T.E.S.T. Interview: FlockofTeaCosy
We hope to introduce you to all the great etsy sellers to be found right here in Toronto. Here at the T.E.S.T. blog, we plan to interview them all. This is the 67th in our series and is with Michaelle McLean of FlockofTeaCosy.
It sounds like your business began almost by accident, when you made a tea cosy for yourself, and then for friends. Had you ever had a business before, or did you ever intend to? Is it your full time job?
You’re right it was an accident. I’ve worked freelance most of my career but not making things nor in retail. There is art college in my training though (OCAD, Banff School of Fine Arts), and I've always made things. When I discovered this beautiful, brilliantly coloured, crisply made wool felt it was at a time when I had some time on my hands. I can’t remember how I discovered Etsy but it just seemed a no brainer to give it a fling. Although tea cosies are very traditional my designs are not, so they’re not for everyone. But being available to an international audience via Etsy made it so much easier to finding those fellow modern-aesthetic tea drinkers. It is not a full-time endeavour for me but one that I enjoy immensely. It gives me a great creative outlet. I sometimes wrestle with making more of a commitment to it as a business, but then I get sidetracked!
I know that felt is such a wonderful material for so many things - how did you discover and begin working with it?
I’m a regular user of a tea cosy and have lots of great memories of sharing a house during college with girlfriends where there was always a pot of tea on the table, and a tea cosy on top of it. But in recent years I just couldn’t find a tea cosy that I liked and that I thought looked modern and smart on my table. Being a sewer and a maker I knew I’d have to build one myself. I first came across some thick, fluffy felt made for ironing boards. It was floppy so needed to be covered in another fabric. It did the job but wasn’t that interesting to my eye. Then I was in MacFab (a fabric store in Toronto) one day and they had a few yards of 3mm French-made wool felt – bingo! I was in love. Felt, as you know, is an ancient fabric and its density makes it brilliant at insulation. Keeping something warm like a teapot was a natural for it. I love that highly functional aspect of it, and keeping the tea cosy design very simple – but elegant -- was important. There’s an industrial-chic aspect to it that I find very appealing.
You have built and named your business around one specific product. Have you ever been tempted to expand into different products?
Again, by accident really. Because the wool felt is so dear, I keep practically every little scrap (waste not, want not) figuring something would emerge in my little brain that would be perfect for them. Because I’m drawn to the functional quality of this felt – its density makes it brilliant at insulation – I am drawn to create things from it that exploit that quality. This year I started puzzling the pieces together into trivets and table runners which I’m having fun with – although the tiny pieces and tiny cuttings do create a lot of tiny fuzz which gets up my nose. I also run some tiny pieces into long rows to make holiday garlands for the tree which has absolutely nothing to do with its insulating quality but looks pretty.
I know that felt fabric can be quite difficult (and expensive!) to source. Did you have trouble finding just the right stuff for your cosies, or did you stick with that first French stuff that you found at MacFAb?
MacFab didn’t continue to carry it I assume because there wasn’t much call for it, and it is dauntingly expensive. Although there are no longer any fine decorative wool felt makers in Canada (that I can find) there are still a few in the USA but the best is really in Europe. The internet is helpful for tracking down things and that’s how I found the stuff I use now.
You are a certified tea sommelier. As a fellow tea lover, that sounds amazing! Exactly what does it entail? I recently heard of someone travelling to India in pursuit of a specific tea - have you ever travelled for tea? And do you have a favorite tea?
Let’s hear it for tea! I’ve always enjoyed tea and noticed that George Brown College had a series of Tea Sommelier night courses as part of their Culinary Arts program. At the end there’s an exam presented by GB and The Tea Association of Canada and so I have a Tea Sommelier Certificate. I took it for pleasure not business and have been thrilled with the world of flavour and variety it’s opened up for me. And yes, last year I went on a tea tour to China with four fellow-tea lovers led by a fellow who owns a tea store here in Toronto – a very, very special trip.
My favourite tea? Ha, all of them. (Although I must admit that the charms of white tea rather elude me). I was raised on black tea and was thrilled to discover the Yunnan Golds and various black teas called Golden Monkey from China which feature lots of teeny golden leaf buds which impart warm caramel notes to the tea. Yum. I was hooked on Japanese Gyokuro green tea for a while which I was getting at a local Japanese grocery store. It has a distinctive silky mouthfeel and a sweet marine flavour. I was just given some Taiwanese oolong which is pretty divine too and a perfect afternoon tea. Okay, I’ll stop now!
You mentioned the international aspect of selling on Etsy - what's the most exciting (for you) place that you've sent one of your cosies?
The first cosy to anywhere is pretty exciting really, but it is fun to think of these little cosies making their way to teapots all the way across the seas in Australia, the UK, the Netherlands, etc.
Check out the other items available from Michaelle in her etsy shop. You can also follow FlockofTeaCosy on Twitter and Pinterest, and see more of the flock on her own website.
Michaelle was interviewed by Julie Sinden of JulieSindenHandmade, November 11, 2014.