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  • Writer's pictureHannah Kate

Meet the Creative: Michelle Corbin

The next in this series of interviews bringing you inside the worlds of some of my favourite creatives.

This time I have the absolute joy of introducing you to a lovely friend, a brilliant embroidery artist and creator of beautiful, whimsical keepsakes, Michelle Corbin!

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your business and how it came to be…

Hi! I’m Michelle, from Michelle Corbin Design. I’ve been married for about a hundred years hehe (19 to be exact) and we have two fab teens. We live in Teesside in the North East of England.

When I left school, as like many teens, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and was ‘guided’ to do Hair and Beauty to get a Vocation under my belt and because I was quite good at doing hair! But I never ‘really’ enjoyed it, but I did work hard and eventually had my own freelance hairdressing business and was a visiting lecturer at a local FE College. Which I did love, but the more pressure that was forced onto staff, with paperwork and politics etc, I began to lose my love of the teaching environment. At the same time we married and I began a Soft Furnishings and Curtain Making course as I had begun to gain the love of interior design. So when I had gained my qualification and had 2 babies, I decided I wanted to be a stay at home mum!

Which is where and how I began Michelle Corbin Design. At first I made curtains, blinds and cushions for local friends, but my kids inspired me every day, and I designed a Tooth Fairy Cushion when they began to be invited to parties after starting nursery. Of course, us being a little skint for want of a better word, I made Tooth Fairy Cushions as gifts for their friends. Eventually I began a Facebook page and school mums began to commission me to make gifts and keepsakes and it just evolved from there. The soft furnishings gradually disappeared in favour of my new addiction – hand and free motion embroidery.

How would you describe your style and your products?

My style has evolved over the years, but I’m drawn to whimsical illustrations for my embroidery. Most of my designs tend to be based on nature as I have a love for toadstools and flowers, but I do always tend to have a fairy somewhere because the Tooth Fairy is where the magic truly started for me.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your creative life and career?

I think my kids! Does that sound cheesy? Without them, I’m not sure I would ever have got here. Being able to stay home with them, was truly the best thing for me. I was able to work around their needs, see their first footsteps, be there for every school run or doctors appointment alongside slowly growing my business. They truly inspired me to work hard and brought out the best of me in terms of design. I hope also, that by being a work from home Mum, it has shown them what can be done and it encourages them to reach for their dreams too.

What was your first embroidery project and how have you progressed to the works you make and sell now?

My mum taught me basic hand embroidery as a child, and I dabbled then. Mum was a keen sewer and made clothes and most of my dance costumes, but I didn’t really settle with sewing until later.

I did Textiles and Textiles Art GCSE’s and so did a little embroidery in those classes, but ‘Cross Stitch’ was big back then and to be honest, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. So I would say that the first hand embroidery piece was on two Tooth Fairy cushions that I made for my friend's twin boy and girl and the first piece of free machine embroidery (FME) was on a fabric cupcake I was asked to make. I ‘fussy cut’ out a printed rose from some fabric and embellished it with FME onto the Cupcake.

From there I began to sketch out some fairies and practiced FME lots and lots. I became fascinated with the technique and process and gradually I would say that it has progressed from minimal details, to me specialising in the details, which enables me now to share my tips and tricks with others, teaching them the technique too.

How do you start your design process and where do you get your inspiration?

I tend to be inspired by nature, families and memories, but sometimes I take the lead from the fabrics and materials I have to hand and see where they take me.

A big part of my business is reducing waste. The fabric industry has created a huge impact on our environment over the years, and as much as I do love to buy new fabrics, I try to use all of my scraps first, down to the tiniest of pieces, and if I do buy new fabric, I try to source sustainably, so in terms of inspiration, it does depend what I have to hand and what I see outdoors.

I do take a weekly Art Class, and I am regularly pushed to experiment with paint out of my comfort zone, which quite often triggers a spark that I want to explore.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Being flexible! Starting it when my kids were small made me understand values. Time with my kids growing up was just perfect and so rewarding. They grow up so fast and if I hadn’t have had the flexibility, I most likely would have missed out on so much.

I grew my business slowly because being a mum was the most important job. And yes, being a mum doesn’t pay well, and growing a small business is hard work, so we struggled financially for so many years, but it has been worth every penny we scraped together.

So flexibility, allowing me to step up when I need to or taking time to breathe and make memories with my kids. Perhaps most people start their businesses to make money, but I just wanted a little independence to be there for my kids. So for me, flexibility is most important.

When are you at your most productive?

By far the mornings – especially the lighter mornings! Just let me do a little workout, have my breakfast and a coffee first and I am good to go.

What myth would you like to bust about running a creative business?

You don’t have to have the best qualifications to do it. As long as you have determination and are willing to learn, most people can do it.

What are you working on today?

Today I am creating a pattern for a forthcoming course, but shhh it’s a secret!!

Could you let us take a peek at your workspace?

I’ll show you the pretty side 😊 It’s still work in progress, but it is light and bright and my happy place.

Do you have a best seller or favourite to make?

My best sellers and favourites do tend to change year on year, but at the moment I do love making the Love Notes, which I launched this year, but I do still love stitching a Fairy or 2.

What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?

Believe in yourself and what you can do!

What are your favourite materials or tools to use?

I have discovered Inktense pencils, which I am loving and incorporating a lot into my work, but my favouritest (is that a word?) item is Ellie my Elna Q6600 Sewing Machine – she is also the Co Founder of MCD.

Do you have a motto or favourite quote for inspiration?

Taking each day Stitch by Stitch

What tip or truth would you tell yourself at the beginning of this journey if you could go back and give past-Michelle a heads up?

Learn how to value yourself, your time and your work. I began guesstimating my prices and continually made a loss, because the hours I spent working on each product were never costed in my work. So learn the basics of costing and pricing and work out what is your ‘enough’ and how you will reach your ‘enough’.

What have been the greatest challenges of Michelle Corbin Design so far?

Oh Goodness. The biggest is probably believing in my own worth, followed by not being so hard on myself.

What is it about Michelle Corbin Design that you are most proud of?

Proving to the doubters that I could do this. I’m not just sat at home watching tv and sewing, I am creating a life that I enjoy. I am a mum who has built a small business around family life from nothing, and hard work and determination pays off.

What do you like to do when you’re not stitching?

I like to paint, bake, crochet, go for walks and enjoy life with my family and friends.

What are you looking forward to next?

I’m working on a few secret projects, which I hope to launch later this year, so I am excited for those.

How can we find out more about you?

Etsy and Folksy Michelle Corbin Design

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