Sewing in the studio

Sewing in the studio

Designing some new pieces. Trying to do math. Pulling out a an assortment of fabrics. Measuring if I have enough for each project. Cutting pieces. Spooling thread on the bobbin. Making a mess.

I designed and made my Dream Tote Bag!

I designed and made my Dream Tote Bag!

Hello hello!

I have been busy in the studio the last couple of months. I love that since coming back from my travels, I feel much more creatively inspired.

Sooo back story:

I have made tote bags for myself for a very long time. I think the first time was shortly after I learned how to sew in high school (10+ years ago) and ask anybody, I love me a good tote bag — BUT even though I’ve made so many iterations of tote bags, I was constantly looking for other tote bags because for some reason they just weren’t meeting all my needs. Over the years, I’ve made pretty much all the tote bags I thought I wanted: standard size tote bags, mini tote bags, extra large tote bags, drawstring tote bags, crossbody tote bags… and still I wasn’t super satisfied.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized… the reason I love tote bags is because because they go with everything (if you’re into that look), they fit so many things inside of it, and they fold down nicely when for travel. However, it just wasn’t very organized! There is the one big space to throw everything in — from notebooks to pens to my wallet, water bottle, lip balms, keys… everything was always such a jumbled mess.

And so last month, I scoured Pinterest for tote bag ideas and spent several days sketching up different concepts to fit my personal needs. And with careful planning and lots of math (ugh), I designed and sewed my very own dream tote bag!

It has EIGHT outer pockets

– ranging in size to fit everything I need for easy access, such as cloth face masks, keys, reusable Baggu totes, my Nook e-reader (yes ma’am, I did that!), my iPhone of course, scissors, and pens… yes, PEN POCKETS!

and SEVEN inner pockets

– of which there are two pockets on either side of the bag that I designed to be spacious enough to fit a full size reusable water bottle so it’s not sloshing around and definitely not leaking (!!! what a freaking dream!), or whatever really!

My Dream Tote Bag x Nerelle

The other pockets are also great for compartmentalizing my wallet, zero waste utensils kit, hand sanitizer, mobile pocket printer, journaling supplies, and all the little things that like to get lost in people’s purses, like lip balms, mini moisturizers (begone, eczema!), AirPods, etc. And voila, all my thingy things are organized, and I can put my iPad Pro and my chunky Traveler’s Notebook (standard size) in the main compartment.

It is how you say… * chef’s kiss *

And I call it… The “My Dream Tote Bag” canvas tote bag. Hahah —yes I’m very creative 😉 Just kidding… but not really.

I immediately wanted to sew more and possibly put them up online to see if anyone would be interested in sending my way because I’m a creative genius (but really, who would be interested in pre-ordering?!), but then I took a long break from my sewing machine. And I realized something about myself. I like sewing, and I loveee the outcomes when it works out, but I don’t exactly love the tedious process, and it can suck up a lot of energy and brainpower, and patience, ooh lots of patience. I actually really like sewing itself… it’s the whole prep part that’s kind of a pain sometimes.

Which is a bummer for Ian because he saw my bag and he almost literally begged me to make a bag for him too haha, but I’m still getting around to it… lol.

Cut to more than a month later, and I have been planning in my head to make more tote bags. One of my neighbors has been following and supporting me in my creative journey, and she was the first person to comment that she wanted to pay for a tote bag like this because she loves how organized it is! And since she’s leaving the island for a long while… plus the fact that we’re birthday twins (Pisces, hunnayyy!), I decided to make her a bag as a going away/belated birthday gift, while I fine tune my measurements and sewing process. I’m also prepping another bag for Ian using old pants… but I’ll share that later! 😉 I definitely didn’t have enough canvas fabric for a whole new bag, so I used up this coral reef patterned fabric that is actually perfect for her as she’s a marine scientist. I recently received the reef fabric from another friend who was decluttering, found this leftover fabric, thought of me, and gave it to me to use.

It took many hours to plan and cut and prep the project and finally, I got to sewing. I mixed the reef pattern fabric and canvas and I love how it came out! I also added a little personal element — a tag that has her name on one side, and my initials on the other side. The tag also doubles as a loop for keychains!

I gifted her the bag right before she departed on her travels, and I was thrilled to see her eyes glow at the new bag, and that she was so excited to use it right away! When she got to Hawaii, she sent me a video of her dream tote bag all filled up — fully embracing form and function — and I am encouraged to make more tote bags!

In fact, I’ve actually already designed another tote bag concept, and made one as a prototype that I gifted to another friend, who is an artist! I’m really excited to show that because I think it’s super unique and perfect for any artist who loves tote bags (aka – me!) So I’ll share that soon too!!

Thanks for being here!

xo, Nerelle

DIY Natural Lip Balm (Simple Recipe!)

DIY Natural Lip Balm (Simple Recipe!)

I’m really enjoying concocting my own homemade products and working towards a more low impact/high quality lifestyle.

It just feels right. It contains clean, honest-to-earth ingredients. And it works!

In case you’re new here, I made my own deodorant a little while ago but what I didn’t share was that I also made my own lip balm. It’s so so so easy. So in case you’re feeling crafty and want to give it a go, here’s what you need to know!

Clean out and reuse old lip balm containers

I’ve had this EOS lip balm since right after college which was (omg) 7 years ago! It was a spare one I carried around in my various bags and miraculously didn’t lose. It started to get stale after so long and I didn’t have the heart to throw it away.

Then I came across this idea to make my own lip balm, and found a whole plethora of ways to reuse the EOS container. Here’s how to empty and clean out your EOS container to be reused.

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

1. Open EOS lip balm. Notice the removable cartridge holding the balm.

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

2. Remove the balm cartridge using a sharp utensil (I used a butter knife)

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

3. It might take a bit of prying, but will come out with a bit of leverage

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

4. Scrape out the old balm from the top and bottom of the cartridge

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

5. Then clean it all off under warm soapy water

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

6. Let dry. And you’re ready to reuse!

DIY Lip Balm & What You’ll Need


1 tsp Cold pressed extra virgin Coconut oil
1 tsp Shea butter
1 tsp Beeswax
5 drops of preferred essential oil (optional – I used lavender for its soothing effect)
½ tsp Cinnamon (optional – add to naturally exfoliate your lips!)

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

Directions for Making the DIY Lip Balm

Mix all the ingredients in a double broiler (the exact same way I made the deodorant here).

While it’s still warm, pour into your lip balm container!

Place the cap back on upside down and let cool at room temperature.

Or you can put it in the fridge for a few minutes.

Once it’s dry – voila!

That it! That’s how easy it is!

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle

I poured the ingredients into both the EOS lip balm container and a regular lip balm container – both of which I cleaned and disinfected before reusing.

DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle
DIY natural lip balm | Nerelle
DIY natural lip balm | Sustainable living | Nerelle

So I hope you clean up those old cute lip balm containers, play around with these natural ingredients and and DIY your own sustainable lip balm!

xo, Nerelle

Making Siapo with Fa’aSamoa Arts

Making Siapo with Fa’aSamoa Arts

What is Siapo?

Siapo is an ancient Samoan art form, similar to painting, but instead the canvas is called tapa (made by pounding barkcloth stripped from the mulberry tree), the paintbrush is a paogo (pandanus seed), and the inks are made from nature. The lama (black ink) is made from soot, and the o’a (brown ink) is made from the bark of the o’a tree.

Siapo art is a very tedious and painstaking process from start to finish. It isn’t a widely practiced art form in American Samoa these days. That’s why local Samoan artist Reggie Meredith Fitiao (and her husband Su’a Uilisone Fitiao) share their knowledge to keep the tradition alive.

Enter — Fa’aSamoa Arts

This local non-profit, run by Reggie and Su’a, was established to rekindle a passion for Samoan traditional arts by sharing the power of knowledge, hosting siapo making workshops for youth, and hopefully soon, they will open their studio shop too. Their studio is based in Leone, where Reggie was raised and where siapo made a comeback in the the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to her mentor, the infamous Mary J. Pritchard, who was also from Leone. You can read more Mary Pritchard, and about Fa’aSamoa Arts on their beautiful new website created by Mary Anne Bordanaro.

I’m a member of the Rotaract Club of Pago Pago, and in our recent meetings, Reggie was invited as a guest speaker because she was a previous Rotaractor also. She shared her experience with Rotaract, and her journey as an artist. And invited our club to a workshop at the Fa’aSamoa Arts studio. I wish I’d brought my camera with me, but ah whale, here’s a smattering of iPhone photos 🙂

Making Siapo

At the studio, we sat on long benches lined up in two rows of trestle tables. We were handed glass jars with the labels removed, and instructed to roll the jar over sheets of prepared tapa to smooth out our canvas.

Reggie welcomed us warmly and shared an overview of tapa and the varieties of tapa made throughout the Pacific (ie. kapa in Hawaii, ngatu in Tonga, etc). She and Mary held up examples of barkcloth with beautiful designs and passed it around the room so we could feel and observe the differences and unique qualities of each art form from other Pacific islands. I learned that Samoan tapa is two ply, overlapped together with a natural starch to strengthen the canvas and reduce stretch. We asked questions

Reggie proceeded to the floor where a large carved wooden log made of ifilele sat on top of a woven mat. She held out two wooden mallets (I forget their names). One with smooth ridges around the square head, and another that had a smooth rounded head. She explained that the one with the soft ridges was used to pound the bark into cloth. For Reggie, she said it takes her about 15 minutes of pounding just to make one sheet. She showed us first, pounding in a rhythm of three beats – thump… thump thump… thump… thump thump…

We got a chance to pound the tapa too, and I was the first to to give it a go. I could definitely see how this could be a meditative practice, and also how it could be an arm workout! I went on for just a couple minutes, but I think after 5 minutes I would’ve gotten tired. We took turns pounding and the bark flattened to about 16 x 24 inches. We didn’t have enough time that evening to all pound tapa, so Reggie was kind enough to share tapa she had already prepared for us to take our art home.

Once our tapa was smooth from rolling the glass jars over the surface, we picked out paogo to use as brushes. The tips of the seeds were trimmed to reveal the hair like brush. Reggie explained several traditional motifs used in siapo art and what each meant and how they were used. She encouraged us to be creative within these motifs and ideas to incorporate them onto our siapo.

We each sketched our designs lightly with a pencil first. Reggie showed us how to hold the paogo properly: angled with three fingers only (thumb, index, and middle finger). And learned that the trick is to always paint away from ourselves, never toward us. We shared little cups filled with lama, which is much more viscous and a very rich black. Most of us painted over our sketch lines, others opted to use the black to fill in their drawings. And then we painted with the o’a, which is more watery and very subtle at first but would darken over time.

We spent the next couple hours painting. I was happily entranced in the process. The vibes were really good all around, and our Rotaract team asked questions and complimented each others’ work. At the end of the workshop, we took a group photo (with Reggie’s cat and dog too!) and our siapo art.

Ian and Nerelle sketching

For most, if not all of us, this was our first time making Siapo. So I am extremely grateful to have had the privilege to learn from such a renowned artist as Reggie. And many thanks to my Rotaract Club board for organizing this workshop!

How I Package My Sticker Orders

How I Package My Sticker Orders

I wasn’t ready for this

When I started selling my stickers, I did not originally plan to sell them online. But I was pleasantly surprised by how many people kept on asking to purchase them, many of which are off-island, and so I took a couple of weeks to develop the online store on my website, take photos of the stickers, and create descriptions for each of them. Then I launched the online store and the orders started coming in! I was stoked for all of a few minutes and then realized I hadn’t even figured out how to package them.

Making it all by hand

I looked all around the stores on island and couldn’t find any nice envelopes, so I decided to make my own using green card stock paper that I’d had in my art supplies for a couple of years. I made a template and cut and folded a bunch of envelopes. I played around with different thank you notes, and fully customized my first batch of orders with watercolor, but after quickly realizing that it consumed way too much time, I got on my laptop and designed an envelope insert/thank you card. Luckily, I had just ordered new printer ink, and my printer was being slightly finicky, but after some troubleshooting, I was able to get the right size and colors printed on the cold-pressed watercolor paper that would accompany the stickers. I folded the thank you card so the stickers could sit in it like a sleeve. Still wanting to include a personal touch for each order, I wrote fa’afetai (thank you) with a gold watercolor pigment and left a little space for a quick note. For each order, I also included a freebie sticker with a note asking the customer to please recycle the packaging. Glued the envelopes, affixed a stamp, wrote out the addresses, and sent them by airmail.

It’s all still a work in progress!