Blog, Guest blog

Dublin – a crafty city

Whether you’re a practising craftsperson yourself, or just someone who prefers to fill their home with beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces made by people rather than machines, Dublin is a great place to be. Our guest blogger Helen Crawford only realised this herself after she moved away for a while, and it wasn’t long before she made her excuses and headed back to the city she now considers home. In this blog, Helen is showing us a little bit of the crafting community that lured her back, by introducing you to three of her favourite Dublin craftspeople – Niki Collier, Guadalupe Cabrera and Ann Hickey.

Niki Collier is a lady of many talents, and the chances are that many of you will already be familiar with her work. She’s a felt designer, based in Dublin, and although she’s originally from Bulgaria, she now thinks of Ireland as home. What I particularly love about her creations is that they challenge your perceptions, but in a playful, tongue-in-cheek way. The first time we met is a perfect example – Niki had brought along a couple of her felt viruses, accurate replicas of actual disease-causing nasties like hepatitis and the common cold, copied from microscope photographs. I was struck by the novelty of the concept, and by the way she’d taken something as unsettling as disease and made it into a piece of art. Removed from their usual context and rendered in soft, tactile wool, the viruses become quite charming… and this creates a strange mental balancing act between the friendly, colourful ball of felt in your hands and its potentially lethal microscopic counterpart.

Copyright Renata Traykova

Of course, Niki’s art pieces are only a small part of what she does. For the last three years, she’s also been designing and making her own fashion range, using wool from local sheep breeds to produce distinctive felt coats, hats, scarves and handwarmers. Her clothing collections are inspired by cities and the people who live in them – she’s endlessly fascinated by the way large communities function and live together, and this interest in community is evident in her own production process, too. 

Copyright Renata Traykova

Wherever possible, she makes use of materials from her fellow artisans and craftspeople: she sources soap flakes for felting from local producer Baressential, she buys her wool fleece from small, family-run farms and makes her own labels using off-cuts from RJM Leathers. Then, when it comes to photographing her finished creations, she collaborates with local photographers, and selects her models from among her friends and family rather than an agency catalogue.

As if that wasn’t enough, Niki has also collaborated in the past with textile artist Nicola Brown to design a range of felting tools – their “Niki & Niki” rollers and delightfully-named “prodder” are made to their own specifications, based on what they felt would most help their work process. You can find their full range of Niki & Niki felting tools on Niki’s Etsy store

Despite all this activity, Niki is still essentially running a one-woman show. And although handmade felt has tended to be a tricky material to bend to the demands of mass-market production, Niki seems to have found the key to making it work. She currently produces a capsule collection of around 10 one-off pieces a year, while her “Swirl” and “One” ranges are sold in prestigious stores both at home (Kilkenny, The Design House, Cow’s Lane Designer Studio) and abroad. She also exhibits her artwork regularly, in both curated and solo shows, with her latest major work being a series of three pieces for 2016’s “Sculpture in Context” at the National Botanic Gardens. Her felted pieces for this installation – larger-than-life ash pollen pods, smooth felt “stones” and a tree-sized dress modelled on the human vascular system – explore the interrelationship between art and science, two disciplines which she believes “are meant to co-exist in the same harmonic relationship we strive to develop within ourselves and between others”.

You can find out more about Niki and her work on her website, http://nikicollierdesign.com, or by following her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Sculpture in Context 2016 runs from 8th September to 21st October in The National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin 9.

I’ve been a fan of Guadalupe Cabrera’s work since I met her at my first craft fair back in 2013. Her creations, which include dolls, stuffed animals and Christmas tree ornaments, are more than just toys or decorations – these are the kind of heirloom pieces that are made to be kept, cherished and (if you’re feeling generous!) passed on to the next generation.

Guadalupe moved to Dublin from Argentina in 1999, after finishing her studies in graphic design and dressmaking. In Ireland, she took further courses in fashion design and creative embroidery before starting her own handbag-making business. However, when her daughter was born, she wound down her company to be a full-time mum, and it was a couple of years before she was lured back into the craft industry again. But in 2011, after making an angel for her own Christmas tree, she decided to start a new business that drew on her twin passions of illustration and sewing. And so Guadalupe Creations was born!

Since then, Guadalupe’s range has grown to include dolls of cultural icons, such as David Bowie and Frida Kahlo, baby bonnets, children’s purses and bespoke framed portraits. One of the most appealing features of her creations is the variety of fabrics she uses for each piece – tweed and felt give her Bunny Girl dolls their huggable softness, while her Mr Lion toys have truly luxuriant furry manes! Cotton prints add a splash of colour, and finishing touches are added with ribbon and a variety of trims and embellishments. Her inspiration for this ever-growing cast of characters comes primarily from nature, but also from her family – especially her daughter – and from South American traditions and folklore. This influence is particularly apparent in her “Fridas”, with their brightly coloured shawls, which are inspired by Peruvian Chancay dolls.

Guadalupe continues to make most of her pieces herself, although she has recently taken on a sewing assistant to help her to keep up with demand for her designs. And this demand is growing – Guadalupe’s work is now stocked in several of Dublin’s best independent design stores, such as the Cow’s Lane Designer Studio, and she’s also a member of the KID collective, who opened their boutique selling locally-made children’s clothing and gifts in the Powerscourt Centre earlier this summer. And for any of you who can’t make it to Dublin, don’t despair! You can still keep up with the latest additions to the Guadalupe Creations family on Etsy, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Last but not least, Dinah’s Dolls is the brainchild of Dublin native Ann Hickey, who has been sewing miniature clothes since she was a little girl. She began by designing and making outfits for her dolls, and later graduated to making clothes for herself, influenced by her love for vintage style. However, after making a few vintage-inspired doll ensembles as gifts for friends, she decided to return to working in miniature… and now, as she says herself, “it’s all about tiny dresses”!

Ann started Dinah’s Dolls, named after her aunt, in 2014, and although most of her range recreates the fabulous day dresses and glamorous ballgowns of the 1950s and 60s, she also makes vintage-style swimwear, coats (with matching hats, of course) and casual outfits suitable for, say, a late summer stroll in the countryside. To make each piece even more authentic, Ann uses vintage fabrics and trims wherever possible, and the detail in these teeny clothes has to be seen to be believed. I first saw her work at an Etsy product photography workshop, and I had plenty of opportunities there to admire the tiny stitching and perfect shaping on the rose-pink silk gown she’d brought along!

But where Ann really excels is in her styling, as I discovered when I checked out her website. It’s here that her flair for classic style really shines through, to the extent that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the pictures you’re looking at have been snipped from an early issue of Vogue. For starters, her “models” are original Barbie and Sindy dolls from the period, so their hair and makeup are in keeping with the clothes they’re wearing. She also chooses locations for her shoots that really work with the look she’s photographing – country houses make an excellent backdrop to showcase formal evening dresses, and setting up her little coats and jackets against Ireland’s rugged west coast makes them look even cosier! The final touch is that she takes the pictures in a style reminiscent of 1960s family snapshots – rich colours, that slightly hazy light – a look which is achieved without resorting to Photoshop or pre-programmed filters.

This look is carried through to the Dinah’s Dolls Etsy store, where Ann sells her pieces, and her photography lends a vintage feel to her company’s Facebook and Instagram profiles, too. She also offers a bespoke dressmaking service, which gives you the opportunity to have a special piece of clothing – perhaps a wedding dress or bridesmaid’s outfit – recreated in doll size. Ann’s fine work and eye for detail really make these one-of-a-kind pieces truly special… a perfect miniature gift for any vintage enthusiast!

Niki, Guadalupe and Ann are just three of the amazing craftspeople I’ve encountered at markets, meetups and craft stores around Dublin. In this short article, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the vibrant community of talented designer-makers living and working in Dublin today, and the network of markets, independent boutiques and galleries who support them. So next time you’re in the city, be sure to seek them out! You could come home with something truly special.

Helen Crawford hails from Northern Ireland, but she now lives, knits, sews and blogs in Dublin. Her fascination with cartoons, Muppets and mythical creatures led her to create her own range of handmade monsters called Beasties, and when she’s not designing ever more elaborate accessories for these little critters, you’ll find her photographing their latest adventures in some of the city’s most iconic locations. You can catch up with the monster mayhem twice weekly at www.crawcraftsbeasties.com.

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