Cecilia Ajayi is an incredible designer who works with seed beads to create out of this world textiles; the type of textiles that makes you stop in your tracks to look closer, as two waitresses in Palm Vaults did where I interviewed her. Cecilia has a background in knitwear and business as well as a masters degree from Brighton University.
Out of all the different textiles that exists what made you start beading?
I’ve always been into three-dimensional textiles and when I was in college I used to embellish here and there on fabric. I specialised in knitwear at Brighton University and for my graduate collection I created four three-dimensional garments. After uni I really wanted to embellish more; I actually wanted to specialise in embroidery at a university in Manchester but I ended up studying knitwear. I always wanted to get back into embroidery because I loved working with three-dimensional textiles and I enjoyed creating things on my sewing machine using freehand embroidery. It was from there that I decided that I wanted to incorporate embroidery with knitting.
Initially, I started beading with knitting. I knew that I worked well with freehand embroidery so I thought why not try beading? Adding beads created that 3D aspect so I tried it and really liked how it turned out. That’s where it kind of started off. I started making small beaded pieces to test things out with colour and it developed from there and I got into my own style and technique. I’m always thinking of new ways of improving and speeding up. So far I’m really enjoying beading and I hope to improve my skills and take it further.
When you combined knitwear and beading what exactly did you do?
I literally just beaded on the knitwear. Because of my knitwear background I knew how to make clothes and I really wanted to add some sort of embellishments on them. I added one or two beads on sections of the fabric that I made and after a while I preferred the whole aspect of just beading than knitting a base fabric first. In order to speed things up and save time I applied my beads to calico and some plain cotton fabrics. I realised that it was a much faster process than knitting first.
What kind of knitwear did you specialise in at uni?
I specialised in machine knitting for three years and completed a masters in it. My course was combined with knitwear and business studies.
Who taught you how to bead?
I learnt from my aunt who is an amazing embroiderer; since year seven of secondary school I’ve always done textiles and I’ve always done machine sewing. During my A Levels textiles course (in college) I experimented with a variety of hand embroidery techniques and my aunt taught me some basic techniques too. I used to add beads here and there but it was not as stylised as it is now.
Have you always known that you have to use a beading needle?
I actually don’t use a beading needle. I use seed beads and they’re really really tiny so I went through all my needles at home to see which ones would fit through my beads and none of them did. I placed an order online and went to different crafts shops in my area and ordered loads of packs. I went through all the packs and picked out which ones fitted.
Oh, wow I bet that took a long time!
Yeah and because I bought a few it was a case to see which one fitted. Once I knew which one was the right one I just kept on ordering the same pack. The needles are so tiny I sometimes misplace them but now I know which needle to use and buy. The packs cost around £2 so I ordered a few.
Are the needles in that pack the same size?
No, they come in all sizes from tiny to medium; because I’ve ordered so many I now know that the needle I use is always on the left-hand side of the pack.
The eBay store that I buy them from probably wonder why I buy so many needles! I’ve tried using regular beading needles but they’re too thin and long. My work is so intricate and detailed so I don’t want to waste time fiddling around with a beading needle.
Where do you get your beads?
I get them all over. I get some from eBay, Amazon and craft shops around Stoke Newington. I’ve received some as gifts. Sometimes I get given clothes with beads on that I can re-use. Every time I see crafts shop I always walk in and look for new beads with interesting colours.
How do you stock and keep your beads tidy?
The places I buy them from package them quite well so I usually stack everything in a big box. The time it doesn’t stay organised is when I’m actually beading and I put different colours out and they get mixed up; those beads end up in another pot. I have a little niece and whenever she comes to my house she helps pick out and separate the beads. She’s 6 and has quite an interest in beads, maybe it’s because they’re so colourful.
Do you apply each bead on the needle individually or do you pile them up?
I apply them one at a time. I’m looking for ways I can speed it up but I actually just enjoy beading and adding embellishments. I generally experiment with my work and you never really know the outcome until you’ve finished. It’s like a story and pieces of a puzzle that I continue to put together. Sometimes I do get tired especially towards the end.
Yeah, you’re almost finished but not yet finished.
And I end up spilling the beads! You definitely have to have the right sort of personality and patience to bead otherwise you just give up.
You can’t rush it either.
Yeah and because of my style of beading you can’t pile it on because it distorts the look I’m going for. My cousins can’t believe I work with one bead at a time. I’ve always done surface textiles so I kind of just go with it.
You mentioned calico as a base fabric; do you work on any others?
For now I just work on calico that I have at home. My work is totally embellished so you can’t really see the calico and I want the attention to mainly be on the structure of the beads. Initially I tried to use colourful fabrics but I didn’t like the look of it and I thought it drew away from the beauty of what I was trying to achieve.
Do you back the fabric?
Right now, I don’t because I’m waiting for some special frames that I’ve ordered. When I start selling my work the back will be completely covered because of these special frames I’ve ordered.
Do you only want to work on frames?
I’ve always been into art and sculpture so for now I want to concentrate on making beautiful decorative wall art. I get loads of feedback from people and they’ve suggested applying my textiles to accessories and clutch bags. That’s the sort of area I want to push my work into and maybe make jewellery and brooches. I’ve had a few interests to collaborate and add my beads to clothing. Beading is so time consuming so for now I want to focus on making more of my own products before working with other people. As a start-up, I really want to give myself the best sort of push that I can.
What are you working on at the moment?
I did a galaxy style piece in the past and I really want to create a series of the same artwork. The last piece I worked on was of a face but I got a lot of feedback from people saying they liked the galaxy work. While I’m waiting for my frames to arrive I’ll make a collection of galaxy pieces.
With your face pieces how do you bead a face? It seems difficult to me.
It was my first time actually and I just experimented with it. I’d made some abstract pieces so I thought I’d make something more real to life. Most of my pieces are made through trial and error. I always take each piece as a learning curve and think about how to develop areas that worked well. I always try to improve and make it look better than the last piece.
What’s the longest time you’ve spent on a piece?
I think each piece takes about two weeks to create but that’s if I have other things to do in between. If I wanted to dedicate myself fully and I don’t have anything else on it would probably take about 8 or 9 days. The bigger the piece the more time consuming it is.
What’s the biggest piece you’ve worked on?
The biggest piece I’ve worked on is 6 inches.
Do you want to go bigger?
My friends have suggested going bigger but it’s so time consuming. I think for now because I’m doing everything myself it’s not very practical for me to go bigger. As my business establishes and grows I’ll definitely be open to working on a larger scale; I’ll have more manpower, a budget and a customer base so I could afford to spend longer on pieces.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
I’d love to collaborate with an accessories designer or someone that makes bags.
Have you ever interned for an accessories company?
The only internships I’ve done have always been geared towards knitting. The sort of knitwear internships that I did were more about creating swatches.
Would you want to work or intern for an accessories company?
I don’t know if I necessarily want to intern but I’d love to collaborate and see how we can work together. Because I’ve got so much knitwear experience if I was to intern I’d really want it to be geared to what I’m doing now, I’d want to it be something that I was giving and they were giving and work together. Most internships are one-sided and you do a lot of not so nice jobs. I’d prefer to work within a partnership.
Yeah that’s pretty much how a lot of creative internships are. I’ve heard a lot of people say “well that’s just interning for you, don’t complain” but at the same time there’s only so much paper scanning you can do!
I think I’d only intern if I really wanted to work for a company for experience. Right now I’m trying to put my work out there and set up my own business I don’t think it would be logical for me to intern.
Do you have a day job?
For now I’m just concentrating on my textiles work. After I graduated from uni I worked in retail and did loads of office jobs but I never really enjoyed them.
What I ended up doing was saving money just to get me by to see how my textiles business grows. If I feel I need to work I might look for a part time job. When I was working full time and working on my textiles it didn’t really work.
Who are some of your favourite Instagram accounts for textiles?
I really like Juju Just, her work’s very colourful and I sometimes see it as a bit 3D too. I don’t really look for textiles accounts I more so look for arty ones; I like Joshua Miles and Françoise Nielly. I prefer to look into things that will inspire me like sculpture and architecture.
What are your plans and goals for your work?
I’m working on another piece at the moment and once my frames have arrived from Hungary I want to get my work professionally photographed and video recorded. I want to set up an Etsy account and have a website to push my work. Having a business background has helped me a lot and I’ve written a plan of things I would like to achieve within the next year. Eventually I would also like to sell textiles equipment to people like a haberdashery.
What do you love about beading?
I love and I hate the not knowing when you initially place your first bead on your base fabric. I love the overall effect of how the beads look as a final piece. Sometimes I look at my work and think, “wow, I can’t believe I made this”. I love the fact that I see it through; sometimes you want to give up because it’s so time consuming and you question why you want to do it. Every time I complete a piece I feel proud of myself. I like that I’m consistent and I stayed with it.
You can follow Cecilia here.