Hilary Jacomb of Boa handcrafts beautiful, eco-friendly and functional homewares, a business that she developed after teaching herself to crochet in her first year of university. Her original designs are a modern take on a traditional craft, and use only repurposed materials: discarded fabric off cuts from the clothing industry that would otherwise be destined for landfill.
What do you make?
I make a range of eco-friendly home decor products, which are all designed to be functional as well as beautiful. I’m currently making bowls, pots, trays, rugs, cushions and doorstops. I use textile remnants from the clothing industry that would have otherwise gone straight into landfill. I take this pre-consumer waste – it’s brand new fabric that is considered a waste product by a clothing manufacturer due to some flaw that means they can’t use it – and I transform it into something useful, instead of it contributing to the world’s waste crisis.
“Something like 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed globally every year so you can only imagine how much waste that that produces. It’s staggering and I know that what I am doing is only dealing with the tiniest fraction of it but I really believe that if lots of people make small changes it will add up and have a positive impact on the planet.”
How did you get into your craft?
I asked for a crochet hook for my birthday several years ago and I never put it down! I find it captivating and being able to create fabric with such a simple tool is still fascinating for me. I started with simple projects like scarves then moved on to more complicated patterns. I started making baskets because I loved the idea of making really useful objects rather than accessories. I made my first bowl using three strands of wool held together which was sort of okay but it didn’t really have the structure I was after. I then tried cutting up old duvet covers and curtains into strips to work with which was better but very labour intensive. When I discovered that I could get my hands on textile waste it was a turning point for me. I’ve made hundreds of things with it and I’m still not tired of it.
I think I’ve stuck with making these products because I find them so useful myself. Sometimes people ask me what they get used for – my answer is everything! If you just put a bowl or tray somewhere then you’ll find yourself putting bits and pieces in it. I have one on my dresser, on my bedside table, on the coffee table, two or three on my desk and lots with plants in them. I recently made an extra large tray for my partner’s side of the dresser and suddenly all his messy stuff has been tidied up! I don’t know why it took me so long.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
My favourite materials are always sustainable ones. I try not to buy new materials, as there is an abundance of materials out there that already exist. In my shop you’ll currently find products only made from repurposed fabric although I also love to make things using natural materials, like jute. My only tools are my crochet hooks and scissors and I occasionally use a needle and thread to join strips of fabric together. I use a metal crochet hook, which is crucial – plastic or wooden hooks tend to snap because I put a lot of pressure on them! I also have notebooks which I use all the time to jot down ideas or sketch new shapes and designs.
I am self-taught and while I take inspiration from other crocheters, I make my own patterns up and it has been a long process to work out how to create the shapes I have in my mind. I invent funny little turns and maybe use non-standard crochet stitches to get the result I’m after. The fact that I know how to manipulate a thin piece of scrappy material into a strong and sturdy three-dimensional object is my favourite part of the creative process. I always find it satisfying and I can’t help smiling each time I finish a product.
Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
My techniques vary depending what I’m making. It might look complicated to some but I find crochet to be a reasonably simple technique. There is a lot of variation in my materials, which does make things more complicated. Some fabrics are thinner than others or have more stretch or hardly any stretch. That means I have to constantly adjust things like tension and the number of stitches in an item. I make things up as I go along, rather than using a set pattern, particularly when making rugs. I am constantly unravelling and redoing sections to ensure the rug sits perfectly flat, otherwise it’s just a nuisance on the floor instead of being useful and enjoyable. The same goes for my pots and bowls. If I’m not happy with the final shape or structure for some reason, I’ll go back and keep working on it until I get it right.
What inspires you?
I find other artisans and designers doing clever things with waste products hugely inspiring. Every time I come across someone doing something I haven’t heard of before it’s so exciting. You can get this amazing cotton yarn that’s made from denim scraps, which have literally been swept off a jeans factory floor, shredded and re-spun to make them useful again. There are a lot of creative people out there doing innovative things, which is what the world needs more of.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
My main philosophy is one of making useful things, not just more things. I like making nice things, and there are lots of nice things that you can buy, but what I really want to do is create functional products as well. If I can use materials that would otherwise be wasted, that’s even better. Something like 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed globally every year so you can only imagine how much waste that that produces. It’s staggering and I know that what I am doing is only dealing with the tiniest fraction of it but I really believe that if lots of people make small changes it will add up and have a positive impact on the planet.
Describe your creative process:
My creative process is fairly simple but I spend a lot of time making decisions about which colours and patterns to pair up and trying to picture how the finished product will look. I often do a few practice stitches with different colours together to get an idea of how something will turn out before I finalise it. The fabric supply varies a lot and sometimes there’s not a huge range of colours to choose from. I try to select similar tones so that my products look good together, as much as they do individually, but I also grab any interesting patterns that catch my eye. I usually stretch my favourite fabrics out across lots of different products. You might notice certain patterns appear as a feature, but not the main body of an item, if I don’t want to use it all up at once!
My brain is full of ideas about different forms that I want to try making and if I think a certain shape or size would be useful then I make one up and see. I like the idea of really huge bowls and baskets and sometimes I get carried away and they end up way bigger than I had planned. My creative process creates very little waste but I still end up with off cuts. I save all the short bits that are leftover when I finish a product. I’m joining them together to make an interesting bowl for myself, which will have a little piece of every colour that I’ve used so far.
Describe your workspace:
My workspace is always shifting. I live in a small house and share it with others so I don’t have my own studio to work in. I tend to follow the sun around the house and at this time of year that means I work at the kitchen table a lot! I have a big collection of material, which is heavy and takes up a lot of space, but I only use a few small tools to create my products, which means that I can take a project or two with me when travelling or visiting friends and family.
Because my business is online (apart from making things and market days) I spend quite a lot of time working at my desk in our flat’s shared study. I don’t really like spending a lot of time at my computer – I much prefer being outside – but I find that having a few pot plants around really helps, especially in the study. It’s a really good way of bringing nature inside.
“It’s really common for artisans to underprice their goods but it’s so important to acknowledge the time and skill that goes into creating things. If you don’t put any value on your products then how can you expect others to?”
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I get most feedback in person at markets. I love chatting with customers at markets because I get to hear how or where a customer will use something. To know that something I have made is going to be put to good use is the best feedback. It’s harder to get feedback when you sell handmade products online as there can be very little interaction with a customer after they click the ‘buy’ button! Sometimes I receive photos of my products in their new homes, which is really special. I love seeing them being used and enjoyed.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
There’s a lot more to it than just the craft itself. It takes a lot of time to manage your own marketing, social media business pages, keep track of your accounting, market applications, product photography, copywriting… the list goes on! Depending on your craft, you can expect to spend at least half your time on the business side and half your time on the more fun creative side.
Apart from that, the most important advice I would give someone is to value your skills and time and to price your products accordingly. I was at a market recently and a lady was selling hand-knitted woollen baby booties for $3 a pair – I couldn’t believe it! That would barely cover materials. We’re not competing with Kmart. It’s really common for artisans to underprice their goods but it’s so important to acknowledge the time and skill that goes into creating things. If you don’t put any value on your products then how can you expect others to?
“My main philosophy is one of making useful things, not just more things.”
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade items?
Handmade items can bring so much joy and last a lifetime. Sometimes buying handmade can mean spending more money initially than you might for a similar product at a department store, but it’s so worth it. If you care about the things you buy then you’re more likely to take care of them, keep them for a long time, or even pass them on to others who will do the same.
When you buy high quality, sustainable, handmade items which are made to last it’s better environmentally and ethically, as well as financially, because you don’t need to replace things frequently. Supporting local makers supports the local economy, which is good for everyone.
What’s in store for the rest of 2018?
Apart from markets and growing my tiny business as much as I can, I would love to source some local textile remnants from a clothing manufacturer in New Zealand. This has been on my mind for a while so I hope that something will come of it over the next few months. I am currently selecting retailers to stock my products – it’s really important to me to work with store owners who support local, handmade and sustainable products. I will also be settling on some new products to add to my collection from my ever-growing list of ideas.
Hilary is offering an awesome 20% off all her Boa products for the duration of her feature fortnight. To nab this great deal make sure you enter the code BOA20 in the voucher code field at step 4 of checkout. Thanks Hilary! Discount is limited to once per customer, with a three item limit.