Q&A With Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life
We recently chatted with Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life about her small business and we're so excited to offer her Peg Loom and British Rag Rugging workshops to our schedule for Saturday 1st October. Book your space here.
When and why did you decide to open Ragged Life?
It took time to grow my business Ragged Life into what it is today. It all started in 2014 when I was still working in Marketing at Unilever, a couple of years out of university. I’d done rag rugging as a hobby since the age of fourteen and after a chance encounter was asked to run a one-off class at Tea and Crafting in London. I really enjoyed teaching that first evening class, so agreed to run more rag rug workshops on the side alongside my full-time job. As I was teaching more workshops, I needed more tools and materials, which I began pulling together into beginner kits and also selling on the side. Before I knew it, I had a side hustle that I felt confident could become a full-time job if I was brave enough to leave my cushy graduate job. Well, I took the leap of faith and here we are today! Now Ragged Life has grown into the place for rag rug materials, workshops and textile inspiration.
What had you done before? Did any of these skills help?
My first job out of university was working in Marketing for Unilever. At the beginning, I worked in the disruptive water-saving innovations team (I’ve always been passionate about the environment), before moving onto Marketing for Flora margarine and then Lynx gift packs (yes, the ones that appear in everyone’s Christmas stockings at some point in their life). The skills picked up at these jobs certainly helped when it came to developing a strong brand, designing packaging and understanding what customers want, but it is on such a different scale (television campaigns, big budgets etc…) that there is probably less overlap than you’d think. I find it’s a lot easier to find your authentic voice with a small brand like Ragged Life as you pour your heart and soul into it.
How did you decide on the name?
This is such an interesting question, as it’s not something I’ve thought about for a while. I decided to name my brand “Ragged Life” for several reasons. Firstly, you can’t be too obscure – the name needs to somewhat link to what you do. We’re a one-stop shop for all things rag rug related, so “rag” (meaning old clothing / textile waste) is at the heart of what we do.
However, on a deeper level, Ragged Life is about more than just rag rugs. We promote a sustainable lifestyle where we embrace the imperfect. No matter how neat you try and be, a rag rug, it will always have flaws. That's what makes it unique and interesting. It's the same with life and people. Ragged Life is about embracing imperfections as they're what makes life vibrant ✌️
Tell us about the range of products you stock?
Our Ragged Life range consists of beginner rag rug kits, quality rug-making tools, craft books and materials. Basically, we stock everything a rag rug newbie needs to get them started and much much more. In 2019, we added recycled materials to our range. We now work with British woollen mills to save blanket selvedges, mohair pieces and other gorgeous fabrics from going to landfill. We call it posh recycling as it’s all 100% wool and fabulous quality.
In 2021, my second book “Rag Rug Techniques for Beginners” came out. This contains eight different techniques for making a rag rug from across the world. As these techniques require different tools and materials, our Ragged Life range expanded to include all these too… peg looms, coiled rag rug rope, twining looms etc…
We mostly sell our Ragged Life products through our online shop (www.raggedlife.com), but you can also find us at certain big craft fairs. We’ll be at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in October, for example.
What does a ‘normal’ day look like?
The fun part of running your own business is that each day is different. Some days I may make a new video for YouTube, other days I’ll be planning launches for the coming year. On the other hand, some days I rag rug the whole day. Although it’s funny as people think that’s what I do every day!
On an average day (kind of like today as I write this), I spend a few hours writing a blog post for our Ragged Life Blog (www.raggedlifeblog.com). This could be showcasing a new project that I’ve made, sharing students’ work, launching a new product or a textile artist Q&A, for example. I then spend an hour or so replying to customers’ technical questions or chatting with them on social media. It’s so lovely when I get through photos of what former students have made.
Not so fun, but every day involves a bit of housekeeping on our website to make sure any sold out blanket yarns are de-listed and new ones added and new workshops are scheduled. I love tinkering with the website to make it more user-friendly where I can.
I used to send out the post every day, but now my lovely team members make sure it goes out. Lizzie loves wrapping orders up neatly so opening them feels like a present.
Tell us more about your kits?
Our rag rug kits include all the tools, instructions and hessian to make your first rag rug project. We sell kits to make rugs, cushions, 3D flower bouquets, Christmas wreaths and more. Each kit comes with visual step by step instructions, as well as access to our online “Kit Companion Page” with exclusive content, such as tips for beginners, videos etc…
As the ethos of rag rugging is about using up old clothing, we never include fabric in our kits. We want customers to make their projects their own by using fabrics / clothing with memories (perhaps old childhood clothing or in colours to suit their homes). The nice thing about rag rugs is that you can mix together all different types of fabric – everything from jersey and cotton to swimming costumes and fleece. I love how much texture lace adds to a rug, for example.
Do you have a favourite piece you have created so far?
This changes over time, but now my favourite piece is this rag rug jacket. It’s more of a concept piece than a practical piece of clothing (I can barely bend my arms in it), but it’s exciting to push the boundaries of what can be done in rag rug.
Before making a rag rug could you describe your design process, are there any tips you can share on coming up with a great rug?
I like to collect inspiration from all different places before I start a design – ceramics, art, textiles, Pinterest etc… Generally, I come up with a pattern first then decide on a colour scheme. Sometimes the colour scheme is dictated by what fabrics I have available e.g. if I know I have a lot of pastel fabrics lying around that may be the inspiration for the colour scheme. It’s slightly different than most crafts as you’re trying to use up what you have rather than buying materials. Although sometimes I do buy specific colours from the charity shop.
My greatest design tip for anyone making their first rag rug is to keep things simple. Rag rugs have so much great texture that you can do a simple design and it’ll look very effective if you’re happy with the colours. Other than that, don’t fight the character of the technique you’re using. The shaggy technique will make any complicated design disappear as it is so fluffy and wild, so you need to do a precise technique (such as the loopy technique) if you want to do something pictorial.
Which item is your bestseller? Why do you think that is?
Our best-selling product is the Ragged Life “Easy Peasy Rag Rug Kit”. It includes the hemmed hessian, quality tools and step by step instructions to make a classic rag rug from scratch. It contains our best-selling individual tool – the Rag Rug Spring Tool – and comes beautifully packaged up, so makes a great gift too. I think it sells so well as most people interested in rag rug making want the convenience of knowing they have all the best tools to start them off.
What items are your personal can’t-live-without?
The Rag Rug Spring Tool. It’s the easiest and quickest tool to make a rag rug with. I’ve never come across a person who hasn’t loved it.
What do you enjoy most about running Ragged Life?
I love the freedom of being my own boss and being creative every day. I also love working in such a friendly industry. People who craft are nice people (perhaps it’s because craft is relaxing?), so it’s always a pleasure teaching them and chatting to customers at fairs. I can’t imagine I’d be saying the same thing if I was working in a more cut-throat industry!
What has been your career highlight?
I’m immensely proud that I’ve now had two books published – “Rag Rugs, Pillows & More” and “Rag Rug Techniques for Beginners”. It’s such a great feeling seeing my books on shelves in Waterstones. I’ve also enjoyed some of the more obscure events – cutting up school uniforms on CBeebies with Danny Sebastian from Bargain Hunt, appearing on live TV shopping channels or being chosen as a global expert to create an online course with Domestika.
www.raggedlife.com www.raggedlifeblog.com https://www.instagram.com/raggedlife/ https://www.facebook.com/raggedliferagrugs https://www.youtube.com/raggedlife