By Julie Jackson
I discovered the work of Claire Brown of Miso Funky a few years ago, when I bought two of her cross stitch pieces (“Sniff Glue, Worship Satan” and “In Case of Emergency, Breakdance”). I have never quite recovered from the hilarity of these, so I thought it was high time to catch up with my wee Scottish sister-in-stitching and see what she knows about Alan Cumming.
You can meet Claire in person if you’re in planning to attend Renegade London in October, or you can watch from home as she launches her site redesign! Some of the photos here are a sneak peek at the fresh, new look of Miso Funky that’s just around the corner.
Julie J: First, tell us about the name Miso Funky. Where did that come from?
Claire B: The name Miso Funky came about through my love of all things Japanese and cute (I also run Super Cute Kawaii with my good friend Marceline of Asking For Trouble) and the need to convey the quirkiness of my products. It just rolled off the tongue one day and stuck around. I love the name, even when people get confused and call me Miss O’Funky.
JJ: Oh, I will forever think of you as Miss O’Funky now! Awesome! So what’s with your giraffe mascot, Hamish?
CB: Hamish the giraffe just seemed to arrive and make himself at home right at the beginning in 2005. He was good with numbers and had the height advantage over me, so I was too scared to tell him to go! My good friend Marceline incorporated him into the website with his bird and bunny pals, and they’ve been around ever since. He’ll be leaving us soon to spend his retirement in his smoking jacket by the fire, reading the classics, but he’ll always be in our hearts.
JJ: Sweet! You have really branched out since you started. Tell us about all the things you sell on your site these days.
CB: Yeah, things have evolved quite a bit since we started out in 2005! Initially, a friend and I set up after we re-learned craft skills we had enjoyed as kids. Once people saw what we were creating, they wanted to know where they could get our knitted scarves, felt toys, and upcycled vintage too, so we set up shop online and started going to local craft fairs. We quickly realised that local craft fairs were more fayres, then fairs, with the emphasis being on traditional crafts. So, we took matters into our own hands and started recruiting other like-minded, indie-minded crafters and launched the Miso Funky market, the first regular indie market in Glasgow. We successfully ran this for several years and met and introduced to each other a whole host of cool designers and makers in the local area. Glasgow now has a thriving craft community, which I’d like to think is partly down to us making that leap!
JJ: Oh wow, I didn’t know about that at all! What a powerful force for craftiness you are!
CB: When I came back to embroidery and cross stitch, having learned it at school when I was about 8 years old, I realised this was my favourite of all the skills I’d relearned. So when I took Miso Funky solo as a one-man show, I decided to focus on this and expand my cross-stitched range. Nowadays, I have quite the back catalogue of designs, as well as kits, home wares with my slogans printed on them and tea towels whipped up with my trusty embroidery machine, Jeff (we name everything at Miso Funky HQ). I also stock a small collection of other designers work which I love, as well as another venture I took over last year, Stitch Up tapestry kits.
JJ: So what are the most popular items that you sell?
CB: The most popular items are undoubtedly the samplers and the clear favourite is the “In Case Of Emergency Breakdance” design.
JJ: Oh! I have that one in my office; it was one of the first cross stitch pieces I found online that I had to buy immediately!
CB: It’s one of my favourites too. I sell through bricks and mortar stockists too, and the cross stitch button badges are very popular there – they’re cute and pocket money prices, people love to pick them up and pin them straight on! I get a lot of requests for custom designs and slogans which are always fun – I love to hear about other people’s in-jokes or favourite phrases. There have been some real corkers!
JJ: So is this a full-time venture yet or do you also have a life outside of the stitching biz?
CB: Initially, it was two of us working together in the same day job with a web hosting company, but as life intervened over the years and we got different jobs (and I moved to Bangkok for 6 months!), I took Miso Funky solo and focussed on the cross stitch aspect. It was always my intention to take it full-time, as I thought that’s what I was working towards and kinda had to go full-time with it to be a success. I did a lot of soul searching earlier this year, actually, and it turns out that’s not really what I wanted at all. I had taken on help and a workshop but I had no more free time or space than before, in fact, things seemed to be getting more stressful, juggling it all with my full-time job and personal life. So a couple of months ago, I took stock of it all, totally streamlined my product offering, moved back to my spare room and ensured I had a great team of people around me I could rely on. I am much happier now and have a lot less stress around… at least in my Miso Funky life! It’s given me more time to focus on the customers and also a renewed passion for craft in general.
My day job is extremely stressful, but I like it a lot! I work as a production manager for a TV company, and every day is jam-packed with incident and drama – not just on the TV shows! Cross stitching is a nice way to relax after a day of full-on drama, so it can be a stress-reliever. I work shifts too, so I can be found stitching, doing admin, answering emails, packing orders at literally all hours of the night and day! I have learned to survive on not many hours sleep at peak times of the year and am lucky that my long-suffering husband is very supportive of my endeavours!
JJ: Wow! Reading that makes me feel less stressed out! So have you always been crafty?
CB: I think I’ve always been creative in one way or another. I learned a lot of craft skills at school and was always writing stories and letters, growing up. I was a very horsey child – I nagged my parents until they bought me a pony to shut me up – so I think I did a lot of cobbling bits of things together to make life easier and repurposing things, etc. I do still enjoy stitching as a hobby, though I don’t get a chance to make things for myself very much these days. So when I don’t have time to make my own, I try to buy beautifully hand crafted things from the designers I admire, like previous interviewees Steotch (I’m saving for one of their pieces one day – LOVE them!). Also this great stitched hanky from Karen Richard’s Etsy shop.
JJ: Where do you find your inspiration and what drives you?
CB: This is something I can’t explain very well – I am a deeply driven person. I think I am passionate about bringing something a little bit different to the interiors market – I feel like I am infiltrating the home wares market slowly but surely with an offbeat handmade take! A cross stitching stealth ninja, if you like. My inspiration comes from everywhere: an overheard conversation, a sentence in an old book, an in-joke with friends. I have a big notebook with a zillion things scribbled in it to stitch up and develop one day and I carry it everywhere in case inspiration strikes. My day job, working with words all day (I work in Access Services, providing captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing at the TV company I work at), definitely helps inspire me too.
JJ: You sound more organized than me. All my ideas are scribbled on cocktail napkins or torn bits of paper, most waiting to be transcribed into my idea book.
I understand you’re based in Glasgow. Are you Scottish by birth and does that mean you’re wearing a kilt right now? Can you introduce me to Alan Cumming?
CB: I am indeed Scottish by birth! I was born and raised in small town on the west coast of Scotland in Ayrshire (home of poet Robert Burns), about 30 miles away from Glasgow, where I live now. I’ve lived elsewhere – England, the Channel Islands, Thailand… but came back to Glasgow, which is a really cool city – a thriving craft community, cool architecture, a happening music scene, and always something happening. It rains a lot. Yes, I do have a cool accent, thanks! If I could live anywhere though, it’d be San Francisco. I’ve visited a couple of times and it’s such a cool city. It’s laid out similarly to Glasgow, on a sort of grid, and it felt very familiar the first time we arrived there on our honeymoon. I don’t even own a kilt, I’m sorry to say, though my husband did wear one when we got married (despite him being Welsh) – I have photos if you’d like to see a hot guy in a kilt! Alan Cumming is a wee bit outside of my circle of friends, unfortunately – bah!
JJ: Photos, whee! I want to live in San Francisco someday, too. Maybe we can live out our golden years cross stitching on the porch in rocking chairs. With Alan Cumming making cocktails for us.
So where can we find your work – do you sell your wares at craft shows either over there or in the US?
CB: The main outlet for Miso Funky is my own website. I did sell through Etsy but it wasn’t for me. I used to be at a craft show every weekend but had to scale back and eventually stop due to the demands of the website orders. But I miss the interaction with customers and am going to be doing a few events this year – Renegade London in October and a couple more up to Christmas time. I would love to come and do a big show in the US – Renegade or Maker Faire or Bizarre Bazaar or something and this is something I am actively pursuing for next year - who wants to put me up?! I also sell through several brick-and-mortar stores here in the UK and a handful of international shops. I’d like to expand my stockists outside of the UK.
JJ: You’re so brave. I’ve never done a craft show. I would spaz out. You’ve had a lot of press, what were some of your favorite things people have said about your work?
CB: Hard one! I am literally thrilled to the very back teeth when I get any press whatsoever – it tickles me when people love what I do enough to want to share it with others on that sort of scale. The most exciting moment would probably be the first “big” press mention Miso Funky got about 5 or 6 years ago - it was in the Sunday Times Style magazine in the UK, which is kinda the Holy Grail of press mentions for a lot of people. I certainly never dreamt it would happen at the early stage it did! One of our products was featured and our online orders went through the roof overnight. It was a nice touch that it happened on my birthday, too – what a great gift! I’m honoured when I’m mentioned in the same breath as other crafters I admire too, like your good self! Although, as we’ve discussed, we both cross stitch text, we complement rather than compete and it thrills me if I am counted as being up there with you on occasion! (Like, actual thrill).
JJ: Are you kidding? Right back atcha! My favorite thing you’ve ever done is “Sniff Glue, Worship Satan;” it’s just hilariously brilliant! What’s the story behind that?
CB: Ha! That was my first lightbulb moment – it’s still one of my favourite pieces. Here’s how it went down. Our apartment is on the second floor our tenement building. One day, returning from grocery shopping, I was walking up the stairs behind my husband, Lee (he of the kilt wearing) and day dreaming… On the back of his t-shirt for some metal band or other was the slogan “sniff glue worship satan.” It made me chuckle and it stuck with me – the juxtaposition of this in cross stitch with a twee heart and in an old-fashioned frame was too irresistible not to do!
JJ: I’m so glad. It’s one of the most ridiculously great things I’ve ever seen in cross stitch. I knew at that moment you were one of my faves!
Thanks so much for telling us more about Miso Funky, Miss O’Funky! I’m really bad at keeping up with people and this has been a great way to catch up. I can’t wait to see your site redesign, too! Keep on stitchin’!
About the Author:
Julie Jackson is the creator of Subversive Cross Stitch and Kitty Wigs. She has also authored two books: Subversive Cross Stitch: 33 Designs for Your Surly Side and Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs.