Gem Spalding is the creative force behind Piglet & Chestnut, an eco-friendly macramé and art business which has a pop-up at John Lewis Norwich this week. Here, the maths and science tutor explains how she has managed to find the positives after the losses of 2020
I was a self-employed tutor (still am), but before the pandemic I tutored face to face. So once lockdown hit and the GCSEs/A levels were cancelled, my working hours plummeted which was a huge financial worry. Personally, I had just moved in with my now-husband, who at the time was stuck in Australia due to restrictions on travel. It was a tough time for me, I struggled being so isolated, on my own with my two children and attempting to move house whilst trying to figure out how I would work again.
I think it was after a month or so of home schooling, when families were in some sort of routine with it, that my hours picked up again. However, this time it was all online, so I had to learn and adapt very quickly, as did all the incredible students who I taught (who really, always seemed far more resilient than myself).
There’s a lot I could write about 2020 and what happened, but I’ll skim over it and keep it brief. I went through two pregnancy losses, back-to-back, and three weeks on from my second loss, we lost my mum in law, on my birthday in December. It was hard, I’m still not sure how I manoeuvred my way through the rest of that year, despite there not being much of it left! But one positive I can take from 2020 is that we got engaged. Josh proposed three weeks after his mum’s passing, to finish off the year with something positive.
Mentally, this whole year took its toll on me, and I spiralled into depression, the weeks were peppered with anxiety attacks (although I had no idea this is what it was initially), and before, I think I would’ve always viewed discussing mental health as a bit taboo. But since, I am trying hard to be open and transparent about my journey in the hopes it helps someone else know they are never alone.
I used to paint, it was always my creative outlet from teaching the maths and the sciences. But I found myself completely unable to paint (I still can’t really paint), I’m not sure why, but there’s a block there with it. So fast forward a few months and, in May 2021, Chester asks me to make him a dreamcatcher. Chester is my youngest and like me, suffers from nightmares. I of course said ‘yes, sure! Let me see if I can figure out how to make one’. And before I knew it, I was watching macramé videos on YouTube and really, I was hooked from then! Macramé cords took over the home and Josh said I should start trying to sell them. Well, this was last summer. And it is bananas but I’m now on ‘Not On The High Street’ with over 700 sales later and currently doing a pop up shop in John Lewis Norwich! I love that my rainbows are my most popular item by far, they have such a special and beautiful meaning for me and for many others.
The macramé business sort of came out of nowhere. I never really planned for it to be a thing, but I like that it did! Yes, so Piglet is my eldest son’s nickname (he was a huge baby with a huge appetite – which he still has!) and Chestnut is my youngest son’s nickname, as his name is Chester.
I’ve had such positive reviews and comments, the novelty of them never wears off. I think people like it’s all made by hand and no two items will be the same.
In my lessons, I cover a lot of material on renewables, sustainable living etc and I’d like to think I carry this through to my business. Even down to the ink on the stickers I have, the material I use for my business cards, the tissue paper, the cotton etc – it’s all made from recycled/recyclable/biodegradable materials.
I’m on Etsy, Not On The High Street, and am currently in John Lewis Norwich. I think it’s so beneficial, mostly for the exposure rather than viewing it as a huge sales week. It’s a fantastic opportunity in that respect and, by chatting to customers, it’s given me lots of ideas to further develop and expand my business. I’m going to leave you hanging on this one, but I have some very big plans!