Sonia McManus of Sonia Thérèse Design is a jeweller with a passion and a purpose. Before becoming a jeweller Sonia attained three university degrees (including a PhD in civil engineering!) but she put all that aside to follow her true creative passion.
“I never ever thought I would be making jewellery for a living – I actually thought I would be a painter or maybe a calligrapher… jewellery was never on the cards. But the Christchurch earthquakes turned life on it’s head, and now my business is growing rapidly and I have exhibited and presented my jewellery overseas, with my last exhibition being in Los Angeles.”
Sonia’s jewellery is intended to represent a beacon of hope in humanity and our ability/willingness to find solutions together – and make this a better world for our children.
How did you get into your craft?
I fell into it by accident really. After the Christchurch earthquakes I found myself in a job that had almost zero creativity and I was miserable. I started making resin tiki pieces and people started buying them! I went full time into the business a year ago.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
None! I am actually a trained geo-environmental engineer. I did art at school and have always been involved in something creative. This year I am doing a course, however, in glass, metal and plastic design… I am so excited!
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love fine silver and ethical gold. There is something really magical about working with raw materials and forming them into something beautiful. I also adore working with bio-resin, which is a plant based plastic material. I use it in many of my designs, and specifically work with earthquake rimu wood in the resin. I have a wood lathe, and I specialise in turning wooden beads from recycled native NZ timbers. Totally self taught on the wood lathe too – lucky for me I still have ten fingers, so I must be doing something right!
Oftentimes I will simply work with an idea and let the creativity come to me as I make the piece. For me this part of what I do isn’t work. This is absolute joy! I love being in the studio working on new pieces
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
My bio-resin pieces take a bit of time, patience and care. The first part is preparing the material that you are going to put into the resin. It has to be clean and dry – much of the wood that I work with is very old and dry, and also very broken up!
Mixing the resin is pretty straightforward – it’s a two-part material; mixing the base resin with a hardner. Then I will often colour it with translucent inks that I make from recycling old felt-tipped pens. The resin pour is something to be done carefully – the material being cast into the resin tends to move around a lot, and it’s important to try and get as many bubbles out as possible.
The pour can take up to three days to set depending on temperature and humidity. Once set, it can be taken out of the moulds, cut and sanded into shape. The sanding is probably the most difficult part of the whole process. It takes a lot of care and attention, and makes a very big mess – it’s important that I wear the right protective gear to keep things safe. Finally, I finish the pieces with fine silver findings, handmade by me in the studio.
What inspires you?
Mother Earth and the stories of the average person. I love to listen to stories, and those who know me know that I can also tell a pretty good story too! I am quite the environmental warrior too – always have been.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
All of my work is built on a platform of hope! I believe in the potential of the individual to make monumental change in the world. This translates into a deep hope in humanity’s ability to solve the issues that face our future on Mother Earth. I express this by using eco-ethical materials and processes, telling stories of hope and inspiration, delving into the world of our ancestors and their world view which was deeply connected to the planet. This connection, this link between us all and the connection with Mother Earth… well, there is nothing more important than protecting that to me.
Describe your creative process:
My creative process is very much a flow… actually, sometimes my creative flow is a bit overwhelming… and I have to write furiously to get it all down. Oftentimes I will simply work with an idea and let the creativity come to me as I make the piece. For me this part of what I do isn’t work. This is absolute joy! I love being in the studio working on new pieces, which is why I adore doing exhibition work. I often feel guided when making new pieces. They come from a heart space rather than a head space!
Describe your workspace:
I have a home studio which I have just revamped so that it is approx. 50% larger than previously. I work with a lot of machinery like my wood lathe, my scroll saw, drill press and sanders. I made my own work bench, and I love it – it feels like home to me. I have a window that looks out over my vege garden, and when I have the big doors open I often share the space with local swallow birds that come in and talk to me. I also have my cats that sit at my feet when I work – especially good in winter!
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
The best feedback I can ever get from any customer is when they send me photos of them wearing my jewellery… that is so beautiful and warming to me.
What are you currently listening to?
I am listening to a playlist on Spotify with Lady Gaga, A-ha, Manic Bloom, Gary Moore and Powderfinger…!
Recommend an album:
I love Chimera by Marina City.
All of my work is built on a platform of hope! I believe in the potential of the individual to make monumental change in the world. This translates into a deep hope in humanity’s ability to solve the issues that face our future on Mother Earth. I express this by using eco-ethical materials and processes, telling stories of hope and inspiration, delving into the world of our ancestors and their world view which was deeply connected to the planet.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I don’t know about childhood, but when I was at high school we read Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and it made me cry and cry and cry – still does! It is about the purity of love, and the tragedy of personal sacrifice… it’s a stunning story!
What are you reading now?
I have just finished The Knife of Letting Go by Patrick Ness… awesome trilogy!
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Helen Keller – I have been captivated by her ability to overcome her disabilities since I was a child. When I have a bad day, when things seem to get on top of me, when I don’t quite know what to do next, I ask myself “How would Helen Keller approach this situation?” It always helps!
A favourite quote:
Life is like a wild tiger. You can lay down and let him put his paw on you, or you can climb on his back and ride like the wind. I was told this many years ago by an old Egyptian man in the souk of Aswan… it stuck!
Tell us about your pets:
I have two chickens who free-range around my back yard. I have a rainbow lorikeet called Moss who loves playing in the sprinkler on the lawn on hot days and I have two cats who think that they are in charge of everything, and actually probably are!
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Pass… but if I could have any superpower then it would be the ability to fly. I would love to be able to fly!
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Stay true to your vision, find your niche and never, ever compete on price!
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I love the organic, ethical products made by Koral from Handled with Care… her sugar scrub is a staple in my bathroom. And I also bought the coolest cat hat from Nadeshiko NZ – makes my cat think he’s a lion!
What’s in store for 2018?
I have several irons in the fire, but the big one is another visit to the USA. I am intending to be there for a month around Christmas and light the fires of industry for my business there too. Last year I ended with an awesome exhibition in Los Angles, and this year I have my sights set on an exhibition in New York… watch this space!
Sonia has very generously offered a beautiful prize for one lucky Felt reader of her new Sonia Thérèse Design Vortex pendant in recycled fine silver, valued at $180 (see below).
If you would like to be in to win, Sonia would love you to tell her a story! Write Sonia a story in the comments section below, and also let us know what you enjoyed about Sonia’s own story and her creations. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 19 February and is open to New Zealand residents only.