Design Interview with Workshop Elf Sara Tanikawa

Friends, it’s our honor to share with you this interview - and the darling scrappy designs - of our new friend of the Village, Sara Tanikawa. As soon as I saw Sara’s art portfolio last summer, I knew that this was someone who really understood cute stuff - especially tiny cute stuff made of textiles! Many a long-suffering villager will tell you, it has historically been hard for me to delegate design responsibilities, because the whole project is so close to my heart. But Sara’s work inspired trust, and I’m so excited about the new ideas she brought to our Patchwork Collection. I kind of threw her in the deep end because this collection had to hang together and be cozy, while using up specific quantities of fabric we had lying around, here and abroad. It’s hard to do, actually! But boy did she come through. My favorite thing she made is definitely the tiny dolly bed. I hope you enjoy Lillie’s interview with Sara, below. 

- Jane (Founder & Designer of Hazel Village)


Sara in the Hazel Village workshop


Hi Sara! Could you please introduce yourself and share what you do here at the Village?  

Yes! My name is Sara Tanikawa. Back in September I was given the opportunity to design the upcoming Patchwork Collection. I have been working on the design of that, and I also work with the local production team here cutting and trimming fabric.

Sara monogramming Jeremy Owl

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, such as what you studied in school? 

So, ever since I was young I really loved drawing, so I always thought I would go into school studying illustration. But I also loved working with fabric, and I used to make tiny clothes for my dolls and stuff growing up. And I think that came full circle at school, when I really fell in love with working with textiles. So that’s what I ended up studying, and I think that was the best of both worlds because I ended up combining illustrative storytelling with the interactiveness that comes with textiles.

What inspired you to pursue your craft? 

This is a hard question. I feel like my memories and experiences from childhood definitely inspire my work. My older sister has been a big inspiration of mine because she would do these very elaborate puppet shows with my stuffed animals for me. This is really cheesy, but it felt as if my stuffed animals came to life in those moments and it was very magical. This was also the topic for my thesis at school; I feel like as we transition into adulthood, the magic slowly begins to dissipate. So I try to make work that allows everyone, including adults, to relive the glimmer of childhood once again.


Deciding fabric pairings for the patchwork aprons


How did you discover Hazel Village and what made you want to work here? 

I discovered Hazel Village through Instagram actually, I was scrolling through my explore page and I saw a photo of the mini animals - I think it was the mini puppies - and I thought it was so cute. And I’ve been following the work since then, but it wasn’t until much later when I visited the website and I saw the map of the Village where the animals live that something clicked and I was like, “This is amazing.” I was really awed by Jane’s world-building. When I also read the ‘About Us’ page, I felt that the values of sustainability and ethical production also aligned with my own. So all of those contributed to me wanting to work here. 


What have you learned from working with Jane and the team of elves here at Hazel Village? 

I feel like I learned so much. Something I learned even from day one working here is how much behind the scenes work happens here that you don’t really see, that probably a lot of the customers also don’t see. A lot of meticulous detail and planning goes into it. I remember I was stamping the tiny envelopes that had Tillie Goose’s initials on it, with the embroidered patches. People may see the finished envelopes and not think any further than “it’s a cute tiny envelope with Tillie’s initials”, but then there’s someone actually individually stamping each of the envelopes. And I think that applies to everything that’s done here. There’s someone behind everything that’s produced. And even though I kind of knew that, knowing that it’s a small business, I didn’t fully grasp it until I experienced it myself.

Trying local production samples on Phoebe Fawn

Tell us about this collection that you helped design! Where did you find your inspiration? Any influences you’d like to share?  

So when Jane told me about this collection, she told me that the theme had to be ‘cozy’ and that it was about the animals making gifts for each other during the wintertime. So I sat down and drew a mind map of what ‘cozy’ meant for me. And she also told me that it was for January, so I was thinking about the cold of January. And coziness in my mind meant warmth, so I tried to design products that would bring warmth to the animals living in the Village. That’s how I came up with the mini quilted sleeping bag. It rolls up, so the big animals could carry it for the mini animals to keep the minis warm anywhere they go. And same with the scarf/hat combination, it keeps the head and neck warm at the same time. And in terms of the color, I was thinking about how even though January is in the wintertime, because it’s closer to the advent of spring in my mind the color palette is lighter. For example, the carnation dress - I was thinking about flowers in January and that’s where the colors of pink and green came in.

Sara's sketches for the Patchwork Collection

How does it feel to see this collection completed after following the process from its conception and initial designs to the final products? Was there anything that surprised you? 

I think the most simple feeling I have is excitement. Every time Claudia or Chizu would show me the finished sample of something I had drawn, I was very excited. Because at school I would design something myself, and then try to make it myself. Whereas here, I drew it and then a few weeks later they would hand me the sample, and it felt like my drawings had been lifted out of the paper. And what surprised me I guess was that because I had never worked with a production team, I didn’t really consider what would be difficult to produce in large quantities. Even though I had that in mind, it was hard to gauge what is feasible. So that was a learning experience for me.

What’s your favorite piece that you designed? 

The sleeping bag. I think because like I said, the first product of Hazel Village that I saw was the mini animals, and I never imagined myself designing something for a product I saw as a student. So that feels really nice and amazing. 

Mini Sleeping Bag

Who is your favorite Villager? 

It’s really hard to pick. I feel like my favorite changes every week when I’m packing a different doll and I’m like, “Oh, this one’s pretty cute…” and then the next day I’m like, “No, this one’s pretty cute..” But if I really had to pick, probably Arthur. Because he was the first doll that I bought. But everyone is my favorite! 

What would be a dream project for you to create sometime in the future? 

I’ve been really interested in flower language. So I think it would be nice to design something where flower language is explored in each item. For instance, the Carnation Dress I designed is the flower of the month for January with the meaning of love and friendship, which I thought was perfect for the Hazel Village animals. So I think it would be interesting to explore themes of plants and flowers a little more. 

The completed Patchwork Collection
The Patchwork Collection will be available on our website on Thursday January 12th at 1PM Eastern! 
Thank you, Sara! 

You might also like:

Meet the Elves of Hazel Village

Natural Dyes Design Inspiration

Where Are They Made? 

Feel free to email us with any questions at!