Conversations with Creative Women: Mairi Girgis

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of seeing Mairi in person and catching up on her life. And honestly, I don’t know how she does it. As a busy mother of three small people, there are few other women I know who can fit as much as she does into her day. She is an inspiration to many as she crafts, counsels, trains, encourages and uses her many gifts to equip people locally and globally.

Mairi from The Crafty Camel (left)

What is ‘The Crafty Camel’?

The Crafty Camel is the creative name for a camel loving woman who would love nothing more than to one day run a thriving online business of the same name! 

Do you remember the first craft item you ever made?

Nope… I remember learning to knit in primary school, a picture I made in primary school with “left over” bits my mother framed; making candles in milk cartons at an after school club, my mother keeping crafty pages from magazines that we made as kids, making a hot pink pencil skirt in high school dressmaking club with green paisley godets; and the defining moment in year 10 when I did an etching of a camel and a love affair began!!!  

Where did you grow up and how did family life and your home influence how you “see” the world and ignite this desire to create?

I grew up in a tiny town in Scotland… then moved to inner city Melbourne aged 7!!! Quite a dramatic change! My middle name is Elizabeth after my auntie who died the year I was born. She was a very talented artist and it has always been said that I inherited her artistic genes. I suppose that has influenced me a lot. My mother’s dad was a carpenter and my mother instilled in me a belief that women could do pretty much anything handy they wanted… she certainly demonstrated that! My parents always encouraged me to be who I am… right down to allowing me to choose my own bedroom colour at age 8… primary yellow gloss! I loved that room! 

What are some of the other paid and unpaid positions you have had to juggle your craft around in your life?

I’ve worked in church offices, as a volunteer manager in a retirement village, and as a counsellor… they were great… but I also worked in a patchwork shop and sold and taught scrapbooking! I’ve been a full-time mother for 10 years now and that’s probably been my most challenging creative endeavour yet! Somehow I’ve always managed to weave creativity and craft into my life no matter what!! It keeps me sane… well, sort of! 

For anyone reading your blog, following you on FB or observing you in real life would know that you have an amazing work ethic. How do you balance family life with time to sew, knit and generally inspire others with creative tasks?

Oh boy! Poorly a lot of the time I think! I look at other creative people whose lives seem to be serene and have a little envy! (I confess I have days I want to trade with you Susan… which may make you laugh!) My life is generally pretty chaotic but most people would say I do everything 110%! I get very passionate about what I’m doing as a general rule and I derive energy from that! I’ve learned to accept who I am and always believed that if you do what you love you’ll love what you do! 
I frequently get asked how I manage to get so much done… here are my secrets… 1. I’m a night owl… it’s unusual for me to the hit pillow before midnight! 2. I rarely watch TV but when I do I am doing something with my hands (quite convinced I was born in the wrong era!) 3. I have knitting stashed everywhere! (in the bathroom drawer so I can knit while the kids are in the bath!; in the car; in my handbag; bedside table…!) 4. I have a sewing space set up permanently so I can pop in and do a bit here and there! It’s amazing how much you can get done when you do it regularly! 5. I create for sanity! It’s cheaper than therapy… well… maybe!

Tell me about your studio and work space. How do you keep it well stocked and organised?

Here’s another little secret…! In our family I am the one who buys houses and renovates! That means that I get to choose the creative space! This latest house we have bought finally has what I’ve been aiming for all along… a studio! My house is very colourful… love feature walls! I have my sewing and cutting tables set up permanently… I bought a gorgeous drawer chest a few years ago and it was the best investment I ever made… you do KNOW how much you can fit in drawers!? I like to organise everything in rainbow colours! I have magazines to inspire me categorized by publication or theme. I work with the principal of “a place for everything and everything in it’s place…” Well, that’s how it starts… but when I create it’s chaos! Still, I know at the end of the latest creative spurt everything has a home and it gets pretty again! I love to be surrounded by maximum colour… that’s how I manage to have 6 wall colours in one room! My collection has grown over 25 years and I generally buy on sale… and I only buy what I really love… of course I’m easily distracted… and tempted… 

As an artist do you have other artists that you admire? How have they influenced your work?
I love fresh, clean, bright textiles! I feel that the creative world has finally come into line with what I’ve been doing all along! I love what I love and who cares what other people think!! I love the work of Elizabeth Hartman of Oh, Fransson (patchwork), Julie Herman of Jaybird Quilts (patchwork), Lucy of Attic 24 (crochet), Weelittlestitches on Etsy (quirky cross-stitch), Bothy Threads (cross-stitch), Rosalie Quinland (stitchery),, and I could go on and on and on… I have a ridiculous collection of magazines which I love to trawl through for relaxation! It’s hard to define how they’ve influenced me… I think it’s probably more by osmosis than anything… I know what I like… I hate to be on trend… they’ve probably just confirmed the colour in my head! But just when people think they’ve worked out my style I throw something unexpected into the mix! I gain most inspiration from the Creator God who made a world full of colour, texture and movement… and a rainbow that adds perfection to almost anything!

Do you have a favourite medium to work with?

I will always come back to textiles… fabric and yarn! It makes my heart sing! I’m a total sucker for a beautiful piece of fabric… or a good quality yarn… but I enjoy scrapbooking, woodwork, cross-stitch, embroidery, renovating, folk art… you can see why I’m so manic… I’ll give anything a go… at least once!

What can we expect from The Crafty Camel in the future? How do you envisage your business developing in the next few years?

I’ve come to realise that as a full-time mum my children and family come first… everything else fits around that! I have a lot of ideas for all sorts of designs floating around in my head and I would dearly love to be creating patterns and keeping my blog full of tutorials. My youngest will go to school in a couple of years so I hope you’ll start to see patterns with The Crafty Camel label on them soon!

How do you use your artist talents to support and serve others locally and globally?

One of my absolute favourite and most rewarding things is being able to use my skills to help those in impoverished countries or even those close to home who need a little cheer in their lives! As a teenager I remember making cushions and shortbread for all the folks in our church; as a newly married woman I remember making Christmas presents (appliqued face washers and soap, painted pots with flowers, etc) for the oldies at the local retirement village; more recently I’ve organized Quilts for Thailand which sent 83 quilts to an orphanage and Pads for Africa which sent 100 kits of washable pads to Africa with supplies to make their own (3,000 pads!). Next year we will make clothes for an Aboriginal Community so feel free to get in touch if you’d like to be part of that! I always thought I’d be a missionary in Africa but God has shown me other ways to serve those less fortunate. I believe being able to craft is a privilege and so I enjoy balancing making for pleasure and using my skills to help others. It’s a dream one day to teach women in the 3rd world to sew… I’m so grateful for the opportunity to see the joy that is brought to others in this way. 

If I could deliver anyone at all to your studio who would you most like to sit and sew with over a cup of tea?

You know what… I’ve thought about that… and in truth I just love to sit and chat with whoever happens by… I try to have an open door policy… so should any of you happen down to my part of the world you’re the person I’d love to chat and sew with! Famous people are nice and all but nothing beats the company of a friend.. new or old! 

And finally, what advice would you give someone starting on their journey of art and craft. Where to begin?Try lots of things, get on pinterest and get inspired, join a local craft group… play! 

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