The Handmade’s Tale: Interview with Jools from Shantytramp

Welcome to part one of our new Handmade’s Tale feature which celebrates crafty and creative women. To kick off this series, Natasha spoke to the UK-based Jools Portland aka Shantytramp about her kitsch-inspired handmade jewellery range.

Read on for more….

Where does the Shantytramp moniker come from? Is it a reference to the 1960s movie of the same name?

The name comes from the b-movie. I heard the Shantytramp trailer on a mix-tape someone had recorded for me years ago and it just made me laugh.  It was only going to be temporary, for my first stall but 15 years later I still have it!

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 I toyed with “Kitsch-O-matic” for a bit, but ended up just using that for one of my ranges. I did another range: “Tutti Frutti” fruit/ cocktail-themed jewellery in which I had to make my own pineapples, watermelons, bananas and cherry beads.  Then there’s the “Cute De Ville” range of portrait and character brooches. “The Kitsch Kreations” range is what I’m mainly doing right now.  

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How long have you been making jewellery?

I can take it back to a definite year, 1983. I started off making polymer clay beads which I used for hair clips, bracelets and earrings and sometimes shoe clips. I also made little clay bears called “teds” which had quiffs and ponytails. 

I was browsing in a craft shop in Stamford, Lincolnshire when the owner commented on my earrings. She liked them so much that she wanted to stock them and that was when I first started selling. After that, when I’d moved to North Devon, I had a little stall at the craft market in Barnstaple.

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I stopped for a few years when I moved to West Sussex with a promotion at work but began again under the name ‘Shantytramp’ in 2001 when I had such a rubbish job that I just needed something that was “me”. It kept me sane, after working all day I’d come home, get the chores out of the way and then relax making my bracelets, necklaces, earrings etc..

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It was a great way to forget about the whole mundane daily garbage. You can’t sit worrying about things when you’re concentrating on making tiny dice beads, or 8 balls, mini pineapples, melons and little cherries.  

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Are you mainly making brooches?

Right now, yes. I still want to make beads and quirky, kitschy earrings, necklaces and bracelets and will be making them again when I have my new workshop set up. Most of my massive collection of beads, findings and salvaged vintage pieces are in boxes at the moment as I’m currently in the process of renovating my new home (and setting up my new haven)….. I mean workshop!

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 The majority of my orders are for the resin brooches and it’s something that I want to continue with.  Every time I move away from brooch making, I get more fabulous custom requests that I can’t resist and that pulls me back to them.  

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I love making them, never making two 100% identical.  I’m blown away by how popular they are. I’ll continue with this range until I stop getting ideas that I want to try out or people stop asking to buy them! I’d like continue with my “Cute De Ville” range again at some point in the near future. 

Because of the portrait aspect, I find them more challenging but I still love doing them. Both ranges are very labour-intensive but I get great satisfaction when I finish a piece and my customer loves it!

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 I used to make hair flowers, usually custom requests to match outfits, often handpainted to give a little extra pizazz. Then I was making cherry jewellery.

That was when you couldn’t really find cherries anywhere, unless you could afford the lovely vintage pieces, which I couldn’t, hence I designed and handmade my own and got orders from there. 

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I was hand-making each cherry bead out of polymer clay back then (now you see cherries everywhere because they are totally trendy now) I’ve lost count of the amount of different cherry jewellery designs I’ve made now.  I was also making a lot of custom requests incorporating 50s-style graphics such as pin ups, pulp fiction book covers and B movie posters.

What do you do when you’re not making jewellery?

 If you mean what hobbies do I have? Right now, not much as I’m busier than a busy thing! Making jewellery started as my hobby, which then grew a little when people wanted to buy some of my designs. Someone outside of our scene once remarked that it must be a lovely “hobby” for us, The “rock ‘n’ roll thing’! 

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 It isn’t a hobby though, or a weekend dress up kind of thing. It’s who we are. We love most things about the “mid century” years, starting with the music which, once it gets under your skin there’s no going back. It’s a lifelong love affair. What’s not to love? The clothes, cars, bikes, décor. Everything!

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So outside of working, if we have cash in our pockets, we want to be at gigs, weekenders and just having a great time with our buddies. Like- minded odd bods. They are our family they “get” it. They’ve been infected too ha ha! 

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What are your creative inspirations?

 I’m inspired by so many things from the 50s. I love the colours, the whole atomic, kinetic, kitsch, colourful side of 1950’s trends (and aspects of the 1940s).  I also get a lot inspiration from the individuals on our scene. 

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If I’m making a custom brooch I like to try and incorporate something of the person I’m making it for. Rather than just flogging someone a bog standard piece that’s been duplicated over and over again. 

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 I want it to be a bit more personal to them. In that sense it’s impossible to not be creatively influenced by every single person I make jewellery for! So many gorgeous chicks on the 40’s/50’s scene and most of those women (and the men too) like to be unique and don’t want to be in a room full of carbon copies.

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Otherwise, if we’re talking artists, I love Salvador Dali, Tretchikoff, Escher, Elvgren, Rockwell, El Gato Gomez, Paul Culshaw, Vince Ray, Lowry, Frazetti, and loads of others.

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Miss Wong by Vladimir Tretchikoff.

I don’t even know the names of a lot of the artists of the works of things that makes me go “ooh!”. The adverts of the 1940s and 50s, are brilliant, like the Coca-Cola adverts totally idealistic and chirpy.  I love the Marvel/ DC comics illustrations too. Not all of the above are mid-century artists, but they all have a unique eye that make them amazing. Other inspirations come from simple things like original vintage crockery, ceramics, fabrics and wallpaper prints.

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I love work by contemporary designers like Jeannette Redhead.  She creates the most fabulous reproduction 40’s and 50’s outfits and always designs to suit her clients. I love how she adds that little extra that makes the difference between a gorgeous outfit and a knockout! 

I’ve had a few cool orders from her clients, asking me to make brooches to match their outfits.  I know a lot of talented contemporary artists, designers, jewellery makers, tattooists and musicians. They all inspire me. I only want to be “me” though when it comes to my work. It can be really hard to create something that no one else is doing. Really hard! Especially on something as small as, and with as limited scope as a brooch.  

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The amazing Chinese lady head brooch I bought from Shantytramp a few months ago.

The piece I bought a few months back, reminds me  of Tretchikoff or a lady head chalkware wall plaque, I  love it so much!

Thank you. Chalkware did influence my kitsch kreations profile brooches quite a lot. My flying ducks brooches are taken from my own set of flying ducks (I think mine are 1930’s originals) oh, my angel fish and seahorse brooches were inspired by chalkware too. (mainly what I liked of Jirral Darmoise’s reproduction chalkware line)  


How has your taste evolved over time?
From being a teenager on the scene and loving anything and everything  that screamed 50’s style, retro, repro or vintage  I’ve got older and maybe become more selective. I’d rather not have the mass produced retro crap that seems to be in vogue at the moment lol, I do like some of it though. I’m only human for gods sake!  

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Over the years I’ve had various collections of “mid-century” bits and pieces. Everything. Clothes, ornaments, records, furniture….the whole lot. Some things wear out, some just seem to get knackered (!) and some get sold due to lack of funds….on one occasion a shelf collapsed and destroyed my collection of cruet sets from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

I’m still upset and that was 13 years ago.  I still have an absolute mountain of crap that I need to sieve through when I settle into my new home as I just want to move some things on in order to get other things.

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Like I said, when I was younger I’d hoard anything that I thought was remotely 1950s, whether I really loved it or not. Now I’m paring a lot of it down and rather than having lots of stuff everywhere, I want to have less but in better condition. 

Now I’m wondering how I’m going to achieve that one. I’m also not afraid of getting a comfy piece of contemporary furniture to slouch on. Wow! I said that, and meant it AND I didn’t have any therapy. Nothing will persuade me to have a bloody beige sofa though. You can go too far with these things!

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Where are you based?
I’m in Somerset. After moving from Gloucestershire. with my husband. It’s where we feel we belong and our closest friends mainly live in that area.  

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What is your personal vintage jewellery collection like, is it extensive, what is your favourite piece?  

Well,  I have a small collection of vintage brooches. I have a nice pin by Elzac and some lovely cute novelty pieces. Some were gifts, others were pieces I picked up car boot sales or at vintage stalls.  I don’t have an extensive collection.

Over the years I’ve bought pieces and due to circumstances, I’ve sold them on. It’s really heart breaking sometimes when I think of some of the amazing things I’ve owned. One of my favourite pieces is sentimental. It’s a beautiful gold charm bracelet that my father bought my mother when he was in Singapore in the 50s. It has a matching black and gold musical powder compact. My other favourite piece is a gold horse shoe charm bracelet that my husband bought for me.


Are all your orders custom made one offs?

Many of the brooches  I’ve designed and made as sample pieces to be ordered against. Those pieces are always sold and it’s from those that I get my custom requests. With the brooches, generally people want something that no one else has. I occasionally get asked to make a brooch identical to one I’ve previously made for someone else, but I always discuss the order with my customer and gently nudge them a little bit to have at least a couple of differences in their brooch. After all, if you asked me to design something just for you and we include certain features for sentimental reasons, you won’t want me to then sell lots of duplicates, making your piece one of multiples. 
 
I love your handmade non-mass produced approach to your jewellery and I applaud your originality .Tell me about the process of making Shantytramp pieces, what materials do you use? 
 
If I told you that, I’d have to shoot you (winks). Process wise. It usually starts with a sketch. I tend to use the same facial features for each face as they are all part of the same range and I like to have that one thing as the link between all of them.

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Same with the size. I make small changes to the shapes (hairstyles, bustline etc) every now and again to keep it fresh and add another aspect as I have quite a few women collecting them and I want them to have some variation to the collection. When I bring out a new design, I do the first one in each design, facing towards to right. After that, they all face left. I make the brooches in layers of crystal resin and each layer has to cure before I do the next one.

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This gives depth to the detailing, especially when I’m doing a patterned top. I use gorgeous super twinkly micro glitters which I inlay on some of the brooches. Great fun but very messy. It looks like Tinkerbell has farted after I’ve been doing glitter work! Everything has to be super clean or the resin get particles in it and that ruins it!

When I’m painting detailing on the brooches, I use a really weeny paint brush and sometimes a pin, just to get the fine lines done right. If I’m not happy with it, I’ll sand it down and start again. I go through phases of trying new techniques and that keeps things fresh. My favourite part, other than the painting, is when I get to add accessories to them. I’ve got a huge amount of salvaged vintage (all eras) jewellery. Usually broken pieces that can’t be repaired. I like using pieces of these to give the brooches a little individuality, 

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Shantytramp already seems to have a bit of a cult following.  What do you enjoy most about making your jewellery.

Really? Wow, I don’t even know how to respond to that! I’m amazed. It still blows me away when I get a great review or a message from a customer saying that they’re delighted with their custom piece.  I enjoy mostly making pieces that include parts from broken jewellery that I’ve found in charity shops, car boot sales or from pieces given to me.  It gives me a great feeling when I make something unique for someone.

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Who are your customers?
Mainly women who want something a bit special and unique. One of the things I love about the ladies who live vintage is that they enjoy being different. They may like the same style/era, but they all have their own tastes and like to express it.  There’s always been trends within the scene which is natural but none of us want to be wearing completely identical outfits.  

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Where can people learn more about your work and purchase their own pieces?
At the moment, the best place to get hold of me, is through Facebook on my fan page Shantytramp or to email me directly. Most of the brooches I’ve made are in my albums on the fan page. 

What do you think of Jools’ handmade brooches? Which one is your favourite? 

Who would you like to see  interviewed in future the Handmade’s Talefeatures? Feel free to add your suggestions below!

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