Breast is best jewellery keepsake

Breast milk, pet fur, and placenta are a few of the things Inglewood artist Ashley uses to create beautiful pieces of jewellery. Taranaki Community News caught up with her to find out how she does it.

Hi Ashley! Last year you launched The Spilt Milk Co. Can you tell us a little bit about what this is?
I’m Ashley, 25 year old mama of three who creates bespoke jewellery out of breast milk, hair, placenta, and pet fur.

I launched my own business last year after falling in love with the DNA keepsake craft and couldn’t wait to offer beautiful sentimental jewellery to mothers of human babies and fur babies.

My jewellery is for mums who want to display their babies first curls and keep them close, instead of tucked away in a box at the back of the wardrobe, or for mums to celebrate their feeding achievements either by bottle or breast and regardless of if they managed to feed for a day, a month, a year or beyond.

Ashley and two of her three girls.

I am a one woman band who does all the brainstorming, creating, admin, and branding from my own crafting setup at home in Inglewood, Taranaki.

At home with me during the day are my girls, aged four and two, and my newest baby girl who’s just one month old. I love the flexibility that working from home allows so I can still do activities with my kids and be with them every day.

How exactly do you turn breast milk into jewellery?
It’s such an interesting process and the milk goes through so many changes before becoming jewellery.

First I take a small sample of breast milk or milk substitute (like formula) and heat it ‘till warm. I then add a specially formulated preserving powder created specifically for breast milk preservation.

The process of creating.

Once the powder has been added to the milk it creates a paste which I then spread out onto non stick paper and dehydrate over 24hrs to become a thin, hard, wafer of preserved milk.

When it is fully dried, the milk is ground down to a fine powder by hand and is ready to be cast in a mold with any chosen pigments or flecks.

I source a high quality resin from America which is added to the powdered milky mixture and left to set for a further 24 hrs. Once the milky resin has hardened I can put the final touches on the piece, photograph it, and then package it up ready to go back to its owner in a new transformed state.

I pride myself on great workmanship and love producing a beautiful and meaningful piece of jewellery for someone to treasure. Care instructions are included in each order so that it can be looked after and loved for a long time.

The breast milk beads come in a range of different colours.

What are the challenges of creating something lasting with breast milk?
There are lots of factors which come into play that can affect the end result of the jewellery.

It begins the moment the milk is packaged up for sending. I provide instructions on how to get the breastmilk safely to my crafting space to prevent spoiling or spillage in the post. Once it arrives, I label every sample with its name, and store it ready for the first preserving step where the real challenges begin.

I preserve each sample separately and always keep every order labeled so no cross contamination occurs. The customer can be assured it is 100 per cent their own breast milk in the end product which is why I also issue an authenticity certificate to guarantee there are no other DNA elements in the jewellery except for their own.

Hard at work

Every persons milk is different and the colours can vary from creamy yellow to white to greeny blue which surprised me a bit when I first began. But the main thing to make sure is that the breast milk is preserved correctly and then dried out 100 per cent so you don’t get any nasties (like mould- eek!) growing in the finished piece of jewellery.

You can create jewellery with lots of stuff. What are some of the things you’ve worked with?
Yes you totally can- The options are endless! The most popular inclusions are breastmilk, hair, and pet fur but I have also worked with encapsulated placenta, dried umbilical cord, sand, soil, shells, baby formula and even synthetic fur from a much loved teddy. 

You can also include hair and fur in the beads.

Where did the idea for this come from, and how does it fit in with your background?
I originally heard of breast milk jewellery after having my first daughter and loved the idea of it, but didn’t really know where I could get anything made so I didn’t pursue it.

A couple of years later I came across the opportunity to study the art of DNA jewellery and decided to finish up my role as a Kangatraining instructor and tackle this new venture. I enrolled in the Baby Bee Hummingbirds Academy and studied to become an accredited DNA keepsake artisan, turning my knowledge into a business soon after.

I have loved doing crafts since I was young and art was always my favourite subject at school, so once I finished I went on to study art & design while I worked part time in a jewellery store, developing a love for all things sparkly. 

The combination of my passions all coming together has been really fun to expand and explore, while looking after my three young girls and experiencing the sentimental breastfeeding journey and its challenges first hand.

What are people’s reactions when you tell them that this is what you do? And what’s their reaction when they get their piece of jewellery?
So far it’s been all positive but I’m sure the day will come when people think my craft is a little strange! Lots of people have never heard of DNA keepsakes or breast milk jewellery and are always fascinated to know what it is and how it’s made.

I’ve had wonderful feedback so far from the people I’ve crafted for, and the theme of them all is how special the jewellery is for that person. From mothers who’ve wanted to celebrate their breastfeeding successes and challenges with a meaningful bead, to families of fur babies who’ve had a pet pass away and had the fur preserved in a bead for them to keep close, I’ve been told so many personal stories that are represented by these beautiful beads.

What do you do outside of jewellery making?
Having three girls under five at home keeps me pretty busy when I’m not crafting (and let’s be honest- even when I am crafting they are often watching on or requesting more snacks!) but I love our fluffy dates, taking them for walks to the playground, and out to their activities to watch them learn and explore.

I enjoy learning about the zero-waste movement and am constantly striving to reduce our plastic footprint as a family. It’s been a fun and interesting challenge trying to make better choices like refilling our pantry staples in jars instead of grabbing prepackaged goods and one that I hope to push further both at home and in the business.

Last month Ashley welcomed a new little girl into the family.

I’m a bit of a sweet tooth too and will choose biscuits and chocolates over cheese & crackers any day. I love to bake and create desserts but my favourite is decorating cakes and playing with fondant.

I taught myself to decorate cakes after finishing high school and although I don’t get too much time to play around with it these days, I actually enjoy it more now that I can create cakes for my girls’ birthday parties! I even appeared on TV for my baking when I was a teenager… but that’s another story. 

You can find The Spilt Milk Co on Facebook, Instagram and on its website.