Craft For Life

The line between one’s hobby and one’s job is more often than not quite distinct, but there are those out there for which the two are one and of the same. Home & Living meets a number of craftspeople who have taken their passion for creation and have successfully channeled it into their own business ventures.
DANU Ceramics

Following her graduation from the National College of Art and Design in 2011, Ruth Power was attempting to forge a career from once-off, highly detailed sculptures which reflected her political beliefs and took some months to complete – but she soon discovered it wasn’t possible to make a living this way. She began to consider art teaching, but found that she was drawn to creating a product, starting her own business and working for herself. In 2013, Ruth set out in pursuit of this dream from a more practical standpoint. She embarked on a business course at the Ignite Academy, an experience she believes was essential to her future career. “I was transitioning from artist to a designer and businessperson, which for me was a significant difference!” she says. In 2015, Ruth launched DANU ceramics, which specialises in products which are either slipcast (liquid porcelain poured into moulds) or slab built (using templates to cut shapes from rolled out slabs of clay). Her work is inspired by her travels throughout the years, with specific ranges inspired by Rajasthan in India, Lombok in Indonesia, and Istanbul in Turkey, and by nature – with some aspects of the work coming from unusual sources. “My gold decal work was informed by the not-so-famous Victorian wanderer and naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, who hugely contributed to the theory of evolution,” she says. “It is my own contemporary take on the pages of his sketchbooks.” If the inspirations behind her work seem somewhat obscure, then her approach to the business side of DANU is certainly more pragmatic. She explains how she completed some wonderful workshops with the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, which helped to speed up the process of starting a craft business. She is also a strong believer in early investment to get the business off the ground. “A little investment can certainly go along way,” she says. “I borrowed money to do the Christmas RDS National Craft and Design Fair and was able to use the profits from that to fuel my business expenses.” “It can be quite daunting at first but it’s necessary. Big shows offer massive exposure and the chance to sell lots of products.”


Wild Cocoon

“I wanted people to wrap themselves up in a feeling of comfort and protection,” says Deirdre Duffy, owner of Wild Cocoon. “The security of the layer and the heat of being wrapped up cosy. Being cocooned, so to speak.” Deirdre produces a range of hand-woven scarves, cowls and blankets from 100 per cent lamb’s wool. “All my pieces are hand-woven on wooden floor looms. They are entirely manually powered, with no electrification at all. It can take up to 6 hours per item to get to a finished point. It’s a labour of love that I enjoy very much.” Deirdre’s passion for arts and crafts emerged at a young age, and she has retained to this day vivid memories of her grandmother’s knitting skills. Having specialised in woven textiles at the National College of Art and Design, graduating in 2005, Deirdre spent six years gaining business experience at Hickey’s Home Focus, before returning to Co. Mayo to finally begin to think about starting her own business. “Initially I set up a craft shop and studio called ‘Stitched In’ in Claremorris. This venture was semi-successful and I kept it open for a year and a bit,” Deirdre explains. “While the shop was going well, it was taking too much time away from studio work and I had to make a decision about the future. At this point I decided to focus entirely on hand weaving and launching a contemporary collection into the Irish market, and then internationally. It took about a year and a half to get to the point where I was happy with the range I had and to rebrand the business into what it is today.” Deirdre took advantage of several resources that were available to her in order to ensure the success of her new venture. “I was helped by the South West Mayo Development Project to purchase a larger loom in order to make blankets. I also attended some business courses ran by LEO Co. Mayo and the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland together. DCCOI have a great programme of mentoring in the industry that is very helpful.”

Cooper Handcrafted Furniture

Having grown up beside his family’s sawmill, where his grandfather originally crafted wooden cooper barrels, Ciaran McPhilips has known woodcraft from an early age. He developed most of his skills from his father, and spent many years working across the globe in joinery and cabinet-making. It was always his dream, however, to work with hardwoods and to design and handcraft his own furniture range. In 2014, Ciaran’s wife bought him a lathe as a present, and he began to create prototypes. The following year, in June 2015, Cooper Handcrafted Furniture was born. “I wanted to create a range of high quality furnishings that were pared back, functional and timeless pieces that could be handed down through generations in families,” says Ciaran. “Where possible I wanted to create pieces that left the timber in its natural state so that the rawness of the timber shone through. Much of the inspiration for the pieces currently in the range comes from my great-grandfather’s era.” Ciaran’s family quite clearly instilled a love for the craft within him, but he had to seek his own path. Before he had set up Cooper Handcrafted Furniture, he undertook a business start-up course at Monaghan Local Enterprise Office (LEO), as well as registering to the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, both of which were invaluable in setting up his business. He still avails of the services that they provide. This year, as part of participating in Design Ireland, Ciaran attended seminars arranged by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, and received information and networking opportunities which he firmly believes aid his business. “Do as many pop-up shops, markets and trade shows as possible, as these are excellent platforms to help you get your name out there,” he advises a craftsperson considering a business. “Be prepared for the hard work. Trying to wear all the business hats isn’t easy, but the rewards overall are worth it.”


Melissa Curry

Success came swiftly for Melissa Curry. Her first jewellery collection, following its successful launch at the 1999 Paris Fashion Week, was snapped up by Liberty of London, which catapulted her work to global acclaim. However, following this early success, a host of changing circumstances forced Melissa to take a step back to reevaluate herself and her work. “I was in a very different state of mind back then,” she says. “I was really rebuilding myself as a career woman, as a designer, and as a mother.”  The projects that were to follow directly reflected this new sense of self. The Melissa Curry brand and Build Your Own Success (BYOS) were created with the challenges faced by women all around the world at the forefront of Curry’s mind. “The Melissa Curry brand is very confident and colourful and, I suppose, feminine but strong,” she explains. “They are pieces that equate to a more personal piece of jewellery – a bespoke and personalised piece of jewellery.” The BYOS brand on the other hand, she describes as more everyday – more wearable. “It’s a fine jewellery collection which is very much more purposeful,” she says. “It’s targeted at everyday women and it has a special message with special values that are highlighted within the jewellery.” A particular highlight of the BYOS brand came in 2013, when a piece from the collection was presented to Michelle Obama upon her and her husband’s historic visit to Ireland. “Michelle’s confidence as a world leader, as a mother, very much inspired me to step up with my idea, so I called the Taoiseach and I told him about the purpose of this piece. Both Enda Kenny and his wife adored the whole idea, and they presented the piece to Michelle and her two children upon their arrival to Dublin,” Melissa beams. “I think you’re led by your craft and your passion. I would definitely advise to intern with somebody of value and somebody who has built a strong reputation for themselves, because knowledge is key, and you can learn so much,” she advises. “If you’re building beauty, why not share it with the bigger world?”


karoArt Ceramics

karoArt started as a business in January 2011, a year after its owner, Karolina Grudniewska, first began playing and practising with her skills in crafting ceramics. Her interest in the craft came after her partner Jacek gave her clay as a Christmas gift. “When playing with my newly discovered hobby, I was making pieces that were ending up in a drawer,” Karo says. “I decided to take a few photos and set up an online shop to see if anybody liked them. I used Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade products, as my initial testing ground.” Encouraged by some of those initial sales, Karolina set up a stall at the Saturday craft market in Temple Bar, and soon joined the Cows Lane Designer Studio, a collaboration between several Dublin based designers, craftspeople and artists. Her designs are simple and modern in form, and mostly meant for daily use. However, there is also a highly decorative element to her work, as expressed most clearly perhaps through her more whimsical creations, inspired by nature and organic forms. “Magical realism and fairy stories are influential to my work,” she says. “I’m a huge animal lover and furry or feathery creatures are often a recurring theme of my hand-sketched pieces. In terms of shape, I follow simple geometry of full and half-circles, spheres, squares and tubes. All my work is easily defined within these few basics. I decorate with bold patches of colour and hand-sketched pencil drawings that are unique to each piece.” Karo has managed to successfully turn a hobby into a career, but advises that craftspeople hoping to do the same should proceed calmly. “My advice would be to keep things low-key at the beginning, not to rush things and go with the flow,” she says. “When I started selling my ceramics I didn’t expect it to turn into a full time job. I think it helped to take the pressure off and allowed me to enjoy the experience. If you don’t expect too much, every tiny success gives you a great motivation and boost of energy to keep going.”