Pregnancy, crochet and COVID changed Stefanie Panaccio's life, and saw her swap a high-flying job in finance for a colourful Richmond business promoting locally-made crafts.
House of Handmade, a few doors from the Epworth Hospital in Bridge Rd, is packed with children's toys, ceramics, candles and soaps, jewellery, art prints, novelty socks and edible treats, the majority of it all made in Melbourne, with quite a few local suppliers.
This month and next Panaccio will run a series of craft workshops at the shop - including crocheting and knitting for beginners - and is excited about being able to share the potential of craft to relieve everyday stress.
The Richmond mother-of-two spent 13 years in investment banking and discovered the meditative value of crochet while on maternity leave with her son, Archer.
"Crochet and all of those arts - knitting as well - are very meditative and repetitive, and crochet became my meditation and self-care time," she says. "Banking was a very stressful job at times. It was pretty full-on, especially after having kids."
From making caps and blankets Panaccio moved on to amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting stuffed toys, and "became a bit obsessed with it".
After returning to the world of finance she kept crafting at night and after a while started selling her toys at weekend markets. That led to creating the brand 'Archer and me', and producing more toys, including custom orders.
Then COVID hit and the young mother's day job suddenly got a lot more stressful. "The workload just exploded with [questions about] what could potentially happen, where will we lose money, what companies should we be looking out for?" she says.
The increased pressure while working from home zapped the appeal of the job for her. "I'm a relationship person, I'm a people person, and I was like, 'Oh, this is not fun anymore'," she says.
"I was part of the mass COVID resignation."
The crochet enthusiast knew what she wanted to do, and after initially searching for new premises, became aware that her local gift shop House of Homemade was up for sale.
Taking over in April last year, she started rebranding and enlisting more makers. There are now around 80 who supply their wares to the shop. Among the Richmond-based contributors are Krysia Mosley, whose "iconic district" print series includes naif-style images bursting with local landmarks.
Gemma Oliver's 'myz the label' brand produces stylish babies' and kids' hats with quirky pop-up ears.
Jenny Gill and Clare Crosbie of CC Knits make beanies, including in footy colours.
Edward Pascoe of the Melbourne Candle Co makes soy wax candles with fragrances developed for specific locations.
There are handmade earrings by Vicki Leigh of Next Romance, colourful, eye-catching cushions and art prints by Fiona Potter, from 3 Pears and knitted toys and citrus salts by Anne Stewart of NK Creations, who works part-time in the shop.
Custom has been slow of late, however, overall business is growing, she says, with the shop establishing " a good local following" plus the passing trade of visitors to the hospital.
While the the business still keeps the young mother busy, she is now able to pick up her kids rather than pay someone else to do it, and has the satisfaction of doing something close to her heart. "I love it," she says. "I'm a completely different person than I was."