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My little guy and I both fell in love with Clare Beaton‘s hand-stitched illustrations at the same time. We poured over each early board book (he yanked the pages closer with his pudgy hands and then I took my turn, examining each tiny stitch). Kristin and her daughters share a love for Ms. Beaton’s creations too, of course, so we enthusiastically agreed with many exclamation points (!!) that we must, must interview Clare Beaton for our month of Hand Sewing. So we did! We did!

It was quite exciting for both of us to ask Ms. Beaton our burning questions about her workspace, favorite children’s books, her love of fabric and much more. Here, with sneak peeks at her latest work, is our interview. (And don’t forget to comment for your chance to win one of three Clare Beaton books from Barefoot Books, in addition to this week’s Hand Sewing giveaways!)

SMS: How did you get started in hand-stitched illustration?
Ms. Beaton: I got started in hand-stitched illustration when I wrote a book The Felt Book which filled a gap in the market at the time when there were 100s of craft books but nothing on felt. I included a couple of felt pictures and was inspired to do a small collection which I took to a card and poster company. They commissioned me to do both and I sent one of the posters to Barefoot Books saying I would love to illustrate a book for children in this way. They asked me to do One Moose, Twenty Mice and I have done another 17 to date!

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D is for Dog (approximately 11.5 ” square).

SMS: Did you grow up sewing by hand? How was creativity and imagination a part of your childhood?
Ms. Beaton: I did a little sewing when I was growing up but mostly clothes. Drawing was my passion and I always wanted to be an illustrator.

SMS: Your Mother Goose works are some of our favorites. Can you share some of your favorite children’s books and/or poems (your work or from others)?
Ms. Beaton: I have several Mother Goose books. Amongst my favourites are The Real Mother Goose illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright in 1916 and still in print at least up to 1972 when I purchased my copy in New York! Over the Moon illustrated by Charlotte Voake who has a delightful, loose witty style. Lavender’s Blue illustrated by Harold Jones, a classic.

I was brought up with the Flower Fairy books, Milly, Molly, Mandy, Winnie the Pooh and the Beatrice Potter books of course, all wonderfully illustrated and all different.

SMS: How much time to you spend hand sewing every day?
Ms. Beaton: When I am busy on a book which fortunately is most of the time I work from about 9.30 to 7 with small breaks to hang out the washing, making tea and lunch! My work is very time consuming.

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1-6 (approximately 5″ square).

SMS: Technically, your work is impeccable! Do you have any advice for those of us who do a little work with felt and fabric? Tips for those clean cuts and nice, even stitches?
Ms. Beaton: Obviously sharp scissors and needles help here but my neat stitches really are a result of many years practice. I hold the work firmly in my left hand close to the work which helps too, I am right handed. Everything is pinned in position.

SMS: What kind of felt do you use? (Wool, wool blend?)
Ms. Beaton: I use all kinds of felt. The subtle colours (MGR) are 100% wool or very nearly and come from a shop in Munich where they make it. Then I buy from markets and although some colours are good it’s not wool. I also use some totally synthetic felts I purchase in 5 metre rolls from the UK in really bright strong colours.

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Poppies by Clare Beaton

SMS: Where do you find all of the vintage textiles you use in your pieces? Do the fabrics lead you to certain illustrations? Do you search for specific fabrics for particular works?… How does fabric influence your work?

Ms. Beaton: I have collected fabrics (and many other things) forever from flea markets, charity shops, antique fairs, car boot sales and and anywhere else! Aprons have been a particular rich source of patterns. The story always comes first and this leads to my choice of colours and fabrics. In How Loud is a Lion I used some 40s and 50s fabrics. For Baby’s First Book I decided to use white sheets and cream linen for the backgrounds for a lighter fresher feel.

SMS: Tell us about your work space!…
Ms. Beaton: I work from home in a large first floor room which is light and airy and faces the street so I don’t feel completely cut off from life! On one side I have a wall of books, on another an old shirt “cupboard” which is an old shop piece and in which I keep most of my felts and fabrics organised into colours and patterns (spots, stripes, checks and floral).

Then there are shelves of buttons, braid, beads, etc. I work in the bay window at a drawing board listening to the radio.

SMS: Do you have handsewn works in your own home?
Ms. Beaton: I have a large piece of applique work from Bihar, India, a piece by the fabric artist Janet Bolton and various other bits and pieces. Also a small collection of patchwork quilts, mostly from the US.

SMS: You mentioned on your site that you’ve always had a love of folk art. What types of folk art are you most drawn to? How do you think that love informs your illustrations?

Ms. Beaton: I am always drawn to work that is made by “untrained” artists and the fact that much of it is made from recycled materials. Hence my love of patchwork quilts. This is one of the reasons I prefer to use old things, apart from the felt. Even the names of the colours of the threads I use pleases me as I work.

SMS: Can you tell us a little about your fabric workshops?
Ms. Beaton: I do workshops when asked and mostly with children in schools and at literary festivals although if the opportunity arose I would like to more with adults. Often they are based on one of my books. I take original work to show and provide the same materials as I use but with young children they glue the pictures. I’ve done a few with young mothers and encourage them to stitch pictures for their children.

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Marigolds by Clare Beaton

SMS: What are you working on for the future?
Ms. Beaton: My latest book for Barefoot is a companion to Baby’s First Book and is a journal where mums can fill in details of their baby and keep items. After this I hope to do another book. I am going to do a range of greetings cards and another counting book. I have been drawn to 70s bed linen recently and am sending one or two pieces using these.

Recently I have been able to experiment with different styles which has been terrific and I stitched new posters this year.

Comment today to win one of three books by Clare Beaton, courtesy of Barefoot Books.

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