My very good friend Sarah, aka JWRNAL has been working on a load of different events recently from a printed publication to curating an exhibition. We chat daily about, well, everything, and my original idea was to write up our conversations, but I soon realised that I use the word ‘mate’ too often and who needs to see a load of emojis.
I sent her an e-mail, and we had a pretty serious conversation:

Llio- Hello mate! How you doing?

Without sounding like a retired couple who are about to move to Llandudno; do you remember the day we first met at the Quarry cafe in Machynlleth?!! Ahhh(sigh), who’d of thought that I’d be asking you for an interview a few years later.

I’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re up to, but let’s get the Jwrnal journey out to the world. Tell me a little about your background, running up to Jwrnal?

Sarah- Hey mate, yes I do remember it!! Hasn't time flown? (now we sound like a retired couple) That was cool eh? Alan James Raddon put us in touch, so glad he did.

My background, well I grew up in North Wales and went along a windy road via Leeds, Berlin, New York and London back to North Wales, where I am now! My background is mostly in Fashion Design. I did both a BA and MA in design, focussing on Menswear. I've worked for menswear brands like Topman and Oliver Spencer and worked on my own collections too. All of that seems like a long time ago now! During my MA I did a whole load of research into Wales, traditional methods of craftsmanship, rural skills and just became fascinated with my research and started to meet a brilliant network of makers and creatives. I think this is how I ended winding my way back here. When I made the move back a couple of years ago I picked up on my old research and that's pretty much how Jwrnal started. Funny how things go full circle, isn't it? You did something -kind of- similar didn't you?

Llio- Yeah, we’ve definitely had similar paths. I’ve never had a master plan, and always been happy to move/travel wherever the opportunity took me, but it’s funny to see that we’ve both ended up back in our original habitats. Shame we weren’t in NY at the same time, can you imagine…ooohhh!

Back to today! Jwrnal seems to be growing by the day, and you’ve done some amazing events. How did it all begin?

Sarah- Without really realising, it all came about during my MA. Really it started as research, and I’m a total research-nerd, by the way. I was looking into the history of Welsh arts, crafts and culture and I was also looking for makers to collaborate with on different pieces of my final collection. I had handmade copper zip pulls and badges, woven flannel and double weave cloth from Melin Teifi, willow basket woven bags and accessories, slate buttons, that kind of thing. I was meeting amazing people and I always made the excuse to drive out and see them, see the process, how it’s made, which is really where it all began. As part of my final hand-in for my MA I made a ‘Journal’ documenting where everything was made, and who by. My mate Jack and I went on a trip and he took some amazing portraits of the makers I’d worked with. I guess it’s about collecting stories, which I love. So when I moved back home a couple of years ago, it’s like I finally got it scratch that itch I’d had for the past few years. I loved working in the fashion industry and I never thought I’d move home. But when I did, I just wanted to pick up on the research I’d started and the connection I’d made, so I pretty much got in my car, pencilled in a few ‘meetings’ and made my way around Wales! I’ve had no real direction with it so far if I’m honest. Once I gave it a name, and a website then it became a ‘thing’.

Llio- I remember quizzing you when we first met, what you wanted ‘it’ to be. I asked if it was a physical journal, a blog, a newsletter, an event, and look where you are today! It’s all of those! Since you named it, and started the website what have you been doing?

Sarah- Yeah, when I met you I think it was pretty much an instagram account or something! Well, there was a bit of a catalyst moment, which really got it all going. I met Charlie Gladstone and told him what I was up to. He offered me a space at the Good Life Experience Festival to do whatever I liked, so this, put things into gear. I gathered some makers and products and curated a space at the festival and it was brilliant. Then I started a monthly newsletter, trialled a couple of workshops. I’ve held a couple of ‘Jwrnal Presents’ evenings, which have been really lovely intimate evenings with guest speakers, sharing their stories to a room of 40 or so people. Then, came the decision to go into print! Which is something I have always wanted to do. Going in to print has been such a fun process and it’s been so exciting to see everything in printed form. It’s all about gathering stories of people, places, things, ideas - that, is at the heart of everything I’m doing. I’m really lucky that I’ve met a brilliant bunch of people along the way that have made the whole thing enjoyable, and honestly, they make it easy for me! There is so much good stuff going on, I’m never sat twiddling my thumbs panicking about what’s next, because it just seems to come naturally. From people, from conversations. I’m really just pulling things together in a way, so that everyone can see it. If that makes sense!

Llio- Printed JWRNAL #01, that IS cool. It’s ace to hear that you’re never stuck for content. How was it to bringing everything together, the imagery, the text, and the layout? Please tell me JWRANL #02 is being planned?

Sarah- It was fun! Really fun. Altogether about 50 people contributed to the magazine, whether it was photography, text, illustrations, recipes etc. My job was to bring it altogether and it was so exciting when bits and pieces would drop into my inbox. I had help from an amazing lady called Fiona, who pretty much became my editor. I couldn’t have done it without her and I learnt so much along the way. Everything everybody contributed was of such high standard. Ha, yes of course there’s always plans for a next one.

Llio- Nice! Glad to hear it! Before I let you go, tell me about the latest Jwrnal event…

Sarah- I recently opened an exhibition I curated with Steffan, the director of Oriel Davies gallery in Newtown. We curated the gallery to showcase 17 makers from Wales and their processes. It’s a selling exhibition with some truly amazing products. Again, it was such pleasure to do it, unwrapping all of the products and placing them in the gallery, every ten minutes was like - wow. There’s films, photographs, products, an interactive space to learn weaving, it was a really brilliant thing to be asked to do, something I hope I can do a bit more of! Of course the best bit in the exhibition is the contemporary weaving by Llio James (lol). It’s made me think, a lot, about what is next and I have a bit of a bug to do more of this kind of thing, take team Jwrnal out into the wider world perhaps. Who knows! The opening was amazing, but I’m still pretty exhausted, yet still thinking what I can do next that’d bigger and better.

Llio- Yessss, Jwrnal to the world, like the sound of this. It was a great opening and it’s a truly wonderful exhibition. You’ve got a great gang together, I love it when we all see each other.

It’s been a pretty packed year, printed jwrnal, jwrnal exhibition and jwrnal events, bloody well done to you my friend. If a maker/artist/writer/designer would like to join you on this adventure, how should they contact you?

Sarah- Cheers mate! You are officially my ‘poster gal’ you know that, right? Those hands are famous now! Yes, I love hearing from people. Email. Instagram - however. My radar is always searching for good stuff and I’m so open to ideas, so yeah, get in touch!

Llio- Thanks for that chat, see you in Machynlleth quarry cafe soon?

Sarah- Llandudno mate

Jwrnal 03.jpg

17 November 2018 - 30 January 2019, Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown.

CREU// MAKE is an exhibition that explores contemporary craft products made by Makers from all corners of Wales, using traditional rural crafts including; pottery, weaving, chair making, textile art, wood work and more. Wales has a strong tradition of craft skills, which draws on our history as a place that makes stuff. This exhibition explores some of the incredible skills being practiced around Wales by people who are keeping this tradition alive.

We are proud to be working with Jwrnal to support local, creative and independent businesses across Wales. During the exhibition there will be opportunities to meet the makers, and try your hand at some of the processes they use. This might be the starting point for developing your own creative career.

Share your own images from and inspired by the exhibition using the hashtag #MakeWales #CreuDavies and don’t forget to tag @jwrnal_wales and @orieldavies

Jwrnal ('journal') is a platform for documenting and promoting makers and creatives in Wales. Jwrnal launched at The Good Life Experience festival in 2017 and has since gone on to develop online and physical platforms for makers and creatives across Wales

Curated by Sarah Hellen and Steffan Jones-Hughes.

Llio James