Born and bred in Napier, Jessica Hills of Furchin studied sculpture at Elam before spending four years teaching English in Croatia where her daughter Anouk (now 5) was born. A fluent speaker of Croatian and very talented crafter, Jessica also plays the guitar and loves vegetarian cooking, crosswords and the sea – and she’s soon to become wife to an acupuncturist and stepmother to three boys – congratulations Jess!
What do you make?
I sell a range of hand-printed greetings cards, cushions, home accessories and mei-tai style baby carriers, all handmade and using recycled materials wherever possible. For friends, family and myself I make clothes, toys, paintings, bags, books, bunting…
How did you get into your craft?
I was born into a family of makers. Dad built half our house from scratch and is the definitive DIY dynamo, mum is an amazing multi-talented crafter and my older sister is a fabulous jeweller. Thanks to my parents’ self-sufficiency ethos I learnt many skills as a child (sewing, sawing, spinning, knitting, baking, bottling, gardening). More importantly, I gained the confidence to have a go at pretty much anything – most recently pouring concrete.
We grew up without a TV in the house, and would ask ‘what can I make?’ when the entertainment ran out. I’ve had at least one creative project on the go ever since. These days, as a stay-at-home mum, crafting has become not only a much-needed creative outlet but also a way for me to support my daughter and myself. After years of friends telling me ‘you could sell that!’ I discovered Felt and thought ‘hmm, perhaps I could!’ The rest, as they say, is history…
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I have a BFA in sculpture, which informs everything I make in a roundabout way. I swapped large-scale installation works for small-scale crafts when I became a mother, but funnily enough a lot of the work I did at Elam addressed the art/craft divide and traditional notions of ‘women’s work’.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love carving into a fresh block of lino and then peeling off the first print; discovering gorgeous vintage fabrics and un-loved blankets in op-shops; the satisfaction of packaging up and sending off finished orders; my trusty old Bernina sewing machine; and seeing happy babies riding around town in my carriers.
What inspires you?
Cups of tea and living by the sea. My products are inspired by necessity and function, vintage textiles, timeless design, the beauty of natural forms and materials, and creative re-purposing.
What are you currently listening to?
In the workroom it’s usually Gillian Welch, Woolshed Sessions, Will Oldham, Juana Molina, the lovely ladies of jazz… Soothing sing-along stuff on my $6 stereo.
Recommend an album: Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music
Describe your workspace:
Alternately shambolic/ultra-organised, teeth-chatteringly cold/stickily hot (depending on the season) and emphatically too small! Often branching out to include dining table, lounge floor, coffee table, bed…
Five words that describe your mind: inquisitive, voracious, analytical, always open
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Philosophy sounds a bit lofty, but I do believe in the inherent energy of objects – which is why I don’t like the idea of my child playing with toys made by other children in dirty factories from toxic plastics that will still be around in 100 years. Something bought directly from a local maker is better quality, a better shopping experience, and better for the earth. I like to think I’m part of a rising handmade movement that promotes responsible consumption and provides an alternative to mass production, rampant capitalism, child labour, disposable culture and pollution.
If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?
A red Stockmar block crayon (I went to a Waldorf school).
Your favourite childhood book?
I was a bookworm so this is hard, but Astrid Lindgren jumps out as a favourite author. Carl Larsson, Shirley Hughes and Jill Barklem (Brambly Hedge) for illustrations.
What are you reading now?
A.S. Byatt’s The Game, Hawke’s Bay for the Happy Wanderer (an engagement present from my parents), and back issues of World Sweet World. Next on the list are Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and J. S. Foer’s Eating Animals.
Do you have any pets?
A black cat, Frida, who’d happily spend all day perched on my shoulder. I’m trying to teach her to say ‘Avast, me hearties!’ in time for the next Talk Like A Pirate day.
The Furchin kids’ range of cushions is now stocked exclusively by newly opened Poppets in Napier – keep an eye on Jessica’s Felt shop as the rest of her cushions are added over the next few months. You’ll also find Jess at the Taikura Christmas Fair, Hohepa Country Fair and Haumoana Market Day.