Capturing Aotearoa: one maker’s journey of design, creativity and balance

Shane-Maree Morris is the creative force behind Deep Green INC, based in vibrant Wellington. Her beautiful cushions, bed and table runners, and wall hangings incorporate feathers, flax, paua shell, textured fabrics and contemporary patterns. She’s inspired by the diversity and energy of her hometown, Māori and Pasifika design, and the natural beauty of Aotearoa.


 

 
What do you make?
Display cushions, runners and wall hangings with a flavour of Aotearoa. I use materials that evoke a sense of our uniqueness in the world. Feathers, woven matting, paua shell, tapa cloth and hand drawn Pasifika and inspired patterns.

How did you get into your craft?
Like many artisans it has been a somewhat convoluted journey to get to where I am today. I have loved textiles from as far back as I can remember and studied clothing and textiles at high school where I fell in love with screen printing, block printing and batik.

I grew up in a richly creative home and have a good haul of creative genes. My father was an architect and my mother an interior designer (as well as spinner, weaver, dyer and potter). As a child, listening to conversations about design was motivating and inspiring, and I developed a real passion for interior design. It was then a bit odd, that for a number of reasons I decided to go nursing and have been a practicing registered nurse for over 35 years. However, I was always sewing and creating. I love my Yin Yang world. A wonderful mix of ‘creating’ and nursing. Nursing gives me perspective; ‘creating’ feeds my soul.

I enjoyed a number of years having a business doing up houses which lead me to a love of ‘staging’ rooms – and in order to create the unique Aotearoa inspired aesthetic I wanted, I found myself making products myself. At one point I had over 100 cushions in storage and in my home! I was delighted that when I decided to sell them, people actually wanted to buy them. It took off from there.


 

 
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I did do a short interior design course at Waikato polytechnic years ago, but the answer to this is really no. Probably growing up immersed in creativity of one sort or another was an education in itself. With that said, I believe everyone can tap into creativity.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite textiles are beautiful textured, neutral cottons and linens. I also love off-beat colours like burnt orange, ochre yellows and sludgy greens. I use a lot of fabric recycled from op-shops. Curtains, table cloths, even clothing – and of course remnant bins – are my ‘go to’. We have some fabulous fabric stores in Wellington so I am spoiled for choice.

One of my favourite processes is dyeing and I have been experimenting with different dyeing techniques. Ice melting over fabric with dye sprinkled on it is a fascinating method of colouring fabric abstractly. I have also been doing some interesting work dyeing with rusty objects. Unfortunately you do need a good ‘wet’ area to really get into dyeing and my current workspace doesn’t really allow this.

Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces:
I have templates for most of my work now. Mainly so I can ensure accuracy and repeat consistently. If I am making a runner for either a table or a bed I will toss fabrics around my work surface and get a feel for what works together. I usually co-ordinate two or three fabrics which complement each other colour-wise and texturally. I cut panels of fabric and reinforce them with iron-on interfacing to give the fabric structure. I also use a lot of woven matting which is sealed with stain or urethane to stop fraying. Depending on whether the piece features feathers, Pasifika patterns, paua shells or tapa cloth, influences how I construct the runner – however proportion and balance is everything. Proportion creates visual rhythm and this is essential in my designs.

When I am making a Pasifika-inspired runner I develop or have a selection of original hand drawn designs. I adore tapa cloth and take much of my inspiration from the simple but striking patterns. My black pattern is transferred to fabric and I overlay small areas, usually frangipani flowers, with paint. I have developed a technique where I can apply small amounts of paint accurately.


 

 

 
What inspires you?
Like many creative souls I get inspiration from all sorts of places – many unexpected, but I do actively search for things that inspire and motivate me. Books, magazines, exhibitions and galleries and of course the internet. There are unlimited sources of inspiration. Often it can just be a single piece of fabric that I can immediately visualise constructing a runner or cushion with. As previously mentioned I love tapa cloths and can always find inspiration when viewing them. Te Papa has a world class collection. I can also find a single colour inspiring and feel almost driven to make something show-casing it.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Having a ‘point of difference’. There are many, many people making home interior items. I aim to make something different and unique, which is high quality. Quality underpins everything. I also aim to get as much pleasure out of the process as I do from the end product.

Describe your creative process:
My creative process use to be quite random but over the years I have become more disciplined. I think being disciplined really translates to being organised, having a plan and giving forethought to what you are intending to produce.

I now have a range of templates cut from thin hardboard which ensures correct sizing for each element of my work. I still love going off grid and producing a one-off creation that I would never be able to repeat. That’s when I have the most fun.


 

 
In 2004 when I first started selling my work I found photographing it really difficult. When photographing inside with a flash I was often frustrated being unable to capture the true colour and texture of fabrics so I started photographing my work outside. This turned into a theme for my brand and has slowly evolved over the years. I do all my own photography and have some favourite spots. The Wellington South coast is the best. I have to pick my days carefully though (I have almost lost a runner over Cook Straight!). I think photographing my work outside suggests to the buyer that they are bringing a little piece of Aotearoa inside. I like that idea.

Describe your workspace:
My workspace is currently a room in our home. It is a reasonable size but does get a bit cluttered with all my gear. If I’m organised it works well. I look out on trees and bush with tui, kereru, kaka and pīwakawaka which is gorgeous, if not a little distracting.

I am a fabric addict and have to consciously resist accumulating too much.

In the past I have had quite a large studio workspace which was fabulous but a long-held promise to my daughter that when she started university she could have the room has come to fruition, and that’s how it is for now.

Having a stock of cushions and runners can be tricky and storage and space does become an issue, so I have developed a strategy where I ‘flat pack’ all the elements for particular designs. I then have all the components ready to construct the piece when it sells or is required in Ora Gallery which I sell through here in Wellington.


 

 

 
Five words that describe your mind:
Authentic, creative, grateful, curious, and (unfortunately) impatient!

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I relish all feedback I get from anyone who purchases or receives my work. I have had a few wonderful commissions over the years. One that stands out is being trusted to creating six large wall hangings for the opera ‘Paeakau’ written and performed by Holly and Zac Winterwood. The Māori opera was commissioned by Kokomai Creative Festival, Wairarapa, in 2017. It was the first time I had made a piece of work using pounamu. I had to find a way to suspend 13 beautiful pieces of pounamu and incorporate them into a wall hanging. I was thrilled with the result. The opera was engaging and had amazing feedback, some of which was directed at the stage setting so I’ll take a share of the credit for that.

What are you currently listening to?
To be honest, usually whatever my daughter is playing on her iPod, currently Tash Sultana.

Recommend an album:
Vaya Con Dios – Night Owls. It’s my ‘go to’ for a relaxing evening.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Anything by Dr Seuss. Growing up we had just about every book. I adore the rhyme, rhythm and humour, as well as the crazy critters and characters. We sometimes call our cats Thing 1 and Thing 2.

What are you reading now?
I love poring through design books, currently Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: The House and Its History. I do confess to being an Interior design/Homestyle magazine junkie. My favourite is Urbis.

Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Maybe not heroine but definitely most admired without question is my daughter – she knows why.


 

 
A favourite quote:
“If you are skating on thin ice, you may as well tap dance.” Not sure about the author, but it was passed to me by a parent of a terminally ill child who was talking about living fully and treasuring every day.

Tell us about your pets:
OK… you asked for it… Nola is a scruffy, slightly naughty poodle/foxy cross. She is an opportunist and a ‘get away’ artist. Yes, we are to blame for her undisciplined behaviour. Our new additions are brother and sister cats Marlow and Hazel. We claimed them as tiny kittens from the SPCA (or them us). We are luckily over the time-wasting kitten phase where we enjoyed sitting and just watching them play for far too long. They are now nicely ensconced into our daily lives.

If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
I guess my super power is that I can almost certainly thread my sewing machine with my eyes closed. Maybe that makes me JanoME Super Threader- yeh, got a nice ring to it!

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Research, read, explore, and seek out opportunities. There is a plethora of information out there pertaining to just about anything you can imagine. Have a ‘can do’ attitude. Look for like-minded people. Alternatively-minded people often have good advice as well. Look for inspiration and even search out a mentor. Mentors are great. Find your ‘ Point of difference’. Enjoy and delight in your endeavours and whatever you create.

Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
This is a no-brainer. Support local producers, providers and communities whenever you can. It all comes back around and that can only be good for us all.


 

 
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A beautiful pounamu toki as a gift for my daughter. The knowledge that it was hand crafted in Aotearoa and its simple beauty attracted me.

What’s in store for the rest of 2018, and next year?
I really don’t know, but bring it on! I honestly try to live in the here and now and just enjoy my life. I know how quickly things can change. I would like to become more sustainable in the use of my materials… we are all trying to do that. Hopefully my business Deep Green INC will continue to move forward and thrive in the future.

Prize draw!
Shane-Maree has very generously offered a beautiful prize of a small Deep Green INC runner of your choice, for one lucky Felt customer (see below). These gorgeous original tapa-inspired runners are ribbed in 100% cotton with lovely woven flax panels.

If you would like a chance to win this stunning prize, leave a comment on the blog letting us know what you love about Shane-Maree’s story and her Deep Green INC creations. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 29 October, and is open to New Zealand residents only.

13 thoughts on “Capturing Aotearoa: one maker’s journey of design, creativity and balance

  1. Shane, your work depicts your personality that of more than meets the eye , is fun and creative but thoughtful and positively unique .

  2. Shane, authentic is absolutely what comes through in your works. You have always stayed true to your craft and ethos. I am loving following your developments as they naturally unfold!

  3. Shane, its so lovely to see you doing so well with your business. I love the mix of textures that you use in your pieces, which I think helps to make rhem look absolutely stunning 🙂

  4. Beautiful words! I found the mention of the ice dying technique and would love to learn more about it. Your designs are beautiful, especially feathered ones.

  5. I have admired Shane-Marie’s work for quite a few years and have loved seeing her work in print and words here on felt. Your colours are vibrant yet, organic and down to earth. Functional art to beautify any home. I love how you are so honest in your words, design is a passion and yet you have juggled career, family and creativity. You have certainly followed your passions in life.

  6. I appreciate the fact that you spend a lot of thought in photographing your art. These days a lot of shopping happens online and you manage to present your pieces beautifully. They do stand out!

  7. I received a runner I ordered as a farewell gift for a work colleague the other day and it’s absolutely stunning! I know she will love it and will take it with her when she travels to Timor-Leste as volunteer for UNICEF. Thanks so much Shane for a wonderfully unique gift she can take with her.

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