Posts Tagged ‘northland’

Craft, science and skincare: the Fair & Square soap making story

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Carly of Fair & Square makes natural soaps using the traditional cold process technique. She and her husband (with their two children aged 8 months and 2 years) live near Ngunguru (Tutukaka Coast, Northland) on a small lifestyle block where they have built a lovely little “eco/passive solar/off the grid” home. She’s a full time mum, and manages to fit in making her soaps from her kitchen in between looking after the kids, animals, and gardens!

fairsquare title

fairsquare grease monkey

How did you get into your craft?
I was given a soap making kit as a gift about eight years ago, and was instantly hooked. I love that soap making combines chemistry with art.

Do you have formal training or qualification in your craft?
No. I quit all math and science classes at school as soon as I had the chance and never once imagined that chemistry would be in my future. I do a lot of research online into various things, including aromatherapy, different properties of oils, butters and how they react when turned into soap. In every batch of soap I make, I learn something new, and get a better feel of how the soap batter is behaving and why. Like any craft you never really stop learning and evolving.

Your favourite tools, materials and processes?
My all time favourite tool is a little hand held leather bound soap beveller. I like to bevel the edges of my soaps so that they glide smoothly from the very first use. After un-moulding the soap and cutting into bars, I run the beveller over all the sharp edges. It is monotonous and repetitive and I love it! The beveller sits so easy in the hand, and the texture and feel of the soap being peeled away is so calming and wonderfully meditative.

I also couldn’t work without my trusty old stick blender! I’ve had her from the very start of my soap making and she has helped to create every single batch of soap I have made. I never thought I would ever come to have feelings for a kitchen appliance, but this old Betty slowly and steadily whizzed her way into my heart.



Tell us about the techniques in producing your soap:
For a product that most of us use on a daily basis, very few people know what soap is and how it is made. True soap is created by the chemical reaction (saponification) that occurs when you mix lye (sodium hydroxide) and fats (animal or vegetable origin). It’s as simple as that.

Lye was traditionally made with hardwood ash and water, but was notoriously difficult to get right. The joy of modern soap making is that we can purchase lye that gives us reliable results every time. Lye is extremely caustic/alkaline on its own, but through the magic of chemistry (by combining lye with fats) an entirely new substance is created. In a saponified bar of soap there will be no trace of lye in it.

To produce a nice moisturising bar of soap, I add an extra 7-8% of oils to my recipe that aren’t bound up in the saponification, and so are floating around in the bar, free to love on your skin.

I create my recipes using a range of oils and butters that bring different values to the bar of soap. Some oils create a dense lather (castor) while others provide wonderful moisturising properties (avocado, olive). Coconut oil is a main ingredient in all my bars and helps to create a nice hard, long lasting bar with lots of fluffy bubbles. It is a constant juggle and balancing act to get the perfect combination of oils and create the ultimate soap bar.



Once the mixture is poured into the moulds, it needs to sit for 24-36 hours before being solid enough to remove from the moulds. Then the soap logs sit for a further 24 hours before cutting and bevelling. Once they are all dressed up, the bars sit for a further 6 weeks to create a lovely mild, long lasting bar that is heaven for your skin.

A bi-product of soap is glycerine, which is produced naturally during the saponification process. Glycerine is a humectant and so draws moisture from the environment to your skin. This means your skin feels hydrated and soft after the wash. In commercial soaps, the manufacturers remove this glycerine and use it to make higher value products like moisturisers, meaning the soap is super drying and harsh on your skin. In fact, many commercial ‘soaps’ are not true soaps at all, rather a combination of chemical detergents, artificial lathering agents and toxic chemicals. Considering the average person uses soap ten times a day- this is something we should be more wary of!

What inspires you?
I love both the simplicity and complexity of nature. I enjoy being able to experiment with ingredients from the natural world, and am especially captivated by the aromatherapy enigma. Coming up with new blends of essential oils that actually work and smell amazing is an ongoing quest. When I smell certain scents in nature, my thoughts instantly turn to soap and how I can capture that memory and recreate it in bubble form.

My fellow soap makers, who are forever raising the bar, (We see what you did there. – Ed.) also inspire me. I love following artisan soap makers on Instagram with their amazing creations. I have tried out many different techniques from things I’ve spotted through social media and YouTube instructional videos.



Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I aim to provide a little bit of luxury in peoples everyday lives. I wanted to create an experience that all my customers can not only enjoy, but also be sure that it is truly good for them. It’s near impossible today to get away from all the nasties in our world, and with a beauty industry heaving with products, I wanted to create something simple, honest and beautiful.

I choose to use therapeutic essential oils rather than synthetic fragrance oils because I believe that what nature has to offer is so remarkable, and I want to celebrate the splendour of these natural ingredients. I want to provide my family and friends and customers with a product that I am proud to put my name to and that is a joy to use.

In our throw-away culture, single use plastics (shampoo/body wash/liquid soap bottles etc.) are piling up in our landfills and making their way into our oceans and that’s just not ok, so all my packaging is cardboard and completely biodegradable. My packaging is 100% compostable, and in fact they work really well as seed raising pots that you can plant directly into the soil.




Describe your workspace:
I create my soaps at home, between the kitchen and the laundry. I call it a laundry but it has very little laundry hardware in there. We are in the process of building our home and the laundry isn’t finished yet, and so I have commandeered it for my soap workshop. At any one time I would have 500 or so bars of soap curing in racks and shelving, along with buckets of oils, bottles of essential oils, containers of clays and other natural additives and tools. It’s quite the mess. My goal is to have a designated soap workshop where I can create and store all my work tucked away in my soapy haven.

Five words that describe your mind:
Obsessive, motivated, dedicated, scrambled, and very much sleep deprived!

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I get so much lovely feedback from my customers; it gives me goosebumps to know that something I have created brings joy to peoples lives. Comments such as “Best smelling amazing soaps LOVE LOVE LOVE!” and “Best handmade soap ever, leave your body feeling amazing” and “This soap is DIVINE” just reinforce that I am on the right track.

What are you listening to?
An audiobook called: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It’s super interesting, and if you haven’t discovered the joy of audiobooks – you need to!

Recommend a book:
The Passage by Justin Cronin. It’s a dystopian fantasy, but don’t let that put you off! It’s easily the best book (it’s actually a trilogy) I’ve read in a long time. I couldn’t put it away (get it on audio and you’ll be finding any excuse you can to listen, including doing the dishes, weeding the garden, painting the house… All those monotonous jobs are suddenly very appealing when it means you can listen to your book!)



Recommend an album:
If you have children and value your sanity, then you can’t go past Anna Van Riels’ Cooking Up a Song. It’s super catchy and cute and you’ll find yourself singing along in no time. It is perfect for the car; it will stop meltdowns in their tracks. It’s a kids’ album that is actually really enjoyable for parents too.

What’s your favourite childhood book?
There’s a sea in my bedroom. I loved the illustrations and the utter joy at imagining having the real sea to play with in your bedroom. My daughter loves this book now too (I have the same copy from when I was a little girl), so any book that spans generations has got to be a goodie.

Who is your hero and why?
I’ve got to say that my husband is my hero. He’s dedicated, extremely hard working and he adores our kids. He is also exceptionally talented in making stuff (including our beautiful home). He is a creative genius and is forever dreaming up (and building) innovative projects that are both beautiful and functional. He also tolerates it when I bring home yet another animal, raise baby chicks in our bathroom, or bottle-feed orphaned baby guinea pigs that the cat brought in. He’s a keeper.

A favourite quote:
“Love her, but leave her wild.” – Atticus.

Tell us about your pets:
Our indoor pets include Levi the Italian greyhound, Charlie the border collie and Moss and Hazel; Persian x fluffball cats. Outside we have Honey, our milking cow, Marmite, Copper and Porsha (horses), Tinkerbell and Petal (mini ponies), a few free ranging guinea pigs, ducks and countless chickens.


If you were a crafty superhero what would your name and superpower be?
I would be Bubbles McWitchypants! Bubbles can collect and store therapeutic aromas from plants and use them to manipulate the emotions of her fellow humans. Bubbles could be the best weapon for peace the world has ever seen. Her specialty would be infiltrating terrorist groups to sooth their rage and anger with her herbal potions. Then they would all decide to go and take a nice afternoon nap rather than blowing each other to pieces.

Advice for those starting out a crafty business:
Create your brand, and live it. Don’t compromise on quality. Have a very clear philosophy about why you are in business and follow your heart. I think the best small businesses are true to their creator and this is one thing that helps to make them so successful.


Favourite handmade item:
I couldn’t be without my Japanese vegetable knife lovingly handcrafted by the super talented Peter Lorimer of Omakau. I use it every single time I cook. The bone handle sits with absolute precision in my hand and it is weighted to perfection. I will be one very happy mumma the day I have replaced all of my random knives with a simple and stunning set of Peter’s masterpieces.

What’s in store for 2017:
I have so many ideas crashing around inside my foggy mind that it’s hard to pin down exactly what I will end up doing this year. These include a shaving soap in a handmade ceramic refillable bowl, beer soaps made from local craft beers, naturally scented bath bombs, solid moisturising bars, natural candles and melts, probiotic solid-bar deodorant and essential oil massage blends. First and foremost, I will be spending all the time I can hanging out with our kids. In the greater scheme of things, they are the most important part of my day and I intend on soaking up as much of them as I can. So, in saying that, it is entirely probable that I don’t achieve any of my business goals this year. Or next year. But eventually, I will have a little more time to push my business and see where it will take me.

As a special treat for Felt customers for the next two months Carly is offering a whopping 30% off all Fair & Square products bought through Felt!

Enter the voucher code DIRTY30 at checkout to claim your discount. :-)


Purchase from Fair & Square here »



The art and science of Souly Fibre

Monday, February 1st, 2016

An advert in a shop window was the first step in a new creative direction for Colleen Jamieson. In her hilltop cottage in the rural Northland district of Kaipara, she now weaves flax into beautiful kete, household items and traditional Māori clothing, while her daughter Dusk assists with the running of her Felt shop, Souly Fibre.

Colleen weaving,

Flax art work,

What do you make?
Anything in flax: kete, whāriki (mats), table mats, traditional clothing (e.g. rāpaki and maro). I also do tāniko (Māori finger weaving) traditionally seen on the top of korowai (feather cloaks).

How did you get into your craft?
I’ve always been interested in fibre crafts and making things when I saw an ad on a shop window advertising a course in flax weaving at a local Kaipara marae. I needed a new direction in my life and the support and encouragement among flax weavers has been fantastic.

I needed a new direction in my life and the support and encouragement among flax weavers has been fantastic.

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
The flax weaving course was a NZQA diploma in fine arts. We stayed on the marae over weekends for instruction and wove all weekend.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
As part of the course we collected together our own tools. I grow my own flax and also harvest from roadsides. I use flax dyes and found objects from beaches and elsewhere.

Placemats in progress,

Flax ready to be used in weaving,

Weaving close up,

Flax placemats – coming soon,

Describe your workspace:
Small studio, great views!

What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from the flax itself and the amazing design history in flax weaving. I am also inspired by pure fashion and design and I enjoy using the traditional patterns in protest art.

Five words that describe your mind:
Fast, flexible, philosophical, functional, friendly.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Weaving flax has given me a deeper understanding of Māori spiritual values and their eco-friendly perspective. As a scientist I love the ability of flax to suck up nitrates from water ways, stabilise land and form a possum proof fence line.

Colleen collecting flax,

Yellow koru kete,

As a scientist I love the ability of flax to suck up nitrates from water ways, stabilise land and as a possum proof fence line.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Several customers have commented that the kete are beautifully crafted and all have been happy with the service and prompt postage.

What are you currently listening to?
Gone back to old Paul Simon Graceland.

Recommend an album:
Ziggy Stardust is an old favourite and with David Bowie passing I imagine everyone is listening to it at the moment.

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
The Cat in the Hat. The crazy rhyming.

What are you reading now?
Crime and Punishment.

Who is your hero/heroine?
Brendan McCullum, I enjoy his pure recklessness, anger and aggression on the cricket pitch and his deeper understanding of the game.


Brown koru kete,

Flax floor mat,

A favourite quote:
Good ecology is always good economically.

Do you have any pets?
Miss Poppy – a terrier with a perfect spot, and Mr Licky – a ginger cat that likes to lick feet.

If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Voxwoman – a super voice to convince people that we need zero population growth and coexistence… the trees and us. It is time to clean up the planet and forget about this out of date economic paradigm called fiscal growth.

What advice do you have for those starting out in a crafty business?
Be prepared to work hard. You don’t get paid by the hour. Each kete I make takes about 20 hours.

What was the last handmade item you bought?
Beautiful Yahtzee dice made from rimu and kahikatea in a little totara box.

What’s in store for 2016?
I plan to have a big year on flax placemats – coming soon!

Wine kete,

Colleen has very kindly offered a prize for one lucky Felt reader of this gorgeous (and very practical!) Souly Fibre wine bottle kete. This kete fits a standard wine bottle and is a very stylish way to take a bottle of wine out to dinner. To be in to win, simply leave a comment telling us what you like about Colleen’s story and her work. The draw will be made on Friday 12 February and is open to New Zealand residents only.


See more Souly Fibre on Felt »


Featured Seller: Rawkos Designs

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Lucy of Rawkos Designs is a textile artist known for her vibrant and bold colours and designs, with a strong Aotearoa influence. Her work reflects the strong light and colours of Northland, where she produces her work in a small studio in Parua Bay, Whangarei Heads. She enjoys using native flora, fauna, birds and sea life throughout her designs.

rawkos tui and flax teatowel

What do you make?
Hi, I’m Lucy and I make textile gifts. So far my new range includes teatowels, table runners and cushion covers in several designs and colourways, that are screenprinted layer upon layer to create the final design. Sometimes these include some handpainting to really add to the vibrancy. Harakeke flax and the Nikau palm feature strongly. The teatowels especially are a great gift for local and overseas friends and family. They have a blurb about the design on each package with some interesting facts.

How did you get into your craft?
Textiles, sewing and making has always been my love from a young age. I was always whipping up a skirt or designing a complicated dress (that would challenge my mum’s patience to watch!). Then it moved on to adding some dying, batiking or painting to the clothing for selling at the market. My favourite friend and I used to say we would open a store selling all our own merchandise (I think the store’s name may have even been Rawkos!). Some years later, after some OE travelling, Rawkos was finally started.

rawkos lucy printing

rawkos teatowels

Do you have any formal qualifications in your craft?
I studied architectural draughting after leaving school and later, after travelling, I completed a course at the Te Kowhai Print Trust in screenprinting. This is a fantastic arts centre near the city in Whangarei.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love all natural fibres, linen and cotton being my favourites. My favourite tools are my print carousel and my rotring pens.

What inspires you?
Nature particularly, but all surroundings, travels, beaches and my children’s great imagination.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I would like my children to know that they can still make things! They don’t just come from the shop.

Describe your workspace:
Full of vibrant colours, a bit messy, stuff everywhere but quiet and peaceful.

rawkos press iron

rawkos studio teatowels and runners

Describe your mind:
Graphic, relaxed, busy, satisfied.

What are you currently listening to?
A lovely local singer at Whangarei Heads – Erin Cole-Baker.

Do you have any pets?
We have Blackberry the black cat; Olive, Salt and Sugar the chickens and Vanilla the bunny.

And what’s your favourite feedback from a customer?
Feedback is why I love what I do. Customers love the vibrant happy colours and it’s a pleasure to make these to share.

You can see more of these vibrant, happy New Zealand-inspired designs in Lucy’s beautiful Felt shop here.

Lucy has very kindly offered a prize of one cotton and one linen nikau print tea towel (below) to a lucky Felt blog reader. If you’d like to be in the prize draw, just leave a comment below telling us what inspires you about Rawkos Designs and Lucy’s story. The draw will be made on Friday 7 November and is open to New Zealand residents only.

rawkos puka leaf table runner

Featured seller: Gwyneth Hulse Design

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Woodworker and designer Gwyneth Hulse comes from a creative family and has always made things. Her modernist, geometric jewellery and interior decor items have a cohesive, strong design factor and a simple elegance that is as distinctive as the locally-sourced native timbers she uses for her work. As well as showcasing her woodworking skills in her Felt shop GH Design, she also runs Little Lambs, where she sells her beautiful handcrafted finger puppets and other items for children.

ghdesign geometric wooden candle holder

What do you make?
I make wooden jewellery and items for your home. Every piece is handcrafted and unique.


How did you get into your craft?
I was at intermediate school when I first realised I could earn a bit of pocket money using my creative skills, by making and selling Fimo beads and jewellery to other students.

I began making things from wood when I was a poor university student. It was a way of getting good quality furniture cheaply — made possible because my father has a woodworking shed, wood and was willing to teach me.

ghdesign the workshop

ghdesign the workshop 2

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in graphic design and then trained as a teacher. It was while I was doing my Fine Arts degree that I was introduced to design eras such as modernism, de Stijl, Bauhaus and constructivism. These styles definitely influence my woodwork.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
All the wood I use is sourced locally in Northland and much of it is from our family farm. It all has a story. I use mainly totara and swamp kauri. I use totara for the bangles because of its strength, fine grain and stability. I use the more temperamental swamp kauri for items which are solid and unlikely to warp, like the candle holders and succulent pots. As a New Zealander I think there is something special about owning items made with native timber.

My new favourite tool is a saw tooth drill for cutting out the centres of bangles. It does such a lovely job and leaves a smooth inner surface.

gh design workbench 2

How do you get past a creative block?
Move on to a totally different project and then come back to the block at a later date.

What inspires you?
The look, feel and colours of different timbers. My husband thinks I’m a bit mad but I like to stroke wood. I love the feel of it when it is beautifully sanded and super smooth, particularly hard, dense woods like puriri and pohutukawa.

The shape of individual pieces of wood is also inspiring. The shape of the vases and necklaces are dictated by the contours of the wood. They are unique pieces made in response to the wood as I cut and shape it.

Describe your workspace:
Quite messy! I try to spend as little time as possible on the not so important aspects of the business and unfortunately this is often reflected in the un-tidiness of my workspaces. I dream of a super organised minimal space with white walls and perfectly organised shelving systems and labels… At this stage of my life it does not quite work with young kids and sanding dust, but I live in hope.

ghdesign paint helper

Five words that describe your mind:
Creative, organised, chaotic, full, determined.

What are you currently listening to?
Whatever my children have on during the day, Levity Beet is a favourite. I like to keep the evenings, when my kids are in bed, noise free. Silence is bliss.

Do you have any pets? Two guinea pigs and an adopted cat called Mozart.

ghdesign geometric wooden necklace

What was the last handmade item you bought?
A handmade kaleidoscope from the Paihia Craft Market.

What would you most like to learn, if time and money were no object?
I would love to do pottery. I’ve attempted it in the past but not enough to feel like I know anything.

ghdesign gwyneth in the workshop

You can see more of Gwyneth’s elegant jewellery and decor pieces in her Felt shop. Gwenyth has very kindly offered one very lucky Felt blog reader the chance to win a pair of her gorgeous Geometric Wooden Bangles (size small). Just leave a comment below, telling us what inspires you about Gwyneth’s work and why, and you’ll be in the draw. The draw will be made on Friday 28 March and is open to New Zealand residents only.

ghdesign geometric wooden bangles