WHY Leather & NOT Polyurethane

This is a rather contentious topic for some… which I’ve experienced first hand, face to face with market goers… I am NOT AT ALL an advocate of animal cruelty, factory farming or caging animals in order to make clothes. Just as much as I am NOT an advocate of the production of fabrics and clothing that destroy our environment and/or communities in countries that we cannot see with our own eyes from the comfort of a shopping mall… the devastation of mass produced clothing is causing them to be easily overlooked when all we focus on is how much it will cost to purchase an item. So, all that said I’d like to share with you why I choose leather over polyurethane…

In an endeavour to utilise as much of a resource as possible, when I first started making guitar cases out of old woollen blankets, I expanded into totes and satchels, which led me to create my RESCUED AND REPURPOSED product range. I chose to work with kangaroo leather for the bag straps and closures, as I came across a tannery that specialised in tanning roo skins and cutting lacing out of them, the remaining pieces (the limbs) were of no use to them so I saw potential in rescuing these too… just like the blankets. In expanding on my leather work skills I have also stemmed into working with hair on hide which is still based on the skill of sewing but just with a different medium.

For years I have been talking to customers about the quality and benefits of old woollen blanket material, it’s insulating and protective as an instrument case, it breaths and water beads on the surface rather than penetrating… along with the fact that these character filled blankets should be treasured rather than discarded. With the introduction of kangaroo leather to my range many conversations have been had about the benefits of roo hide, with it being light weight yet strong, along with numerous conversations about the benefit of using this rescourse, especially with the culling of kangaroos in our country. It’s far better to use the flesh and hide than just let them go to waste… also far better than opting to use a man made product that is not environmentally friendly in place of a natural fibre!

Before making my hair on hide vest I only had a synthetic fur vest which I bought second hand and adored… it’s a rather fun, faux shaggy goat hair… I wore that vest a lot over the past 2-3 years. Vests are great if you just need to break the chill and keep your core warm, but the difference between wearing the synthetic vest lined in a synthetic opposed to a natural fibre unlined vest is phenomenal… the natural fibre breaths and does not make you sweat as easily for starters. Recently I wore my kangaroo hair on hide vest on a day that would be considered too hot for fur, but I wore it almost all day, granted I was wearing a light weight sleeveless top underneath it, but I am certain had I worn my synthetic vest instead I would have had to take it off much sooner.

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Nature has things all worked out, it knows how to keep things in balance, it’s what we humans do to it that throws it out of whack. It concerns me that some people are opting to use manmade materials in the name of stopping animals from being harmed and yet overlook the impacts the production of these materials are having on the communities that reside within the area of those factories, as well as the impact this having on our environment.  The tanning of leather using the vegetable tanning process is not as harmful to the environment as the production of plastic based products… plus leather is biodegradable, while polyurethane is not at 500 years to breakdown! Before opting to buy a polyurethane garment in place of a natural fibre like leather, because you  think it’s not fair on the animal ask yourself is this material actually healthy for me to wear… and are the lives of others along with the preservation of our environment not important too?

<<= by marie-nicole =>>

xx

 

PS. Happy Earth Day… let’s work together on preserving this beautiful planet we call home… for us, our children, our global community & animal kingdom alike!

PPS. Kangaroo Fur Adjustable Vest is now available, individually & meticulously handcrafted in a sustainable manner, made to order, here.

PPPS. Kangaroo Leather Satchel with featured lacing design available here.

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Open Studio

ONE DAY ONLY : the studio of by marie-nicole will be open to the public… giving visitors an opportunity to speak to me, the maker, in my creative space, about my artisan crafted work, running a micro business from a rural location, handcrafting wares from a shed in my backyard and shipping them all around the world!

Any excuse to have a little soirée in my workspace is a good excuse… doing what you love needs to be celebrated with those who appreciate the hand crafted and supporting local businesses.  Should you wish to buy Christmas gifts, there will also be a gift wrapping service available on site. All while sipping on some bubbly and enjoying the beautiful atmosphere of this studio atop a hill, on the edge of a village, in rural NSW.

Refer to flyer for more details.

<<== by marie-nicole ==>>

xx

 

 

Open Studio Invite - Dec 2015 (2)

Dream ~ Create ~ Inspire

The question is often asked of me: “Why do you sell at markets when your online store is doing so well?” The simple answer to that is; “Contact with people, both the customers and fellow market stall holders!”

Working for yourself from home can mean many hours spent in solitude, while it’s lovely having conversations with customers from all around the world through my online store those conversations do not include body language, facial expressions and other people joining in the conversation. I choose to work from home not because I don’t like being around other people, my decision to work from home has been based on so many reasons, some financial, some practical and although it may seem idyllic to some, spending all that time alone and being completely in charge of your own time, the reality is that at times it can also be very lonely. Of course, I could just step outside my studio, grab a coffee down the street, venture into town and meander through our local boutiques, attend yoga classes and catch up with friends, all of which I  do. While these interactions are lovely they are often brief in the grand scheme of events over the course a week’s work and there is still the need to earn an income to contribute to our families needs… which requires actual work to take place. Trading at markets however, means that while we’re unloading the car, setting & packing up our stalls, in between engaging with customers during quiet periods, there is the opportunity talk to fellow stall holders (fellow artisan’s) and to get to know other people earning a living in similar way to me. Trading along side each other enables us to get to know each other on a deeper level, rather than if we were to simply visit markets as a shopper.  One such couple I have met and become friends with through trading at markets is Wendy Lees & Anthony Hoy trading as Vetro e Metallo. We have traded along side each other regularly at the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston, ACT. Anyone who knows me in person will know I am a huge fan of their work and wear many of their pieces of jewellery daily.

Two special pieces of my Vetro E Metallo jewellery collection

Here are two very special custom made pieces from my Vetro e Metallo jewellery collection

Over the last few years, we’ve shared stories of what led us to trade at markets, the challenges we’ve faced being self employed, dealing also isolation, buying our own homes… etc. We’ve also discovered that our shared interests extend beyond trading at markets but also into a way of living, growing food, cooking, a love of animals, recycling materials not just for our work but our homes.

Recently we visited their new home, a magnificent old building in Braidwood which was originally a cordial factory and eventually became a mechanics workshop… their large block in the middle of the town also has two to very large sheds (now their workshops and storage space) and enough grounds to establish a garden and outdoor sanctuary. They had only been in their new home for three months when we visited and I was absolutely amazed at the transformation they had made to this building, and in such a short period of time. With the assistance of trades people they have taken this workshop and converted it into an amazing home. Stripping back the layers of oil built up on the timber floors, installing a kitchen, wood heater, bathroom and a collection of stunning copper light fittings, including one made by Anthony himself.  It should’t have÷ surprised me, their talents and skills demonstrated in their business should have been enough of an indication of their capabilities in anything that they would turn their heads, hearts and hands to. They are the perfect example of artisan living and what passion, drive and dedication can enable people to achieve.

Anthony & Wendy with Chugga

Anthony, Wendy & Chugga in their spectacular new home.

So even though some trading days at markets may be slow, there is always something to be gained from being there, such as the chance to build on the friendships developed with other market stall holders… these friendships are worth so much more than money. So when I say trading at markets is not all about making money, I really mean it. When you set your own career path and do not fit into any moulds, it can at times feel like you have three heads, so meeting other people who are just like you, but in their own individual way is so very comforting. Meeting people like Wendy and Anthony, witnessing their journey is extremely inspiring and encouraging. I look forward to seeing what their new home will evolve into as they add the additions they spoke so passionately about that day… in the mean time I will continue to take inspiration from what they already achieved through these few snap shots and I hope that they inspire you too! (pics below)

Vetro e Metallo have a stall at four different markets regularly, three of which they trade at each week, so be sure to check their website for market details.

Below is a quote I came across via Instagram, which seems rather fitting:

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dream ~ create ~ inspire

<<= by marie-nicole =>>

xx

DSC_9533 Wendy Lee & Anthony Hoy Handcrafted by Anthony Hoy

All images in this post are by marie-nicole copyright 2015

Artist, Designer, Artisan… what’s the difference?

When I was doing my degree in Visual Arts and Design we had weekly studio sessions where we all visited everyone’s studio space to critique the progress of each individuals work. It was a great opportunity to get feedback & encouragement from peers & tutor or lecturer, but also served to sow seeds of doubt in my mind about whether or not I was in fact an artist. Up to that point in my life I had always thought of myself as an artist and planned to earn my living being one… even though I did not know exactly how I would achieve that. I loved to draw from a very young age, started to photograph with my father’s SLR as a preteen and dropped one subject in my HSC in order to do two lots of HSC art classes. Then suddenly in my early twenties I found myself surrounded by what I thought to be real artists, not just creative types but those types who are arty to the core.  That was when I began to question whether or not I actually had the right to call myself an artist. My peers often commented on how they thought of me as more of a designer than an artist. I loved my design classes and did very well in them, but I didn’t feel that I fitted that mould entirely either, especially since I took great pleasure in creating not just designing. This feeling of not belonging to any particular role was rather unsettling, but rather than giving up on the idea of earning my living as an artist I decided it would be better to create a path that suited my skills and abilities rather than trying to fit into moulds that really were not suited to me. This is what your youth should be about… getting to know who you are, then building on your strengths and abilities from there. By my mid 20’s I believed I knew who I was and what I was about, I was an artist who used photography as her medium!

Twenty years later, now a mother of two beautiful boys and a slight detour in my creative career to suit my situation… and that same question still hovers in the back of my mind… can I really call myself an artist?

I contribute some of my time as a volunteer in an organisation called YASSarts which was founded by the late Kim Nelson; an extremely talented artist (painter) along with another extremely talented artist (sculptor) Al Phemister. Kim was someone who saw all artistic forms as ‘art’ and it was his passion for connecting the arts, representing it as a whole that led me to volunteer my time to assist with promoting the arts in our region. He would notice the smallest detail of what I was wearing and comment, often asking if I made an item I was wearing. One day he asked about a my sandals, well actually he said: “Love your boots, did you make them?” The term boots threw me, but that did not stop from sharing with him the fact that I had not made that particular pair myself, but planned to learn to make sandals similar and described my vision for them (eventually I did, which you can read about here) his response to that was; “See you are an artist… that’s art!”

When he then asked me to exhibit with him and three other local artists, I did not feel like I should be exhibiting along side them, but agreed to it as I adored Kim and what he stood for, especially the fact that he believed whole heartedly in art being many forms.  Our exhibition consisted of three painters, a wooden toy & puzzle maker and me. For the month of September in 2014 we held our exhibition ‘An Odd Collection of Fellows’ in the Oddfellows’ Hall, Yass… formerly Kim’s gallery and public studio. It was a wonderful experience. One of the artists was also a body painter, and to cap off our exhibition we all got involved in a body painting… it had been years since I last picked up a brush to paint anything other than furniture.

An Odd Collection of Fellows

An Odd Collection of Fellows – September 2014  Kim Nelson (bottom left)

When people discover I am a member of the YASSarts Committee they often ask me; “Oh what kind of art do you do?” Which I usually follow up with: “Well I don’t actually think of myself as an artist…!” For some reason that seems to just roll off my tongue, all these years of paving my own creative path I still can’t seem to own the title artist. I’ve felt a lot more comfortable using titles like, photographer, artist & designer (together) and more recently ‘artisan’. Why artisan? The more thought I’ve put in to what I do and how that differs from being an ‘artist’ the more I’ve started to see that artist’s today are more often creators of work that evoke emotional responses or challenge the viewers thinking based on current issues or the artist’s individual feelings and/or experiences. Where as an artisan, I feel I create works that have a function, they can still evoke an emotional response… be it nostalgia when it comes to old woollen blankets; with the use of kangaroo leather the response is sometimes concern for the welfare of the animal, and even appreciation for the fact that the skins of these animals are not going to waste, others respond with intrigue having never experienced kangaroo leather before, creating a response of curiosity of it’s properties of being light weight yet strong. To my feather work, some people respond with; “oh those poor birds” while others say; “how fantastic that the whole bird is being used.” So I guess in that respect one could argue that my work is in fact art! All that said, I feel most comfortable sticking with the title of ‘artisan’.

Dictionary meanings….

Artist:  A person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby; A person who practices any of the creative arts such as a sculptor, film maker, actor, dancer; A person skilled at a particular task or occupation.

Artisan: A worker in a skilled trade, especially that involves making things by hand. Street makers where local artisans display hand-woven textiles, painted ceramics, and leather goods.

Designer: The person who plans the look or workings of something prior to it being made, by preparing drawings or plans. 

In the end I believe we each need to find our own sense of purpose in whatever role that may be… knowing yourself, your skills and using them to contribute to your community both locally and globally is what really matters. Not so much the title itself, but of course it always helps to describe what you do in a short succinct straight to the point phrase… I am an artisan. Allowing questions to follow that start an interesting conversation and an opportunity to share your message, like; “I rescue and repurpose the old and discarded, transforming them into functional statement pieces.” You may not have the opportunity to say this by starting with the phrase; I don’t think of myself as…”

My Rescued and Repurposed Range

Rescued and Repurposed Range

So finding that title is important for your own self confidence, but more importantly is first finding your purpose. I feel like mine is encourage others to see value in resources that they may otherwise regard as waste.

We each have an important role to play in this world in our very own special way. Embrace who you are and thrive!

<<== by marie-nicole ==>>

xx

 

Ps. Sadly Kim Nelson passed away in August of this year leaving a huge hole in the hearts of many including mine…

How to make a newspaper gift bag

On our recent road tripping adventure I bought two beautiful woven cotton floor mats for Cécile (our vintage caravan) from a lovely little shoppe in Melaney called The Industree…. I was delighted when the shoppe keeper handed me my purchase in this gorgeous handcrafted newspaper bag.

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It inspired me to make gift bags for thank you gifts we’d bought for the lovely people who cared for our beloved pets while we were away. I made their bags out of a local paper we’d collected along our travels… so they too could share in our journey through the local community news, as well as through the tastes of the delectable delights we’d bought them.

Someone on Instagram asked if I had a pattern for the bags that I could share. So I thought I’d do a little image tutorial of how I made my version of the bag and share it with all of you!

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A couple of little pointers to accompany the images:

=>> I made my bags using two layers of newspaper.

=>> In the photo of positioning and taping down the handles you’ll notice I have the stapler inside bag, this helped keep it open while positioning the handles.

=>> Lastly, I used decorative washi tape as both a little feature and to cover the sharp ends of the staples.

If you have any questions about the process, please feel free to ask… I’m more than happy to help.

This would be a fantastic crafting project to do with kids, but of course you could simply enjoy making them on your own. It would not take long to make a batch in a range of shapes and sizes, then flatten them to store for when you need them.

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Happy crafting… creating … recycling!

<<= by marie-nicole =>>

xx

Gratitude for my supportive Yoga/Pilates mat…

It only struck me recently that my Yoga/Pilates mat has supported me for well over a decade now… a gift from my equally supportive husband.

This mat has protected my spine during many a sessions of yoga/pilates and other fitness classes, it has enabled me to regain strength in my core following birth of both of my beautiful boys, it has cushioned my aching body during the times of healing from the pain of life’s stresses, it has aided the rejuvenation of both my mental and physical state throughout challenging experiences and numerous times of change, it has also been there to ground me during times of sheer excitement and gratitude for all the wonderful experiences life has offered me too… and yet all these years I have given very little thought to just how much this mat has done for me. At the end of a session I would simply roll it up and place it’s string and toggle strap back on, strangling out any positive energy that lay within… I would sling it over my shoulder and wince at the pain the string strap would cause with the weight of the mat cutting into my shoulder.

Rescued & Repurposed Blanket Yoga/Pilates Mat & Classic Style Tote with Kangaroo Leather Features

Rescued & Repurposed Blanket Yoga/Pilates Mat & Classic Style Tote with Kangaroo Leather Features

So after all these years I finally decided to give back to my supportive mat… now snug in its very own repurposed blanket duffle style bag adorned with a comfortable kangaroo leather strap lovingly handcrafted using traditional saddlery stitching techniques and a braided feature that delicately enables the opening of the bag to self close as I lift with the beautiful natural feel of this light weight but very strong leather strap in my hand and place it over my shoulder where it now sits comfortably supporting the weight of the mat without cutting in.

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Handcrafted Kangaroo Leather Strap & Feature Braided Closure

I feel my mat is finally being given the thanks it deserves and being supported in return for all the years it has supported me.

<<== by marie-nicole ==>> 

xx

Ps. Yoga/Pilates mat bags will be available as a part of my Repurposed Blanket Range in my Etsy store next week!… so you too can give your mat some loving support in return for it supporting you!

PPs. Also pictured is my Classic Style Tote the perfect accompaniment for a by marie-nicole mat bag. With its linen lining & internal phone and pen pocket, you can carry your throw/towel/cushion and other essentials in a repurposed blanket tote to suit your repurposed blanket mat bag!

Do you know what’s in your shoes?

Towards the end of my professional photography career I was asked to photograph a wedding, that I was also going to be a guest at, so I wanted to buy a pair of shoes that suited my outfit but were practical to work in. The shoes I bought were not cheap necessarily, but they were on sale and heavily reduced in price, which at the time I thought was a bonus. When I got home and opened the box there was an overwhelming toxic smell that wafted out… I instantly thought it must just be the glue they used, so I placed them out on the verandah to air out. On the day of the wedding the smell had not completely disappeared but had worn off, so I wore my new shoes and happily snapped away. But over the course of the day I developed this uncomfortable feeling in my legs, it was an unusual feeling, one I had not experienced before. The only experience I could liken it to, was when I was put under a general anaesthetic and could feel the substance slowly flowing through my veins up my arm. It felt like there was something penetrating up from my feet up through my legs. By the time we got to the reception venue my legs were aching, I could not take it any more, so I took the shoes off, as that was the only explanation I could come up with for this most unpleasant feeling. All I could think of was that toxic smell that came out of the box, which could have meant a toxic substance may have been entering my body via my feet.

So just as much as we need to be aware of where our clothing is made, which is hot topic at the moment (and rightly so) so too should we be more mindful about the production of our foot ware. Not only for our own health and well being but for those who are given the task of making them. The substance used in the construction of those shoes that made my legs ache could not be good for the people handling it day after day, mass producing thousands of pairs of shoes. Not to mention the destruction it is most likely causing in their immediate environment with chemicals being washed into their water ways. The list goes on of how harmful cheaply made shoes are for us and our global community.

In my childhood I recall driving across to the other side of Melbourne with my father to pick up his handcrafted shoes. He had two pairs custom made by a cobbler in an industrial area of Melbourne, I cannot recall the name of the area, but I do recall the experience vividly and I can even see the building in my minds eye. Two pairs of shoes handcrafted leather shoes with wooden heels… custom fitted, one pair in brown and the other black. It would not surprise me if he still has those shoes, I recall him wearing them to work every day and even wearing them out on the weekend. He cleaned and polished them every weekend and treated them with the utmost respect. His first job was as a shoe pattern maker for a cobbler on the little island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean where he moved to from the even smaller island Rodrigues where he was born. The art of making shoes has always fascinated me, I have spoken to my husband about my desire to learn to make shoes many times over the years and been taking small steps along the way, developing skills that compliment the craft, I have not been in a hurry to reach this goal, as I have had many other goals I have been working towards along side this one. Recently though I attended a Jandals (leather sandals) making workshop at the tannery I purchase my leather from. It was run by a professional shoe maker who specialises in custom made shoes, and was a fantastic introduction into constructing very simple foot ware. At the end of the workshop I left with my jandals at this stage…

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Then over the following week I used skills I have developed through my current leather work to finish them off. I bevelled the edges then stamped them with my signature, a quote, patterns & the shoe size. Then stained & sealed them with the eco-friendly stain and sealer that I use for my cuffs and personalised labels. To finished them off I added some metal beads to help weigh down the straps and give them that special little extra detail touch.

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I also plaited a second set of straps in kangaroo leather which I adorned with beads & charms… giving me the option to transform one pair of Jandals into two completely different looks.

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Since my experience with the toxic shoes, I have opted to buy better quality shoes and have less. I find open leather sandals most comfortable to wear in the extreme summer heat we experience down here, over winter I opt for well crafted leather boots. I look forward to the weather warming up so that I can test out my new leather Jandals properly, but until then I shall hang them up and admire them, especially since they were handcrafted by me… eventually Jandals will make their way into my product line, once I have thoroughly road tested them and refined their construction.

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So the next time you go to buy a new pair of shoes remember to ask yourself; is it worth compromising on your own health and quality of living for others in order to obtain many pairs of cheaply made shoes? Wouldn’t you rather invest in less and purchase shoes that are made ethically and with respect for our environment and global community? Knowing where your products come from is possible… by choosing to support local producers gives you have the opportunity to ask first hand what it is they use to create their product. Doing so also keeps the artisan skills and techniques thriving in our own community & country. There are many people just like me out there who actually enjoy the process of creating a product and digging deeper into understanding the process, refining their skill, producing a quality handcrafted item for you to enjoy!