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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favourite Colour? Wool! Just Don't Mess with it!

What is your favourite colour? I was asked this question in an interview. Wow, well, let me see... No when I think of it… Hmmmm I have been thinking about it for a month?!!! Why is it so difficult to answer a simple question like that? How shall I go about it? Historically? Conceptually? Trendwise? How do I reveal the truth without committing to something that is not at the core of me? As a design and textile woman colour is obviously part of the form and often it determines the function. In fashion, on the edge of what I am skirting with my handmade pieces, colour is sometimes just another school yard game of In & Out. Or in the words of Galinda the White: “Popular? You wanna be popular?”. Yep in fashion, one day Red is the New Black, another day – you are to throw out everything that is not signal green.
Which could be either amusing, confusing or irritating depending on how much coffee you have had. Let’s take red. You see, I think I am an expert on red- I grew up in communism. Red was the brand colour of communism. So even today when I get red it has to be the one on the left of the above picture. The scarlet is a bit too orange for my understanding. Look for reference in the communist scout uniforms that those girls are wearing. Well, maybe red is the answer to my struggles with my opinion on colour. I have seen colours rise and fall with political regimes, seasons, people and even movies. The things is whatever we claim to be the In & Out, roses would be red and violets would be blue you do not need trends, just do what you do. Here is what I am thinking for next year:
Yep, I seem to be not able to play the popularity game... If you have asked me through the years the answers were: Red, Green, Purple (and I am getting into Blue really seriously lately). The irony is that if you look at pictures of what I wore these colours would have been far and in between. You would have seen the hand knitted sweater from mum in beige and brown. I still wear it often to work. The skirts in black, which were my first projects in sewing. And then a lot of my clothes, which I picked from the Shanghai fake brand market: in skin, ivory and brown and black... And yep, I do wear a white punjabi suit at the Taj Mahal (take picture), and a Beige trench coat when I arrived in Ireland. A splash of colour in an abundance of naturals- both in colour and materials. I look in these reflections. What actually IS my favourite colour? So today I will brave it: my favourite colour is the colour of wool. And here are three reasons why: It is Rich and Yet Unassuming: I love it for the richness of its blends- if you look closely it is never just white, beige or brown, it is usually a blend of ivory streaks with oatmeal overtones and a few coffee streaks. Black is never black and grey has more than 50 shades… Each breed of wool has almost a unique colour and the overall visual impact comes from seeing the blend. The difference between the more blueish grey of the Gotland to the more browner beige feel of the Jacobs is stunningly subtle, but fascinating to relish. But then put Jacobs next to Blue Faced Leicester and you know that grey overtones are complex affair. And that is before we even start discussing lustre and texture, which make all the difference when we compare a white think Wensleydale and Merino wool tops. At the other scale wool which is almost black in its dark browns such as Finish becomes a wonderful blend which binds all these colours together. With all wool colours though it is like a bouquet of a pallet rather than a single colour. And although it carries rich undertones and overtones it would never blind you or be too loud. It is just there to soften and comfort.
It is Vernacular and Yet Sophisticated; the shades and their proportion come as they are because the season was wet or dry, because the sheep was roaming in a particular grass field, because the Sheppard sheered it on a particular day. It gives lustre and blends which, with their complex hues of grey, ivory, white and black always convincingly revealsthe nature of the material as well as the conviction of the person that wears it.
It is Classical and Yet Edge; a colour range that is never pertinent to time and place- its honesty and simplicity makes it relevant to any age and any context. It looks stunning in a royal parlour and a farmer’s pen. It is as fashionable today when we have access to the most stunning colour as it was in the olden days when it was The Colour, and that’s that! And whether you wear it on an elaborate designer outfit or something you made yourself it just enhances the rest without overpowering it. And then it has this amazing quality to reflect mood and concept that makes it the household colour to all futuristic and apocalyptic visualisations.
Yes, undyed wool is the best colour. And that is that.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Etsy Ireland: My People My Way

The Etsy Team visiting me in 2014 having some serious fun with Niki Collier's hats!
A few weeks back I got a letter from Etsy. They are starting a new program aimed at helping Etsy makers. There is a lot of times that Etsy teams help people... You know me. I am a one woman show- a felt woman from Ireland. So why should I be feeling special or noticed- I botique designer from a small country, making in a medium that is not yet made its mark? Well, as luck would have it, last year I was invited to their Craft Party and somehow I created this amazing relationship with the team, that they said they would come to visit me.

We do not get to see that many people in our studios so it is always pleasure to welcome someone to your den. A team from your Etsy HQ in Ireland (and US) came to my studio in the summer of 2014. It was an epic visit! Not least as I was compelled to cleaned my studio, which is always a challenge... And is never easy or pleasant task. But it was worthed! Seeing your practice and environment through the eyes of like minded people is like re-discovering the initial spark that made you jump into it... They got. They got how it makes sense that an old linen mill is now a home to variety of small businesses: printers, carpenters, garage, bakery, rock stars studios, publishing house, yoga joint and boxing parlour. We have it all. And they even got the chance to meet Steve from The Stunning I made a great connection with your team. We were talking hats, making, how to make Etsy work better for us. They all asked relevant questions, asked and took notes of the answers and appreciated everything we do.

Karo's hand next to her wonderful bowl in Etsy HQ in Dublin
 One of their members calls the Etsy Sellers her family. She met me to talk me through my shop. She gave me an invaluable Etsy Clinic. And it was outside her working hours. It is great to know that those who support us love what they do too, right? There is so much to learn about how to promote your work so you reach more people that appreciate what you do. Since myself and Karo from KaroArt have been at a lunch event with the Irish Etsy Team who have beautifully restared headquarters in the heart of Dublin City. Here is a bespoke bowl made for their headquarters in Dublin.
The Etsy guys rock! 

 I love being part of like minded folks that share my passion for handmade local pieces. I love that they instill the sense of purpose through the support we get every time I reach out to Etsy teams. It is great to know that there are those who are building a place where being who you are pays off. Whatever the weather in Ireland (very predictable as we all know) there is a spring in my step when I think that a girl from Barcelona is pouring her talent into a portal made to celebrate local makers.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

H is for Hope (not Horror. Really!)

I have started working on the photo shoot for the new collection.
I love that moment. You get so much done is an impossible space of time. And because you are working towards a deadline all the impossible steps become a process that are just part of the game. And failures are just data entries in our experiments logs...

This year the collection is called H. H stands for Hope, not for Horror if you were wondering. In fact a bit of both. Cause you can really appreciate hope when you are scared shitless or beaten down to the bottom of the stairs. It is inspired by one of my Matrix moment. Remember when Trinity talks herself into ''Get up Trinity, get up'' and does impossible things: jumps over roofs,  because everything is just will power, creativity and skill, right?  

Look, I would be the first one to say that connections, money and ego work just as well. Sure they do.
It just that Hope relies less on external and precarious stuff.

So H  explores void spaces and how we transform horror into hope. The place and time at the bottom of the stairs and how we pick ourselves up and fly. Get up, Trinity. Get up Neo. Get up You.

The collection has strong emphasis on undyed local breeds wool. And as with my previous collections there are embellishments using technology and e-technology. 

I hope H to work on many levels. 

Here is the work in progress.

I got the support of Feltmakers Ireland.for this so it is going to be in August in the Phoenix Park Visitor's Centre... An amazing venue.

I would be developing the accessories range at the moment while experimenting with the outrageous pieces.

And working on the furniture pieces for Design Week.

Loads to do. No wonder I am working in the small hours of the night, right? Well, not really. I just sat and watched the Matrix. Couldn't help it after I tagged the video. Am I a nerd if I know most of the dialogue by heart? 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Help! Here Comes the List!

As I sat in a cafe yesterday like any respectable blogger- coffee, smartphone and a laptop- to start writing this weeks blog post - it hit me! I was an half and hour late collecting my hand felted coat from the Wilderness Exhibition.

Do I know what I am doing this year?
No, not really, but I have a lot of projects in the pipeline.  All still in the development stage...
The designer equivalent of jumping off a cliff and hoping that you had the rope on tight. Where would I find the resources to do them: time, money, collaborators... Proper muses and dragons to carry out the PR and marketing so each of these grows to something more...

When I start panicking I start making lists. It is my way of trying to make sense of things


Showcase 15 Niki Collier goes Milan
The Irish Creative Expo grows every year in numbers, impact and appeal. Although I still think of it as mainly a gift wear dominant trade event with the unfortunate necessity to include the made in china 'Irish'' souvenirs. It was a good one to me this year- expanded stockists and an international stockist in Milan! Milan!!!! Wooo hooo!!! Right?

February- all those applications were in...


Science Day Niki Collier teaches girls to adorn themselves smartly.
An interactive necklace that I designed as a learning tool for Computer Clubhouse was presented by the girls at the Science Day. The girls were a tough gig, but we made it happen. Tough is what we do. And I get to use the ultra cool neopixel rngs from Sparkfun


Wilderness Exhibition Niki Collier goes Fashion Wild.
When Eddie Shanahan selected my coat for his and Agata Stoinska's project it was one of those things. It would take a blog on its own. He saw it, he wanted it, it was in. Simple. Loved being part of it.


Smart Textiles as part of PhizzFest. I am doing three pieces- exhibition within the exhibition- all smart textiles all custom made for this.
Shake & Shout Scarf, Home & Away Steam Punk Hats, Football Pitch Wall Hanging

And there is a Fashion Show at St Anne Church with Design House. This is something that I am really looking forward to as it is going to be my first event with Design House.

There is also the photo shoot for H.... Models, locations make up, hair.... And all this done with a message and consistent visual expression. The day is always easy, but everything that leads up to the day and after it isn't.


The Shepherds Son's Corner
This is a furniture collaboration with Interioro at Design Week, Plovdiv 19-28 June. This would be my second participation at Design Week and I am really looking forward to an action packed event. I always go back to children's furniture. It is a wonderful way to explore felt as a medium to create one off furniture pieces. There would be lights, a bed, a chair and a puff.


Dublin Maker Fair- This is my place to meet people and show them my smart textile pieces.


H exhibition in conjunction with Beta the photographer that develops my exhibition H with me. This exhibition is developed with Feltmakers Ireland. It is in the Visitor's Centre in Pheonix Park.


Showcase of the H collection in Design House. And sending hats to Milan. So excited. Still.


Have to make pieces.


Hoping to be in a Fair in a cool city in Ireland.


RDS Craft and Design Fair. This is a very special event for me. I just loved it last year- the responce the feedback the leads every bit of it made me smile. I hope this year would be good to me !

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thank You, Moira Byron, I'll Take it From Here. Niki Collier

Who is/was Moira Byron?

Last week Sarah McKenna asked me who is Moira Byron?

I couldn't fit the answer in a sentence... I mean saying Moira Byron is who I could have presented myself as if my design life did not become reality. Come on! How pretentious does this sound?  I would have hated to hear something like this.

So I take the plunge- I am addmiting - Moira Byron was a figment of my imagination. I made her up! It was my way of  sharing what I wanted to be. Or become. A creative background, life embedded in the creative community, a grown up attitude to hard things and a relentless childish energy to everything else. That was Moira Byron.

Today I do not need Moira Byron. I squeezed my way into creating.  I make things that I love in a medium that is my religion, and many of the people I call my people  make beautiful and meaningful pieces in Ireland.

The irony is, I should have never worried to use my name. Since Social Media, we live with the illusion that everything is transparent nowadays... No such thing. Look at Laura Magahy, appointed as Chair of  DCCoI.  Last year she has set up a pottery business while still working as a chair of the board. Who knows she is to be fighting everybody's corner, not hers?

I am not starting a discussion about conflict of interest. Do you think there is a conflict of interest?  The reality is that most people do not know that Laura Magahy is the Chair of DCCoI. And even less know that she is behind (why the hide?) Aran St Pottery. Even with all publicity that she gets in both.

I like Moira Byron, I just do not need to hide behind her apron strings.

Still here is Moira Byron's story. And I used Hellena Boham Carter's image when thinking about her.

Moiré Byron

is a 37 year old writer of children books.  She has just published the fifth book from the ‘The Twinkle Town’’.The book is not only a success with kids but won the Little People Big Book Prize.  From the royalties on the book she has bought a mews that was re-possessed by the bank because the property investor could not finish it.  It is a beautiful shell on the outside and Moiré is lucky that she would be able to do it her own.  Moiré will live there with her three year old daughter Pearl.  Pearl is autistic.

Habits, hobbies  and hobbits : Moiré is absent minded disorganised and likes collecting people stories and objects that tell stories. 

Here are some of the objects that tell her stories: an old boot that she found on the river bench in of the Themes  when walking around celebrating getting pregnant;  a sari that a owner of an opium shop in Varanasi gave her as a present; a picture of her from her Russian lover in Prague, three bells that she bought while trekking in Nepal, sandals from Vietnam,  a big white mother of pearl shell from the time when she lived in Tunis and a blue masques that she stole from a girl that kissed her during the Venice festival.  Wherever she lives her house becomes a base for all her friends and there would be either a friend or a lover staying with her or babysitting for her.  She likes yoga but she hides it so that she would not look as one of those yuppie girls who think that doing yoga is going to make them a better person.

She goes to matinees, theatres, modern dances performances and book openings.  She loves her group in the Silk Quill Club in the Chester Beatty Library and thinks that they are one of her best and most valuable friends.

Moiré loves cooking and she is at the moment putting up a The Cook Who Travells: A Cookery Book for Those in the Know.  The book consists of all the small treats that she has encountered during her travels, all the recipes from small diners and old ladies that would willingly feed you, give you advice and mother you when you most needed. 

She is my nspiration for the Dragons & Divas Collection which was presented in Shanghai 2012 during Shanghai Fashion Week.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Teaching and Other Remedies


The week after Easter seems to be a good week to do something different. With children holidays and generally more free time to us we look for things that we do when we have the indulgence of time to ourselves.  So it is a really busy time for me as other people's time usually translates into bookings for teaching textile making.

I thought three very different classes and took my girl to learn a new skill herself.

The Fibre Club- Teaching Craft as a Group Development Excersise

I did my usual Tuesday Felting class with starts around 19 and finishes between 21 and 22.30 depending on the project and time we need to catch up with each other. It is a small class of 2-4 people and I love teaching it because for me it is great way to share skills in a long stretch of time. I have found that talent and ambition are just one of the ingredients in our practices.  Perseverance, is just as important. Seeing a student of mine coming to my classes with many ideas, but not great passion to develop skills and seeing the progress in the last three years from holey shapes of uncertain bird nests to imaginative hats which consist of strong designs and balanced use of colours and fibres is a thrill. Look for yourselves:

It is a different dynamic when the size or the complexity of the project is not an issue. It allows for quality and expression that gives great results. It also allows to achieve results much closer to your vision as the level of trust on both sides allows for a jumping start.

The Fun Activity -Doing Craft as a Team Experience

The thrill of teaching people that have never seen or done what you are showing them is different. It allows you to revisit everything that you have felt at the beginning when you started discovering the medium- wonder, possibilities inspiration and loads of fun. Loads of fun!

So it was great to get a 'thank you' letter from my team building group that I taught in The Constant Knitter. I love showing beginners how to cover bad stuff with handmade wool. 

So my favourite class to teach for beginners is a solid felted ball. 
1. You just take an orphan sock, scarps of yarn and remnants of fibre. 
2. Put the scaps in the centre, colver them with laid wool fibres
3. Dunk them in soapy water.
4. Now start felting them. Just massage the wet tangle in your hands till t transforms from hairy wet mess to smooth felted ball. Sometimes you need to add more fibres at the end stage if you do not want your ball to have a face on it, but sometimes it turns out perfectly smooth from the start. 
5. The great thing about this project is that you could embellish it at any stage, by adding beading, embroidery or taking away some of the fibres.

Showing it to people always feel more offering a therapeutic strategy rather than teaching craft....

The Master Class- Training Advanced Craft Lovers

This the one that comes great rewards. It aslo comes with great challenges as a teacher. There is a lot of problem solving and often significant amount of soul searching before and sometimes after the event- would I mange to achieve the vision of the person, would I be able to maintain the level of quality that we are all aiming at in a new project that would offer me unexpected challenges? 

I have to admit that some projects end up further south than is healthy for relentless optimism.. I am currently on sample 5th of the Shouting and Shaking scarf that I described in the previous blog.  And although being through this process more than once I know some tricks- 1)I have asked for help from experienced maker, 2)I have got some learning sources to find out more about the technique I am still not sure how it is going to go...

But when you are teaching others you need to be able for all these pitfalls. Learning through others mistakes is dangerous game.

So I am delighted that Ruth, who came to make a top with me ended up with a great top. She was not mad about the project that I had in mind (oops!) so she suggested a tunic which we designed on the spot, then using a pattern that she had I devised a felting pattern- most areas increased by 30% apart from neck- no increase and sleeves just 15% increase. It was very exciting that Ruth loved the Blue Faced Leicester and mixed it with superfine Merino.  Believe me I know how nerdy this sounds, but cannot help it- Blue Faced Leicester is not celebrated as much as it deserves. I was really interested to see also her account on the experience in a wet felting group. It is interesting to see the day through her eyes.

This week my daughter had her first lesson in knitting and it was very emotional experience for me. I hope she gets to love making things just like me. It is a great way of discovering.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter and other passions

Fever Pitch in Smart Textile

When you grew up in communism. like me, religious celebrations have been beaten into you in their pagan form. So when we celebrated Easter it was a lot about coming of spring and the craft of colouring eggs and Not at all about Christ.

Funny that today the discussion about how little Easter is about Christ and more about chocolate eggs seems a bit dramatic to me.... I have been there before. As a child...

The thing is  for me celebrations are very much about us- people. And they reflect the art of us being able to share common passions and rituals. Rituals that regardless of how mystic or simple they look to others make us human.

So this Easter I would share with you my new Smart Textile project. It starts with a ball, a football ball for that matter.

The project 

It is about fever pitch rituals and how they are embodied in our senses through the objects that we associate with the game.

It addresses football game as a community experience. Myself and a wonderful textile designer Paula Byrne would look into memorabilia from the Bohemians FC and create six pieces using smart textile technology. It is part of Phizzfest and they have awarded us a grant for our proposal. It aims to send a message about the all-encompassing rich sensory experience which is an essential ingredient in our human connection with our football club. The memorabilia is a way to reflect on design and political status quo, but also to show what we choose to materialise our feelings into- a scarf, a picture, a photo?  It would also look retrospectively into the scarves, the photos or the boots but addressing them as not just things in a box, but a treasure-trove of objects that are viewed by the fans and players as heirlooms. We use these objects to comment on historical characteristics associated with form, function and material choices.

It is going to run as an exhibition with an exhibition- the football club would curate an exhibition based on fans memorabilia- photos, jerseys, hats, footballs, boots. Paula and I have picked a few of these to develop a smart technology piece. There would be 6 pieces in total.

It seems a good thing to do in Year of Irish Design 2015.


 Nick Hornby's book is an influence  and it would come across in the story. I could see the football pitch through the eyes of a 11 year old and feel the hand of his dad in his hand. Because watching a game at the stadium is about sharing your passion with others. And in a way the pieces that myself and Paula are developing would allow an 11 old to ''see'' the past as well as the future of the club. It would be less obvious to see Marina Shkolnik's influence on the project, unless you are into felt or or you are mad about handmade scarves. But she would be my inspiration behind creating one of the pieces that I am creating; the Shaking and Shouting Scarf. Very rock and roll, right?

The Shaking and Shouting Scarf

It would use alternation of black and red superfine merino and silk fibres, the football club colours and it would replicate football balls in three sizes.

It would also use Arduino Flora, accelerometer, and speakers to cheer up with you every time when your team scores a goal. So even if you are not at the football pitch you could wrap your self up in the scarf and it would transport you into a dimension in which you would be one with the whole stadium.

You might wonder why I am not showing you the scarf, well, in its fifth iteration it still looks a bit dishevelled I have to admit. But you know it is just a stage. This is the good thing when this is not your first project- you know that each failure is there to be turned into your vision.

Here let the experimentation begin. All the fun is ahead.... 

This is my Easter- new collaborative project in smart textiles telling the story of 125 old Dublin football club. We have submitted the pieces to Dublin Maker 2015. Such a great month April.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Start

I came to Ireland 16 years ago with a plant from mum's garden in my pocket and a clear plan- to finish a Masters in Computational Linguistics and go back Bulgaria to teach. I was less sure what I would do with the plant... My ears were burning under the hand knitted hat I had from grandma since I was 16.

16 years later? I ended up doing a PhD, marrying, having two girls, a house and making a living by designing limited editions handmade felt pieces. Mostly hats, scarves, gloves  and even smaller number of coats.  I am a designer who makes capsule collections in handmade felt. The pieces sell all over the world. The plant? There are cuttings of it in homes all over Dublin, the Bulgarian Embassy and always in my back garden. I still have the hat.

How did I get to here? Mostly by doing what I want rather than what I should. How did the plant manage to spread so much? It seems to be thriving in Ireland. Just like me. The hat seems unfazed by all these shaganigans, or the  rest of the hats that I make. Just sits regally - pure wool from my aunt's sheep, hand spun, hand dyed and hand knitted by grandma.

I call Ireland home. Sure, everybody laughs when I say I am from South Circular Rd. With this accent? Good one. Where are you from, really? Ask my plant if you don't believe me! My home is where I put down the hat on my head. You simply could not know better than mum's plant or grandma's hat where I am at home. 

Me and Ireland are just like wool fibres- having great memory but ready to mould into the ways of the head.

Sure with all this bits and bobs at our fingertips- globalisation, social media awareness and travel, knowledge and all the rest we are all One. 

Today I tell all my stories in the pieces I make.  This one is told by the One hat - undyed wool, with the symbol of unity on the front. Worn by girls and boys.

I am writing on the day of my 16 year anniversary from Cow's Lane Designer Studio in Temple Bar, Dublin.

The  first image of the blog is of mum's plant freshly picked from my garden and my One Hat is perched just behind. Grandma's hat is waiting for me home where Rem (my husband), and Coral and Tanya (my girls) are making me a celebratory dinner.

The rest are of what I do-:)

Happy First Day of Spring!
We all have stories that make us feel as One.