Wairarapa primary school teacher and mum of three Elise Hoogsteden-Roberts of Fruit Salad Gal loves wearing her Allsorts jewellery to school – it’s an absolute hit with the kids. She enjoys the fact that her jewellery engages people and ignites smiles and conversation no matter what age – and she finds that spending time creating jewellery revitalises her soul and makes her feel happy. She reckons that sometimes it takes courage to wear colour, but it can have a positive impact on yourself and others.
What do you make?
I design and make fun vibrant jewellery that generates conversations. My primary medium is polymer clay but I enjoy dappling with resin, mosaic and metal enamel flowers with a twist of nostalgia.
How did you get into your craft?
I wanted an extraordinary gift for a vivacious friend celebrating a significant birthday. After walking the shops and searching the web nothing grabbed my attention. As I meandered the supermarket aisles inspiration leaped out from the confectionary shelves and my gift problem was solved with the creation of my first liquorice allsorts necklace, eight years ago. Since then I’ve extended my range of tempting jewellery.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
No. I have always been a creative dabbler and relished trying out all sorts of crafts over the years. I grew up in a small settlement called Waitati near Dunedin and went to the local school, where there was a freedom to experiment with art enhanced by the alternative community. My mother was extremely obliging letting me try out an assortment of things; Granny’s old treadle sewing machine to sew barbie clothes, dyeing wool from our sheep for felting, giving her precious spinning wheel a whirl and knitting odd shaped scarves as gifts.
With my passion for art it became my major subject at teachers’ college and with glee I immersed myself in the pottery, jewellery-making and Lino printmaking modules. I also wove art history into my Otago University degree which ignited my love for art galleries. This supported my teaching which then led me to my current position as a specialist teacher of visual art, dance and drama at a primary school. I feel very lucky to teach and share my passion with such fantastic children ranging in age from five to thirteen years.
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
When I look back my first Allsorts necklace it was quite rough; mixing polymer clay colours with my hands, using a kitchen rolling pin and the sharpest kitchen knife I possessed. I was quite naïve but YouTube became my friend, with lots of trial and error I am now proud of my creations. Having the right tools and learning specific clay techniques makes a far superior product.
The pasta machine is essential to get flat, evenly rolled sheets of polymer clay so they can be layered into contrasting stripes. This also makes the mixing of various shades less labour intensive. When slicing the clay into squares having a sharp blade is the key to creating crisp defined stripes. I either use a needle to make a hole in the bead prior to going into the oven or it can be drilled afterwards – depends on what I’m creating and if I feel like going into the dark tool shed to use the drill.
The oven must be at a certain temperature; a bit like a kiln, having a timer or setting an alarm is vital. If the clay is over-baked the result could be a tray of cracked beads and lots of tears. Once cooled I hand sand each bead with fine sandpaper (usually 1000 or 1200 grade) wash in water, dry and buff with a soft cloth. Then I arrange the colour combinations for the necklaces, string with black glass beads and add the metal findings. Voila! Another necklace off to have allsorts of fun!
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My trusty pasta machine is an essential piece of equipment which I use to condition the polymer clay and mix colours. I enjoy the methodical process of layering the clay to create bold stripes. I prefer using Dukit polymer clay which is a New Zealand product made in Palmerston North. Having a reliable oven is essential so the temperature is consistent – so there’s no cracked bead fatalities.
I love collecting vintage plates and saucers with their joyful floral patterns, the cracked ones are repurposed to make mosaic jewellery, hence they gain a second life. The process of cutting the ceramic plates and fitting them into metal shaped bezel trays is a challenge which I relish – it’s a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle.
What inspires you?
1. Nostalgia. Food and memories go hand in hand. Indeed, those distinctive liquorice allsorts stripes or chewy jet planes take many people back to their childhood days. Old fashioned sweets aren’t just sugary treats but memories encapsulated in sugar. The difference is that my jewellery doesn’t have the calories and simply adds fun to the figure.
2. Bright colours. Perhaps the reason why I gravitate to bold colours and styles is because I spent my early childhood in South Africa (where I was born). I have vivid memories of watching Zulu women sitting together chatting, sometimes singing whilst weaving their intricate jewellery designs surrounded by bowls of tiny rainbow glass beads. The jewellery was not only of abstract beauty but steeped in rich meaning and cultural identity.
3. Statement pieces. I also gain inventive ideas from the cheerful 1960s enamel metal flower brooches with their myriad of colours plus those tasty bakelite fruity pieces, so divine. I’m a fan of Miriam Haskell jewellery which captured fun with a decadent essence. She designed affordable hand-made pieces from 1920 through to the 1960s. Her designs used faux pearls, rhinestones, high-quality beads displaying elegance but also heralded a daringness to be unique in world that was challenging a women’s place in society.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
My aim is to engage people, whether it be capturing a smile at school, a compliment at the supermarket checkout, a comment on Instagram or a “like” on Facebook. I love the fact my jewellery initialises a conversation, stirs up nostalgia, provides a perfect self-indulgence or gift for that sweet person in your life. It’s all about having irresistible fun, being boldly unique and wearing colour. Recently I have enhanced my ~*Fruit Salad Gal*~ social media profile by incorporating the theme of ‘Allsorts Go Places’. This is turning out to be allsorts of fun involving friends and customers sharing their adventures and travels using my jewellery – which is then enriched with an abundance of puns!
Describe your creative process
Inspiration can arise anytime and anywhere. I keep a notebook full of ideas ready to be tested out when the time arises. I’m forever inspired in art galleries, that is such a treat, whether it be in a big city or small town. Frequently I save images on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook which does mean my phone gets full very quickly. I also use YouTube to upskill myself with new techniques and tips.
Describe your workspace
My studio is home based, where I am lucky enough to have a spare room all to myself. Not only is this where I create but also store my eclectic collection of teacups, plates, suitcases, ornate mirrors and nostalgic paraphernalia which I use for props for my jewellery promo photos. Creating themed displays for jewellery is very addictive and just as much fun as creating the jewellery. My studio is a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of life; from the big sash windows I often get distracted by the changing seasonal spectrums of the garden. We live in a characterful 1900s villa that has been in the midst of renovation for the last fifteen years, so in winter I migrate to the dining room table where the fire is always roaring.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I appreciate customer feedback, as there is always allsorts of room for improvement! It’s the best way to learn and grow as everyone’s taste is different. Here is a goodie: “Your Allsorts necklace brings back so many memories for me when I was a young nurse during the 1960s. Liquorice allsorts were our favourites to nibble on when on night duty. It kept us going but we had to hide them from the duty sister! The sprinkles were my absolute favourites.”
What are you currently listening to?
The RNZ Concert Programme is constantly resonating in my home – Pick’n’Mix is my favourite! However, depending on my mood, I do interplay it with old CD favourites. At present I’m revisiting the Annie Lennox -Diva album which brings back sentimental memories of studying at Otago University.
Recommend an album:
Dan Auerbach – Waiting on a song. ‘Mellow’ is the best word to describe this album as the tracks are relaxing capturing the flavour of a 1970s summer. It is a concoction of country, soul, folk, power pop. I think “Shine on Me” is the catchiest song. It’s on vinyl too!
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton is my much-loved choice. I was fond of the various magical people who inhabited the tree and fascinated by the revolving lands which inspired adventure, imagination, creativity and escapism. Some lands and characters were a bit scary!
What are you reading now?
Often it’s hard to find quiet moments to read, however I do relish a witty autobiography or juicy biography. At the moment I’m in the midst of Maidens’ Trip by Emma Smith. This is a classic memoir, a maturing journey taken by three young women in the exceptional circumstances of Britain at war. Together they learn how to handle a pair of seventy-two-foot-long canal boats, how to carry a cargo of steel north from London to Birmingham and coal from Coventry. A great adventure with lots of humour and resilience – my kind of book.
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Miriam Makeba – “Mama Africa” was an inspiration to those who were against apartheid, which my family was. I fondly remember the sounds of her rhythmical clicking song being played on our record player. As a South African singer and actress, she used her musical talent and fame to denounce and further increase the awareness of apartheid and its cruelties. Not only did she play with Paul Simon and Harry Belafonte but also became a United Nations goodwill ambassador and civil rights activist. However Miriam’s powerful voice against segregation ultimately lead to exile from her homeland, but as Nelson Mandela said “her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us”. Indeed she was a heroine with a noteworthy voice.
A favourite quote:
“The formula of happiness and success is just being actually yourself, in the most vivid possible way you can.” – Meryl Streep.
We immigrated from South Africa when I was a child so I can appreciate the importance of fitting into a new country but also retaining your uniqueness, art has helped me realise this. It’s all about having allsorts of fun, appreciating your identity, sharing a taste of nostalgia and daring to be bold!
Tell us about your pets:
I have a wee canine terrier called Ellie. She loves climbing trees and wood piles, and barks with exaggerated confidence along the hedge at passers-by. She displays gallant boldness but is a wuss really! Ellie keeps me company whilst I create, by keeping my feet warm in the winter and snapping at annoying flies in the summer. We often go for rejuvenating walks along the quiet roads of the Wairarapa, she enjoys pouncing into the long verge grass in hope of catching a rabbit but they still elude her.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Allsorts Genie – Genie in a lolly jar that grants allsorts of crafty wishes. Based on ‘I dream of Jeannie’ fantasy sitcom from the 1960s.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Try not to overthink things, take small steps and before you know it you are dancing. Just remember everyone wears different shoes so don’t be so hard on yourself. Just take several deep breaths and turn up the creative music – procrastination doesn’t dance. Feedback is so valuable – it guides you whether it be from customers, family or friends – it’s so beneficial. You will always strike someone who is critical or can never be pleased. I just keep reminding myself allsorts can go places!
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
I appreciate buying something local and handmade as they have more meaning, there is always a story behind them. You just know a lot of time and effort has gone in to creating it, compared to mass-produced items. Above all you know it’s supporting the passions and endeavours of someone who cares just like you.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A delicious pair of elegant cherry dangle earrings made from red glass and green copper created by Sarah Thomas in Timaru. I was charmed by the movement and fun aspect of fruity jewellery. They are perfect for a Fruit Salad Gal!
What’s in store for the rest of 2019?
Keeping the creative juices flowing by completing some of the projects that have been winking at me. I also intend to expand my skills with new jewellery processes and techniques to create different ranges. Plus, I want to strengthen my computer knowledge base so I can communicate more effectively with customers. Ultimately, my wish is to bring allsorts of pleasure to those who wear and share my unique jewellery. Lastly, of course I plan to continue with my social media theme of ‘Allsorts Go Places’ which is proving to be allsorts of fun!
Prize draw and special offer!
Elise has very kindly offered a gorgeous prize to go to a lucky Felt reader this fortnight: one of her fabulous Mini Allsorts Necklaces, valued at $70 (see below). If you would like to be in to win this colourful prize, tell Elise in the comments section a short tale about a funny experience, that shares allsorts of fun! Make sure to get your comment in by 5pm on Monday 19 August. (The draw is open to New Zealand residents only.)
But that’s not all! Elise is also offering a 20% discount on all the delicious items in her Felt shop for the whole month of August – just enter the code ALLSORTS20 in the voucher code field at step 4 of checkout. Great stuff – thanks Elise!