A desire to produce timeless, quality children’s products lies behind the work of Lauren Butler of Needle and I. “After the birth of my daughter in late 2011, I became very aware of the throw-away nature of the kids industry, how much pressure there is to buy new things all the time and how much of what is on offer is often cheaply made with questionable origins. When she was around six months old I started to focus in earnest on what I wanted to see in her bedroom and what objects I could dream up to hold her attention. These experimentations were the beginning of Needle & I.”
What do you make?
I design and make a range of soft furnishings for kids rooms including garlands, mobiles, cushions, toys, games, books and the occasional growth chart.
How did you get into your craft?
I struggle to remember a time when I wasn’t a maker of things. It would have been hard to resist my Mum’s influence, given she always had some sort of project on the go, be it dressmaking, embroidery, tapestry, knitting… the list goes on. I guess what I do at Needle & I is a confluence of all the things I’ve learnt along the way. There’s nothing particularly tricky about what I do as I use very basic stitching and construction techniques. I guess I just found a design aesthetic that worked well with my technical skills and I was able to create something cohesive out of it.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Not at all. I’m not even sure such a thing exists for what I do. The best training you could get is to grow up with a very clever and dexterous mother. Actually, my grandmother had a hand in it too. Pedal sewing machines and making pompoms were my formative training.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Most of the Needle & I products are made from boiled wool. It’s a very beautiful textile to work with. It’s soft and luxurious yet very robust. I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with hand-dying small batches of wool – it’s a lengthy, messy process but very satisfying when you make it through enough trial and error to produce the colour you were hoping for. I find the needlework itself is quite meditative which is lucky given much of what’s involved with this craft is detailed, repetitious work.
What inspires you?
I like simplicity and I’m drawn to unconventional use of colour. I like to walk the line with colours which almost clash so I’m always keeping an eye out for interesting colour use in things such as interiors and clothing. Often fabric will inform what I make or combinations of colours I see in my day-to-day travels. It’s a bit of an abstract process really, I’m not always entirely sure where an idea springs from but I will often sit on an idea for weeks before it develops into an actual product. I like to take my time over ideas and edit along the way.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Much of what I had as a child – be it clothes, toys, linen – was handmade. I think this developed an appreciation for goods made with care and a real consideration for what’s being made and who it’s for. It’s very meaningful to receive something that has been made by hand.
I like the idea that less is more where kids are concerned, that it’s not about buying something new every week, but investing where you are able in well-made, considered goods which spark children’s imaginations and will last a long time. Hopefully this is something that translates through what I do at Needle & I.
Why have you chosen to specialise in homewares for children’s rooms?
In some ways it was a case of ‘right place right time’ for developing the range in the direction of furnishings for children’s rooms. Having a child of my own has definitely opened my eyes up to what I want to see in her bedroom. I wanted her space to feel cheerful, cosy and colourful and not so cluttered as to overwhelm her. I wanted a way of making a room feel cohesive by adding a few simple items which both she and I would get pleasure out of.
Describe your workspace:
Workspaces, really. I work from home, between the office and studio in the garage, so my gear is spread in a somewhat dysfunctional way between the two. I have lots of plants, jars filled with thread, reams of fabric and piles of cut wool all over the place. I’m not very good at working in mess so I’m constantly tidying up the trail of destruction I leave behind. I’m sure I’d get through a lot more work if I could just let things get messy now and then!
What else do you do as well as creating the Needle & I products?
The other thing I love to do is write. Well, cook and photograph… then write. It seems I’ve become a professional multi-tasker. I dabble in food blogging via my website and I also run a page on Facebook called Mini-me Meals with a foodie friend of mine which focuses on easy, nutritious meals for littlies.
Recommend an album:
Electrelane – The Power Out. I just keep coming back to it.
Your favourite childhood book?
The one that sticks in my mind is a version of Yertle the Turtle I thrashed when I was about seven years old. The pages were made from heavy card and had a mini record pressed onto each page. There was this little contraption that you pushed on top of the record and it played the story. I was completely obsessed with it. No one I’ve ever mentioned this to says they’ve heard of anything like it. Hopefully it’s not just a figment of my childhood imagination… (It isn’t, you’ll be glad to know! It was one of a series of “Talk to Me” books produced by Fisher Price – Ed.)
What are you reading now?
Reading is sadly a bit of a thing of the past since our daughter came along. I’m well and truly done for by the time we get her into bed. The last book I read, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, was really great but tragically took me a couple of months to finish. And it’s an easy read.
What was the last handmade item you bought?
I visit the Takapuna Markets most weekends, usually with Thea in tow. I’ve found a sweet little stall there which makes rudimentary and slightly odd soft toys out of old blankets. I recently bought an garish pink and orange owl to keep the Thea’s green and blue dinosaur company.
Lauren has very generously offered us one of her delightful handmade Grey Cloud cushion covers (cover only), to give away to one lucky Felt customer. The Grey Cloud cushion cover is made from high quality 100% boiled wool and cotton and is designed to complement the range of garland wall hangings also listed in her shop.Tell us what you like about Lauren’s work, or how it inspires you, in the comments section below and you’ll be entered into the draw to win this lovely cover. The winner will be drawn on Friday 10 May. The draw is open to New Zealand residents only.