Hazel Made It

storyThe Celtic cottage craft industry has never been stronger, with many home-based businesses producing excellent homespun products. Recently we spoke with Hazel Ewart-Mills of Hazel Made It!

What is your own ethnicity/heritage?
I was born in Northern Ireland, in Ballymena, Co Antrim. My ancestry is Ulster Scots both more recently, my maternal grandfather was born in the Scottish lowlands and the rest of my grandparents come from longer standing Ulster Scots families. As with many Irish and Scottish families we have family in America and Australia due to emigration. We are even able to trace our ancestry to include a certain ‘John Paul Jones’! Ballymena is in the ancient kingdom of Dalriada and my family and I now live in Argyll, on the Scottish side of this ancient kingdom. This historical joint heritage is clearly audible in the colloquial language of the area. The landscape is also similar, a familiarity that makes this area feel like home.

What is the company’s history and mandate?
I began felting when my eldest son, now 13, was very young. I have always love textiles and natural fibres and have a previously worked with watercolours and in the Steiner water colour form, veil painting, using colour washes. This sense of colour melding feeds my felt work. Not using sharp edges but rather blending the colours together as the sky does at sunset. Initially I worked in needle-felting but then developed my techniques into wet felting. I am self taught, working through my love of wool and colour. Initially working on pieces of felt ie. scarves and cowls before progressing to more complex forms. Now I particularly enjoy working on commissions, especially hats. I love experimenting with colour in bowls and vessels, attempting to re-create the multi faceted nature of the sea and sky. I am inspired by the natural world, it blends colours and it never gets it wrong. Since moving to Scotland, I have also been working on felted wall art, where I can play with texture to add a 3D quality. I am an avid taker of photographs and use these to inform my work. Here on the west coast the sky, sea and landscape are big and ever changing. I rarely draw out my design before working it, preferring to allow my mind to roam free, using the images to direct my colour choices. I describe much of what I do as painting with fleece, using multiple layers and colours to build up the image, tweaking as I go. Hazelmadeit developed about 5 years ago. Choosing a name is always a challenge, and I wanted something which would allow me to work in different forms, the connection being that ‘Hazel had made it’.

What are your core products/services?
My main products are currently hats, scarves, cowls, bowls or pods but this is always evolving. I also make wall hangings and felt paintings inspired by the Argyll landscape. I love the mystery of how the final piece will turn out. No matter how exactly you lay out the fleece, it will always move during felting process and the exact way the colours meddle cannot be predicted. I love doing commissions, making a piece to the exact specification of the customer, something they can enjoy daily and treasure. Most people think of bespoke as out of their league so it is a particular pleasure to change this perception.

How do you differ from the competition?
I try to make items that are a bit different to the other felters I come into contact with; there is no point in everyone producing the same work. My work is inspired by the Argyll coast and landscape and is all laid out freehand. Because everything is created by eye, each piece is unique even if I am following a ‘recipe’ for a particular style. This individuality makes felt different from conventional fabric pieces.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Celtic marketplace?
I think that there is an continued increased interest in work with a heritage and artisan origin, which is feeding into the wider market. As the world becomes smaller, thanks to the ease of travel and communication, people are interested in connecting with where they came from, often Celtic in origin – we have spread to so many corners of the world. Many of us live in cities where we have little connection or community and so our other familial connections provide us with a sense of place and origin, a definition of who we are. This, alongside the resurgence in ethical shopping and traceability, can only be good for the Celtic marketplace.

What can be done to overcome the current challenges in that marketplace?
The challenges I see are with regards to quality and value. It is important to provide our customers with top quality products which are truly handmade and crafted, if that is our claim. The prices charged must be able to reflect this, reflecting the true value of the work. It is too easy to compare artisan work with mass produced and expect the price to be similar; this can obviously not be the case. Introducing more people to the nature and added value of individual work is an important part of this process. Creating things which our customers can treasure has to be the way forward.

What are your future plans for the business?
I am keen to expand the customer base for my work, both in the UK and across the Atlantic. This can be either through retail outlets or to individuals looking for something a little different. Now that we are in our new house and I have studio space, I am looking forward to developing new lines and, as always, taking on new commissions.