Life free and DIY hard | Buy Local | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Life free and DIY hard

When looking for a gift that’s both locally produced (read: sustainable) and unique, look no further than the following designers to satisfy every name on your list.

photos Julé Malet-Veale

Kyla Francis

Picture Kyla Francis wandering in and out of secondhand stores "like a junkie looking for a fix," she says. "I love looking for treasure and then finding a fun way to add my own inspiration to it." She took excess stackable white cups from the Delta Barrington (found on the Agricola Army Navy store shelves) and printed them with imagery from "my pastimes and my friends' hobbies, but I consider any topic fair game." So you get cups with pop culture motifs (guitars, TV remotes). Francis received a trophy as a birthday present with "this fabulous figure on it that's just full of attitude. The flexed arms just had so many places to go so I head to make a mold of it and create more." Her gender-neutral hood ornament jewellery puts a twist on history: "The ornaments are the play between the trashy image and the fine material."

Lost and Found (2383 Agricola) and Halifax Crafters Christmas Craft Fair (Khyber ICA, 1588 Barrington), $10-$150

ShiBang Designs

Robyn Stephens' handbags help you stay in touch with the world. Under the moniker ShiBang Designs, Stephens combines processes and materials for bags aimed at "making art a part of an everyday wardrobe." Felted wool is at the heart of her work. (Felting is a natural process of applying plain old heat, moisture and pressure to raw wool as opposed to weaving it.) Stephens loves "letting the fleece guide me." She dyes, felts and combines the fleece with yarn and then finally appliques it with a sewing machine in a "free-form way." She explains, "Bold colour and texture are constant characteristics of my work. Hand-dyeing fleece and yarn provides the freedom to play with texture variation and colour combinations." Stephens is researching ways of bringing in recycled materials to her work. The NSCAD student, who studies textiles and jewellery, came across the country from Vancouver to study in Halifax.

Regularly available at Seeds Gallery (1892 Granville) and during NSCAD Textile Student Sale (until Sunday Dec. 9), $25-$100

Rachel Denkers

Although her interest in making clothes goes back to high school, it was as a Dalhousie costume studies student that Rachel Denkers got her chops, so to speak. "I really love things that are crafty and handmade but not frumpy or kitschy or whatever else comes to mind when you hear those words," Denkers explains. "I like clean lines and simple flattering shapes with some tasteful applique or something to give them some individuality, something that shows I really cared about each piece while I was making it." The designer fuses new and carefully selected reused material. She's a "huge fan" of the 50-percent-off sale on Wednesdays at the Green Street Salvation Army, but Denkers is also given fabrics by people she knows. "The reused fabrics I choose have an interesting texture or pattern that you would never be able to find new."

Junk & Foibles (1533 Barrington), $69 before store student discount

Tuttle & Leonardo

Katie Tuttle and Karen Leonardo formed their fashion label last February, had their first show in March and sold to stores in April. "I wanted to supply unique local designs with a quick production time," says Tuttle, previously a jewellery designer. "Karen has always wanted to start her own label since graduating from Seneca College in Toronto." Tuttle and Leonardo "create pieces with an edgy twist and classy fun in wearable pieces. For this season, we've done jeans, sweaters, sweater dresses, dresses, tops and jackets. For Spring 2008 you can expect to see a lot of fun pieces with a mod twist." They draw patterns on recycled paper and use natural materials such as linen, silk and cotton. Hands-on from design to production and selling, the pair has devotees among Halifax stores and clientele and are expanding to Toronto (Fashion Week 2008), Montreal and New York.

Sweet Pea Boutique (1542 Queen) and Peep Show Girly Boutique (1717 Barrington), $50-$200

Philip Doucette

Philip Doucette first trained in stained glass in spring 1985 through Continuing Education at NSCAD. His instructor was Terry Smith-Lamothe, who Doucette recently consulted on glass restoration. For custom work, Doucette says, "My personal style is based on nautical ideas, but rather than use the surface of the natural world for inspiration, I use the structures of waveforms and the mathematics of natural proportion to create abstract compositions which communicate a sense of balance and serenity." His jewellery and dinnerware draw on astrological imagery, and he makes glass boxes for gallery exhibitions. Doucette also teaches and repairs windows: "When I replace a piece of damaged glass, I save the broken pieces, because those pieces might match the needs of a future repair. I have cases of old glass, recycling them into repairs and new pieces. I also took up glass beadmaking, and recycle my glass scrap by making beads."

Fused glass items at Argyle Fine Art (1869 Upper Water ), $65-$300, sculptural objects at Secord Gallery (6301 Quinpool) $150-800. An open studio exhibition takes place at 2123 Creighton, Saturday Dec. 15, 10am-4pm

Simply-C Designs

As a young girl, Chara Kingston grew up in southern California, where her family left home to go to nature, visiting beaches and hiking. Moving to Ottawa, where she attended high school, and then to Halifax with her own family, the designer behind Simply-C Designs and owner of Love, Me Boutique, feels she lives in nature. The "very simple linework" found in nature—poppies, dragonflies—she draws and then screen-prints on her velour scarves (saturated reds and purples and a rich brown), pouches, pot holders, napkins, and camisole/underwear sets reflect that state of mind and living. She draws and prints all at home, all by hand. Love, Me Boutique is in a former apartment. Her store specializes in contemporary "Canadian, handmade, nothing mass-produced" craft. With two pre-existing fireplaces and hardwood floors, the space "feels organic, not contrived. I'm not in a mall trying to make it look like an apartment."

Love, Me Boutique (1539 Birmingham), $12-$34

Alison Cude Fine Ceramics

In a sense, Alison Cude says, artisans are "sustainable small-scale manufacturers." They work by hand and on their own, not in factories. And harmful ingredients—lead and cadmium—aren't in the glazes anymore. Working in her north end studio, Cude's your neighbourhood potter. The functional (dishwasher- and- microwave safe) pottery she produces there is all at once colourful, cheerful, contemporary and modern. As a maker of things people use, Cude says, "The things you make do have this sort of double-life," as striking objects and functional pieces, such as vases, teapots, cups and gelato and butter dishes. "Pretty much everything I make you can split into either food or flowers," she adds. She admits to "mad sculptural thoughts, but as a friend says, "They're still stuck to the wheel.'" For now, she adds "little handmade flourishes," such as hard-carved knobs on teapots and butterdishes, to satisfy that craving.

Bogside Gallery (Hydrostone Market, 5527 Young) and Handsmiths (1869 Upper Water), $15-$170. An open studio exhibition takes place at 2123 Creighton, Saturday Dec.15, 10am-4pm

Gnolia Designs

Amy Nesbitt loves the magnolia tree. When she was looking for a name for her screen-printed line of clocks, pillows, buttons, pins, t-shirts and iPod-holders, she knew she wanted to reference her favourite flower, but not in an obvious way. She wanted to hint at it. Nesbitt came up with Gnolia (the silent g suggests magnolia). Nesbitt started with lithography (printmaking using a slab of limestone as a base) but switched to screen-printing: "It's so accessible. You can do it on your own. I also love the versatility of it—you can print on paper, you can print on fabric." Inspired by retro prints and patterns from the '60s and '70s that drew on nature, especially Finland's Marimekko, Gnolia goes for "bold lines, bold shapes," according to Nesbitt. Next up, she's experimenting with secondhand and vintage scarves to make purses. "We'll see where that takes me."

Regularly available at Seeds Gallery (1892 Granville) and during NSCAD Textile Student Sale (until Sunday Dec. 9), $5-$45

A-OK Clothing

Mums don't like to see things go to waste. Just ask Indy Mum—aka Flavia Lytle. The Lunenburg resident and mother of three snaps up cut-offs from fashion designers'

tables as well as "the end of bolts and remnants at fabric stores that normally would end up on the floor" for use in her custom line of tops, dresses, sweaters and t-shirts (men's and women's) and kids' stuff. The products vary depending on what she finds for raw material. For that she travels from Lunenburg to Halifax, but she couples that search with other errands to cut down on gas and emissions: "I go to stores that are going to sell their stock, get rid of it or throw it out." Across her entire line, she designs, draws, sews and prints on every individual piece herself. "So each thing comes out with a little bit of a different twist."

Elsie's (1530 Queen) and Lost & Found (2383 Agricola), Indy Mum zine $3 and $25-$45 for clothing

Amy Belanger

With a chip or a crack, a plate or a mug's life is over. Unless it finds its way into Amy Belanger's hands. She puts on her overalls and protective goggles and fires up the wet-saw and starts cutting up the damaged crockery. Then she gets out her grinder to smooth down the edges and does a little hand-sanding for further softening and refining. Finally she attaches silver necklaces from a supplier in town. Her necklaces and pendants often bear the mark of the original ceramic manufacturers. Belanger loves the thrill of the hunt, going to Value Village stores and the like. "I tend to go with

florals—some are dainty and others more graphic." Belanger, who also works in textiles, does commissioned work. She once transformed plates with an apple motif into a bride's gift for her bridesmaids and created a necklace bearing the friendly mug of the Neo Citran dog.

Junk & Foibles (1533 Barrington), p'lovers (Park Lane Mall) and Halifax Crafters Christmas Craft Fair (Khyber ICA, 1588 Barrington), $40

Sean Flinn makes good when he can.

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