This week we have the absolute pleasure of chatting to the doyenne of lampshade making, Jane Warren of The Lampshade Loft. Jane fell in love with lampshade making over 10 years ago and has continued to experiment and expand her skills, now running a thriving business making shades in all shapes and sizes from all materials for her webshop, bespoke comissions and even high profile TV shows!
Always ready to share her advice, hints and tips on our Facebook Lampshade Making group, we find out what inspires Jane and how she set out on the road to lampshade making.
How are you today and what’s on your workbench?
I’m good thanks! Today on my workbench I have two things going on – I am preparing for a workshop this weekend teaching traditional lampshade making and putting the kit together of frames, lining and the haberdashery needed. Secondly I have a lovely commission of two gathered empire lampshades in a customer’s own fabric.
How do you start the design process and where do you get your inspiration?
My mind is full of design ideas! I love trying out new shapes and using new materials, at present I am mad about paper folding so am making some pleated paper shades. I start by making small samples and try out lots of different fabrics, papers and materials. My inspiration comes from everywhere – my travels, social media etc and I also put myself on a lot of workshops such as marbling, block printing and paper folding.
How would you describe your style?
Wide-ranging. Some shade makers (sensibly!) stick to one style and they become known for it but I love having a really wide range of different styles and am constantly seeking to change, improve and think of new things. I love collaborating with new artists who are delving into the world of textile design and paper production.
What’s your favourite material to work with?
At the moment I love working with paper. The Japanese washi papers are fantastic – they are rather like fabric in texture and are screen printed 5 times, usually the last colour is gold or silver metallic so the lampshades look amazing when they are lit. I also love marbled paper, and collaborate with some of the best marblers in the UK. Fabric-wise I love block printed fabrics for my gathered lampshades, they look lovely and it’s so great that they have been hand printed.
When did you start making lampshades?
In 2007 I went to college to do a City& Guilds in soft furnishings and one of the modules was learning traditional lampshade making– I was hooked! I love hand sewing and learning to tailor was wonderful. I then learnt to make the hard lampshade method and enjoy making these just as much. I worked in marketing for years and made shades alongside but in 2014 I set up The Lampshade Loft – in fact I have just passed my 5 year anniversary – and am lucky enough to work full time on it now.
What’s your favourite part of the lampshade making process?
Working with pattern and materials – the placement of it so that it will look amazing when lit! I also love the sewing of traditional and gathered lampshades.
In your online shop what’s your most popular selling shade?
I get a lot of commissions via my website, I was so lucky that a good friend of mine has a degree in computer science and she is a creative as well so she built a good e-shop for me (I actually met her on one of my lampshade making workshops!). My best selling shades are the hand sewn traditional shades and hard shades in a branded fabric – Liberty, Cabbage & Roses etc . I also sell genuine vintage lampshades from mid last century and they sell well too. I get commissions from my website when the visitor sees my Gallery page – this demonstrates you have the skills to make the shade they want to have.
What’s the mix of shades you make to sell online versus lampshade commissions, as part of your business?
I would say that commissions are around 40% of my business, that includes collaborations with designers and makers, then 25% is teaching and the rest are sales via my website.
We’ve noticed you have supplied shades to lots of TV shows. How did that come about?
I was very lucky that I was commissioned to supply a fantastic bar in London (Cahoots) where lots of my shades are hung from the ceiling. The Apprentice was filmed there as was Strictly Come Dancing and so they had good airtime! I was approached by the production team of Made in Chelsea and they used some of my shades to feature at one of their parties. Other shades have also appeared in the fantastic work of the brilliant photographer Gary Bryan. The exposure has all been down to my website and social media, its crucial to have the online presence and to be found easily when people are looking for something specific.
Tell us about your workshops.
I run four kinds of workshops – the hard drum shade class, traditional lampshade making, learning how to make gathered lampshades and lastly the mini lampshade garlands. I run them mainly from Clothkits in Chichester – they are such a lovely team and the owner Kay Mawer is an inspiration – she has really re-built and expanded the brand and its great to be part of such a creative hub (us tutors are called Cloth Kittens!).
I also teach from my studio workshop at home near Reigate – either 1-2-1s or in small groups. I will go out and teach too – I love sharing the skills and meeting new creative people. I think it’s important to link with others when you run a small business from home, you don’t feel so isolated.
Any tips for new lampshade makers in business?
Yes – definitely join the Facebook Lampshade Makers forum that Dannells have set up, working alone can be lonely and also you learn so much from other people. Keep asking questions, I am still learning so much after 10 years. Try out new things – different fabrics, materials and think outside the kit! The kits are great of course, but if you buy the components separately you can choose the height of your shades and save money too.
Another important thing is to price your shades properly. If you are doing a re-make for someone, it can take hours to strip down, re-spray, make a new template, add the new fabric and before you know it you have spent 6 hours on it but are earning less than the minimum wage. Its important to factor in time spent sending emails, sending quotes and packing and sending your orders too. I plan my charges by the hours I think things will take to make, plus invoice for and get paid for everything in advance – and this has never been a problem.
When are you at your most productive?
In the morning and then for some reason in the early evening! I tend to deal with my admin, social media etc in the afternoon. But I don’t work all day every day, I respond to the ebb and flow of commissions and deadlines.
And your favourite sustenance when you’re working?
Audible and Softmints!
Could you let us take a peek at your workspace?
Yes I am lucky to have a small workshop in our garden, its probably good it’s not too big as I am a fabric hoarder and collect frames from all over. I have a messy end for frames fabrics and papers, and a super-neat end, for making the shades.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
Travelling around the world and enjoying every minute – I love my work but I am a bit of a workaholic and probably need to plan to give it up 😉
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
To try out methods of making things in different ways to see if it’s easier, gives a better result, make mini-mock-ups to see if it works. Also to be open to meeting others who also make lampshades, it’s not a competition and there is so much work out there its great to share. I have made some wonderful friends who are lampshade makers via my workshops and through the online groups – three of us are going on a summer break together this year! Its lovely to share tips and experiences and it will keep you learning and then being creative – we spur each other on.