Hi there! First things first: What’s your name, what’s your business name, where are you from, and where are you currently located/crafting?
Hi! My name is Eliza Jane Curtis and my business is called Morris & Essex. I’m from Maine, and after many years away (mostly in New York and Buenos Aires), I recently returned to rural Maine, where I live and work in an old farmhouse.
How did you get your start? Please tell us a little bit about how your business went from an idea to what is is today.
My first handmade t-shirt designs were experiments in the printmaking studio at Parsons School of Design, at least ten years ago. I built myself a silkscreen studio in the basement of my old Brooklyn apartment, and started selling t-shirts at a handful of boutiques around New York, set up an Etsy shop, and gradually spent more and more happy hours printing and playing with paper, fabric and ink.
In 2006 I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I found working in a new environment both an inspiration and a challenge. The city is intense with creative energy, colors, history, art and design. I had to learn where to find printmaking supplies (and how to ask for everything in a new language), and some of my favorite supplies just weren’t available in Argentina. Instead of cotton t-shirts, I began printing on beautiful art papers. I took a break from textiles and focused on greeting cards for a few years, mainly using a Japanese Gocco printer.
In 2010, my partner Mike and I moved back to Maine, into a huge old farmhouse and we built a new silkscreen studio in a big sunny space above the kitchen. I started working with a local letterpress printer for my greeting cards and stationery, and returned to screenprinting on fabric and t-shirts again. Rural Maine is where I grew up, so it’s a return to the familiar setting where I first began exploring nature and drawing and playing with ink and paint and cloth and paper.
What inspires you the most to create?
Looking through old design books and magazines. I have a modest collection of old stuff inherited from my grandmother, from the early 1900’s through the 80’s. Arts and crafts textbooks, art, design and textile books, random magazines, lovely old tins and boxes. Whenever I’m looking for inspiration I pull a few old books off the shelf, it always gets me excited to start sketching new ideas.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
Paper, fabric, ink. Magic markers. I absolutely love making hand-carved stamps out of erasers and playing with colored ink pads.
Do you have a favorite color palette?
I am super obsessed with colors, all of them! Violet, teal blue, and gold pop up in a lot of my designs. I think I tend towards a pretty bright palette, but I often like to mix in a bit of grey in the ink, so the colors are a little bit muted. For letterpress printing, I usually keep it simple with bright colors on a white ground. With silkscreen printing I get excited about combining colors that do a bit of a weird pop when they’re combined, like a nutmeg brown with bright blue ink.
Who are some of your favorite indie artist/crafters and why do you love them?
There are so many inspiring and exciting crafters that I’ve run across, it’s basically impossible to choose, so I’ll narrow it down to a few local Maine folks that are doing stuff I really admire: I love Ktaadn for their simple, understated patterns in bright bright colors. Erin Flett does a big range of lovely work, from graphic design to great colorful pillows. Jen from Swallowfield does all kinds of beautiful things with these intricate illustration patterns. Diane from Ferdinand has this great irreverent style and seems to be constantly inventing new and amazing crafty stuff. I want to keep going, there are so many other crafty people doing interesting work in Maine, it’s an amazing environment to be in!
Any exciting future plans or developments in the works for your business? (Nothing TOP-SECRET, of course!)
I’m spending lots of time working on scarves lately, that’s my new obsession that I’ve been playing with over the past year and I still want to keep searching for the perfect combination of fabric and ink to make the best scarves ever. I did some cotton scarves over the summer and now I’m experimenting with merino wool and pima cotton blends, soft and warm for winter.
What are some other things you like to do when you are not busy making awesome stuff?
I’m working on renovating an 1800’s farmhouse with my partner Mike, so that keeps us pretty busy. I’ve been learning about carpentry, plumbing, electricity, the foibles of old wooden houses. I also love hiking in the White Mountains, baking sweets, food in general, especially with good company, thrift shopping and rummage sales, cocktail hour, visiting cities and wandering til my feet are too tired to go on.
What are the top 3 reasons someone shopping at the BBB 2012 should be sure to stop by your table?
Holiday greeting cards, canvas tote bags, warm scarves, lots of bright patterns and colors.
What is your favorite background noise to listen to while working?
I listen to lots and lots of music. My playlists are kind of all-over-the-place. Lately I’ve been listening to Parov Stelar, Robyn, Vanessa Da Mata, Saint Etienne, Thomas Fersen, so many other things. I’ve been obsessed with the new Adele song from Skyfall. I also listen to a lot of fiction on audiobooks while I’m working. Today it’s Michael Chabon, The Final Solution.
Where do you (craft) work?
I have a big studio space upstairs in my house. It’s above the kitchen so I get some heat from the woodstove, and sometimes delicious cooking smells.
What is your favorite mythical beast and what do you think their favorite crafty past time is?
Maybe it’s the Gryphon. I don’t think he does much crafting, but it’s funny to imagine him knitting.