Interview with Polka Dot Shirley


This week we are chatting to yet another of Emporia’s regular crafters, namely Rhian Boardman of Polka Dot Shirley. She gives us her opinions of the essentials needed for setting up your own crafty business, being inspired by other artists and what her top selling items are.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Rhian Boardman and I am the owner of Polkadot Shirley. I create a wide range of items using vintage books, maps and vinyl, from cute brooches to bespoke map items. Each and every piece is unique! I also make a few bits from fabric, like bespoke dolls, dog adornments and bags, etc.


How did you get into crafting?
I have always enjoyed making things from a very young age. When I was small I remember lots of handmade bits and pieces; my mum made all of my clothes, beautiful little rabbit dolls and my bedroom furniture was painted a new colour every year. So I think I was always going to end up crafting. When I got my own home I was forever making things for it and decided to see if other people would like to buy them!

Who and what inspires you to create?
My greatest inspiration comes from my own childhood. I love the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia when I open a certain book, or dig out a forgotten memory. These things ignite feelings of innocence, wonder, and that glorious feeling that anything is possible! My mum is also another huge inspiration for me having gloriously fed my imagination and provided me with unwavering encouragement! She runs the sister company to Polkadot Shirley in Cyprus and I always return home full of wonderful ideas and an increased sense of drive (as well as a suitcase full of fabric and excess baggage charges!).


Which crafters/artists/designers do you most admire?
Definitely illustrators. So much vision and work goes into just one page of a book, and that image can stay with you forever. I also love Gil Elvgren’s gorgeous pin-up girls, which I use a lot in my work.

When did you decide to make the leap from making for friends and family to creating your own business?
My previous job wasn’t looking like it had much of a future and my own future suddenly looked scarily empty so I decided to take the plunge! I had no little mouths to feed, so to struggle would not be the end of the world. It has been a rollercoaster so far, but is gradually starting to pay off.

What five things would you say were essential when you set up your craft business?
1. Perseverance. It is so tempting to give up at times. The night before my first fair I stayed up until 3am sewing frantically in case I sold out. I even dreamt I sold out. This seemed the worse case scenario. I didn’t for one second consider the true outcome. That I would sell just one item!
2. Support. I dealt with the blow (and continual blows of more dismal fairs) of my initial lack of success by calling my family, who did not pity me or try to dissect the situation, but instead did what our family does best – we laughed. Because sometimes that is the only way and that laughter spurred me on!
3. My sewing machine!
4. Research! My first five or so craft fairs were BAD! The pitches were expensive, footfall minimal, atmosphere dire and takings either minimal or non-existent. I was advised to do these by a fellow crafter, so booked lots at once. Then I started to research a bit more and started to find smaller, friendly fairs run by fellow crafters. I booked one, I did well, I made friends! And in turn I found out about more small fairs.
5. And of course, books. A lot of lovely old books!


If you weren’t an crafter, what would you be doing with your time?
I actually have no idea! I imagine I would probably be doing a job I didn’t enjoy half as much and resenting the hours of my life I was selling. At the moment I may be selling them very cheaply, but at least they are going to me!

Name three of your most popular lines.
My brooches made from vintage books, bespoke vintage map pieces and Shirlette dolls!

What’s new with your craft for 2014? Tell us about some of the exciting things we can expect to see from you in the shop or at the Emporia market this year.
The past year was very interesting in that it allowed me to really discover what sells. I had such wonderful ideas, and as a result churned out many things only to discover that maybe they were only really wonderful to me! So this year I plan to focus on just seven or eight items. I am particularly excited about the jewellery I’ve been making and plan to make a lot more of – think fairytales, Alice in Wonderland, flying pigs, animals in clothes which is a particular favourite!

You can see  Rhian’s literary creations at the Emporia Vintage and Craft Market, which now takes place every month, or check out her Etsy shop for more exciting designs.


2 thoughts on “Interview with Polka Dot Shirley

  1. I LOVE Polka Dot Shirley. I have sent your beautiful items to so many people and they are loved and enjoyed as far away as Phoenix and Chicago. Keep it coming! You are one of my go-to people for unusual and wonderful gifts (if they make it out of my home!).

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