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Editorial blog

From Wall Street to Wool Spinning… How Sachiyo Ishii Got Crafty!

30 Nov 2018

Sachiyo Ishii talks to Angela Sara West about her crafty beginnings, her current creations for forthcoming titles, her collaboration with Clover and how Brexit could benefit overseas brands.

Born and raised in Japan, Sussex-based Sachiyo Ishii worked as a broker on Wall Street and in London before discovering doll making, dressmaking and knitting. She’s now a bestselling craft author, with her work regularly featured in knitting magazines and her enchanting books flying off the shelves.

When did your passion for craft begin?

My mother used to love handiwork. She was a domestic goddess and could sew, knit and crochet. I grew up watching her make amazing things out of simple thread and cloth. I fell in love with felt at school. Sewing felt mascots became a big trend in our classroom and I spent every penny on felt squares and made little stuffed animals and dolls almost every day. We exchanged end results as gifts for Christmas. I remember giving my favourite to the boy I had a crush on and he really liked it! I took up knitting, doll making and dressmaking in my early 30s, after my second son was born.

You’re a crafty all-rounder…

Yes, I knit, felt, crochet, paper craft, make Waldorf dolls and toys, hand dye wool and spin yarn. I love spinning wool. When I first arrived in the UK, I joined a local spinning group to learn the skill - it’s the best place to start. I got not only the raw fleece, but a spinning wheel from one of the ladies. This was something I never even dreamed of doing when I was in Tokyo. I usually use plant dye as it’s inexpensive and eco-friendly. My favourites are Daria flower, carrot tops, onion skin and chestnut husks.

How did your childhood in Japan influence your crafting style?

I grew up in the 70s, when the Japanese economy was growing more rapidly than ever before. Sanrio, the company well known for ‘Hello Kitty’, certainly influenced my style. I used to collect their stationery and school supplies with their cute characters on them.

How would you describe your style?

Cute, quirky and Japanese, perhaps?

What do you love most about craft and how does it feel to be a craft influencer?

When I started crafting, my wish was simply to live happily surrounded by the cute creatures I create and the wish remains the same. I create to please myself mostly, and have never dreamed of becoming an influencer, but I love sharing the joy with others. I enjoy spending time materialising my ideas and making someone smile - it’s very rewarding. Crafting has helped me get through the most difficult time of my life and I am sure that many will benefit as I did.

What inspired you to have a complete change of career and start crafting?

My inspiration for knitted toys came from Debbie Bliss’ book Toy Knits. I fell madly in love with the projects and started making knitted animals. Steiner Education’s Waldorf dolls and felt crafts have always given me great inspiration, too.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of crafting?

Knitting toys are challenging because you cannot quite see the size or shape until you sew up and stuff. However, the texture and the colour tone the yarn creates is something special. Sewing felt is simpler and it’s easy to make your idea into templates.

You also teach wet and dry felting, doll making, knitting, sewing, crochet and spinning. What is your favourite aspect of running these classes?

My workshops are casual and easy-going. I enjoy the social aspect the most. Meeting people is fun and important for someone like me who works as a freelance at home most of the time. I get new design ideas from participants, too.

You have authored a number of inspiring titles for Search Press, including your bestselling books Mini Felt Christmas and Sew Your Own Felt Advent Calendar. Which Christmas creations did you particularly enjoy making?

It was such a delight to create scenes with the felt dolls and animals I made for Mini Felt Christmas. I also have a knitted/ crochet version of these projects. You can tell Christmas is one of my favourite themes! I made a large knitted advent calendar last year which took me a few weeks. It has 25 knitted pockets with numbers and each holds little knitted toys. The pockets and toys were not too difficult, but making the calendar board and attaching pockets with even space required some effort.

What are you busy crafting at the moment and are there any more books in the pipeline?

I’m working on a couple of knitting books with quirky aliens, astronauts, astro-animals and spaceships for Mini Knitted Cosmos, which is scheduled for release in April 2019, while Mini Knitted Pocket Pets, a collection of small animals knitted in fleecy yarn, will be out in May 2019, which is very exciting!”

Tell me about your recent collaboration with, and your knits and crochet creations for, the Japanese craft tool manufacturer Clover mfg…

It all started with a tiny photo of my Yarn Shop Day mascot which appeared in Craft Business earlier this year. A Clover sales representative fell in love with the knitted alpaca and wanted to publish the project on her website. I couldn’t give her the pattern, so I suggested some other designs instead. We have been working together ever since. The Clover website has many fun projects, which are all downloadable for free. What’s great about working with Clover is that I can engage in a variety of crafts, as well as test their products. I get to make projects for all sorts of crafts; knitting, crochet, needle felt, sewing and even paper craft, all to my heart’s content.

Tell me about your personal history with Clover…

Clover is a well-known craft tool manufacturer in Japan and my mother was a big fan of their products. One of her favourites was Takumi bamboo knitting needles. For many years, I thought all knitting needles were made from bamboo. When I discovered that they also come in plastic and metal, it was a little surprise for me. A few years after my second son was born, she was diagnosed with her illness. She sent me a box full of knitting needles, crochet hooks and some other craft tools. They all looked so familiar to me and made me feel nostalgic. I felt sad that she was not well enough to carry on with her favourite hobby, but at the same time honoured and happy to receive her precious collection.

What are a few of your favourite designs for Clover?

I am pleased with all the designs but I particularly like my pompom monkeys. I got inspiration for my Japanese snow monkey during the hot spring. These will be in my upcoming Pocket Pompom book.

What have you been busy creating for your Christmas offering?

I recently made five knitting projects and four sewing projects for Clover. I’m still working on the edit, but they will be appearing on their website soon. I think these will be nice gifts for my SNS followers. I don’t make toys for my family any more as my boys are grown up, but I give away tiny knitted gifts to my friends. I usually bake biscuits to go with them. Just thinking about creating gifts makes me smile…

Which Clover products would you recommend to readers?

Pen Style Needle Felting Tool: I only came across this product recently. Where have I been?!! It holds up to three needles closely bundled together. It’s a very effective tool and makes the felting so much easier. It’s good for both 3D projects and embroidery.

Tiny Pompom Makers: You don’t usually see pompom makers in this size. I have used them to create cute creatures for my pompom book.

Roll and Press: This is a new product, released this year, and I’m thrilled to have this tool! It looks simple but does an amazing job. I don’t have to use an iron to press seams any more.

Patchwork Scissors: I have been using these scissors for many years. They’re compact, durable and suitable for sewing and fibre craft. They never leave my sight.

Black Gold Needles: They are designed for quilting and appliqué, but the fine needle points are great for many other uses and it’s a good idea to have some in your sewing box. I often use them for sewing felt fabric.

As a Japanese company, what is your view on Brexit? Do you feel companies need more support from the government and will the UK’s ability to forge international partnerships without having to agree a common EU position create opportunities for the industry?

It takes a lot of courage to make a big change like this and I do feel that we have been thrown in at the deep end without enough warnings. There are negative thoughts and worries, but some Japanese companies are considering Brexit as an opportunity and are looking to expand their UK operations.

What do you believe a post- EU future holds for overseas brands in the UK?

Overseas brands always have a pricing handicap, so they need to produce unique, innovative and good-quality products. Together with well-thought out branding and marketing, they believe Brexit shouldn’t affect sales. The UK economy has been supported by being a part of the EU. However, many Asian countries prospered without an alliance with neighbouring countries or trading duty relief. Japan has overcome many obstacles and natural disasters, and this may be the reason why we Asians are a bit more optimistic about Brexit. We should be positive and work together to make Brexit work to our advantage!

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