Otago-based graphic designer Astrid Erasmuson loves to sew, so her talents have been perfectly combined in her Plum Billy textiles: swaddles and wraps, scarves, cushion covers and tea towels. Working from her home in Port Chalmers, she’s inspired by the native birds that enjoy her garden. Her native avian and botanical designs are brought to life on quality natural cottons and linens.
What do you make?
I design prints for textiles, and create a range of products from my custom-printed fabric: cushion covers, gauze scarves, tea towels, and baby swaddles at the moment, and I have some other ideas that I’m working towards adding to the range.
How did you get into your craft?
It’s been a long and meandering road, but the short version is that I’m a graphic designer who loves to sew.
The idea of printing fabric with my own designs has been percolating away for a really long time, and I’ve had moments over the years where I would create designs but I just wasn’t that connected to them, or confident in them, or something! So when inspiration finally struck I also had a really strong feeling that my “one day…” dream was going to be a real thing.
That moment came after me and my partner Greg moved to Port Chalmers (Dunedin) two years ago. We instantly fell in love with the area because of the abundance of native birds that visit our garden, and the amazing wildlife on the beaches nearby. I spent days just watching the flocks of wax-eyes that visit our garden having little aero-battles over the pieces of apple and banana that we put out for them, and that inspired my first print design: a “ditsy” repeat of fluttering frolicking wax-eyes. With the enthusiastic response of family and friends to my next few designs (Kererū on a Wire, and a vintage style kākābeak and tui damask) I decided to make the leap and get a few meters of each design printed onto an organic cotton gauze, and the next thing I knew I was making my first scarves and baby swaddles, and things just kind of grew from there.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Kind of! My mother taught me to sew – she made most of our clothes when we were kids so I grew up playing with her pin cushion and watching her sew – but when I was studying towards a design degree at university (majoring in photography) I took the opportunity to choose fashion electives like pattern making, construction, and textile design just because I had a personal interest in those subjects.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I’ve always preferred natural-fibre textiles such as cotton and linen over synthetics, mostly because they feel nicer to the hand when I’m making things, and they breathe better on the body.
I love my sewing machine and overlocker – my parents bought me them for my 21st birthday, because Mum’s Mum had bought her a sewing machine and they knew that I’d get just as much use out of it as she did.
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
I draw my designs on a computer, and spend ages over colours and tiny details and making sure the pattern will repeat seamlessly. I have the fabric digitally printed onto quality natural textiles (organic cotton gauze for my scarves and swaddles, and a linen-cotton blend for my cushion covers) and then I sew all the finished products in my studio at home.
I spent days just watching the flocks of wax-eyes that visit our garden having little aero-battles over the pieces of apple and banana that we put out for them, and that inspired my first print design.
What inspires you?
Our wonderful native birds, and native plants and flowers. I love vintage fabric designs, so I’ve incorporated design elements inspired by those in my work. I let experiences inspire me as well, such as seeing Little Blue Penguins hunting small shoals of fish through forests of kelp in the shallows of the harbour, or seeing Kererū perched on the telephone wires on our street.
My grandmothers are also an inspiration – one was a tailoress, and the other made the most amazing soft toys.
Describe your workspace
Compromised! Our house is a renovation-in-progress so my studio setup was meant to be temporary (hence the workbench for my sewing table). It’s a nice bright space though, and from the bay window I can see Taiaroa Head in the distance and I often hear our neighbourhood tui and bellbirds singing away while I’m sewing.
Your favourite feedback from a customer?
As a designer and maker of things it’s so special to have created something that strikes an emotional chord with someone else, so this particular customer comment brought tears to my eyes: “The kōtare in my neighbourhood have been significant to me in a major life transition so I’ve been looking for the right reminder of the graces of this season of my life in the midst of the challenges.”
In our house we celebrate every sale, big or small, because it just means so much that someone wanted to support our dreams.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I loved anything Roald Dahl, they’re such creative stories and the illustrations are wonderful.
What are you reading now?
I’ll read pretty much anything! I’m a regular at our community library and I always have a book on the go while I’m eating breakfast and having my morning coffee.
Tell us about your pets:
We have a rescue kitten – Finnegan – he was a bit of an accidental addition to the family since we were only meant to be fostering him, but he’s such a character that we just fell in love.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
I feel like I need advice, more than I should be giving advice… One awesome thing for me has been that my partner has a creative business too, so we’ll go for a walk on the beach and chat about hard lessons and learn from each other’s strengths, as well as discuss creative ideas. So my advice would be to find someone who has a crafty job that is completely different to what you do, because there’s a lot of cross-over lessons you can learn from each other, and no conflict of interest sharing-wise!
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Because it’s someone local that you’re supporting and your support will mean so much more to them than to a large corporation driven only by profits. In our house we celebrate every sale, big or small, because it just means so much that someone wanted to support our dreams.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A mechanical pencil that was turned from gorsewood, by a lovely man called Bob who goes to some of the same local craft markets as I do. It was a retirement present for my Dad and it was just one those perfect ‘giftspiration’ moments when I saw it.
What’s in store for 2019?
There are new prints on the horizon (I just need to get them out of my head and into the computer), and I’ve got an idea for a couple of new products as well, so I’m super excited to get working on those.