People who know Pip Pottage of Empire Eco Designs would probably describe her as a pursuer of happiness, as Pip tries to live each moment with a little joy and contemplation. Pip and her husband moved to Canada a month after getting married (20 years ago now) and had their children there, before making the decision to abandon the cold winters and bring up their boys back home, in sunshine and bare feet. Since moving back all their parents and siblings have returned to Nelson too: “We have lots of babysitters and family to hang out with, and I get to sew lots!”
What do you make?
I make growing range of handy homewares and throws/blankets, mostly made with organic cotton. It’s been described as an almost Scandinavian style, but I also love bright and surprising pops of colour, like my new fluoro lunch bags.
How did you get into your craft?
When my son was born eight years ago, the baby world was a wash of pastel blue, pink, yellow and green with naff little motifs, and I just wouldn’t have it in my house. So I made my own, then for my friends, then people started buying my blankets! Things really changed when we moved back to New Zealand. I was shocked by the lack of organic/sustainable homewares and baby goods available, so started importing organic fabrics and expanded my range to include things you just can’t by with eco friendly options here.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
A few years ago I started taking arts courses at NMIT in Nelson. I always seem to be studying something but these are by far the best courses I’ve ever taken. They were initially just for fun, but now I design fabric thanks to the skills I’ve learnt.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
One of my favourite things to do is bring my fabrics up into my dining room, which sits on the second floor almost above the trees. It’s flooded with sunlight and is so lovely in the afternoon when no one else is around. I turn on National Radio or an NPR podcast, get my friend’s electric fabric cutter (that I’ve had on extended loan) and cut a huge amount of fabric at once. There’s something about the piles of soft cotton and the colours all cut neatly together that brings me joy and satisfaction.
What inspires you?
All the other amazing creative people out there, doing their thing and pouring their heart into what they do, then putting it on display for everyone to see.
… and my Mum. (I know, cheesy, right?) My Mum is always on my mind when I work with fabric. She is a constant source of knowledge and inspiration for me, and my go-to person when my machine is not doing what I want. She was a professional seamstress for most of my childhood, so has some serious skills. But when I was young I watched her come home night after night with blistered, cracked and swollen hands. It turned out the thermal drapery fabric she was sewing, day after day, was toxic. It was causing this debilitating condition. Imagine that everything you touch hurts you. I just couldn’t even imagine having that fabric in my life now, let alone having to touch it and sew it. They still make that stuff, you know!
My husband is also a constant source of inspiration and motivation. Together we decided for me to quit my “career” to focus on “pursuing the art of doing what you love.” I now work part time for another awesome craftsperson (Ash Hilton Jewellery), and create my goodies part time too. We have a simple life and like anyone it’s not always easy, but it’s full of goodness. So, if I’m lucky to sit down for five minutes each day and contemplate how good it all is, I cherish it.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
More than anything, I believe the products we purchase shouldn’t have a massive impact on our environment: mine, yours or the people who are involved in the process of growing the cotton, or making the fabric. There needs to be more alternatives for everyone, so that we can choose. Sometimes that ideal is not reality, even now. But I make a conscious choice to use high quality organic or sustainably sourced materials wherever possible, so both you and I aren’t wrapped in a chemical cocktail that will make your hair curl!
Describe your workspace:
My workspace is very pragmatic and a bit cramped, but gets beautiful winter sunshine. Essentials are my corkboard full of inspiration that I glimpse at as I daydream and sew, a podcast blasting, iron hot and at the ready, and piles of work in progress. I spend a lot of time going up and down stairs to sit at my dining room table to catch all the sun. It’s chaotic but it’s all mine and I love it! I’m secretly waiting for the day when my hubby walks in the door with the plans and budget for my very own outdoor workroom…
Five words that describe your mind:
Colourful, optimistic, planning (my mum calls it scheming), curious, evolving.
What are you currently listening to?
Whitehorse, a group from Toronto, Canada. My cousin sent it to me years ago, but I just love it.
What are you reading now?
I’ve just started reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna but also have NZ Life and Leisure Small Spaces and Uppercase Magazine from Canada on the go…
A favourite quote:
I’m really bad with remembering exact details of quotes, but it goes something like this: “I am one person, and so are you, but what if I changed, then you were inspired to change and others around us changed, together we could change the world.”
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I love any feedback, because it gives you the warm fuzzies and helps you learn something. My I think my fav is this one from a repeat customer who so patiently waited while more fabric arrived from overseas… It still gives me butterflies… “OMG!!!! Duvet looks absolutely amazing! Im so over the moon with how it looks, your work is outstanding. Thanks soooooo much! xxx”
Do you have any pets?
We have a super speedy, very sappy dog named Tiggy, and five chickens.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Speedy mistake undo-er… need I say more?
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Just pick something, make five of them in different colours, take some nice clean photos, get a Felt account and go do it. Don’t be put off by things not being perfect, you can always change as you go along. It’s so much fun!
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
It was a gorgeous leather handbag from The Hope Tree in Christchurch. They were next to me at the Monster March Market and this gorgeous bag taunted me all day! I admire anyone who can work with leather and this bag is a lovely dark teal colour, one of my favourite colours at the moment.
What’s in store for 2015?
This year I’m really trying to live more consciously: working smarter, avoiding long hours and sewing in the weekends, and spending more time with my family and my friends, playing and having fun outdoors. But at the same time, I’m heading to the Auckland Fair in June, my first North Island market, I’m so thrilled to be going. AND I’m working on designing more of my own fabrics, I’d love to start printing my own
To see more of Pip’s practical, attractive and eco-conscious Empire Eco Designs visit her Felt shop.
Pip has generously offered a prize for one lucky Felt blog reader: one of her new fluoro lunch bags (valued at $40), pictured below. These fun and practical lunch bags are perfect for school, work or a picnic, or even on the dining table filled with bread rolls. When you’re done, just throw it in the wash! The new Fluoro range is made from 100% cotton canvas outer and 100% organic hemp canvas lining.
To win this great prize, leave a comment telling us what you like about Pip’s story and her creations. The draw will be made on Friday 5 June and is open to New Zealand residents only.