Sew quirky: interview with Poppy Treffry, freehand machine embroiderer

Poppy’s job title defies attempts to categorise it. Technically she’s a ‘freehand machine embroiderer’, but that seems too banal a description for the adorable, quirky, funny and individual products of her work. Living in Cornwall, Poppy’s work is inspired by the bright colours of sunshine and sea, by seagulls and ice cream and bathing and sea breezes and camper vans and the wind in your hair.

Her embroidered pictures appear on home accessories, purses, keyrings and more, and she’s become so successful she set up her eponymous company, Poppy Treffry, in 2004 and now works with a team, selling her work online as well as through her own two shops in Cornwall. Sara Walker finds out more about the lifestyle that’s become a brand.

Homeware accessories handmade by Poppy Treffry

A selection of Poppy’s homeware accessories

SW: Could you tell me a little more about your background before you started the business? Did you have any formal training in design or sewing, or was it all a bit ‘seat of the pants’?!

PT: I did study textile design at art college but I really learnt my business skills when I did voluntary work overseas. I was helping to run a craft cooperative so had to get to grips with producing and marketing a range (in the jungle in South America!).

SW: Why did you decide to start the business?

PT: I’ve always loved making things and selling them. But truly I didn’t necessarily intend to start my business. At the time I found my workshop I was applying for jobs in three different countries as well as developing craft workshops. It just so happened that the business took off and I went with it.

Poppy Treffry

Freehand machine embroiderer Poppy Treffry

SW: Your business is clearly well established and has been going for a number of year. What do you think it is that customers find so appealing?

PT: I think our customers love the fun and colour in our products – they make them smile!

Poppy and the team

SW: What was your first product?

PT: My first product was a tea cosy – made for my Dad – it said ‘always put the milk in first!’ (I had to make another for his girlfriend with ‘always put the milk in last!’) My favourite product right now is our Mini Sketchbook Tote. It’s a gorgeous but really practical small cross body bag, available in different designs. The bags are embroidered by me and cut and constructed by my ‘bag factory’ team. The embroidery is based directly on pages from my sketchbook.

My inspiration comes from all over – often in the middle of the night or out walking on the cliffs. I love drawing in museums and sketching in Cornish fishing villages. But a lot of the time my inspiration will come from my customers – they’ll suggest something that just captures my imagination.

Greeting cards featuring designs by Poppy Treffry

A range of greetings cards with Poppy’s designs

SW: Could you talk me through the process of making, for example, an applique picture? Would the same person normally do the entire project or are several people involved at different stages? How do you ensure that each product turns out roughly the same as the next one? It looks like witchcraft!

PT: I create the first one and I then make templates and write a ‘spec file’ that has photos and specifies all the details – thread colour, zip length etc. The products are cut in the studio and then sent in batches to the stitcher. They stitch them and then send them back. I can tell who’s done what but I don’t think anyone else can! In the case of the pictures I then add the personalisation – I love the message I get to write on them but I have to concentrate really hard so I don’t make spelling mistakes!

Make up bags and purses by Poppy Treffry

Some of the accessories range of purses and make up bags

SW: What’s the hardest thing about running your own business, and what are the nice bits?

The hardest thing is having enough time to do everything I want to do. In any given moment I am juggling creating new products, coming up with gang busters marketing ideas, trying to make the business systems work better, making sure my team are all happy and working well, and just getting some sewing done – but then those are all the nice bits too!

The Poppy Treffry team at work

The shops, and the team at work

We want to keep making beautiful products that put smiles on our customers’ faces. I want to have more and more of my time spent on design and ideas and less on the nuts and bolts of running my business so for me it’s all about working with my team so that I can do that.

To find out more about Poppy Treffney products or to shop online, visit the website at Example prices include badges at £5.95 and make up bags from £19.96.

Images: all photos (c) Poppy Treffney 2018.

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