WINNER ‘Progress toward circularity’ Marie Claire Sustainability Awards 2023

Interview with Tracey Ayre of Bluebird Designs NI

Tracey Ayre is a jewellery designer and maker specialising in polymer clay, a fun and colourful medium that yields endless possibilities. Find out about Tracey's technique and how her brand Bluebird Designs NI took off.

Woman sitting at table crafting

How did you start your journey towards creating Bluebird Designs NI?

I started making jewellery after buying a selection of beads from a bead shop. I strung them together, made a necklace, and was hooked! This new hobby was a perfect way to unwind from my job, switching off the analytical thinking that my job demanded, and becoming totally absorbed in a process that was more intuitive and creative.

I eventually decided to focus solely on polymer clay as I feel this is the medium that inspires me most. I see textures, colours and patterns all around me and am constantly wondering how they would translate into polymer clay. The endless possibilities of clay has so much potential.

My hobby grew to the point I started selling at craft fairs, and then in local shops and online. I wanted to share my knowledge and experience with people and to help them discover the joy of creating with polymer clay, so I created a line of DIY craft kits. I also run workshops in my local area of County Down in Northern Ireland.

Necklace beads on table

Can you tell us a little bit about the process behind your polymer clay creations?

When I create my pieces of jewellery, I start with single colour blocks of clay. I layer multiple colours together, using slicing, rolling and folding techniques to create intricate designs and patterns. I create canes with patterns running through the entire length, much like a stick of rock. Slices from these canes are used to form individual elements of my pendants. Other techniques I use in my designs include marbling, texturing and silk screening.

What inspired you to start your brand?

I love creating with polymer clay, and I wanted to share the knowledge and experience I have built up over the years. I want people to discover the same joy I have when creating with clay, and that was why I started holding workshops. As they create, the people who attend also get to socialise and generally just have a lot of fun. I love to see the enjoyment people get from wearing a necklace or bracelet they have created themselves. Particularly over lockdown, I started thinking about how I could help people create at home, especially if attending a workshop wasn’t an option for them. So I created a line of DIY craft kits that contains everything needed to create on your own, or with a friend, in your own home. For both my workshops and craft kits, I enjoy taking the techniques I use in my own designs and simplifying the processes to allow participants of all skill levels to create a piece from scratch. 

What is the favourite project that you have worked on to date?

I have loved developing my craft kits and learning a whole new set of skills to go with that, especially making and editing the videos that accompany the kits. I love the necklace project that I have developed for my most recent workshops which I have translated into a kit.

Homeade necklaces

How does your practice centre on sustainability?

No clay is wasted in any of my processes, leftover clay is always reused. I make high quality pieces that are durable and will last for years. I work hard to make sure my packaging is eco-friendly, using recycled or recyclable products for packing and posting.

What makes your products/label different?

It is very important to me that someone buying my kit is not left disappointed – both in terms of what they get for their money (my kits are well stocked and packaged with care and attention), but also with the end product. I want them to be proud of what they have made, and actually want to wear it, give it as a gift, or display it in their home. I use high quality clay of course, but I have put a lot of effort into writing instructions and making videos that are easy to follow, and clearly set out each step, so it is easy to get a good result. People have said to me ‘Oh I could never make that!’ and then to their surprise, they find that they can!

What is your next project or what’s in the works?

I have developed a craft kit for a Necklace and Bracelet set that I am really pleased with. It will be available in a range of colours. And my Christmas kit is cute – gingerbread style decorations – that I am just putting the finishing touches to. And I have other ideas for Christmas craft kits that I hope to develop, including a Christmas tree garland.

I have made a few projects to test how well I think they would translate into kits, and in the New Year I will develop them further. And I want to continue to expand my workshops; that includes moving to online classes as well as classes in person.

Woman at table doing crafts

What do you do in your spare time?

I love wood-turning, making bowls and vases from wood, which I think is a beautiful material to work with. I don’t have much spare time, but when I do, I go out to my lathe and turn wood.

What is some advice you have for aspiring makers?

Don’t compare yourself to what someone else is doing or apparently achieving. We’re all at different stages and that’s okay. Do what makes you happy, not what you think will make others happy.