This interview was conducted by Michelle Genders and originally posted on the Australian Wandarrah team website.
Let’s get to know Alison Koh from Mettaville. Her shop is a beautifully minimal place to purchase carefully hand crafted journals, note book and cards. She shows us behind the scenes in her studio in New Zealand:
I noticed Alison early on after joining Wandarrah and other online creative groups. She is regularly active and supportive. I appreciated seeing her smiling face pop up! I’m happy to be sharing her story…
Where do you live and how long have you lived there?
My husband and I (and our cat) live in west Auckland, New Zealand and we’ve been living here for the past 3 years.
Can you describe the landscape of the place where you live?
We live in semi rural setting, though we don’t get a million dollar view from our house, the bush and sea aren’t very far away.
What do you like most about where you live?
The rugged landscape of Waitakere Ranges and the west coast beaches. I love bush walking or tramping as they call it here, being with nature keeps me grounded. The forest and beaches are my favourite places to be.
It was by chance actually. My pen pal from US sent me a shibori fabric that she dyed and I made that into journals and since then, I got hooked into making my own shibori fabric and turning them into journals.
Where do you make the journals that you sell?
I have a tiny home studio (a spare room) and I spend most of my time making the journals here.
I’ve noticed that your cat Kiki is featured on your etsy shop as another shop member. It says she adds “a little cuteness and love…an important job to keep my human happy at work.” Can you tell me a little more about Kiki?
Kiki is absolutely adorable! We have a kind of daily routine somewhat. After breakfast, we’d usually wander in the garden before she settles into her basket or igloo for her nap and I’d start my work, come lunch hour she’ll come look for me and we’ll have some food and take another break in the garden or enjoy play time and cuddles. She helps me stay present and relax and as all pet owners do, we “talk” with each other. She doesn’t hang out in the studio much and that’s just fine as both of us don’t want to be distracted with our work or nap.
Kiki is indeed a stunner! Beautiful eyes. And such a soft looking coat.
What do you like most about making the journals?
Everything. Putting the pieces together and completing a journal always feels wonderful.
What is the most difficult part about making the journals?
When I first started making them, it was the binding part, papers get torn when I pull the thread the wrong way and have to unravel and start again. It’s much easier now and I rarely (touch wood) tear the pages.
What is your favourite tool or piece of equipment?
I like them all, you can’t make a complete book without having them all, they all play an important role.
Both the items that you make and the way that you present your shop as a whole is very refined. It communicates a quiet beauty and considered simplicity. With the beautiful blue shining through as the thread between it all.
Thank you for your kind words. I guess it reflects the way I live. I love being in solitude and quiet surroundings, it gives me the peace and calmness to do my work. I live a very simple life and come to know the beauty in simplicity.
Could you share your thoughts on that vibrant blue colour, the minimal but meaningful designs that you favour for the covers and the perfectly implemented book binding in the spines of your journals?
The whole process from dyeing the fabric to binding a complete book, it’s all very, how shall I say… done in a mindful way, there is a sense of orderliness and yet there are moments of child like wonder and surprises along the way too, especially during the unfolding of the dyed fabric.
Oh yes! I can imagine it would be very exciting to undo the fabric and see how it has turned out
Most of my journals are bound using coptic binding which I find it best as it is sturdy and holds the pages welI together. The simple designs that I choose are again what I would like to share of the message, which is beauty in simplicity. I’d like to think they are a mix of modern boho with a little zen to the shibori journals.
It says on your etsy ‘About page’ that the name of your shop “metta” means love and kindness and that this is your intention when you make the journals. Could you say a little bit more about how this influences the way that you make the journals?
I am a meditator and I meditate most mornings before I start my daily activities, I practise metta meditation, which is radiating love and kindness to myself and out unto the world. That intention follows in all that I do, including making the journals, wishing that the receivers of the books connect to their own love and kindness within and this help heal, inspire and empower themselves through writing in the blank pages.
It is great to hear about your daily meditation practice. I’m a meditator myself and I also meditate most days. It fell into place for me a couple of years ago when I moved to a quieter place to live.
Do you have any tips for people who would like to get into a daily practice of meditation? Maybe there is a good place online to learn about it?
It’s wonderful that you meditate too Michelle. Definitely a lot of benefits to practice meditation. A great way to start is to spend a couple of minutes a day, whether in the morning after you wake up or in the evening just before going to bed. If you can practice just 5 minutes a day, it can go a long way in helping with your daily lives.
There are many methods and practices of meditations, Metta meditation is one of the simplest to start with. I found this link, which has a more neutral tone to it, I don’t want people to think this is a religious practise, it is not. If you can look past that labels/concept and look in a different perspective, it is simply the practice of cultivation of the mind and heart. There are 5 gradual steps to follow and it’s a great way to practice with children as well. I invite you to watch the video and see if it resonates with you and if it does, give it a try for a month and see what happens.
It also says on your ‘About page’ that you came to making journals through journalling yourself and that helps us to find our true selves. I journal most days and I can imagine that sitting down to write in one of your journals would be feel very special.
Do you have any stories to share about your experience of journal writing?
It’s quite comforting to write, I write when I feel happy, sad, lost, confused, excited, inspired, when ideas come rushing through. I doodle and draw too, I do lots of things in my journal, but mostly I write.
Sometimes it’s just pure joy to express in the pages, other times when I feel a little lost, I would write and write and sometimes answers will reveal themselves in the pages, other times in other ways. Writing helps me go deep within, connect to higher or inner self and to what some may call the divine (whatever you choose to call it).
Words have power and I choose my words carefully. I have had many dreams come true through journaling, like this life that I am living now, doing the thing that I love and having a little home studio. It’s all through journaling, It’s pretty magical really.
Wow – that is amazing. Thank you for sharing that. What a rich and varied practice journalling is.
I love this item in your shop which features the inspiring saying “no mud, no lotus”.
For those who are not familiar with this saying, could you tell us a bit more about what that means?
No Mud No Lotus is a phrase and also a book written by Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. As the saying goes, the lotus, so radiant and pure can only grow in the mud, pushing through and finally bloom. In the same way as humans, only through hardship (the mud) do we grow and gain wisdom and truly understand happiness (the lotus). In knowing this, we should not not discriminate the mud or hardship, instead we have to learn to embrace hardship with tenderness and compassion for ourselves and our fellow beings. And only through having to experience unpleasantness in life that we know how to suffer less.
I love this quote and it is often a reminder for me when I face my own challenges in life. How wonderful that we can learn so much from nature if we only stop and see.
I love it too. Although I still struggle with the mud, the lotus flower is indeed very inspiring.
Once again, thank you Alison for sharing your story. It has been a pleasure.