In a house in Featherston, surrounded by second hand treasures (including a lounge suite originally given to her great-grandparents as a wedding gift), Emma McCleary crafts fabric, paper, ink and words into the unique handmade stylings of Emma Makes.
I sell on Felt as well as through a range of great stockists in New Zealand and Australia. While I don’t do many craft fairs, I am planning to do Craft 2.0 (Wellington) in October, Alt. Shift. Craft (Palmerston North) in December and Craft Country (Greytown) in December, which is one I also organise.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Yes and no – I have a degree in Fine Arts (majoring in printmaking) and a post graduate diploma in Museum Studies. Both those were based around creative study, which helped me develop ideas, which helps me run Emma Makes. However, neither gave me the technical skills I use now.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Hands down it’s my sewing machine, which I got for my 21st birthday, vintage op-shopped fabrics, and sewing. I taught myself to sew at art school by unpicking op-shopped clothing, seeing how it was made and then re-sewing it into styles that I liked.
Now I draft my own patterns and have a hilarious series of paper squares and rectangles, which look like nothing to outsiders but tell me exactly what I need to sew my products.
What was the last handmade item you bought?
I buy handmade all the time because it’s great and because I can’t expect people to buy from me if I’m not supporting handmade and buying local. I’ve most recently bought a teacup print from oyprints to reward myself for meeting a month-long challenge and a crochet coffee cup warmer from Alexandra Mackenzie – I’ve also got a great blue felted bag by Ramari Textiles on layby at Craft Country in Featherston.
Five words that describe your mind: Curious, great memory, optimistic, wilful.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I love hearing from customers because they often tell me really special things. Many of my notebooks and pencils have travelled the world or they’ve recorded notes for expectant mums and have been thank you presents for bridesmaids. I once sent a Plans & Schemes notebook to Parliament, which I thought was appropriate!
I love spotting random strangers wearing my bags – and people make a point of texting me or posting bag sightings on my Facebook page, which I love too.
My most intriguing customers – who never give feedback – are the men who join Felt just so they can buy a present for their wife. I always wonder if they’ve chosen it themselves or if their wife has emailed through a shopping list.
Describe your workspace:
I was really lucky a couple of years ago and got the builders in to make part of our garage into my studio. They lined it out and put a little recycled window in the back so that’s my craft space. And there’s always a little pile of stuff at the end of the couch too.
I painted my studio green (Geraldine by Dulux) and used old drawers to make shelves. It’s also pretty heavily laden with treasure from op-shops.
It’s always well packed with stuff – supplies, half-made projects, half-made printmaking works and finished products ready to ship off to Felt buyers and stockists.
What are you reading now?
I work in the book trade (my ‘real job’) as web editor for Booksellers New Zealand. I’m really lucky because I get to see a lot of new books and have the opportunity to review them too. Right now I’m reading Gorse is Not People by Janet Frame and NW by Zadie Smith. I implore mothers reading this profile to let their daughters read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – it’s incredible with a wonderful central girl character.
A favourite quote: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Teddy Roosevelt
What are you currently listening to?
I listen to heaps of podcasts because my studio doesn’t get National Radio. I love: This American Life, All Songs Considered, Selected Shorts, The Slate Culture Gabfest, The Moth, Desert Island Discs, The Friday Night Comedy Podcast, Savage Love and Great Lives among others.
I don’t really believe in putting people on a pedestal – instead I have a group of well-known people as well as friends who I admire for parts of their character, personality or resolve.
There’s something for just about everybody in Emma’s Felt shop, Emma Makes. To celebrate her love of floral prints, one lucky person who comments below will win an Emma Makes pixie bag in gorgeous retro fabric…and you might even find a handful of those fab pencils inside. The draw is open to New Zealand residents only until Friday 14 September.