For my second Artists in Focus post I'm excited to introduce you to Nuala Maguire, the crafty face behind Bluebird and one of the artists for ReFound Belfast. Nuala is, among other things, a free-lance textile artist specialising in up-cycling. Years and years ago, she actually started out with a degree in footwear and accessory design, but never took up work in the fashion industry. Instead, she trained as a conservator and worked for the museum and heritage sector, something she still enjoys doing today.
Crafts was always something she kept up on the side, but when Nuala moved back to Belfast she started to seriously look into it as a business. Setting up her own crafts business was difficult. "Making the things is the easy part", she comments, "it's the 'selling' that requires a different set of skills." The Market Start Up Program run by Belfast City Council was a huge help to her in getting her business on the way. The project, which is free of charge, helps those dedicated to opening their own food or crafts business by teaching them necessary skills, such as marketing and financial planning. The program made her realise how important it is to have a brand identity, a theme. And as part of it, she got to sell her wares at St. George's Market, a beautiful food an crafts market happening every week on Saturday and Sunday in Belfast.
For Bluebird, she creates beautiful vintagy accessories and jewellery, such as purses, earrings or bangles inspired by the 1940s. Her inspiration for bluebird comes from the Mend and Make Do spirit of the Second World War, where things and materials were re-used and mended. Nuala can literally find a use for everything. Even the tiniest scraps of fabric she works into pretty pins and earrings. A best-seller are the bangles she creates out of old plastic knitting needles by bending them into shape.
"I look at 'rubbish' as a material. I love finding worth in what people discard and turning it into something useful and beautiful. The down-side is, I can't throw anything out anymore! I literally cannot walk past a skip!"When one of her friends was about to throw out over a hundred vinyl records, she took them and created brooches and necklaces out of them. The new material was interesting for her to work with. It was a challenge, something different. Word got around quickly, and now people constantly 'gift' her 'left-over materials'.
Her work for ReFound follows similar principles. As one of the Refound artists, she up-cycles and re-styles old furniture which is then sold at the beautiful ReFound boutique at the heart of Belfast's city centre. Although working on furniture, Nuala always manages to incorporate her textile skills. She hand-embroiders old lampshades with delicate little birds while also re-designing big chunky armchairs (complete with hand-knitted cover of course!).
Nuala tells me that for her final project in her undergraduate, she actually re-cycled old tea towels to create Victorian boots. It didn't take off back then though, the up-cycled art. It didn't stick. "Maybe it was just too early", she muses. Thankfully it seems to be working now!
Nuala has been selling her products at a number of markets and festivals around Belfast. For the Maritime festival for instance, she created the cute nautically-themed buttons below. She's currently selling at the Black Box Bazaar. "I love selling at Markets. It's always a great buzz. They are a lot of time and effort though," she concedes. She couldn't manage one a week, she thinks. Also this would mean she would have to buy all the fabric and materials, which would kind of defeat the purpose of her re-cycled art.
Working free-lance is not always easy. With the freedom of it also comes a great deal of insecurity. It's very organic, Nuala explains. There are bursts when she is drowning in work and then nothing happens for a few weeks. How does she deal with it? She laughs: "By being very good at time management and at 'not freaking-out'. I have a great support network. A lot of my friends are also free-lancers and that really helps." Networks are important not just for an occasional moral boost, but for artistic inspiration and learning.
"I have learnt and benefited from other people so much. Fellow artisans and craftspeople have been a huge inspiration to me."
Nuala is part of Belfast Stich and Bitch, a local knitting circle (in case you're interested: they meet every Wednesday in the Starbucks behind Victoria Sq from 4.30ish!). She is also one of the volunteers helping with the Imagined Through Textiles Project. A partnership between ArtsEkta and Arts for All, this community textile project will create a number of tapestries based on the history of the ports and docks of Belfast, which will then be displayed in venues throughout the city. I can't wait to see the results!
When I ask Nuala why she is putting up with all the hassle and all the frustration of being a free-lance artist, she smiles and says:
"I'm a creator. I've always made things - it's who I am. If I no longer used my hands to make something, I would be miserable."I guess craft just stole her heart...
Nuala Maguire also sells her creations online on her facebook page and - you'd be glad to know - she does bespoke orders too! So head on over and give her a big like!