Frankie Farrar was just 14 when she started turning old silver spoons into unusual rings. “All my friends were getting job in cafe, restaurants and pubs, but I couldn’t do that and having always been creative and interested in finding new uses for old things, I started working with my dad in the garage melting old silver spoons and making jewellery which I could then sell to make a bit of money, although it was really more like a hobby.”
And so her Sheffield-based business Stirring Silver was born.
“I delved into the world of spoons and began learning about hallmarking and the history of the spoon ring, which dates back a long time to when servants couldn’t afford a wedding ring and would take a piece of silvery cutlery and get it turned into a ring.”
Farrar has a stammer which is why, she says, she couldn’t work in hospitality like her friends.
She has always struggled with her speech since she could first talk and has spent many hours and different techniques trying to overcome it.
“When I left school before my A-Levels I tried the McGuire programme but I think I was too young, I found it so hard. I might try it again now I am older.”
Despite her stammer, Farrar really wanted to become an actress and dancer having danced from an early age. “When I act, having learnt a part, or sing, I no longer stammer. I have no idea why,” she says.
Farrar did her A-Levels at a performing arts college and then decided she wanted to take it further. “I applied to lots of performing arts colleges including the Institute of Performing Arts in Barcelona and I got in. My parents said we’d better go and see it before I accepted the place and I just fell in love with it.”
She spent three years in Barcelona and received a First Class Honours degree before returning to the UK. “Once I was back home I knew that in order to make it in musical theatre I needed to have an agent and I was lucky enough to get one.”
The agent put Farrar forward for auditions and when she got down to the final six for a job on a cruise, she felt her dream was going to come true. “I don’t mean to be big headed but I could tell they really liked me,” says Farrar. “But then they gave us a piece of script to read. I told them about my stammer and that at first it would be a problem for me but as soon as I had learnt it I would be fine. But it was really hard and I didn’t get the job.”
She was told it was because of her speech problems. “I was devastated. You understand that you sometimes don’t get parts because your face doesn’t fit or you aren’t what they were booking for – but there was nothing I could do about my speech.”
Farrar returned home and decided to put her performing career on the back burner for a while. “I am naturally a really organised person and the more I thought about it the more the uncertain lifestyle wasn’t the best thing for me.”
And so at the beginning of 2019 it left her facing a conundrum about what to do with her life. “I went back to my spoon rings but then I was trying to think of other ways of preserving history, of upcycling things that people may have been given that they didn’t use any more but for personal reasons didn’t want to get rid of.”
And so she came up with the idea of turning these everyday objects into quirky lamps.
“I was asking family and friends for any old bits and bobs they had lying around and returned to the garage to experiment. My dad is a qualified electrician so he taught me that side of things – so I’ve learned a lot of new skills,” says Farrar, who has a workshop and studio at home in Langsett, Sheffield.
As well as asking friends and family for their objects, she spent a lot of time scouring markets and antique fairs and then set up her own market stall selling her wares.
“It worked really well. While the women would look at my jewellery their husbands were really interested in the lamps.”
Then in the summer of 2019, Farrar decided to enter the Young Trader of the Year Competition, held by the National Market Traders Federation. “The competition encourages young people aged between 16 and 30 to start up their own businesses and get creative,” she explains.
“The whole experience was a whirlwind of meeting new, like-minded makers and gaining new customers.” She won her heat in York and then travelled to Stratford where she was named one of the category winners which led to a live appearance on the BBC’s One Show the following day.
“I was so nervous but it was an amazing experience and to top it all I was announced overall winner.” Farrar is now something of an ambassador for the competition, giving talks to young traders, something she really enjoys despite her speech problems.
“I’ve decided that I just have to own it,” she says. “I have spent a lot of my life, like many stammerers do, worrying about what other people might do or say. I now realise if they have an issue it’s their problem, not mine.”
The pandemic saw an end to markets and so Farrar had to develop her website to sell her quirky products, and also turn to online sites for her own purchases. “All of the products on my website are one offs and it takes a lot of time to keep the website up to date.
“Making the lamps and rings is just the start. I then have to photograph them all, take the orders, pack and send them. It is very time consuming. All the rings are hallmarked and so have to go back to the assay office so that the change of use can be registered and each item has a certificate to prove it.”
A lot of the work Farrar does is bespoke orders from people wanting to give new life to treasured items, although she has had some unusual requests. “I got an email from a lady who asked if I could turn her husband’s leg brace into a lamp. I wasn’t sure at first but I am really pleased with the way it turned out.”
She says there is very little that can’t be turned into a lamp. “The most important thing is to make sure before you start that it will work as a lamp. I think the trickiest, and probably the biggest, thing I’ve done is the tuba and we have that at home on the wall.”