Meet Willow Crossley

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Author of The Art of Handmade Living, Willow Crossley, talks French flea markets, homemaking heroes, and crafting obsessions. By Leah Harper

Have you ever taken a trip and stayed somewhere so beautiful that you've never been able to forget it? It probably wasn't the most plush or extravagant place you've ever checked in to - just somewhere delightfully down-to-earth, with elegant interiors and handmade trinkets adding the finishing touches to each nook and cranny. A place where it is clear that a great deal of care and imagination has gone in to every detail from the moment you step inside. This is how I envisage Willow Crossley's house.

Willow is someone for whom crafting comes as second nature - she is constantly on the lookout for a variety of treasures which might be put to good use within the home. Fortunately, she is willing to share her secrets to transforming household items into gorgeous gifts in her new book: The Art of Handmade Living. Even when talking about this, it's clear she's passionate about her latest creative endeavour: "I've got the most beautiful bit of fabric - it's actually the backing of the contents page of the book!" she tells me. "It's pale pink and it's got flowers all over it. It's tiny, but I'm literally obsessed with it." Much as you might expect, every page of Willow's guide to 'Crafting a beautiful home' is exquisitely designed - far more so than you might expect from your average making manual. Rather, it's more like a collage of Willow's favourite marketplace finds as well as her stunning creations, all collated together along with anecdotes of her crafting experiences and inspirations.

Willow puts her innate sensibility for all things craft-related down to her mother. "My mum has always been very creative. I grew up in the country with my family and she's always surrounded us with inspiring crafty bits - not so much craft in itself, but the way in which she'd decorate everything. I'd been surrounded by such beautiful things that I'd become accustomed to it and wanted to carry it on". 

However, it was Willow's move to the south of France which was to eventually kick-start a career as a crafter. The French are somewhat renowned for their chic and elegant style and it seems entirely plausible that this has had an impact on Willow and her work. Inspired by her stunning surroundings and with access to an array of vintage markets, she began to put her aptitude for arts and crafts into action. "There were nearby flea markets where I found the most beautiful fabrics," she tells me. "I needed something to do every day so I just started making little bits and pieces with these beautiful fabrics that I'd find. It all escalated from there really... I've always adored antique, old-looking things, but the fabrics I was finding out there were quite different to anything I'd come across in England. I'd find metres and metres of old matelas - the French mattress cloth, also known as ticking. That [material] is everywhere, so I'd make endless cushions. There were a lot of stripes and I have a real stripe obsession."

Stripes, as it turns out, are one of Willow's many obsessions: her others include food and Martha Stewart - "obviously!" But whilst Stewart might serve as one of her homemaking heroes, it seems that Willow's already picked up a few well-known admirers of her own. The face of Louis Vuitton, Poppy Delevingne, is quoted on the cover of the book, describing Willow's craftwork as 'timeless, heartfelt and thoughtful', and Willow confirms that the model owns a number of what she likes to think of as her signature products: fabric-covered books. She's also had the opportunity to work with the woman she calls 'Interiors Queen', Nina Campbell, on a napkin ring design based on a collection of bridesmaids' headpieces which she had previously made. "I made eighteen headpieces," she tells me. "They were all wire and velvet flowers, covered in bumblebees and things. Nina asked me to make napkin rings of those - shrunken down, with old velvet flowers, lovely ribbons and a pinky theme. They're actually in the book!" 

This might all sound a little intricate, but don't be put off if you're a crafting novice - Willow assures me that her designs are actually relatively simple to follow. "None of the projects in my book, or anything that I make, is remotely taxing. It's all very simple stuff," she says. Looking at many of her more delicate pieces, I'd be inclined not to believe her if it weren't for the fact that she's also a mother to two young children.

Juggling parenting and making can present something of a challenge to even the most creative among us, and Willow admits that, "it's quite difficult; there's not a lot of time." Yet one way in which she's managed to balance the two is by getting her children, namely her eldest, involved in the craft-making process itself. "With things like my decorative sticks, which are exactly as they sound, my eldest boy and I will go hunting for sticks in the woods - it's just collecting stick, after stick, after stick, so he helps me with that. On other occasions, I'll ask him, "This material? Or this material?" and he'll say, "This one, Mummy," so he helps that way too." 

Of course, parenthood is far from the only challenge facing the keen crafter. All too often, creative projects are simply abandoned when we fail to master the necessary skills and techniques to complete them. Despite the fact that Willow's work always has a polished, professional appearance - she reveals in her book that no one ever believes that her lavender-scented bath salts are actually handmade - she admits that she, too, is prone to frequent crafting disasters. "I'm really bad at sewing with a machine and I can't do a zip," she confesses. "They end up disastrously every time. I get around it by doing a button fastening, and when I make cushions I just use an overlap. I have linen bags in the book which have taken me so long to master - I just do it all by trial and error. If I mess up a zip or a finish or something, I'll just adapt it - there's always a way of covering something up if you're flexible with the way you're hoping it can be." 

I'm curious to know what other tricks she has up her sleeve, especially when it comes to being creative within a limited time frame. "Start with something that is the least time-consuming, and then you get a result," she advises. "Often I'm more motivated by something which gives me a very quick result. I'm not very good at following endless patterns; I wish I were. I'd love to be able to do things like knitting but there's so much hard work in it before you achieve this incredible effect. I guess I'm quite impatient." 

As well as impatient, Willow also describes herself as being "totally lead by the aesthetic" and "very visual about everything [she] loves". Yet one thing which is immediately apparent from looking at her work is the sense of sentiment and heart which can be found in each and every single piece. From her fairy-inspired Love and Friendship Bracelets, to her bespoke pieces of Word Art, Willow's focus on appearance does not detract from the care and character which goes into her work. She has the extraordinary ability to take everyday items which might usually be considered rather mundane and turn them into something slightly magical. "If things are beautiful then I'm kind of drawn to them like a magpie," she tells me. Yet her whimsical world is filled with vintage keepsakes and natural materials, shunning artificial glitter and sparkles, and providing her craftwork with an altogether more organic feel.

Willow's desire for others to try their hand at 'homemade living' feels just as genuine. Something that makes her stand out from the crafting crowd is the fact that we are invited to take a peek behind the scenes and discover the inspiration for a good number of her pieces. Far from being worried about unveiling the tricks of her trade, she's keen to share her creative tips and techniques and regularly writes about her current creative adventures on her blog. It's a unique insight into how Willow works and something of a virtual ideas board for the things which fuel her ongoing passion for making.

Whilst The Art of Handmade Living is Willow's first offline literary endeavour, I'd be very much surprised if it's her last. She appears to be constantly brimming with ideas, motivated by her latest one-of-a-kind find, and there's almost certainly a wealth of creative concepts to be garnered from her yet. "I love interiors and food - my husband and I have talked and talked about doing a foodie venture together," she divulges, confirming that her creative calling goes far beyond the world of craftwork. Wherever Willow's talents might take her, we can safely assume that her enthusiasm for crafting will continue to be as contagious as ever - don't be surprised if you find yourself avidly collecting twigs or excitedly purchasing scraps of discarded material in the wake of reading her book. 

The Art of Handmade Living by Willow Crossley. Buy the book here.

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