Fairytale inspired footwear crafted from a woodland workshop

Having just returned from a weekend of festival fun in Devon (where I danced my cares away like a Fraggle, hugged trees and OK perhaps got a little toooo giddy excited about the Hot Rum Punch on offer), I thought it would be great timing to share this story from Devon; the first in a new series on my blog that explores craftsmanship and the people behind objects that I adore.

From her quiet workshop on the edge of Dartmoor is where Ren, founder and maker of FairySteps, lives and breathes leather shoemaking. Ren is a self-taught fairy shoemaker and self-proclaimed make-a-holic.

The Neverland shoe, gorgeous colours ♥

The meadow from where grasshoppers pop by the studio to say hello…

I stumbled across Ren on Instagram and love to follow her Fairysteps adventures. With a shared love for the whimsical, bohemian, earth inspired and handcrafted, I decided to find out more about the lady who crafts leather shoes from a woodland workshop. Anyone whose Instagram profile reads Powered by fairy dust and tea – work and play has no boundaries – is worth a hello, and I was delighted (and not at all surprised) to discover that we share the same favourite childhood book – Mary Norton’s The Borrowers.

The large studio table with piles of beautiful soft leather…

Intricate detailing and Reggie the sewing machine

Fairysteps is primarily a leather shoes and goods brand but, as Ren likes to make many things, the Fairysteps online store also features various knitwear and sewn garments from blankets to hats and clothing.

Ren started working for herself 15 years ago, making moccasins at first, for her children.

Even though I had dreamed of making shoes since I was 12 years old, it wasn’t until our family started home educating in 2002 that I decided to throw fear aside, and have a go at making footwear for the whole family. It made all of us feel that a self learning journey was ahead, and that the sky was the limit. My husband and I both registered as self employed, I chose to teach myself shoemaking, he continued his work as an engineer, the children turned into hedgelings…

Her children have truly inspired her work and they have paid their dues as ‘Mama’s little helpers’; They traipsed up and down the woods carrying boxes of shoes, patiently waiting to help model for website pictures. Always enthusiastic and supportive, even when I did once make 2 left boots.

Hand crafted with love

Meet Fairy Shoemaker Ren!

Having sewn her whole life Ren taught herself how to sew leather and how to design handmade shoes by reading many old inspiring leatherworking books in bed at night.

After a steep learning curve she fulfilled a lifelong dream of hers, one that she had followed since she was a young weaving apprentice working from the same restored mill as a shoemaker, …I would creep up the steep mill steps to the shoemakers attic workshop and look and dream and inhale the wonderful aroma of the hides…

Dreaming about shoes of a fantasy world thanks to the many fairy tales read to her children, Ren creates all original designs, with beautiful shapes and colours using pristine quality materials. She is inspired by the one thousand acre meadow and woodland in which she lives and works. Who wouldn’t be?! The calm of nature’s sounds and smells, the slow passing of time and the woodland creatures outside her home studio build the foundation for her imagination and creativity- see the intricate leaf applique details featured on some of her pieces.

Creating fairy inspired footwear helps me to spread a little of that fairytale magic, one pair at a time. It’s so special getting feedback from my customers saying how lighthearted they feel when they wear their fairysteps and how happy it makes them and others. That’s priceless.

Ren names all her machines, meet Reggie.

Woodland inspired detailing

Her studio isn’t only in the middle of a dreamy woodland meadow, but the studio itself is so bright and cosy and houses her vintage sewing machine, affectionately named Reggie.

I love my workroom. Its as close to Narnia as I am ever going to get. When I am in it I am absorbed in my work. I ‘flow’ around my worktable which is probably my favourite piece. Its 1m x 4m so it’s huge! Leather hides are very big so it needs to accommodate this and allow me to see the leather whole, not partially rolled or hidden. I hear birds mainly when I’m in here, on winter days when it’s hammering with rain I can hear that too on the roof – a lovely sound.

Gorgeous colours and craftsmanship

The gorgeous PUCK design, one of my faves ♥

Working hard in her studio, Ren thrives on her surrounding fairyland, real and make-believe. Her style and method come together to embody her dreams and passion for the magical and imaginary.

Adding the woodland element to the shoes was my greatest moment. It was then that I became The Fairy Shoemaker.

I now pride myself on offering original designs with a quirky edge to them. But, it did take me a while to have the confidence and courage to express my designs properly and fully. Initially I held back, and in the early days often tried to follow ‘traditional’ handmade styles. This was never very successful or rewarding for me. Only when I took that leap of faith to make the shoes from my dreams real, did things really pick up. I do dream about shoemaking too, even now. I have a wonderfully supportive family too which helps so much.

Hot off the bench the gorgeous HOLLY shoe in a unique colourway.

I just love Ren’s story and I hope it has inspired you for a magical moment to follow your dreams whether just starting out or perhaps finding yourself a little distracted from them right now.

I admire her passion for sticking with her style above expectations or the traditional. It’s not easy as I know and as many of my creative readers will agree, but it really does set you up for something wonderful when you can proudly say no that’s not me, this is who I am. That’s when your customers know they have found something very special.

Lyndsey

x

Fellow adventurers, do give Ren a follow on the social channels below and check out the Fairysteps website and Fairysteps Past image archive to browse many wonderful past creations and pick out your very own pair of Fairysteps and other lovely accessories.

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Photos by Ren ©Fairysteps 2016

LJ2015BWR

Lyndsey James is a photography & styling tutor with over 12 years experience as a professional photographer, and the founder of Photocraft®.

Previously a high street retailer too, Lyndsey combines her retail and commercial photography experience to help others succeed in retail online through her photography & styling events & e-courses. She also speaks at craft & business events around Europe and has worked with Etsy, Folksy, Kirstie Allsopp, Enterprise Nation, Craft Central, Digital Photographer Magazine + more.

www.lyndsey-james.co.uk

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