A crafter from Huddersfield - who turned a lost paper folding art into a thriving online business and a means to support people during lockdown - will feature in the finale of Channel 4’s Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas.
Bethan Aspland has 43k followers on her Instagram channel where she shares videos, tutorials, and resources with users across the globe, helping them to create mindful moments through the forgotten craft of iris folding. She was approached by TV producers to showcase her talent on the Best Festive Paper Crafts episode of the show, which has become a staple of the festive TV calendar.
Bethan took up crafting when Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forced her to give up competitive gymnastics. The illness turned Bethan’s life upside down and she spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to benefit from the escapism and psychological benefits of sport. Her emotional and mental health nosedived, and she turned to iris folding to relieve the anxiety and stress she was suffering.
Bethan returned to work, as a front of house manager at Total Fitness (Huddersfield) when she was well enough, but continued to craft in her spare time. When lockdown hit and the gym was closed, she channelled her focus further into iris folding.
She says: “I’m not somebody who can just sit still, so I threw myself into iris folding during lockdown. I had crafted with my mum and gran well into my teens, before sport took over, and iris folding was one of my gran’s many skills. When I came back to it, I searched online for resources but it’s such a forgotten art, I couldn’t find anything to help me. So, I just started doing it, embracing my own style.
“I found it extremely therapeutic and immediately felt the mental health benefits of iris folding. It’s a form of escapism, a mindful experience, where you’re lost in the papers, colours, and patterns you’re working with. I felt an obligation to share it with others, knowing so many people were suffering with lockdown anxiety. Encouraged by friends and family I set up my Instagram account – Pretty in Paper by B – and it took off really quickly.”
After lockdown, Bethan decided not to return to her previous job, pursuing iris folding as a full time career. The resources and videos she shares online have helped individuals worldwide to cope with the pandemic, and Bethan has received messages of thanks from as far afield as South Korea and Trinidad and Tobago. She’s sold iris folding kits in 35 different countries, and now she’ll hit TV screens across the UK in the final episode of Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas.
“Not returning to my previous job was a bit of a gamble, but I knew I was doing something meaningful with my business. I thought, ‘I’ll just see where this takes me.’ It’s hard to believe everything that’s happened since then.
“It’s going to be really strange to watch myself on TV but all my friends and family are so excited, especially my gran! The paper crafts episode includes a competition. I’m not allowed to say what we made or who won, but it’s definitely worth watching! Everyone involved was incredibly talented.”
Bethan has big plans for the future of Pretty in Paper by B, hoping to launch her own paper packs in 2022, filling a gap in the market for pretty paper that’s lightweight enough to be used for iris folding. She’s also planning to release more digital materials and launch an online membership platform, where iris folders worldwide can connect and access a library of resources and patterns.
“Next year is going to be more interactive,” Bethan says. “I want to bring crafters together, to encourage and inspire each other. Connection is so vital to our mental wellbeing, and it’s clear how beneficial a community like this could be. I’m also going to be taking part in some big craft shows – finally meeting other crafters face to face! There’s a lot to be excited about.”
Ultimately, Bethan hopes to connect with other small businesses in the craft world, forging a space where anyone can access different crafting techniques. “Crafting is therapeutic. Iris folding works for me, but there are thousands of skills to choose from. My goal overall is to empower people to create their own mindful experiences through craft. I’d love to work with the wider crafting community to achieve that.
“It’s still a challenge to manage my CFS with my business and my ambitions. I have help from my family, though, and the crafting community is so supportive and accommodating. It’s a perfect match. I hope that our episode of Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas inspires more people to take up a craft, look after their emotional health, and build their confidence and self esteem through learning a skill.”
Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas, Best Festive Paper Crafts, airs on Channel 4 at 5pm on 23rd December.