Guatyen of Mettaville loves journaling, making uniquely hand-bound journals to share her love with others. With the growing awareness of the importance of mental health, she believes that lives can be transformed through the joy and comfort journalling provides. Working from her tiny West Auckland studio, she balances the modern need for technology with retreating to her quiet surroundings where she is most comfortable.
How did you get into your craft?
I have been journaling since my early teens. I got my first diary when I was about eleven or twelve. It was a little green square shaped book with coloured pages that I bought with money I saved from my school allowance. I journaled on and off throughout the years and about ten years ago, I met a bookmaker in a craft market who taught book binding. I was thrilled and soon learned to make my own journals to write in. It was such a wonderful feeling to be making my own journals to write in! It made them so much more special and dear to me. Eventually I started making them for others and then selling them at markets and on Felt.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
No. I attended a casual one-day bookbinding workshop, and later self-taught through books, online tutorials, experimentation and through trial and error. I created my own designs along the way and they continue to evolve.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Paper and fabric. I like to shop at op shops and sometimes I get lucky and find some really nice fabric. I also have the loveliest of friends that gift me with fabric. My favourite tool would be the stainless steel tailor scissors that I bought in 2018. It makes such a difference cutting fabric compared to a cheaper version.
My favourite process is the binding of the book itself; the repetitive action is meditative and calming. Seeing a book taking shape signature by signature fills me with delight. When it is complete, there is a great sense of achievement and awe every single time — that a book was made, by hand.
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces:
When making a journal, I usually start by picking the fabric and deciding the cover of the book I’ll be making. The fabric cover is sewn or glued onto book boards, followed by cutting, folding and making holes in the paper. Finally, the signatures and cover are bound together. The soft-covered books are sewn using long stitch binding, while the hardcover books are coptic bound (this technique was used by Christians in Egypt, the Copts, which dates back to as early as 2nd century CE).
What inspires you?
Inspiration is a strange phenomenon. It comes to me in the oddest ways and times. Sometimes, when I’m in bed at dawn, half-awake, images float by in my mind. Or, when I’m out and about, the sight of something catches my attention and ideas emerge. Being with other artists and maker friends, and seeing their work inspires me too. I have many ideas percolating in the mind but have yet to bring them into form. Perhaps one day when the time is right.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Metta — loving kindness in Pali language. Which is also the name of my Felt shop — Mettaville. I learned about Metta in university through Buddhist studies. I have based my life around it since; a training and practise if you will. Kindness towards myself with proper self-care (mental, emotional, physical and spiritual), kindness towards others and also the environment. Journaling is part of my self-care practise, and I do hope that those who bought or received one of my handmade journals are using them well and finding them to be beneficial; taking time off to write, draw, paint, write poems or songs, and collages. These are all great ways to bring oneself back to being present and centred. I want others to be able to feel that, to be free to be themselves in the pages of the journals. My wish is that the journals will be a part of the recipients’ self-care practice too.
I do my best to use up leftover fabric and to create something new out of scraps and other materials so that less waste go to landfill. Being kind to the earth is our collective responsibility.
What has been a highlight of your maker journey so far?
All my ups and downs are equally important parts of my journey. Through all the perceived failures and successes I learnt more about myself. Earlier this year I was questioning the journey of my bookmaking path: I was feeling lost, and soon after in March, my dominant right hand was fractured in an accident. I had to undergo surgery to have a plate and screws put in. I was unable to make any books for a couple of months. So I took the opportunity to rest and reflect. It was a good recuperative time. While going through physiotherapy, building back the strength and agility of my hand, I slowly picked up sewing and bookmaking again. It was slow as slow craft can be. It changed my perception on creating and bookmaking, and reconnected to the joy within me. While my hand still doesn’t feel as strong as it was before just yet, I am able to do most tasks required and for that I am thankful. My lesson was to always connect with the joy, creativity and playfulness within.
Describe your creative process:
Normally, when I have an idea, I write and draw in my idea/to do journal. When I have the time, I make them. But more often than not, they just sit in the idea book. I have many ideas of books and things that I would like to create but one can only do so much at any given time.
Nowadays I simply go with the flow — a more relaxed approach — and see what comes. There are days when an idea of making a certain book or an item appears and the thought is so persistent that I have to stop everything that I’m doing and create this new thing that wants to be birthed. It is quite strange but once it is created, it seems happy, and so am I. These are the spontaneous, intuitive creations led by that tiny spark of curiosity and joy, which I really like. The processes are more fluid, intuitive and fun.
Describe your workspace:
Small and lovely. I have a dedicated studio, a tiny spare bedroom where I do most of my work. I have to shuffle things around when performing different tasks, like cutting paper with the guillotine, keeping the sewing machine away to use the table for placing stacked signatures and book covers ready for binding, or taking photos for social media. I am a bit of a neat-freak and I like things to be orderly and tidy, as I find that I work best with less clutter (admittedly it still gets messy at times). I love that my work bench overlooks a big window where I get an abundance of natural light. I get to see and hear nature — the tui, fantails, wax eyes, finches and sparrows that visit occasionally; no shortage of buzzing bees either. I find them all a good distraction, always a delight seeing them out through the window. I have a guest room which doubles as a mini photography studio. I also have a cupboard in the guest room to store my ready-made books. I am grateful for the spaces that I have to do my work.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
It fills my heart with warmth and gratitude and I appreciate every single one of my customers who take the time to leave comments. It’s a happy moment whenever I get a notice that feedback has been placed in my Felt store.
“I gifted my first journal and found myself wishing I could keep it for myself so here I am again! I have my own one now and it is absolutely beautiful!!”
“I tried to change the rating to ‘excellent’ but there wasn’t the option. Mettaville are an incredible little business and I would recommend them highly. Their packaged arrived and is even cooler in person than shown on the photos. It arrived exceptionally fast in a compostable bag that has gone straight into the compost bin here.”
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I was gifted a set of preloved Diana for Girls hardcover comic books when I was little. It’s not Diana the Wonder Women or Diana Princess of Wales. These are vintage 60s, 70s books (about the same time as Dandy and Beano) and I absolutely loved them when I was little, even when I couldn’t read them at first. The colours and illustrations were amazing and beautiful. I would just sit for hours on end and leaf through the pages looking at the images. Mostly they were stories about girls having adventures and that was exciting.
What are you reading now?
I just recently finished the book “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. I do not read fiction much, I prefer nonfiction but my husband, who is an avid reader, recommends me books which he thinks I might enjoy, and this one was a good read.
A favourite quote:
“No mud, no lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh. This quote has been with me for the longest time. The saying is explained with the understanding that without hardship (the mud) in life we cannot truly understand happiness (the lotus), hence we should not discriminate the mud or hardship. Instead we have to learn how to embrace hardship with tenderness, compassion and kindness.
Tell us about your pets:
We have a 16-year-old cat named Kiki. We took her in when she was a stray kitten. She truly is the best companion I can ever have working from home. Adding so much joy, laughter and cuteness. We used to have a daily routine that she would, in her surprisingly accurate cat-clock time, come look for me in the studio for food, and it’s usually lunch time for me too. Nowadays we have a new routine, and being a senior cat now, she sleeps in her basket most of the day, next to my computer in the living room. We accompany each other when I am working on the computer. I frequently get distracted and find myself watching her sleep, listening to her snore, or giving her kisses and scratches when she awakens. I take far too many photos of her on my mobile phone.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Simply start where you are with what you have. Build skills and confidence through practise and experience, all perceived failures and successes are important and not only will you learn the ways of running a business, you will also learn about yourself along the way. Trust your intuition and connect with the joy within. Also, be kind to yourself, always.
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Handmade items are made with stories behind them. From start to finish the makers/artists have put in their intention to create an item or a piece of art, they have put their time, effort and energy into creating each and every piece of work. It supports not only their livelihood but also their mental and emotional well-being. I find that when one buys locally made goods, one has this feeling of “togetherness”, a community that supports each other, saying we’ve got each other’s back. That’s rather empowering. Right now, with the effect of the pandemic, more than ever we need to build an empowered, resilient community by supporting our local makers and artists.
Felt is a great place to find uniquely handmade goods, there are so many talented makers and artists out there and there is no better place to support small businesses. The team at Felt has done such an amazing job to gather us together under one roof. They are locally made too. 😉
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A skirt made by my friend Tarja of Sensorie – Nosey just before Auckland’s recent Level 4 Lockdown. I haven’t purchased any clothing for a long time and when I do it’s usually from the op shops, so it’s a treat for me while supporting a friend. I love the muted grey greenish colour which I am leaning towards right now.
What’s in store for the rest of 2021?
To be completely honest, I’m not sure and that is fine. I am just going to take it one day at a time, making one book at a time, and simply enjoy the process of creating, whatever form that may take. Staying present and let the rest unfold naturally.
Special offer for Felt readers!
Guatyen is generously offering 10% off any of the lovely, unique journals in her Felt shop when you enter the voucher code METTAVILLE10 at checkout. This offer is valid until 5pm, Monday 1 November 2021. Thank you so much Guatyen!