FK talks to Nina McMahon from her accessories label, Heartfelt & Lawn
Can you tell us about your lovely label HeartFelt & Lawn and how you got started?
I aspire to create bags that are understated enough to allow the intrinsic elegance of natural materials to shine. I use natural timber and leather handles and a combination of new and vintage linens, wools, cottons, hemp and even yak hair fabrics. Detail and finish is very important to me, with gorgeous buttons and thoughtful linings a strong feature of my label.
HeartFelt & Lawn came about as a bit of an accident three years ago. I’ve always made things but it never occurred to me to sell them. My friend Leonie, who has two beautiful shops in Hobart, bailed me up one day and said “Love & Clutter wants you”, after spotting my first handbag. So I started making and selling bags and accessories for her shops, something I feel really lucky to be able to do.
What is your background and how did it lead you to HeartFelt & Lawn?
I find bags fascinating, not that I’ve ever had many of them. When I was at uni, I used to work in camping shops, and I found the way that bags are constructed to be very interesting. I struggled with the aesthetics of most commercially produced modern handbags (too much bling) so I ended up making my own, which reference vintage styles at times. My background is a bizarre combination of employment and education that I guess combined to make HeartFelt & Lawn possible. I spent my youngest years in Norway, where hand craft is considered important and the aesthetic so distinctive. I have always been into knitting, ever since I was four and the older lady next door taught me to knit.
My Design and Technology teachers in Years 7 and 8 were excellent. They really went into teaching about the design process in detail, and their own skills were of a fantastic standard. I did enrol in Sewing in Years 9 and 10, and I guess they did manage to teach me to sew, more than my long-suffering teachers would have known. I was constantly in trouble as I didn’t really “get” sewing until the very end, by which time I think they’d given up on me. The irony is that their lessons come back to me every day that I sew, and I actually published a skirt pattern a couple of years ago. I should send them one… The last ten years or so I have been on a mission to improve my skills and have a full array of sewing techniques at my disposal. The cool thing is that my most fabulous and treasured Bernina Record sewing machine is the same war horse model that they taught thousands of girls to sew on at my school in Sydney! I love that machine…
Anyway, I ended up studying Biomedical Science and Education in Sydney, and then became a chef (I know…). I moved to beautiful rural Tasmania 8 years ago, met my wonderful partner and had our daughter Elisabeth. Since then, I have scaled back my work in Hobart teaching cookery apprentices two days a week, and make stuff at every other moment I can squeeze in. It amazes me how little sleep I need when passion and inspiration are keeping me awake. Working the way I like, and making things constantly are a real blessing that I am constantly thankful for.
What do you love about being a creative in Tasmania?
Tasmania is a fantastic place to live and work creatively. Aside from the overwhelming beauty and dramatic climate (cool enough for a Norwegian girl), the people are wonderful. Here people are just doing what they’ve always done, making, growing, baking, fishing and handcrafts. The artisan and making community is welcoming and supportive, and the residents genuinely value handmade work.
I feel that HeartFelt is more to do with the support of the people who buy my bags than any desire that I had to make things for sale. The idea frightened me and I was too shy to use my name or a brand. I used to stitch a small cashmere felt heart onto my little swing tags to stay incongnito. Somehow I heard that people had started calling my bags “HeartFelt bags”, and I figured that was the name that my customers had given my label! It’s been really lovely working here in Tassie. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
What are your favourite materials to work with and where are you favourite places to source them?
Natural materials and beautiful vintage materials are wonderful and what I choose to work with. I constantly collect fabrics, buttons and handles wherever I go. My partner is a real scavenger too, and we love farm auctions, rural markets and garage sales. He proposed to me after a particularly successful garage sale trip.(Full set of ratchets only $20!) So romantic…
I’ve started making little brooches and fridge magnets in the shape of little tellies. My mum won a national talent quest in 1966 to become the Scandinavian member of the first Boeing 747 flight crew for Pan American Airways. She was from a tiny backwater north of the Arctic Circle, and went to live in Manhattan to attend stewardess training school and live the glamorous jet set lifestyle of the early years of passenger air travel. Every week for 10 years, Mum sent a postcard from wherever she was in the world to her mother (my grandmother). The postcards are incredibly rad, with fantastic colouring and all sorts of hilarious politically incorrect scenes on them. Mum passed away years ago, but I still have all the postcards that my grandmother saved.
The tellies feature scanned images from the postcards, printed onto canvas. The postcards are my favourite materials to work with, because as I scan the images and record the locations and dates, I read the messages on the backs and have a lovely snapshot of my mum and grandmother’s friendship more than forty years ago.
Living in a small rural area, lots of people have bits and pieces in their sheds and shacks. The other day, my friend showed up with a big box of beautiful vintage houndstooth wool suiting and dress patterns that her mother had used. It turned out that her mother was a Singer demonstrator and did instructional sewing telly shows in the early 70’s! She’s in residential care now, and I really value working with her fabrics. It’s particularly special, working with vintage materials when I know their provenence.
What has been some of the highlights so far having your label?
Tough question! It’s mainly wonderful. There are small surprises that keep me very happy, like when a customer emails me to tell me about how they love their bag, or when I find out that someone is giving one as a gift to a loved one. Occasionally I hear lovely tales, like someone buying lots of white enamel flower hairclips for their bridal party to wear to their wedding. It’s an honour to create things that people like enough to bring into their special days. Doing just the thing that you can’t stop doing is one long highlight.
You were recently at Melbourne FK markets – what was your first FK experience like?
We had a fantastic time. The people at the Melbourne markets were great to meet, and I encountered a couple of real kindred spirits. It’s a unique experience for someone from a quiet place, to go to such a huge urban setting and wallow in conversation about handmade stuff! People were very positive about HeartFelt & Lawn, which was lovely.
Another great thing that came of Finders is that HeartFelt & Lawn is now stocked in some lovely mainland stores. The newest of these is the fabulous Presence on King William in Adelaide. Attending a market of such high quality and profile was really beneficial and I’d recommend applying to anyone who would like to meet their customers face to face. It’s such a well organised, textural event that I think everyone had a good time, thank you talented ladies. And hooray for the Fish Tacos!