The path of life is rarely a straight one. In my own case, I’ve had several curves in my career path and I’m still not even sure where it will lead. I recently caught up with Fiona Dyer – a friend from University days – and found out how her path has wound it’s way to her current place in life. The place she calls her ‘happy place’.
Perched high on a hill overlooking city and surf is the mid-century modern home of Interior Designer turned soft toy maker Fiona Dyer and her family. Built in 1957, it has many of the iconic features of a home of that era: crazy slate flooring, a gorgeous brick and marble fireplace and geometric inspired built-in cupboards alongside. The real gem of this house, however, is what’s underneath; a double garage that Fiona and husband Dean have turned into a second family living space – complete with polished concrete floors – and the room that Fiona lovingly refers to as her ‘happy place’ … a studio and sewing space, filled with light, colourful fabrics and a really cool bakelite wireless.
Fiona graduated from the University of South Australia with a Bachelor of Interior Design in 1993 in a period of time in Adelaide where jobs in the building industry were scarce. She and (now husband) Dean decided to pack up and see the world. “We bought a [VW] combi and travelled through the [United] States and Europe [and] ended up in London where I got a job working in the soft furnishings department in Harrods,” Fiona says. “It was really awesome because I worked with all the high end fabric designers and we’d get people coming out from Russia … who wanted to choose all the fabrics for their whole house. Harrods had an in-house design service who would make it all. So I’d get to walk around the store with them and pick out all the fabrics for curtains, bedspreads, upholstery … with no budget!”
It was while she was working at Harrods, that Fiona’s love affair with fabrics began. “I collected lots of samples”, she says, “I brought a huge bag of fabric samples back home to Australia with me.” That stash of fabrics would eventually lead her to Fede.
On her return to Australia Fiona took on design positions with Complete Kitchens and local Adelaide firm Cheesman Architects. She and Dean then moved to Melbourne where Fiona landed an interior design role with prominent architectural firm Peddle Thorpe. Here she was involved with designing retail fit-outs with Centro, the retail fit-out of the new Collingwood Football Club and a two week stint in the Peddle Thorpe China office working on a design ‘competition’ submission for a new hotel complex. “That [experience] was amazing. The first week I was there with my boss, the second week I was there on my own … no-one spoke english … so it was all very visual; I was sketching and coming up with design concepts and then their tech guys were on the computer doing 3D views. They wanted a ‘western’ idea to put in for the project, so that’s where I came in.”
It was while Fiona was on maternity leave that Fede began. “My mum bought a new sewing machine and came over to visit me [in Melbourne]; she’d had her old machine serviced and gave it to me. It’s an old 1960s Bernina and it was the first machine she’d ever owned,” Fiona says. “I hadn’t sewn since I was a kid”. Fiona’s grandma taught her how to sew and she has fond memories of spending time with her Nanna, making dolls clothes at the age of 10 or 11 and learning all the ‘fancy stitches’. So she thought she’d have a go and see what she could do …
The first toy Fiona created was a hammer. “Someone bought our son a plastic hammer … which he loved. One day it broke and he was really upset. So I thought I’d make him one. I got my scraps out and I made this little toy hammer,” Fiona says. The hammer was a hit [no pun intended] with Fiona’s son and also the other mothers at the mother’s group! “So I started making them for friends, and it kind of snowballed.”
In 2007 a friend suggested that they join this online shop called ‘Etsy’. “I started with just plush hammers, then [I added] spanners … then I would get custom requests. Someone asked me to make an axe for a little boy who’s dad was a fireman, then I got a request for a golf club … then the range started expanding. It was still pretty much a hobby then.”
A few months after relocating to Adelaide, Fiona was contacted by the administrators of Etsy who asked to feature her on the home page of the site. “At that stage there were very few Australian makers on Etsy so I knew I was going to be marketed mostly to a US audience. I went into panic mode … I stayed up sewing all night, every night, because I was worried that I didn’t have enough stock in my ‘shop’. I got worried thinking that if I was on the homepage of Etsy I was going to make thousands of sales and wouldn’t have stock to fulfil them.” Fiona worked herself sick – but she made lots sales and her shop got really big. “But it was getting out of control. I was running it myself and I couldn’t keep up. I had to decide what to do. So I decided to pare it down, keep it small. My kids were little and it wasn’t going to be enjoyable anymore if I had to keep working as hard as I was,” she says. “Sewing was my sanity. I felt like I had ‘lost’ the creative side of me when I became a mum-at-home. So I came to the realisation that it was my happy place and when I tried to make too big, it was no longer my happy place.”
“I’ve dabbled in markets, and I’ve done a little bit of wholesaling, but I don’t make products en masse, so it’s just not right for me,” Fiona says. “I’ve been trying to find my place in the market and for now I’m focussing on online retail … I can do it in my own time and at my own pace” she says.
You’ll find Fiona regularly posting on Instagram and her Facebook following is growing. There she shares her cute creations lovingly crafted from her stash of gorgeous fabrics along with the source of inspiration: her family, children and the home they share.
Whatever the path the Fiona takes, I know it will be colourful, eclectic and creative.