The Creative Parents: Daisy Forster, yarn dyer

“We have a lot of art and craft supplies in the house, and I try to just let them use whatever they want without worrying about doing it right or ruining things,” says Devon-based yarn dyer and mum of four boys, Daisy Forster…

Daisy Forster, 37, lives by the coast in a little seaside town right on the border of East Devon, near Lyme Regis, with her partner Rob and their four  young boys.

Do you remember your first piece of artwork, as a child? I remember lots of school crafts, especially around Christmas time. Things like sewing on card with embroidery thread or salt dough Christmas decorations. I don’t remember a lot of painting or drawing really.

What inspired creativity in you when you were growing up? My mum was always making and creating, and it was just normal to me to make things. My gran and great aunt who lived with us taught me to knit and they used to knit all day long.

Were your parents artists? My mum was a stay-at-home mum but she drew and painted a lot, and sold some of her paintings. She was always making something though, and very creative.

What was your childhood home like? We lived on a farm in Cornwall. Lots of children, dogs, cats, goats and various long forgotten guinea pigs and hamsters that my mum had to look after. We were outside a lot, we didn’t have a TV for much of my childhood and I have so many memories of playing outside in our big garden with my siblings. The house wasn’t very big, but the rooms were large and airy and had amazing light. Growing up near the beach  definitely had an impact on me too.

Did school nurture you, artistically? I have really fond memories of the art department at school. It was a really calm relaxing place to go, full of creativity and possibility. I went to an all girls grammar school so academic subjects really got priority but the art lessons felt like such a treat, a few hours of unpressurised creating.

What piece of artwork do you remember feeling particularly proud of as a child/teenager? I absolutely loved pottery, and I still remember making thumb pots and turning them into fish and little animals. I must have been about twelve.

Did you go on to study art? No, not at all. Past GSCE I didn’t do any arty subjects, I was very academic although I have always loved photography and making.

When did you begin focusing on art as a career? Around five years ago, I had left my job in Psychology Services with the NHS to be at home with my children. My youngest, Toby, was still a tiny baby at that time and I had started dyeing yarn. I realised there was a demand for luxury hand-dyed yarns and invested the last of my maternity pay in a big wholesale order, with the aim of making my money back and having some yarn left over to use for my own projects. I wanted to make a jumper for Toby.

Can you describe your work? I buy undyed, luxury yarns in blends like merino, yak and bamboo, and hand dye each skein in small batches. I have a tiny home studio where I dye all the yarn, either hand-painting the dye on or in big kettles of boiling water. After it’s dyed and heat set, I rinse it out and hang it outside to dry.

When I first started, I was dyeing a lot of one-off pieces or custom colourways and really learnt a lot from that experimentation. I built up to large, monthly subscription clubs and exhibiting at shows and I run workshops and luxury yarn retreats where people can spend a whole weekend creating and learning how to dye their own yarn. Helping others add an extra element to their handmade project is my favourite part.

Is it difficult to make a living as an artist? I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the creating and forget about the business side of making a living as a creator. So many creatives just want to make and create and ignore the other parts, but I love that side of running my own business, and for me, it’s part of what keeps me going.

The community of other makers I have met online whilst networking and promoting my business help me feel like I am part of a workforce, and learning new skills like photography, blogging and how to run the retreats are what keeps it fresh and interesting for me.

I couldn’t just keep on making for myself all the time – making a living from my craft gives it purpose and pushes me to keep on getting better at it, but running a business isn’t always easy.

When did children come along, and how has this impacted your practice? I was 25 when my first son Oliver was born, and we had another three boys within the next seven years. It definitely inspired me to create, when my first son went to Steiner Kindergarten I was surrounded by people making things, and really learnt the value of choosing good quality materials to craft with. I started making toys and little dolls, and then got back into handcrafts like knitting.

I knew I wanted to make something really special and hand-dyeing the yarn added in one more element that I could make my own, so I learnt how to dye yarn, at home, fitting it in to nap times.

As the boys have grown I have been able to ebb and flow with the business depending on how much they need me. Now they are older I can be away for longer and run weekend yarn retreats or exhibit at shows across the county. And I can schedule them around school and holidays and be around every day after school.

Where do you look for inspiration now? I tend to let the colours inspire me, I might start with one colour and see how it looks on the yarn, blending and merging colours in different ways until I am happy with it.

I live in the most amazing place, and the light and the colour of the sea, the moors and the rolling Devon hills are so inspiring. We are outside a lot, and Instagram has really made me look things differently, noticing small details and colour, finding the beauty in everything. And when I’m feeling stuck, an hour with my camera styling photos or arranging flat lays really helps me get  back into the swing of creating.

I have a separate Instagram account away from yarn so I can really indulge my creativity there and use different places for inspiration. I find I have to have regular breaks away from dyeing yarn, and make things just for the love of making. Travelling helps too, it inspires me to work smarter and find ways to balance my business with spending time with my family. During our period of WorldSchooling last year we met some amazing people who really influence our daily lives now.

In what ways do you encourage creativity with your children? We have a lot of art and craft supplies in the house, and I try to just let them use whatever they want without worrying about doing it right or ruining things. I buy the best quality materials we can and they use real tools, because I really think that makes a difference to how children feel about what they are making. 

My youngest went through a time of drawing on every single wall in the house, we thought it was just fourth child taking advantage of his position but actually it just turned out he needed to draw all the time. Now he has his own little table full of paper and pencils and he often just gravitates there and spends hours drawing – he likes to chop them up once he’s done too, but for him it’s very much about process rather than keeping 400 paintings, luckily!

They love YouTube too and will all watch drawing tutorials, and craft how-tos, and then go off and make what they have seen. But most of the time they are just left to play, they are outdoors a lot, we have amazing beaches on our doorstep and I really believe in the value of unstructured play. I am a huge believer in unschooling, letting children follow their interests and learning through life.

What is your home like now? It’s busy, and full, and exactly how you would expect a house with four boys and two working parents! We try to keep clutter to a minimum as everyone functions better when the house is tidy. When we went away to Costa Rica last year we really decluttered and it’s helped me to like the house a lot more now it has less in it.

I am not naturally drawn to cleaning, although I do like a clean house. We don’t have many toys, I have tried to focus on really open ended toys that everyone can enjoy, although the highlight of every week is always yarn delivery day as it comes in a giant box and that provides hours of fun. There’s no mistaking this is a house of boys though, every wall tells a rather grubby, well worn story, but I am ok with that.

When do you spend time on your artwork? Until very recently we always had at least one child who was homeschooled. At that time I would get up early to work for a few hours before they got up, use weekends and try to fit in what I could around their activities in the week. We have just entered a phase where everyone is at school for at least some of the week so I have around 15 hours of child-free time.

I have learnt to be really efficient with my time, spending that time focusing on creating and making, then spending evenings doing the admin, social media and website jobs. I also have a wonderful assistant who does all the things I don’t need to do, like packing boxes and keeping the studio organised – the only way I could fit in the making was to get someone to help with the other things, and she is much better than me at packing boxes anyway.

Can you describe your workspace? I have a really small studio on the side of my house for dyeing the yarn, and a storage space in a business park where I store all the business things like boxes, extra stock and postage supplies. That’s where everything gets packed up too as we have a really big packing table. It just makes things so much easier having a space for creating and a space for the packing but I really need to be able to dye the yarn at home so I can be around for the children too.

Any tips for other creative parents looking to make a living from their work? It really is possible. You really have to put the work in, learn about things like ideal customers, how to use social media and make sure you are pricing right from the beginning. 

Find a community, nearby or online, that you can share the business journey with and learn how to work smart. And schedule lot of breaks and holidays where you just create for yourself – because otherwise you will end up hating that what you were doing as your hobby became a job.

Above all else, just take the leap and start, it’s really worth it.

Future goals/dreams? Last year, we all went away on an amazing family adventure to Costa Rica and America for three months. It was funded entirely through my savings from my business, and I managed to set up the business so it carried on running whilst I was away, using subscription-based clubs. Now we know that works, we would like to do another trip in the next few years.

I have a range of products I would love to launch but I know I have to keep my ambition in line with how much my kids need me, or I start to get resentful, so for now I am just focusing on growing the business slowly, focusing on the parts I love, whilst being present at home. The more I accept this the happier everyone is!
Instagram: @daisy_inspirecreatedo