Thursday, 19 February 2009

Cuddly Cord Mouse

I really enjoyed working with the green cord for my cushion a few weeks ago, but I didn't end up with much left. From the few remnants, I made a quick simple unlined bag out of it for scissors, stitch-picker etc and a little flower for embellishment. Then my heart dropped because it had all gone. 

So off I went again, this time I had a different plan which required light brown cord...

I had been reading a book called "The Crafters Companion" by Anna Torburg. It's basically a compilation of interviews with designers and crafters finding out why they craft, how they started, showing you some of their creations and their workspaces, and then they each give you one of their favourite projects to work on. Most of it is, as you can imagine, fairly tedious artsy stuff detailing their inspirations and lots of phrases like "well I grew up in a creative environment and my creativity was always encouraged". But some of the pictures give you really nice ideas. 

I've always loved making toys, I still have the first toy I ever almost made which was a cat, but as I was hand sewing it, and it was my first project as a child with no one showing me how to sew, I promptly gave up. By the time I had the knowledge to do it, I realised how ugly the cat was, which is why it is still in pieces... But the countless dolls and animals and other such things that came after the cat have been much more successful.

Several of the crafters also made toys like rabbits, mice, dogs and cats. I wasn't too fussed about the cat idea, but I think mice are really cute!

With no pattern, but plenty of enthusiasm I set about making a head. I used some scraps from a floral dress I made for a 1940's party weekend for the ears, and the light brown cord I had recently procured for the rest. 

At first it looked a bit plain, but once I sewed on a couple of buttons and embroidered a nose it took on a real personality! (If you have the deft eye of an unforgiving perfectionist, you'll notice the nose and eyes aren't lined up properly, but if you're a kind unforgiving perfectionist, you won't point it out like a certain boyfriend I could mention!)

I forgot to stuff the ears so they are a bit on the thin side, but it's barely noticable. Next time I would get some batting though. I then had to stop and think about how it was going to come together... I had to make legs, arms and a tail before I sewed up the body because otherwise I wouldn't be able to attatch them the way I wanted to!

I wanted the feet to bend, which meant a lot of faffing around with darts and figuring out a way to include floral foot pads instead of just plain cord. Eventually I got it right... only to realise that one leg was bigger than the other. Nevermind! I made a new (matching) one and decided to keep the other leg for a future toy!

Arms were much simpler. No darts, just little floral pads. The tail however, was a 3 day brain twister. I couldn't figure out how long, which material, how fat, how do I make it look cute, tightly/losely stuffed??? argh!! So in the end I just experimented until I got that tingly feeling deep inside and went with that tail.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Working with Disco Butterfly

The past week I went back home to the Wirral to work with a designer and long time family friend Anna Shepherd, of Disco Butterfly (Check out her stuff on

After quitting her job as an Art Technician at a local high school just days before the world economies tumbled down around us, she has built herself up using the garage and utility room of her home as her studio and workshop and is now one of the leading sellers on NOTHS and has featured on their catalogue cover!

Her inspiration was taken from a students project which she helped with whilst she was a technician. Printing tiles. The designs coming out of the local schools technology college were pretty abysmal, and so were the ones available on the commercial market, which is what inspired Anna to make her own! From tiles she moved onto mugs, now her biggest seller, which she personalises with her own designs, as well as coasters, luggage tags and a few other bits and bobs such as designer birdhouses and box frames.

I wanted to get some experience with new materials and processes before (hopefully) starting my new course in september '10, and I've never worked with ceramics before so this was perfect. I was expecting to just help out with orders, see how things worked and get an idea of what it was like to start up your own business, but in reality I got so much more out of it. Not least 4 mugs, 12 coasters and 8 tiles! 

I found out how important it is to log your creativity in some way, for example sketch pads, or through collage. I'd never really thought about these before and always just explained them away as something arts students have to do to pass their exam, but they really are relaxing to produce and clear your head up wonderfully. I sometimes feel a little guilty when I put buttons or other cute little pieces that I've collected throughout my life on a page and glue them down forever, because I always had such different plans for them and they all had their own little stories... But being in a sketch pad is as valid a use as ever I guess! 

Developing my designs was something I always found hard, once I had a design I li
ked I normally find it really hard to sway from it at all. My only design experience is having a real world problem and needing to come up with the most efficient, hard wearing, functional and practical solution so doing something that was purely aesthetic pushed me totally out of my comfort zone. This experience really helped me to adapt how I design and think in a modular way so that I could take elements of my designs and combine them in different orders, patterns, sizes, etc. I even allowed myself to change the colour-scheme!

Figuring out how to use photoshop was a major bonus and I have to thank my future graphic design genius sister for my photoshop crash course, if only I had the software back here!

Anyway, here's some of what I made:

These are my first 6 coasters, forgive the poor quality I took the photo at night with a "well-used" point and shoot, under ecologically friendly lighting conditions... 

They are are 9x9 cm and they were made by scanning in a collage I did, and selecting parts of it. They are all a bit similar and a little bit busy which is what made me think about altering my design a bit. I thought it would be good to work with one design but alter it so that they maintained a theme but were not the same.

Which is why I then went on to try these coasters:

 I think the ones with a central circle and corner pieces are quite cute but a little bit "Rosie and Jim" so I decided to take the one on the far right further to use on my tiles etc.

I think the blank space on the final one is a little easier to digest and looks like the balls are alive because they are bouncing part way up the coaster. (If you mentally rotate it 90ยบ AC.)

One of the main themes you can see running through Anna's designs (and in fact, her whole house) is birds. I never got the chance to ask her "Why birds?" but I think it's fairly obvious that they are neutral little creatures, often beautiful, always full of personality and somehow very attractive to us. Maybe it's because we all wish we could fly too, or at least I wish I could! Whatever the reason, a lot of designers go through a bird phase at some point, but I think only a good designer can see the bird phrase through and make it seem somehow different from all the other bird related designs out there. 

I wanted these little dots to be my main feature throughout this project, but I wasn't really sure on a theme yet. Should I do just patterns? Or make them into flowers? Or dragonflies/butterflies? So I did my usual my just wombling on through until something appeared out of the ether. Which (fortunately) it did!

I decided to try one or two tiles with the bouncing balls effect and they worked really well. I especially like the teal colour in the background (I just played with the hue and saturation on photoshop) green is one of my favourite colours. I just love really deep, rich, powerful greens that conjure up images of precious stones, fine velvets and luxury. So it's very lucky that photoshop was playing nicely! 

I was starting to feel unnervingly satisfied with myself and my designs, so it was time to change them again. They all looked quite like flowers from the beginning, so the next obvious step was to give them stems! This was a quick layer faff, and drop shadow affair and I had my flower design. I think it's really quite cute and on little girls mugs, on greetings cards or in a photo frame it could work really well.

Finally it was time to go onto the mugs... I made four and wanted to make them all different so you could see different elements of my design in each one. Apart from one laptop screen to reality differential, they worked really well! (I was hoping to get a green one but it came out kind of blue.) This ultimate idea was to sell them, but I can't really bare to part with them, especially the mugs! So at the minute they are being used to house part of my ever growing craft stash.

Now, every time I look at my shelves and see my mugs over flowing with scissors, pendants, needle holders, and ribbons I can't help but feel proud of them!