Meet the printmaker: Bobbinhood on fair fashion, creative heroes, and the highs and lows of productivity

Barbara de Ru – photo © Dani van Oeffelen

Barbara de Ru is a Rotterdam-based creative entrepreneur, printmaker, fashion designer, author and more.

After working in the fashion industry for over a decade, she founded Bobbinhood in 2016. Bobbinhood is a creative studio that produces and sells easy screen printing kits, runs workshops, writes books, designs creative flows and printing overalls, and provides daily inspiration to a community of over 54k Instagram users.

Barbara will be speaking all about productivity and printmaking at our Exchange #1 event on 25 September 2019. I got in touch ahead of her talk to ask about how she got into printing, where she finds inspiration, as well as the necessary headspace to keep on creating.

How did you get into screen printing?

I first learned screen printing in fashion school. I even had a printed t-shirt brand then, called baconlettucetomato. But after I graduated I forgot all about it. 

Then, about five years ago, I took an open studio course and got back into stencil screen printing. It was around the same time that my daughter, who was six-years-old at the time, asked me why my awesome job made me so sad (I was head of fashion design at another company). She made me realise that it was the dark and grim fashion industry that weighed on me. 

I knew that, even as someone who travelled to visit the factories, I had no idea who was actually making the clothes I designed. All I knew was that we were pushing the factories to make more for less, and that all my bosses wanted was to make the same clothes as our competitors. I felt my job had lost its creativity and the had industry lost its respect for craftsmanship. I simply couldn’t close my eyes to it any more. 

“I felt my job had lost its creativity and the had industry lost its respect for craftsmanship. I simply couldn’t close my eyes to it any more.”

I told my daughter that, for one year, I would be her H&M, her Zara. She would design her wardrobe and I would make it for her, in a way that was slave-free, and as environmentally friendly as possible. That’s how Bobbinhood started and how I developed a kit to screen print at home, hassle free.

Tell us about your creative heroes.
I have artist heroes and entrepreneur heroes. They change all the time and that process helps me grow as an artist and as an entrepreneur. Three of my current favourites:

  • I love closetcase patterns for their community, how educational they are, their completeness
  • Fotini Tikkou is an amazing illustrator and more, always developing her skills – I love to see her learning process
  • And the Happy Ever After Crafter is inspiring in how much she shares and gives. 

Looking at your Instagram feed, we get the impression that Bobbinhood never stops – is this the case? How do you balance home time and work time, and maintain the necessary level of productivity to make your business a success?

When I started Bobbinhood and my Instagram account grew quickly, I realised I had to keep a certain distance from it or it would swallow me whole. In summer I always go totally offline for one month and around Christmas time for two weeks. I also don’t go online during family holidays. It’s always a bit scary, I have to admit. The world wide web is my shop window, and to close it up means my income drops heavily. Luckily I can make up for it when I’m open. 

“When I started Bobbinhood and my Instagram account grew quickly, I realised I had to keep a certain distance from it or it would swallow me whole.”

I have always worked on being a very generous and giving company. We always take time for our customers and answer all their questions. On the other hand, we are not Amazon, we do not ship the same day. We ship three times a week and we make everything locally, by hand. 

Lovingly stacked orders ready to be sent from Bobbinhood HQ – photo © Bobbinhood

My husband and I share our household and take care of our children together. Let’s say we both work 80%. I would love to work full-time, and my husband would love to work half time. So we are slowly working to make that happen.

All this being said, having a company and a family is difficult sometimes. I’ve always worked hard, but the difference now is that it’s harder to stop working, or thinking about work. When sales or my inspiration is low, or one of my employees is having a tough time, it affects me directly and it’s not easy to leave it at work. At those times I don’t feel like I am the best mom in the world. But when I heard my littlest say to someone the other day: “I am a princess and princesses can be good bosses ’cause my mom is one and she has the best job in the world,” it made me feel like I’m on the right track.

Barbara printing with her littlest – photo © Bobbinhood

What does productivity mean to you? What’s its value?

Productivity is a hard subject. It feels like, in this world, we need to be productive all the time. When you see series like Mad Men, and Don Draper just lies on his couch waiting for the inspiration to come… there is no time for that. I have learned, after 38 years of living with ADD, that I need nothing time every now and then. It’s not easy, but I am getting there in allowing this for myself.

“When you see series like Mad Men, and Don Draper just lies on his couch waiting for the inspiration to come… there is no time for that.”

Most of the time I have a gazillion ideas per hour. And I used to feel like I never had enough time, and never finished anything. I would cycle home, totally exhausted, thinking: “I could have done more.” 

That’s why I came up with my creative workflow, where you celebrate the things you’ve done that day – any attention you give to tasks, no matter how small. For example, if I want to screen print something I know I need two or three hours. I used to feel like I couldn’t free up a big time slot like that, and so I felt disappointed every day for not screen printing. Then I realised I could break the process up. Sketch, cut the stencils, mix the ink, prepare my worktable.

Bobbinhood’s creative workflow – photo © Bobbinhood

Now I celebrate every little thing I do within a bigger project. I slowly see the project take form and I actually enjoy the process. I don’t plan anymore with set times. I think more in seasons, or months, and more in terms of things I want to accomplish, instead of setting hard deadlines. It really helps, most of the time.

“Now I celebrate every little thing I do within a bigger project. I slowly see the project take form and I actually enjoy the process.”

You can read more about Barbara’s creative workflow on the Bobbinhood blog.

Do you have any tips for being a happily productive creative entrepreneur? 

  1. Listen to your gut. Trust it. 
  2. Be generous, but set your boundaries. 
  3. Make and create every day. It makes for a happy soul. 
  4. Know what your strengths are and ask friends/family what they think your strength are. 
  5. Set short-, mid- and long-term goals. Think big, and envision them. Talk about them as if it is already there. Evaluate these goals every season. Changing them doesn’t mean you failed. It simply means you grow. 
  6. Finally, create a rhythm. A rhythm makes a flow, and a flow is the strongest way to grow.

Come and hear Bobbinhood founder, Barbara de Ru speak more about productivity at Utrecht Print Exchange’s upcoming event. It takes place on Wednesday 25 Sep at Rabarber, Utrecht, from 19:00. Tickets costs €6, which includes a free drink – grab your tickets now!

Find out more about Bobbinhood and follow along on Instagram.

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