Artist Interviews with the Upcycle Queen of Twitch and Whiskers October 05, 2013 11:00
Huzzah, for Saturday, and forMei-Ling Uliasz founder of Twitch and Wiskers who so graciously agreed be this week’s feature! Mei-Ling makes jewelry from vintage found objects like her thimble necklaces, giving the objects a new second life.
Introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do, and where do you do what what you do? How long have you been doing it for? How did your business get started? Just a brief history.
Hello! My name is Mei-Ling Uliasz and I design upcycled jewelry out of vintage and antique pieces in Danbury, CT. Twitch and Whiskers started almost four years ago. One summer, I took some basic beading classes at a local shop with a friend. The techniques learned in class really inspired me but the traditional beading supplies did not. The big “aha” moment occurred when I went home and applied the jewelry making skills to my personal collection of vintage odds and ends. Suddenly my definition of what jewelry supplies were became limitless. This freed me up to experiment and find my voice as a designer. I took baby steps into the world of craft shows thanks to help from friends who were already in the field and gradually grew Twitch and Whiskers over time.
Where do you find the objects you use to make you upcycled jewelry?
I find my materials at places like flea markets, tag sales, antique shops, auctions, and thrift stores, but the simple answer is really anywhere and everywhere! Some of my favorite objects are the ones passed to me through friends because they often come along with wonderful family stories.
Where do you draw inspiration from when creating the pieces? From the objects themselves?
Vintage and antique items are steeped in nostalgia and fill me with wonder.
A design will come quickly when I have a strong emotional response to an object. A funny slogan on a 1940’s pinback button, the faded numbers on a vintage brass protractor, or a fingerprint left behind on the rouge of an art deco compact connect me in a special way to the original owner. I have the unique chance to give these artifacts a second life with a twist. I love it when customers spot a familiar item in my booth and enthusiastically share their personal stories and experiences that were sparked by my work. The inspiration comes from connections: to the past, to the familiar, and to each other. This may explain why people hold onto tiny objects in junk drawers, purses, on shelves, and cigar boxes - they pack a mighty punch for their small size.
Do you have a sort of process when designing your pieces?
My process in a nutshell is: collect, play, sort, assemble, and repeat. Step one is the most important. When I source materials, I force myself to design on the spot because I could easily take home everything that catches my eye. If I cannot picture an item as a completed piece of jewelry, I leave it behind. This helps me to stay focused, organized, and off of Hoarders! I keep all of my supplies in labeled boxes in a large bookcase in the living room. I use vintage cafeteria trays and folding tables as portable work spaces around my apartment. When I have a big chunk of time, I pull supplies, and design a bunch of jewelry all at once, laying them out in the trays. That way, I can assemble a single necklace when I have a snippet of time in the morning or do a whole batch at once when I have more time on the weekend.
Your Etsy page says you're an elementary school teacher too! So, what's your favorite subject? Does your profession have any impact on your handmade business?
Yes, I’m a second grade teacher. I’ve been teaching in public schools for 14 years and love it! I always say I have the best of both worlds because I get to pursue two things I’m incredibly passionate about. My favorite subject has always been art and I try to find ways to incorporate creativity into every part of the curriculum. I’ve learned to delicately balance my two jobs and have discovered that both jobs actually feed one another. Being surrounded by vibrant seven and eight year olds sparks my imagination and in turn I get to share my creative life with my students.
What do you do in your free time, be there any given to you? Any strange hobbies? Movies you watch over and over again that you know all the lines to? Places you enjoy haunting? Board games you always win?
I love thrifting, going to flea markets, and tag sales. In addition to looking for jewelry making supplies, I am always on the lookout for vintage clothing and old plastic costume jewelry for myself. My current obsessions are Lea Stein jewelry, figural Bakelite brooches, and Vested Gentress dresses. My husband and I love going on hikes, visiting museums, and taking in a show or live music whenever the chance pops up. On the weekends we will veg out and watch movies of every genre imaginable. I’m always up for a Busby Berkeley film filled with kaleidoscopic choreography, an old horror flick, or good documentary. I dedicate a good chunk of time to blogging about craft shows and other artists (twitchandwhiskers.blogspot.com). I have met so many interesting and talented people over the past few years, and I love sharing their stories.
Slightly random question: Is there a song your students listen to that you kind of actually like, and will sometimes find yourself singing somewhat to your embarrassment? Or maybe you shamelessly like their music.
Ha, ha! I generally steer clear of the top 40 tunes that many of my students like. Last year, I dug my heels in and refused to sing or dance to Gangnam Style or any of the One Direction songs but had fun watching my kids do it! One song we can all agree on is Celebration by Kool and the Gang. I love playing it over the classroom speakers after my kids share their best work and dancing with them. If only we were allowed to hang a disco ball from the ceiling…
Thanks so much to Mei-Ling! Check back next week for another artist interview.