Successful textile designer Poppy Treffry shows us around her delightful Penzance cottage, and tells us how combining work and play is now possible, thanks to her new VW Transporter. Words: Nicola Smith. Photographs: Penny Wincer

Poppy Treffry admires her recently acquired VW Transporter as her four-year-old daughter, Biba, peeks out from inside. ‘Praa Sands is only 10 minutes away from our home in Penzance, so Justin and I can drive there after work on a Friday, get the fire going and maybe have a barbecue. The campsite looks out over the beach where Biba runs about and makes friends with the other kids. We really enjoy it – and Biba loves it!’

Not that it’s all play for artist, Poppy, who owns and runs a textile company from a rural workshop just outside Penzance, producing an eclectic mix of handmade fashion and home accessories from tea cosies to posters. ‘Since having Biba I only work four days a week and I don’t work many weekends unless I have a show. Sometimes people really want to meet the maker – the person behind the brand – so it’s important to be there. I love talking to customers and I always come back full of ideas.’

Sometimes she can combine work and play, thanks to her campervan – nicknamed ‘Big Red’ by Biba – which Poppy has personalised with homemade curtains and bunting. Poppy, Biba and her partner Justin, a jewellery-maker with a workshop in nearby Newlyn, recently returned from a trade show in Bovey Tracy in Devon, which saw them all camp in their new purchase. ‘It was great fun to be there as a family.’

However, they still find it hard to tear themselves away from their pretty little terraced cottage, which is just a stone’s throw from the promenade at Penzance. The couple spent a year making the house habitable after converting it from what Poppy describes as a ‘complete wreck’, and while builders carried out some of the more complex work such as putting in steel girders and rebuilding walls, Poppy and Justin spent many evenings and weekends digging out a foot of the ground floor, fixing the plumbing and sanding floorboards. ‘We rented a flat while the work was carried out, but we were both running our own businesses and it was hard work.’ 

But it was worth it. Perhaps the main feature of the charming two-bedroom cottage is the kitchen, which has been transformed from a tiny galley kitchen into a modern space with a glass roof through which the sunlight floods. Downstairs is now totally open plan, while upstairs the only feature remaining is some retro pink, green and orange wallpaper in Poppy and Justin’s bedroom. ‘I just had to keep it,’ says Poppy. ‘And Justin has gone with it!’

Of course both have a keen eye for design, and Poppy has always loved creating things – as well as having a natural commercial instinct. ‘Even at school I used to make things and sell them.’ After finishing her foundation course in art and design at Falmouth Art College, she went to Winchester School of Art to study textiles before spending three years in Guatemala working with a craft co-operative. ‘That experience taught me a lot about running a business, even though we were in a bit of a jungle.’

She returned to the UK to live with her dad in Bodmin, in North Cornwall, where she grew up, and automatically tapped into her creative instinct to make a living. ‘Not many people were using the technique I was using, which is called freehand embroidery. It’s like drawing with a sewing machine, something I taught myself.’ The approach was born of necessity. Poppy’s specialism was in printing, but with printing equipment expensive to procure after leaving art school, freehand embroidery was a way of getting her drawings on to products without the outlay. ‘It is quite a skill and it has become pretty popular since I started doing it nearly 10 years ago.’ She now runs sell-out courses teaching people the technique. ‘They seem to really enjoy it – it is good fun.’

After relocating to Penzance, a town she had always been drawn to because of its creative vibe, she started her company in earnest, moving from rented space to her current workshop, a large homely space which is alive with the sound of Singer sewing machines. Poppy now employs six people, plus four outworkers, and also has a shop in St Ives. But the products are still unique. ‘Of course we now repeat designs and I have trained outworkers to use the same technique, so they look similar but each one is produced and sewn individually. There are no computers involved.’

Much of her inspiration comes from wandering around the coast, sketchbook in hand. ‘I like people and characters and a lot of my drawings are done around Newlyn and St Ives. I might go out sketching, and an element of that will work its way into the design. I sometimes draw in the morning before the shop opens, and I work the drawings into one-off pieces. If elements of it work really well, the drawing might become a design and it will end up on a notebook or on some fabric. I put the sketchbook in front of me at the machine and just copy it.’ 

She recently designed a poster based on her sketch of a pasty shop in St Ives. Originally it was a one-off piece which took days to create, but Poppy realised that while people really liked it, they didn’t want to pay for a limited-edition piece. ‘I did it again, slightly simplified, then scanned it and worked into it and made it into a printed poster which is much more affordable for people. It’s selling really well.’ Justin also draws inspiration from his coastal surroundings, and a large part of his business is making wedding rings.

‘His specialism is inlaying wood into various precious metals,’ says Poppy, showing me a beautiful ring on her finger. ‘He made this from an old tall ship. People are always sending him interesting bits of wood.’

The couple can certainly justify working holidays in their campervan as they travel the coast for inspiration. They recently spent time at Porthholland, on the county’s inimitable Roseland peninsula, courtesy of ‘Big Red’. ‘It has a tiny track down to the harbour and a small collection of cottages and there’s nothing else there. It’s lovely. That’s the great thing about Cornwall – even having grown up here, I am always discovering new places.’

Poppy’s textiles and homewares are available to buy from For more inspiring stories about coastal homes, click here.

Poppy's favourite Cornish places

Perranuthnoe: a village on Cornwall’s south coast. ‘We’d like to live here one day! It has a surfing beach and Justin loves to surf. It’s a great village with fantastic cafés, including the Peppercorn Kitchen which sells delicious Middle Eastern food. Houses only seem to come on the market every 10 years in Perranuthnoe but we love visiting!’

The Strangles: a beach on Cornwall’s north coast. ‘This is a very special place, south of Crackington Haven. I used to come here often when I was growing up. We’d spend whole days collecting driftwood, then making a fire. More recently a group of us spent Boxing Day here. We went swimming, then cooked bubble and squeak on the campfire afterwards.’

Polly Joke: another beach on Cornwall’s north coast. ‘We enjoyed a wonderful weekend here recently. There’s a special campsite sheltered by the sand dunes. We will definitely be coming back again.’