twig terrariums

neighborhood: gowanus | space type: makers, commercial | active since: 2009 | links: website, facebook, twitter, flickr, pinterest

all photos by Maximus Comissar

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.

Michelle & Katy, photo by Lauren Kate Morrison

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.


Like this? Read about more makers: Metropolis Soap Co., A Wrecked Tangle Press, Breuckelen Distilling, Arch P&D, Urbanglass, Ugly Duckling Presse

metropolis soap co.

neighborhood: bay ridge | space type: commercial | active since: 2009 | links: website, blog, facebook, twitter

In case you didn’t know, Brooklynites are serious makers. We make everything, all over the borough, like gin in Sunset Park, cheese in Red Hook, glasses in Williamsburg, and soap way the hell out in Bay Ridge.

Metropolis Soap Co. is run by Megan, with some help and moral support from her husband, out of their Bay Ridge home. She produces vegan, all-natural, eco-conscious soaps, bath salts, body scrubs, aromatherapy oils, lip balms, and more. Her products have been certified cruelty-free by PETA and organic by the USDA; she uses recycled packaging whenever possible and avoids things like palm oil, due to the rainforest destruction caused by harvesting it. She’s even got a glossary on her site so you can tell how all the ingredients are going to affect your skin.

Maximus and I schlepped out to Bay Ridge to chat with Megan and check out the operation, and she even did a live soapmaking demonstration for us, which was amazingly cool. She was kind enough to send us home with several soaps to try, and they were all lush and rich and creamy, fantastic smelling and extremely cleansing. After our interview, I spent the rest of the day at the beach, and Metropolis’s Lemongrass & Ginger bar was imperative in ridding me of the clinging film of Coney Island detritus I came home covered with.


Q&A with Megan!

brooklyn spaces: I bet you could tell me the historical origin of soap.
Megan: I can! It dates back to the times of human sacrifice. They would burn people on these pyres, and as the fat melted and liquefied it would mix with the wood ash, which would drip down into the water and create this bubbly substance that people noticed was really good for cleaning.

brooklyn spaces: Can you give me a really brief tutorial on how to make soap?
Megan: Sure. To make soap you need lye, or sodium hydroxide, and fat. When the fat mixes with the lye, it causes saponification. After that you can add essential oils, fragrance, whatever you want. Then you pour it into molds, let it harden, cut it, and let it cure, which means the water evaporates and it becomes a hard bar. That takes about six weeks. As a side note, the fats in most soaps are usually lard or tallow, which is deer, cow, or pig fat. I’m not a vegetarian, but that just skeeved me out, so I did a lot of research to see what I could substitute. The formula I use now is based on sunflower oil and shea butter, so my soaps are really moisturizing, and no animals had to be sacrificed.

brooklyn spaces: What made you start doing this?
Megan: I started making soap in 2004, and I honestly think it was because I was afraid to be the smelly kid in class. I’ve always loved perfumes, cosmetics, that kind of thing, so I went online and learned how to make a body scrub. It was just sugar and oil! So I was like, “Oh my god, what else can I make?” Then I learned how to make a lip balm and was like, “Oh my god, what else can I make?” and it just went from there. Once I started making soap I got really nerdy about it. It’s been my obsession for seven years now.

the beginning of a bar of Cedarwood Lime: sunflower oil, palm kernel oil, shea butter, and rice bran oil

brooklyn spaces: What’s the first soap you made?
Megan: Oh, it was awful. It was root beer soap, and I colored it with brown mica, but I didn’t measure very well. I put it in these Kraft boxes, and the boxes all got oil stains, and my friend told me it stained her washcloth brown. It was a hot mess. Now I don’t do fragrance oils or micas, it’s all essential oils and herbs, which is less traumatic for everybody.

brooklyn spaces: What are some of your favorite soaps you’ve made?
Megan: I love the Rosemary & Spearmint, it totally gets me going in the morning. My favorite for my face is Dark Lavender Lime. I have the skin of a thirteen-year-old boy, and the charcoal in that one just sucks everything out.

blending in cedarwood and lime essential oils, and parsley and gingko powder

brooklyn spaces: How did you learn about all the different ingredients and how to combine them?
Megan: Any book I could find in the library I got. Brooklyn Public Library was huge in making this work. The two best books, which I eventually bought, are Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils by Julia Lawless and Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. I would also research online of course; I’d go to, and just go, “What does this do? What is comfrey? What is arnica?”

brooklyn spaces: How did you pick the name for the company?
Megan: It comes from one of my favorite movies, Metropolis. I just love the special effects from the twenties. And also New York, I love New York. So it was part nerdy, part… okay, it was all nerdy. A smorgasbord of nerdery.

pouring the mixture into logs to cure

brooklyn spaces: How did you get the word out?
Megan: I started at the markets. I did Brooklyn Flea, Brooklyn Indie Market, Renegade Craft Fair, BK Craft Central, any weekend market that I could find. I’m starting to see the benefits of that now, because lots of people come up to me and say they recognize my soaps from this market or that one, which is great.

brooklyn spaces: Do you think being in a place like Bay Ridge, or Brooklyn in general, influences you as a crafter or a small-business owner?
Megan: I think it motivates me. When we first moved here, I vended at the Bay Ridge Festival of the Arts, and I met so many local businesspeople. It was great. There’s a very welcoming community here for tiny businesses, and people want you to succeed. Everyone is really encouraging and holds each other up.

cutting the cured logs into bars

brooklyn spaces: Are there other people in particular who have been a strong influence on you?
Megan: My good friend Laura, whose apron I will be wearing when I make soap for you guys. Her company is Fisk and Fern, her stuff is in Uncommon Goods now. Karen of Markets of New York is amazing. She’s a great supporter of indie crafts. And of course my amazing husband Steven, who has been a huge help with the company and keeps me somewhat sane.

brooklyn spaces: Do you have any advice for someone who’s starting a small business of this nature?
Megan: Don’t expect immediate awesomeness. It will take forever, and it’s always evolving. But the little payoffs along the way totally make it worth it.


Like this? Read about more makers: Twig TerrariumsBreuckelen Distilling Co., Pickett FurnitureBetter Than Jam, Bushwick Print Lab, Gowanus Print Lab, A Wrecked Tangle Press, Arch PYD