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How Jewellery Making Has Helped My Chronic Illness & Mental Health

Being creative has plenty of benefits and in today's interview, we chat to jeweller Gemma Tremayne about how having a chronic illness and suffering with her mental health has effected her life and how jewellery making has become her saviour. We chat about putting your happiness first, starting your own creative business, the jewellery making community and self-care top tips. We hope this inspires you to reach your goals and try a new creative hobby!

Hi Gemma, tell us about how you first discovered jewellery making

Thank you for inviting me! So I have had a slightly different journey into jewellery making. I am actually trained as a scale model maker, and have a degree in Model Design and Effects from the University of HertfordShire. When I graduated from University, I moved from my home town in Mid Wales to London, to work as a model maker, initially in the film industry, and then within architectural model making for international clients. However, I later met my then boyfriend (now husband), and moved to Suffolk to be with him, where I then took a job in marine model making.

I actually discovered jewellery making whilst I was still working in London. I had been really unwell with very unbalanced hormones and had been getting progressively more ill each year that went by. I also began to suffer with chronic migraine, at its worst, spending 6 days a week with a migraine. I was really struggling to keep up my job in London, whilst also trying to visit my partner, and travel back and forth to London. And that's when jewellery making came into my life!

I am a highly creative person with a slightly obsessive need to know how things are made, and so I have had a lot of creative hobbies! One of the things I had never attempted was working with metals to make jewellery. I'd made jewellery in the past whilst growing up, but only simple beaded items. I'd never worked with precious metals, or heat, or soldered anything other than a simple circuit board in year 9 electronics at school. But, I was feeling really unwell, and starting to get chronically depressed, and I knew from previous experience that throwing myself into creativity was the way to go. I remember it felt a little crazy to just attempt to teach myself silversmithing, but I thought at the very least I would start by buying myself a book for beginners, explaining how silver jewellery was made... Because I really had no idea! Little did I know, that I was going to catch the silversmithing bug in a big way, and that Gemma Tremayne Jewellery would soon be born!

Tell us how your chronic illness/mental health has effected your life

My chronic illness has effected my life in what I would consider to be a big way. I don't feel it has negatively affected my career, because since I was 15 years old, I have always wanted to have my own creative business. Also, as much as I loved model making, it wasn't a perfect fit for me, and I knew it was only something I wanted to do until I figured out exactly what it was that I was put here to do! But, being ill all the time takes its toll on your mental health, and I think that has been the hardest thing for me to cope with. We seem to live in a society where illness is seen as a weakness, and that can really affect our self esteem if we suffer with chronic illness. Not being able to turn up to work, week after week after week has been incredibly hard, and isn't how I pictured life in my 20's.

There have been times where I have been very depressed, and battling through day to day life in so much pain, has really drained me and made me feel like a complete failure. But after a few years of fighting it, as crazy as it sounds, I'm now actually quite grateful for my chronic illness, and what it has taught me. Being ill regularly (or indeed constantly) really makes you look at life from a different perspective, and it makes learning from an early age to grasp every opportunity that you get, and to prioritise what is important to you.

When you're ill a lot, you realise that you simply don't have the time and energy to expel on things that don't matter to you, and this really helped me to figure out my values as a person. Those values later went on to form the basis of Gemma Tremayne Jewellery. I have found that once I stopped fighting my chronic illness, and started working with it and accepting it, that I am so much happier, and indeed healthier! In fact, now, I really don't think of my illness often, and don't see it as a problem, but I think it takes a while to get yourself to that place.

How has learning a new skill helped you? And what are the benefits of trying a new creative hobby?

I am a big believer in learning new skills, and I always have been! I think sometimes in life (we've all been there) it can be easy to get stuck in day-to-day life and daily stresses, and feel a little stuck. It usually only takes a very small change to get us back to feeling more energetic and like ourselves, and I am a huge advocate for using creative hobbies to get us out of that place.

Creative hobbies are not only a form of therapy in themselves (in that we can use them to process our emotions), but also help with self esteem issues, and relaxation. It's so rewarding to look back at a creative project that you've made and see progress, it can be a real boost to our happiness (and so our health!) and self-esteem. For me, taking up jewellery making provided me with a distraction from my pain and depression, but in turn also helped to cure the depression, by reminding me that I am not chronic migraine, I just suffer with chronic migraine. It helped me to realise that I do have the ability to make things and do things, and be productive and successful, I just have to do that on my own terms, not anybody else's.

"I have met so many people who can't work full time because of their illnesses, but have ended up creating the most extraordinary creative businesses in response to their illnesses..."

As a self-taught silversmith, what resources did you use to help you?

The first book I bought when I first looked into silversmithing was 'Jewellery Making-A Complete Course for Beginners' by Jinks McGrath. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone wanting to start silversmithing, but who doesn't know where to start! This book contains brilliant, easy to follow instructions on how to make simple projects, and also includes a beginners overview on different jeweller's tools, from files to rolling mills!

I used this book to make my first 3 projects (I think in 2017) and then went on to buy more books on different topics which I felt were relevant to my style. Even in the days of digital media, I find books so useful, because I can have them open on my bench beside me. However, that said, I have also joined many Facebook Groups such as the Society of British Jeweller's, Let's Make Jewellery, and the Sisterhood of Metalsmiths, which I have found to be amazing communities, and so helpful whenever I've needed to ask advice.

I also highly recommend Andrew Berry's Youtube Channel 'At the Bench'. Andrew does some incredible videos on SO many different jewellery making techniques which are really helpful for those of us who can't get to silversmithing classes, or maybe can't afford a class. I am also a huge fan of the work of Jen Carrington who is a creative business coach over at www.jencarrington.com, and has some fantastic advice for big-hearted creatives who are trying to find their way in the work and get their work out there.

"I think for years I have always compared myself to other people, and wanted to please everyone, and this has absolutely been my own downfall..."

What are the main challenges you face with running a handmade business?

Running any sort of business presents a tonne of challenges, but I feel that running a handmade business is even more of a challenge. I think the main challenge with running a creative business is balance. As a solo-preneur I am responsible for everything, which means that I do everything for my business at the moment, from designing, sourcing materials, and making... All the way through to website development, social media and marketing.

It can be really hard sometimes to strike a balance, between business, health and home life. What I have learned so far though, is not to overload my days with too much to do, to be realistic, and to just accept where I'm at. Sometimes it can be really easy to focus on where I want to be, instead of how far I've come, and that really doesn't help the search for balance. There is always so much to do, and so much to worry about, but 16 months into running my business I've learned to trust and enjoy the journey, and accept that I'm doing the best I can.

Tell us about your self-care tips and your thoughts on putting your health and happiness first

This really goes hand-in-hand with your previous question. When I was younger, I was absolutely terrible at self care, and since being ill I have come to realise just how important it is. I am now well aware that some of my health issues have previously been made a lot worse, purely because of stress and a lack of self care, so it's something I try to prioritise now.

I now listen to my body, and I always try to rest if I think that's what my body needs. It can be hard, because I'm currently still working a part time job where I'm on my feet all day and night, but I know on my jewellery making days not to push myself too much. Probably my most common form of self care is just to have a little creative time, in order to recharge. But it can also be as simple as exercising, or getting out in nature, both of which I find really beneficial and have really helped my health issues.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to put your health and happiness first, above everything else. For years I worked in stressful jobs which made me unhappy and really unwell, and I regret that now. I wished I'd have got out sooner, and prioritised myself. I think it's a common misconception that self-care is 'selfish', but that couldn't be further from the truth. We all need self care in order to function at our best, and keep our physical and mental health in the best shape they can be. I think it's also important to understand that self care looks totally different to different people. For some, it's a walk with loved ones, or a cup of tea, to others it could be playing a musical instrument, or spending an hour at the gym. You shouldn't feel like you have to conform to someone else's ideals, just spend 30-minutes to an hour a day doing something purely for you. It doesn't take long to feel the benefits!

What is the best advice you have ever received?

This is a great question, and I've had to have a good think about this. But, the best advice I have ever received came from my husband, Matthew. I met my husband 6 years ago, and he has been a huge support in every aspect of my life, sticking by me when I was really ill, and when I was seeing a private therapist.

When I was at my most unwell, he would get me into the car and drive me an hour away to the coast, knowing that the sea makes me feel calm, and happy. He has always really understood who I am, and what I want to achieve, and his advice has always been very straightforward: “Be Yourself”.

I think for years I have always compared myself to other people, and wanted to please everyone, and this has absolutely been my own downfall. Matt has helped me realise that there really is nothing good to be said for 'fitting in' with the crowd and trying to please everyone, and that only when you stray away from the path, can you make amazing things happen. This advice has always been very important not only to me personally, but also to the very foundations which I have built my business on. I believe that everyone can be truly remarkable, you just have to have the courage to pursue what you love, even when other's think what you're doing is wrong, or stupid, or it's already been done before.

Trust yourself.

What advice would you give to those with a chronic illness, wishing to start a new hobby such as jewellery making?

I don't have much advice here, other than, do it!! Seriously, you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. I have met so many people who can't work full time because of their illnesses, but have ended up creating the most extraordinary creative businesses in response to their illnesses.

Sometimes chronic illness is really your superpower, rather than your downfall! And even if you don't want a business, having creative hobbies really is a beautiful way of bringing some light into your life, and making you happy.

What has your experience been with the jewellery making community?

The jewellery making community is amazing!

One of the things I love about being a jeweller is the community surrounding it, because we never had anything like that within the model making industry. I think that jewellery making is probably one of the most diverse crafts it is possible to find, and the term encompasses a whole load of disciplines from bead-work to fold-forming to stone-setting to enameling.

You could spend a lifetime learning jewellery making and still not even be close to knowing all there is to know. But the jewellery making community are so welcoming and very encouraging, and I find that most people are always happy to help you if they can see that you are keen to learn. I think that there is a lot of collaboration that happens within the jewellery industry, and it's great to see!

What is something you wish you knew before starting your business?

This is another good question! I'd have to say, that I wish I knew how mentally strong you have to be to set up a business on your own. Just in the sense that it can be a very isolating thing to do (and still amazing!) and so you have to constantly trust yourself, trust your instincts and learn from your mistakes.

I wish I'd known early on that there is no right or wrong path, that we are all building very different businesses with very different values, and that we will all get there in our own way and at our own pace! I have to day though, I've learned so much and it's a fantastic journey.

"Jewellery is all about emotional connection for me, which is what made me want to take the leap as a business..."

What are your favourite things about owning your own business?

I love constantly learning! I love learning about materials, manufacturing techniques, marketing techniques... Everything.

My business satisfies me in a way that an employed job never has in terms of learning. My absolute favourite thing about having my own business though, is being able to put my own work and ideas out into the world and see someone else fall in love with them. I remember it felt really scary to begin with, especially at my first craft fair. It sort of felt like I had my soul exposed on the table in front of me, and that at any moment someone could come along and totally destroy it. Of course that never happened, but I remember feeling vulnerable. Now, I love to see my clients buying jewellery that their partner has fallen in love with, and knowing how special that piece of jewellery will be to them. Jewellery is all about emotional connection for me, which is what made me want to take the leap as a business. I think being able to associate a piece of jewellery with a loved one, or a feeling or a special moment in your life, is just the most magical thing!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

First and foremost, happy! I feel I have learned so much about health and happiness in the last few years, that I will never let myself be that unhappy again. And I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to learn that lesson in my early twenties, rather than later in life. The last few years have been the most remarkable journey and I've met some amazing people, and really grown as a person with the help of Matt, who I married earlier this year. In 10 years time though, Matt and I would absolutely love to be seeing Gemma Tremayne Jewellery in shops and galleries across the UK, and maybe featured in some magazines too, as well as continuing to build a community and sell online. I hope that Gemma Tremayne Jewellery will continue to grow as it has done, and I of course have some plans in place, but I'm super excited to see how they unfold! 

Visit Gemma's website: www.gemmatremayne.com

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