mother + maker : sarah from oh mabel

One should never underestimate the pure contentment that comes with lovely linen.

Oh Mabel had me with its very first magazine advertisement; a whimsical bed draped with organic linen, perched in the middle of a field. That was five years ago and since then I’ve dressed my own bed in delicate florals, grateful for beautiful linen even if it’s not always associated with sound sleep.

Sarah from Oh Mabel is a mother and a maker. She lives in the heart of Namadgi National Park with her husband and their young daughter, Joss. Home is a rambling, old cottage steeped in history, decorated with family portraits and collected ephemera. Sarah’s childhood and the Australian landscape inspire each piece she creates – the current collection is distinctly nostalgic, imbued with rustic charm. Sarah is offering a 20% discount on her current range – just enter the code SIMPLICITY at checkout.

I asked Sarah a few questions about motherhood, her creative process and what simplicity means to her and her answers are wonderfully honest and profound. I found much joy and perspective in her words; I hope you do, too.

PS: Why linen?

Sarah: I have always loved bed linen.  Wherever I have lived, be it in rentals, shared living, hostels, spare bedrooms, bed linen has been the one thing I have control over and make my own.  It is where you spend so many hours of your life and it is truly a simply pleasure.

When I was looking at starting Oh Mabel I realised that so many of my own happy memories of childhood and family were triggered by a pattern or texture, often stemming from a bedroom, especially at my Nanna’s house.  I was thinking of the connection between a patterned pillowcase or a woolly throw blanket and my memories and realised that I wasn’t having a similar connection to anything within my home at the time.

And so in creating Oh Mabel, I really draw on my memories and hope to build a connection for people so that they too can connect to their own nostalgia and happy memories or look to create new memories within their homes and families.

Working with organic cotton and natural fibres such as linen was never something I thought about.  If I was going to bring another product into a world already filled with everything we could possibly need then it had to be produced without causing any ill effect to either producers or my customers. Certified organic cotton has so many benefits and I hope to make it an easy and obvious choice rather than a luxury.

PS: What makes your house a home?

Sarah: Stories. Every space in our home tells a story.  Even the weetbix on the floor that becomes like 100 year old cement (I tell myself).  The items that we choose represent our values and our stories.  It is all mixed.  There are art works we’ve splurged on because our eyes lit up when we saw it and we glanced at each both thinking ‘this is so us’.  There are three rocking horses all through the house and Joss has a different noise for each of them.  There are dried leaves and nuts in random piles on bench spaces and mantles, telling the stories of holidays and walks.  We have framed feathers we find and Joss’ first artwork.  Furniture has been collected over the years from other families looking to downsize.  Op shop finds sit next to treasured new items we hope will one day become our children’s. Our dining table tells a story of many family conversations and is the cutting floor for Oh Mabel pillowcases. Nothing particularly matches and it’s never completely styled but it is us.

A home is your story. Our home is very much our story right now.

PS: How does the landscape inspire your creations?

Sarah: It is the openness and all the space that is my biggest inspiration.  It allows me to get away from all the clutter that can weigh me down and gives me the space to create.  We are also lucky to have a very special aboriginal artwork site near us which I try to visit when I can.  When I feel a bit of the creative block coming on I will visit the ancient artwork and find inspiration in feel insignificant!  All that is creative has been done many many times before.  I am just one small, small, small part of the creative world just as the art rock on the work before me.  It all comes and goes.

PS: Can you talk me through your creative process – from the moment an idea sprouts to the completion of the product…

Sarah: The reason I don’t produce consistent new ranges each year is because I find the creative process to use up so much of my emotional energy!  I find if I can use it sparingly it actually allows me to soak in inspiration around me and when I am ready I can create again.

I usually start with drawing on memories from my childhood.  It can often be a pattern or a texture that has existed before, such as my Cowper Street quilt, or a nostalgic memory of a relatives fondness for her rose garden, which produces itself in Annie’s Fields pillowcases.

I can sit on a design for nearly 6 months before I am comfortable in turning the design into a reality. I go through a roundabout of indecision and self reflection with every single design.  Clearly this is something to work on and not a highly sought after attribute in a designer! Luckily I work for myself!

In the past 4 years I have been able to safely give my designs to my team in India to turn them into beautiful organic cotton sheets and quilts however that process has gone astray recently due to changes within the team in India.  I am currently in the process of building a new relationship with a new team of makers and I am excited about the new possibilities.  It is a lot of work building this sort of relationship, especially if you want to work with a team with similar values so I hope that the work I put in now develops into a long term partnership.  I believe in improving the work standards in global manufacturing and I hope that my standards make at least a little difference.

In the meantime though, I have drawn myself into the great world of handmade textiles! Oh what a ride! I now appreciate the work that goes into so much of what I have in my life and what I buy.  Do you know how many steps go into making a pillowcase?  Many! And I thoroughly enjoy working with my hands.  I’ll often think about where a pillowcase that I’m working on might end up.

So through the design and then either project managing manufacturing or making with my two hands, it has all certainly been an exciting ride.  I’ve had customers with me from my very first month in business and I am truly grateful. I really hope Oh Mabel provides a connection for people and is the back drop for their memories and a trigger for nostalgia in years to come.

PS: How do you juggle motherhood and small business?

Sarah: Ah. Yes. The juggle! I’m not sure if I have ever mastered the juggle or if I ever will.  I hope that what I do will one day be an inspiration to my daughter and that she will understand that Mum sometimes left her to her own devices with a tub of play dough and the entire tupperware collection.

I think I have a nice balance at the moment. Joss goes to childcare 2 days a week which she absolutely loves and that gives me an opportunity to focus on me and my business which is what I absolutely love. My husband works 10 days on and 4 days off so on his days off we all switch off and make the most of family time.  The days that it is just Joss and I will often be a big mash up of what ever needs doing or what we feel like doing. Sometimes I might need some extra work time and so out comes the play dough or the odd episode of Playschool.  Other times I’ll chuck it all in and we’ll spend the morning outside picking up leaves. Sometimes it stresses me out and sometimes I am completely calm in going with the flow.

I think it’s all just figuring out what works for you.  But if anyone else has the answer I’m all ears!

PS: What do you do when you feel burnt out?

Sarah: I always go for a walk.  I have my favourite walking tracks, either down to the river or up to the hill behind us and everything that is bothering me often disappears quite quickly.  If I feel myself getting flustered by motherhood or business craziness I will take Joss in a pram and off we go.  I think it’s calming for both of us and helps to put everything in perspective.  It helps me to pull myself back a bit from anxiety or stress knowing that the world is just ticking on regardless.

PS: What does simplicity mean to you?

Sarah: Simplicity, to me, is to be mindful.  Mindful of what really makes you happy and what you love.  Mindful of what you really need and what you don’t.  Mindful of small happy moments.  If you can prioritise these mindful moments, habits, values and clear out everything else you can truly find how simple it is to be happy.

We get bombarded with so many ‘man made’ needs and distractions.  I had no idea the effect that all of these distractions were having on me until we moved out to live in a National Park.  Even though we are not that far from town, we do not have mobile reception, we do not have television reception and therefore removed from all advertising, we don’t have access to fast food, everything must be planned and cooked by us. And by having these restrictions I have noticed how much easier it is to be mindful and thankful of what we do have.

You definitely don’t need to go to the extremes of switching off from the world or even going without. It’s purely a mindset.  Prioritise what is important, of value to you and remove or limit everything else. It’s about choices and being able to make them easily.

PS: What makes you happy?

Sarah: My daughter.  My husband.  My first cup of tea in the morning.  Creating and telling a story through Oh Mabel.  Listening to my customers stories.  Deep breaths outside. A really good comedy or joke.  Laughing.  A really good quality saucepan and fry pan.  My dog and his silly pig nose.  My family.  People making a difference in other peoples lives.

Sleep. Always sleep.

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