Philippines-based artist Ruby Thursday (of Thursday CraftLove) handcrafts colorful, embroidered pendants and earrings that capture the beauty of her home country. From floral pendants inspired by garden walks during her childhood to abstract earrings influenced by island life, each of Ruby’s handmade statement pieces is a little reminder of her own roots.
Ruby grew up among craftspeople, and first learned how to cross-stitch from her mother. But it wasn’t until she became a mom herself that she decided to leave her day job as a photojournalist to pursue her love of embroidery full time. “Creating is in my blood,” she says on Etsy. “I practically grew up around my mother’s handmade creations and much of what I know now about crafting, I learned it from her.”
We recently caught up with Ruby to find out more about her inspiration, processes, and how to successfully build a creative business. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.
How did you first get started with crafting embroidered jewelry? Are you self-taught?
My first encounter with needlework was when I was in grade school. I think I was about 10 years old at that time. It was summer and my mother taught me how to cross stitch and she gave me a pattern to follow—a project to complete. Actually, it was part of a pair of patterns. I worked on one, my mother on the other.
My mother has always been very creative. One of my fondest memories as a child is sitting under her sewing machine as she sewed pouches, pencil, or throw pillow cases from indigenous fabrics and I’d be trimming away extra threads from the pieces she had made. So it’s no surprise that I was into all sorts of arts and crafts when I was a kid and my mother has really been so supportive and I really enjoyed it. Summers in particular were filled with art-related classes and creative activities.
Over the years, I’d jump from one craft to another but I always gravitate towards projects that have got to do with fabric, thread, sewing and jewelry. I didn’t realize this until later.
I used to work as a freelance photojournalist and when I got pregnant, I started to feel that I didn’t want to go back to that job after giving birth. So my husband and I decided that I stay home for a while.
In 2015, when my daughter was about a year old, I had this very strong desire to do something creative again, to work with my hands again—something I can do while taking care of my daughter, and something that can help provide for our family.
So I did a sort of “inventory” in my head of the things I enjoy doing and I’m good at, and materials I like working with. And hand embroidery stood out. And since I have always loved designing and making jewelry and accessories (my first products in my Etsy shop were beaded jewelry and felt wedding boutonnieres), I decided to focus on hand embroidered jewelry.
I knew some of the basic stitches since I learned them either from my mother or at Home Economics class in highschool but the rest, especially the more complex ones, I learned them through books, websites, and video tutorials.
It’s a bit weird because that first time I picked up the needle and thread after such a long while, I felt an instant connection to hand embroidery and felt that my hands have a natural “feel” for it. I kind of knew it was the perfect one for me. And from that time on until today, I always try to carve out some stitching time, including busy days even for just 30 minutes to an hour.
What inspired you to set up Thursday CraftLove?
I set up Thursday CraftLove in 2012 as an outlet of ideas and projects swimming in my head. I was working as a freelance photojournalist then and it was also a way to de-stress after a long day or after a stressful coverage. Back then, I was into designing and making beaded jewelry and felt flower boutonnieres.
How would you say your Filipino heritage influences your designs?
My whitework embroidery pieces, for example, like the Rosa necklaces were inspired by the Barong Tagalog—an embroidered top traditionally worn by men especially during special occasions like weddings—and as how I remembered certain flowers from my childhood, which I rarely see these days like the Rosal (similar to Gardenias, I think).
Some of my pieces were also influenced by colors and patterns I see here or by a mood or memory evoked by a certain light or day or weather here.
Some of my pieces were also named after beautiful Filipino words like Sinag (ray of light or glimmer) and Isla (island).
Can you tell us about your process for creating your pieces?
Like a lot of artists, my pieces usually start with an inspiration. Color is a huge influence for me and so are moods and memories evoked by a certain light, weather, or circumstance.
For my geometric pieces, I usually start with a sketch then I make a pattern for the shape (of a pair of earrings, for example) on my computer. I print it out and cut. Then the exciting part—choosing thread colors. The pattern/shape is then traced on the fabric, then I draw the design I’ll be stitching on the fabric and then I stitch.
My floral pieces are more spontaneous. I usually just have a general idea of how it will look. I usually start with what thread colors to use (and sometimes changing thread colors along the way), draw a sort of general guide on the fabric on where most of the stitches will go and then I hand embroider them. Sometimes, they turn out exactly as I imagined them. Sometimes, they’re better and sometimes, they’re really totally different.
If I am happy with how the prototype turned out, I’ll make several pieces of it. And as with all handmade items, they might look very similar but they are not really exactly the same as each stitch often turns out differently.
What is an average day like in your studio?
Now that my daughter is already going to school, my days (or at least the weekdays) really start early. I wake up at around 5:30 in the morning and me and my husband, Keith, help our daughter prepare for school. As soon as she and my husband are out of the door, I have some “quiet time” to read my daily Bible devotions then I have breakfast, do a bit of the house chores and prepare myself for work.
I usually get to start working at around 9:30am. In between this time ‘til my daughter comes home shortly before lunchtime, I usually do not play any music or podcast. I’d like to enjoy the peace and quiet of the house for surely when she arrives, it’s a riot of sorts—her chattering as I work or running around, or constantly asking me to do things for her, and toys and her make-believe stuff (like leaves as money) are all over the place including my table.
Then I’d break for lunch and when we’re done, I’ll help my husband clean up and prepare my daughter for her nap. We’d usually talk or read a book or sing and dance first. When she’s finally asleep, I’d go back upstairs to work or sometimes take the project I’m working on inside the bedroom for she likes it when I’m around when she wakes up. I usually work until around six or until the light’s good. I prefer working with natural light so as not to strain my eyes thus I refrain from stitching at night. I usually reserve computer-related tasks (like answering messages, designing patterns and packaging, preparing, and uploading new listings, etc.) at night.
I try to set aside the weekends for rest—to re-focus, spend time with family and well, do more household chores so there’ll be less to do on weekdays. If I don’t get to take a break on a weekend, I’ll try to carve some time out during the weekdays. And this is one of the things I love about working from home—you get to decide what and how you’ll spend your time although this really also takes a lot of discipline since it could be very tempting to just sleep all day.
What do you love most about embroidery and working with thread?
I think what I love most about embroidery is its portability. At that time when my daughter was a toddler and very active, and I was trying to figure out what craft to focus on, I wanted something I can easily take with me and hand embroidery fits that criteria so I guess that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to it. I can take it from my studio upstairs to our bedroom downstairs as my daughter naps or plays, or to the beach, or playground. It doesn’t require a computer, electricity, or internet, and it doesn’t cost much to start. It is also a very relaxing activity and as a new mom then, it was (and still is!) a huge help.
I love embroidery and working with thread as it is a very tactile experience—something I used to do a lot when I was young (versus these days when we do a lot of swiping and tapping) and the physicality of it really gets me thinking and stimulates my creativity. Plus seeing (and shopping for) the threads and their wide range of colors is something that really makes me happy.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to set up their own creative business / Etsy store?
I’d say just go for it. Sure, you’ll have to learn about the technical stuff like how to sign up/set up an Etsy shop/website, or what payment method to use but start as soon as you can. Don’t wait for the “perfect” moment or when you have gathered enough strength because perhaps you never will. Until you do it, you’ll always be afraid and think about the “what ifs.”
Etsy’s Seller Handbook and blog are very helpful resources, not only for starting an Etsy shop but running a creative business in general. They have amazing tips on photography, customer service and so much more. We are so lucky to live at a time when the information we need is almost always readily available, so read up as much as you can.
You will learn as you go. So as cliché as it may sound, don’t be afraid of making mistakes for these will be your greatest teachers.
Also, figure out shipping early on especially when you’re shipping internationally—what shipping carriers to use, their rates, what packaging materials to use for your products, etc. It may seem so basic but this is something a lot of new creative entrepreneurs forget about and lose money on.