Simplify to Amplify: thoughtful, imaginative play from Small & Loud

Joanna of Small & Loud says “As a child I always imagined having my own business, selling my own handmade crafty things. Funny how things work out!” The inspiration for her business was formed when hunting for a birthday present for her nephew. Unable to find something satisfactory that was light to post, would encourage imaginative play, and wouldn’t just add clutter to his bedroom, she hit on making her own animal masks. The name Small & Loud is a tribute to both the animals and the kids that inspire her work. 🙂

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What do you make?
I make felt animal masks for kids’ pretend play and dress-ups.

How did you get into your craft?
My mum taught me to how to use her sewing machine when I was about four years old, so as long as I can remember I’ve been sewing bits and pieces. Then when my husband and I moved to Christchurch in 2015, I struggled to find work. To bring in some income, I started sewing a few things and selling them at the New Brighton Seaside Market. The masks were my most popular product so they became my focus – it grew from there.


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Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I learned a lot of sewing techniques from my mum and step-mum, and everything else is self-taught. At Otago Uni I majored in Marketing and Design Studies, so the design side has definitely had an influence.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love the vivid colours of felt. My favourite tool is my Elna sewing machine – it’s the same machine I learned to sew on. My mum had it refurbished and sent it down to Dunedin for my 20th birthday, which was an awesome surprise. I have another newer machine, but always prefer the old Elna.

Tell us about the techniques involved in producing one of your masks:
The first step is cutting out all the felt pieces. I started out cutting all the pieces out by hand, but it became too time consuming. I’ve now invested in a laser-cutter, which my husband Richard is in charge of. He’s an architectural designer, and uses his CAD skills to turn my paper patterns into cutting files. He’s spent a lot of time getting the settings just right – every colour of felt cuts differently because of the way it absorbs the light of the laser.

Once everything is cut, I glue the detail pieces to the front piece of each mask. The glue is just strong enough to hold everything in place while I sew. I usually sew in batches of six masks at a time. When I’ve finished all the front details of each mask, I glue and pin the front and back together and stitch all the way around the edge and around the eyes. At this point, most of my masks are ready to be sent out, but some need a few finishing details. The cat gets whiskers sewn on, and the ears of the rabbit are folded over and stitched down at the very end too.

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What inspires you?
For my mask designs, almost every cute animal I see inspires me. I just saw the most adorable video of a baby elephant chasing birds, so an elephant mask might be next on my list! I also get excited by beautiful, functional design and attention to detail.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
The first mask I made was a birthday present for my nephew Nate. I wanted a gift that was light to post and that would encourage good old-fashioned play, and wasn’t a typical toy that would add to the clutter in his bedroom. My philosophy has stayed the same since then – I want to make things that encourage imaginary play, creativity and learning.

Describe your creative process:
After I’ve decided on an animal that I want to create as a mask, the first thing I do is look at a lot of close up photos of the face of that animal. I decided early on that I didn’t want my masks to be overly cutesy or cartoon-like, so by looking at photos I make sure that I’m beginning with a realistic base.

Next I start sketching a design, using an existing mask pattern as a template. I create at least three paper prototypes, making small adjustments as I go. Once I’m happy with the design, I give it to Richard to draw up in CAD. He’ll cut one set of pieces, and I sew a felt prototype. Sometimes the felt prototype throws up practical issues and we make changes. But if everything works, then it’s officially in production! I always try the masks on too.

Describe your workspace:
My studio is a sleep-out in the back corner of our property – I shot-gunned it before we even bought the house. A big, high wooden cutting table (which was a bargain on TradeMe) takes up most of the space. It’s so good to be able to stand and work without leaning over a low table. Underneath the table is chockablock with materials, tools and other crafty things. I have shelving for my fabrics, an ironing board and a small desk for my sewing machine. My two favourite things in the studio are the blackboard wall for writing up orders, and the pegboard for organising my tools. I love being in my studio, it’s a great space to work in.

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Five words that describe your mind:
Curious. Chaotic. Creative. Critical. Clever.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Recently a customer bought a fox mask as a gift and let me know that the birthday boy was “wearing it around the house and making fox noises.” That makes me really happy – to know that children are enjoying the masks and using their imagination.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
The first one that comes to mind is Jillian Jiggs. I can still remember the rhyme – “Jillian Jillian Jillian Jiggs, it looks like your room has been lived in by pigs.” Being a creative child, I always had multiple projects on the go and rarely tidied up in between, and mum was always on at me to clean my room. I haven’t changed – my cutting table is usually covered in stuff, and so is the floor.

What are you reading now?
I’m reading The Power of Less by Leo Babauta. I work full time as a Marketing Coordinator so I have to make time for Small & Loud during my evenings and weekends. As my business grows, life is getting busier so I’m learning how to achieve more by doing less.

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A favourite quote:
My mantra at the moment is a Marie Forleo quote – “Simplify to Amplify.” I’d just started to read The Power of Less when I watched a Marie TV video that talked about similar principles. It works for so many things in life.

Tell us about your pets:
We have a very fluffy, ginger and grey tabby named Alfred. He was a rescue from the Cats Protection League Canterbury, and is full of character. He’ll usually follow me out to my studio and either sit in the sun or by the heater. As soon as I vacate my seat in front of the sewing machine, Alfred often claims that spot too.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Keep at it! Building a business from scratch isn’t easy, but you will make progress. Also be prepared to put a fair bit of money in before you get any out. The labour content for handmade items is usually high, so being efficient with time will help a lot. If you’re doing something you love, it’s all worth it.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I bought a gorgeous Agate keyring here on Felt, from Dr Druzy. I was attracted to the deep purple colour and the rawness of the stone.

What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
I’ve got a lot of new masks in the pipeline, including more New Zealand birds. I’m planning to expand my product range beyond masks too. Watch this space!

Prize draw!
Joanna has kindly offered a great prize for one lucky Felt reader of your choice of any two masks from her Felt shop (includes postage,total value $55.00). To be in to win this awesome combo, simply leave a comment telling us what you like about Joanna’s story and her creations. The draw will be made on Friday 14 July and is open to New Zealand residents only.


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27 thoughts on “Simplify to Amplify: thoughtful, imaginative play from Small & Loud

  1. I love what you do here Jo! Well done! The mask are amazing and I can’t wait to see what else is going to come out! I’m going to come back looking for Christmas sticking fillers from here for my two!

  2. I bought one of Joanna’s cat masks at Xmas for my son as a stocking filler. He absolutely loved it (it was the exact image of our rescue cat Tiger). The detail in the stitching is AMAZING. When he’s not playing with it we clip it to a board and use it as a piece of art work in his room. It’s so lovely to ‘put a face’ to the person behind ‘Small & Loud’ and hear your story. I love your new kiwi bird range, they’ll be the perfect gift to send to nieces & nephews over seas.

  3. I love Joanna’s dedication to play and its importance in learning. Imaginative play is so important and I love how her masks bring that to life. Also impressed by the dedication to making every mask just right – from sketches, to paper prototypes, to felt prototypes and then production. I love the native bird masks and I’d donate them to our Playcentre if I won, our tamariki are really into birds at the moment.

  4. Would love to win these for my nephew – he lives in the UK so it would be great to introduce him to the NZ native species as they’re so different to the natives there!

  5. I love the way you have taken new zealand natives and bringing them to life for children to play with. Not only do they have fun playing, they were get to know about these animals / birds at the same time.
    Love your work!

  6. I love the clean, simplicity of the designs and the colours of the felt. I also love her desire to foster imaginative play for kids. My three year old would love these!!

  7. Love this story and love the product! As a person who lives away from the rest of my family the think I find the hardest is finding light, postable presents for my nieces and nephews. The masks look amazing.

  8. They stopped me in my track! They are adorable! They are so cleverly designed, have so much character and the colour combinations are beautiful! I love them!

  9. Joanna!! I’m so proud of you! What a cool thing to see your work space and new venture all official and special! Wahoo!What an awesome article and I love hearing about your whole creative process! Those new designs are gorgeous! Is that a kea!? And the rabbit too, is so sweet! Love, love, love!

  10. Love the whole concept, I am always looking for present ideas light enough to post as most of my family lives in another country. The animals are just beautiful looking and I am looking forward to see native hirds in the future, they will make awesome gifts

  11. What lovely bright coloured, inspired and well made masks! So nice in this day and age where so many kids products are not designed to last. I really liked that Joanna took the initiative to start her business when finding work was tricky. I bet this is far more rewarding anyway!

  12. So gorgeous! Great to see some NZ natives now. What a fabulous present for kids to encourage imaginative play. And more durable that our homemade ones! My kids would have so much fun with these, please!?

  13. So cool! We had the Jillian Jillian Jillian Jiggs book too, and I loved the crazy, creative inspiration that came from that! Your native bird masks are gorgeous – an awesome option for something to post in the mail to little faraway freinds too! (I’d love to get a set for the kids at my ECE centre)

  14. Love these masks! Awesome that there are NZ animal options – glad that more are in the pipeline! I can see my daughter playing with these around the house – she is completely into imaginative play. And I’m loving the concept of toys that don’t take up a lot of space….

  15. I love the idea of something to play with thats not just another toy. We ALWAYS look for things like this and always end up getting clothes or vouchers cause we dont want to add to the toy pile so these are fantastic!
    I also adore the whimsy in each mask! ☺

  16. I love how her masks allow the children to be the type of animal they want to be and play in many imaginative ways. Open ended play is awesome to watch.

  17. I ldon’t be that you have turned doing something you love into a business. I have always been into crafts and often make my own gifts for people. I would love to do something like this for a living.

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