In this edition of the Handmade’s Tale, Lisa from Nana Glamour tells Natasha about her vintage-inspired creations made from old cards, tatty books, and vintage magazines.
Lisa from Nana Glamour could happily spend the rest of her life making hex boxes. “It’s actually ridiculous how much I enjoy this craft and never seem to tire of it”, she says.
After spending years toying with the idea of replicating the little octagonal boxes you might stumble across in op shops made from vintage greeting cards , she decided to take the plunge and try making them herself.
It was during a very sad chapter of her life. Her sister had recently passed away and she was craving distraction. That’s when the enthrallment with her craft began and she’s never stopped.
A lifelong crafter, Lisa’s always had a fascination for all things retro and kitsch. “Looking back through rose-coloured spectacles as the social aspects of the time were not always so great, but seeing all the amazing fashion, jewellery, hairstyles, houses and furniture is just so captivating.”
She has a penchant for the simplicity of time’s past: “peg bags made from sacking, embroidered pillow cases, dolls made from shells, chocolate boxes to die for…”
So it’s no accident that her business ‘Nana Glamour’ harks back to a simpler time of handicrafts, thrift and frugality; when the mend/ make/ do/ reigned supreme.
Her work is unapologetically whimsical and sentimental. Icons of kitsch are rife: whether they’re such cutesy kittens in baskets, religious figures, chocolate box roses, Disney cartoons, lurid pulp fiction covers, souvenirs, or tacky Christmas cards.
But there’s a special place in her heart for woman’s magazine’s from the 1950s.
“The advertisements are laugh-out-loud and the exotic images of legs and lingerie are very appealing. We certainly wouldn’t get away today with some of the claims they touted back then- such as encouraging housewives to have a nip of tonic to get through the day, lordy knows what they were imbibing, pleasing your husband and always looking your best..”
Reading these magazines is a history lesson and a social commentary of the times, although I love vintage, I much prefer living in the present!”
Want to find out more about Nana Glamour? Read on!
How long have you been making things? Were you always creative/ crafty as a youngster?
I’ve always loved using my hands and attempting to have a go at things.
I remember as a child making dolls clothes and quirky little bits and pieces for a dolls house. I would have loved to be able to paint and illustrate but this was a complete disaster as I don’t have any talent for art.
My sister was very good and used to draw me my pictures for school projects which I even won prizes for, naughty, but a nice memory. I have tried leatherwork, jewellery making on a very basic level, sewing, photography etc.
Many aspirations but I have found it is always enjoyable to have a go and find out what you are good at and when you actually achieve something worthwhile you are on the way.
Where does the name come from?
It evolved from trying to capture the feel of what I am about. I chose Nana firstly as most of my work embodies craft from my grandmother’s era. A simpler time of handiwork and frugality.
The beautiful and innovative techniques on domiciliary items always amaze me and I appreciate the talent and eye for beauty when you come across a gorgeous hand worked tablecloth or lingerie bag from 50 years ago.
The word ‘glamour’ evokes such a nice feeling, dressed up, sophisticated, romantic. I like to be a bit about that too in my work.
Using 1950s images of movie stars and pinups or 1930’s/40’s cigarette card images, it’s all so appealing and resonates with people today. Hence the name ‘Nana Glamour’.
How did the idea for your business come about?
Initially all I did was knit. I so enjoyed finding vintage patterns for berets and cloches etc and would spend hours and hours knitting up a storm. Eventually I had to come up with another idea as I enjoy participating in markets and it is not so easy selling woolly hats on hot summer days.
For years I had toyed with the idea of replicating the little boxes you would sometimes come across in op shops made from the sublime old greeting cards from the 50s and 60s.
All that glitter and kitschy images got my blood singing and during a very sad period in my life when my sister passed away when I badly needed some distraction the enthrallment with this craft began and I have never stopped making and devising since then.
Why the fascination with kitsch/ retro?
Everything is so engaging from the fashion to homewares to lifestyles. It’s probably looking back through rose coloured spectacles as the social aspects of the time were not always so great but seeing the amazing fashion, jewellery, gorgeous hair styles, amazing houses and furniture is just so captivating.
Then there are simple things like peg bags made from sacking, embroidered pillow cases, dolls made from shells, chocolate boxes to die for. Everything simple had an allure and enchantment compared with today’s mass produced goods of dubious quality.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I refer to my niche as “vintage inspired”. Having that love and sentimentality for beautiful old children’s books, playing cards and ephemera from previous generations it is all inspired by my penchant for those era’s.
How has your taste and work evolved over time?
When I started I used old greeting cards as was the norm. I hand cut the backs and fronts and used contact as a protector. There were some pretty sad results as often after hours and hours of work I would end up with a wrinkly, ripply box that seemed quite inferior to what I had in my mind.
Although I still loved the process I knew I had to improve my techniques and gradually over the years through a lot of time and trial I admit I am now quite a dab hand although I still can easily make an error like punching a hole where I shouldn’t or maybe the picture is not quite straight enough.
I have a fascination for woman’s magazines from the 1950’s. The advertisements are laugh out loud and the exotic images of legs and lingerie are very appealing. I toyed with the idea of using these in my work, a great way to legitimately and productively utilise such treasures.
We certainly wouldn’t get away with today some of the claims they touted back then, encouraging housewives to have a nip of tonic to get through the day, lordy knows what they were imbibing, pleasing your husband and always looking your best. Reading these magazines is a history lesson and a social commentary on the times, although I love vintage I much prefer living in the present!
What’s the first piece you remember making?
One of my first pieces, and I still have it, is a rather squashy, misshapen box made from a cat calendar. I just love it as it reminds me of my initial struggles and all the rejections. I have, I hate to admit, finished something then promptly jumped on it and thrown it in the fire I have been so annoyed at the outcome.
One thing I have learnt though is that even if I don’t think my work is good enough other people are captivated by it and I shouldn’t be so harsh. I often sell these pieces at a much lower price point and they are always snapped up and enjoyed. A life lesson there I think.
Are you mainly making boxes or do you make other pieces as well?
To be honest I LOVE making hex boxes and I would make them all day every day if I could (and my body would allow me to). The lovely curved panels and how it all fits together is so engrossing for me – it’s actually ridiculous how much I enjoy this craft and how I never seem to tire of it. I think it’s all the possible materials and combination’s that could be used and the outcome of a perfectly shaped and constructed box.
My workroom is chock full of material for future work and my lovely husband has built me a shed for storage. My best days are spent crafting away in my work room with a talking book playing and my glorious collection of old wall paper books, wrapping papers, old scraps, vintage magazines and gorgeous old books that have seen better days.
I also make tissue box covers which is a good way to utilise the lovely playing cards of pinups and movie stars as you can use more of the image than in a box panel. I have a process of scanning them in then dropping them into a a wonderful Printshop I use to blow up and print out for me.
This is a very expensive process but I think the results are worthwhile and it’s not something I can do myself. I am thinking a basic graphic design course would go miles in helping me with my work and this is something I will consider down the line.
I am currently making Christmas decorations from old greeting cards, the images are just superb and a fantastic way of prolonging the life of these beauties. I make bookmarks, fridge magnets mainly from old scraps (cat and bunny images are the favourite), also reusable notebook covers from sewing patterns etc and needle case covers. My favourite thing to make though is my hexagonal box.
What are your top sellers?
Definitely my boxes are at the top of the list. Sometimes I have a run on the pinup or movie star tissue box covers but I think it is the nostalgia of my boxes that fascinates my customers.
At every market I have numerous comments from people about a mum or aunty who has made these boxes and where they are now and what is stored in them. A little anecdote of their life and it feels good to jog these memories and make them smile.
Are the majority of orders custom made/ one offs?
All my work is originals. I love the variety and choice of what I make. I am happy to to make things up for people using their precious old cards or children’s books but time is a constraint as I still work and have other commitments.
I love starting a project and mulling over during my walks whatever I am keen to try out next. My brain is usually focussed on either my family or my craft, sometimes I think I need to get a life but I love reading and watching Crime Noir and Scandi thrillers although I have to knit rather than make boxes so I can concentrate on the sub-titles.
Tell me about the process involved in making Nana Glamour pieces.
Usually I go to my workroom and forage through my resources for inspiration. Sometimes I lean towards using a Woman’s Journal from the 50’s or 60’s. They have the most devine fashion plates in each issue which are a joy to use. I am always on the look out for these. Other times I may have come across an old book in the recycling that has amazing images.
The one I am currently thinking of using is all about trains and the illustrations have the subtle hues of vintage colour and such charming train related pictures I can’t wait to use it for a box. I get quite excited.
I love pouring through my stash of vintage greeting cards, the gaudy, glorious, overtly cheerful depictions of flowers, houses and people are so wonderful. I have been blessed to have awesome people in the vintage trade who are aware I love these and let me know if they come across any.
Vanessa and Warren from Two Squirrels have been amazing and bestowed on me marvellous scrapbooks and collections of these rare treasures. I use templates I have constructed for each type of project, these are traced around over the images I want to use, then laminated. I then hole punch around each panel, crochet every side, then stitch the whole piece together.
It is extremely important to finish my boxes and other work with a lovely lining. I gather scrap-booking pads for this purpose and there are some beauties out there. I have gone a bit mad and have a huge pile to choose from but I also love using wallpaper and wrapping paper. I try in my mind to keep a theme going so there is cohesion in the finished project.
I love the pop of colour when a box is opened and you see what is inside. The other important component is the crochet cotton which actually hinges the whole piece together.
I have a rainbow of colours on hand and once my panels are all stitched I group them together to see what I have in my stash that would work best. I love using gold, raspberry pink, bluey/greens and red the most.
The other hugely important tool in my workroom is my laminator. I have blown up 4 or 5 through over use. I have learnt to manage and condense my use so that I don’t have the expense of replacing this vital machine too often.
After doing everything by hand and not really liking the result my precious laminator caps off the process and just gives such a great finish to my work.
It’s been extremely investigative over the years and I have learnt what is the best weight cardboard (cat food boxes), heat setting and laminate gauge to use. It has been like a science with lots of hard fought study to get to this stage of expertise.
Each piece takes a few hours or a couple of nights work. I don’t think of the time involved too often, to me there are never enough hours in the day for all the things I would like to do and life just seems fly by, I am never ever bored, lucky I know.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Everything, I love all the stages and processes of what I do.
What do you do when you’re not making things?
I love walking, reading and movies. And a bit of baking. But to be honest my craft is a huge part of my life. I am just lucky I have a husband that helps and supports me by ferrying me to markets out of town and helping on my stall.
My family has always given huge support also, my three daughters (and their boyfriends) at some stage have been my market helpers also critiquing and advocating my work. They have had to live with the distraction and clutter of a crafty person but it makes me happy and it’s my life and I would be sad if I couldn’t do it.
Finish this sentence: Handmade is best..
Because in every piece is a small amount of the makers heart. (It is nice to earn some revenue from what you to do but for me it is all about the making and you never ever break even)
Where can people learn more about your work and purchase their own pieces?
I have a Facebook page Nana Glamour and I also use Instagram. I have sold a lot of work through queries on this social media. As I sell most of my work at markets, it is difficult to also have website sales as you are taking those items online to the markets and you need to be onto what has sold as you don’t want to be advertising something that has already gone.
From time to time I load up some hexes on Felt but this is very slow for me as I think my work is much better received when it is seen. I would love to be more savvy with my on-line sales but I need to get better at photographing etc and advertising as I know I have quite a unique product to offer.
Travelling to markets can be tiring so I guess I will have to give it some serious contemplation eventually if I still wish to keep “making”.
For now, I love attending markets and have plenty of bookings to keep me going from Christchurch to Nelson to Central Otago. I would love to really branch out and hit the North Island at some stage.
I love a weekend away, spending time with family, visiting opp shops searching for treasures and seeing the sights. I feel blessed to have this life.