanted to write my own, though I never imagined they would be about embroidery back when I was dreaming of being an author! My first book, Storyland Cross Stitch, came about when an editor saw my work in Liberty, looked up my blog and then contacted me to ask if I was interested in making a book for her publishing house. At the time it came completely out of the blue, and in all honesty I would have no idea how to go about getting published if I hadn’t been approached by publishers in the first place. Almost all books are commissioned these days and it is incredibly rare to get an unsolicited manuscript published, so I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have to go down that route.
Photo credit: Storyland Cross Stitch – What Delilah Did
The books themselves take more work than I could ever have anticipated. It was marginally less daunting to approach Stitch the Halls! and Secret Garden Embroidery because I knew what to expect, but the amount of work involved is still pretty hardcore. The main problem is that the deadlines are just insane. Most publishers are under a lot of pressure to get books made quickly (bearing in mind that it can take almost a year between a finished book being submitted and it actually landing in the shops), and they just have no idea about how long things take to make. An embroiderer is given the same amount of time to make a collection of projects as a papercrafter, despite the fact that it takes about thirty times as long to make embroidery projects. I also make things worse for myself because I am very particular about how I want things to be, so I end up doing a lot of the work that would usually be done by the publisher, just to make sure it ends up how I want it. The books are a wonderful thing to do, but more so in hindsight than while you are actually making them against the clock!
Photo credit: Stitch the Halls – What Delilah Did
If you had to choose, what would be your favourite project that you have worked on?
The most enjoyable things to work on are my PDF patterns, because there are no deadlines, no briefs and I can take all the time I need to make exactly what I want, so they are my favourite thing to make. But the books are probably the things I am the most proud of; partly because of the work that went into them, but also because it is lovely to hold a tangible object in your hand; almost like a beautifully produced diary of what you did that year.
Mini Folk Letter PDF Patterns – Credit What Delilah Did
What does the future hold for What Delilah Did?
I have had my hands in so many different pies for the past few years that what I am really craving is something simple. Once my new studio is up and running I want to spend some time working the way I did at the beginning, making small quantities of lovely things for my shop with my imagination as the only limit.
Miss Millicent Hare from Secret Garden Embroidery by Sophie Simpson – Credit Rachel Whiting
Thank you so much for taking the time to natter to us, Sophie – I know you’re super busy with your new book and renovating your house, so I really appreciate it! If you love Sophie’s designs as much as I do, you can buy them in her shop, and the Little Bug Magnets and Miss Millicent Hare (featured above) are available as limited edition kits here. I am just starting work on one of the projects from the book, and will be writing a little review of it over the next couple of weeks or so, so be sure to look out for that. You can also find out more on the What Delilah Did blog, Facebook page, Flickr and Twitter feeds.
Secret Garden Embroidery is published on 11th June by Pavilion – but if you can’t wait until then, you might find an advance copy here!
All photos used with kind permission from Sophie Simpson/What Delilah Did.