Friday 15 June 2012

Tea and a Chat with Maeri from the Make and Do Studio

Today we're having tea and a chat with Maeri, who runs the Make and Do Studio in Stockton Heath, Warrington.  Here she is now -  Hello Maeri!  Good to see you, the kettle’s just boiled – what would you like to drink?

Anyone that knows me knows I love, love black freshly ground coffee.  My chosen weapon of choice is the Five Spice blend from the Algerian Coffee Shop in SoHo. It was Starbucks before there was a Starbucks.

 So, tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

I am a transplanted American who has been here for almost 20 years and still wake up in a state of wonder as to how I am here! I was in London recently and had a good chin wag with the cabby about the fantastic talent that comes out of the WestHam training grounds – and laughed at how much I have gotten acclimatised to being British. I grew up in a very creative family on a farm in Vermont (oddly enough, I was the least creative of the lot!) which I return to whenever I can. It is my creative and spiritual home.

I started the Make and Do Studio located in Cheshire in 2009  to fill a gap in the market for teaching sewing workshops (there were none in our area). We have now added another six tutors to our roster and have a total of 22 workshops on our books – from traditional wetfelting to making roman blinds to creative wrapping and we have recently started introducing food workshops with the introduction of our Canning and Preserving workshop. It has been go ever since.

 Maeri at the BBC, no less

 What inspired you to start your creative business? How did it all begin? 

 My inspiration came from being around creative people most of my life but the experience that really drove everything home was a few summers before I started Make and Do when I was back in my hometown in Vermont. I signed up my two children to a pottery course at a local potters and when I went in to drop them off, her pottery studio was like coming home to me. It was warm, inviting, cluttered and I actually stood in the silence of Studio with the summer sun streaming through the windows and I felt a small voice inside say “I would eat baked beans for the rest of my life just to be this happy”. And the rest they say, is history.

 How has your business changed and developed since it started?

My business was mainly aimed to help people learn how to sew and was going to be a few workshops focused on this aim. But we now have a so much more to offer and the people that teach are genuine crafts people – not just enthusiasts – they work in their field of crafts. Having these highly skilled people really complements every aspect of our original sewing related workshops. Two of the workshops  (Making Roman Blinds and Basic Quiltmaking) are going to be highlighted in the July edition of Sewing World Magazine!

 Maeri with Sarah from Tilly Mint Boutique

What are the main ways you promote your business?  Which methods have been the most successful for you?

I am a bit bi-polar about how I promote my business. I love technology and how easy it can be to keep in contact with people so I use things like Mailchimp, Facebook and Twitter (Wendy – you might remember you were the reason I started on Twitter all those years ago!).  But I also believe in the power of print and spend as much time on my bi-annual schedule of workshops and new posters in getting them designed as the non print items. I still send out the new schedules by mail to those who have been to workshops before - they are even handwritten on the outside as I think people love to get a piece of mail that says how important they are to the Studio. I am still not sure which one works the best – I need to get to grips with SEO and Google Analytics but each time I try, I end up getting a glass of wine instead! But I do know that continually engaging with all of the items mentioned does keep a steady stream of people coming into the Studio.

What’s your workspace like?

My workspace is basically the Studio.  If you really want to see what it looks like, the BBC filmed the Studio a few months ago and you can have a “real time” look at what the studio is about- however, I have to admit it is much cleaner than it would normally be! You can look at it by following this link and then press on number 11 – that is us!

 What are the best and worst bits of running your business?

The best bits are when you see people genuinely amazed that they have made something when they walked in the door not really sure what to expect. The worst thing is that I really am time deficient on all fronts as the more busy you get with the Studio the more busy you get with paperwork, updates to the website etc.
I feel like I spend much of my time saying sorry for not being able to do things when I had said I could have.

What other small (or not-so-small) creative businesses do you admire? 

I have loads of small businesses I really admire (Wendy – you are one!) but would hesitate to name just one. Can I change the question to what do I admire in small, successful businesses? The answer would be the ability to work bloody hard, and even though we are small, we can be professional in our approach and give the customer more than they expected at every point of contact.

What tips can you give to others who run (or hope to run) a small creative business?

Be prepared to work hard – harder than you ever really imagined possible – if you really want to stand out from the crowd as a business and not just a hobby. Be genuine in your thanks, humble in your achievements and willing to help others along the way. Oh and the really big one - you will make mistakes but you might was well get over them instead of letting them get in your way.

 What are your hopes, plans or ambitions for the future? 

 I have two really fun things on the horizon that are a new experience to me – on 21 June I am hosting the Sunflower Craft Fest at Coffee au Clay in Stockton Heath, from 6:00 – 9:30pm.  My experiences on craft fairs span two continents - last summer when I was back in Vermont, I stumbled on them in almost every village on any given weekend. They were relaxed, really diverse in terms of what was being sold (selling locally made food as well as a woman selling her alpaca wool - she, as it turns out, also had camels that!) and normally, had a socially responsible bend to it. I loved the relaxed, inclusive feel that they created.

So I decided to create the Sunflower Craft Fest – tickets are reasonable at £5 - it is small, a bit quirky in what will be available, you get a glass of fizz (or two!) served in vintage china cups to help you relax on the night and 10% of all ticket sales will be split between Cancer Research as well as the Alzheimers Society. And Wendy – you are going to be joining us on the evening which I am really looking forward to seeing you!  

My other new journey is that I am going to be writing a two page feature piece for SewingWorld Magazine's November issue on my travels back to Vermont this summer and what the sewing scene has to offer. I am so excited to show everyone a bit of this magical part of the world!

Finally, where are the places we can find you online if we want to partake in a little friendly cyber stalking?

If you live locally, you can always come by for a chat and a cup of coffee. Our website is ( you can sign up for a newsletter at the website if you want), we are on Facebook and Twitter (@MakeandDoStudio) and also on Pinterest.  And if you would like to come along to the Sunflower Craft Fest, information on how and where to purchase tickets can be found at The Make and Do Studio

 Our most up to date workshop schedule can be found at or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

 Thanks so much for stopping by Maeri – it was so nice to be able to take the time to chat with you!  And you wouldn't believe how many people "blame" me for starting them off on blogging or tweeting!

 Thanks Wendy – I thoroughly enjoyed my chance to say hello!  


Lynne said...

It seems to me that the most important attribute you need to be this successful is Maeri's 'can do' attitude. I wish them all good luck with the venture and wish there was something similar on MY door step!

Bev Newman said...

Although I've not been following your blog for very long I've been really impressed with all you do. The how to guides and interviews with other crafters are really inspiring. I've nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award, please visit to collect Bev x

Maeri Howard said...

A "can do " attitude is a must but also surrounding yourself with positive, helpful people is also a very helpful. I have tapped into Wendy a few times for words of wisdom and just general "is this okay?" and she has always been quick to reply and very generous in her knowledge!

Wendy said...

Bev: thanks so much for the kind words and award! I'm not sure if I'll be able to take part as time is not on my side at the moment - too much stuff to do. But I do appreciate it, thank you x

Maeri: thank you for the lovely words too. Positive, helpful people can make a big difference to all of us, sometimes without ever knowing it. You are one of them yourself, of course x

Elizabeth Bethune said...

Hello just seen your lovely blog. I know Maeri and her lovely studio and wanted to add how supportive she is of creative small businesses. She deserves to do really well Elizabeth x