Inspiring : Marijke Arkley {surface design}

Marijke Arkley counts her experiences in the traditional textile workshops of India as one of the most inspiring things she has ever done. Surprisingly then, at first glance her own textile designs sit in remarkable contrast to the intricacy and flamboyance of those traditional designs. With their abstract geometries in black and white, they are reminiscent of the work of Bauhaus pioneers, Gunta Stolzl and particularly Anni Albers, and Marijke says that they are indeed amongst her most favourite weavers.


marijke arkley - velden handwoven cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – handwoven cushion


Marijke’s work is the sum of many experiences. It was while she was at uni at RMIT that she won the Tranzbiz award, which took her to India to visit weaving mills, weaving co-ops, embroiders, hand-tufters and to see block printing first hand. “It was quite an incredible experience and opportunity that I will never forget. The idea was the range of woven fabrics I designed would be put into production by a weaving co-op, but unfortunately funding ran out before this could happen. It was such an amazing idea and way of supporting local artisans. The trip was incredibly eye-opening and inspiring.”

After graduating in textile weaving in 2008, she went to work for an international carpet manufacturer as a designer of custom-made commercial carpets. “Having clients who were predominantly architects and interior designers was an invaluable experience. The company was global, so I learnt a lot particularly from working with the Indian design studio. Being able to pass on briefs to someone in another country whose first language is not English is quite challenging but I learnt a lot about communication from this experience.”

The company relocated her to Sydney which gave her further industry experience, but it also had its drawbacks. “I was really missing weaving and working full time in a creative role was not allowing me to explore my own creative ideas as much as I would have liked too. I took the plunge and resigned, which gave me the time to think a lot about what I wanted to do next; there are not a lot of design jobs in Australia for Textile Designers so I decided that it was time to try my hand at my own business. Around the same time, my partner and I (both originally from Melbourne) were feeling that it was time to move on from Sydney. We had had been floating the idea of moving overseas around for a while and by the end of 2012 we decided that Amsterdam was our next stop.  It was really exciting decision to make! I took my loom over with me and felt so inspired by what was around me.


marijke arkley - velden throw - handwoven

marijke arkley – velden collection – handwoven throw


marijke arkley - velden handwoven cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – handwoven cushion


It was the stimulus for her current collection ‘Velden’. Flying over the Netherlands, she was struck by the beauty of the green fields and the block patterns made by the controlled farm grids.“The grids that I was seeing from the sky really stuck in my mind, they were textile designs waiting to be woven, with canals, roads, fences and lines of trees running across and through the middle of the fields. It was really beautiful.”

For this collection, she wanted to expand past weaving and felt that the designs would translate well into screen printing. “Branching out into screen printed products was scary and exciting, it is a completely different medium to hand woven and lends itself to a different range of applications. Coming from a background predominately focused on hand woven fabrics the parameters of screen printing proved to be a new and interesting challenge. It was definitely rewarding to see the results.” The individual quality of her work continues to flow through screenprints and woven pieces alike, and all her textiles are hand finished and made into homewares in Australia.


marijke arkley - velden broken stripe cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – broken stripe cushion


marijke arkley - velden stripe cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – stripe cushion


marijke arkley - velden junction cushion

marijke arkley – velden collection – junction cushion


The business side of things has been a steep learning curve for her. While she had plenty of industry experience, it was the financial side of things, and the whole idea of branding that had her stumped. So in 2014 she did a short course in Small Business Management at RMIT, which she describes as being like a condensed version of NEIS. “It was really great. I had no background in financials and this has taught me the basics and I do have a good accountant to call if I ever get stumped!” Branding is something she has also reached out for help with. “My partner comes from a creative background so being able to bounce ideas off him is great. He helps me out with styling and we worked on my branding together. It was the first project we collaborated on and I think it came together really well.”

You can see more of Marijke’s textiles on her site,


marijke at work

marijke at work


Inspiring : Elizabeth Halpern {surface design}

One of the biggest struggles for freelancers, as designer Elizabeth Halpern and her freelance photographer husband know well, is the financial uncertainty of being independent artists. As she says, it can be “incredibly stressful at times.” But she’s been working at it for more than 18 years, and she’s still going strong.


elizabeth halpern - cocktail flowers - reds

elizabeth halpern – cocktail flowers – reds


elizabeth halpern - cocktail plaid - pinks 1

elizabeth halpern – cocktail plaid – pinks 1


elizabeth halpern - cocktail dots - pinks 2

elizabeth halpern – cocktail dots – pinks 2


Elizabeth’s work is a mix of translucent layers in muted rich hues, influenced by drawings, collage, papercuts and more. She uses several methods to work around a central theme, before moving into Photoshop or Illustrator to create the collection, “and inevitably I get ideas that don’t really fit that group or collection and I will save them or start another group of prints at the same time. Then things get complicated as finishing and finalizing multiple prints at a time can get tedious. I get restless and impatient for everything to be done so I can move on!” All within her workspace, which she describes as “controlled chaos rather than super organized.”


elizabeth halpern - paisley block print pinks

elizabeth halpern – paisley block print pinks


Elizabeth originally studied architecture in college, thinking at the time that design school would be a good mix for her creative and technical interests and abilities. “I loved it and it was a great design education, but I realized towards the end of my program that architecture specifically wasn’t really my passion. After graduation, I switched gears and pursued work in fashion, knowing somehow that I could find my way towards a creative career in design that was right for me.”


It was her first job out of college that she counts as the gamechanger for her.  


It was while working in NYC at J.Crew as a design assistant, that her boss encouraged her to move into textile design. “This was right at the beginning of when digital design technology was being implemented in fashion companies. Up to that point textile designs were painted by hand, either in-house or using studios, and I found the whole process fascinating. I made the move into textile design, learning traditional and digital techniques and also went back to school, taking courses specific to textiles and fashion.”

A few more jobs, and a move to freelancing around her area gave her a ton of experience over the next few years with styles, techniques, and how to deal with clients. However, it was when she and her husband decided to move out of NYC and start a family that things started to get tougher. “Most existing clients weren’t interested in working with me remotely. I needed to find new clients and a new way to work, but I definitely didn’t have a plan on how to do it.” Modern Print Craft started around 2010, with a new-found focus on marketing her creative output.


elizabeth halpern - oceana whirligigs

elizabeth halpern – oceana whirligigs


elizabeth halpern - paisley feather medallion

elizabeth halpern – paisley feather medallion


Getting your online presentation right is a vital part of marketing. And living with a photographer, Elizabeth knows this one too well – she says “it’s harder than it looks to get great images.” She uses lots of images on her own blog, so when it comes to photography, she advises two things – don’t be afraid to seek help, and don’t forget to self-edit. “Multiple images of essentially the same thing are a waste. Each photo should serve a purpose and add to the story.” Clarity is something she aims for always. “When styling and creating my website, I always aim to keep it simple, clean and uncluttered with clear and easy to use navigation.”

Another important thing for Elizabeth was to ensure the business was a separate identity. “I have created designs for so many other brands and their products that using a distinct business name has been helpful for me and makes it easy when I am creating new prints to think in terms of the Modern Print Craft “brand”.”

Time management is always a struggle. One of the hardest things is “simply knowing how to juggle the different aspects of running my business; freelance work, original art and design, marketing, technical support and the financial management are all done “in house” by me. If I have a deadline or work for a specific client or a specific project, I’m fine.  When I don’t have that, prioritizing which aspect of my business to focus on at any one time is a challenge – there is no playbook to go by and no way to know I’m working my business in the best way.

Being able to share skills with others has been a useful strategy. “Since my husband is also self-employed as a photographer, we do have each other as sounding boards and can share resources. He donates his photography skills to my business, as well as teaching me some techniques so I can use my own camera and not need him for every single photograph! I designed and built his website and have begun to help him out with social media and some marketing strategies as well.”


elizabeth halpern - vintageoceana

elizabeth halpern – vintageoceana


elizabeth halpern - woodcut 2

elizabeth halpern – woodcut 2


“I’ve been lucky to learn a lot from others throughout my life, my education and career, but there isn’t one piece of advice that jumps out at me as being the best ever. It’s a little quirky, but I like to collect quotes that I find humorous, wise or simply inspiring, and I have a Pinterest board for new finds. A recent favorite, especially for when things get a little overwhelming, is from the poet, T.S. Eliot.


“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” – T.S.Eliot


You can find more of Elizabeth’s work in her Spoonflower shop, modernprintcraft, and on her site,


THE 10 things to get you flying on Instagram : Part 3
10 things instagram part 3


Oh hey! You’re still with us? Welcome to the third post in this series on getting started with Instagram. 😀

In Part 1, we looked at how to write a great Bio – you only have 150 characters, so what you say needs to be to the point and interesting to potential followers. We also looked at your images – because images are what it’s all about, hey! We investigated what sorts of images should you be posting, how often, and some photography tips to make sure your photos are beautiful. In Part 2, we explored the types of people you might like to follow for inspiration, and how to build up your own following through following others, through hashtags and by connecting it with your other social media. We also looked at sharing other people’s photos (which is a great thing of course – the good stuff should be shared!), and how to do that in an ethical way so that everyone wins.

Today’s post is about engaging with your Instagram community, because (a) it’s social media, and (b) that’s how you build your followers and turn them into loyal, paying customers.




Like all social media, it’s not all about you. When your followers like your images a lot, they’ll often take the time to write a comment. So be nice to them and say thank you! Let them know they’re appreciated. You need to mention them by their Instagram handle – @theirname – for them to see your reply though.

More engagement creates a sense of community, so think of questions you can ask them, or post something thought-provoking like a great quote. Sparking conversations in this way is good for everyone – you get to know your followers a bit better too.

Hashtags again! As mentioned in Part 2, they’re great to help others to find you in the first place. But they can be used in lots of other ways too – for instance, create a hashtag that your followers can contrbute to. FatMumSlim has the long-running and extremely popular #fmsphotoaday, and she publishes a list of daily photo prompts on her blog. Jess Van Den of CreateAndThrive has recently started the very beautiful #MakerKinMonday – it’s a lovely opportunity to share the work of other artists/makers you admire. Spreading the good stuff around is beneficial for everybody – those makers you admire will be chuffed you love their work so much!



Running a contest or giveaway is a great way of getting exposure for your Instagram account and your business. There are lots of ways you can so this, but the important thing is to make sure everybody is clear on the terms and conditions. These are things such as such as what they have to do to enter, the deadlines, and when the winners will be announced. You can put the basic entry requirements into the slide (use another app capable of adding text to your image, such as PicsArt or MadeWithStudio), and in the text of your post, you can also direct them to your website page that has a full list of terms and conditions.

A competition can be as simple as putting up a photo of one of your items and say ‘Like’ the photo to win the item. You ask them to comment on your photo too, and this can also be a great opportunity to get valuable feedback.

If you want to increase your followers, you can say that one of the requirements of entry is for your followers to tag a friend in the comments, and this will increase your organic traffic. If those friends like what they see, they’ll follow you too!

You can ask them to repost one of your images (using one of the many repost apps) and tag you for an entry to win.

You can create a special hashtag, and ask followers to participate using your products in photos or creative situations where your products might be used. They will need to tag you too, so that you can track their entry. For instance, I might ask them to put up a picture of them with one of my bags in an exotic location, and use the special hashtag #tractorgirlonholidays. They would also have to tag me @tractorgirlmakes so that I know they’ve entered. Add extra hashtags to ensure the comp gets outside attention, such as #instagramgiveaway, #giveaway, #contest, and #(YourBrandName). This not only provides better exposure, it’s also great for tracking the spread of the competition.

Importantly, don’t make your hashtags too long or complicated! They can get misspelled and therefore lost, and if they’re too hard to remember, your  followers can just give up and not bother.

Instagram has a few fairly basic, sensible guidelines for running comps as well, so do read them.



I must confess I haven’t explored this on Instgram as yet, but I most certainly will in the not too distant future! And here’s why.

At SociallySorted, founder Donna Moritz interviewed a number of people who have made huge gains in their businesses through using social media. LOTS of them said that video and moving images were particularly great, because of their ability to grab attention. The people she spoke to included travel bloggers, chocolate makers, and a zoo. Truly! The short snippet of a brand new baby hippo is a winner.

Instagram allows you up to 15 seconds of video – which doesn’t sound like a long time, but it is more than enough to get your message across if you have a mesmerising image and/or use a bit of smart editing. You don’t always have to make new material either – some suggested repurposing some of your old YouTube footage, because your YouTube watchers are not necessarily the same folk as on your Instagram. (Of course, take that one step further, and share your YouTube footage straight to Facebook too!)

If you haven’t got any old YouTubes hanging around (I’m putting my hand up here), what can you take a video of? Same as for your photos of course – show off some of your process! A video of your beautiful workspace! People LOVE seeing behind the scenes. Another fantastic idea is to demo one of your products, or answer some FAQs. (If you’re feeling up to it, when you share your workspace you can even stick yourself in front of the camera and say hi! Your customers will love connecting to a real person.)

Video on Instagram has a couple of great features too. You can scroll through your video on IG and choose a still from the video to be the cover photo, in order to make it more enticing to viewers. If your video is more than 15 seconds long, you can choose which segment to show, and you can also also add any of Instagram’s filters to convey a particular mood.

Another advantage is that it integrates with Facebook (because FB owns IG) so that it plays in-line and people don’t have to click out of Facey to watch.

ALSO in the moving picture category is Flipagram. This allows you to combine a number of images into a flipbook-style slide sequence, and this is great for lots of situations. For instance, you can use it to create a short portfolio of your work. Or, when you’ve got a large number of images from an event (a market, a conference, etc), rather than annoy your followers with a million posts all at once, stick them all into a Flipagram and then do a single post.



When you’re really stuck for time, and/or you just want to get super-organised with your social media, you can schedule all your posts up on Latergramme, and even better you can use it to organise and schedule multiple Instagram accounts if you have them!

Iconosquare is my all-time fave Instagram managing tool. It works on your desktop, so it’s super easy to see your last hour or two of feed, and super super easy to like and comment, so you can engage with the people you follow quite quickly. Better still, it has a fantastic array of statistics for you to explore, showing you what are the best times for you to post, your most popular posts, your growth rate, who’s unfollowed you (this is fab because you can have a think about WHY they’ve unfollowed you and whether you need to lift your game), and heaps more. Best of all, it’s free. (*Although they do have plans to split some of the services off to premium users only later in the year, so get onto them now.)



Lastly, here’s a couple of great infographics on other ways of engaging your followers –

* Quicksprout – How to increase your Instagram engagement This has some great tips on the types of images that get the most likes and shares, and has lots of great tips for hashtags too.

* Fast Company – how the most successful brands dominate Instagram – some excellent ways to use Instagram, including showing off customers using your products, and some great statistics on why Instagram is better for business than some other platforms.

* TWMG – A fab infographic on how to create an optimal feed .



SPAM ( :( and other nasties)

As with all other SM, there are spammers. Spammers are yukky. Don’t be one of them. And if you see it report it.
You can delete comments on your own postsreport abuse, and block  spammers.

Keep Instagram nice for everyone!


OK, that’s it for this three part post. Hope it’s helped you make your Instagram experience just that bit more beautiful! As always, if you’ve got any questions about anything, just let me know in the comments below, and I WILL find you an answer! 

And you can connect with me on Instagram over at @tractorgirlmakes. See you there 😀 😀 😀

Julie X

THE 10 things to get you flying on Instagram : Part 2
10 things instagram part 2


Instagram is great fun, it’s true! But if you’re using Instagram for business, you really need to be strategic about how you use it – you do not have unlimited amounts of time to faff about, no matter how much fun it is. These tips are aimed at helping you get the most out of it, by pinpointing the most effective methods of building your audience and your brand style.

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about WHY Instagram was great for business – including its rapidly growing rate of new users, and the fact that everything you post gets seen by everyone who follows you, unlike Facebook and its tricky and limiting algorithms. This post is about how to find your ideal followers on this great social media platform, to get your best business advantage.



It’s true that the fastest, ethical way to build a following on Instagram is to follow other users and interact with them. However, don’t just follow anyone! You need to concentrate on the people who fit your brand. Not only do you feel way more comfortable with and genuine about interacting with them, you are more likely to attract them as a customer.

But Instagram for business is not all about having customers either – there are a few types of people you’ll want to follow, including those that totally inspire you (so many good ones! but some faves include @LisaMessenger, @sydney_jewellery_school and @swallowsanddamsons), and your peers (people around the same business level as you – great for cheering you on your biz journey!).

Don’t go overboard on following tons of people in a short space of time. There’s no official word from Instagram, but anecdotally there are several folk who say that there’s a limit of about 150 new followings per hour, and if you go faster than that your account will be limited, stopped, or removed. In any case, there is an official total limit of 7,500 users you can follow with your account now, and Instagram states that this is to stop spam and bots.

From this post on Shopify, the rates of follow-back increased substantially in direct proportion to the amount of effort you went to in interactions – i.e., for just a follow, the author got a 14% follow-back rate; for a follow and a like or two on their images, it jumped to 22%, and for a follow, some likes and a comment, it jumped again to 34%. But when you’re commenting, don’t just stick in something lame like “lovely” or “cute”. Spend some time in crafting something a bit meaningful, and a better response is guaranteed.



Instagram doesn’t actively promote sharing, and they have no tools to do so within their app. They DO always encourage people to post original content, and they care about copyright, which is all good!

Of course it’s great to give props where credit is due, and sometimes there is totally beautiful stuff that you’ll want to share. There are also times when the people you follow actively encourage you to repost (for instance with a competition). However, don’t just take a screenshot and feed that in, because a lot of users scroll through pretty quickly and it can kinda look like it’s your photo if they don’t bother to stop and read. But there’s ways to share and keep everyone happy. And you should share – other people love being recognised for what they do! I’ve been taking part in an initiative by @CreateAndThrive, called #MakerKinMonday, where every Monday you share an image by another maker/designer that you admire, and also describe what it is about their work that you love. It’s fab! You get to see a whole bunch of beautiful new work from makers around the world, and everybody wins.

There are several apps that you can use to repost if you wish. These are great, because not only do they help people to share the good stuff, it’s also very obvious it’s a repost because they add a noticeable graphic to the image to let everyone it’s a repost, and they also give a text credit to the original Instagrammer. My fave app for this is Repost App. It stamps the image with a graphic, copies over the original text with credits, and also lets you edit that text so you can add further info if you want before reposting it into your timeline.



This is almost a no-brainer. These days, you can set up most of your social media accounts so that when you post on one, it will automatically feed through and post on your other sites as well, saving you a lot of time in getting your images and messages out to all your followers.

On Instagram, it’s super easy to connect it up – click on the little cog icon at the top right of the screen, and scroll down to ‘Linked Accounts’. Click through, and it will come up with a list of several popular social media sites. Click on the ones you want; Instagram will ask you to log in to that site, and then just follow the prompts. And if you have more than one Facebook account for instance, you can decide which one you want Instagram to post to.

Then after you’ve set it all up, when you post to Instagram it gives you the option of pushing your image out to your chosen social media sites as well.



Hashtags are a great way of finding other people to follow, and getting other people to find you too. Just click on one, and Instagram will bring up all the images that have been tagged with that word most recently.

There are several lists out there of what are the most frequently used hashtags, but really those sorts of lists are not very helpful. They do include really broad ones, like #photooftheday and #design which are kind of OK, but they also include ones that are next to useless if you’re trying to get like-minded folk to search you out. Who’s going to do a search on #me, #selfie or #day? And as I noted before, you’re not trying to just get numbers, you’re trying to narrow in on your target market – #followme, #like4like, #tagsforlikes aren’t going to cut it either. You want genuine followers who are following because they really like your work – i.e. potential customers; you don’t need random heads or worse, bots.

Using general tags that are a bit more specific to what you do is more useful, for instance #handmade, #kidsclothes, #handmadeaustralia, or #vintagefabric. You can also use ones for things that you find visually interesting, such as #colourlove, #patternonpattern, or #landscape, because chances are if you find those tags interesting, someone else will too and will find you. Another good one to use is your location – e.g. #Australia, #Riverina or #WaggaWagga – so you can help local folk to find you. But only ever use tags that are relevant. What’s the point of tagging your handmade chocolates with #design, just because it’s a popular hashtag? People who search for #design aren’t searching for chocolates, so they’re not going to bother with you (well… maybe. Because chocolate. But you get the idea?).

You can even make up some tags that are completely you, such as #tractorgirlmakesnewtops. I tag all of my clothes with this on my IG account, so that people can easily click on that and see all of my clothes together, instead of having to scroll through my feed – and I also mention it in my profile blurb.

Don’t get carried away with hashtags – around 4 or 5 is enough. Those posts with around 20 look like you’re screaming for attention. Take some time to check out what hashtags other people in your niche are using too, and use them as well. When you’ve compiled a list of relevant hashtags, note them all down somewhere (like an Evernote file) so that next time you post something you can just copy and paste – you’re not scratching your brain trying to remember what the hell all those good tags were.




That’s all for today, but I’ll be back with the third and final post in this Instagram series real soon! (Part 1 is here.) Part 3 will be all about how to engage with your community (and you absolutely most of all want to build a sense of community into your business), so stay tuned…

And in the mean time, catch me over on Instagram at tractorgirlmakes. Let me know you found me via the blog – I’m always up for a chat and I love connecting with you all!


Have you got any burning questions about Instagram?  Please ask away! Let me know in the comments below and I will find you an answer. Guarantee! 

With love, Julie.