With this year's thread festival less than a fortnight away, we caught up with designer, maker and thread exhibitor, Caroline Barnes.
Based in West Dorset, Caroline specialises in creating an exquisite range of handmade porcelain products; from buttons to framed ceramic tiles. Inspired by vintage prints, botanical drawings and beach finds from nearby Lyme Regis, Caroline has created a highly contemporary ceramic collection.
When did you begin creating handmade porcelain and what inspired you to start your own business?
I had finished my degree in Crafts and was about to start my MA in Heritage Studies in Nottingham, I had sold all my work from my degree show and had managed to get some orders too, so I found a cheap studio in Nottingham, really to fulfil the orders but soon found it a way of financing my MA. I loved to draw in natural history collections and combined my ceramics with working for Nottingham Museums where I had access to some great exhibits, particularly in the taxidermy department. I produced lots of handmade greeting cards and started by selling those, they were easy to post as samples for shops and galleries. I started making buttons as a request from a customer!
Can you briefly describe the techniques and processes you use to create your buttons?
There are lots of parallels between ceramics and cooking. I have sets of my grandma's round biscuit cutters and whenever I see them at car boots I have to pick them up. So, I roll out the porcelain to about 5mm as a sheet, then cut each button, pierce the holes and glaze. Because they are so thin they can warp, so I dry them out under sheets of hardboard. It is labour intensive but I haven't found a machine that will mechanise the process. Once fired, a transfer image is applied to each before a second firing. I love the presentation element of my work and sew each set onto linen then card. I am pretty sure lots of people don't actually use them but keep them as a set.
What is the most indispensable item or tool in your studio?
Definitely my scalpel. Ceramics on this scale need cleaning up and I use a scalpel to fettle off the waste clay, as well as in cutting open parcels, packaging up etc. I have several and its pretty satisfying putting in a new blade and seeing the quality of the cut.
The natural world provides much of your design inspiration. Which of your collections is your favourite and why?
I do love antique prints of exotic birds, but also bugs and beetles. These aren't necessarily the most popular of my ranges, but I love the colours, patterns and detail in insects.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s thread?
I have really missed shows, there is something very simple and satisfying about the transaction between maker and buyer. For someone to like your work and like it enough to purchase it is very valuable personally. When you don't have that interaction you can question your whole purpose and direction. I had lots of shows cancelled during the pandemic but the Maltings was the only organisation that really kept the calendar of events open over the unlocks. I am looking forward to meeting customers but also other makers, fresh ideas and always seeing what people are wearing (usually some amazing creation they have made).
What can people expect to find on your stall, and will you be bringing along any new products?
I have been working on some new designs based on vintage thread spools. I inherited both my grandma's sewing boxes and love the trademarks and designs from the packaging. I was going to just do buttons but have already had requests for brooches and needle keepers so will bring some of those along too.
Meet Caroline and 50 other talented artists and makers at thread on Sat 11 June (9am-5pm).