Auckland-based Alex O’Connell of The Adventures of Alex O & Co named her crafting venture after the adventure of her own crafting journey – and her personality-filled, colourful, animal and pixie characters are testament to the liveliness and fun she’s found along the way. Working mainly in felt and wool blankets, she creates decor items, accessories and Christmas decorations that are sure to bring a smile.
What do you make?
I make homewares such as cushions and purses from recycled wool blankets, that have been appliquéd with wool blend felt and lined or backed with 100% cotton fabrics. I like to take old wool blankets and upcycle them to something new, useful and beautiful. I also make crafts with felt such as my Special Hearts and Pixie ranges.
How did you get into your craft?
When my son was four years old I joined a craft group to learn something new and to meet other mothers. Before this I had done very little hand sewing. I started making toys for my son and for his friends as birthday presents. Then people started offering to pay me to make toys for their children. The next thing I knew I was having a market stall at the Devonport Market and I needed a name for my label. The craft sewing had started as an adventure into trying something new and it had just grown so thus the name The Adventures of Alex O & Co.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Not really. I was basically taught the old fashioned way by attending a craft group with other women sitting around chatting and sharing skills. As my love for hand sewing grew I have read books and basically Googled and watched YouTube clips on anything that I wanted to learn.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite materials are felt, and wool blankets. I want my designs to not only look beautiful or quirky but to feel beautiful as well.
Whenever I have a market stall people are constantly picking up and feeling my designs. People often rub the hottie covers against their faces and say things like “That feels great!” or “That’s so soft!” I love that people get pleasure out of my designs.
If I could, I would hand sew all my designs, which is what I did in the early days. I personally get such joy out of creating something completely by hand. Nowadays I would be lost without my sewing machine. My designs are now a mixture of machine and hand sewing.
My process is very fluid. I have ideas running around in my head all the time. So I will sketch a design, then I try to simplify it for appliqué. I cut out the appliqué and then look at colours. Sometimes my designs are about working with different shades of a colour and other times it is about using complementary or opposing colours. I just love colour!
What inspires you?
I am inspired by nature and animals. As a child I had a couple of white rabbits as pets – Bubba and Frederick. These two crazy rabbits produced eleven baby rabbits! So at one time I owned thirteen white rabbits. Throughout my house and in my designs you will often see rabbits. I think this is because they remind me of the joy all these white rabbits bought me.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I love the quote “You only live once. Live beautifully.” I try to make all my designs beautiful. I want my designs to bring people pleasure and happiness. I try to make my designs functional and beautiful.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Recently I had a lady buy one of my Special Hearts to send to a little girl in Australia who was going to have an operation on her heart. I felt so honoured that this lady felt that one of my creations was special enough to send to this little girl. I love to hear the stories behind where my designs are going to.
Five words that describe your mind:
I like to see my mind as a garden that is full of creative, happy, vibrant, busy flowers.
Describe your workspace:
I love my creative space. It’s a room in my 1920s bungalow that has a beautiful bay window that lets in lots of light. If I am in my kitchen cooking dinner and I think of an idea, I can quickly pop into my studio and jot it down or throw colours together. I live in an all-male household and my studio space is very me… no sports paraphernalia in sight! Just beautiful things and plenty of colour.
What are you currently listening to?
I have Spotify so I listen to a real mixture of music but at the moment I love Skylar Grey‘s voice and I especially love her solo version of I’m Coming Home. So I am listening to her and also John Mayer live at the Nokia Theatre.
Recommend an album:
Passenger’s All the Little Lights.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
A Fish out of Water by Helen Palmer. The story is about a boy who buys a fish named Otto from a pet store. The store owner, Mr Carp, gives the boy instructions on how to care for the fish, including strict feeding instructions: “Never feed him a lot. Never more than a spot! Or something may happen. You never know what.” The pictures and the words just stuck with me – I don’t really know why!
What are you reading now?
Rising Strong by Brene Brown.
Who is your hero/heroine?
I have a few but the one that comes to mind first is Christina Noble, OBE. She’s the founder and driving force behind the Christina Noble Foundation, established in 1989 to assist the street children and orphans of Vietnam. The Foundation’s work now extends throughout Vietnam and into Mongolia.
Do you have any pets?
I have a beautiful nine month old Spoodle called Lucca. He is and absolute delight, both loving and mischievous at the same time. He really completes our family.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Back and believe in yourself. Fear is the biggest thing that holds us back. New Zealanders are so open and accepting of handmade craft and we live in a land of little businesses. So the market is there – you just need to back yourself and put your designs out there.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I bought a beautiful necklace off of a stall holder at my last market. I was attracted to it by the colours. It is all different shades of teal and turquoise. My two favourite colours are green and turquoise.
A favourite quote:
I have two favourite quotes: “You only live once. Live beautifully,” and “Don’t look back – you’re not going that way!”
What’s in store for the rest of 2015 and the new year?
There’s not much of the year left so I am just busy sewing and selling my designs! Four years ago I set up a business bank account and the bank manager asked me if I had a business plan. I said “Yes, I want to earn enough extra money to take my family on holiday to Fiji.” This December my family and I are heading to Fiji for a two week holiday! So a big thank you to all the people who buy my designs – you have made my business plan and dream come true. Bula Bula!
If you love Alex’s whimsical and appealing accessories, decor items and Christmas decorations, check out her Felt shop for more.
Alex has very kindly offered a prize for one lucky Felt reader of their choice of two sweet pixies (worth $32 each) from the Adventures of Alex O and Co range. To win a gorgeous wee pixie duo, simply leave a comment telling us what you like about Alex’s story and her creations. The draw will be made on Friday 4 December and is open to New Zealand residents only.