Crustless sandwiches, cartons of fresh strawberries, artisanal carrots and a bento box: Made by Clare Louise’s felt foods read like a specialty grocery store shopping list, all made for the inspiring gardener or future celebrity chef. Alongside children’s mobiles and wall hangings, the soft handmade toys are providing a clever alternative to mass-produced plastic variety.
The brainchild of 23-year-old Claire Gillam, the Melbourne-based business was born out of a wish to bring back make-believe. Now, Made by Claire Louise pieces are selling like hotcakes, imaginations are running wild, and with personalisation available the perfect baby present is now a reality.
Here, Gillam puts down her needle and thread to talk us through what makes her pieces so special.
How did you come to start creating these wonderful pieces from wool felt?
I started making them for myself when I was teaching myself how to sew. Family and friends were commenting on how sweet they were and starting to ask me to make them ones too.
What makes them such special pieces for a child to be around?
They are handmade and different to what you see in stores, and not everyone has them. They are even more special when they have been customised with the child's name and favourite colour to reflect their little personalities.
How important is it to encourage creative thinking and imagination in children?
Having an imagination and being able to think creatively is so important in any stage of life, especially as a child. I find it sad that family and friends that work in kindergartens, childcare and schools say children these days find it hard to play make believe. So I love to hear back from my customers that their children are having so much fun and adventures with my products.
You make all these pieces yourself. How long does each piece take and is each one unique?
I do make all my products and all mostly hand sewing! I must be a little crazy I think. I have become so much better and can whip up custom orders, new pattern drawn up, hand cut and hand sewn and in the mail in one to three days! Most of my products have slight variations being handmade, but people like that they are all their own special little piece.
What do you really enjoy about craft?
Along with sewing I love to paint and draw. I find craft relaxing, and now that I am getting lovely feedback and know people are appreciating and enjoying my work it makes me so happy. I also love connecting with other people like me to share ideas, receive or give advice and generally chat.
Can you describe the magic of a children’s mobile?
I believe mobiles and hangings aren't just for babies and even adults can enjoy the right one. I think a lot of people can agree that having something hanging, especially over where you're falling asleep is magical. It's so calming and comforting.
Is creating artisanal children’s toys a dying art?
Unfortunately, it's not as popular as the usual and easy store bought options, but I don't believe it's dying out. There will always be people that appreciate art and beautiful handmade items. I also think people are realising that keepsake handmade items that you can pass down to each child are still nice to have.
Do you design these pieces with children in mind who you know?
I design what I think I'd like to have for my children. Something timeless, a keepsake and hand me down to younger siblings types of pieces. Something that both bub or child and parents want to look at. I have also had a lot of ideas from friends, family and customers.
What do you like about working with wool as a medium?
I think it sews better, it feels better, it looks better. I use wool felt and I’ve been teaching myself felting.
How do you properly care for your pieces?
I make all my pieces in a smoke-free environment and away from animals and pets. I also keep them out of direct sunlight. I have care instructions on each listing where people can purchase my pieces. I recommend a very gentle spot wash and allow the item to air dry.
When it comes to dressing girls, comfort, practicality and a little bit of fun are key