Leanne Garrity is a designer and maker of bright and quirky jewellery, accessories, homewares and toys. With a unique desire to explore, and a passion for recycling materials, Leanne’s work is always full of surprises. If you haven’t come across her yet, kick back, relax and meet the girl behind Folksy Shop ChiChiDee Handmade.
Your products have a great playful feel to them. Tell us about your work.
I’m really passionate about recycling and upcycling existing textiles into new fun things. I tend to make bright and quirky accessories, clothing, jewellery, toys and homewares, mixing and matching colours patterns and textures as I go along.
I love using up every last bit of fabric, so, for example, the main part of a man’s shirt will be transformed into a button up ladies skirt, handbag or a cushion, while the sleeves will be used to make yoyos that can be turned into cute brooches or cobbled together to make a yoyo patchwork and the remaining scraps are then used to self-cover buttons which become hairclips or are integrated into another garment. Any last little bits go into stuffing my plushies, so you see, not even a thread is wasted!
There’s so much material out there already, I think it is unnecessary and even excessive to constantly seek brand new things. We live in a very ‘disposable’ society, which is completely unsustainable and which encourages and perpetuates poor work conditions for those who manufacture these garments to meet mass demand. Quite often, clothes are worn but a few times and then discarded for flimsy reasons, such as no longer mirroring the fashion of the moment. Landfills are brimming with these unwanted clothes that are often still in perfectly good condition – what a waste!
So for me, crafting is fulfilling on a number of levels: it allows me to express myself creatively while doing what I can to reduce waste and promote sustainable, ethical living. Hand-making is so much more personal and humane than manufacturing, every piece I create has a story behind it and really comes from the heart.
Also, I think it’s important to keep traditions alive and being able to sew, knit, crochet, and embroider, as most women did in the past, are great skills to have. Some people might think this stereotype sexist and outdated but I really believe the sense of achievement when you make something far exceeds the short-lived thrill of buying something from a high street chain store.
Of course not everyone has the time or the inclination to make everything from scratch, which is why places like Folksy are so important! Everyone can avoid generic consumerism by supporting handmade for a brighter and more inspiring future!
What’s your favourite piece of work?
It’s hard to pin point a favourite piece of work, but I have a soft spot for my pooping birdie plushies because they are pretty, funny and made from 100% recycled materials.
How do you keep your work unique?
The great thing about upcycling is that you have to make the best of what you’ve got and work around any limitations, so each piece is always unique and dependent on what you have to hand at the time. Coming up with creative solutions is the fun part, the downside is that, although I love custom orders, it can be difficult to recreate certain items.
How long have you been making?
Back in 2007 when I graduated from university and moved to a small village in the Bavarian Alps with my partner. At first I didn’t speak any German and couldn’t work so I filled my time with crochet and taught myself how to sew. I made a lot of weird, wonky things and learned through trial and error.
I needed something to focus my time and energy on and that’s when I discovered a whole online craft community that I previously didn’t know existed. It was so encouraging to see other people out there who were into the same things as me. As soon as I opened my first online shop, and started actually selling the things I had made, I felt a huge sense of gratification and knew this was something I really wanted to do.
We’re always keen to snoop around people’s work spaces. Tell us about yours.
In our house we call it the craft room because it’s too small to really be called a studio. The room has great features like a fireplace and a wall of built in cupboards and shelves packed with fabrics, yarns, buttons, bag handles, knitting needles and tons of other notions and oddments. The room is cozy and cute but also bright and airy; it gets great light in the afternoon, which is a good time to photograph new items for my shop. I have a window box with flowers and have a view of chimneyed rooftops. There’s a table in the corner with my sewing machine and overlocker. I don’t have enough power sockets so I’m constantly swapping plugs around and getting all tangled up when I need to iron something!
Describe your day as a maker? Are you organised/disciplined?
At the moment I also have a job as a teacher so crafting gets squeezed around work hours and happens mostly at the weekend. When I do have the luxury of being a full-time crafter I suppose I tend to follow a bit of a routine without being super structured or organized. I like to potter around, and can get easily distracted but I think variety helps stoke the creativity.
I find when you work from home you need to break the day up or you start to feel housebound. Walking to the local café in the morning simulates a morning commute and gears me up for the day. Trips to the post office can also provide a welcome break. Otherwise, I’m in my craft room with music playing in the background. Sometimes I like to listen to cheesy afternoon plays on BBC radio! I aim to make a few items every day, photograph them, edit the pictures on my computer and list at least one new thing each day to keep traffic to my shop consistent.
What three tools could you not live without?
1) Sewing machine, 2) Laptop 3) Good quality fabric scissors
What gets the creative juices flowing when creativity is stifled?
Doing something else! A healthy break is sometimes all it takes when you lose your crafty mojo. There’s nothing worse than the thing you love doing becoming a chore.
Also, learning a new craft can be a good way to regain inspiration. I recently dabbled in some screen-printing, which was fun. Having a crafty friend who you can bounce ideas off can be a good motivator.
Like most crafters I tend to have numerous unfinished projects on the go at any one time. So on those days when I’m feeling a bit flat, I’ll pick up one of them and finish it off, so even if I’m not creating something new, I at least get that sense of accomplishment.
Who would you say is your greatest inspiration?
Rather than mentioning a few big names, I’d rather pay homage to all the wonderful independent designer-makers who I see selling online, at markets or in quirky boutiques. Big respect also to my boyfriend’s Granny who can knit the socks off anyone.
What do you love most about being a maker?
It’s tactile and colourful – very stimulating for the senses. Making can be exploratory and exciting but also meditative and relaxing; either way it totally absorbs me. Very addictive.
I really enjoy being able to hand-make gifts for family and friends – I feel it’s special and meaningful. I also like the idea of being self-sufficient: you know, in the future I see myself growing vegetables and making clothes – quite literally feeding and clothing my family! In an increasingly disillusioned world, going back to basics just seems real and honest.
On the business side, working from home makes me feel free and independent. I set my own goals and go at my own pace. I love being my own boss and getting involved in every step of the process; sourcing materials, brainstorming, planning, making, styling, modeling, photographing, image editing, writing descriptions for listings in my shop, keeping up with correspondence – even the trips to the post office! Running an online craft business is varied, interesting and fun.
What would you say to any makers starting out?
Don’t be shy, just get stuck in, follow your creative impulse and make what you feel like! Set your inhibitions aside because making mistakes is part of the learning process.
Thanks to Leanne for sharing her story with us. You can see more ChiChiDee Handmade products in her Folksy Shop.