Creating for the love of it, sustainable living and taking it slow are the ingredients of Maria's designs and a way of life that led her from an initial heartbreak on to discovering a passion for knitting in Oxford.
Cassiopeia Knit Designs is the result, a collection of handmade accessories made to help you reduce waste, upcycle and add touches of beauty to your everyday. We're excited to have Maria contributing to our August box - it was a real pleasure to interview her as she revealed the story behind her work.
What does your business offer?
Hand-knit, crochet and zero-waste accessories to colour your life.
How did it begin?
Knitting I learned as a kid from my mother and grandmothers. I didn't really get into it properly though until about 2012. A tragic thing happened in 2011. I was engaged and the wedding date was set. Six weeks before, he decided he didn't want to get married. That was tough but, in hindsight, that was the best that could have happened! My friends and family were so supportive. My mum took me to a four-star hotel in Sicily and life got better with each day.
I joined a knitting group in Oxford called the Oxford Drunken Knitwits. It was set up by an American and attended by a lovely, very diverse group of women. We met and knitted together in bars and pubs, and the group grew into a fun-loving community. It was then that I realised my love for knitting - verging on the obsessive!
There was only so much I could knit for myself and my family, so I secretly opened an Etsy shop in 2014. I work full-time alongside and maybe you could call it a hobby business, but I'm treating it as a real business.
How did the name, Cassiopeia Knit Designs, come about?
I really like the word 'Cassiopeia' - it's a star constellation that looks a bit like a 'W'. There's a book by an Austrian author, Michael Ende (he also wrote The Neverending Story) called Momo. It's about a girl who fights thieves who steal people's time. She has a tortoise friend called Cassiopeia who moves slowly and together they defeat the time thieves. It's a parable about consumerism.
My products are slow. They're made by hand. Since I started, I've been thinking hard about sustainability and consumerism. It's got me looking out for small independents to support rather than chain stores.
What are your values?
Having moved abroad and lived abroad, I am tolerant of most things. 'Live and let live' is my life motto. Holding a grudge is a waste of energy - it's never good to hold onto negative feelings.
Sustainability is a part of my life. Growing up in Germany in the 80s, people were big on recycling. My dad was always scolding us when we left the lights on. The biggest influence of all was my grandmother - I grew up in a three generation household. She lived as sustainable and self-sufficient a life as she possibly could. She had an orchard, a garden and a potato field. Anything we couldn't consume right away would be preserved or frozen. My grandmother would wash and reuse freezer bags. She'd reuse plastic vinegar bottles to freeze all the fruit syrups she made and wouldn't even keep to use-by dates either! Really, she did a lot of the things we know of now as the plastic-free movement. I've taken on a lot of her practices - I learnt by observing her.
What's it like running your own business?
It's a challenge and a huge learning curve! I juggle so many different roles. I'm the maker, marketer, photographer, stylist, salesperson, bookkeeper, accountant and all this alongside a full-time job.
When I started out in Oxford, I had a really busy social life. I managed to keep the business alongside it. I'm an introverted person, but I enjoy being with people. I do need to retreat sometimes though. I'll spend one day a week when I don't see anyone at all - I just concentrate on myself and the business. The best part is the creative process, coming up with ideas and the making.
How do you choose what you make?
I'm not a very strategic person - I ought to be! I tend to go with the flow. An idea just pops into my head and I either do something about it or put it away in a drawer for later. It's funny because I've been thinking about this recently. I'm thinking of focusing in my range on sustainability and developing a set of products around that - items that can help people develop a more sustainable life.
I'm thinking of making custom items and knitwear for people locally too. I want to get more into upcycling! I've had an idea for ages and not done much about it. It's a plan to combine knitted and crocheted elements with fabric. I'll have to get my sewing machine out and overcome some mental blocks about that. It's time to get into technology.
Do you design on paper before you make?
Very often I just start making the products and take notes as I go. With crochet, it's easier to construct as I go and see the outcome. When I upcycle, I see something and think about what I could do. Then I get started.
What's your favourite product?
Definitely the makeup pads! I love them. I've perfected them now so it takes me just seven minutes to make one.
Also my jam jar and coffee cup sleeves which over the past year I discovered so many uses for. You can use them with tins and glass bottles or wrap them around your reusable water bottle. Last Christmas I wrapped a sleeve around an LED pillar candle. My first fox version was so adorable. It's one of my favourites.
What advice would you give to someone looking to live more sustainably?
There are many ways to make a change. Build new practices into your everyday life. It's been Plastic Free July last month and people have offered online challenges to incorporate sustainable alternatives into life. Use a bamboo toothbrush and reusable makeup pads.
You may get enthused and want to make all the changes you can at once, but don't just throw away all your unsustainable items. Use them until they've outlived their purpose, or take them to a charity shop or a recycling centre. Don't get disheartened if you lapse. Write to your MPs, multinationals and small businesses to reduce the plastic they put on the market and stop wasteful practices.
Maria has created samples of one of her favourite products for our August boxes - get yours here. To look through Maria's creations, zero-waste ideas and home accessories, visit Cassiopeia Knit Designs on Etsy or follow Maria on Instagram.