Meet the maker: Liezl from Maya Croft
Liezl Croft from Maya Croft crafts gorgeous hand knits in a perfect palette of pastels with a few autumnal hues thrown into the mix. Her handmade business started with tea pot cosies that sold out as quickly as Liezl could make them, which then caught the eye of an American retailer who spotted the market for that oh-so-British of inventions: a cardigan to keep your tea warm. Combining her skills as a professional photographer with her knitting talent and an eye for colour, she has since honed her brand and expanded her range to include hot water bottle covers, super soft scarves, pom pom-topped bobble hats and most recently zero-waste reusable face scrubbies. Fellow Folksy seller Steven from The Happy Chappo talks to Liezl to find out more…
Get 15% off all knits and gorgeous crochet items by Maya Croft while Liezl is our featured maker with code MCTREATS – Click here to shop Maya Croft on Folksy >
Hello Liezl! What a beautiful store you have! I’m fixated by your autumnal colour palette. The deliciously frosty white backgrounds make me think of Christmas too. Do you do all your own product photography? What does a behind the scenes photoshoot look like at Maya Croft?
Thank you so much, Steven, for your kind words and ditto right back at you! I’ve loved getting to ‘meet’ you via your interview and seeing what you are up to behind the scenes of The Happy Chappo! I do do all of my own product photography in a small corner of my studio. For “studio”, read the master bedroom (yes the biggest room in the house) of our 400-year-old converted barn in a village just outside Evesham in Worcestershire. I am a professional photographer by trade and I help other small business owners, mostly other crafters and handmade businesses, by bringing their makes to life with photographs that reflect the quality of the items.
It all started with a cream tea cosy. It sold so well that as soon as I listed another, it sold out too. That’s how my little handmade business got started.
When it came to choosing the style of photography for my products, I was drawn to the crisp white backgrounds with natural lighting. This I felt suited my products best, and it made me stand out from the thousands of other knitters out there selling tea cosies etc in online shops, but not being able to show them off properly with their images. When it comes to product photos, the customer needs to be able to see it properly, pick out any detailing, and if possible see the item being used. I do occasionally use more styled lifestyle images in my product photos, but mostly I use those sorts of photos on Instagram and my other social media platforms.
How do you go about choosing your colours? Do you stick with them all year round?
I love my colour palette and it’s something I’m always getting compliments about, especially at the craft fairs and Christmas markets that I attend between September and December. The number of people that come up to my stand and say, “I love your colours!! They all just seem to go together so well and you can mix and match the whole lot!” It makes my day, even if they don’t end up buying anything, I know I’ve made them smile.
I’m drawn to more muted tones and mostly pretty pastel colours, although there do seem to be a lot of autumnal colours creeping into my work, especially in my hats, headbands and scarves.
I’m drawn to more muted tones and mostly pretty pastel colours, although as you’ve noticed there do seem to be a lot of autumnal colours creeping into my work, especially in the hats, headbands and scarves categories. I think that might be a subconscious decision because autumn is when you start wearing knits and so, for me, the colours signal the start of feeling warm and cosy. I made a decision a long time ago that I will only work in colours that I actually like myself (and would wear myself). I think this keeps the colour palette of my overall range intact, and ensures that there is never a stray odd colour that creeps in and then looks at odds with the rest.
To me, one of the things that sets you apart from other crafters are those beautiful tea, mug and cafetière cosies. Can you run us through the decision to go from cosy wearables to delightful cosies?
Actually, it happened the other way around! It all started with a cream tea cosy. My mother (and all the rest of my family) lives in South Africa, and I set up an online shop for her to sell her knitwear. To help her earn a bit of extra money, I decided to knit a tea cosy and list it in her shop. It sold so well that as soon as I listed another, it sold out too. Eventually, she persuaded me to open my own shop and start keeping the proceeds of my tea cosy sales to myself, and that’s how my little handmade business got started.
I was approached by a large American retailer based in New York that wanted to stock my tea cosies, and spent two years knitting hundreds of tea cosies that got shipped across the pond.
It grew into more tea cosies, some mug cosies and cafetière cosies, followed by the hot water bottle covers. I was then approached by a large American retailer based in New York that wanted to stock my tea cosies, and spent two years knitting hundreds of tea cosies that got shipped across the pond to be sold over there. I gained another couple of small independent retailers off the back of that relationship, without ever looking for wholesale partnerships. After three years of knitting my fingers to the bone and the tea cosy craze in America dying down slightly, I decided to let that fizzle out and concentrate on selling direct to the public.
Customers at craft fairs always mistook my pom-pom tea cosies for hats and then looked confused when they saw the holes on each side of the head. So two years ago I decided to give in and knitted a few hats and scarves, and they sold like hot cakes.
Customers at craft fairs always mistook my pom-pom tea cosies for hats and then looked confused when they didn’t see why the ‘hat’ that they picked up seemed to have a hole on each side of the head. When I told them that it was in fact a tea cosy, they would ask, “Well do you have any hats?”, which I didn’t. Two years ago I decided to give in and knitted a few hats and scarves for the stand, and they sold like hot cakes. Since then I’ve designed and knitted three different hats, two headbands, and three infinity scarves/cowls. The next big thing I’m planning is selling these pattern as PDFs. Of course the question I keep getting asked now is “Do you do children’s hats?” and the answer is “No, I’ve only got two hands!”
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find my inspiration by giving myself some freedom and time for my mind to wander. This mostly happens in one of three scenarios:
Number one – being surrounded by my wool stash. As is the case with most knitters, I have a pretty impressive collection of materials to work with. Sometimes just having them on display, as I have in my studio, triggers an idea or a thought that stays with me until I explore it further.
Number two – travelling and exploring new places. Whether it’s locally or abroad, as a family we love to travel and my knitting always goes with me. Quite often I’ll start something new with whatever yarn I’ve got with me at the time, and so a new product gets designed and often it turns into a new line. We most frequently travel to our French holiday house in the Limousin region. Life is so peaceful and relaxed there that it’s where I do most of my creative thinking.
Number three – digging and planting things in soil. I am at my most peaceful when I’m pottering about at my allotment, whether that’s sewing seeds in the greenhouse, digging out weeds or harvesting vegetables and cut flowers. I’m alone with my thoughts, surrounded by bird song and I absolutely love it!
The whole sustainability/reducing our carbon footprint dilemma led me to create my reusable Face Scrubbies which I launched last week
Is there anything in particular inspiring you right now?
The thing that’s on my mind most at the moment is the whole sustainability/reducing our carbon footprint dilemma. This has led me to create the Face Scrubbies that I officially launched in my Folksy shop last week. It’s an easy swap to cut out plastic, in the form of face wipes, and reduce the amount of stuff we put in the bin, in the form of cotton wool pads. I have more items along these lines in the making at the moment, so watch this space.
I love cabling, the process of figuring out how to create a new shape or texture in cable form and the endless possibilities it provides.
Your cabling is lovely! That’s got to be hard on circulars, right? What decisions did you go through to end up focusing on cabled patterns?
Thank you. I love cabling, the process of figuring out how to create a new shape or texture in cable form and the endless possibilities it provides. I often come across people at craft markets looking intently at my items and can see they are counting the stitches so they can try it at home. And that’s ok, as I know that they’ll quite often walk away and never get round to making that mug cosy, finish that scarf or make those 20 pom pom decorations for their Christmas tree, because life will get in the way. But with cabled designs, most people look at them and think ‘Wow, I can’t do that’, and it’s as if the item has more value.
Also, I love designing with cables. For my new Amelia headband design (which will be in my Folksy shop soon), it was fun figuring out how to make a heart using cables. I’d been playing with the design for about six months, trying various ways to get it just right, and finally after knitting and frogging (that’s the term for unravelling) the headband a million times, it finally worked.
I’m sure if you woke me up in the middle of the night, in the dark, gave me some wool and two knitting needles, I’d be able to knock out a cable tea cosy without any problems.
Snog Marry Avoid? Tea cosy, hat or hot water bottle?
Snog is definitely my cable tea cosy, just because I’ve been doing that one right from the start, and I don’t even need to think about it anymore! I’m sure if you woke me up in the middle of the night, in the dark, gave me some wool and two knitting needles, I’d be able to knock out one of those without any problems.
Marry is my Alyssa hat pattern. I was the first pattern that I designed myself and felt confident enough to claim it as a Maya Croft Design worth selling to other knitters. I’m pattern testing it at the moment and then it will be available to buy. It’s named it after my daughter and she is very chuffed with that!
My hot water bottle cover takes so long to make (about 6 hours) and most people then raise their eyebrows at the price once it’s finished. It’s mostly because people don’t appreciate how much work goes into something like this and maybe a bit of the “I can buy it cheaper in Primani” attitude.
Avoid has to be the hot water bottle cover, only for the reason that it takes so long to make (about 6 hours) and most people then raise their eyebrows at the price once it’s finished. It’s mostly because people don’t appreciate how much work goes into something like this and maybe a bit of the “I can buy it cheaper in Primani” attitude. But I think we all face this as creatives and it makes it even more special when you do get that little ping from your email telling you you’ve sold one, and somebody saw the value of what you’ve made. Insert little Happy Dance Jig!
If you caught your family member using another hot water bottle cover that wasn’t yours, would that be a betrayal?
Yes, Yes and Yes!! Especially if it came from Primani ;-) On the flip side, did you know that hot water bottles are definitely making a comeback. Maybe it’s because of the emphasis on reducing our energy use and emissions, but people, old and young, are buying hot water bottle covers. I’ve also had a couple of large orders for hot water bottle covers from posh ski lodges in Colorado and Austria and a very nice tree house at Chewton Glen Hotel. So if even the hotels are starting to offer them, then they must be cool again right?
I’ve had a couple of large orders for hot water bottle covers from posh ski lodges in Colorado and Austria and a very nice tree house at Chewton Glen Hotel. So if the hotels are starting to offer them, then they must be cool again right?
So where did the name Maya Croft come from? And do people often confuse that as your name?
Yes people often call me Maya, but I suppose it is an easy mistake to make! The name Maya has always been in my business name in some form or another, but when I did my FINAL rebrand about two years ago, it changed to Maya Croft. It started back when I was pregnant with my youngest child in 2008. My favourite name for if this was a girl bump was Maya and I was desperate to use it. It turned out to be a boy bump and we called him Ryan, but Maya stayed with me. I found myself still yearning to use the name, but didn’t want to waste it on a dog or a cat ;-) so when I started my knitting empire in 2012, Maya was born! Soppy, I know!
It sounds like you’ve got your kids crafting from an early age. Great move! I notice Mr. Croft hasn’t picked up the needles yet! Shall we get a petition going?
My kids both loved learning to knit. Last year they joined their school’s Business Club where they were given £5 to invest in buying or making products which they could sell every Friday to other pupils. They ended up making pom pom key rings and at the end of the year they returned £85 in profit. They won the best business prize and were rewarded with a day out at Cotswold Wildlife Park to see how it’s run. Not bad for a 13 and 11 year old!
I learned to knit when I was about five or six, from my mother, who always had a crafty way of making a bit of money on the side.
I learned to knit when I was about five or six, from my mother, who always had a crafty way of making a bit of money on the side. I then learned to make my own clothes (and scrunchies!) as a teenager, mistook that as a calling and briefly studied fashion design in Cape Town. After realising it wasn’t the right career choice for me, I changed direction to a more corporate environment and stuck at that for a while until I missed being creative and went back to the other side to train as a photographer. I’ve since embraced most other craft disciplines like crochet, quilt making, painting, throwing pottery on a wheel and recently silver smithing. I love all of it, I just don’t have enough hours in the day! As far as Mister Croft goes, I give up. He’s not interested in anything crafty at all! The most I’ve managed to get him to do is make a handful of pom poms when I was working to a deadline.
I’m dipping my toes back in the water in the wholesale game, but I’m determined not to let it get out of hand like last time, by only working with smaller independent retailers and only committing to order sizes I can handle by myself.
Thanks for your time Liezl, I really appreciate it. What’s next from Maya Croft?
It was great to tell you more about me – and sorry if I waffled on for too long! What’s next? Well, I’m dipping my toes back in the water in the wholesale game, but I’m determined not to let it get out of hand like last time, by only working with smaller independent retailers and only committing to order sizes I can handle by myself. Although, I have my Face Scrubbies stocked in two shops and in a beauty salon at the moment, and I can’t seem to stay ahead of the orders. It’s a nice problem to have, though!
Get 15% off all knits and gorgeous crochet items by Maya Croft while Liezl is our featured maker. Just use code MCTREATS when you check out.
Meet the interviewer
The person asking the questions this week is Steven from The Happy Chappo. Find him on Folksy here https://folksy.com/shops/thehappychappo and read our meet the maker interview with Steven here https://blog.folksy.com/2019/10/16/happy-chappo