Janet Ellis: My life in crafting – from Blue Peter to Kintsugi

It’s hardly surprising that a former Blue Peter presenter has had a life-long love affair with crafting. We caught up with Janet Ellis to find out her favourites.

By the time Janet Ellis joined Blue Peter, she was already mum to then four-year-old Sophie Ellis-Bextor, so leading children in making all sorts of crafty creations was not unfamiliar territory.

Her love of craft began long before she set foot on set though, and still continues now.

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Now she’s joined forces with Hobbycraft to encourage others to take up crafting, after their survey discovered that one in five Brits can't sew on a button.

We spoke to her to chronicle her life in craft.

Making dolls clothes

Janet thinks her fondness for making things started thanks to her upbringing, which involved moving around a lot while her father was in the Army.

“We moved around a lot too so I think that’s why we didn’t have as big an array of toys as some children might have. I didn’t feel deprived at all but it certainly got me making and doing,” she explains.

“I used to make loads of dolls clothes because I really wanted a Barbie doll but I never had a Barbie. I had a doll that looked like a Barbie - a knock-off version - and I made clothes for her and I used to make clothes for smaller dolls too because I had a dolls house.”

From dolls clothes, she moved on to making things for her children to wear and customising her own clothes.

“In the olden days when I used to buy a lot of second-hand things. I used to change the buttons as part of the joy of having a new thing and making it mine,” Janet reminisces.

Craft crazes

Since then, Janet’s gone on to try a number of different crafts - and enjoys getting stuck in even if they come out wonky in the end.

“I have lots and lots of crazes as anyone who looks around the house will be able to tell,” she laughs. “I’ve done mosaics, I’ve done pottery, I’ve done tapestry.

“At the moment I really like that Japanese thing of finding broken objects and putting them back together - but you put gold into the glue. It’s called Kintsugi. I don’t break things deliberately but I do like it. I like to think that being broken unless it’s in thousands of pieces is part of its story.

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“I don’t think you can do it to everything. It is purely decorative - it’s not for the plates you eat off or for the mugs you drink out of, but for the things that you love. It makes a feature of the fact that you’ve nurtured it back to life which is very satisfying.”

The one craft Janet can’t master

Having tried her hand at most things, Janet has worked out what she likes and what she doesn’t: “I’ve had a go at various sorts of pottery and it’s not my thing. I don’t think I’m made for it really and I can’t enjoy it if it doesn’t work. When people say it doesn’t matter if your bowl is wonky, it does to me.”

Instead, she favours creating collages with photos, cards and things of sentimental value.

Making presents

She’s been able to put her skills to good use making gifts for loved ones.

“I do make presents from time to time, but they have to be things I’m pretty sure of. I don’t think I’d set out to do something from scratch. I have done things like making silk flowers for people. They relish the fact that you’ve had a go.

“I made a memory box for my husband for Valentine’s Day one year and it was like a little 3D collage and it’s about things that relate to his life so there’s a tiny football, there’s a tiny car like the one he used to drive, he used to work in television so there’s a little television set and it’s got phrases and sayings. He’s still got it anyway. You’re not allowed to throw it away,” she laughs.

Just have a go

While it may sound like Janet has a life’s worth of experience, she insists beginners need not feel intimidated by crafting.

“I know we’ve been talking about a lot of things you might have a go at that might be complicated but basic sewing things are not complicated, and I don’t even remember learning it. My kids can all do it but none of them can remember me teaching them. It’s just something they saw me do. It would never have occurred to me to get someone else to do it or stop using something because a button fell off it.

“People need to understand that it’s really simple, it will be endlessly rewarding if you can do it and you will kick yourself by the time you ask someone else to because it’s really easy.”

Making it therapeutic

With all the talk of hygge and the right home environments being key to keeping you feeling well, does she think there’s any chance craft could be therapeutic?

“I love assembling all the things that you need. I’m not an artist, I would never claim to be an artist but I do like making things, they’re not going to be displayed, they’re not really for anyone’s purposes except mine.

“Craft is always how we’ve interpreted our world. From the earliest cave drawings to people making tapestries to explain the last battle.

“We are creative and we want to show what we’ve done because it makes sense of the world so it combines a way that you can actually contribute something which is new and original and might be fun. When you do something and get involved and it’s going well, you can’t really think about much else and you don’t want to either. That focus is properly selfish which is all to be encouraged,” she says.

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