It’s tomorrow today!

Morning!

Apologies for the five-month absence here since my last post – as you can imagine, things have been a bit crazy preparing for this event! 

“What event?” I hear you cry!

This one:


Squeeeeee!

Since my last post I had to make a hard decision between learning to sew to make those cushions from my last post, or honing my screen-printing skills – it just wasn’t possible to do both and juggle the full-time job! I went for the printing thing – with the launch of Nottingham’s School of Print after their successful Kickstart campaign (see my post from March) I decided to become a member and have been learning the process under the watchful eye of Tom Camp. I LOVE IT! 

Rather ambitiously I went for two colour designs for tote bags and chose an extremely temperamental ink that has caused a few problems, but I’m getting better and better and am looking forward to continuing my membership and printing more and more. Much as I loved painting my own screens at home, using the proper kit at the School of Print, including their carousel, has meant I get much better results than I could achieve at home. 

Here’s a tote bag in progress:


Next up will be t-shirts!

I’ve also started using my Gocco printers, and have launched a new range of Gocco printed notebooks and greetings cards. 

I also have three new cats for you to meet, hurrah!

This is Bob. 

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Don’t tell Dave, but he’s my favourite! As a long term fan of The Cure, I named this cat after Robert Smith because he’s a bit spikey and miserable looking (not that Mr Smith is miserable, but you get my meaning!). Bob has his own tote bag, screen printed in two colours by little old me, badges and pocket mirrors, a notebook and a Gocco printed card.

Here’s one of my original sketches for Bob:


Holly was inspired by meeting our friends’ cat of the same name who has the most startlingly green eyes that matched her blanket perfectly:


And finally Nigel was born after revisiting some old doodles:


Here’s a freshly-printed Nigel tote bag!

All my new things will be available in my Etsy store once the fair’s over. Hurrah!

Right, busy busy busy – I have a stand to set up! Keep your eyes peeled on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages for fair updates, and if you’re coming, details of last-minute flash offers!

Laters!

ps: I have been sewing a little bit – all my handprinted tote bags boast rather cool embroidered tags on the back! Whilst I didn’t embroider them (!), I did sew each one on, and chose thread to match the colour of the bags. I’m well chuffed with them! 

Another new venture, and all the fun of the fair…

Greetings cat fans!

Yesterday I finally had to give in to an urge that’s been poking me in the ribs more and more of late, and have a go at a prototype Thing. It’s going to involve learning another new skill, and this one has nothing to do with ink…

  
Yup, this one involves dusting off my sewing machine and also remembering how to brandish a needle and thread without making too many tiny holes in my fingers. Dah-dah-daaaaaaah… *waggles eyebrows ominously*

I’m going to need to learn some Proper sewing techniques to make these, but for the purpose of this prototype I just went for it – I didn’t have much time and wanted to get it done quickly so it didn’t end up as a half-made idea in a box in the loft.

I just used cheap acrylic felt, as it was to hand. For the proper ones I’ll need to research the material properly, because I want them to be hardwearing and washable. 

The first thing I discovered was that controlling a sewing machine to sew around shapes is quite hard! The second thing was that I should have had two seperate pieces of white felt, instead of one with the collar shapes cut out – doh, schoolboy error! What a silly moo! I stitched on the white felt, then cut out the black outline and double-stitched it over the top…

  
Well, I say over the top – I might have missed in a few places. See, told you my sewing skills need work! 

Once I’d got the basic design on the front done, I added the border then stitched the back and front together – and probably broke every rule in the Good Sewer’s Guide! 

  
Don’t zoom in too closely – my stitching is very embarassing!

Then it was time to add the face, which I cut out in felt and hand sewed on. I wanted to embroider it, but couldn’t find any black embroidery thread so that’ll have to wait for the next prototype. Maybe. I’m still at the planning stage, really!

For the whiskers I just used a couple of strands of wool, and loop-stitched (is that a Thing?!) them on.

Then I ran out of time! It still needs whisker-dots, collar-holes, and stuffing, but you get the idea! Meet the first stupidcats cushion:

  
It’s convinced me that this is definitely something I need to learn how to make properly to add to my range of stupidcats goodies! This one is small, about 12 inches square. The next steps will be to research materials and learn how to sew properly! Although, in my defence, I did handsew some stonking corners to a tablecloth I made a few years ago:

  
I’d like to be able to perfect the cushion-making process by September and offer them in green, pink, blue and orange – like my cards, and soon-to-be-launched tote bags. Fingers crossed!

“Why September?” I hear you cry? Well. I have a Big Event in September. A few weeks ago I received an email that I thought at first must have been a mistake, but turned out to be real! I was asked by the organisers of Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Fair if I’d be interested in taking a stand at their 2016 fair at Hampton Court in September – little old me and my stupidcats! I decided to go for it, so keep your eyes peeled for more news about that over the next few months. I’m hugely excited about it, and a little bit scared as it’s going to involve A LOT of work (not to mention designing and building a stand!) but hopefully it will be a real step up for stupidcats. I was delighted to be asked, and it was great to find out that social media does work, because they’d come across my work on Twitter!

Finally, an update on the tote bags I was prototyping in my last post – I’ve set myself a launch deadline of May, so it won’t be long now until you can get your paws on one!

Laters! x

UPDATE: Finished it! 😸

  

Further adventures in screen printing…

Hello hello hello!

Last time I posted I’d just had a go at screen printing for the first time.

Since then I invested in a higher mesh count screen and had another go, this time printing on to gorgeous Bockingford watercolour cardstock.

I made a new screen, once again hand painting the images with drawing fluid onto the screen with a fine brush:

  
…and this time managed to coat the screen with filler in just one pass, yay!

  

I mixed some yummy coloured inks – for this first run I decided to pink, lime green, orange and blue:

  
A great tip I picked up somewhere on the internet was to mix ink on a sheet of glass over white paper. There’s something very satisfying about slowly folding the colours together with a palette knife, all gloopy and shiny!

I had to trap myself in the house with a pasting table to lay out the prints to dry – it’s a good job no-one knocked on the door as I wouldn’t have been able to answer it! 
   

Once I’d printed the colours, I moved on to the black – slightly nerve racking as I had to get the registraion right or I’d mess them all up! I printed the first black image onto tracking paper taped at one edge to the base of the screen unit, positioned one of the coloured prints under it and marked the edges as a guide. And off I went! 

On a scale of one to ten in squeeness, lifting the screen to reveal the first card in all it’s glory hit about 999!

  
I might have squeaked aloud and bounced around the room a bit!

Here are finished cards in the four colours I chose (thank you everyone on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for your colour suggestions!) – each card comes with an envelope in stupidcats orange (another thank you to Facebook folks – particularly Etsy Resolution group members – for their feedback on envelope colour!), and they’re available singley, in a pack of four (one of each colour), or in pairs of various colours:

  
My technique has definitely improved – this time I didn’t once flood the back of the screen (yay!) and found that perfect angle to draw the squeegee over the screen when pulling prints (most of the time…!).

As a finishing touch, I hand stamp my logo on the back of each card:

  
I’ve also introduced a new set of badges – four little pin badges to match the cards (big thanks to Peter at John E Wright in Nottingham for being so patient making sure the output colours match the cards as closely as possible, despite intermittent power cuts!). Each badge is hand pressed on my dinky badge press and assembled by hand. 

  
I decided to retire my Badgebook theme, as it they just take too long to assemble (I might bring them back if I find a quicker way), so I’ve repackaged my other badges to match these new ones:

   
 
Cards and badges are available from my Etsy store, and ship worldwide, hurrah!

I’m sooooo chuffed to finally be able to print my own cards! 
Next I need to try printing onto fabric so I can make tote bags. I’ve hand-painted a sample bag to get an idea of size and positioning, what do you think?
  
Spot the black blob where I dropped the brush! The next step will be to hand paint a screen and try printing some.

These bags will initially be available in orange, pink, blue and lime green, hand printed in two colours – watch this space! 😸

Ooooh, ps! In my last post I told you about Cobden Place, and their Kickstarter campaign to raise £8,000 to start a School of Print in Nottingham. Well, they not only hit their target, but also made their stretch-goal of £10,000! How brilliant is that? I upped my pledge at the last minute, and am so excited about attending a screen-printing workshop there later this year, with Tom Camp who used to be the print technician for none other than Rob Ryan! 😸

Inky paws…

Yo!

I shall start by giving you all a few minutes to play your favourite David Bowie song and sing along loudly. Off you go…
 
Right. I picked Ziggy Stardust – how about you?
 
And now to business. Wait, don’t switch him off – you can leave David playing as you read.
 
I’ve always fancied having a go at screen printing. And recently it’s become a more pressing need – particularly as I’d like to be able to produce my own greetings cards, and maybe even bags, t-shirts, and other fabric goodies. The thing that’s been holding me back though is the cost of all the equipment, and the lack of space on my desk in a tiny corner of one room, which I fondly call “stupidcats HQ” (the desk, not the room!). And then, the other weekend, whilst roaming around London on a bit of a jolly, we stumbled upon a little art shop. And right at the back, rather dusty and half hidden, was one of the screen printing kits I’d been looking at as a small, easy way to try the process out, and it was reduced to half the price I’d seen it anywhere else. Well, what else could I do except buy it?!
 
Monday being a rest day (I have one of those jobs where you often have to take all or half of your weekend on random weekdays) I bounced out of bed, all keen and eager for my first venture into screen printing. I’d done a little cat doodle at the weekend and decided to use him for my first test print:

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Here’s my doodle!

 
So I drew him in Illustrator on my trusty Mac and had a play with colour fills:
 

And here are a few variations of the computer version.



I decided to go with the bottom right one for my first attempt, and step one was to trace an image for each colour onto my screen:

I’d decided to use the drawing fluid and filler method for my first attempt, as I wanted the printed cat to look sort of wobbly – not clean and crisp like the computer version. And I liked the idea of painting directly on to the screen, and creating multiples copies of something hand drawn. So the next step was to draw the images in with drawing fluid and a paintbrush:

I had no idea if I’d put too much or too little drawing fluid on! I left it to dry for a few hours, then moved on to the screen filler. This involved using the squeegee to wipe the fluid down over the image in one stroke, and not to NO NEVER EVER TO do a second stroke or you’ll risk the blue drawing fluid starting to dissolve away…

I may have panicked a bit and not pressed down enough for the first few inches. Which meant the top image was completely covered in red goo. I may then have panicked a bit more and done a second wipe over the top image which is EXACTLY what you’re not supposed to do.
 
But I thought I’d plough on, as all experience is useful! I then had to leave the screen to dry overnight, then wait until the following evening before I could do anything else because work got in the way, humph!
I washed off the blue drawing fluid, leaving just the red filler behind…

…and got a bit more convinced that my double swipe of the filler had played havoc with his whiskers. Once again the screen was put aside to dry.
 
A couple of days later, when I had a bit of time to spare between shifts, I hit the ink! I just went for the blue ink supplied with the kit, rather than trying to mix anything lighter for my first attempt.


I ran off 20 prints, then masked off the blue inky bit, and when the prints were dry I moved onto the black.

Ta-daaaaaaaa! I was right about the whiskers! Now I’ve done it once, I know what to do differently next time to hopefully improve the results. I’m rather pleased with him though – the wobblyness is what I was after, although the cat outline is too thick and, of course, his whiskers have been in the wars! But all in all, it was a hugely enjoyable lesson and I’m itching to get the screen cleaned and start again – this time without dissolving his whiskers and mixing a lighter shade of blue. I’ve also got hold of another screen with finer mesh, which should help with finer details.
 
Keep your eyes peeled on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds for progress pictures of my next attempt!
 
And finally, while we’re on the subject of screen printing, I stumbled upon something today that made me squeak!
 
Cobden Place is a restored heritage building in Nottingham’s Creative Quarter. In their own words, “Cobden Place endeavours to incubate and support an array of creatively driven independent businesses, and encourage growth within Nottingham’s design industry.” Together with print studio Dizzy Ink and screenprinting technician Tom Camp, they want to create a “School of Print”. Again, in their words: “With a variety of printing methods including risograph, screenprinting and mimeograph, the School of Print will facilitate and educate practitioners of print through a varied workshop programme and the option of membership to come and use the space and facilities once trained on the equipment!
 
COOL!!!
 
They launched a Kickstarter today to raise £8,000 to make the School of Print a reality, and have already been backed to the tune of just over £800! This would be a fantastic resource for Nottingham and beyond – please help them reach their target by backing them, and sharing the link with the world! Thank you!
 
Click here to watch their video on their Kickstarter page
 
That’s all for now folks!

WARNING: 2016 may contain stupidchickens…

Merry 2016 everyone!

We’ve been in Scotland, staying with our lovely friends in Ayrshire. It got a bit wet:

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That’s the main road to Ayr out of the village of Crosshill, but thankfully it had dried out by the evening.

I had THE Best New Year’s Eve. EVER.

I have decided that I need to spend every Hogmanay in Scotland from now on. So there!

In nearby Ayr, in a little pub called The Twa Dugs, Carol and Mark Bailey run an open mic night every Thursday called Acoustic Bliss (which is also broadcast live over the internet), and as Hogmanay fell on a Thursday, they hosted the evening. Mark is a Proper Craftsman. He makes guitars. Beautiful guitars. Bailey Guitars. Take a peek at his website – they also run “build your own guitar” courses. He and Carol are also wonderful musicians, and they counted us all down to the bells with a delightful song they’d found, after searching and searching for a New Year’s Eve song that wasn’t all doom and gloom, as most of them seem to be!

Here’s Mark and Carol performing the song – and the whole pub joining in. It was WONDERFUL! It’s only short, give it a listen – I think it should be sung everywhere before the bells!

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Acoustic Bliss

 

 

So many great musicians played that night, including my other half Jon Gibbons – he’s a singer/singwriter and plays with bouzouki player John Duffy. Together they go under the name of The Fabulous Duffy Gibbons, and they both play instruments hand-built by Mark Bailey:

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The Fabulous Duffy Gibbons performing at The Twa Dugs in Ayr

Here are a few more pics of other players, from Hogmanay in The Twa Dugs, and other gigs at The Treehouse in Ayr and The Kirkmichael Arms in Kirkmichael:

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John Duffy and Jon Gibbons performing at The Kirkmichael Arms

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Emma Durkin playing at The Twa Dugs

 

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Gordon playing at The Twa Dugs

 

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Tom playing at The Twa Dugs

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Mayan playing at The Twa Dugs

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The Truetones (Anita and Ian Gailey) playing at The Twa Dugs

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Mark Bailey playing at The Kirkmichael Arms

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Carol singing at The Kirkmichael Arms

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Mark & Carol at The Kirkmichael Arms

 

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Jam session with Emmanuel, Laura, Anita and Ian at The Twa Dugs

 

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John Duffy & Jon Gibbons at The Twa Dugs

I hope all your Hogmanay’s were as much fun as ours! And in the words of the song, I’d like to wish you all “A happy new year with love overflowing, and joy in our hearts for a blessed new year.”

xxx

ps: I warned you about chickens – meet Esmeralda, a rough of the first stupidchicken from stupidcats!

 

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Esmeralda, the first stupidchicken!

Special thanks to John Duffy for planting the stupidchicken idea!

New notebook designs, hurrah!

A while back I had a play with an idea for a new notebook design, and now thanks to the joys of Christmas holidays I’ve been able to bring them to life!

I wanted to do a repeating pattern on the covers, using thick 300gsm Kraft card, but without printing it from the computer as that felt like cheating. So I knocked up a little stamping guide from balsa wood (the smell of the Bostik glue took me right back to making models with dad when I was little!):

  
As with my other notebooks, the new ones are then hand punched, hand stitched with gorgeous waxed bookbinding thread (in stupidcats orange!), pressed overnight then each of the three edges is trimmed by hand using a carpenter’s square and a Very Sharp Knife. Inside each book are 28 pages (56 sides) of beautiful 85gsm Fabriano blank paper.

  
These are available as a pack of four (one of each design) for £14:

  
Or each design is available separately for £4 each – here’s “Sir Reginald”:

  
“The sad one” (click on the pictures to visit the items in my Etsy store!):

  
“The alien”:

  
And last but not least, my Coraline-inspired “the other one”, with button-eyes:

 

My logo is stamped inside the back cover, and as a finishing touch, a wrap is added to each notebook – in stupidcats orange of course!

My little booky-wooks…

Hello! Remember me? I’m the one that hasn’t blogged for ages!  

In my last post I showed you a sneak-peek at a notebook I wanted to make. Well, this post carries on from that…  

I’d chosen the card I wanted to use for the covers (from GF Smith‘s Colorplan range – a hefty 270gsm for the outer covers, and 135gsm for the inner covers), and after much sampling I settled on Fabriano Bioprima for the inside pages, because… well Fabriano papers are delicious to write or draw on in pencil, pen or ink! 

Next I needed to find some waxed bookbinding thread that matched the colours of the inner covers as closely as possible, and after getting samples from various places I was pleased to eventually find the perfect matches – and they were from an Etsy seller in Nottingham. Nice to keep things in the Etsy family, and also shop local! The thread is beautiful. It’s made in Ireland by Crawfords, who are reknowned for their high quality threads. It’s heavily waxed, which helps to keep the colours bright, makes stitching easier, and ensures that it holds its shape well so knots won’t come undone. 

  
So. I’d selected my materials, bought bookbinding needles, a bone folder, an awl to make the holes in the spines, a circular cutter to make the round windows in the covers, and a heavy duty corner cutter to round off the corners. And I’d done hours of research and reading about bookbinding techniques, and made a lot of practice notebooks. 

Then I ordered The Guillotine. 

Meanwhile, I was folding, punching, stitching and pressing… 

  
   

I “made” a makeshift press from two bits of wood and some g-clamps – it doesn’t look very sexy, but it does the job perfectly!

  
And The Guillotine arrived.  

Broken. 

And the seller was a nightmare. Not in the UK as they’d stated on their site, barely spoke English, and they just kept repeating that I had to send it back to them for repair or refund. Which they’d do or issue on receipt of the damaged one. But they wouldn’t provide a return address…  

And the craft fair I’d booked was now less than a week away – my stall would look pretty bare without the notebooks! 

So I activated Plan B. Forget the guillotine – trim the books the traditional way. A quick trip to our local hardware store provided a carpenters square and a very sharp, titanium bladed knife.

  
As it turned out, I’m glad the guillotine thing fell through. Trimming the three edges of each book by hand is very therapeutic, and much more rewarding. Just look at the edge on that!

  

After folding, stitching, pressing, and trimming, the books are ready to have the holes cut in the outer covers and the text and images stamped on. That might seem a little backward, but I didn’t want to cut or print the covers first as there’s always a slight variation in size after the hand trimming, and I didn’t want them to look off-centre.

  
And once the ink has dried, the final touches are added – the corners are rounded off…

  
…and the coloured packaging strip and the badge are added.

  

     

  
Ta daaaaaa! Here are the four finished designs…

  
They’re all available from my Etsy shop here

And finally, here they are on my stall at the local craft fair – it was the first proper one I’d attended, and went really well!

  

So there we have it! After Christmas I’ll be starting on cat designs for a new badgebook, and four more notebook designs. I was hoping to do a Christmas badgebook, but unfortunately the full-time job got in the way. At least I have some festive designs ready for Christmas 2016 though!

Oh, and I did eventually get a refund for the broken guillotine. Phew!