The upcycler: ‘I was under so much pressure with my first craft business – my doctor told me I had become a victim of my own success’
From navigating a ‘squiggly’ career path to launching her first solo art exhibition, interiors influencer Joanne Mooney shares the thrill of cracking her dream job – and the sacrifices along the way
Joanne Mooney has been described as an artist, upcycler, interiors influencer, DIY advocate, and businesswoman in the same breath. A creative multi-hyphenate, for short.
Her projects run the gamut of teaching punch needle art workshops, selling her artwork, running a website, maintaining a thriving social media presence, and as we speak, coming down from the high of her first solo art exhibition. But is there a description that best befits the Dublin creative in her own words?
“It all comes down to my creativity – everything I do, the projects I work on, and the direction my career has taken all stem from a creative space and my love for inspiring creativity in others,” she tells Irish Tatler. “I struggle to sum it all up in one word too,” she adds, laughing.
Once upon a time, though, Mooney did have a catch-all term for her career. She was a dental nurse working for the HSE, a period that spanned 15 years and which followed her stint as a receptionist in a dental practice.
Like all good career pivot stories, Mooney’s was something of a baptism of fire: after a dental nurse rang in sick, Mooney was plucked from the reception into the surgery to assist with a tooth extraction. She loved it. That same day the dentist asked if she would be interested in training as a dental nurse – and naturally, the opportunity was too good to miss.
This period of Mooney’s life is bookended by her passion for pursuing a career as an artist: in her early ‘20s, Mooney was au pairing in the US when she entered a competition for a Green Card – and subsequently won.
She enrolled in a four-year fine art course in New Jersey with the intention of becoming an art teacher, but she bowed out during her studies: “I got really home sick, so I came home before I finished my degree. It’s a huge regret now,” she recalls, yet she is quick to flip the coin on this point: “I still got to the same profession through different means. I’m teaching my craft [punch needle art] in workshops that sell out – I’m doing my dream job, it just wasn’t a straightforward route to getting there,” she muses.
Some call it the ‘squiggly’ career path – where the trajectory of one’s career isn’t as linear as securing a degree, working in a particular field, and climbing the corporate ladder. In Mooney’s case, it started with her juggling her full-time dental profession with running her first craft business – Tiny Things – which she launched 20 years ago to sell personalised artwork for newborns at markets and online.
“I started making them for my friends’ newborns instead of buying presents. Back then, personalised presents were a novelty – they were nowhere even close to the mass-produced scale they are today. Once I launched my website and started selling them at markets it just snowballed and I branched into weddings, christenings, and family homewares,” Mooney explains. The business scaled so quickly that Mooney eventually left her job to commit full-time to her craft.
“I never wanted to grow to a point where Tiny Things would lose its cottage craft and become a mass-produced business. It got very close to that, so I had to pull back from it hugely five years ago. I was under so much pressure and stress with it – my doctor told me I had become a victim of my own success.”
Her decision to change tack came quite naturally: “I had an Instagram page for Tiny Things, where I would upload imagery of the plaques I had made. Because I ran my business from home, people would message me asking about DIY homewares or interiors they had spotted in the background – it was always, ‘how did you make that?’. People were interested in my house and the creative backstory of its interiors, so I started sharing some upcycling projects and Tiny Things began to take a backseat.”
Mooney’s entry into interiors influencing came long before its popularisation in Ireland: “There was definitely a gap in the Irish Instagram scene for interiors that were DIY-oriented – it was still fashion and beauty-focused at this point. I shared painting projects and room makeovers – and people just loved the accessibility and creativity of it.”
Five years in, Mooney has banked countless upcycling works, she has partnered with DFS, Flying Tiger, IKEA, and TK Maxx on interiors projects, and she runs monthly – perpetually sold-out – punch needle art workshops in Dublin.
She speaks to an audience of almost 50,000 followers, and most associate Mooney with an interiors taste that’s an eclectic colour burst from top to tail. “Even when I’m working on a punch needle piece, I can’t use the same colour for too long because I’ll tire of it.”
Among her favourite upcycling projects, she counts wallpapering the ‘fifth wall’ of a room (ergo the ceiling) because “most people overlook this key design trick”. In her downstairs bathroom, for instance, Mooney wallpapered the ceiling, painted the tiles, and stencilled a geometric print on top.
Tacking bullion trimming to the edging of her couch was another recent, popular project, while creating a wall panel effect (using thin wood panels) in her daughter’s bedroom in 2018 still returns design queries from followers.
And, just at the weekend, Mooney held her first solo exhibition in the Hen’s Teeth in Blackpitts, Dublin 8. A blend of punch needle art workshops and an exhibition, it marked the first time she held her own in a dedicated space for punch needle art. In aid of ALONE Ireland, pieces (like Mooney’s much-loved yellow sofa and certain punch needle artworks) were raffled across the weekend.
Next on the list is to welcome Christmas with open arms – because “it’s never too early” – and a host of new craft ideas will follow suit. Her advice? “Watch this space.”
Festive Fix: Joanne Mooney’s guide to making decorative pom pom baubles
Selection of wool
Small sharp scissors
Milk or water bottle plastic lids – one per bauble
Gold or silver spray paint
Ball of twine
Pom pom maker (available from Mooney’s website or Amazon)
Drill or screwdriver
Spray the plastic lids with silver or gold spray paint. Do this outdoors or in a well-ventilated area and leave to dry.
To make the pom poms, you’ll want to extend the pom pom maker’s leavers and wrap the wool around each leaver a few times – cut the wool so there are two loose ends.
Close the pom pom maker and trim around its circumference to unveil frayed edging.
Remove the wool from the pom pom maker to reveal your pom pom. Trim its shape to achieve the perfect circle — do so by pinching the pom pom and trimming any scraggly bits.
Repeat the process for each pom pom – you can mix and match with colours here.
Using a drill or screwdriver, make a small hole in the centre of the lid.
With a darning needle, thread the twine up through the pom pom and through the hole in the lid – make sure the twine is long enough to hang off the three.
Tie a tight knot and voila – your pom pom is ready.
Be generous with wrapping the wool around your pom pom maker – the more wool you use the thicker and fuller the pompom will be. A small sharp nail scissors is best for cutting and trimming the pompoms.
You can follow Mooney’s upcycling and interiors projects @joannemooney_