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My life in crafts: Maija Nygren

As part of our series My life in crafts we’re interviewing friends and colleagues of The Crafty Kit Company to learn about their lives and love of crafts. This week we’re speaking to knitwear designer Maija Nygren, founder of  Edinburgh-based company Almaborealis, who are currently shortlisted for a Dezeen Award

Almaborealis produces sustainable knitwear kits that aim to inspire and enable children to create their own clothes, which are made with 100% Scottish-spun wool, and can be re-formed and adapted as children grow. Read on to discover what inspired Maija to found Almaborealis, and for her advice for those thinking of starting their own creative business.

Assembling a Convertible garment Image credit Almaborealis Ltd 2020

Have you always lived in Scotland?
I grew up in Finland, and lived there until I was nineteen, when I moved to London to pursue a career in the theatre. I spent ten years working in costume design, creating puppets and tactile objects for children’s theatre and multi-sensory experiences, which has definitely influenced my work now! I became fascinated by the textiles that I was working with, wondering where they came from, and how they were produced, and decided to undertake a degree at Galashiels School of Textiles, in the Scottish Borders.

What drew you to Edinburgh, and what do you enjoy about living here?
When I was working in London I used to come up to Scotland with theatre productions, and something about it just fitted: the people are so warm here, it immediately felt like home! After my MA it was an easy choice to move to Edinburgh; although it’s a city we have Arthur’s Seat, and can be in the countryside so quickly. Perhaps Scotland does also remind me a little of Finland, with the access to nature, woods, beaches, and rivers. I feel that I haven’t in any way exhausted my adventure in Scotland, and still have so much to explore and experience - it’s going to take a lifetime!

Have you always been interested in crafts? 
I’ve always loved crafting - I was taught to crochet by my granny in Finland, when I was around five, and used to have crocheting competitions with my cousins! When I started school at six we were taught knitting, too, which I also really enjoyed. I love to create abstract shapes through knit and crochet, and how using different yarns can dramatically change the same shapes. My ideal holiday would definitely be spent crocheting on the beach!

Almaborealis Convertibles workshop Image Credit Rose & Julien Photography 2019

What inspired you to found Almaborealis?
After my BA (which was quite industry-focused) I decided to continue my studies with an MA in Knit Design, exploring how I could create knitwear that could adapt for a growing child, and how designs could be dismantled and re-formed. At the end of my MA I felt like I had only just scratched the surface of what might be possible, and knew that the only way I would be able to achieve what I wanted to do was to set up my own business!

Could you tell us a little more about your products? 
Kids so rarely have any say in designing or making their own clothes, but doing so can offer them so many valuable life skills, such as creativity, and problem-solving. My aim is to offer a positive first point of contact with crafts, and a sense of achievement from creating something - there are no mistakes! Our kits are suitable for children from four to twelve years old (with adult supervision for younger children), and what I really hope is that these kits will inspire new crafters.

After launching a crowd-funder last year, I’ve focused our range on three product types. Our Learn to Stitch kit offers a roadmap of how to create three stitches using a handmade wooden needle, yarn, and a guided card, offering children screen-free guidance to learn how to sew.

Child sewing whip stitch square Almaborealis Learn to Stitch Kit

The Learn to Build Your Own Beanie kit is a good symbol of the simplicity of clothing, using two flat rectangles to create something that covers a three-dimensional head! There’s something really magical in that process for children, and discovering that it’s not complex.

Puzzleware Build Your Own Beanie Almaborealis Lts 2021

Finally, our ‘just play’ Puzzleware kits are available in three sizes, each of which contains six different panels that can be combined in any kind of formation, supporting free play, and encouraging children to explore the medium of hand-stitching. 

Where do you find inspiration for your products?
A medley of many things! Growing up in Finland, I was inspired by the repair-reduce-recycle ethos of my grandparents’ generation, and their commitment to extending the life cycle of the objects that they owned. Both of my grannies knitted, and seemed to have an intuitive understanding of materials, and an appreciation of where they came from, never taking anything for granted. Being surrounded by nature also encouraged us all to look at the environment, and what we could do to protect it.

I’m also inspired by the early learning theories of Froebel and Montessori, and their ideas on how we can nurture independent, creative thinkers for the future. It’s incredible that their ideas were developed in the 1800s, but are still relevant for the modern world, no matter how much it has changed. Perhaps my biggest inspiration, however, is my daughter, and witnessing her journey through life.

Convertibles Sewing 1 Almaborealis Ltd Rose & Julien 2019

What inspired the name ‘Almaborealis’?
‘Alma’ derives from the Latin word for soul (and is actually my daughter’s name!), while ‘borealis’ means northern, so the name translates as ‘Northern Soul’ - which seemed fitting for a Finnish-inspired company based in Scotland!

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting their own creative business?
Don’t underestimate how much time it will take to become established. If you’re starting a creative business and need a part-time job when you’re starting out, don’t be scared to get a ‘simple’ job that you can leave at the door, allowing you the head space to work on your business in your own time.

For product-based businesses, it’s important to always have a ‘Plan B’, especially when it comes to suppliers. Try to give yourself the time to research alternative suppliers, so that if one lets you down, you’ve already investigated other options who might be able to help you, should you need them.

Last but not least, remember that there’s no rush! You need to give your business the time that it needs to evolve. It’s like a sourdough: an organic, ever-changing process, and new things will happen all the time, or new ideas emerge.

You can learn more about Almaborealis or purchase their kits on their website here

You can also vote for Almaborealis in the Wearable Design category in this year’s Dezeen Awards here - entries close on the 11th October 2021! 

Prize bundle with Almaborealis learn to stitch kit and The Crafty Kit Company sewing kits

We’re currently running two giveaways with Almaborealis, on both Instagram and Facebook - enter now to be in with a chance of winning a prize bundle containing a Puzzleware kit from Almaborealis, plus our Three Felt Dinos and Three Felt Puppies Sewing Kit!

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