Craft a way of life for some

BY HAND: Mrs Dunn works on necklaces made out of tiny triangles of leather.
BY HAND: Mrs Dunn works on necklaces made out of tiny triangles of leather.

Some pieces of fabric are just too beautiful to throw away. Particularly those that someone has spent hours embroidering by hand.

That's the way Elizabeth Berge feels. She's been upcycling pieces of vintage, retro and unwanted fabric for four years now.

Rather than thinking of something she wants to make, she takes a piece of fabric and wonders what she could turn it into.

AT WORK: Miss Owens at her workbench, in the garage of her St Johns home.
AT WORK: Miss Owens at her workbench, in the garage of her St Johns home.

The small craft business she runs from her Mt Wellington home studio is now quite profitable, but it takes a lot of work to make it so. Some weekends she spends both Saturday and Sunday selling her work at craft markets.

"It means you don't get a weekend off to do nothing," she says.

But the benefits of being able to slot her weekday work in around her family life make it all worthwhile.

Her business, Zippity DooDah, all started with a zip.

Mrs Berge worked in the fashion industry after completing her bachelor of design at Whitecliffe.

She noticed the number of zips that were left over after a big order was completed.

"Once they're dyed a certain colour and cut to a certain length, they're not much use to anyone else."

She was playing with a leftover zip and twirled it into a flower shape, which she started wearing as a brooch on her coat.

"People would ask me where I got it from. Then someone suggested I make them and sell them at Craftbomb.

"They were really popular and it grew from there."

She turns old army blankets into teddy bears; woollen blankets into hot water bottle covers and vintage tea tray linen into festive bunting.

"It's getting harder to get the blankets. My great-grandfather had the contract to supply Auckland Hospital with blankets, so Mum had a stash of them which she passed on."

People occasionally turn up on her doorstep or at a market with a pile of fabric or zips they want to give to her.

Her owl-shaped doorstops are made from old upholstery fabric sample books.

She finds it hard to walk past an op-shop or a piece of fabric that might otherwise be thrown away, particularly if it is decorated with needlework.

"I appreciate how much hard work has gone into it. If it's stained I'll cut around the mark and use the best part."

She makes toy rabbits and bears, each wearing an outfit made of upcycled embroidered linen.

She says it's a way for families to pass on a tiny piece of history.

Something made by great-grandma becomes part of a toy for a new great-grandchild.

Search for ZippityDooDah on Facebook or go to to find Mrs Berge's work.

Gaining traction and shifting up a gear

It's still early days for Shelley Dunn but after just two years the 28-year-old's label, shelley d, is already gaining traction.

She is part of a collective of artists called Six which has a shop on Ponsonby Rd and she's a regular at the City Designer's Market on High St.

Her collection of contemporary women's clothing, leather jewellery and bags is hand-made in her Panmure home.

The living room has become her workroom and the lounge furniture and her computer have been relegated to the spare bedroom.

Fortunately her husband is in IT, so she's got a live-in web designer to help sell her work online.

"I think that's the way retail is going. In the next year or so I want to really develop my online business and continue doing markets."

She spent her school years in Feilding and studied design at Massey University in Wellington.

She and her husband moved to Auckland to look for work after their London OE.

"Auckland's becoming the fashion capital. This is where the wholesalers are, it's where the PR and magazines are. What's left of the manufacturing is here too."

She's been doing some of Auckland's craft markets, such as Crafternoon Tea in Kingsland and MOAD (Ministry of Art and Design) at Tyler St Garage.

"Markets are great for advertising and meeting people and telling them about my brand."

The fashion graduate says she will always design clothing but it's the leatherwork that's keeping her interested at the moment.

"I like the scale of it. Jewellery is taking off for me."

MOAD is where her leatherwork sells best. Her chevron necklace is particularly popular, as is a top with a chevron print.

She's still building her business but says her sales in the last month are probably equal to the sales she made last year.

"I was trading this time last year but I didn't know what I could be doing.

"This year I've made so many connections ... I didn't know people last year. I really enjoy doing things myself. I would consider handing over the manufacture of the clothing but I like doing the leather and I'd like to stay made in New Zealand," she says.

Jeweller is a polished act

The combination of art and science makes jewellery the perfect outlet for Olivia Owens' creative talents.

The 20-year-old enjoys the industrial side of working with sterling silver, gold and brass.

When she's not working away on her collection in the garage of her St Johns home, she also studies anthropology at Auckland university.

There's a sort of theme to her work, in that many of her pieces are made to look like animals.

The ring featuring an animal wearing a nose-chain is particularly popular.

"It's an ambiguous animal, it's supposed to be that way," Miss Owens says. She wants the owner of each piece to interpret it for themselves, rather than telling them what it's supposed to be.

Miss Owens went to school in Ellerslie and is largely self-taught, other than attending a few night classes at MIT. She's learned many of her techniques by trial and error.

"I've invited myself into a few jewellers' workshops and asked how they do things."

"I've been making stuff forever. My grandmother taught me to knit and my great-grandmother taught me how to crochet.

"I remember going to a bead shop in England when I was about 7 and I watched this lady making things and thought, 'This is what I want to do'. I brought some beads home and while everyone else was jetlagged and sleeping I was making jewellery."

The name of her business, I Am Worm, relates to a family nickname she had when she was younger.

Miss Owens is looking forward to launching her new website which will have an online store. She is also hoping to find more stockists for her work around New Zealand.

Her work can be viewed at the City Designers Market, Six and MOAD.


East And Bays Courier