A Conversation with Mieke Smit of Dreamstitch
I was warmly welcomed by Mieke Smit of Dreamstitch into her beautiful home, set in three acres at Tamahere, Hamilton. We sat on a pair of comfy fireside chairs upholstered with vintage wool blankets, sipping our cups of tea and enjoying the carrot cake with cream cheese icing and chocolate truffles that I had brought with me for us to nibble on while we chatted.
Mieke’s story began as a young girl in Holland. While Mieke was growing up her two sisters and her mother were always very involved with sewing and knitting. Her grandmother would visit every Saturday. Mieke recalls her sitting in her chair knitting and darning socks….it was a natural part of life and the handcrafting skills were passed down from generation to generation.
She was behind a sewing machine when she was quite young, sewing clothes for her dolls. She even sewed her own reversible bikini when she was a teenager, taking great care with the construction to ensure it looked good from both sides!
Mieke lists all the different crafts she has turned her hand to over the years including knitting, crochet, felting, sewing, even macramé. She laughs as she remembers the crocheted curtains during the seventies.
When Mieke’s son was around a year old she took him along to the Play Circle at Rudolf Steiner School. Here she became involved with their craft group which rekindled her love of making things.
A year later Mieke and her family were holidaying in Scandinavia. They visited the Christmas Market there and she was inspired by seeing so many beautifully felted handcrafts.
Upon her return to New Zealand, and re-enrolling her son at the Steiner School, Mieke found the craft group in jeopardy, as the current organiser was leaving the school. Mieke decided to save the craft group with a few other school mums. It was here that she met Anna and their sons became firm friends.
Mieke and Anna started Dreamstitch about two years ago, initially dabbling in running a few workshops. Mieke remembers, “We didn’t make a lot of money, but we earned enough money to buy some materials to make more!” Anna eventually became busy with other commitments, but Mieke continues to run Dreamstitch.
She wants to inspire young people to make things themselves. She is concerned that this is an important skill that has been mostly lost from the education system. Mieke explains, “By taking the practical, artistic, creative focus away from education, the children miss out on vital connections in their brain which will inspire them to think outside the box. We shouldn’t train children to do tests – we should train children to become free-thinking individuals. Making things and exploring how to make things is something that can instil that.”
Mieke uses the fleece from her own pet alpacas Obi, Donte and Dreems in her handwork. She knits, crochets, wet-felts, needle-felts, embroiders, and makes sculptural dolls and Waldorf dolls. She also caters for customers who are feeling creative, selling beautiful wooden knitting needles, knitting forks, crochet hooks, and braiding stars. She sells kits to enable those that wish to make their own dolls from felt. Her range includes knight, noble man, mermaid, pirate, daffodil girl, lady violet, ponga boy and seed sower.
I asked her how the people in her life reacted to her beginning a business and how she manages to balance her family life with business commitments. Mieke credits a lot to her husband.
“I’ve got an incredible husband. He’s always lived with me the way I am, which he should, otherwise he should have run a long time ago,” she laughs, “because I can’t change! But he knows me with bits of fluff everywhere, and wool and fabric and that’s just who I am. There’s always been baskets of wool in my house so that was not a surprise. There’s just a few more!”
“He helps me with the website and sanding and finishing the wooden things and makes me shelves. He has always been a bit more consistent with the housework than I have….he does most of the washing. It would be harder if we took more traditional roles within the home, if my husband was out working fifty or sixty hours a week.”
The thing Mieke does find difficult in her business is having to set a price for the things she loves making. When involved with making things for the school craft group to sell at their fairs, the philosophy was that the labour invested crafting those things was a gift. Now she is running a business she works hard to find a balance between the products that will tick over and make more money and the products that she enjoys making.
She has also been reluctant to engage in the online world, but this is something she is starting to become braver with now. She has enjoyed seeing her Facebook page being liked from many different countries around the world.
Mieke does enjoy the markets though, especially watching the delight on the faces of the children who discover her toys. Their fascination as they pull out the butterfly from a knitted cocoon, or lure their Grandad back to the stall to get him to buy a knight to add to their felted doll collection.
“I love seeing children enjoying what I make, because that’s what I’m doing it for,”Mieke says.
This year Mieke attended for the first time a big annual market held in Martinborough. She was excited to be able to inspire new people and there was certainly plenty of opportunity there, with the fair attracting 20-30,000 people and 450 stallholders. Martinborough Fair takes place on the first Saturday in February and the first Saturday in March each year. It was a success for Mieke who intends to return again. Closer to home Mieke will be trialling a stall at The Ferrybank Market, who have just launched their Winter Season, in Hamilton City on Saturday mornings 9am – 1pm.
Behind the scenes Mieke is working on writing a book, featuring different styles of houses through the ages including a cave, igloo, tepee and more, each with accompanying patterns. There will also be instructions of how to make the residents for each house, to increase the play value for children.
I asked Mieke if she had any advice for anyone wishing to start their own creative business. She said she thinks she still has a lot to learn herself and doesn’t know if she is in a position to give advice. However, she did offer the following wisdom.
“There are amazing communities out there that support each other. Talk to people. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because most people are out there to help you and give you a hand.”
“I do believe when you are really passionate about something you should always give it a go, because at the end of the day, if it is a business venture that doesn’t succeed, you have tried. You might have lost some money but you’re not left with dreams that you haven’t tried to fulfil.”
Something tells me that Mieke will be fulfilling many more dreams in the future with Dreamstitch and I wish her well…and I’m really looking forward to reading her book!