Meet the Maker: Mike Aspinall aka The Crafty Gentleman

Mike Aspinall, aka The Crafty Gentleman, has many crafty talents; not only does he knit, bake, sew and do woodwork, he’s also a dab hand when it comes to creating projects with his trusty Cricut machine! We caught up with Mike to find out what inspired his love of making, his top tips for Cricut success and learn all about how he manages to juggle a busy full time job as well as coming up with project ideas for his blog and workshops.

Who inspired you to start making? Is there a particular family member or friend that passed on the bug?

My parents are both creative in their own ways. My dad likes to paint and bake, whilst my mum dabbles in knitting and sewing. However, I think my love of crafting has always been something inherently within me – rather than directly passed on. My earliest memories are of spending hours and hours in my bedroom, cutting up paper and gluing things down, seeing what I can come up with! That childlike love of making has never left me.

You makes span a lot of different disciplines, where did/do you learn your crafty skills?

I’m totally self-taught, which I suppose is why I work across so many different techniques. My first craft love was papercraft, which initially got me hooked on making. Then, in my teens, I got a sewing machine for my birthday (yep, I was pretty cool). That machine changed my life! I gradually developed my sewing skills, and dabbled in knitting, woodwork, leathercraft and loads more along the way. What can I say? I’m obsessed with trying new things!

I’ve learnt all of my skills through a lot of trial and error, which is part of what inspired me to create my blog – so I could share what I’d learnt with others like me.

Give us a tour of your craft space – we’d love to see a sneak peek!

I’m lucky enough to have my own mini craft studio at home. I bought my current house two years ago, after only having lived in rental flats. I’m still not over the luxury of a whole room dedicated to crafting!

I’ve got an (almost) floor to ceiling storage unit for all my crafty bits and bobs, as well as shelves along one wall. I’ve also made a wooden peg board to store my ever-growing collection of scissors. I’ve currently got eleven pairs… I think I have a problem!

My Cricut Maker and sewing machine are in regular use, so they both have pride of place in my studio. The Maker sits on a shelf within easy reach, while the sewing machine sits next to my desk.

Coming up with lots of different project ideas can be demanding, do you ever hit a creative brick wall? How do you stay inspired?

It can be tricky! I’ve only ever experienced full-on creative burnout once before. It was not fun! I just couldn’t muster the energy to work on my blog and felt knackered all the time. I ended up taking a month off from blogging, to let my creativity come back naturally.

As for inspiration – I find it everywhere! From contemporary museums to supermarket aisles, there’s creativity all around us. I keep a folder on my phone, where I store photos of things that inspire me in some way. It could be colours, shapes, textures, words… anything. I often look back through this folder when I’m stuck for ideas.

I also find that fresh air and exercise help me reset and make sense of the many half-formed ideas floating around in my head. Having that time to let your mind wander is so, so important.

We’ve spied on your blog that you attended and demonstrated at the Cricut Make-a-thon in Salt Lake City – we’re so very jealous! What kind of things did you get up to?

I did indeed! I’m still pinching myself that I was invited along, it was the BEST week!

It was basically a massive craft conference run by the American Cricut team. It took place over 3 days and was crammed full of demos, workshops and inspiring talks. It was every bit as amazing as it sounds! You can see behind the scenes in my blog post, here.

The Cricut team flew me out there to attend the event, and also run a series of talks about their newest model – the Cricut Maker. I taught people all about using the Maker to cut fabric – taking them through the basics, and leaving them with loads of tips to advance their sewing projects.

I was also lucky enough to extend the trip for a few days, so I could explore Salt Lake City and the surrounds while I was there. It was incredible; one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been!

What would be your three top tips for Cricut newcomers?

1. Learn how to manipulate Design Space (the free Cricut design software) as quickly as you can. Mastering it will really allow you to take your makes to the next level.

2. Look after your mats! Keep the plastic sheet that they come with, and use it to cover the mats when they’re not in use. Don’t excessively scrape them when cleaning. Use the correct cut settings for each mat and material. If looked after, they can last for ages!

3. Most importantly, just go for it! Don’t let your Cricut sit unused and collecting dust. Yes, they can be a little intimidating at first – but the only way to learn is by doing! Make little and often and you’ll soon get the hang of it.

What was the first thing you made with your Cricut machine?

I dabbled in lots of small papercraft projects when I got my first ever Cricut machine: a bookmark, some labels, a little origami planter. I can’t even remember which one was first – I was just too excited to get going! You can see some of these makes (and my unboxing video!) on my blog here.

What’s your favourite Cricut product?

Without a doubt, the Cricut Maker! It’s the flagship Cricut model – and for good reason. It cuts basically EVERYTHING: card, paper, vinyl, fabric, leather, wood, denim… the list goes on! The Maker is basically the coolest gadget I’ve ever owned.

What inspired you to start your blog, The Crafty Gentleman?

In a nutshell, it was to help encourage more young people (especially men) into the world of crafting, sewing, knitting and so on.

Back in my early 20s, when I was starting to hone my crafting skills, I was disappointed by the lack of craft content available for men. Every website, craft shop and product seemed geared towards women or children – with lots of pink and florals. That’s not really my style, and I felt pretty excluded from something that I loved to do. So, like any good millennial, I started a blog to help address that!

Fast forward 5 years and I’ve now shared over 200 DIY projects on my blog, all of which are freely available. I really hope that this provides a source of inspiration for any other guys out there, interested in getting started in this industry. Crafting can be for everyone!

Along with your blog, you also run demos and workshops. That must be one hectic schedule! How do you manage your time?

I actually work a full-time job in digital marketing alongside my blog, too! It can be pretty intense.

There are two things I’ve learnt that have really helped me to manage my schedule. The first is to say no from time to time. When new projects are offered, it’s so tempting to say yes to them all. But time is precious! So I’ve learnt to identify the most beneficial opportunities, and (reluctantly) decline some of the others if I need to.

Secondly, I’ve become pretty good at finding small pockets of free time. For example, if I have food in the oven, I’ll spend those 20 minutes drafting a blog post. Or I’ll spend 15 minutes each morning editing photos before going to my day job. These little moments can add up to hours every week. You’d be surprised at how much free time you actually have!

What’s next for you in 2019 and beyond?

The last year has been the biggest one yet for my blog, so I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!

I’m currently in talks about some television work (omg!), and I’m in the initial stages of developing some crafty products to sell (watch this space!). I’m also in talks to teach more workshops and speak at more events – I love getting to meet fellow crafters in real life.

Of course, I’ll also be sharing lots more free craft projects and tutorials on my blog!

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