Christchurch maker Nicola Baird is a busy mum of three and creator of children’s clothing and accessories brand Snippet. The result of years of design, sewing, art and craftwork, Snippet is about piecing found objects together to create something new, unique, and made with love.
What do you make?
I design and make clothing and accessories for babies and children. My range focuses on practical timeless products made from repurposed natural materials. I also make grown-ups’ accessories, tote bags, homewares and occasionally artwork.
How did you get into craft?
As a child I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with my grandparents. My Nana in particular was very creative and their home was evidence of this, particularly in her flower arranging but also embroidery, knitting and painting. She generously shared these skills with me and so much more, we spent so much quiet time together working with our hands. I remember clearly the sound of the button jar and the joy I had in playing with it. From a very young age I was encouraged to smell the roses so to speak and I’m trying to pass this on to my own kids.
Creating was always seen as a hobby for my Nana but I could see the strong identity and pride it gave her, and from a young age I was determined I lead a creative life – I never imagined anything but making a career of the hand made.
Do you have any formal training or qualifications that have helped you in your craft?
My creative history is evident in all that I make, everything is related and relevant- well to me at least. At ten years old I was given a bag of scrap leather, this to me was a bag of treasure. I spent the whole Christmas holidays making stuff with it, wanting to waste nothing, explore every possibility and felt great pride in showing my designs to the world.
High school didn’t quite go as planned for me but by 22 I was ready to stop rebelling and went back to school and then onto Otago to do a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I have the fondest memories of these challenging self-indulgent years. I eventually settled on painting, everything I created had a strong focus on its tactile qualities. I was inspired by found materials, particularly papers, threads, flowers and fabric and drawn to the history they brought to a work. I would play with materials for hours to tease out possibilities, reliving the joy I felt in that bag of leather so many years before.
I taught myself to sew as a teenager because, much to my disappointment, my school didn’t have the numbers to offer it as a subject. I didn’t much like following instructions back then and learnt quickly how to make my own rudimentary patterns. During my time in Dunedin I couldn’t have done without these skills, not only did I use my machine regularly in my studio for artwork I also made my clothes, making trousers from curtains and skirts from old woollen vests, little did I know I had started something that would inspire me for many years to come. I have sewn some thousand items since then and love seeing my skills grow – I am a rather observant person and am always on the look-out for how to improve.
What motivates and inspires you in your work?
There are some aspects of my work that are very important to me, one of them being – First do no harm. Our planet is so precious and I get out in nature as often as I can. It is also fragile and needs our respect and consideration at the very least. The figures relating to the fashion industries’ waste are disgusting. The fact that it takes over 2,500 thousand litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt is so disturbing to me, yet we continue to consume like we have no responsibility. Change is a very slow process, we are in a better position now than we have been in my life time because finally we are talking about what needs to happen.
Sustainability isn’t just a trend, it is the future because it has to be or else there won’t be one – not on this planet anyway. We all learn at a different pace and everyone’s journey is different, I am learning all the time how to live more sustainably in an attempt leave the planet a better place.
I am also an advocate for natural fibres. Not only do they look great but the more I work with them the more I love them. The amazing qualities of wool in particular, the stretch of the fibre, the way it insulates against both heat and cold – it’s flame resistant, it’s antibacterial, it holds colour beautifully, it’s distinctly New Zealand and even better than all that is, as it’s a natural fibre, given the right conditions it will break down. I am embarrassed to say I used to be scared of wool, the thought of hand washing was enough to put me off and then the risk of shrinking, well I just didn’t bother. Thankfully I realised all it needs is a quick rinse in warm water, roll it in a towel and pull it in to shape, seriously one minutes work that funnily enough I now enjoy.
Practicality is key for me, I love designing clothes that look great and make life easier. I have three kids of my own which has helped me see what’s important when getting them dressed and ready for a day of possibilities. The vests and tunics in particular are fantastic for kids, easy to brush dirt off and no mucky sleeves to worry about, and you know no matter what they are doing they’ll be warm. I love my scarves too, each one is a unique piece of fibre art but at the same time you can put one on and forget about it. The invaluable feedback I get from my customers is confirmation I’m doing something right, on those days when it gets tough a quick flick through my feedback really lifts the spirits.
I am also motivated by great design. I spent a couple of years in Asia after my degree where my love and appreciation for good design grew immensely. I was so inspired by ancient crafts handed down through generations and I finally learnt the value of “sticking at it”
Describe your workspace and process:
I spend a lot of time seeking out quality unloved clothing and fabrics. It’s then washed and cataloged into colours. Occasionally I get donations from people wanting their or their loved ones’ woollens and cottons to be treasured and used for good – this is a real privilege for me. I keep almost every scrap when I’m creating so I need to be very organised in order to keep track of what is where. Having a good memory for textures and colours helps but sometimes the shed can get pretty chaotic, I spend way too long trying to find a specific piece from years before because I know it will fit a design perfectly.
The design process is a lot like trying to solve a puzzle and everything has to work perfectly, the texture, the colours the design, the stretch, it’s always a relief when you find that last missing piece. Nothing is mass-produced in my line of work, slow fashion is actually very accurate description of what I do.
So much consideration goes into every piece, the biggest restraint being the size. I often get asked If I make adults’ clothing but piecing together garments takes so much time to get right, they wouldn’t be cost effective. Nor do I have the space to work large. I am very fortunate to have a small shed funded by my Dad for the sole purpose of my work. I have three old machines in there that I love dearly and use to create my every whim (well almost). As well as machines the shed is filled to the brim with fabric and inspiration. I have also recently taken over half of the family office – to say I am grateful to have the supportive family I do would be a huge understatement.
What would your advice be to those starting out in the crafty business?
I can think of three things: firstly I would say find your truth, so much of what you see is a copy of someone else’s work but when you follow your own path it shows. Secondly, if you’re not sure just keep making and the answers will come, by all means critique as you go but don’t give up. And lastly price yourself fairly, if you under-charge every other crafter loses and if you over-charge it won’t last. Value what you do and respect the industry.
Do you have a favourite quote?
I have two: “KISS: Keep it simple stupid.” An old artist friend of mine used to say this to me regularly when I was too much inside my own head and I carry it with me always. Whether I’m tending to my three precious kids or searching for inspiration for work I tend to overthink everything; this quote is a great reminder to breath and put one foot in front of the other.
The other quote I love speaks for itself: “All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of yesterday.”
What’s in store for the rest of 2018?
I am currently doing a small business and project management course which will take me to the end of the year, it’s taking up a lot of time but is crucial as I want Snippet to last the distance. I am always exploring new designs and playing with fabric and have some artwork in mind that has been germinating for a while, watch this space.
Nicola has kindly offered a super snuggly prize for one lucky Felt reader, of your choice of one of these two gorgeous Snippet repurposed wool cowl/loop scarves (see below), worth $44.00 (shipping to the winner is also included).
If you would like to be in to win, let us know in the comments section what you enjoyed reading about Nicola’s story and her thoughtful creations, and which scarf you’d like to win. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 28 May and is open to New Zealand residents only.