As part of our maker of the month series, we caught up with Sophie Simpson, founder of contemporary needlework company ‘What Delilah Did’.
Designer, author and maker of patterns, kits and hand-stitched goods, Sophie brings a quirky but mindfully modern approach to this once traditional craft known as Cross Stitch.
With three published books, a stream of bespoke commissions for magazines and craft companies and a busy online shop (whatdelilahdid.com), Sophie is always on the go!
Though her work spans a variety of different crafts, from embroidery to doll-making, Sophie is best known for her work in cross stitch. Her distinctive style of ‘cross stitch for people who hate cross stitch’ has converted many non-stitchers and gained her a very loyal fan base around the world. We are instantly intrigued…
How did What Delilah Did come to life?
I started up ten years ago after being made redundant. I had always known I wanted to work for myself and do something creative, so it was a blessing in disguise. I had just rediscovered cross stitch but couldn’t find any patterns I liked so I started to design my own – at that time the choice was between teddy bears, kittens and Disney characters, none of which I would let within a mile of my house.
There are now hundreds of ‘modern cross stitch designers’ selling online, but I still can’t find any other designs out there that I like. I know a lot of people love the pixelated photo-realistic designs with lots of colours, or the teen-friendly kitsch patterns that seem ubiquitous at the moment, but they are really not my thing at all. I want designs that are grown-up, calming and lovely to stitch, but that also genuinely have a place in a stylish home. That is what I aim to design and as far as I can tell it is still not easy to find elsewhere.
Having your wares stocked in Liberty London must have been a highlight, how did this develop?
It was definitely a great launch pad. When my business was still in its infancy, my mum told me about their open call for designers. After a bit of persuasion from my family, I produced a prototype range of kits and took it along to pitch to the buyers. They bought everything I had, saying it “stuck out like a sore thumb – in a good way!”
The high production volumes and tight margins meant it wasn’t an enterprise to be undertaken lightly, but as a marketing opportunity it was priceless. My book editor contacted me after seeing my kits in Liberty, and being stocked there instantly makes people take you seriously.
We’d love to know a little more about each of your books?
The first one, Storyland Cross Stitch, is inspired by the settings of traditional fairytales – not so much the stories themselves, but the wild, ancient, magical lands in which they take place: rambling forests, tumbledown cottages, ruinous castles… all with a hint of darkness.
The second, Stitch the Halls!, is a lovely little collection of quick and easy Christmas projects – it is much more colourful and includes lots of different techniques besides cross stitch. I had the most fun making this one and felt quite bereft when I had to take the finished projects down and send them off to my publisher!
The third book, Secret Garden Embroidery, uses multiple embroidery techniques like Stitch the Halls!, but with a botanical theme running through it.
Making books involves more hard work than even I could possibly have imagined before I started, but it is really special to hold something like that in your hands for the first time. They have also allowed me to reach a much broader audience than I could have done on my own – translations into Korean, Japanese, French and Danish have strengthened my brand internationally too.
What do you love?
My main obsessions are history (especially in the form of old houses and period dramas), music (folk and modern classical are on the heaviest rotation these days) and any craft involving fabric, yarn or thread. Especially knitting, which I have become quite addicted to. Basically if a granny likes to do it then I probably do too.
What does a typical day look like?
There isn’t really a typical day as I do everything myself and will binge-work on a single task until it is finished. That could be stitching a new pattern, designing packaging, photographing new products, updating my website, doing accounts, or any of the million more tedious chores that are needed to keep a business running! I try to get out for a walk each day, even if it is just to go and post my orders, but daylight hours are so precious for the work I do that I can’t always fit it in.
And when you’re not working, how do you like to wind down?
I am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful countryside where I live, so I love to go for really long walks, especially in autumn and winter when there is a chill in the air. I also visit as many National Trust properties as I can manage. They really inspire me and I find them very calming (outside of school holidays at least). But my favourite thing to do is to curl up under a blanket on the sofa, ideally on a stormy day, and knit while Stephen Fry reads Harry Potter to me. The ultimate comfort treat.
Words of advice for other creative owners?
‘Finished is better than perfect’
How about future products or plans for the brand?
I would love to bring knitting into my work in the future and hope to find time to make more books.
And finally... how can we get our mitts on hold of these lovely products?
Head to whatdelilahdid.com!
A huge thank you to Sophie for the interview this month. Keep an eye out for April's Maker of the Month to find out more insights from specialist makers and business owners.