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! 😸

  

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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!

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!

Like a rolling stupidcat…

Way back in 1965, Bob Dylan went electric, which upset some of his fans so much that they booed him at the Newport Folk Festival.

Fifty years later, stupidcats went digital – please don’t boo me!

I’ve wanted to re-create some of my cats digitally for ages, so I can put them on button badges and other things. Recently I was able to invest in a professional badge making machine after a run of sales of my drawings (thank you!) so I sat down at the computer, opened Adobe Illustrator, and started playing.

I started with a design based on a stupidcat original that was bought by a chap in America – he’s been nicknamed Sir Reginald (the cat, not the chap) and here’s the very first badge I made on my shiny new press:

  
The next cat to get the Illustrator treatment was my sad black one – here’s an early badge test of the two of them:

  
I began to think about packaging – most badges tend to be put in plastic bags with a folded card stapled on the top. I wanted to do something a little different. Here are a few things I tried:

  
   
 

I loved the idea of the matchbook-style packaging…

  
…but it was a bit too slow and fiddly to make, and the visible staple irritated me a bit. Around this time I started referring to them as “badgebooks” and then had a thought – I was already planning on making stupidcats notebooks, so why not just make a simple, folded book-cover type thing with the badges inside?

Here are some prototypes, with mock-ups of the notebooks:

 
The added bonus of giving the badge packaging a bookish theme meant I could give each set of designs a “volume” number. I’d now added two more designs based on old drawings – the alien, and the other stupidcat, inspired by Neil Gaiman‘s book “Coraline“.

I still had a problem though – I didn’t want to use a plastic bag in the packaging, and cutting little flaps or punching holes was fiddly, time-consuming, and looked messy on the back. So how could I attach the badges to the card?

Then I received a new bank card in the post.

So I looked up “glue that sticks bank cards onto paper” (or words to that effect) on the internet, and my little problem was soon solved! I posted a set of badges to myself, and was relieved to find that despite travelling through the postal system, the badges were still attached to the card when I received them. Success! 

After much research I’d settled on a range of card from GF Smith called Colorplan to use for my notebook covers and badgebooks, and I matched the colours used on the artwork as closely as I could to the card, then went to visit my friendly local printer (the same one that does my Giclée prints) and he printed out the badge artwork on his posh laser printer. You can really see the difference between my fuzzy inkjet prints and the vibrant, crisp laser prints (the top row):

  

Here are the badges against some of the cardstock – not a bad match at all!

  

Once I’d finalised the design for the badgebook covers, I had a rubber stamp specially made, and also one for the back with my logo and website address that I’ll be using on my notebooks too:

  

And here’s the finished badgebook! I asked Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for help choosing the colour for volume one and blue won, so I promptly chose orange which came in second place!
   
   
The final touch was making teeny brown paper bags that just fit a badgebook and a business card:

  

So there they are! I already have four new designs in progress for volume two – but before I release that, I’ll be launching my notebooks – here’s a preview of the first one, which explains why I didn’t go with blue for volume one of the badgebook. As you can see, I’ve dropped the text on the cover that I had on earlier mock-ups to draw more attention to the cutout and the thinner, contrasting card of the inner cover. They’ll be handstiched, using thread that is colour-matched to the inner cover.

  
Volume one of my badgebook is available now from my Etsy store, and if all goes well my notebooks should be ready to go on sale in a couple of weeks time.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you haven’t booed me! 😸

ps – I still love the matchbook idea, so will probably use it for one-offs or something later!

A first attempt at something new…

I’ve done a thing!

Bookbinding has fascinated me ever since I went to a craft fair in Chelsea* in the mid-nineties and watched a chap from Rook’s Books patiently sewing pages together to go in the most beautiful leatherbound journals I’ve ever seen.

“One day,” I thought, “I’ll have a go at that.” *

Today, after a chance bit of free time in Manchester, I discovered Fred Aldous (the most amazing arty-crafty shop EVER!) and came out eagerly clutching an awl (note spelling – not the hooty kind), some waxed thread and a chunky needle. Amongst other things.

And I’ve made a little book! Nothing flash, just an A7 (cat-sized!), stitched notebook, but I’m so chuffed with it! Obviously I need more practice, but hopefully sometime I’d like to be able to offer a few perfected versions in my shop. You’d love to own a little stupidcats notebook, wouldn’t you?!

So without further ado… here it is!

   

Okay, so I smudged the lettering a bit in my excitement, but we don’t talk about that! 😁

What I’d really like to have a go at is Coptic binding, but I think I have a way to go before I should attempt that…!

Right, now I need to clear all this mess up and go to bed!

Nighty night!

*Well, apart from the teeny tiny books and holiday photo albums made for dolls and teddies when I was wee!

That felty feeling…

Morning!

Following on from yesterday’s post about some of the random things I’ve been trying my hand at lately, here are a couple more…

Firstly, teeny tiny bunting. It really is tiny too! The triangles were cut from 4mm thick 100% wool felt, and the letters needled felted on in merino wool. I then hand stitched each triangle onto baker’s twine:

  
I made this to decorate the packaging for my nephews 1st birthday present – here it is on the parcel:

  
Fiddly to make, but possibly something I could develop and include in my shop…!

And next, those of you that follow my alter ego on Twitter may recognise this little fellow:

  
He’s my avator, and I’ve grown very attached to him! He developed from this little doodle:
  
I decided to try and bring him to life in felt – again I used thick 100% wool felt, lightly stuffed his body, and needled felted his eyes and nose (and a tiny tail):
  
He’s now a permanent feature on my bag, and matches my phone case (which I had made by one of those online places – pricey, but I love having one of my own designs protecting my phone!):

  
I’d like to perfect his design and add a range to my shop – probably a teensy bit smaller – here are a few more animals I’ve doodled in the same style that would all work well in felt:

   
     So, who knows what noofings will pop up in my Etsy shop over the coming months…? 🙂