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Designer Edge: Merrin Shaw

Merrin Shaw’s tea cosies are about so much more than keeping a teapot warm. They’re an invitation for storytelling and a laugh. She lovingly refers to them as her “beanies for kettles” and says they are full to the brim of personality and charm.

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But they’re not everyone’s cup of tea… some of her designs have been called crazy. But Merrin takes that as a compliment. Her philosophy is that the more experimental, the better. “Over the years I have noticed that even my wackiest piece finds its person who just gets it,” says Merrin. “Delighted new owner – job done.” There is one exception to this. “The very first tea cosy I sold was bought as a revenge gift for a mother-in-law’s ugly gifts. That still bothers me.”

Her wild and woolly ideas develop in her workroom, where there’s a large ‘inspiration pile’ of yarns and lots of clicking and clacking as Merrin whips up her latest creation. When her knitting needles are allowed a rest, she sticks them in her hair where they resemble antennas. “I usually forget they are there until I catch them on something,” she laughs.

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Her designs usually begin with a colour palette. “Once colours have been chosen I decide on the size and somehow, during the process, a shape and design evolves.” Remarkably, Merrin doesn’t work from a set pattern, preferring to let her imagination guide her, which results in unique and surprising designs. “I’ve always found patterns confusing, so I am most comfortable making patterns up as I go,” she reveals. “I always advise throwing out other people’s ideas and ‘growing’ your own.” Be inspired by others, but interpret their ideas in your own way, is Merrin’s advice.

It’s the final embellishing of a piece that really transforms her designs. “Adding ‘bits’ to bring a piece to life is where I have asked myself the ‘dare I?’ question. The answer is always, ‘why not?’”. Her brave approach leads to fun and colourful creations. Along with wool, Merrin uses all sorts of materials – including acrylic and cotton yarn, shredded t-shirt fabric, hessian and old jumper sleeves. She embellishes her cosies with flowers, gumnuts, pompoms and wire-shaped characters. “It’s also fun to zhuzh up an old tea cosy with some new embellishments,” she says.

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Over the last 14 years, Merrin has been making crazy tea cosies. She learnt her knitting skills from her older sister. “I come from a very large family and although my mother was a superb knitter, she never had the time to pass on her skills,” she explains. Merrin has used these talents to develop her own style and has started her own business. She sells her cosies under the business name Alkame Arts at her market stall, where they grab the attention of shoppers and vendors. “Other stallholders come to see the ‘new one’ for the week, sometimes backing away saying, ‘Oh! You’ve had that kind of week, have you?’. There is always laughter and lots of discussion about the ‘meaning’ of the design.”

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The playful and nostalgic nature of her cosies is all part of their appeal. “I love creating tea cosies because I can shape and form designs, and something beautiful, or at least something fun, appears, which almost always brings a smile and an opportunity for shared conversations and memories, usually about granny’s tea cosies.” The only warning her cosies come with is – don’t take them seriously!

You can see more of Merrin’s fabulous cosies at her stall at the Cotton Tree markets on the Sunshine Coast. Or you can get in touch with Merrin directly on 0457 579 713 or email merrinshaw@gmail.com

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