YOU ARE BRAVE textiles printed fabrics by textile designer Michelle Kistima-Menser

What Makes A Creative Heart Sing? An Interview With Simone Deckers from Femke Textiles

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment

It took Simone Deckers 15 years to find her passion.

Simone arrived in Australia from The Netherlands with her parents and sister when she was 8 years old. Her dad was a woodworker and her mum was a nurse and avid sewer. The Deckers family settled in Brisbane and quickly fell in love with the Australian bush.

After following in her mums footsteps as a nurse, the realisationn finally came for Simone that her passion for colour, pattern and textiles needed to be honoured more fully in her life.

She quit her job as a clinical nurse at a blood bank, took the leap of faith and re-trained in Textile Design at RMIT in Melbourne.

The career move was a brave one especially since it meant a giant pay cut.

Simone Deckers at the door to her studio in West Melbourne. Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE.

Simone Deckers at the door to her studio in West Melbourne. Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE.

After finishing her studies Simone started her textile label Femke Textiles, so named because “Femke” would have been her name had her parents not chosen “Simone”

Through Femke Textiles, Simone creates beautiful, nature inspired prints that explore her intimate connection with Australia’s flora and fauna … a connection that not only ties her with the bush but also conveys something influential about her family bonds.

Simone Deckers is also a Print Technician at RMIT. Photo by Simone Deckers.

Simone Deckers is also a Print Technician at RMIT. Photo by Simone Deckers.

I was fortunate enough to be able to catch up with Simone in February at her wonderful West Melbourne studio … here is that interview ….

In the studio at Femke Textiles with Simone.

In the studio at Femke Textiles with Simone.

What does the Australian bush & fauna mean to you? Why does it feature so heavily in your work?

What’s not to love? I love the uniqueness and the diversity in colour, shapes, textures. I love that some of it can survive in the harshest of conditions. I just find the Australian bush so inspiring. It means home. My favourite smell has to be that of gum leaves - any variety!

I associate the Aussie bush and fauna with many wonderful camping holidays I took with my family when I was young. We spent many Sundays bush walking, enjoying time together as a family and I think my love for Australian flora and fauna was definitely a spark that was ignited during this time.

I lost my Dad only 18 months ago and the Aussie bush and fauna definitely helps me feel closer to him. He had such a big love for both.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

The bravest thing I have ever done would be to follow my dreams and creative energy and go from full time nursing and a steady income to studying textile design and now running my own business! I won’t lie, it hasn’t always been the easiest, but I really love what I do and feel very thankful that I get to go into my studio and create.

Femke Textiles print range. Photo by Simone Deckers .

Femke Textiles print range. Photo by Simone Deckers .

What is it about textile design and screen printing that drives your passion? Why do you choose this as a career?

I have always love fabric, patterns and colour. I remember mum sewing a

lot of mine and my sisters clothes and being surrounded by fabric when I was younger. I have always loved the act of screen printing and I still get excited when I lift the screen and see my designs come to life on fabric. I love that the options for patterns on fabric are endless. I choose to mostly work with linen as I love the texture and drape of it. I love the way screen printed textiles look VS digitally printed. I love the texture and the difference in each print. I love the beauty in imperfections that screen printing creates.

Linen top by Femke Textiles. Photo by Simone Deckers.

Linen top by Femke Textiles. Photo by Simone Deckers.

What frustrations or difficulties are you experiencing with your work?

Hmmmmmm...the frustrations and difficulties of running your own business sometimes seem like many! I guess one of the biggest frustrations is not having enough hands to make/do all the things I have ticking over in my head! I have to wear so many different hats and having some help with things like marketing etc would be helpful.

What does the name Femke Textiles mean?

My name was going to be Femke if it wasn’t Simone. Mum and dad decided on Simone in the end so I thought Femke was a good name for my business (the other me!) It is a Friesian name - my grandfather was Friesian.

At the studio work table at Femke Textiles. Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE.

At the studio work table at Femke Textiles. Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE.

What impact do you think coming to Australia as a little girl had on your outlook and your chosen path in printing and textiles?

I think seeing my parents work really hard to re-establish themselves and also run their own business in a foreign/new country gave me the strength and courage to try something new and work really hard to achieve it. They showed me that anything is possible really with the love and support of your family behind you and ofcourse hard work!

Who would you most like to work with or collaborate with?

I would really love to collaborate with a ceramicist. I would love to see some of my designs on plates cups etc.

I would also love to work with a restaurant or accommodation provider in country Victoria and design the patterns for their linen/menus etc.

My biggest dream (hopefully to come true one day) is to design a large scale public art/design piece somewhere!

Wattle Puff Print on Flax Linen by Femke Textiles. Photo by Simone Deckers.

Wattle Puff Print on Flax Linen by Femke Textiles. Photo by Simone Deckers.

Femke Textiles is based in Melbourne and you can find out more about Simone and her work by visiting her website

A huge Thank You to Simone for her generosity with her time to do this interview AND also, she picked me up from my accommodation in Melbourne to go to her studio!


CREATIVE TRAILS 2019 ... My work with local Sydney Artists

ArticlesMichelle Kistima-MenserComment

CREATIVE TRAILS 2019 is a program of open studio tours sponsored by the Inner West Council here in Sydney.

And Lucky Me! I get to co-ordinate it all.

I get to meet so many of Sydneys’ most talented + hard working creatives in my local area. I get to see their work, their studios + help them become more well known in the broader community through CREATIVE TRAILS.

There will be 4 Trails this year. The first is on April 6 - 7, encompassing the Annandale/Leichhardt precinct of the Inner West.

If you are in Sydney, please sign up for the free studio tours I will be organising … they’ll be available via the councils web page, follow the social media posts @innerwestcouncil + WATCH THIS SPACE

READ MORE about featured local artist Gilbert Grace below ….

Gilbert Grace, Artist + Tour Operator at ArtCycle, Sydney

Gilbert Grace, Artist + Tour Operator at ArtCycle, Sydney

This is Gilbert Grace who is a painter who I met at his studio at Whites Creek Cottage. Currently Gilbert is working towards a solo exhibition in September buthe will also be showing his work at his studio during CREATIVE TRAILS on 6 - 7 April.

Gilbert is also a passionate environmentalist and cyclist who will beconducting cycle tours during CREATIVE TRAILS. His ArtCycle tours are sponsored by Council and will be free to the public.

Bookings will be taken through the Councils’ webpage, so stay tuned for more info from me about that.

Authentically Speaking ... A Morning With High Tea With Mrs Woo

ArticlesMichelle Kistima-MenserComment

Finding and being your authentic self in business (as in life) can be hard to do.



Recently I spent a few hours at the High Tea With Mrs Woo headquarters chatting with Angela and Juliana Foong who, along with older sister Rowena, make up the iconic Newcastle fashion label.

“Who is Mrs Woo?” and “Why high tea?” I asked, trying to understand what the labels’ quirky name means.

Turns out, the name is derived from the memories the sisters share of the grand and strong woman in their lives … their mum, grandmother and many aunties. This combined with memories of special times over high tea with these inspirational women is where the name comes from.

During our conversation, it became clear that family and a tradition of making by hand are integral to the make up and values of High Tea With Mrs Woo.

Photo by High Tea With Mrs Woo

Photo by High Tea With Mrs Woo

In their earliest years, growing up in Malaysia, their family home was also their grand fathers’ jewellery and clock making workshop and store.

Looking around the studio, I could imagine their home and that workshop. Old hand tools, well-used furniture and natural and muted colours have their place alongside hints of the modern.

I understood why the tactile and aesthetic qualities of making by hand is not just important to the sisters but it is a part of their make up and the fabric of who HTWMW is. 

Photo by High Tea With Mrs Woo

Photo by High Tea With Mrs Woo

The slow, hands on processes of making give an object meaning and imbue it with something greater than itself … it becomes part of the maker and they share in a relationship that is meaningful and true.

Another important aspect of the labels’ make up is the collective experiences the sisters have as migrants to Australia. Settling in Newcastle in the late 80’s, the Foong sisters, along with their parents, struggled to find their place in a new and western society.

With the guidance of their parents, the importance of family and sisterhood was continually instilled. So too was an ethic of “making do” with what they had. The sisters taught themselves to sew and scoured op shops instead of buying new clothes.

Photo by High Tea With Mrs Woo

Photo by High Tea With Mrs Woo

So perhaps you could say this is where High Tea With Mrs Woo was born but more so I think it comes from Rowena, Juliana & Angela’s DNA. And that comes from long before they were born.

There are so many labels & brands out there offering so much. I found High Tea With Mrs Woo to be as authentic and real as the three women who still make the garments with their own hands and bravely and whole-heartedly believe in what they do.

Find High Tea With Mrs Woo at their Cooks Hill store in Newcastle, NSW Australia or visit their website

A New Years Wish For You ...

ThoughtsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment

Sometimes we're a bit too hard on ourselves.

Sometimes all we need is someone to say ... we're OK ...

Sometimes that person needs to be you.

Sometimes we should just accept that we are the way we are ... and Celebrate Ourselves.

And give ourselves a REAL break ... so that we can move forward from a place of love + acceptance ... and mostly, that's the best way to move ... wouldn't you agree?

This poem I wrote is about that ...

... a very Happy New Year to YOU ... I'm looking forward to seeing you here or in person in 2018.

New Years Poem by YOU ARE BRAVE-01.jpg



An Interview With Yoshi Jones

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment
Yoshi Jones shop King St Newtown Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

These days it seems just about everyone is broadcasting something about themselves ... about their achievements, their beliefs, their whole lives ... right down to what they had for lunch!

So it's intriguing to meet someone who's work is in the public eye and has a well known reputation in the fashion industry ... and yet is rather a lot more private than most.

Yoshi Jones designs and makes clothing. She's known for re-vitalizing vintage Japanese kimono and re-using the fabric in her own garments. Exquisite silks and cottons with breathtaking colour + traditional designs are lovingly restored and re-purposed by hand by Yoshi and her small team.

It was a real feast for my eyes when I visited her King St shop in Newtown for this interview. I'm sure I looked through absolutely every garment, every accessory and every piece of decor .... and I know didn't want to leave.

When I did eventually leave, I pondered how true artists and makers seem to have this unique relationship with their materials + their tools. Yoshi's love of the art and fabrics of Japan reflects her connection with her cultural heritage .... and in some way too, her quietly focused way of working feels timeless + Japanese in approach.

Here's Yoshi in her own words ....


1. What gets you up in the morning Yoshi?

My dog for his morning walk!

Yoshi Jones' dog Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

2. How did you come to create Yoshi Jones the label?

The label grew organically from a love of textiles to the discovery of Japanese fabrics because of their beauty and durability.

3. What inspires your aesthetic & why?

I like simple lines and beautiful, natural fabrics

Yoshi Jones shop King St Newtown Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

4. Who inspires you the most in life & why?

People who have a positive energy! In fashion I like Isabel Murant, Dries Van Noten and the label Mui Mui - they all use interesting fabrics!

5. What’s your dream project?

My dream project would be traveling the world sourcing beautiful fabrics.

Yoshi Jones Top photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

6. What are you reading / listening to right now?

Listening to Michael Kiwanuka "Cold Little Heart" and reading a thriller by Joy Ellis.

7. What’s new at Yoshi Jones?

Our autumn winter range has been arriving including Italian wool coats with Japanese silk vintage buttons,
Tunics in silk and cottons and tops made from vintage silk kimonos and merino wool.

Jacket by Yoshi Jones photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

Thank you to Yoshi + her team who welcomed me so warmly at her store and workroom in Newtown.

You can find Yoshi Jones at Level 1, 249 King St Newtown NSW 2042 or visit her online store at

Making It Happen : An Evolutionary Tale From Cath Derksema

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment
The Happenstore Annandale Sydney

From the early days as a designer at John Kaldor in the 80's, to working on her home furnishing label Art Park, to a more recent iteration, Prints Charming Original Fabrics, Cath Derksema has always been one to roll with change.

In an tough industry with little support in the way of funding, local manufacturing and supply, it' encouraging to see Cath's passion for textiles ... for supporting other makers & for passing on her knowledge as she evolves with the times.

I interviewed Cath almost exactly 2 years ago at her gorgeous warehouse work space in Sydney's inner west. A unique, open space which she shared with other creatives & regularly opened the doors to many. Unfortunately that creative space is no longer & Prints Charming is no longer but ...

Cath seems to have a knack of finding the positives and developing something unique. Something better. She just ... Makes It Happen!

So if you haven't already heard about her latest venture, I'm thrilled to be able to introduce you to The Happenstore. Read more in my interview with Cath below ...

The Happenstore - Exterior.jpg


1. What is The Happenstore? How is it different from other shops in Sydney?

The Happenstore is a multidimensional space in Sydney that encompasses retail, workshop and events ... it is a creative space for like minded people, makers and yearners. A place to come, to make, to learn and be inspired. An authentic and unique destination to celebrate artistry and friendship...

* Photo by ....

* Photo by ....

The Happenstore Annandale Sydney

2. How did it come about?

It evolved as I needed a new studio! Throughout my life as an artisan I have been thwarted by property developers. Always working from inspiring and interesting warehouse spaces, always led me to being on the move, as they were inevitably developed (DON'T GET ME STARTED!). The moment I saw this shop I knew it held more mystery and potential, than a space just for me.

4. What gets you up in the morning Cath?

Excitement and the unknown get me up every morning. I never know what is around the corner and I LOVE that!

The Happenstore interior workshop area

3. Why is it called The Happenstore?

The name evolved from one of my favorite words 'happenstance' ... it embraces the magic of things just 'happening'.

Bowls by Lisa Tilse & artwork by Warwick Orme at The Happenstore   

Bowls by Lisa Tilse & artwork by Warwick Orme at The Happenstore

5. What has been the bravest thing you've had to do in the making/running of The Happenstore?

The bravest thing I've had to do in the making of The Happenstore is committing to a lease and increasing my rent significantly ... The store needed a lot of hard yakka in bringing it up to a contemporary street had been a guitar shop for 30yrs and needed a lot of TLC..Negotiating with real estate agents is not for the faint hearted!

Work by Paula Do Prado at The Happenstore

Work by Paula Do Prado at The Happenstore

6. What advice would you give someone who has a dream of opening a retail store in Sydney today

My advice for anyone wanting to open a retail space in Sydney ... have a strong budget and stick to it! It is expensive and there are often many hidden costs ... Be super creative in pushing through these and be prepared for initial compromise. Have endless energy and passion for your vision and GO FOR IT! Sydney NEEDS creative spaces that are public and inclusive.

* Photo by Baz Scott

* Photo by Baz Scott

You can find Cath & The Happenstore at 55 Parramatta Rd, Annandale in Sydney's inner west. For more info & opening times, please click here.

Madge Goods - Pure. Bold. Brave.

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment
Photo by Peter Collie

Photo by Peter Collie

Sometimes contentment can highlight the need for change.

Sometimes it takes a major hurdle (like cancer) before we can say “The time is right”. “The time is now. Let’s embrace this thing.”

After more than 3 years of research, planning & exploration ……. established, graphic designers and Sydney based couple Luisa Franco & John Valastro have finally launched their first print based range of fashion and homewares called Madge Goods.

Offering a clean, bold, fun & modern print aesthetic combined with simple garment shapes that are easy to wear Luisa says,

       “Our core customer is an independent thinker, not persuaded by celebrity or trend – a strong celebrated woman.”

Perhaps not too much unlike Luisa herself who overcame cancer after their third daughter Magenta was born … a pinnacle period in their lives as it was also the birth of the brand name “Madge” after Magenta.  Later Luisa gave up full time work & sent herself off to school again … retraining in Fabric Design & Printing while also sending their 3 daughters to school everyday! Then came the couple’s decision to sell their home in order to realize the brand … also a huge investment. Yet again, the couples belief in Madge backed up by their research, planning & positive market feedback saw the launch of the brand & its very own boutique in Newtown just 4 weeks ago.

To me Madge Goods is more than just a brand that produces cool new fashion & homewares, it has a soul that embodies vision, hard-work, passion, sheer guts and self confidence …. and strength that comes directly from Luisa & John themselves.

Madge Goods is pure in design, bold in look and so, so brave in approach.

I hope you’ll find my interview with Luisa & John not only insightful but also very inspiring …

1. What gets you up in the morning?


To see where this is new journey is going. To create & think about new ideas and make lunch for 3 kids!


I agree, throwing ourselves into Madge Goods, going on the constant creative journey it demands while building and maintaining a home for our 3 daughters is what gets us up in the morning. It’s exciting, interesting and keeps us alert and always thinking and trying to get better at it.


2. How did you come to create Madge Goods?


When my love of art, design, clothing and fabrics collided…
Straight out of high school I studied Fine Arts majoring in painting, then straight onto studying Graphic Design working in the motion design industry for 18 years whilst starting and growing a family. During the pregnancy of our 3rd daughter Magenta, I was diagnosed with cancer, this gave me the kick to have the courage to follow my heart and passion so I headed back to study Textile Design and Printing. Finally my passions of art, design and fabric merged and created Madge Goods…


Thinking about how we could use our skills as graphic designers to create a great product is how both Luisa and I came together to start creating what became Madge Goods. I was excited about the idea of it because I knew it would be the ideal opportunity for us to combine all of our creative skills, passion and energy to create something worthwhile, fun and unique.

Photo by Alethia Casey

Photo by Alethia Casey

3. What inspires you the most & why?


Anything my eyes can feast upon from art to architecture to motion design to nature… it all makes me happy to see and feel what I see. I love the language of the hand, the indications of handmade, the imperfect but perfect marks and evidence that an object was made by another but on the flip side I love technology equally


I love design and all areas of design, I love how design can really improve the experience of living, it makes things more enjoyable to experience and use, and I love that the job of a designer or a design is never done - it can always evolve and be improved upon. I’m also very inspired by the history of modern art and the progression of new visual art over time and the thinking behind it. This inspiration helps me to learn new ways, try different approaches and hopefully help me to make the next design better than the last design.

Photo by Peter Collie

Photo by Peter Collie

4. Who inspires you the most & why?


My family who generously always allowed me to follow my passions: my entrepreneurial parents who started & ran their own business their entire careers, my talented big brother, my incredible partner in life & work Johnny & our 3 daughters, Sienna, Bianca & Magenta & the amazing posse of strong independent female friends.


Of course, being on this journey with Luisa is very inspiring, knowing that we have both fully committed to doing this inspires me.

Creatively, designers such as Lucienne Day, Armi Ratia, Mina Perhonen are all very inspiring fashion and textile designers who are creative explorers, searching for opportunities to push the craft forward, be brave and craft it really well along the way.

5. What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?


Keep strong, face fear and be determined that I was going to stick around to help raise and watch our girls grow up after learning of my diagnosis of cancer. A very close second was giving up being a Graphic Designer to start Madge Goods, although I haven’t “given it up” , but am more precisely utilizing the skills acquired along the journey in getting here.


Yes I’m with Luisa - to start Madge has been the bravest thing we’ve ever had to do. We’ve really had to change everything in our life in order to give us the opportunity to start Madge Goods. It’s been everything from selling the house, leaving full-time work, re-training and learning, moving into a tiny space, getting back into work to raise money - it’s been a constant challenge with no guarantees.

Photo by Alethia Casey   

Photo by Alethia Casey

6. What’s your dream project?


Madge Goods has been my dream project for so long,  I am doing my dream project and enjoying every minute!


Having the opportunity to put our pattern designs into the environment, all around us and in unexpected places.

Photo by Alethia Casey   

Photo by Alethia Casey

7. What are you reading / listening to right now?


  • Fiona Caulfield’s : Love India Guides: Jaipur, Delhi & Kolkata

  • My Autistic Awakening: By Rachael Lee Aarris

  • And have been listening to WarPaint


Been loving the Netflix Series : ‘Abstract: The Art of Design’. It’s a fascinating small insight into the world of some exceptional designers. Very inspiring.

Photo by Peter Collie

Photo by Peter Collie

You can find Madge Goods at 241 Australia St, Newtown in Sydney and at

Bare Foot & Laid Back - An Interview With Asha Kidd

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment
Asha Kidd Mr Haddy Boho Cactus Beach Bag.jpg

Celebrating a laid back Australian lifestyle through her label Mr Haddy, Asha Kidd is living an authentic and enviable life on the east coast of Australia.

Asha's Instagram account conjures up simple yet contented beach side living, merged with her unique boho/vintage personal style ... while images of her hand made products seamlessly mingle with those of her gorgeous self and her 2 beautiful boys, Marlin & Che.

However in her interview with me, she reveals just how challenging running a business single-handedly while being a young mum can be. Finding her creative energy takes more work these days. But it's something she's committed to ... for reason's you'll find out ...

Mr Haddy Eye Painting

1. What gets you up in the morning?

That would be my little alarm clocks, my boys, my babies. Che my 15 month old likes to wake around 7am which is respectable but I much rather like to sleep in til 8.30 – 9 like Marlin, my 3 year old!

2. How did Mr Haddy come into being?

We were moving around a lot with my partners work and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, after studying various different career paths but having nothing that really set my heart on fire, I was always a bit lost. It wasn't until I fell pregnant with Marlin that I knew I wanted to do something from home ... to have my own business to I could spend all the time I could with my babies. I went back to what I always loved and where I find real happiness which is in designing and creating art. Although it's forever changing and I'm still very much finding myself along the way.

Asha Kidd Mr Haddy with Che & surfboard

3. What's behind the Mr Haddy name?

Mr Haddy is a character from the Paul Theroux novel The Mosquito Coast, which was later made into a film. It was one of our mums favourite films and we were forced to watch it regularly! There was a character who just epitomised how we would all love to be, the chilled out Rasta, not a care in the world as long as he had a boat he'd be A-Ok. That's the vibe I was seeking for my brand so the name fit.

4. Your top tip for igniting creativity would be .... ?

... free time, with no pressure. If I make a special time for work, it never gets done. Creativity can't be forced it has to come from a natural genuine place. Most of my ideas come to me when we're driving, the kids are asleep in the back, I'm the passenger, there's tunes playing and I don't have to worry about the washing etc. Sadly it doesn't happen too often! Otherwise, a clean studio ignites the creative fire.

Mr Haddy Asha Kidd Family
Asha Kidd from Mr Haddy Lifestyle Brand with kids

5. What's the bravest thing you've ever had to do?

Deciding to go out on a limb and start Mr Haddy, without any real business knowledge. I knew that I had a burning desire to create but making an actual income has been a different story. Most recently I decided to take the manufacture of our products OS. This was a huge leap for me. From doing absolutely everything from start to finish myself and then handing the reigns over to someone else where I couldn't oversee each process took a lot of bravery. I'm glad I have the skills to make exactly what I want in a sample, as they have to copy it exactly!

Asha Kidd Mr Haddy Palm Tree Beach Bag on the sand

6. What motivates you to create?

I never needed motivation, as it's in my blood and bones, the desire has always been there as long as I can remember. It was never forced. Now though, I'm sleep deprived, I'm running around like a mad woman most of the day and those spontaneous bursts of creative motivation rarely pop up. I have to work for it, I have to do it for myself and my family. It's my happiness that is at stake, no one wants a grumpy mama!

7. Who inspires you? And why?

My sister Sky, she has recently taught herself to silversmith whilst raising her little twin babies. Her creativity and unique style has given me so much inspiration lately.

Asha Kidd Mr Haddy Turquiose Jewellery & palm tree painting
Mr Haddy The bag making process

8. What's next for Mr Haddy?

I'm going to take it slow. I've made the mistake in the past of rushing into ideas that I haven't properly thought through and ended up regretting the decision. I think a lot of creative folk fall into that trap and you end up spending lots of money on ideas that never end up seeing the light of day. I guess it's all a part of the process though ... please tell me I'm not alone? Haha!

I do have a few ideas in the works and one of those is designing clothing. It's my first love and i really want to get back into it.

Asha Kidd Mr Haddy Palm Tree Pillows

You can find Mr Haddy at and catch up on the latest with Asha on Instagram @mrhaddy

* All images are courtesy of Mr Haddy

Mr Haddy Logo

"When the music plays, you have to dance!"

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment

Eloquent words spoken by Maaike Pullar’s dad, architect, furniture designer and sculptor Rob Pullar, as she thinking about going into business for herself. I know all to well the power words can instill, especially when you find yourself at a crossroad like I did. Maaike now pursues her craft of bespoke upholstery and furniture restoration her own unique way ... and she dances everyday!

With an obvious shared passion for fabrics, Maaike & I met (rather aptly) at Makerspace & Co in Sydney’s Marrickville where hands on making and the nurturing of makers takes place. Some months later we finally caught up for a "makerly" chat over coffee. In that time Maaike had moved in to her new studio and shop in Croydon where she also conducts regular workshops. I was delighted to find it‘s also a gallery space for the ceramics, Shibori textiles & paintings of her talented mum Aleida Pullar.

Maaike’s perspective on the sharing of ideas & working with clients & other creatives indicates a self-confidence and warmth of character that is compelling and so inspiring. I suspect you’ll find her interview an absolute delight to read …

The Heidi Chair 2013 by Maaike

1. What gets you up in the morning?

Ideally, exciting projects that challenge me to push some boundaries and techniques to achieve the perfect piece for a client.  Literally, the need to get to Bunnings or the timber yard before I open the showroom at 9am

Maaike Pullar

2. How did you come to resurrecting furniture & upholstery?

Making things is definitely in my blood! I come from a very hands on family, at one point we had 6 design businesses registered in our little family of 5. Growing up the 3 of us kids had free range in mum’s studio (ceramics, painting and printing) and dad’s timber workshop, but I really gravitated towards fabric. Mum taught me to sew when I was about 7, and I made my first sofa with Dad when I was 17.

I completed a bachelor degree in interior design at UTS. The course at the time was largely about the concept and the communication of spatial ideas, which was fantastic, but there was no opportunity to flex my making muscles. Making had been such a huge part of my design process until that point, often the only way to know what the solution looked like was to make it, then detail what I had made. I started taking out my creative frustration on the household furniture, making the chair dreams I could never afford on my student income!

Cabinet by Robert Pullar Bench by Maaike Pullar

3. What is it about what you do that you love so much?  

I adore the transformation. I love taking something unsatisfactory and making it better than we’d dreamed. Sometimes that’s as simple as changing the fabric to something unique, but more and more it’s about sculpting wild textures in lush cushioned upholstery, creating offbeat and joyful forms which make people smile.

The upholstery process is inherently satisfying too. The stretching, stapling and massaging of stuffing has a meditative quality to it some days.

Chair by Maaike

4. What inspires your aesthetic & why?

Sometimes I think I see with my hands! My aesthetic is very tactile. Key to every design is the combination of fabric textures as well as colours, and then the depth of the upholstery texture we apply it to. I think Furniture, particularly seating, is so very personal, I’m inspired by clients and their stories or by the chair frame itself and the story I think it’s asking for. I think we should choose our objects carefully. We should invest in them and they should reflect our own ideas and values, and I think we should be brave enough to choose things that make us happy, rather than things that will give the right look for the neighbours.

5. What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?

I think there are a lot of points in the life of a creative freelancer that you can point to from the outside and say ‘that’s brave’ or ‘that must have been scary’, but to me, bravery implies you made a choice. 6 years ago I said  out loud “I want to make chairs for a living” and once you’ve put that on the universal record, the music is playing and you have to dance. One foot in front of the other.

Perhaps the bravery is in choosing to take holidays, and daring to believe that your business can either handle the break or tick along without you! Right now I’m only brave enough to take 2 weeks a year!

Maaike Armchair

6. What’s your dream project?

I’ve been dreaming of what I will do with my 4 seat baroque style sofa, ‘Maria’. It’s a project that’s been marinating for years now. The baroque style was so dramatic and over the top with embellishment, I’m looking forward to tackling that drama and enthusiasm with a contemporary approach. 

On one hand it’s frustrating that it’s a project that’s been on the back burner for so long, but on the other hand, I can look through 2 or 3 years of sketch designs for her, and see how they’ve developed alongside my design approach as I refine my ideas and interests, which is cool.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is my dream for that sofa to be a toasty rich golden concoction of caramel velvet and leather. I think committing to a ‘yellow’ sofa could be considered brave by too many people!

Maria Before by Maaike
Maria sketch by Maaike 2
Maria sketch by Maaike 3
Maria sketch by Maaike 1
Maria After 2 Years of Share Houses by Maaike

7. What are you reading / listening to right now?

I just finished reading ‘Rosetta’ which is Australian historical fiction based on the true story of a woman who left her husband and young daughter to run away with a magician and court the high society of Europe. It was wild and enchanting and unbelievable and sad, written by her great grand daughter in an attempt to understand the woman who abandoned her daughter and never met her grand & great grand daughters

I love podcasts in the studio, usually talkies (Richard Fidler, 99% Invisible), but one in particular, ‘The Miller Tells Her Tale’ is almost pure music. It’s produced by a Welsh girl obsessed with Americana/alt country, and it’s just her play list on various themes. It’s a great way to discover new artists in the genre. I think Americana is a great pace to set your life to. Much its very melodic, slower and lyrically insightful.

8. Who should I interview next? Why?

Jordan Clarke from The Art of Jordan. I’ve never met Jordan and I’m yet to own a piece of her art, but she was the first artist I discovered working in embroidery in a new, contemporary way. I know it’s becoming ‘a thing’, and I’m sure there’s a DIY Frankie tutorial on how to embroider a trendy/ironic piece of text for your wall now, but Jordan’s embroidery is so much deeper than that. It’s very illustrative. The pieces I fell in love with begin with a digital print and then layer embroidery into that printed cloth. The result is a 3d explosion of sensation and story. You can feel the thought and the experience and the feeling that she must have felt when she laid in those stitches.

Her art is colour, assemblage and texture, which are all languages I have a visceral response to. Also, I wish this was mine!

A huge thank you to Maaike for her generosity with her time in doing this interview. You can contact Maaike through her website & find out more about her workshops at

All photos by Nicole Pullar courtesey of Maaike Pullar (except *)

* Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

* Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

* Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

* Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

Filling The Creative Well

Michelle Kistima-MenserComment

Every winter for the past 3 years it’s been the same … June comes around & I find I’m struggling to adjust to the cooler weather and less daylight hours. Do you find this too?

This time of year I’m less inclined to be active. I’m quieter, unmotivated and I can’t seem to find the creative energy that usually drives me. I experience a sort of low that’s not typical of me.

I think most would agree that winter is a time for hibernating, ruminating & reflection … for withdrawing & soul searching.

So it’s no wonder that this month my thoughts turn inward … to the home, the family, to my self & to my creative practice.

For the past few weeks I’ve started reading a wider variety of books & maintained my nightly drawing sessions. I’ve been forcing myself to seek out the work of other creative types & making a point of catching up with good, fun, positive people.

Getting out in the winter sun ... after visiting a friends exhibition, we decided to explore the area on foot & found a lovely, hidden harbourside park we'd never been to before. Photo by little Mr Menser

Getting out in the winter sun ... after visiting a friends exhibition, we decided to explore the area on foot & found a lovely, hidden harbourside park we'd never been to before. Photo by little Mr Menser

All of these, I’ve come to realize, are like treats … like little gifts of uplifting, soul filling Joy.

And on deeper reflection through these experiences I’ve come to visualize my creativity to be like a well. Sometimes it's full of clear nourishing water and sometimes the water level is low or murky.

So then drawing from the Creative Well means keeping it full of clean, pure water & finding the right tools to extract the nourishment I need whenever I need it. This has really helped me to view my slump as a time when I need extra care & I'm the best person to do that.

So this month I thought I’d share my top tips for igniting creativity whether it be winter or summer :-

1.     Treat yourself well. Sleep. Eat well & move daily. (I know you’ve heard that a million times elsewhere but I believe it really is at the core of being creative & vital!)

2.     Seek out creative types whether it’s at a market or gallery. Initiate a chat, invite them out for a coffee or do a workshop. (I recently did my first ever ceramics throwing class … boy was it fun .... & messy & weird!)

3.     Do something out of the ordinary at least once a week. Break out of the routine if only briefly. (I’ll leave the repetitive & the routine to the machines thanks!)

4.     Experience the joy of play. Kids are naturals with their creativity. Look to them for inspiration.

And let me know how you go?

PS. I still can’t wait until the air starts to become sweeter with the divine perfume of the neighbourhood’s blossoms & the uplifting feeling of everything starting to come alive again!

June Member Survey Questions & Answers

Member Question : What has been the hardest thing for you starting your own business and how do you stay motivated?

My Answer : Starting the business 2 years ago was a decision that didn't come easily. I was used to the security of full time employment & that being the socially accepted norm. But something bigger was urging me to pursue it. So with the help of the wise words from my Great Aunt Mabel (some 34 years ago) & the support of my family, I took the leap! Staying motivated & focused is something that I need to work on all the time. I do love my work & I'm not the type to flake off & go to the beach instead but I constantly need to reign myself in & channel my energy to the business & all it's aspects. This is the hardest part!

Member Question : "Is running your business a full time job?"

My Answer : I run YOU ARE BRAVE solo. I am also a mother, wife & home maker. I teach fabric printing & am currently involved in setting up the print studio at Makerspace & Co in Marrickville, Sydney. I also do freelance graphic & textile design work for clients from my previous life in fashion. I LOVE all these aspects of my life but sometimes juggling & balancing everything is a huge challenge. And I think the key is to view it all as spokes on one wheel. I'm trying to combine family & home life with teaching & what I do at Makerspace for example. So that my creative business is my life & not my job. I really take inspiration on this from Reiko Azuma, a wonderful local artist, mum, singer & teacher who I interviewed for my blog in March. Read that interview here.

Timeless Impressions : The slow & individual work of Trade The Mark’s Christina Mclean

Michelle Kistima-Menser2 Comments


To decline the trend for fast moving, high volume products with throw away quality & more or less bite the hand that feeds you is a bold move indeed.  In pursuing the beauty that comes with hand craftsmanship Christina Mclean imprints her textiles, ceramics & paper works with her story & her soul.

This is something of real value, truly worth sharing in these fast paced times.

I’d been admiring the work of Trade The Mark on Instagram for so long & finally I plucked up the courage to ask Christina for an interview.  I found her to be exactly like her work … warm, down to earth & down right gorgeous.

So here is my interview with Christina, conducted at her beautiful studio in Sydney. I hope it will inspire you too!

* Photos are courtesy Christina Mclean, Trade The Mark

Christina Mclean In Her Studio-2 27May16 Photo by YOU ARE BRAVE.png

1. What gets you up in the morning Christina?

Knowing I’m going to my studio to play, make and create.



2. How did you come to create Trade The Mark?

TRADE the MARK is really an amalgamation of my mark making history. I started my first creative business straight after art school in the 90’s, Chowk Ceramics.  We had a gallery and studio space on Enmore Rd where we made and sold our ceramics. After 10 + years my business partner and I decided to wind Chowk up and delve deeper into our own practices. I did a Post Grad in design, focusing in on textiles. After this study I then turned my attentions solely to Textile Design.  I have worked developing prints for fashion designers for over 11 + years now. The last 8 years I have been running my own textile business Christina Mclean Design.  CMTD prints are derived from drawings, mark makings, photography and digital drawings. There’s really so many ways you can design and create a print. Inevitably all hand drawings need to be digitised. So the computer plays a huge role in the creative process.

Honestly TRADE the MARK was born out of my yearning to move away from the computer and back to making things with my hands. My disdain for fast fashion and adding to landfill also contributed to me moving away from the computer and moving back towards slow craftsmanship. I’m playing with ceramics again and also painting one off textile pieces.



3. What inspires your aesthetic & why?

My obsession with textiles has been a long and passionate one. Whenever I travel I seek out makers. Whether it’s weavers, dyers, through a workshop or an exhibition. I kind of plan my trips around shows and workshops, always have. I hunt for treasures in markets, artist co-operatives and stores. So I’m totally inspired by textiles, how they are woven, knitted, spun, printed or dyed…I’m obsessed by pattern too. My partner say’s we need a bigger house to house all the textiles I collect.

4. WHO inspires you the most & why?

Anyone who runs a creative business, you have to have a lot of strength, determination and perseverance.

5. What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?

I don’t know if it’s the bravest thing, but making the decision to move away from fashion, an industry I know incredibly well and that has sustained me for many years towards a truly bespoke, hand crafted creative business.  Its scary but I’m somewhat compelled to do this now.

Christina Mclean in her studio Trade The Mark


6. What’s your dream project?

Gosh, there’s so many. I’d love to collaborate with someone who’s plant obsessed and maybe do an exclusive range with them. I’d love to work with more interior designers and architects. I’d truly love to develop new work for a solo show. Collaboration with likeminded peeps really would be so lovely!

7. What are you reading / listening to right now?

I’ve just finished a creative business course online called ‘Owners Collective Mastermind’. The other CD I’m constantly listening to is a Meditation CD by Buddhist Monk Pema Chodron.

A huge Thank You to Christina for welcoming me into her studio & allowing me to share her story.

Read more about Trade The Mark, browse the online shop & find stockists at

Customer Portrait : Inside Rae’s Beautiful Coastal Home Shaped By Love & Family

Michelle Kistima-MenserComment

This month, I decided I wanted to get to know my customers a little better so I approached one lovely, happy lady and ventured down the south coast from Sydney to a place with a pretty little name … Shell Cove.

This is where my very first newsletter subscriber Rae & her beautiful family, consisting of 3 generations, all live with their adorable little pup Emi. The family of 6 had only just moved into their new home when I arrived and already the place felt and looked like a sanctuary for family and friends to be themselves & enjoy each others company. 

Rae & husband Paul both place a big emphasis on creating a home with warmth … one that values the individuals living in it but also one that inspires happy gatherings, whether that maybe around the huge dining table, watching a show in the TV room or poolside.

Throughout the house there’s a comfortable, relaxed feeling with an obvious influence of the coastal environment. With a classic yet relaxed style of decorating, Rae has an obvious passion for creating her dream family home. I’m just privileged to have been able to see inside their sanctuary & get to know them a little bit better.

Here's what Rae had to say about her family, her beautiful home and how she goes about decorating it ...

Tell us about the area you live in? Why do you choose to live there?

We live on the beautiful NSW South Coast in a suburb called Shell Cove, about 20 mins south of Wollongong. The lifestyle and the cooler climate are great. We have a fantastic work/life balance from living here, we have been forced to slow down and enjoy life because that is just what happens down here. It is so refreshing.

* Image courtesy of Rae

* Image courtesy of Rae

What made you decide to move from the inner suburbs of Sydney?

Our initial reason to move from Sydney to Wollongong was to be closer to Paul’s 3 children. We were spending the bulk of our weekends with the children just traveling in the car, no quality time and Wollongong is halfway between where the children were living and where we were working at the time so we thought hey we should just give this a try and see how it goes and to be honest while we have benefited as a family, Paul and I have had the most benefit I think, we are more relaxed and live a much happier and laid back lifestyle and I think this is reflected in our family as a whole. It is the best thing we could have ever done, we are so happy.

*  Image courtesy of Rae

* Image courtesy of Rae

*  Image courtesy of Rae

* Image courtesy of Rae

Who inspires you the most & why?

My Dad has always been my biggest inspiration, teaching me to be the person I am today. My stepmother Denise was a huge inspiration to me, she was a true homemaker in the true old fashion sense and I loved that about her. She taught me a lot about not just creating a house that looks pretty but a home filled with love and laughter for our family. And my family inspires me on a daily basis, Paul and I love to work together to create a home for our family to be proud of, to relax in and be ourselves in and to create memories for a lifetime.

* Image courtesy of Rae

* Image courtesy of Rae

What inspires your aesthetic & why?

I love The Hamptons/American Classic look I think mainly because it is a timeless and classic look, It never dates. The ocean and the area that we live in are constant inspiration and try to create a classic but relaxed atmosphere at home.

What’s your favourite thing to do on a Sunday morning?

Paul and I love to head out for a quiet coffee and take Emi for a walk along one of the local beaches. North Wollongong or Kiama mostly.

Inside Raes Beautiful Coastal Home

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?

Or something you’ve had to overcome? (In life, work, anywhere?) – 2 things come straight to mind, packing up and moving from Sydney to the South Coast was a big decision and then along with my sister to read my Dad’s Eulogy at his funeral (that was hard)

Where do you like to shop for homewares/gifts?

I love shopping at homewares and furniture shops in the local little towns down here, Haven and Space in Berry is one of my favourites. I have discovered a love for online shopping from places like Zanui, Temple and Webster, even Ebay has been a great place to get some bargains. Places like Freedom are also a favourite for big items.

What are you reading & listening to right now?

Can you recommend any good books, music, exhibitions or places to see? I love to read both fiction and autobiographies. Some of my favourite authors are Barbara Taylor Bradford, Paullina Simons, and Penny Vincennzi. One of my favourite autobiographies was about Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, very interesting! And I am addicted to magazines, any and all home magazines. Music is another great love, anything from classical to jazz to rock and all things in between but I have to say that we listen to a lot of Jazz, I find it so soothing and relaxing. The NGA in Canberra is having an exhibition starting in December, Treasures from The Palace of Versailles, I would love to go and see that.

Rae's Home image by YOU ARE BRAVE

What hobbies/interests do you have?

Cook, read, spend time with family, travel, I have discovered a love for gardening so am trying to learn more about that, forever perfecting our home decorating.

What’s your favourite decorating tip?

I always try to not stick to one specific style or trend, I like what I like and I buy pieces that I love and then work them into our home. I also live by starting with a neutral background and adding texture and colour from there.

* Images courtesy of Rae

A big Thank you to lovely Rae & her family for allowing me an insight into their home & family life :)






Reiko Azuma Is Making Life Art

Michelle Kistima-MenserComment
Reiko Azuma, 2016

When art and life quite obviously co-exist and neither are self defined … it's rare. It's a wonderful, awe-inspiring energy to witness!
And if there ever was a person who embodies the fusion of art & life, it's Reiko Azuma.

Arriving in Australia from Japan in the early 90's as a teenager, Reiko blossomed with the sense of freedom the new country offered. It was in those years she was also reconnected with art through her high school art and photography teacher Debra Stone who nurtured Reiko's natural creativity and cultural heritage.  With grandfather Kinji Ichino, who was a commercial artist in Japan and mother, Toshiko who was a kimono, Japanese textile and ceramic collector, Reiko's creativity took seed a lot earlier however.  She also pays great tribute to Mitsuhiro Shimizu, her art teacher at elementary school in Japan who introduced her to the disciplines of printmaking, carving, ceramics and pottery.

These days Reiko's creative work spans many different forms and her creativity seems to pervade her life. She paints, she draws, she creates sculpture, she produces graphic works, she makes music, she sings. She is an artist, a mother, wife, educator, a musician, a singer ... a curious explorer of life! Quite simply for Reiko there is no distinction between life and her art.  If her kids connector pens are lying around the house and the mood prevails, she will use them to create a drawing or maybe several. Found objects in nature often become the inspiration or part of a work like the seed pods which adorn her little clay people series.

Reiko Azuma's clay people

She says that when she grows up she wants to be like jazz musicians Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter … but when I grow up, I wanna be like Reiko Azuma!

I'm overjoyed to have met Reiko and I'm honoured she agreed to be interviewed earlier this week at her funky home in Sydney's inner west. I'm always interested in the work spaces of the artists I interview because it provides a deeper insight into the person … Quite naturally Reiko's studio space is part of the open plan living room and kitchen area where, as we all know, the true heart of the home is.

So now, here's Reiko in her own words. Suggested listening while you read .... is this YouTube recording of the Wayne Shorter Quartet "Beyond the Sound Barrier", 2005



Your work spans many different creative forms, painting, drawing,  sculpture, graphic design, music. How do you decide which form of expression is the most appropriate at any particular time?

just being moody and what's most accessible at that time. sometimes i use beach sand ,seed pods found on the foot path, sticks and rocks from the bush.Other times I draw on the back ofpaper receipts, build Lego, draw with kids connectors pens on the kitchen table... whatever is around at that moment. unless i have craving for a particular medium's feel and effect . I am quite impulsive, disorganised and inconsistent, so usually just playing with objects around me initially then moving onto other things to add , mutated or evolve and transform as you go. Very much process driven as i have no conceived idea what i am going to create. just playing. i am a compulsive doodler too.



What inspires your aesthetic & why?

nature and life within and surrounding in everyday setting. endless world of microcosm and macrocosm, between and beyond.... interconnectedness of all life, micro electron photography of cell, pollen, virus are so fascinating and beautiful. i draw loads of inspiration from movement sounds and music. Often people said they can see Japanese influence. i guess it is a reflection ofmy cultural heritage.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 2.43.39 AM.png

Who inspires you the most & why?

I am inspired by the expression of people who are fully into things that they love without worrying about what others think.  People who have a heart filled with appreciation and curiosity, open and non judgmental...  anyone like that inspires me whether they create art or not. because channeling to that essence/place/ element is very important when you want live fully and creatively and seeing people. Actualising that gives me hope. Children's uninhibited expression and creativity inspires me at the same time, they challenge my limitations!

Reiko Azuma, 2016

Being a self-employed creative/artist can seem idyllic from the outside. What’s the hardest part of what you do? And how do you over come it?

not much money in it though! The toughest yet most beautiful part is that there are no clear measurements on art. just like a heart. For me it is deeply process driven, rather than goal driven..Believing in what we do, valuing what we create, and having faith in the process is extremely important. Art is a continual process, just like life. 

What is your proudest career achievement?

I really don't know but i know that, the proudest is yet to come! lol

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do? (In life, work, anywhere?)

Leaving my comfort zoneand choosing a more challenging creative path are always brave things to do. Being engaged and connected instead of living a life filled with complaint and apathy is a courageous way to be. Every moment we challenge our tendency to retreat, be a victim, whatever small or big , is the bravest thing to do at that given moment. But sometimes I don't want to be brave and wish to crawl back to bed!



What’s new or on the horizon for you? What are you looking forward to in 2016? And beyond?

I would like to meet more kindred spirits and collaborate with them. I want to be able to challenge my limitations and ego and grow mutually with others.. i also want to produce prints and perhaps even work with fabric I wanna start writing children's books, or use my strange clay dolls for animation maybe? or maybe start cleaning my cupboard or take up tuba?  


What do you think the state of the creative community is like in Sydney & Australia right now? Has it changed much from say 10-15 years ago?

A huge change in the accessibility, and recognition of the therapeutic benefits of appreciation and creation of art. art is no longer just for the well heeled but for everyday people too. While most consumers conform to evasive overbearing Marketers,  others are rebelling ,seeking and developing their own unique identity and style. Many high quality craft and art markets have emerged over recent years, Craft status has now been raised such as wearable art.  The internet has made it easy to sell and purchase art and beautiful handcrafted,one off produced works from all over the world directly from the artists without a middle man.
I also feel that people are moving toward collaboration, artists are becoming more open, engaging and innovative. nothing happens alone.

Reiko Azuma "Child Play", 2015
Image by Karen Steaina Photography

Image by Karen Steaina Photography

What are you reading & listening to right now? Can you recommend any books, music or exhibitions?

I just started to read "Lady Sings the Blues", the autobiography of Billie Holiday. I also have Buddhist publications always handy, these help me keep going in stormy weather. And of course the one and only Frankie magazine which I adore! I have just read Open letter to next generation of artists from Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hanckock. It is great to go back to it time to time again as a reminder.

I listen to Esperanza Spalding often. I have just booked tickets to see her show and Wayne Shorter quartet (I am shaking with excitement!) They are among myfavourite artists, They are forever expansive. Their humanity permeates through their music. I am touched, inspired and encouraged when I listen to them. When I grow up I wanna be like these people!

I generally listen to Jazz soul and funk and Brazilian music and I tend to follow baselines more than melodies these days. Music is an essential part of my life.

There now! Doesn't she make you want to go create something while listening to jazz?

To find out more about Reiko's art work & music including her ukelele lessons please visit her website

See her most recent art work at her Facebook Art Gallery or connect with Reiko

To hear the music of Reiko Azuma Trio visit Soundcloud

A big Thank You Reiko for your big-heartedness & generosity with your time & self. You've inspired me to see art as life & life as art. XO Michelle

All images are Reiko Azuma's unless otherwise credited.

* Images are by YOU ARE BRAVE.



The Bold and Brave Work of Julie Hickson

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment
YOU ARE BRAVE Interviews Julie Hickson Artist

In a leafy Northern beaches studio, amongst bold, highly stylised paintings of Australian flora and coast scapes, hangs artworks depicting the unassuming, the everyday and the utilitarian. Toasters, pineapples & blenders are equally treated as audaciously as icons of natural Australia.

“Fearless!” I thought to myself, as I walked into the positively alive studio space of Sydney based stencil artist Julie Hickson of pod & pod.

Julie’s work fills the walls top to bottom of the converted guesthouse she now uses as her work space. Here she produces her stunning stencil paintings and regularly has an open studio as part of the Pittwater Artist Trail. (The next open studio is 5-6th March 2016.)

YOU ARE BRAVE Interviews Julie Hickson pod & pod Studio

Julie grew up in Sydney’s inner west with a mum who painted botanical images onto china and a grand father who was a painter and decorator. Music played a huge part of her life growing up and it still is a great inspiration for her. She calls music “audible painting” and says that “sounds are a bit like colour”. “It is the language of my brain” she adds.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Julie at Kirribilli Art & Design Market last year and thankfully she agreed to be interviewed for my blog series.  Not only do I find her work mesmerising but as a creative, business woman with a family and household to run myself, I set out to discover why Julie so boldly pursues the everyday in her work. And in the end I found out so much more about bravery, strength of character and life outlook.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?

Probably the bravest thing I’ve done is take the leap from my old job in TV production to going full-time with pod & pod. You have to believe that it will be worth it in the long run even if there are many knock backs along the way. It really helps to have the support of your darling family and friends when you’re being brave and venturing out on an artistic limb! - but ultimately it is a very solo pursuit and you have to stay true to your thang.

Having a background in TV production was good grounding for being brave. You learn to never take no for an answer. There was a time working for MTV UK when a venue manager in Germany drew a gun on me after the show in a dispute over the money owed, and I spent 30 days on the road with Yothu Yindi and Slim Dusty in the Northern Territory shooting live concerts with a crew of 60 men and 2 women - working over 12 hour days and sleeping under the stars most nights. I don't know if it made me tough - but it was a grand adventure I’ll never forget.

YOU ARE BRAVE interviews Julie Hickson pod & pod In her studio

What is it about stenciling that drew you & continues to inspire you to work using this technique?

When I first saw an artwork that used a stencil - I thought it was a hand coloured woodcut. I love the dynamic of lino block and woodcuts - but with stenciling - its not hand-colouring after the black has been added - its actually creating the image out of colour over a black background. I know this sounds confusing - but it's this technique - which I’ve spent years experimenting with now - that gives everything such a graphic energy. It's a very addictive process - you can paint quite loosely through your stencil and then peel back to reveal the result. You always want to do another one!

What inspires your aesthetic & why?

I think what I really love is ‘colour’ but coming a close second is ‘line’. I love drawing my designs - starting with a photograph and then drawing out the details in the lines of the flower or leaf or tree. What happens is that you are making the reality onto a stylised form - which is some of the way towards abstracting it.

YOU ARE BRAVE Interviews Julie Hickson of pod & pod Feb16

Who inspires you the most & why?

I think I am inspired by everything and everyone. Shadows, the way light falls on things, the act of isolating an object and going closer with a macro lens - is always interesting as it feels like you are unraveling some of the mystery of what makes it. As an artist it's always inspiring to be around creative people who see the world in a certain way - and that includes musicians and filmmakers, etc.  Making the perfect coffee or an astute observation can be the most creative act.

I do love Australian artists - from Fred Williams, Margaret’s Preston and Olley both, John Olsen, Whiteley, Coburn, Kathryn Del Barton - the list goes on and on. A visit to the art gallery or the Biennale is always inspiring.

Being a self-employed creative/artist can seem idyllic from the outside. What’s the hardest part of your job? And how do you over come it?

I think the hardest part of being a female artist is also wanting also to be a part of the life of your family and home. It’s no surprise that really successful artists have achieved their success by being single-minded and living for their art. Keeping a family fed, schooled and clothed and being a creative is a real challenge and requires multi-tasking to the max! Anything that makes you lose focus of your art will slow your creativity down. Great discipline is required - often women produce work reflecting the things around them like still life and the people they love as a way of combining their home life and creative life in one.



What is your proudest career achievement?

I’m still so amazed that after about 10 years this has been my full-time pursuit and I can actually make a living doing it. This wouldn’t be possible without my lovely shops having my greeting cards and going to markets with my archival prints that have been a huge success. I’m really thrilled that my cards went to every Berkelouw store in 2015 - because that’s a little bit of my artwork going out to a greater part of Sydney.

What is the state of the creative community in Sydney & Australia right now? Has it changed much from say 10-15 years ago?

I think every year there is more value placed on handmade and Australian made. I love that what were traditionally women’s craft techniques have been elevated as this movement has evolved - and have become popular with men too. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without doing the hard slog of going to artisan markets and meeting and talking with people about what they love and having feedback about my work. I think Melbourne is way ahead of Sydney - and it’s always been that way but there are hubs here if you’re willing to look for them.







What’s new & on the horizon for pod & pod? What are you looking forward to in 2016? And beyond?

2016 is a year for consolidating everything up to now and really putting in some hours on the heart of it all - the painting. I have some more daytime hours available to me this year with my daughter at high school - so it gives me the luxury of really focusing on where I’m taking this.

What are you reading / listening to right now? Can you recommend any good books, music or exhibitions?

The last fiction I read was David Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’ that is an incredible fantasy deep-set in reality. I love books that make you suspend your notion of ‘reality’ - I have no problem doing that at all! At the moment I’m reading Kim Gordon’s biography ‘Girl in a Band’ (Kim is the female bass/guitarist in New York band Sonic Youth) which is a kind of back stage heaven for a fan like me.

Musically at the moment - after a glut of all the old David Bowie since his sad demise - I’m still playing the recently released ‘Black Star’ - which is such a dense and resonant record - very special.

A huge Thank You to Julie Hickson pod & pod for her time & hospitality in being part of this interview series!

* These images are courtesy of Julie Hickson

The Lumps, Bumps & Birds of Fiona Roderick

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment

With the “lumps & bumps of the urban environment” and the dramatic coastal landscape of South Wales inspiring her work, Fiona Roderick is carving, printing & cutting out a unique style of working. From her Marrickville studio in Sydney, she brings to life her interests in texture, shape and colour through her lino prints, collages and digitally printed tea towels reflecting her love of nature and the urban environment.

I first met Fiona at the Winter @ The Warey market in Annandale, here in Sydney last year. Her affinity with the natural world immediately intrigued my interest.  I was especially drawn to her prints of native Australian birds because of her unique use of colour and texture. These prints also appear on cards, calendars and tea towels which make her art totally accessible to everyone.

So finally, a few weeks ago, I got the chance to visit Fiona at her wonderful shared studio and catch a glimpse of how she works. We chatted about lots of things over some cooling juice and fruit. I came away completely inspired by her work processes and her diverse influences and life experiences.

Here’s that interview … I hope you enjoy it?



What is the state of the creative community right now? Has it changed from say 10-15 years ago?

I think the state of the creative community is so good, and becoming healthier all the time. The web & social media is making art more accessible to more people through things like Instagram, Pinterest & Etsy. Everyone is sharing ideas and I think that's a good thing.

And technology such as digital printing has transformed craft and the public are able to buy original, not too expensive, design and art for their home, less mass produced and technology has certainly helped that.

What were you doing before you started printmaking?

I began working as a visual merchandiser in a major department store in London & trained as a graphic designer when I moved to Sydney. I even found myself art directing a surf magazine! Later I did a part time printmaking course at Pine Street Creative Arts and for the last 10 years or so I’ve been working as a print maker, now full-time. During all this I raised a family.

What is it about print making that drew you & continues to inspire you?

I enjoy the carving process and thinking how translate the image onto the lino, and how to present it as a print. The experience of printing is always exciting, the thrill of the unknown, the first sight of the new print as it appears from the press. I think where I am now is, enjoying cutting up my prints and these days drawn to collage a bit more. At the moment I love cutting with scissors and drawing, that hand and brain connection. Of course I needed to have those years of printing to have the resources of proofs and all the lino plates I have now to use as reference for the collage. The experience of printing has given me the confidence of experimenting with the medium.



What inspires your aesthetic & why?

This is a hard question!

Living in the city, the urban environment is inspiring with all its lumps, bumps & textures. Peeling paint and paper for example.

Also shapes and shadows of flora & fauna inspire me. I grew up in South Wales, UK & spent my childhood riding my horse in the countryside. Where I grew up was very dramatic and unspoiled, on the coast of the Bristol channel, with beaches, cliffs, sand dunes, and rivers to ride long and through.  My mother was also a very creative woman, a great gardener, flower arranger, a patch worker and always making something. I remember arriving home one day, and she had just been to a water colour class and she was so thrilled and excited about it.





I know shape also determines my aesthetic. I was thinking the other day how all my jobs have been working within the perimeters of a square, I am always looking for balance and space within that square.

Who inspires you? Why?

Picasso & Matisse for their use of colour and line with freedom. The colours Bonnard used. I recently saw the Grayson Perry exhibition at the MCA and Gibert & George exhibition (MONA) … inspiring stuff. There is a collaboration of print makers in the UK, called St Jude, representing Angie Lewin, Johnny Hannah & Mark Herald.

The building where my studio is, houses various artists, ranging from jewellers, set designers, painters. It's quite inspiring ... a dedicated group of people all creating different things. It helps to be with people who are disciplined, this helps you to do the same.

Being a self-employed creative can seem idyllic from the outside. What’s the hardest part of your job? And how do you over come it?

I think the hardest part of the job is to keep being motivated, as you have no one telling you what to do, it really is believing in yourself. Sometimes the life can be a touch isolating. I try to arrange overcome it by meeting friends for coffee and I enjoy selling at the markets because it is social and its so lovely to meet my customers. Yoga, meditation and walking helps my mind I think, not being distracted and to keep on working and being focused.

Fiona Roderick

What is your proudest career achievement?

I think my bird prints are my proudest achievement. I’m thrilled at how people are captivated by them & are happy to buy them for a bird lover in their life or to send them around the world as gifts.

Its an amazing feeling to know my birds are hanging or being used around the world, drying all kinds of dishes!.



What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?

My daughter reminded me about the time I once had a spare ticket to a Rolling Stones concert and asked a stranger on the London tube to come with me! (She laughs!)

Otherwise I think I haven't done anything dangerous besides leaving Wales at 16 to go to live in London, and later on travelling by myself in the Middle East.  No internet or emails then, I remember my mother and father travelling to a radio station in Swansea to talk to me on the radio. On the buses in Israel, there were guns sliding down the middle of the bus from the Israeli army and you wouldn't blink an eye about it. Later I went on to living in Amsterdam, on a boat on one of the canals, working in a cafe. The cafe was run by a woman from New Zealand, with all female staff, we certainly had some interesting customers.

What’s new & on the horizon for Fiona Roderick? What are you looking forward to in 2016? And beyond?

I am part of a group show at the Balmain Watch House,179 Darling Street, Balmain on June 2nd and 3rd.

More bird prints. I am enjoying experimenting with different mediums, such as pressed flowers, paper, wood & ink, combining them with my prints.



You can find out more about Fiona Roderick & her work at her website Her native bird tea towel series is also available at The Creatory, in Summer Hill Sydney

* Photos courtesy of Fiona Roderick

2015 ... That's A Wrap!

Michelle Kistima-MenserComment

Happy New Year to you!

With 2016 already here .... ( How did that happen? ) I look back at the year that was with some highlights + bests for the Brave.


Seems YOU ARE BRAVE's lined hessian Cosy Pots are in demand. And why not, they're pretty practical little storage buckets. These mini grey + natural colour was the most popular.

YOU ARE BRAVEs Most Instagram Likes for 2015

I love Instagram and you guys seem to love behind the scenes & works in progress images the most. So in 2016, I'll be sure to keep those sorts of images coming. Follow YOU ARE BRAVE on Instagram : @youarebrave or on Facebook : youarebrave.textiledesign

It was such a great honour to be featured alongside so many other Brave souls who have taken a big "Leap". Being interviewed by Kylie Lewis of Ofkin for her Leap Stories series was a highlight for me in 2015.

YOU ARE BRAVE Customer L P Artistry Shares Her You Are Brave Love

When a customer receives her YOU ARE BRAVE table linen + immediately sets her table in her new home + then posts on Instagram! .... That's some serious customer love! Thank you Lauren for sharing the Love.

YOU ARE BRAVE Featured on Home Beautiful's Creative Collection a Highlight for 2015
YOU ARE BRAVE Coolest Little Market Vibe in Sydney "The Warey" Annandale

"The Warey" in Annandale in Sydney's inner West has got to be the friendliest, most down to earth & vibey market in Sydney. It's only on twice a year + is hosted by the beautiful Cath from Prints Charming Original Fabrics. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for news of the next one!

2015 Was challenging, fun + I learned a lot. However, I'm looking forward to 2016 with excitement. This time of year is always so promising, I'd like to make it another year to grow, share & remember with fondness for all. Keep an eye out for the classes I will be running in Sydney + news of collaborations + new releases by signing up for my monthly newsletter.

Thank you for your wonderful support in 2015. Please have a Happy + Healthy 2016!

Why We Love A Market

Michelle Kistima-MenserComment

What is it about browsing a market or bazaar that's so appealing? The concept has been around for centuries yet they seem to be more attractive than ever.

I never thought I'd be a stallholder at a market. It just didn't seem like me. I'm not much of a "sales person". Nor am I into standing around just waiting for someone to stop by for a chat. But needs must and so off I took my wares to The Grounds Of Alexandria on the advice of a friend.

This is where I realised that the markets are much more than a place to buy & sell stuff. I realised that I was part of a community of makers and artisans who were also passionate and energised like me. We all are on different stages in our businesses. We all have suffered the pitfalls and lows that self employment brings but once a month (or more) we come together. We catch up and share our experiences like old friends do. We get to meet wonderfully interesting patrons who love the market vibe and love chatting or simply sharing a smile. And let's not forget the lovely array of goodies on offer!

The market has always been a place for people to connect, buy and sell, exchange and experience different sights, sounds, products and meet new people. We learn and grow through these experiences. And that's the thrill for stallholders and patrons alike.

So next time you're at your local market spare a moments thought to the community of real people gathered there and celebrate the ongoing exchange of humanity that is a market.

Now then, let me introduce to you some of the wonderful work and personalities I've been fortunate enough to meet at the markets .... Catherine (The Mister Brand), Brea (Rawmix), Neylan (Efil Efil Turkish Cotton) and first up .... Georgie (Littlecrow Design).



1. Describe your business, your products & as much / little about yourself as you would like.

My business is littlecrow design, and I make cushions. I make cushions because I love fabric, I love colour, I love pattern, I love texture, and a cushion is like a picture in a frame where all these elements come together. It’s not unusual for me to use five different fabrics in the one design, but I like to think the result is still harmonious and full of interest.
I also love my home. It’s my favourite place to be. So for someone to choose a littlecrow cushion for their home because they think it’s beautiful and different is really special.The next frontier is print my own designs to incorporate into my existing work. This will be a dream come true! Watch this space.

2. Why do you think the work of artisans & handmade products are important these days?

This question could become a thesis! I don’t know how to answer this briefly but I’ll try. I believe to be human is to be creative - all children express themselves through creative means (music, colour, paint, craft, building, acting) - because it’s there already. I don’t mean everyone is ‘artistic’, but everyone is born to create, so it is vital that communities keep this creativity alive and in our midst. It brings life and joy and hope and meaning.

Think I need to do a TED talk on it hah!!

3. Why do you choose to sell at the markets? What do you love about markets?

Markets are the easiest way to get your product out there for people to see! It’s relatively affordable for a young start-up business, the overall structure is organised for you, and people visit markets to find unique creations that aren’t in mainstream retailers - so you’re more likely to meet ‘your’ customers.

I love seeing people’s reactions to my work and listening to their comments on what interests them, what they need etc. It helps me understand how others see colour and design, and to appreciate their different approaches. When I started doing markets, I quickly realised how important it was to think of others when I’m designing. There is a happy balance to be found between being creatively free and making things others can connect with.

I love meeting other stall-holders! To my delight I’ve made some gorgeous friends through our shared market experience each month. I’ve found them to be such a friendly, generous, funny and spirited lot - they make me feel better about the world, and we all encourage each other to carry on with our crazy dreams!

4. What’s the hardest thing about being a market stall seller?

An early bird I am not! I really should find some night markets to do, because on a cold winter’s morning (actually, even on a fine spring morning) I hate getting up early! Let’s just say I’m never the first person to set up hah!

More personally, it’s still challenging to lay my creations before the world for it’s verdict! Market sales are completely uncertain - there are so many factors I’m not in control of, and it is hard sometimes to keep my spirits up after a quiet day. But I always come back for more!

5. Do you have a favourite market? Why is it your favourite?

My favourite market is the one where the sun is shining, the crowd is bustling and people are friendly and jolly (oh, and where I can get a good coffee… move that to criteria #1 actually!) Then I don’t mind where I am.

Little Crow Design Cushions

You can find littlecrow design at The Grounds of Alexandria in Sydney, Australia on Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th November. littlecrow design is also on Etsy



1. Describe your business, your products & as much / little about yourself as you would like.

efil efil - Turkish Cotton - (means “breezy” in Turkish) Our aim is to reach the best quality in our hand-woven 100% cotton Turkish Towels, Robes, Beach Kaftans, Throws and Blankets besides weaving them in authentic and organic methods. All products are from my hometown Denizli/Turkey.

2. Why do you think the work of artisans & handmade products are important these days?

Because they are unique and too much special work & talent required. If I give you an example, weaving a hand-woven Turkish towel takes about half day and the craftsmen never speak during the process as they count every single thread. They are the last generation of hand-woven method.

 3. Why do you choose to sell at the markets? What do you love about markets?

It was only temporary at the beginning but it’s been 2 years and I love markets. Meeting new people/stallholders is the best part.

4. What’s the hardest thing about being a market stall seller?

Weather forecast for sure!!! Because most of the markets are open-air and we have no clue what’s going to happen. We don’t like rain and we don’t like hot! J

5. Do you have a favourite market? Why is it your favourite?

I try to attend to the different markets and suburbs every weekend. Their atmosphere and people are all different but I enjoy and love them all..

You can find Efil Efil Turkish Cotton online at or find them at The Grounds Of Alexandria in Sydney on 7th-8th November.

Brea from Raw Mix photo by YOU ARE BRAVE

1. Describe your business, your products & as much / little about yourself as you would like.

In a nutshell, Rawmix is a “make-at-home” mix but unlike the packets that line supermarket shelves, our product is completely free of processed sugars and unpronounceable ingredients. Each flavour is 100% natural; full of heart-healthy, protein-packed, nuts, seeds & dates (among other yummies); and free from added nasties. The mixes are hand layered by us and hand shaped by you in just four simple steps: Pour, Blend, Shape, Set.

2. Why do you think the work of artisans & handmade products are important these days?

Handmade products are sold, bought and received differently to mass produced products. When someone buys Rawmix online, they receive a hand wrapped gift pack with a personalised note delivered by me, the founder! You don’t get that kind of service when buying off the supermarket shelf!

3. Why do you choose to sell at the markets? What do you love about markets?

I value the immediate feedback and face time with my customers. It’s a terrific way to market research and get to know my audience – I take all comments, good and bad, on board and create new products with them in mind. It’s also wonderful meeting fellow small business owners, and hearing their tales of tears and triumph as they grow their businesses.

 4. What’s the hardest thing about being a market stall seller?

 The inconsistency. Markets are so weather dependent, so it can be hit and miss!

5. Do you have a favourite market? Why is it your favourite?

I love the Grounds of Alexandria! There are so many drawcards – great coffee, patisseries, homemade lemonade, farm animals, food carts - there is guaranteed foot traffic every time a market is on. People travel long distances to get there, so there is always an upbeat vibe amongst the shoppers!

You can find Rawmix at the next Grounds Of Alexandria fair weekend on this weekend in Sydney 7-8 November 2015, 8am - 3pm.

Rawmix is also available online at

1. Describe your business, your products & as much / little about yourself as you would like.

The Mister Brand is a bespoke business specialising in natural men’s grooming products. We create quality, handcrafted, vintage style products that are gentle on the skin and easy on the earth. We source top quality ingredients with numerous benefits and amalgamate them into a cocktail of amazing. At The Mister Brand we believe that we are taking a forward step, back in time, to where craftsmanship and quality were highly valued, brewed together with skill, passion and care above machinery and quantity. Our objective at The Mister Brand is to deliver a product and experience to our customer’s that is about celebrating people being in charge of their face, be it bearded or shaven.

2. Why do you think the work of artisans & handmade products are important these days?

To put it very simply, I believe with the amount of mass produced products, the amount of mall’s, people are being staved of unique, of bespoke, of quality, opting for cheaper, bland, uniformity. This is why I think that it is more important than ever to keep being creative, to give people the opportunity to have a unique piece of handmade.

3.   Why do you choose to sell at the markets? / What do you love about markets?

I love the atmosphere of markets, fellow stall holders, the customers, most importantly the immediate contact/feedback that you gain is invaluable to the further development of The Mister Brand.

4. What’s the hardest thing about being a market stall seller?

As much as I enjoy markets, it is draining both mentally and physically. From packing the car the night before to the early setup, lugging heavy boxes of products, tables, props, gazebo to talking to the many people of all walks of life. Some days after answering the many questions that although are good, leave me not wanting to say another word for at least 24hours after a market.

5. Do you have a favourite market? Why is it your favourite?

I don’t think that I have a favourite market, I enjoy all of them as they provide a different atmosphere and demographic from the next, this suits me as I like to mix things up…literally.

You can find The Mister Brand online at or at stockists in NSW & VIC, Australia. Check their website for the next markets.

Thank you to these lovely, inspired women for the time they devoted to being interviewed. See you bright & early at the markets!

All photos are supplied by the interviewees except for * which were taken by YOU ARE BRAVE.

Crafting It Up

InterviewsMichelle Kistima-MenserComment


Last month I embarked on the first in a series of interviews investigating how other creatives inspire & encourage kids to express themselves. The reason? My 4 year old has really begun to blossom creatively and naturally I want to be able to nurture & support this delightful aspect of his development as best I can.

As I sit down to write this months blog entry, trying to find the right words to start my intro to this amazing lady … it struck me … how we can go through life in a rut sometimes. Then out of the blue we meet someone or have an encounter with someone who seems to appear as if magically, right at the very time we need them.  They make us think. They invite us into a different way of seeing things. Or they simply hold up a metaphorical mirror to our face … I’m sure you know what I’m talking about?

So there I was, low on energy, procrastinating and dillydallying. Those of you who follow my Instagram account may have noticed this in my posts over the past month or more. I’d slowed down a lot while trying to get through the last bit of winter here in the Southern hemisphere. “It’s all part of some cathartic creative process” I kept telling myself.

And then, BAM! … I met up with Libby Millington for the second part of my interview with her about her series of kids craft books entitled “Craft It Up”.


If there ever was someone to inspire a “get-up-and-go” mindset, it’s Libby!  She’s a writer, crafter, mum to 5, a world traveller, a student and avid lover of the city of Sydney. She’s full of ideas and one hell of a creative motivator!

So we talked about being creative, being a mother and what inspired her to write “Craft It Up, Around The World” for kids … and so without further procrastination on my part, here is that interview.

Libby Millington aka Craftitupcreative

1. How & why did you come to write the Craft It Up books?

The first Craft it Up book, Craft It Up Around The World, started as a book on Sydney. I am completely and utterly passionate about Sydney and have been since I arrived 18 years ago. I spend a lot of my time, mouth open at the beauty and diversity of the city. I walk across the Harbour Bridge as often as I can and each time the loveliness of the harbour hits me as if it’s the first time!

One day I realised that much of what I loved could inspire craft projects for kids. I got together with a photographer friend (Cath Armstrong), I found a book I loved, Kate Lilley’s Eco-Friendly Crafting With Kids, and sent a rough as guts draft to her publishers, Ryland, Peter and Small in London. It was a crazy, naïve thing to do, but sure enough, they liked my style and I got a contract. I think I just refused to let the process intimidate me.

Libby's Sydney. From Her Instagram Feed @craftitupcreative

Libby's Sydney. From Her Instagram Feed @craftitupcreative

2. What were you doing before you wrote them?

I have a beautiful blended family of 5 children. I have been so lucky to be able to raise them while working various jobs from home. I was editing an architectural magazine when they were little and have been writing ever since.

3. What is it about creativity & crafting that you find so compelling?

I grew up in 1980s England without a TV! My mother was an art teacher and my parents both instilled in me a passion for art and creativity. There was always a project on the go at home and we often crafted at the kitchen table.

I love crafting with my own kids and their friends. Quite often projects change radically from what we start and the kids take things in a different direction. Or they just disappear into my studio and pull a whole load of materials out onto the floor and make things on their own. And I have to stand back and not be precious about anything! My friends call my house a ‘rich learning environment’. I know that’s code for a chaotic mess, but I’m going with rich learning environment every time!

Libby millington @craftitupcreative Instagram Wreath
Libby Millington @craftitupcreative Instagram Doily

4. What’s the hardest part of what you do? And how do you over come it?

I think it’s hard to combine creativity and paying every bill. Especially with a big family. But I love what I do and the compromise is that I have a regular job too. But I dream big and there are always big creative plans afoot!

5. What is your proudest career achievement?

I love my books. My father has several books in print and books are such a huge part of my life. Holding your own book in your hands is just wonderful.

6. Who or what inspires you?

My enduring love affair with Sydney inspires and informs much of what I do. I still pinch myself that I was lucky enough to backpack here. That I am now able call it home is nothing short of magic. The colour is just so saturated here and I love the beach, the city, the bush, the culture, the light. I love Australians and the Australian sensibility. And I am inspired by my family. My kids are all so different. Being a mother is like a series of brilliant surprises!

Libby Millington @craftitupcreative Instagram with her kids

7. What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do?

I’m working on a couple of projects at the moment that are pushing me out of my comfort zone. I’ve learnt that when I feel uncomfortable, that’s when I’m really challenging myself and I feel the most alive.

8. What’s your favourite project from the Craft It Up books that you'd like to share?





A huge thank you to Libby for devoting time & energy to this interview. What a powerhouse of creativity! We are Titanically inspired!

My 4 year old & I have just started work on the Paper Wreath Crown from the Greece project page in "Craft It Up Around The World".  He loves tracing around his own hands & using the scissors to cut them out.



And here's a link to another favourite from Libby & Cath's other book "Craft It Up, Christmas Around The World". Click on this link to watch the video & make your own Pay It Forward Advent Calendar for Christmas

To check Libby's Instagram feed go to @craftitupcreative or

Her books are published by CICO Kidz and are available by clicking here :

All images are courtesy of Libby Millington except *

Exploring The Richness Of Life

Michelle Kistima-MenserComment
The Kid Creative
Photo Credit Lou Knowles

Photo Credit Lou Knowles

The day I first saw Peta Morris I impulsively chased after her through the crowd at the market we were at to ask if I could take her photo. “What a wonderful, bold, interesting lady?” I thought to myself.

Her energy and obvious zest for all things creative stood out to me as she carried her newly acquired potted cactus smilingly passed my stall.

Fascinated, I did a bit of Insta-stalking and I learned about the current work Peta does teaching kids visual arts at her home studio called The Kid Creative.

With the visual & tactile creative arts generally undervalued in our society, what a wonderful opportunity it is for kids to be allowed to explore their innate creativity and individual expression! To be able to allow kids to start examining themselves & thinking for themselves rather than being fed someone else's ideas all the time is a marvelous thing.

Peta Morris Artist & Art Teacher Students at Work


So with my 4 year old in tow, off we went to Peta’s gorgeous northern beaches home set on a hill with national park & the ocean nearby. I would describe her home as “full of adventure”. Chooks, a beehive & veggie patch out the back, many paintings on the wall reflecting diverse interests, antiques, plants, loads of light & music playing. All set on the backdrop of complete peace.





Peta herself is a visual artist, singer, a mother to 2, wife, crafter, yoga teacher, home maker and volunteer art teacher.

We live in a society that seems so focused on leading a certain “perfect life” as prescribed by the media, culture, social acceptability & consumerism. After meeting with Peta I learned that you can be many things. And it’s ok. You can try many things in your life. And it’s ok. You can explore, venture, experience and take risks …. and this is where the richness of life comes from.

I knew I chased after her that day at the market for a very good reason!

I hope you get as much out of reading Peta’s interview as I did because she IS AMAZING!



1.   What were you doing directly before The Kid Creative?

I was exhibiting artwork,volunteering teaching art to children and adults in a Villawood Detention Centre, teaching adult students privately, doing some gigs singing, stay at home mother, and teaching yoga during school holidays down the south coast.

2.   How & why did The Kid Creative Come about?

My youngest daughter started school last year and I was pretty  shocked at the lack of art within the school curriculum. ( I should add primary teachers in the public system have to wear many hats and they do a great job, if I was asked to teach Math, I'd drown in numbers.) So I volunteered doing two art projects with her class and from there, The Kid Creative was born.

3.   What is it that you would like your students to come away with?

I want students whether they are kids or adults to leave the studio feeling inspired, knowing that art is much more than straight lines and pretty  pictures and based on whether you can or can’t draw. I want them to tap into the endless possibilities that art has to offer and run with it in their own direction.

4.   You must be pretty  busy having 2 kids & running The Kid Creative classes? How do you approach your own practice these days?

Yes, busy I am but I have enormous support from my husband Stephen, I literally couldn't do it without him. My own practice has been put on hold the last 12 months but ironically I have felt like I have been the most creative and productive that I have been in many years. Designing classes and teaching requires you to be switched on and engaged creatively, i constantly need to be thinking of new ideas and ways of keeping what I am doing interesting and challenging for students, kids will let you know if it’s boring . That said when I get the chance I’ll make and create things. Recently I did a shibori making course at Prince Charming Original fabrics and created a bedspread for my daughter's room, I loved it.

Peta Morris Artist Made this shibori dyed & embroidered bedspead

5.  Who inspires you?

I find this question hard to answer. Many people inspire me and for different reasons. Right now, I’d say my students. They inspire me to want to continually create and be the best teacher I can be for them. My father Tony who passed away, will always inspire me. He was left a single dad to two girls aged 14 and 6, worked  full time and didn't get a break. His love and selflessness taught me a lot, I wish he had lived long enough to meet his grand daughters.



6.  Being a self-employed creative can seem idyllic from the outside. What’s the hardest part of your job? And how do you overcome it?

Accounts, numbers, the non creative stuff. I need an accountant, I’ll overcome it when I get a good  accountant.

7.  What is your proudest career achievement

Having my work selected in the Sulman Prize in 2011. I showed some new work I was creating for a solo show to a friend, she said, you have to put this in the Sulman Prize. I’d never entered it before,so when I got the call I was shocked. I’ll never forget watching Margaret Olley standing looking at my work for a brief moment, she probably hated it but i don’t care. My proudest moment was taking the kids into see it and thinking, I hope they realise in their future absolutely anything is possible if you put your energy and heart into it.

Peta Morris' 2011 Sulman Prize entry "An olde English Breakfast". Image courtesy The Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Peta Morris' 2011 Sulman Prize entry "An olde English Breakfast". Image courtesy The Art Gallery of New South Wales.

8. Whats the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do? (In life/work/ anywhere?)

Brave can mean different things to different people and it’s relative. Listening to your gut instinct, not bowing to expectations of who you should be but listening to who you want to be. Not being rigid,  I have always taken risks, love adventure, not just in travel but how I approach life. Knowing you don’t have to be “one” thing, you can be many. Living life passionately, living life truthfully, living life with integrity, living life compassionately. As a mother, as a woman, not comparing yourself to others, do it your way because your way will work for you and sometimes it doesn't but that’s ok too. Life is short, live it, love it, respect it, with no regrets, I think thats pretty  brave.

9.  Whats new / on the horizon for Peta Morris?

I am about to launch adult workshops in September which I am excited about. Im also talking on a panel at a Mother Artists Forum facilitated by Lilly Blue from Big Kids Magazine at Manly Art Gallery as part of the Manly Arts Festival September 24th. I will also be working with Lilly on “The Big Draw” at Manly Arts Festival.

Next year I'm going to study ceramics part time which I have been wanting to do for years. We are taking the kids on an adventure next July to the Galapagos Islands, trekking in Machu Picchu and the amazon and I am going to do a bird watching tour in the mountains of Ecuador on my own for a day. Did you know Ecuador has over 132 species of Hummingbirds!  I can’t wait for the inspiration that adventure will bring.

Peta Morris Art Teacher Students Work Bird 2
Peta Morris Art Teacher Students Work Bird 1

10. In your view, what’s the state of the creative scene right now? Has it changed from 10-15 years ago?

Yes its changed so much. 15 years ago “craft” was a dirty word, now we have literally been “craft bombed” and I love it. I think we are at a very interesting time. Craft and design are huge and the demand and trend for handmade is really influencing ways people want to make and create.  I think it’s really positive that people are appreciating technique and craftsmanship in products they want to buy. In regards to exhibiting artists, it’s tough, we need patrons and lots of them or more money in arts funding but alas no chance of that at the moment. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 10 years!

A big Thanks to Peta & her husband Stephen for welcoming us into their home & allowing us to explore.

Find out more about Peta's classes on her website

All images are courtesy of The Kid Creative unless otherwise stated.

* Images are by YOU ARE BRAVE  ** Image by Leith @ YOU ARE BRAVE

“So many ideas. So little time!” - Caroline Choi aka Allitera

Michelle Kistima-Menser2 Comments

With 3 young sons, a part-time “day job”, freelance work as well as running her beloved label Allitera, Caroline Choi is one busy lady.

Yet her Instagram posts reflect such a sense of tranquility. She calls it her “virtual visual diary” it's full of beautiful images she captures herself which she uses to inspire her work. From her time living in Vietnam, faded building facades, insect life, light reflections on water & a fairly recent trip to Cuba Caroline finds inspiration pretty much everywhere.

Her background in art conservation, research and curating also helps inform her work for her clothing label Allitera. Designed for the 30+ market, Allitera combines Caroline’s love of hand screen printing & uses natural fibres such as silk & linen with classic yet quirky & versatile cuts that (thankfully!) are easy to wear & care for.

I’m so very thrilled to be able to give you little further insight into this wonderful Australian textile designer & printer’s work with this interview she so graciously afforded me this week.

Allitera Clothing Range,jpg

1.  How did you get from the world of art conservation & art galleries to creating your clothing label? Why did you make the decision to go into fashion?

My background is in paintings conservation and art history, but I wouldn't say I have totally left that world. I am still open to pursuing areas of interest in those fields and feel it compliments the more hands-on approach of textile design and screen printing. My academic background in art history and understanding of materials from conservation informs this work and vice versa. Allitera is not a fashion label. In fact I think of it as opposite to that world. Fashion is trend-driven and disposable. I try to create items that are hand made, versatile and long-lasting.

ALLITERA Ondolay Pussy Bow Tie Dress
ALLITERA Havana Lights Tunic.jpg

2. What does hand printing your textiles yourself mean to Alllitera?

Screen printing is my happy place. I think all print making is quite wondrous & love the quality of hand printing - including happy accidents! All my designs begin from the hand - whether its a drawing, a lino-cut or a doodle!



3. What inspires your aesthetic?

Anything and everything! Nature, travel, a crumbling wall, the shimmer of the ocean, a silly comment. Faded facades, unexpected colour combinations and always art. I keep a virtual visual diary in the form of instagram documenting what inspires me!

Allitera Image From Instagram 2.jpg
Allitera Image From Instagram

4. Who inspires/motivates you?

Not any one person in particular. My children inspire me with their innate curiosity and creativity.

Alliteras Kids.jpg

5. Being a self employed designer can seem idyllic from the outside. What’s the hardest part of your job?

Balancing the creative work I love with all the boring jobs one hates! Time is also a continual issue - with 3 roaring boys and an outside job - I have very limited time in the studio!

6.  What is your proudest career achievement?

Curating an exhibition of objects collected by service people during the war in Viet Nam that were being repatriated back to their rightful owners there by a team from UNSW. (Called Operation Wandering Souls Project). It was wonderful for me to be involved in this project as Viet Nam has a very firm and dear place in my heart. I spent 3 and a half years living in Viet Nam conducting research into the contemporary art scene there. I fell in love with the people, the culture and the country. It was the culmination of my personal and professional journeys that made it so deeply satisfying.

7.  What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do? (In life/work/ anywhere?)

Leaving Australia as a young and naive PhD candidate to commence research in Viet Nam. I landed and jumped straight on the back of a motorbike with no language skills and no idea of what lay ahead of me! After travelling from south to north over 3 months, I settled in Ha Noi where I commenced intensive language training and my total immersion into the local art scene!

Photo by Allitera Taken in Viet Nam.jpg

8. What’s new / on the horizon for Allitera?

So many things! I always have so many ideas, and so little time!

Visit to find out more about Caroline's current range. Allitera is also stocked in Sydney & soon to be in Melbourne, Australia at select retail outlets. 

Also do indulge your sense of tranquility & take a look at Caroline's wonderful Instagram posts



All images used with permission from Allitera, except ** by Cath Derksema & * by YOU ARE BRAVE