For Kat Rowlands, her Felt shop The Quirky Kat is part of a bigger picture: part of the plan of renovating and living in her over-100 year-old house, “Olive-Tree Cottage” with her husband, growing organic fruits, vegetable and nuts, keeping chooks, preparing delicious, nutritious foods, home-schooling her son – and running a business from home that utilises her creative abilities.
What do you make?
Fun stuff that I want to have and think that maybe someone else might like too. Things to wear, to play with, or to have in the home. Clothing accessories and soft toys mostly at the moment: bags, hats, scarves, cuffs, spats and coats, sheep, cats, and dress-up dolls. Things with pockets, buttoned tabs, and hoods. Things with zips, buckles, and black-bound edges. Small, detailed stuff with juxtaposed textures, colours and patterns. Things with appliquéd messages.
I’ve always imagined having my own shop with all the things I make in it, in the front room of the cottage. That may still happen, or maybe not. I was very excited when I discovered Felt!
How did you get into your craft?
I’ve always been arty and crafty. Sewing started with Mum letting me use her machine, and scraps of fabric. I was always fiddling around with fabric that I’d acquired – Dad’s old paisley tie, or Mum’s houndstooth maternity dress – and making my own clothes, and clothes for friends. I insisted on figuring out my own way of doing things, and my unusual fashion sense and garments with unfinished edges, held together with safety pins, was much to my mother’s horror!
Somewhere along the line I started running a business from home, designing and making clothes for people, usually for special occasions like weddings or school balls, as well as doing alterations. I’ve been designing and making clothes for about 15 years now, including a nice wee stint a few years back doing some fun stuff for a friend’s label. Then after the disruption of the Canterbury quakes, and other life difficulties, I’ve moved into doing my own range of stuff – tended away from women’s bespoke clothing, and more into accessories, toys and homewares… for now, anyway.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
A little bit. I did a few night courses at Polytech about 14 years back, learning how to use industrial sewing machines, and the proper industry ways of pattern drafting and garment construction. That served me well – put a bit of method into the madness, and sped up my processes a little.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Favourite materials: textured, recycled and natural-fibre fabrics: blanket wool, natural linen, shaggy fur, furnishing brocade, velvet, quilted nylon, vinyl, hessian, towelling or old candlewick bedspread, vintage printed cottons… and silvery metal accessories/embellishments: large eyelets, chunky zips with dangly pullers, buckles… and black bias binding… and buttons.
Favourite tools: my old, faithful Elna sewing machine. It is a 1960s model that I bought second-hand when I was 18. It just goes and goes and keeps on going. The rotary razor cutter I use these days is fantastic too… saves my hand getting sore from cutting.
Favourite processes: everything! There’s so much variety and detail in between the initial concept and the finished product. Thinking through ideas, drawing and list-making, drafting up patterns, choosing which particular fabrics I want to use and cutting them out, working out how to construct things, putting it all together. I love adding hardware to things too, like hammering the eyelets onto the key-rings, and using the stud-press. I also really enjoy playing around on the computer, making up logos, swing-tags and product booklets.
What inspires you?
Textures. Beautiful fabrics.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I like to design things that are fun and funky and I try to keep an eco-conciousness about them as well. I refer to it as “Eco-Funk”. I’m playing around with a few slogans at the moment, that you’ll see online soon as appliqué on scarves and such, that are working with that idea. I also like to incorporate some kind of therapeutic value or educational quality to my products, or to have some thing about them that promotes health and well-being, or that facilitates what I consider is good living.
Describe your workspace:
I’m set up in a room in our house that used to be dark and dingy, but now has white walls and ceiling and new lighting, which is great. There are stacks of plastic storage bins everywhere, full of fabrics, according to colours or fabric type. Old suitcases full of the same. Plus more in the bedroom. And more in the spare room. And in the shed.
Pattern blocks are tied up and hanging off a coat hook on the back of the door. I have an industrial plain sewer, overlocker and domestic machine set up so I can pivot around on my chair from one to the other. An old table, elevated on stilt-like blocks to make it a better working height, and with a sheet of MDF on top to make a larger work-surface, serves me well as a drafting/cutting/work table. More storage bins and pattern blocks on top of them, are under the table. My buttons are kept grouped in colours, in little spice jars lined up along the window sills.
There are lots of other jars of various bits and pieces for use in my work or for inspiration, including a jar of marbles that I like to keep in sight. I don’t like loosing them. And there are a couple of sets of drawers stuffed full, crammed into my space as well.
It’s usually very cluttered and messy, overflowing with stuff yet to be started or finished, and suffering from disorder. I have to move a lot of the excessive mess out, in order to function in there!
Five words that describe your mind:
Much Like My Work Space.
Cluttered. Busy. Divergent. Vague. Disordered. Detailed. Imaginative. Complicated.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I love to learn something about who and where an item is going to – like the wee Re-Sheep purse that was a gift for someone’s sister-in-law who was a sheep-farmer. Or a Kat-Cat toy that was being sent overseas for someone’s niece. Or the bag that was going back to Australia, where the two daughters would fight over who would get it in the mother’s will.
What are you currently listening to?
Quietness. I like it that way. Actually at the moment I’m listening to a wee Grey Warbler singing just outside, telling me it’s going to rain soon… and the primary school children playing outside during their lunch break. They’re good sounds. I don’t tend to listen to music much – I usually find it distracting, and irritating.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
One of them was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I discovered that book when I started school. I was fascinated by the different sized pages, and cut-out holes that peeped through to the next page. I’d never seen a book like that before. All the rest were plain and boring.
What are you reading now?
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, and anything else I can find on the internet about the health benefits and making of long-proof wholemeal sourdough bread, home cultured dairy products, meat-bone stocks, lacto-fermented veggies and such. Excellent foods. Love it.
A favourite quote:
“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon.
I learned of this apt quote from the lovely woman who ran my exhibition in Nelson last year. I have it pinned up in my workroom, with some other quotes that are good to remind myself of at times.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I can’t remember what I last bought, but I’m always on the lookout for beautiful wooden homewares and toys, unbleached homespun and hand-woven wool or linen fibres, and gorgeously packaged and yummy-smelling natural skin care and healing remedies – all things that I’d love to make myself, but don’t have the time, skills or resources to do so. I love the way these things look, feel and smell, and the evocation of a sense of well-being, “rightness” and connectedness to natural created order and to ancient traditions.
What’s in store for 2015?
I’ve got so many things that I’m working on, and haven’t got into the shop yet. I hope to have my appliquéd-word scarves from my “Clean Green NZ” range online soon, and one of my “Molly-Dolls” with her winter clothing. Then some recycled blanket wool ear-flap hats, that I haven’t perfected yet, and later on, my ultra-cool interactive texture fabric books, hopefully. And more after that.
Love Kat’s personality-filled pieces? Make sure you visit her Felt shop.
Kat has very kindly offered a prize for one lucky Felt blog reader: this adorable wee Re-Sheep keyring (below). To win this cutie, leave a comment telling us what you like about Kat’s story and her creations. The draw will be made on Friday 10 April and is open to New Zealand residents only.