Susan Manson of Fully Woolly is a highly skilled maker of fantastic faux taxidermy deer trophies and other woolly goodies – and she reckons fibre runs through her veins. Growing up with a family background in wool and textiles, she describes herself as a multi-crafter, with skills in spinning, dyeing, knitting, crochet, felting and sewing – truly Fully Woolly!
What do you make?
Fibre crafts – mostly deer head wall hangings – and a variety of toys from repurposed vintage blankets. I started my crafting career as a dyer, spinner and knitter, and now occasionally produce some yarns, kits and knits, as the deer allow!
How did you get into your craft?
I was taught to crochet by my grandmother when I was about seven, and since then I have enjoyed fiddling around with fabrics and yarn. I say fibre is in my blood… one of my ancestors was a paisley weaver from Scotland, and a lot of his descendants have skills in various kinds of crafting. My aunts were amazing at embroidery, knitting and mixed media work.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I am mostly self taught, but have had advice and support along the way. I have done workshops etc but mostly its trial and error.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I really enjoy dyeing, making colours and blending and picturing how it will look worked up. My favourite thing is getting a seed of an idea and working out how to make it reality… what processes and materials to use, making and remaking it until its what I imagined. Product development sounds a bit grand when I’m working out how to make a Bunny Rattle!
I like using, or reusing, fabrics and materials with a past life, a history, blankets that have been washed and used have a great texture, I like giving them a second life while they hold the memory of what they once were. They are very nostalgic for people, I often hear customers talking about how their mum got that blanket for a wedding present, or they used to have that one in the caravan.
My most useful, and therefore one of my favourite tools, is a surgical clamp! I use it for turning, and stuffing and twisting… I recently broke my first one and it was sorely missed and quickly replaced.
I am also very fond of my very sharp scissors… Everyone knows they will get in trouble if they are used for anything but fabric!
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
If it’s sewing critters for example, then I will spend some time cutting a batch. I don’t make singles, I prefer to make, or part make, a dozen or so at a time. Then I machine stitch what’s needed and stuff them, then finish off with hand sewing and label them.
What inspires you?
The fabrics and fibres I have around me, the colours and patterns… there are too many ideas bouncing around in my head and just not enough time!
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
There isn’t really one. I like making what I think are useful or attractive things… and if I can do it from repurposed materials it’s a bonus.
Describe your creative process:
I get an idea, I do some research on any different processes I might need and to see if there is anything similar, I try and keep mine original, cut a pattern and sew a sample… tweak it and sew another… until I have something I like.
Describe your workspace:
I work from home, in my dining area. We can’t sit at the table to eat anymore – it has my sewing machine set up there and the boxes of cut parts for deer and critters. I have another small work table where all the cutting and handwork happens. I call the TV my work mate, it keeps me entertained and on task! I watch a lot of trashy daytime TV!
The living room is for order processing and photography. I have gathered several different backgrounds for the deer and critters, to make them look pleasing and to add variety to my Felt shop (and for me). It does mean that there are often random things hanging from the walls! I have blankets, fabrics, yarn and tools stashed in nearly every room in the house.
How does art or craft feature in the rest of your life?
Helping people be creative is something I enjoy, either learning new things, extending themselves or giving them an outlet to sell their work.
I spend half the year co-ordinating the Wanaka Sunday Craft Market, giving creators a place to showcase and sell their work, we are a handmade New Zealand market and all stalls are run by the artists, giving the public a chance to interact and give feedback. I am also on the Upper Clutha Community Arts Council, we support arts projects in the area and provide scholarships. We also organise the Wanaka Autumn Arts School, and I help with the day to day running of that for one very busy week in April.
For several winters I have organised the Wanaka Stitch n Bitch group where we get together to talk crafty things and help people learn to knit or crochet.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I had a customer at the market show one of my monkeys to her toddler and the wee guy wouldn’t let go, so she bought him rather than have the tears! Three days later she sent me a photo of the monkey still being cuddled and said that her son hadn’t put him down. That kind of customer satisfaction is the best feedback.
It’s also great feedback to get returning customers to my Felt shop, it’s great to know they liked the first deer enough to buy another one or two!
What are you currently listening to?
I really only listen to the radio, and trashy TV!
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Amelia Bedelia… I really enjoyed the use of language, I thought it was hilarious!
What are you reading now?
I’m slowly reading Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, I don’t get much time for it during the summer, I hope to finish it once market season is over.
A favourite quote:
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – the Dalai Lama.
Tell us about your pets:
I am currently petless… we usually have a cat but we are waiting to find our new housemate. Our cats are always named after Ford cars… we have had Cortina, Edsel, Zephyr and Capri. Hope to add a Zodiac or Falcon soon. They are spoiled for choice for napping spots, so many blankets to snuggle into!
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Set good bookwork habits, it’s easier to do it in small bites than remember what that seven-month-old receipt is for.
Be prepared for it to be a wandering path not a straight journey. It’s not all creating, you will have to take side roads to learn additional skills like photographing and editing your work, copywriting and using social media. There are good free tutorials available, find something that feels your level and then practise lots.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A small hemp bracelet with an amethyst bead from a stallholder at the Wanaka Craft Market. It was pretty and she was new and I wanted to support her.
What’s in store for the rest of 2018?
I have been asked to send my work to the Vauxhall Exhibition of Fine Art in Devonport in June, and will be at Encraftment Market in Christchurch that month too, everything is focussed on getting things made for those so I haven’t thought much beyond that. Winter will be a time for getting stock prepared for the summer market season, but we always say that and somehow are never as productive as we imagine!
Susan has offered an awesome prize for one lucky Felt reader of a deer head worth $60.00, in your choice of colour, from her lovely range. These friendly-looking, cute wee creatures are made from recycled blankets, and are great for a child’s bedroom, over your fire place, or in your lounge or hall.
If you would like to be in to win, let us know in the comments section what you enjoyed reading about Susan’s story and her gorgeous Fully Woolly creations. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 14 May and is open to New Zealand residents only.