Spotlight: Tina O’Rourke, Designer, Crafter and Seamstress

Rosie the Rabbit

Spotlight: Tina O’Rourke, Designer, Crafter and Seamstress

When you enter the world of Tina O’Rourke, be prepared to meet unique fiber characters with stories to tell. Upcycling since she was a young girl, Tina not only creates charming soft dolls and animals, she shares how she does it so you can play, too!

Tina O'Rourke portrait

How did you find yourself on a creative path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?

I’ve always been creative. As a kid I was always doodling, making, sewing dolls or coming up with stories. I originally trained as a makeup artist, focusing on theatre makeup, then moved from there into costume design and making. I did that for just over ten years before retraining as an interior designer and colour consultant, and then went on to work in the interiors industry for a number of years before shifting focus again onto sewing and pattern design. 

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What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?

I love creating stories and characters. This element has run consistently through my work, whether in theatre as a director, as a writer or as a designer working in textiles. 

Sewing Animal Dolls book cover

What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, Sewing Animal Dolls?

Enjoy creating the characters, then make them your own, choose your favourite colours, mix and match the designs. I designed the book to dip in and out of; each animal doll section is a complete how-to from beginning to end. 

What inspired you to use reclaimed textiles in your designs? Where do you source your materials?

I suppose I always used reclaimed textiles, even as a child. I always cut up old clothes from my mum and made dolls and patchwork cushions and quilts. At age 12, I made my first competition patchwork cushion completely from old clothes laying about the house and filled it with the cut up fabric scraps. 

I began using reclaimed textiles in my designs more seriously around 2008. I worked in the interiors industry, so really good quality curtain and upholstery material surrounded me. It was being disposed of for a variety of reasons, sample books going out of date, small quantities only available of the materials, so I started saving the materials, bringing them home and making them into bags, crazy softie style cushions, – literally anything I could think of in fabric I would make. When I made so much I had nowhere to put it, I started to give it away, and after that we started to travel to craft markets all over Ireland, selling my creations.

In 2009 I set up, then ran a series of craft and recycling workshops and projects from 2010 for five years. 

That then led me on to establish With Miss Daisy Patterns I wanted to focus on smaller projects and create a platform to deliver all of the sewing patterns I had created for the workshops in a digital format, for the wider crafting community to have access. As that grew I developed more patterns and also set up a YouTube Channel.

Daisy Dog and Mimi

If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your work, what would they say?

I found it hard to answer this one so I asked my friend Misja; we’ve known each other since we were kids, so if anyone can describe my work she can;

‘I would say your work is creative, versatile and innovative and that everything you make and do is to an extremely professional standard. It also has humour, always tells a story, be that about a character you made up or e.g. an ecological theme’.

Ben and Betty Bear

Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?

I do both. Initially I dive in and play with the fabrics, or the paint, paper, clay, then I stop and do a lot of thinking. Some projects may be in the back of my head for years. I usually construct the pattern design and layout in pieces in my head, then I draft it in Illustrator, print and make samples before tweaking the pattern to create the final pdf patterns.

Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?

Yes. I have a small studio at the end of the garden. It is approximately 10ft by 10ft, so it is small. I have a wood-burning stove for heat and all my storage and table space is made from reclaimed wood. I particularly like pallet furniture and have two portable pallet tables and one fixed table running along a complete wall. For storage I have wine boxes attached to the wall. I have painted everything white, so it’s a neutral background colour.

Rosie the Rabbit

What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?

In my case it would have to be organise, organise and organise. When I make, I am very messy, but it is all part of the process, so when I am finished I always reorganise before I start a new project. 

Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?

I primarily use my Macbook and iPhone for notes, design, filing, photography. I use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign almost daily. 

Textile Mushroom

What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?

Silence mostly, but if I am sewing I’m usually listening to one of my hubby’s playlists on Spotify. 

Do your animal creations have stories to tell?

Yes, in general I start with a story and the character, moving on to designing the patterns. I love the art of storytelling, and combining it with doll making adds an extra dimension to the whole process.

Gnome sewing pattern

What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?

I would have to go right back to being 12 and the patchwork cushion. As a child I was always sick and would miss days from school. But the two things I would always do when sick were reading and making things from whatever was to hand. 

Our teacher at the time had put some of the students forward for a local patchwork completion, but I was not allowed to enter as I had missed days. On the day before the competition deadline, I was in school and sent to finish off one of the student’s cushions so she could enter it. 

Even at 12, I felt this was definitely unfair, so after school I went home, asked mum for some old clothes and disappeared to my bedroom. By midnight I finished a hand-sewn patchwork cushion ready to enter to the competition. The following morning I walked into town with my mum, knocked on the door, filled in the entry form and submitted my cushion.

Days later the teacher had to announce in class that I had won the competition in my age group.

My takeaway has always been believe in yourself. You know what you are capable of, so don’t let anyone tell you what you what you can and can’t do with regard to your creativity.

Apple Pincushion Pattern

Are there any other creative channels you use to express your creativity? 

I spend a lot of time writing, I also work as a web designer.

Tina O'Rourke Quote

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on a new rag doll called Martha, who loves to upcycle and make her own clothes, also a series of short mindfulness books with my husband, who is a NLP practitioner and a Mindfulness coach. The books combine mindfulness with pets, creativity and crafting.

Follow Tina:

Interview with Tina O’Rourke posted May 2020

Browse through all of the sewing projects on Create Whimsy.

Check out these tutorials on Tina’s site:

Cloud baby toy doll by Tina O'Rourke
Snuggle Bunny Stuffed Toy by Tina O'Rourke
Sock Lion by Tina O'Rourke
Twilight Bear pattern by Tina O'Rourke
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