Maybe it's not the right time, but never say never.
Natalie Smart loved working with textiles as a youngster, from hand knitting to making her own clothes. Unfortunately, Textiles as an A-Level subject was discontinued at her school just as she was about to join the sixth form.
Natalie was quite academic, so she had other choices.
Faced with the decision of whether or not to take out a loan to go to university, Natalie decided against it, and instead found a job in pensions. Knitting and making clothes were now hobbies enjoyed whenever she could find time to fit them in.
When she was 23, Natalie’s brother tragically passed away in a car crash. It was, understandably, a difficult time for Natalie, and she threw herself into her job. However, she also started to think that perhaps she should be doing more of what she loved – hand knitting. She studied on a City and Guilds course in hand knitting and knitwear design, which she was able to fit in around her office job.
The course gave her the confidence to consider working in the industry and creating her own patterns.
Knitwear designing for magazines became profitable for Natalie, but she was scared of being in the public eye. This fear held her back from utilizing the opportunities she had created for herself, and she returned to office work.
Now Natalie has re-found the confidence to start making patterns again, but not for knitwear.
What is Natalie’s new creative love?
Bargello a GoGo at creativityfound.co.uk
Clubhouse: @clairewaitebrown and Creativity Found Connect club
Researched, edited and produced by Claire Waite Brown
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa Undercover / Ketsa Creative Commons License Free Music Archive - Ketsa - Day Trips
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.uk
Photo: Ella Pallet
For this episode, I'm speaking with Natalie Smart, who has always loved creating with textiles, but has often lacked the confidence to push herself into the public eye and make the most of some of the opportunities that came her way. Natalie is learning to get over those fears now, and finding joy in a new creative venture. Hi, Natalie, how are you? I'm good. Thanks, Claire. Thank you for having me on your show today. Oh, you're very welcome. So start by telling me how you currently like to keep yourself creatively busy. Well, it'd be mainly with my business, which is called Bargello Gogo. And it's an embroidery business where I've created these retro style designs that are very influenced by the 1960s and 70s. In style. It's a form of embroidery, it's kind of a straight stitch on canvas. And you can create all these great things for your home or accessories to make such as bags. And I create kits where people can make these things themselves as well, which is quite fun and exciting. Brilliant. We shall hear a bit more about that later. Did you have a creative or a crafty childhood? Yes. So when I was young, I always remember from a very young age, probably about six or seven doing knitting that I really enjoyed. That my great Auntie taught me how to do I might be some makeup knitted toys and things which was quite good fun. So I was always creative with with more textiles, things really, from a child, and just creative in general. When I grew up, you had television and that but it was like four channels. And it wasn't like it necessary have everything you have now. Or computers as much my brother and sister we create board games and games in the garden and naturally creative as children, we'd do creative things. Yeah, did you have opportunities to explore that further, maybe at school, try some other textile crafts. So at school, we we used to do different textile things, you know, used to do drawing and painting and some embroidery as well. And we used to do some knitting things that I was part of brownies as a child. So used to get your different badges. So you would do things like a concert badge, we're playing instruments as recorder. So do creative things like that as well. And then obviously, your knitting badge and crochet and all them different kinds of things embroidery badge. So you'd learn things like that as a child. And then when I sort of got to my teenage years, probably when I started seeing your school, we had a textiles class where you'd learn to use the sewing machine and I really enjoyed that too. And also, when I was that 12 years old, there was a little craft centre near where I lived. And there was different crafts in there when people sold their their handmade goods such as there was a candle maker. And then there was some that did pottery and there was another lady called down who did machine knitting. And she let me have a garden knitting machine and my parents were lovely and supportive and she had a spare knitting machine that she sold to them so I could make things on the knitting machine when I was younger at home. Or maybe perhaps for family for Christmas and scarfs and little jumpers with CAP atoms on them because they had a, like a chart thing on the knitting machine, which does Ferrell. So it's like a punch card, it's called. And then it could pick up different patterns. And then in my mid teens, I've stopped doing machine knitting so much, but always went back to sort of the hand side of things like hand knitting, and really got into the sewing machine more than the machine knitting in the end. So I would make clothes because it was like quicker to make sort of fabric clothes on a sewing machine. I got really into sort of that 60s 70s kind of aesthetic. So I would try and make my own clothes to get that, that I liked, which was good fun. And it was satisfying having something that you've made at the end, because I was always more textiles than drawing and painting. I like something I can make and put on. That's what excited me with creativity. Yeah. Brilliant. So with all this creative energy, were you expecting or maybe expected to continue down that road in Further Education in Korea? Yes, it wasn't something I really thought of massively at school, I came from a family where they were all hard workers. So I was had a really good work ethic. I don't know as a kid at school, I'd be selling little nifty things in the playground for like two p or something, selling bookmarks, you know, knocking around the neighbor's doors, would you like to buy a bookmark I've made and things like that. And then then I had a paper around. I learned from young age, you'd like nice things and to pay away when you need to earn money. But no one in my family was particularly didn't work in the creative field at all. Everyone just had jobs that were you know, either office based or they were they worked in a hospital, you know, it was that kind of background really. So there was no no artists as such in my family that did that for a living that I'm aware of. But everyone worked hard and money. So I was quite academic at school. And because I didn't really paint or draw as such GCSE art wasn't really on the cards. For me, I didn't really get excitement from drawing as such, it was more making. So textiles I used to love and I did that as a GCSE at school because I loved it so much. And I did consider the only thing I did consider creatively was doing an A level in textiles, which was an option at my school. But the year I went into my levels, they stopped doing it. Oh, no. So that was a shame. Yeah, I want to remember the teacher's name. This is Abraham's. And I was like, oh, okay, but I liked the school I was at and I really wanted to stay on at the sixth form there. Some of the other subjects I liked was geography. And I don't know if there was always something in my head that I might have my own business one day. So I did business studies as well. And I got I got my grades to go to university. But the year I went to go to universities when they introduced tuition fees, and I don't know as as 18 year old, that really scared me. The thought of getting into debt, I think it was like over 2000 pounds, I'd have to get a loan for for me personally, I yeah, I didn't feel comfortable doing that. So I thought that the right thing for me at that time to do was to get a job. And I did used to envy people at school I still have envy is the right word. But there were some people at my school, they knew what they wanted to do from a child. But I never really knew what I wanted to do. I liked sort of travelling, and I looked at being maybe a holiday rep. But again, the money wasn't great. I didn't end up I left school and got a job in pensions to begin with. I knew I knew I wanted to work in an office, I quite liked sort of working in offices in the corporate world that just for some reason that appealed to me at that moment in time. And my creative side, that was just how I've dressed was created for me because I would wear these sort of vintage style clothes, my makeup, you know, for me, it was going home after a day at work and then I'd maybe work on my puppies around. Obviously socialising at that age or not, I suppose it was in my early 20s I started sort of hanging it in again as well. Still doing the machine sewing of clothes, but also doing some hand knitting again, too. You were working in the kind of in an office environment in a corporate environment. And I know that you got to a point where you realised you weren't as happy or fulfilled in those roles as you thought you were or as you had been before. Was there a reason for that at a particular time? And if you took action on those realisations what were those actions? Yeah, so there was a big turning point when I was about 23. My brother unfortunately passed away in a car crash community that that's all right. Wow, yeah. Oh sorry. Okay. Oh goodness now today Oh, three my makeup. So, yeah, yeah, he unfortunately passed away in a car crash just gonna get a tissue sorry. Ah, it's still quite painful for me to obviously talk about that. Yeah. So I mean, that was 16 years ago. But yeah, it still obviously still hits a nerve. Yeah. And obviously that was a big. I mean, I threw myself into my job at the time, they wanted me to take more time off than I did. But unfortunately my family don't live locally to me. I was really lucky because my, my husband, who was my boyfriend at that point in my life was a real rock and supportive because I wasn't living with my family. But I just needed to try and get back into some normality after it happened. So I threw myself into my work at that time, which was in in an office and that was okay, but I think when you have something awful is tragic, because that happened to you. But it does make you question everything you do in life in general. You know, you just start to think, what am I doing what I enjoy, or, and, you know, with my jobs, I would, you know, maybe work in one area for a couple of years, and I go into something new. So I've always want to learn new things, do new things. But yeah, I was getting to the point where I was like, actually, does this bring me joy? Am I really enjoying this? Or is it just because I'm doing it? Because it's the money and it's quite easy to do, but and then I started to think about what Mike what I love to do create creatively and thought, why can't I do that for work? Why am I doing this other stuff, you know, life's so short as that made me realise. And then I suppose it was probably about another year or two that I started to think about. I was really loving my hand knitting. And I started to think about maybe doing something with that. And I started to look at maybe doing a degree in knitwear design, that there was a degree in Nottingham I could have done, but it was also around the same time me and my husband, were looking at potentially getting a mortgage as well. I love Brighton so much. I really like the thought of living away from here. So in the end, I decided no, I really want to get a mortgage. I don't want to do a degree. I mean, I could have done one in Brighton. But this was more specialised, the one in Nottingham, geared towards what I wanted to do. But then I found a City and Guilds City and Guilds are great, they do so many different course options and things. And they did one in hand knitting, or hand knitwear design. And it was one Sunday, a month for a couple of years. And I thought, well, that's great. I can fit it around my job, you know, it's not going to interfere with that there's homework in between. But that's okay. I did that instead. And I learned so much about how knitting through that course. And it gave me the confidence then to start doing some, some work in that industry. I felt by having that qualification. It just gave me the confidence to there maybe working it, I felt like I had some like bit like school, when you get your grades and your GCSEs or a levels. It just gave me that feel that I could maybe then do that. Which was good. And you did go on to do that. And you have become very proficient at designing knitwear patterns you started designing that were patterns for Debbie bliss. How did that come about? And for those who don't know, can you tell us why working with her was a big deal. So originally in the course, I've got to design some network patterns and get them checked and learn from that. Again, it's all been about proactive to anyone out there. If you want to do it, you've got to be proactive. You can't really sit back and just hope someone will find you. There's something called Ravelry in the knitwear world, and I had a page on there. And Debbie bliss is a very well known hand knitwear designer. She does a lot of knitting patterns, and she's done them for for quite a few years. So anyone that does hand it in is probably heard of her or some wall she used to produce and she just so happened to be doing a book signing event at cnh fabrics, which is a haberdashery shop down in Brighton where I live. So I just went along and I got a book signed. I just started chatting to her and I just showed her my sort of Ravelry page stuff I've made so far in my course. And she was really impressed by it. She's such she's such a lovely, lovely woman really lovely. And she said oh, maybe we could collaborate. Maybe you might like to do something In a design for one of my magazines, because she's got a Debbie bliss magazine, and I thought, well, yeah, great, we arranged to meet at her studio in London. And I had a few ideas for this particular magazine. Anyway, she ended up commissioned me to do four, which was quite a big thing, because I'd never really designed for anyone. So I didn't know what the process was for an actual magazine. But she was really nurturing. She was lovely. She said, Look, you're bound to make some mistakes, because I appreciate you're new to it. You're quite young and new to it. Not a problem for a first person to work with. She was so lovely. It was a dream. I can't express how lovely she was such a nice person. And yeah, there were some mistakes, because obviously, I was new to writing knitwear patterns. But I learned so much from that process. It all went well in the end. Luckily, finally, considering there was four, she put a lot of faith into me doing four designs for her magazine. So I was, yeah, really lucky with that. And then I started selling my knitwear patterns on Ravelry, I started creating some more and from having my work published in Debbie bliss, I then felt I could approach some other knitwear magazines, I ended up building up a really good rapport with Knitting magazine, who are based in Louis so they're not far from me, mainly designed for them after that going forward. But my my downfall was, I was very scared of being in the public eye. And a lot of creatives are, I find, they don't always want to be on camera, or they'll have their happy making things. But when it comes to you being in the forefront, it can be quite scary. And at that time, I was quite scared of all that. Really, it held me back a bit back then. And also, I didn't know how to run a business really. And I didn't really understand what it took to, to make being a knitwear designer financially successful for me at the time, when I look back at some really good opportunities, like love crafts, when they first set up their website, and I was one of the people that went in as a knitwear designer to discuss how to, like, present the patterns. And I was one of the handful of people that sold on their platform to begin with, it wasn't only a handful of us. Yeah, that was really exciting. And I could have done so much more with it looking back, but I just didn't have that confidence. And also going on in the background, my husband had started his own business, selling tools to build as in the construction industry. And he was struggling to get someone in the office. So I ended up initially just helping out but it ended up becoming a real full time job just doing all the accounts and you know, everything for him which came naturally it easy to me to do. I ended up prioritising that over the knitting really, yeah. And then it kind of again, fell back into the background, my creativity, it became more of a hobby. Again, whilst I was working in that business and helping with that, really, I was still doing a bit for the magazines on the side around that, but then it got too much where I had a lot of work to do for him, I knew I won't be able to keep up the deadlines, because they have strict deadlines, understandably, for different issues. So then I just went back into making things on the same machine doing a bit of knitting around another kind of office base job again. Creativity found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits, and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity found experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media, or through the contact details on the website. So from your having got your creative momentum back by doing the knitwear patterns by making that actually the main role in your life, you've then kind of lost it a bit again, by the sounds of things. As we know from the beginning, you do find it again. But in the meantime, because you were helping your husband it was the family family business so to speak, did that kind of make it all okay, and was there again, as we mentioned earlier, a kind of point at which you wanted to go look, I don't want this to be my, my full time work I'd like to embody so explore my creativity. Seriously? Yeah, I mean, it was it was really good to help him I got great satisfaction, putting systems in place and really helping him for a while. But again, with me, if I'm doing the same thing day in day out, I do get bored. Eventually, I like to like progress to a new thing. And the thing is, with this business, it's always going to be the same work. There's never going to be a change as such to a degree in that kind of office world. Whereas with what I do now, you know, and designing new things all the time, so it's always different. Although you could say it's the same kind of work. It isn't because you're you create something different. That's why I never became a maker in In the sense that I make the same thing over and over again, ultimately, I'm a designer, I like to design new things. And that's what excites me. That's what excites me my creativity. So about five years ago, I went to Morocco. Marrakech on a holiday. And I noticed there, there was so much embroidery, and it really is, again, it's finding your inspiration as a creative person. And I was so inspired by the hand embroidery on things and bags, and I was like, Oh, my God, this is amazing. This is beautiful. And when I got back, I wanted to try doing some hand embroidery. So I found an online course where I learned to do, I hadn't really done loads of hand embroidery. Prior to that point, it always been either sewing on the same machine or hand knitting. So it was another new thing to try that was textiles related, which was good. And that's where I would just do different types of embroidery. So in 2020, around lockdown, I was looking for a new embroidery project, again around the work like a hobby. And I was going through my vintage magazines, golden hands magazines, they were the 70s. And there was some Florentine embroidery in there. And I thought, wow, that looks really effective. What's that, and I was looking through. And then I eventually discovered the the umbrella name Bargello. And these are little things sort of within that. And I thought that was so effective. And yet a really simple stitch. And I thought around work, it's something I can do. I can watch TV, it's not like intricate cross stitch or, you know, shading embroidery style embroidery really got to have good daylight, you know, I could do it in the evenings, it was like straight stitches on bigger canvas with wool. So it's thicker thread. And I liked geometric the way my brain works are quite like the patterns and the symmetry of it. So it just worked really well for me. I said to my husband, I said all I think I'm just going to initially try and see and make a couple of patterns again, because I've done it with knitwear design, it came naturally to me to be able to create patterns, and maybe some kits to go along with it. And then it got to last year, and I was sort of selling more and more of the patterns. And I've produced some more kits. And I sort of said to my husband, I'm really enjoying this. And I really want to try and maybe do this as a business. And he was like, Okay, well, I have to see if I can get you can get someone to replace me for the majority of the time in the office, because he knew how supportive I've been with him. He's just a very lovely supportive person. And yeah, he's, I'm really lucky, he has been really supportive through my journey of setting this business up. And he's always really excited for me when I get sales or you know, I create something new. You've given me nine years of your life in this business. He said, I'm happy to help you too. You know, that's absolutely brilliant. Did you before actually broaching the subject? Did you have any nerves? Definitely. I think anyone would like even if you're changing jobs, or if you had in your notice in your current job, you do always have the nerves. I think there was the the nerves of having to say to him, I don't want to do this anymore. Yeah, and of course, I think in an ideal world, you'd love it if I still worked with him full time, but he understands it's not my particular dream or vision. And he knows I'm so creative. And that's what I ultimately want to be working in if I can these very supportive of that, which is great. That is good, brilliant similarities in the working processes from designing knitwear patterns. And now what you're doing with Vice yellow patterns, there are some definitely I mean, the beginning bit is your inspiration. what's inspiring you? I'd say that to anyone who wants to do something creative what inspires you? What do you like? What setup Do you like? Do you like historical things? Is there something like from the Victorian Regency? Are you into sci fi? What inspires you? What colours do you like? And I think always keep your mind open just try different crafts. So with regards to the design side yet, initially, it starts with an inspiration right? What's inspiring me when I was a knitwear designer, if I was designing for a magazine, I have a mood board so you you have to design with in line with what they're looking for and send some submissions and then they they'll come back yay or nay you know, but now I check in more with my audience to see in Bargello what what they like is am I going down the right track because that was another mistake I made at the beginning I maybe designed some it but does everyone like that or the colours and you've got to sort of be interactive, really, again, getting out there and just sharing. So yeah, initially starts with similar thing when it was inspiration, and then working out how you're going to do it. So obviously different mediums, obviously with embroidery and knitting, but again, same thing you calculate your workout colours. You do the making, which is really fun. So it's very similar in that respect. Definitely. Although a different kind of working out. That is I Yeah, yeah. So you've got some kind of freedoms, but then also guidance from your audience, you've probably got the skills, the technical skills for actually writing the pattern and writing the instructions. You know, I'm an editor of books where people need to read the book and know what to do. And getting that text down and those charts and pictures down properly so that your audience can really do it is, of course, very, very important. You're absolutely right. That's the other part of being able to write knitwear patterns. I always got good feedback from the mags. They love working with me for knitwear design, because they said I wrote my patterns very well. It made writing Bargello patterns I will do in my head, I suppose had a format of how to chart them how to make them in a way that people could read them, hopefully read them. Well, so far. Touchwood, I've had some good feedback on my patterns and people saying how well laid out they are and how they can read them the charts. I just got literally obsessive by General embroidery. I mean, I love I still love knitting and all those kinds of things. But I'm really inspired at the minute by this style of of embroidery, which I'm loving, so that's good. Yeah. Yeah, that's brilliant. Having turned Barcelo into a business? Yeah. Do you feel that you are still able to glean the benefits of creativity on your overall lifestyle? And what plans do you have for the future? Oh, that's an interesting one. Yeah, so I'm always trying to learn new things that maybe I can incorporate into Bargello at some point, sometimes, with the budget, I will do other crafts around that I like sometimes I might say some clothes for myself that might go with a budget or accessory or you know, so I do some sewing, which I love doing. But I'm a big believer of slow fashion, personally, and I like to make my own clothes when I can. But I think from doing the embroidery, it's made me want to do some more things that I'm I'm doing actually by hands and they're all on the same machine or things like that. And that's been really good fun doing other types of embroidery where you're still using wool and I've been really enjoying that. Yeah, so I think plans for the future is just create more kits just see Bargello Go Go grow really get more of an audience get more people to know of the brand and what I do, and in my business, I do try and use British suppliers, I use Appletons wool in my kits which is made and produced and died in the UK, which is amazing. And I got to visit them and it was just brilliant. You know, to to know we've still got that here in England is great. We haven't gotten sort of travel miles to get that and I've recently collaborated with some people on some kids are really good artists locally who designed my latest tote bags. Her name is Natalie Sussex business converting Scorpios and then Zoe, who's also local to me, who's got a company called Ada beings. I recently collaborated with her to make some cool wall hanging edgings for one of my kids, which was really good. And she does that 60s style kind of jewellery and things with perspex. And the perspex is made in the UK. So it's all really good. And it's great to meet again through creativity. You make all these meet all these new people like for your group as well. I managed to supply some kits before in the creativity found group with Nancy who does create for in Portsmouth Yeah, we love a bit of collaboration. And that's what's good with creativity found because you you get to share your skills with other people and it's great. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That's an absolute joy to be able to facilitate that. So naturally, how can people connect with you? Lots of different ways. A few things now seems to be building up with all the social media the way we're growing. There's obviously my website which is www dot Bargello. ogogo.com is ba RG E double L i a go go.com I'm on Instagram which is Bargello ago go I'm also on YouTube where I do free videos showing techniques of Bargello embroidery and sometimes I show free patterns on how to make things as well. And I'm on Facebook there's a Facebook page as well and Pinterest but if you go to the website ultimately you will there'll be a link to various things you can have a look around there and see yeah brilliant. Thanks so much for talking with me today it's been really good to hear your story it's been interesting to hear you you're like a creativity found found as you went through it and then went away they go back again. So that's good perseverance. You You've just keep keep trying and you'll find a way Yeah, definitely. Yeah, it's story in that you know, don't never give up on your dreams. Just keep keep trying It will happen for you, you know, it will happen. You just got to put yourself out there, almost get over yourself. Don't be scared, don't be shy, just just try. And yes, sometimes you know, there'll be nose in life and you just keep trying and you find your way. And I just think that's the best thing you can do really just don't do what I did in the NetWare side and just be a bit afraid and, and back away, just keep pushing. Just to go outside your comfort zone that is difficult for people sometimes, but you've just got to, if you really want it, you'll, you'll find a way and it gets easier. You get used to it like anything, the more you do it. If you're enjoying it, you don't even see it as a big learning curve. You're just enjoying the process. And when you find that craft or whatever it is you enjoy creatively, you're ultimately enjoying it and it doesn't matter, the state the importance of enjoyment, not perfectionism. Definitely. I completely agree. Brilliant. Thank you so much, Natalie, thank you for having me on here today, Claire, much appreciated and very welcome. I look forward to seeing more in the group. So x Thank you. Thanks so much for listening to creativity found. If your podcast app has the facility, please leave a rating and review to help other people find us on Instagram and Facebook follow up to creativity found podcast and on Pinterest look for our creativity found. And finally, don't forget to check out creativity found.co.uk The website connecting adults who want to find a creative outlet with the artists and crafters who can help them tap into their creativity.