KITCHEN TA­BLE TAL­ENT

THIS MONTH: THE SEA-GLASS JEW­ELLER We cel­e­brate the home-grown en­trepreneurs who have turned their hobby into a thriv­ing busi­ness

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by kate lan­gr­ish pho­to­graphs by alun callender

We cel­e­brate en­trepreneurs who have turned their hobby into a busi­ness. This month: the sea-glass jew­eller

very coat I own has pock­ets filled with things I’ve found on the beach,” says Fiona Petheram, re­turn­ing from a walk on the Suf­folk coast and emp­ty­ing the con­tents of her jacket onto the din­ing-room ta­ble. “I’m a com­pul­sive beachcomber and have been ever since I was a child.” But while peb­bles and shells have al­ways held a fas­ci­na­tion, sea-glass is where Fiona’s pas­sion lies: “You spot that lit­tle blink of colour among the peb­bles and it’s like find­ing jew­els or trea­sure. Sea-glass forms such tac­tile shapes – all gen­tly rounded by the waves – you just have to touch them.”

Fiona trans­forms these pock­et­fuls of gems into jew­ellery that’s as beau­ti­ful as the seas­cape from which they come. Held up to the win­dow, the pieces glow in all the colours of the coast – from the bril­liant azure of still, sunny wa­ters and the lu­mi­nous white of sea spray to the emer­ald depths of the deep and inky blues of stormy waves. “The dif­fer­ent colours tell the his­tory of the glass. Whites, greens and blues were prob­a­bly once part of a wine, ale or ink bot­tle, while the rarer pur­ples and pinks might have come from old medicine bot­tles,” Fiona says. “It’s one of the things that makes sea-glass so fas­ci­nat­ing: it could have be­gun its jour­ney hun­dreds of years ago or only last sum­mer.”

Fiona started Drift Jew­ellery 11 years ago, slowly trans­form­ing what was ini­tially a hobby into the thriv­ing busi­ness it is to­day. “I’m not some­one who has ever had a busi­ness plan, so growth has been very or­ganic,” she ex­plains. It all started in 2006 when Fiona and her hus­band Doug took the big de­ci­sion to move the fam­ily to Tar­ifa, a small fish­ing town on the Costa de la Luz in Spain. Her for­mer busi­ness part­ner was liv­ing there with her

hus­band, de­vel­op­ing prop­er­ties, and Fiona and Doug were in­vited to join them. “It all hap­pened quite quickly but we ended up liv­ing in this idyl­lic spot – a cabin on the beach, near the dunes, with the moun­tains be­hind us and the sea in front,” Fiona says.

It was this beach that in­spired her first jew­ellery de­signs: “While walk­ing along the water’s edge, I’d pick up pretty pieces of sea-glass – one day I laid them out on the porch and thought they’d make a beau­ti­ful neck­lace.” In­spired by this, she started in­ves­ti­gat­ing jew­ellery-mak­ing tech­niques on the in­ter­net: “I or­dered a craft drill and a few burrs [drill tips], which cost £70. At that time I was us­ing silks and leathers, rather than gold, to string the glass, so it wasn’t a huge in­vest­ment.”

Ini­tially, her de­signs were just gifts for friends but as she got more and more re­quests, Fiona de­cided to ap­proach some lo­cal busi­nesses. “Tar­ifa is not dis­sim­i­lar to the Suf­folk coast, in that it’s a real cre­ative hub and peo­ple were very sup­port­ive. A tex­tile de­signer nearby helped me re­brand my logo and an­other friend, a graphic de­signer, cre­ated my first web­site – both in re­turn for jew­ellery.” Sadly, the crash in the Span­ish hous­ing mar­ket caused the fam­ily to move back to the UK in 2009. “We had be­come used to liv­ing by the sea, so didn’t want to re­turn to Lon­don,” Fiona ex­plains. “In­stead, we moved into my mother-in-law’s cot­tage in Pin Mill, Suf­folk, be­fore find­ing our cur­rent house in 2011.”

To­day, Drift Jew­ellery is based in the eaves of Fiona’s 16th­cen­tury Suf­folk long­house in Clop­ton, near Wood­bridge, where a huge win­dow floods the work­shop with light. With an ocean­coloured rain­bow of glass be­fore her, she de­cides between two emer­ald teardrops for a pen­dant. “There’s a lot of sort­ing

in­volved – from sift­ing out pieces of sea­weed when I go through my pock­ets to ar­rang­ing the glass into shapes and colours. I work on sev­eral pieces at a time, and I’m al­ways switch­ing the glass around when I see a bit that works bet­ter,” she ex­plains. “Each item of jew­ellery is in­spired by the shape of the sea-glass – there are a sur­pris­ing num­ber of ob­longs, squares and di­a­monds. Tri­an­gles are very com­mon and oc­ca­sion­ally they are worn by the sea into al­most per­fect lit­tle hearts.” Ini­tially, Fiona used sea-glass straight from the beach, us­ing only those that had been worn by the waves, but she now tum­bles each frag­ment first – “this makes it smoother and more lu­mi­nous” – in a peb­ble tumbler for around five days.

Fiona then care­fully drills tiny holes in the pieces to at­tach the fas­ten­ings, be­fore they are threaded on to del­i­cate silks, gold and sil­ver chains or sim­ple but ele­gant ring set­tings. “You have to be care­ful not to ap­ply too much pres­sure or the glass will crack, but if you’re not firm enough the burr skids across and scratches the sur­face. I broke an aw­ful lot of pieces be­fore I got it right – and some­times the nat­u­ral im­per­fec­tions still catch me out.” She sells her pieces at fairs, through re­tail out­lets and also on­line. Two-thirds of her busi­ness is from di­rect sales and she finds fairs par­tic­u­larly use­ful: “In­creas­ingly, peo­ple want to know the story be­hind what they buy – who has made it and how. These events al­low me to tell that story. I’ve gained a lot of loyal cus­tomers through them.”

With the busi­ness grow­ing steadily, Fiona has less time to en­joy daily walks on the coast, but she still makes time for trips to her favourite lo­cal beaches. “We of­ten sail around Or­ford Ness, en­joy fam­ily pic­nics at Dun­wich, and I’ll even take a dip in the sea on a hot day at Alde­burgh or Thor­pe­ness,” she says. “I love the Suf­folk coast in sum­mer, and don’t even mind the oc­ca­sional storm, as long as the huge swells bring up a new haul of sea-glass!”

Drift Jew­ellery pieces start from £32. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit drift­jew­ellery.com.

Af­ter dis­cov­er­ing pieces of sea-glass on strands of shore­line, Fiona brings them back to her stu­dio, where she sorts and groups them ac­cord­ing to colour and shape be­fore de­cid­ing which set­ting will work best to high­light their nat­u­ral beauty

Fiona walks along lo­cal beaches as much as pos­si­ble to source ma­te­ri­als. Although she started her busi­ness in Spain, mov­ing to Suf­folk has en­abled her to sell at more fairs and events, so she can meet cus­tomers and cre­ate a loyal fol­low­ing

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