Yet another amazing maker shop in Gowanus, Twig Terrariums—the brainchild of Katy Maslow and Michelle Inciarrano—sells tiny gorgeous worlds. Their terrariums are housed in mostly found glass—like vintage gumball machines, cake stands, light bulbs, pitchers, and pendants—and they’re filled with lush mosses and other plants, complete with quirky little scenes. These include sweet things like wedding couples, hiking groups, zoos, and people reading or golfing or swimming, as well as more adult fare like naked sunbathers, fornicating couples, graveyards, zombies, graffiti artists, and axe murderers.
Katy and Michelle are a couple of seriously busy crafters: in addition to running their shop and offering lots of terrarium-making workshops, you can catch them at tons of fairs, like Bust Craftacular, Renegade Craft Fair, and Brooklyn Flea. Their amazing work has been featured all over the place, including NY1, New York Times, New York Magazine, Urban Outfitters, WNYC, Design*Sponge, and more. And they’ve even have a book: Tiny World Terrariums.
brooklyn spaces: Give me a brief definition of a terrarium.
Katy: It’s really just plants enclosed in glass.
Michelle: Terrariums were started back in the 1800s by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward. He wanted a fern garden in his yard but he couldn’t make it grow because there was a lot of pollution where he lived in London, but he noticed that inside this little case where he was experimenting with moths, a fern spore had somehow taken hold and grown. So he started coming up with different types of cases and seeing how different plants did. And he experimented and got it right, and it actually changed the course of history. It’s the reason we have tea, coffee; it was indirectly responsible for penicillin and things like that, because they were able to take plants much farther than they had before.
brooklyn spaces: Wow! Did you know all that before you started making terrariums?
Katy: No way.
brooklyn spaces: So how did this all come into being?
Michelle: Katy and I were childhood hooligan friends, we used to hang out all the time and be crafty. We lost touch for several years, but then we met again about five years ago and went right back to making things together. And one day I pulled a cruet jar out of my kitchen cabinet and said, “I want to make a terrarium out of this.” Before we knew what happened, we had terrariums all over our apartments.
Katy: We got addicted so quickly! We had to choose between giving them to everyone we knew or trying our hand at selling them. When we went to the Brooklyn Flea for the first time we had an amazing response, and we were picked up by the New York Times. The first day! The second time we went we got picked up by Country Living. Third time it was something else, and then something else, Rachel Ray and Real Simple and all these awesome things. It was definitely a surprise.
brooklyn spaces: Did you think five years ago that this was going to be your lives?
Katy: Not at all. We were just presented with an amazing, unexpected, very charming response, and this became our livelihood. We’re hoping that it’s not a passing phase. I mean, terrariums have been interesting for 200 years, and most likely they’ll be interesting for 200 more. And we’re always challenging ourselves, looking for ways to make it bigger, better, cooler, more intricate, more elaborate.
brooklyn spaces: Tell me about some of your favorite terrariums.
Katy: My personal favorites are the graphic horror: axe-murderer scenes, post-apocalyptic scenes, wheelbarrows full of body parts, mass graves, zombies. One of the ones I have at home has a guillotine on a hill and heads rolling down. There’s an irony to it, this kind of fun, expansive space that can be filled with quirky little characters and inhabitants. One of our popular ones is a big beautiful terrarium with a little park, and then off in the corner there’s a couple doing it in the bushes. Of course, we also do a lot of unicorns and fairies. We really just go with our weird tastes and bizarrely varied interests and whims.
brooklyn spaces: Tell me about some of the specific moss. Which are the funnest to work with or look the best?
Katy: Well, there are like twelve, fifteen thousand types of moss in the world, so there’s a lot to work with. When we were researching, we found out that NASA was actually considering terraforming the moon with moss because it’s so hardy and adaptive. But we each have our obsessions. We love the sphagnum buds that happen in their juvenile form, and they grow in bogs, like six feet of mud, right alongside streams and ponds. Sometimes when we go mossing, we really suffer for our art. Michelle lost a shoe once.
Michelle: I took a wrong turn and sunk a foot and a half down in the nastiest, stinkiest bog you can imagine. And I lifted my foot up and my shoe was gone. I had to go home with a bag over my foot, and it stunk.
Katy: She reeked. And I laughed and laughed!
brooklyn spaces: Do you do your mossing in and around New York?
Katy: We have freelance mossers all around, and we’re always looking for more. If you guys ever want to go mossing—
Maximus: Oh my god, I want to do that. Can we do that?
brooklyn spaces: Yes!
Michelle: Okay, just don’t go to Central Park. You can’t take from public land or parks or anything like that.
brooklyn spaces: How does being in Gowanus affect you as artists and small-business owners?
Katy: We love it here. We’re both Brooklyn natives, and I think this is one of the best neighborhoods in the borough.
Michelle: Our neighbors are absolutely amazing. Ben, who runs Gowanus Your Face Off, he came in and introduced himself the second he saw our sign go up. Proteus Gowanus picked up some glass from us to house weird objects for an exhibit. There are so many cool things in Gowanus. We’ve got Film Biz Recycling, 718 Cyclery, and Littleneck right down the street. Everyone’s got such great ideas.
Katy: Everyone’s been really welcoming and supportive and really into what we do. We just love it here.
brooklyn spaces: Having grown up in Brooklyn, what do you think about being here these days?
Katy: I love what Brooklyn’s become. When I was growing up it was still grungy, and I do kind of miss the seedy underbelly of New York, which doesn’t really seem to exist anymore. But I very rarely go into the city, I rarely leave Brooklyn. I get my rugelach in Midwood and my latte in Gowanus and I’m a happy camper.
Michelle: I’ve always loved Brooklyn. Even though it’s stinky and smelly and all the trash and traffic, it’s still so charming.
Katy: Last time I had out-of-town guests, we didn’t even leave Brooklyn. We went from a barge museum in Red Hook to the best pizza in Bay Ridge to Green-Wood Cemetery, and it was the coolest. There’s so much here, it’s so quirky and fun. I fall in love with it every time I think about it.