Sabine Little, of Little Castle Designs, has done what many of us dream of and taken the plunge to move full time into lampworking. The Guild of Jewellery Designers thought we would join in the celebrations by subject her to the spotlight. From the work we've seen of Sabines, the spotlight is something she will have to get used to.
How did you get started in jewellery designing/making?
I think I went about things a bit back-to-front – I had a very brief stint of stringing bought beads, then decided that I would like to learn more about silversmithing, so I did two years at Sheffield College (evening classes) – I’d done my share of knitting, cross stitch and sewing over the years, and even once made a pair of shoes myself, but this was exciting, fire-and-brimstone stuff!
I thoroughly enjoyed it and was devastated when cuts in funding meant we couldn’t carry on. I was pregnant at that point, and after a visit to Venice, took a one-day class in glass bead making. I wasn’t going to take on a new hobby (I still had the tools from silversmithing, a full-time job, and a baby to look forward to), so I went on the course repeating ‘I’m only doing this as a one off, not to set up at home’…24 hours after I got home, I ordered the start up kit.
Over the years, I was lucky enough to take classes with other people, and found a way to balance family, work and ‘hobby’…until ‘hobby’ became work, and I now lampwork full-time.
So, like many designers/jewellers you arrived at this point by what can only be described as an 'organic' process. But surely, there was a piece that made you think 'yes, I can do this?'
I’m not sure it was a piece as such – gradually, people ask if they can learn from you, come for lessons, etc. – when I was able to demonstrate at this year’s Flame Off, a gathering of lampworkers, with cameras and live audience, I think that’s when I made my peace with my decision to go full time as a lampworker.
Have you had any training? Where do you get your knowledge from?
I had an initial one-day lesson with Mike Poole from Tillerman beads, lots of practice while I was on maternity leave (I’d push the buggy around the block until baby fell asleep, then rush to the garage), and more one- and two-day lessons as I went along. I do own a lot of books, but to be honest, I don’t look at them that often. I have a theory that you find your specialism in a sort of upward spiral – once you know basic techniques, you end up practising what you enjoy, therefore you learn more about it, therefore you get better, therefore you enjoy it more, therefore you do more of that style than other styles…you can gain a lot of knowledge from experimentation.
Where do you work?
I have a beautiful (well, I think so!) purpose-refurbished studio in what used to be our garage. Two torches are set up permanently, and there is ample space for glass, tools, kiln, etc. I’ve had it a little while now, but after more than two years of working in a tiny corner of the garage, tucked in between the garden furniture and the lawn mower, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the feeling of shutting the studio door behind me and putting some music on.
Are there any artists or jewellery designers you admire? Why do you admire them?
I think I admire traits in people – a sense of adventure, originality, honesty, patience – not all of these are traits that I possess myself, sadly (though I hope that I possess most of them some of the time!) There’s a German saying ‘luck favours those who work hard’, and I think I mostly admire those (whether professional or hobbyist) who take their work seriously, if not themselves. A whimsical piece can still be incredibly well made…I hope I’m getting this across the right way!!
Sabine, you put that across beautifully! Where do you get your inspiration from?
I love words – poetry, random phrases that stick out from books, song lyrics, funny-sounding place names…words can evoke so many emotions and conjure up images of colour and style – they don’t necessarily translate literally into a piece, but the music I listen to while I torch, for example, will influence the colours I choose, etc.
Ah, a woman after my own heart. Words have colours, don't they... Have you got a 'signature' style?
I think I’m best known for my interchangeable jewellery (I call it my ‘Alcazar’ range), particularly the rose rings. I like the versatility of them, that you can have one base ring or pendant, then swap. I think that appeals to my personality – I like to be able to make choices, and I’ve had to be very flexible in the past to make everything work out. And although I am mainly a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl, sometimes, I want to wear something that is simply pretty. The interchanbeable jewellery allows me to do that, and I think/hope I’m not the only one who feels like that.
What skill or technique would you like to learn?
I’m just starting a couple of ranges with coldworked glass, and they’re fairly new territory to me – I have a flatlap grinder that I’ve not been able to put through its paces yet – but I will be able to soon!
Which piece are you most proud of - can you tell us the story behind it?
Oh…erm…my favourite piece is actually not a bead at all – I was on a one-week course with Julie Anne Denton, which combined flameworked sculptures with cast glass. During the week, I cast my hand in glass – now, I don’t have the prettiest hands in the world (my mother used to tell me we were from farmers’ stock – I have her hands), but I love the idea that my hands create my glass, and now I have my hand – made from glass. It holds my business cards in my studio.
Do you have any pets? Tell us about them!
We have two cats, Polly and Phi – Polly is a big softie, and Phi is small and feisty – both are rescue cats.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on extending the ranges for my Alcazar range of interchangeable jewellery, and always, always on more roses!
Where do you see yourself/your work in 1/5/10 years?
I would like to continue on the trajectory I’m currently on – with more galleries stocking my work, more teaching in my studio…I’m doing the British Craft Trade Fair next April, and I hope that’ll have a positive impact on the exposure my Alcazar range is getting.
Where can we see more of your work?
Everything (more or less) goes on Flickr – whether it’s for sale or commissions. I have a Facebook site where I post day-to-day musings and news, but my main outlet is my website www.littlecastledesigns.co.uk.
Sabine, thank you so much for giving us such an insight into your work - we wish you every success for your future.