“Just be yourself and that will attract the right energy”

Lydia Lane | Sew She Stitches Co

Lydia Lane is the one-woman show behind the slow fashion brand ‘SewSheStitchesCo’. It’s a cloudy Sunday morning when I call her and she’s sitting in her bedroom – she’s currently staying at her parents’ house in a small village in the Scottish Borders. Even though she’s isolated from her friends, she’s really close with her parents, so it’s nice to be home in the countryside. 

How did it all start? When Lydia’s older sister finally passed her driving test, Lydia wanted to give her more than just a card to celebrate the occasion so decided to pick up a needle and thread and design a T-shirt for her instead. Shortly after that, SewSheStitchesCo was born in November 2019. She describes her brand as more of a hobby than a proper business, and that’s exactly how she wants it to be. 

There’s no need to discuss goals and projects with Lydia, she’s very much relaxed and grounded, letting things come her way and seeing how they work out. “The only thing I want to be is happy. I don’t think I can measure success by certain goals”.

All her embroidery is hand-stitched onto the garments and this is not a fast process. It can take anything from 4 days to a week for one piece. The less detailed designs can take a couple of hours but intricate designs like her adaptation of ‘The Great Wave’ and Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ take about 4-7 days – she backtracks and softly adds that the Van Gogh can now be done much quicker because she makes this pattern so often. 

Lydia is pleasantly surprised by her own talents with a needle and thread, especially considering how little sewing practice she’d had before – other than the odd school project where the teacher had to help untangle her whenever a bobbin needed threading or there was a knot in the stitching. She actually taught herself how to do embroidery and confesses that she still doesn’t really know the names of the stitches but has a few books somewhere around the house if she ever needs to look something up. 

Although Lydia hadn’t any idea of embroidery beforehand, her enthusiasm shines when we discuss her creativity. She can also knit and crochet but with those crafts, she finds that you can’t just sit down to do them without having to go and get all the equipment. “I’ve got a very gung-ho attitude when it comes to creative stuff”. She fondly remembers once seeing a beautiful cake in the shape of a Le Creuset pot and thought it would be a great present for Mother’s Day. She wouldn’t generally consider herself a baker but why not? How hard could it be? Surely she could apply her creativity to baking too, so she decided to give it a go! It turned out awful. 

Thankfully, unlike baking, Lydia continued pursuing embroidery and found it to be much more therapeutic than other hobbies. In November 2019 she set up her Etsy shop on a whim and with the lockdown in full swing throughout 2020, people took to online shopping and that was when things really picked up for Lydia.

She knew she couldn’t continue her business with her chilled mindset and took some time to work out a system and invest in new packaging, tailored to reflect her brand and she’s delighted with how well it’s going. “It’s great, I love it. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done”. 

Early on when she started setting up SewShe StitchesCo, Lydia bought an enormous amount of silky satin material. “I don’t know why I got it to be honest”, but not wanting to waste the fabric, she decided to make scrunchies and hair-bands. Originally she would hand sew all of these and it took nearly an hour per scrunchy, which wasn’t viable, but luckily she has a beautiful bright blue sewing machine that is her pride and joy, even if it was slightly daunting at first. 

Having gotten over the fear of the sewing machine, Lydia would now love to learn more about free-hand machine embroidery and found a course in Glasgow but sadly due to the pandemic, the studio had to shut and the lessons couldn’t go ahead so she’s had to put a pin in that idea for the time being. 

For now Lydia is appreciating the time off over the summer to focus on her own ideas. “You know when the inspiration hits and you’re like ‘wow, this is the best moment ever’?”. She’s excited to show me a floral pattern on a pink sweater that she’s working on – the pink flowers are starting to become a trademark emblem on her designs, inspired by the blossom in full bloom at this time of year. She’s a beautiful illustrator too and often draws pictures before transferring them to fabric – admittedly, she still uses her biro to do this but she is looking out for a proper fabric pen, maybe one day!

We sit talking for a while and she teaches me about some techniques for embroidery. One of her favourite things to do is to adapt portraits of pets and stitch them into items of clothing like hats or t-shirts. She would love to practice this technique a bit more – it’s a really lovely idea and always gets a good reception. 

Her brand and creative ideas are constantly evolving and she’s happy with how it’s all looping together. “I started off embroidering Primark tees but I really wanted to get my own brand on it”, which she found hard to do when ‘basic stretch’ was stained across the label. Nowadays there is a more considerate and eco approach to all parts of her brand. “My suppliers are amazing! They have 4 different ranges, all promoting different things like carbon neutral, or fair wear”. Lydia normally buys from the carbon neutral category where the t-shirts are at least 40% organic cotton, the rest is recycled plastic. 

Lydia also proudly re-uses her delivery bags from other items she’s bought. “Sometimes my packages can look a bit [insert icky face] on the outside” but she assures me that they’re lovely on the inside. This also trims the costs and helps keep the prices of her garments affordable. 

Between moving back home, the pandemic, starting a part-time job, studying, and keeping up with the growing demand for her hand-embroidered clothes, how does she balance everything? “I do the thing that I enjoy the most, which is sewing”. There’s no surprise and no shame when Lydia looks away and grimaces, “I won’t lie… I think some of my uni work has been neglected”.

Lydia is due to start back at Stirling University in September, having decided to weave a different future for herself. Initially when she was applying for uni, she was feeling a lot of pressure, especially as her older sisters had also gone to Glasgow and Edinburgh for their studies.

Lydia received her unconditional offer from the prestigious University of Edinburgh and darted up to Edinburgh to study German and History but wasn’t so hooked on it. “I just wasn’t in the right mindset”. It didn’t help that a lot of her friends had settled on Edinburgh too and she could see how seamlessly they had integrated to the new environment, but that just wasn’t the case for Lydia, “they were happy; they weren’t lonely; they weren’t missing home”.

Bracing herself against everyone’s reaction that she didn’t enjoy the University of Edinburgh, Lydia decided to put her fraying mental health first and left Edinburgh after finishing her first year. She did a lot of research into the universities she originally overlooked and knew that Stirling University would be the right choice for her. “It’s a really beautiful place and the mental health support was really good, which was really important”.

Still feeling the knot in her stomach from Edinburgh, she decided to defer a year before going back to university and found a classroom assistant job, which set her up quite well for her new beginning: primary teaching. Her mum is a childminder, which made Lydia consider the move to primary teaching. She’s always happy to help her mum and is used to being around children all the time – something she missed when she was in Edinburgh. 

Due to the coronavirus, Lydia unfortunately lost her job as classroom assistant but was quickly able to secure a part-time job at Morrisons, who were hiring at the door to cope with the apocalyptic shoppers. 

Despite losing her classroom assistant job, Lydia is much happier since the lockdown hit. Of course she recognises it’s very privileged to say that, but for Lydia, being able to sew and just work without any pressure has done wonders for her mental health. “I’m a different person to the person I was when I was in Edinburgh”. 

When studying on campus during the pandemic, Lydia was one of the more careful students, which caused tension with some of her flatmates who questioned why she was even bothering with uni if she didn’t want to be part of the mass house parties. Between the pandemic and the strain of socialising at university, her confidence has been knocked. Although she’s excited and ready to move back to Stirling, she openly talks about her anxiety to make friends. “I don’t feel like I need more friends but it is something that I worry about. I’m not the type of person that has loads and loads of friends – I need to have a genuine connection there”. 

Prior to starting SewSheStichesCo, Lydia was quite nervous and felt like she was apologising for everything she was doing. She was worried about other people’s perceptions and didn’t dare share any of her designs on her personal instagram account. But then one day she thought about how encouraged she feels when she sees other people doing the things they love. “I think that’s the coolest thing in the world, so why am I believing that [other people] are going to think negatively of me? And if they do, that’s probably their problem”, she says with an assertive edge, radiating with her newfound confidence and strength. 

One of the best things to come out of SewSheStitchesCo is the kindness that people have shown her. “Just people telling me that they like what I’m doing. Any support, any orders”. SewSheStitchesCo has connected her with a lot of new people and after such a long time of doubting herself and apologising, Lydia is starting to rebuild her confidence and come into her own. She trusts that it will work out in a new city and that people will genuinely like her and see that she is actually a cool person. “It’s ok if people don’t like you. Just be yourself and that will attract the right energy”.

Any advice for someone who might also be feeling a weight on their shoulders? “Probably something generic like: ‘Do what makes you happy’”. One thing that she is personally working on is being more forgiving to herself, not comparing herself to others and working towards what she wants. When things don’t go to plan, she’s learning to accept it and go along with it. “I’m on my own path and what I’m doing is making me happy”.

The clouds taper off and the sun peeks through as we talk about our plans for the rest of the day. Lydia glances outside her bedroom window and decides today will be a “nice, chill Sunday”.

You can see all of Lydia’s designs by following her on instagram: @SewSheStitchesCo

All her designs are sold through her Etsy shop, which is updated with new pieces when they’re available – you can ‘Favourite’ the shop to keep an eye out for new releases

All photos belong to Lydia Lane, @SewSheStitchesCo.

“There’s loads of links with acne and depression, so my job as a designer is to try and empower those people”

Iben McMillan | Illustrator & Artist | @ibenmcmillanart

I have a flashbulb memory of my dad collecting me at primary school the day Iben was born. I pulled him along, half-skipping, half-running and jumping around with excitement to get home. Iben probably wouldn’t believe that now – how excited I was to meet her. I don’t actually remember anything else from that day, just that I was excited and happy to meet my little sister. 

I do remember some other key stages though, like when she was learning to walk. I liked to give her little sharp nudges and cry with laughter as she propelled forward, belly-first, her little arms flailing around to keep her balance – only when mum wasn’t watching (sorry, mum).

Photo by Mark Messer – @mxrkmssr

Iben is all grown up now and is sitting at her desk when I call. She lives in Aberdeen and studies Communication Design at Gray’s School of Art. I can see a lot of design posters and pictures tacked to the wall behind her, next to a boho mandala tapestry with fairy lights – it all looks very homely and artsy, but she later explains she wants to take the mandala down because it’s too ‘Oh, I’m at uni’ for her liking, and she hates being the art-student stereotype.

She jokingly chants “Who are ya! Who are ya!” when I suggest doing an introduction but is happy to give me a quick rundown of her art for anyone who isn’t familiar with it already. “My artwork is basically faces, and faces, and faces… abstract… bit of painting… I prefer to paint on canvas with acrylics and I like to make them look as funky as possible, with nice colours!”. You might be surprised to know that Iben actually has a very nice singing voice and probably has perfect tone, but as we’re close, I get treated to an array of difference accents and characters, so the majority of our conversation was conducted in a voice I can only describe as a cross between an eccentric Glaswegian thespian, and Shrek – our childhood hero. 

“I Miss Parties” – @ibenmcmillanart

Iben’s artwork is instantly recognisable and very distinct. When I ask how she would describe it herself, she’s deliberates trying to find the best words that aren’t cliché. “Bold” – a confident start, followed by careful consideration, “…I don’t want to use the word ‘funky’ (because I hate that word), but it fits… I don’t want to say ‘cool’ (even though it is)… don’t want to use the word ‘modern’, don’t want to use the word ‘abstract’… Lively? Colourful? I don’t really know what else to say about it”. It’s all that and more!

Her ever growing collection of faces is very popular with buyers, and has become her signature style but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the original inspiration came from. One artist that Iben does mention is Maggi McDonald – an Australian artist who also enjoys bright colours and statement pieces. Iben holds up some pictures of McDonald’s work that had a huge influence on her when she was creating her college portfolio and sketchbooks, during her studies in Edinburgh. Iben’s style of painting developed from there and she gradually started adding the iconic faces to the striped backdrops. She shows me some pictures of earlier canvases, where she first started experimenting with the faces and there’s a clear difference compared to where she is now. She winces slightly looking back at her early works, “yeah…development – that’s the key word”. 

A more recent painting, “Guy Next Door” – @ibenmcmillanart

The biggest challenge for Iben right now is doing her uni work on top of her own artwork. Her course consists of graphic design, illustration and photography. “People always think ‘it’s just an art course, you just have to draw things’, we’re not just drawing things – we’ve literally had guest speakers who have said ‘if you’re not Graphic Design until you die, then it’s not worth doing’”. There’s a lot of pressure.

In her final year of studies, there’s a lot of work to be done, including several self-managed projects and a lengthy dissertation (the latter was submitted earlier this year). It can take hours, if not days, to finish a commissioned canvas, and Iben feels this time should be going towards her university work instead. How do you balance uni projects and your other artwork? “There’s a guilt – when I’m doing canvases or the tote bags, I feel guilty because I’m not doing uni work”. 


The theme of her main uni project is a campaign to normalise acne. Her mission? “Don’t let your acne stop you from being seen”, she says pointedly, creating a banner in mid-air with her hands. “There’s loads of links with acne and anxiety and depression, so my job as a designer is to try and empower those people”. Iben wants to deconstruct the stigma that spots are unhygienic or ‘un’-anything. Your skin shouldn’t limit your opportunities. She wants people to stop feeling paranoid, and be confident in their skin. She also wants others to be more accepting and understanding, especially in job interviews, or at social gatherings (remember them?), where the first impression is so important. “For now we’re going in a punk direction”, and just as I make the link about reb- “rebelling against beauty standards, yes”, she says rolling her eyes, having discussed it several times with all her tutors and classmates.

To help get the message out there, Iben is looking to contact charities and small businesses to collaborate with them, so if you’re interested – get in touch! This will also be part of her portfolio, which would normally be on display at her university’s art degree show but due to Covid, this will likely be online, which is disheartening.

The current punk idea for Iben’s campaign – @ibenmcmillanart

The last day of uni is fast approaching, which is a nerve-wracking thought for most students but it doesn’t seem to phase Iben. She’s not stressed about what to do with her degree, what kind of job she might like or any of the usual questions fired at graduates-to-be. “I’ve got no idea what’s happening there. I’m just doing my thing”. Very calm and collected. 

Iben doesn’t want to make any solid plans during covid, but she does have a lot of ideas for the future of her artwork and wants to focus more on her own interests. “I want to do some more life drawing because I miss that”. She’s also considering other courses, such as pottery and painting. Job-wise, she has a very practical and level-headed approach, knowing that your first job is rarely the one you stick at. “I don’t think I’ll jump straight into… whatever it is I’m doing”.

Being an artist, the 9-5 office life doesn’t really suit Iben and ideally she would like to follow more of a freelance path. “With more experience, I’m hoping to find more links and make bigger connections”. She’d love to go abroad and do something that involves art – maybe teaching or some voluntary work to get more experience. We talk about the possibilities for a while before she quietly announces that she’s also toying with the idea of a Masters. “Mainly because it’s a secure option, I don’t want to jump into a job just yet”. It’s a tempting idea, especially in the aftermath of a pandemic – maybe another year of study and honing the skills wouldn’t be a bad idea, but it’s a lot of work.

One of Iben’s earlier life drawings, “The Pink Lady” – @ibenmcmillanart

We have a brief intermission as she roots around for her charger. As she disappears from her desk, I spot a tin of Hawick Balls in the background – peppermint flavoured sweets from our hometown. I also have one on the shelves behind me in Berlin, little souvenirs from our parents.

When she returns I ask about her art’s values, and what her paintings mean to her. She cringes at this nightmare question and thinks for a while before eventually shrugging, defeated. “I don’t really have values. If you’re painting, you’re not really painting for others. I pick colours for aesthetic – I don’t really have a plan for them, I just do it… but I definitely like pinks and blues”. 

The new, sell-out tote bags – @ibenmcmillanart

The pink squiggles on her new, now sold-out, tote bags are a twist on her usual designs. They started off as a background idea, but then Iben started adding elements of the faces to them and kept re-working them until she settled on her final design, “so again, it’s just about development” she says in her chirpy, thespian voice.

It’s only March and Iben has already accomplished a lot this year, but it’s not always easy to keep the motivation, and every now and then Iben will get struck by an artist’s block. “l’ll go through phases where I think my creativity has ran out, I can’t do anymore… but then there’s loads to do, you just have to keep doing it. I suppose something comes up when you’re not looking for it, even just a tiny idea”. Usually when Iben is just about to fall asleep, an idea hits her: “something pops in my head and I think ‘I’ll remember this in the morning’, but now I’m like [I have to write this down]”, she says, demonstrating her dishevelled, half-asleep face scribbling down her midnight ideas in bed. 

Our family home, and now many other homes across the world, are filled with Iben’s artwork. She printed her designs on facemasks during the pandemic, she’s collaborated with other creators to feature in art magazines, and she’s just sold her biggest commission to date. So what’s your biggest achievement so far? It’s a tough question. “I am chuffed with my artwork, but I don’t really have a… hmm, I don’t really take a step back I guess, I’m very picky and critical – there’s always one little bit”. 

Standing outside with her biggest commissioned piece to date – @ibenmcmillanart

Her etsy page is in the middle of getting a makeover – lots of new prints and product ideas will be appearing. She has new stickers and is looking into more eco-friendly packaging. She rummages around her desk looking for a large A3 envelope with some secret, new prints and treats me to a sneak peak of the all new, high quality prints and I can tell she’s excited to launch these on her website. Even though I’m her sister (or especially because I’m her sister), I don’t get privileges and she won’t give me any more hints, “just say I’ve got new items coming soon”. 

Any last words? What else do you care about? “Not Tories”.

We leave the interview there but carry on talking. I say ‘talking’ but we actually spent a long time just sitting in silence in our respective rooms, reading or scrolling through our phones with our laptops propped up so we could still see each other. It was almost like being back home, sitting together on the sofa, comfortable in each other’s company.

Obviously I’m very proud of Iben and I know she’s more than capable of taking her next steps by herself, but as her big sister I’ll be here, nudging her along and propelling her forward – hopefully with less arm-flailing and more at her own pace this time (again, sorry mum). 

Please follow Iben’s instagram page @ibenmcmillanart for all the latest updates – there’s going to be a lot happening in the next few months!

You can also visit her etsy page – there are still some items left in her shop and she’s happy to answer any questions. You can favourite the shop with the little ‘heart’ symbol at the top of the page to show your support and make it easier to find when her new works are released.

Cover photo of Iben taken by Mark Messer – @mxrkmssr.

“Epilepsy is more than just flashing lights”.

Jemma Galbraith | Purple Day 2021 

It’s been over two years since Jemma was diagnosed with epilepsy and for ‘Purple Day’ this year we decided to crank up the Zoom call to share her experience.

Epilepsy Scotland describes Epilepsy as “one of the most common serious neurological conditions in the world. It is often defined as the tendency to have repeated seizures which start in the brain. No two people experience epilepsy in exactly the same way. It can affect anyone, irrespective of their age, gender or background, but it is more common in childhood and in later life”.

Jemma hadn’t really spoken about her epilepsy to anyone other than her doctors and jokingly warned that her story could either be “really depressing… or really interesting”. Her friends describe her as positive and confident, and even though it’s a heavy topic to discuss, her positivity remains constant throughout our conversation. 

She first started feeling ill when she was 25 and was diagnosed just after her 26th birthday. On 15th March 2021, she celebrated being 2 years seizure free. 

Information from Purple Day – https://www.purpleday.org/

Jemma remembers the first time she knew something wasn’t right. Prior to falling ill, she worked as a tour guide, driving tour buses around Scotland. She had woken up early to do a tour to Loch Ness and was in the middle of her morning routine: get a coffee, have breakfast, get ready, change clothes etc. She remembers standing in the kitchen, just after making her coffee and the next stage of the routine would be to go through to her bedroom and put her make-up on. However, instead of going back to her room, she came to and realised she was standing in her flatmate’s room at 6:30 in the morning. It was only a 10 second walk from the kitchen to her flatmate’s bedroom but Jemma has no recollection of how she got there. She stood in the doorway confused and admitted to her flatmate, “I have no idea why I’m here, I’m so sorry” and laughed it off, but it did puzzle her and she spent a lot of time trying to piece it together.  

She’d had headaches too but put it down to being tired and overworked – after all it was August, an incredibly busy month for tourism in Edinburgh. When she got home from Loch Ness that day, she went straight to bed and felt fine the next day, and for the next couple of weeks. 

But then something different happened. She was driving home from the gym when a rising nausea washed over her in waves and she started having flushes. “I was really hot and then… my head got really weird? It’s like waves of painful pins and needles, washing over your brain”. She was still fully conscious and in control of her movements but pulled over in case it worsened. “That freaked me out because I was driving – if I lost my memory again, even if for 10 seconds… That’s where I started to panic”. 

At that time, epilepsy wasn’t even on her radar. She’d only heard of the condition through TV programmes and films but she never thought it would happen to her. “I actually thought it was a genetic thing. Of course [on TV] they only show epilepsy in its most extreme version – falling to the floor, convulsing, that type of seizure… and I thought that was the only type of seizure”. She later learned there’s actually a broad range of symptoms and roughly 40 different types of seizures.

After telling her first doctor about her experiences, he advised it was probably just migraines and told her to go to the opticians, but having suffered from chronic migraines as a teenager, Jemma knew this was something else. She returned to the doctors and this time they suggested a neurologist. They weren’t 100% sure but wanted to run some tests. Jemma still felt misunderstood. “In my head, a seizure was when you collapse, lose consciousness, so I thought ‘well, I don’t believe you, but sure, let’s go to the neurologist’”, she said skeptically, convinced they were wrong. 

Information from Epilepsy Scotland – https://www.epilepsyscotland.org.uk/

It took over 6 months to get the official diagnosis – and Jemma was lucky to be diagnosed so quick. 

Most of that six months was waiting – waiting for appointments, waiting for results, different specialists and some more waiting. She had an MRI scan, to check for any brain tumours; an EKG, which checks your heart; and an EEG, where they try to induce a seizure to check the brainwaves. Jemma wasn’t so keen on the latter but they had to do it. 

It was a stressful time and Jemma lightly touches on how frustrating it can be when the people around you have their own opinions of what could be ‘wrong with you’. She explains, “everyone seems to turn into a doctor – ‘no, you don’t have epilepsy’, ‘no, I know a person with epilepsy – he would fall to the floor, you don’t do that’, ‘there’s nothing wrong with you, I’ve not seen you ill’”. None of this was helpful for Jemma. “You’re trying to take in the information, but you’re also trying to take in people’s reactions to it, so you’re trying to manage your own expectations as well as their expectations”. 

Jemma noticed that people also became weary of her and distanced themselves from her, which, although upsetting, she looks at from their point of view and understands their behaviour. People don’t always know what to say in those situations and she reflects that she wasn’t very sociable at that time either, which probably didn’t help, “I don’t hate them, or blame them for it – people react to things differently”. 

“I was actually finally happy when I got the diagnosis. It was a relief”. When the doctors first started suggesting epilepsy, Jemma wanted to know everything about it, and took to Google – even though everyone says not to. She would go through the information thinking “Aw yeah I do have that, aw yeah that is like me… huh, maybe they’re right?”, so when Jemma finally got diagnosed, she took it in her stride and was happy that they could now start trying to fix it. 

The diagnosis did bring about some major changes for Jemma. Due to the risk of seizures (in any form), her driving license was suspended and eventually revoked, so she had to change jobs. When Jemma explained to her boss that she was being tested and was unable to drive tour buses, she was quite taken aback by his response: “Well, there’s nothing more we can do for you then… we’ll just tell people you’re handing in your notice”. Hearing this, she wasn’t sure how she would cover her next rent or pay bills, and in the midst of that stress, she accepted her boss’ answer. It was only later on that she had second thoughts about his response and raised the issue with the HR department under the Equality Act. That dispute went on for over a month, and due to the stress, her seizures tripled during that time.

After a lot of meetings, HR eventually ruled that Jemma could not lose her job on the basis of her illness, and she was moved to the retail shop of the tour company. However, she did not have a good relationship with her manager, and eventually decided to leave. “I wish I had taken some form of legal action, but I was so ill and upset that I couldn’t do it”. Jemma has spoken to others about this and was shocked to find out how often it happens to people with disabilities. As Jemma’s been seizure free for over a year, she has her driver’s license back now – but she won’t be able to drive buses again, and can’t do any kind of work that relies on driving.

Compared to other people with epilepsy though, Jemma hasn’t had to change her lifestyle too much. For the first year, the main focus was controlling the seizures, for which she relied heavily on the medication. Jemma takes medication twice a day, every day, which has had a hugely positive impact – she hasn’t had a seizure since she started the medication, which is an amazing milestone! She does occasionally have ‘off days’ and a few headaches or brain fogs but she’s able to manage the seizures. With her seizures under control, she’s able to try new things and make small changes. She admits she was never really a fan of exercise but with more free time, she was looking to take up new hobbies and decided on outdoor running – “that’s something to keep doing, that helps a lot!” she encourages and then quietly confesses: “to be fair, the doctor said it would help but I didn’t listen”. The headaches reduced, her mood improved and she has much more energy. She also does yoga and pilates and explains why she decided on these: “If anything goes wrong, you’ve got a mat and you’re close to the ground”. Although she seems slightly embarrassed to talk me through this reasoning, she laughs and says that if she were to take ill during the practice, the instructor might just think she’s lazy and terrible at exercise – less attention. 

Generally after receiving potentially life-changing news, the doctors’ advice is to talk to friends and family about it, but Jemma winced at that idea. “I deal with it better by myself, she explains, “I need to process this in my head first, before I deal with other people’s reactions”. Her doctor suggested looking into support groups instead, where you could meet other people with epilepsy and talk to each other. Although this idea didn’t really appeal to Jemma either, she did look into different support groups online and came across epilepsy charities on Facebook, such as Epilepsy Scotland – anybody in Scotland who has epilepsy, or knows someone with epilepsy can join their support group. 

Jemma’s not the type of person that wants to hear cliches like ‘you’ll feel better after a sleep’ or ‘aw, get better soon’, and her description of online support groups is her idea of paradise, where people can moan and rant, ask questions, and just talk to someone else with the same experience – “this I can deal with, this is for me. It’s not a case that you’re looking for sympathy, people will just comment and relate”.

This photo of Jemma marked her first month seizure free

The past two and a half years have been full of ups and downs but now she’s found the balance and is in the best place she’s been in since it all started. “It’s just finding what’s right for you”. Although Jemma has accepted that she has epilepsy, a small part of her likes to think the doctors might still turn round and say, ‘it’s all been a big mistake, it’s not epilepsy’. 

How can other people support someone with epilepsy? “People don’t really know what to say or how to help so the best thing to do is to just ask ‘Is there anything I can do for you? Do you want me to leave you alone?’ Easiest thing is just to speak to the person.” 

Any parting advice or words of wisdom? “Epilepsy is something that needs to be taught about more. Epilepsy is more than just flashing lights and one type of seizure. There needs to be more education and awareness about it”. Then she gasps and frantically blurts out the most important thing to note: “Oh, by the way, don’t stick something in someone’s mouth if they’re having a seizure!”.

Purple Day is celebrated on Friday 26th March 2021. Find out more on their website.

Some charities to follow and support are @EpilepsyScotland & @EpilepsySociety.
Please consider making a donation to Epilepsy Scotland.

Thanks to Epilepsy Scotland for providing the information and statistics.

“I never ever thought I’d be doing this – not in a million years!”

Over Bubbled Water: Erin Scott, Lola’s Lugs

After a small technical glitch on my side, Erin Scott, the friendly face behind Lola’s Lugs, appears on my screen, sitting cross-legged on her bed with a nice mug of hot tea – no sugar, just milk. It’s around lunchtime on Valentine’s Day when we call but she assures me it’s all good, no special plans – she’s actually just back from dropping off some flowers to her gran. 

Despite us sharing the same hometown, and lots of mutual friends, we’ve never actually met and I was keen to learn more about what inspires her designs and the story of Lola’s Lugs, the small yet mighty, woman-owned business, designing and creating earrings from polymer clay. 

Erin Scott, modelling her Lola’s Lugs earrings

It all started with a short TikTok video of someone making polymer clay earrings. Originally Erin decided to give it a go, just as something fun to do for her friends and family, and from there her little hobby turned into a small business, which has grown massively over the lockdown and has sellout drops each month, with customers from the Hebrides to London and even further afield! 

She is humbly surprised at the success of her business – it wasn’t intentional in the slightest, she just wanted to have something to do over lockdown. Once she got into it though, and started following more artists and learning new skills, it really took off. “I just thought I’d put some effort in and see where it goes, and then it just grew from there, it’s mad now!” her eyes widen as she tries to fathom the popularity and growth of what she’s created.

Most of the inspiration for her earrings comes from nature or photography, “a lot of it is colours – whether I see a sunset and think ‘that’s a really nice orange with that pink – I could do that with the earrings’ or maybe I just see a photo on my instagram feed”. She admits it can also just be trial and error – but they always turn out beautiful. She’s always been an arty person and likely gets that flare from her mum. Regarding the unusual shapes, she explains, “I quite like funky shapes but I know not everyone likes funky, in-your-face earrings, so I try and do a mix of both”. Her designs incorporate all different styles, from studs to statements – going above and beyond for themed-drops, such as her popular ghost-shaped dangles for Halloween, or the intricate Christmas wreaths from December. 

 Faux Quartz earrings included in Lola’s Lugs previous drop

The quirky name ‘Lola’s Lugs’ comes from Erin’s baby – a golden labrador named Lola, who has a very special and heartwarming story. Erin laughs as she tells me that her mum went along with a friend to visit puppies and spotted Lola, the runt of the litter, and returned home announcing to the family, ‘I think I’ve bought a dog’. Lola quickly became a beloved member of the family but recently gave them quite a scare…   

Erin with Lola as a puppy
Matching accessories over the festive period

The gorgeous pup sometimes makes a guest appearance on the page’s Instagram stories, where she can be seen happily spinning round with excitement. At first, Erin and her younger brother thought the spinning was something they had trained her to do for treats, but after a recent check up, they discovered an even more unusual reason – Erin’s family had taken her to the vets after a bad reaction to some medicine and they were told that she was completely blind in one eye, and going blind in the other. They were shocked that they hadn’t noticed this before, but upon reflection it started to make sense. ‘She spins to one side – the side that she can see, and she can’t catch a ball for the life of her’, laughs Erin thinking about her adorable, yet clumsy labrador. However, because Lola was only 2 years old, they were worried the blindness could be caused by a brain tumour, so they ran some more tests. 

Much to Erin’s relief, the tests showed that Lola was (for the most part) completely fine… but as it turned out, she was actually missing part of her brain: the thalamus – a key component, responsible for many things, such as parts of the visual system and some motor activity, hence the blindness and ‘spinnies’. This case is the first of its kind, and vets would like to use Lola in a unique study. “If it was going to be any dog, it would be Lola!”

Lola – the star herself!

But dear Lola is the perfect brand ambassador for Lola’s Lugs: she’s friendly and fun and brightens up everyone’s day. Discussing the values of her business, Erin says ‘I want my personality to come across – I want to be a friendly brand and a caring brand’ and this is definitely something her customers agree on! “I am obsessed with these [cloud earrings]!! Erin is the kindest and nicest person I’ve ever met!”, praises one happy customer in her Etsy Reviews, “Erin is super lovely!” sings another and this kindness is echoed throughout her reviews, all of which are five-star!

On top of being friendly and caring, another important value to Erin is sustainability. “I’m a big eco-person… that doesn’t make sense”, she hesitates, but it makes perfect sense! She really cares about the environment and is very conscious of her impact. She acknowledges that the polymer clay is primarily a plastic but she buys the best quality and uses fully recyclable packaging, even down to the recyclable sticky tape and stickers! 

Erin talks about other hobbies – she’s always switching between them and trying out new things, but the polymer clay earrings is something she’s really invested in, and she assures me she will continue to stick at it even after she graduates this August – yes, all this and she’s still a student!

Her decision to become a teacher was oddly inspired by an unlikely hero – our local high school maths teacher. “Oh I would hate to be her, a high school maths teacher?!” However, after seeing Miss High-School-Maths-Teacher walk by, a little seed was planted and Erin started considering teaching. Maybe not secondary, she thought, but primary school teaching was definitely something she could do – her mum and granny had been saying it for years too. She remembers that teenage resentment towards adults telling you what to do – “I’ll figure it on my own!” she would quip, and so she did. 

‘In the Skud’ Before
‘In the Skud’ After

Like a lot of young people, Erin wasn’t sure what to study, where to go, what she wanted to do. Instead of going to uni straight away, she took a year out to work – her first job was ironically a graduate job, thanks to good contacts. “It was an alright job but I didn’t enjoy it because it’s not what I wanted to do”. Even though the job wasn’t for her, in many respects it was the best thing that happened to her, because it made her realise what she didn’t want to do – which can often be a more important realisation. 

She took night classes and went to college before applying to the University of Glasgow to study primary teaching, and it certainly wasn’t the easiest four years. “From the minute I stepped into those halls, my mental health just went -” Her hand waves down like a crashing airplane and she blows a raspberry for auditory effect. We share our stories about university and how tough it was to find motivation when you’re really struggling mentally. 

Eventually though, Erin started to see the light at the end of the tunnel and powered through. She loved her course, and loves being a teacher – “I’m so excited to be a teacher in August – can’t believe it’s this year!” She’s beaming with pride and has a huge grin across her face as she anticipates her graduation, just one more essay to go! When I ask her what motivated her in the end, she takes a breath and says: ‘It was a ‘do it for yourself’ thing. It’s funny too because, you know when you’re in 6th year, you can get a job, go to college or go to uni? Well I’ve done all 3 of them! And I’ve not done all that to waste it”.

Part of the Lola’s Lugs Cream Collection

Any goals for the year? “I’m really bad for setting goals and then never actually achieving them – I’m extrinsically motivated – so you need to push me to do it”. Just as we’re discussing going at your own pace and doing things in your own time, Erin pauses and seems to panic a little. At first I thought she was going to excuse herself, “Sorry, I just…” she trails off and stares pointedly at something, “…sorry, I’ve just realised the cat is under these bed sheets!” She lifts the covers and coos softly to the cat – there’s not much of a response but Erin shrugs and pats the covers back down “ach, she’ll be fine!”. Going back to her goals, she talks about increasing her followers on Instagram and then winces and adds, “I feel I wouldn’t say that as a goal because it’s just a number and it doesn’t matter… but at the same time it does matter because that’s your audience”.

As the majority of Erin’s business comes through her Instagram, she talks about the pressure of keeping up with social media. “I need to be consistently posting, making the right hashtags, keeping up to date posts, have a Story every 24 hours…” the list of daunting marketing tasks continued, “but to be fair”, Erin smiles, “I post all the bloody time anyway!” 

Although she is mostly unphased by the pressures of social media, she understands how it can affect others and her followers know they can rely on her if they need to talk. Her inbox is always open and she openly invites anyone having a tough time to just drop her a message and chat to her. She’s quite proud of the circle she’s built – “I hate being like this but I’ve made a little ‘community of internet friends’”, she says the last part in a mimicking voice, “but I totally have and it’s so, so nice!”. 

Once the lockdown is over, she looks forward to meeting up with said community of friends. A lot of her new friends have also taken advantage of the lockdown(s) to be more creative and grow their respective businesses – it’s quite nice to see how they all support each other on Instagram. “We’ve said once [the pandemic is] all over, we’ll meet up and go for lunch. It’s baffling to me that I’ve met all these people through making little earrings”.

Jade Howlite Before
Jade Howlite After

Of course, the lockdown has also brought difficulties and taken a toll on Erin too. What’s the most challenging thing? “Being alone. All the time”. Her boyfriend works almost 60 miles away and leaves early each morning. “It’s literally from the minute I wake up, I’m just by myself with the cat… and with the cat, you never know what mood she’s in.” Although she’s still light-hearted, it’s sad to see the usually upbeat, spirited Erin crushed by this loneliness and it’s something she openly talks about in her stories. She’s not afraid to show her vulnerable side and admit when she’s having a bad day, which a lot of her followers respect and empathise with.  

Although it’s been a tough year, Erin has a lot to celebrate and look back on, but she can’t yet pick out a singular, crowning moment. “I’m really proud of it all. I never ever thought I’d be doing this – not in a million years!” 

The sellout cow-print earrings

On the night of her last drop, Etsy crashed her website as almost 500 people bustled around her site at the same time. She laughs, “I think a lot of people buy my earrings because there’s such a big stress about them – they go up at 7 o’clock at night and folk are like ‘haaaa, I need to buy the earrings!”. It’s a huge adrenaline rush, releasing the highly anticipated drop – for Erin and her customers – and if there’s any technical glitches, she’ll know! Her phone gets flooded with messages if the earrings aren’t there by 7pm on the dot, the Lola’s Lugs tribe is very dedicated!

Erin drops her new designs on the last Friday of every month and there’s a lot to be included in her February Drop – she can’t give away too many secrets but she hints, “I’m feeling very neutral”. Earrings from the terrazzo slab with browns and beiges, which she’s nicknamed her ‘in the skud’ terrazzo and the jade howlite slab (both pictured) will be featured, along with loads of other new ideas and some all-time classics. 

“I better get busy!” she laughs as we say our goodbyes and end the call. 

Follow Lola’s Lugs on Instagram and make sure you set your timer for her next Etsy Drop on 26 February at 7pm GMT (UK time).

All photos in this article were provided by Erin Scott / Lola’s Lugs.

‘I find happiness everywhere!’

Over Bubbled Water: Marlon Schipper Photography

Known for being a burst of positivity, Marlon Schipper pours a cup of tea and talks about finding happiness, overcoming personal challenges and reveals the story behind her quirky fascination with the portable Dixi loos. 

Marlon and I used to work for the same company in Berlin – that was where we met, about four years ago – since then we’ve moved on in different directions but she continues to be a good friend and is the ray of sunshine we all need!

The first thing that strikes you about Marlon when you meet her, is her immediate, bright smile and platinum-blonde waves. You can’t help but reciprocate this warmth and feel comfortable around her.

She sits cross-legged in the armchair opposite me in my cosy, alt-bau flat. We were just talking about the different books we’re reading and I gave her mine to inspect, which she loosely holds in her lap throughout our conversation – a small book of extracts from William Styron’s Darkness Visible.

Our discussions often turn towards mental health and our challenges. Marlon’s candidness is refreshing as she tells me that she wants to focus on marketing herself and her photography but sometimes she struggles with holding herself back. ‘I’m less good at promoting myself and what I’m offering. You know imposter syndrome? That’s definitely a part of it – I know I can do the stuff but sometimes I tell myself I’m not good at that’. We talk about how to overcome this shared feeling of self-doubt, and lack of confidence. There are definitely self-help books and courses out there where you can learn to let go of these fears and embrace your talents but a lot of the time the confidence comes with practice, ‘by doing more [photography & marketing], I already get more confidence’. 

Marlon specialises in street photography, family photography and portraiture. As we talk about the familiar lack of self-confidence women so often face, Marlon explains how she wants to use her photography to help other women build confidence. Having professional photos for your LinkedIn profile can be incredibly empowering and this is one of the ways Marlon would like to support women. She knows a lot of people can be insecure and camera-shy, so she doesn’t put any pressure on the outcome of the photos. Some good tips for a photo shoot? ‘I just take some pictures to make them more comfortable with the camera. Don’t rush, just take your time. And laugh! Go out, have a laugh, do a bit of weird stuff’, she shrugs. It’s easy to let down your guard around Marlon and build trust with her. She gives good direction if you’re unsure about how to stand, which way to face or what to do with your arms, but she stresses how important it is to just be yourself, move freely – the lighting and her photography skills will do the rest. 

A ‘behind the scenes’ of a recent shoot.

Her personal instagram is a balanced mix of portraiture and street photography, some analogue, some digital. Walking around the city and taking photos of reconstructed buildings or vintage cars has become a form of meditation for Marlon and she enjoys having her camera on her to take a picture as soon as she sees something beautiful. For all that she loves street photography, she finds a deeper connection in pictures with people. ‘I find it very nice when people take pictures of random people. I take pictures with [my friends]. All our views are different, and it’s very inspiring to see what we think works’. 

Marlon and her friends taking pictures at Tempelhof, Berlin.

She talks about a pleasant, weekend stroll in the snow with her friends through Görlitzer Park, in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, and how all the families with their children and sleighs brought her happiness. She laughs, ‘I find happiness everywhere!’ – to those who are lucky enough to know Marlon, this comes as no surprise. ‘It is really not hard for me to find (most days). It has a lot to do with my outlook on things.’ She lists examples of things that have made her smile recently: the snow falling; a quirky number plate; the way the sun shines on something; dogs! Of course, not everybody shares Marlon’s luminous outlook but this doesn’t phase her. She’s used to people having different views and not always seeing the beauty in things, the way she does, but she admits she struggles with people who notoriously only see the negative. ‘There’s nothing I can say to help people like that, I just wish they could see a light’. 

Arguably, dogs might be the biggest source of Marlon’s happiness. She has a very close connection with dogs and asides from her photography, her priority goal in life is to own a dog – this idea is a key motivation and influences a lot of her life decisions. If Marlon was a dog herself, it would probably be a labrador – always happy and a little clumsy but very loyal and sweet. She has a purity about her, the same way labradors do. Her family golden labrador, Tucker, passed away and in memory of him she has a striking tattoo on her forearm of his name in a bold, black script – all dog owners know that love.

Marlon has always been surrounded by photography. Her dad is a keen photographer and is notably responsible for introducing her to the hobby, although she has developed a totally different style. Growing up in the Netherlands, she would always take photos on her phone when she was out for walks with her dog, but when she moved to Berlin, her family dog stayed behind and she decided to take up photography to keep her occupied. ‘I missed having something to do on my walks. I bought my digital camera for my birthday and I’m still using it.’ Her 30th birthday is coming up shortly and she proudly reflects on how much she’s improved over the last few years since she really started focussing on her hobby and turning it into a business. 

Photo by Marlon Schipper – marlonschipper.com

Her voice is soft and steady but it grows when she gets particularly excited and animated about her work. She tells me of her proudest moment to date: exhibiting her work in a coffee shop. She met the owner through a friend of a former colleague and he offered her a space to hang her pictures. At the time, she created a collage with a few photos but looking back she would have done it differently – maybe with individual pictures instead, she says this as advice to benefit other photographers, and highlights the importance of trying things and learning from the experience. Nevertheless it was still an exciting opportunity and she beams with pride recalling the moment she stood back and saw her pictures up there on the wall, with her name, “…everyone drinking coffee and my pictures there. Yeah, it was very, very cool!”. She also describes her elation after her first paid photoshoot. ‘Every time I take pictures, I think I hope it’s enough and then when you get positive feedback from the clients it really makes you proud, yes!’, she rattles her fist in the air, celebrating herself and quite rightly so.

At this point she pauses and offers me a cup of tea. I agree and although we’re in my flat, she jumps up to put the kettle on before I even get the chance. 

Marlon and her friend drink coffee outdoors, enjoying the Berlin summer.

When we settle back in with a pot of tea between us, I ask her if she would consider taking her photography abroad. Of course everyone likes to take photos on their holidays but is this something she is passionate about? ‘I get a lot of inspiration when I’m walking through Berlin, I don’t know that I would get that elsewhere… Maybe different styles of ‘Dixi’s round the world’.

She laughs at this idea but her eyes look up at the ceiling as she genuinely considers the prospect of taking her iconic @DixiStories on tour. Often overlooked by most of us, Marlon never fails to spot a Dixi out on her walks. They’ve become a strong focus of her photography and she has managed to spark excitement and inspiration in others when they pass the portaloos themselves. Trust me, you will see them everywhere.

Being a huge lover of music, Marlon loves festivals and the Dixi loos evoke that uplifting festival feeling: dancing, sunshine, being around people and listening to live music – remember that? Conveniently, Berlin is in a constant state of construction and there are portaloos all over the city. ‘They’re always in a spot where you think they don’t belong […] even when it’s next to an important German building, they’re just floop right there,’ she imitates a Dixi standing stoutly out of place, ‘they’re so cute!’. The idea of these little, blue cabins having some kind of identity and belonging crisis amuses me. She says it’s a growing love, and I can see how they’re symbolic of the internal struggles that resonate with many. ‘Of course they’re not the most pretty thing but actually I really like that about them now. Sometimes they can also be quite lonely, I think it can be quite sad to see them standing there’. 

A shy and lonely Dixi on a Berlin construction site @DixiStories

She reflects on that part with pursed lips, but to bring the mood back up she quips, ‘besides all that, they’re quite useful! When I do a photography tour, in the middle of nowhere, it’s nice to see [them] – most are locked though… about 60% are locked’.

Next time you’re out for a walk, keep an eye open for those Dixi loos – Marlon would love to be tagged in your photos, @DixiStories – and if you get caught short, there’s a good 40% chance you’ll be in luck with an open door.

Follow Marlon on instagram, @MarlonSchipper. To see more of Marlon’s work, and if you would like to get in touch, please reach out via her website

All photos in this article were provided by Marlon Schipper.