Thursday, 24 November 2011

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Sorry, sorry, the title was inevitable. I've had the song in my head whilst sewing these new mountain brooches for JumpUp. They are made from wool salvaged from a jumper that had been used and abused by its previous owner and then callously thrown into a boil wash. When you wash wool too hot, it shrinks. This jumper didn't shrink as much as a fully wool one would have - it had 20% nylon in it which seems to be the case increasingly these days (supposedly for durability).

I mentioned the making of these in an earlier post (about three posts down from here).

I was going to have a rule of only using pure wool things to upcycle, but
a) the jumper had the most gorgeous grey marl flecked with blue
b) I didn't notice at first that it had nylon in it
and c) I realised that salvaging synthetic materials is actually more eco friendly as they won't biodegrade in the way that wool would if it ended up in landfill. 

For scale, I took a little self-portrait (um, minus my face) shot of the brooch on my lovely red jumper.

OH! And I took these photos with my new camera. It came yesterday. I think it's pretty good, what do you think? - I had a few rubbish photos from it but I'm still getting to grips with all the settings and bells and whistles so to speak.

The brooches are available in my shop on now.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A Whole New Cat?

I thought you might like to know that I'm working on a little re-vamp for Scatterbox Originals. This blog doesn't often talk about that shop, I suppose. I felt it was time for a little change in the shop and a bit of a boost back into life (a re-mojo-ification, I like to call it) and since I've been thinking today about how my business has evolved, I thought I would share the story of my progress so far with you.

The Scatterbox Originals shop has been open on since 2006 (technically I started business selling handmade Christmas decorations on Ebay at the start of November 2005, so I have been going for 6 years this month!) and since then there have been many changes in what I sell.

I'm going to take a deep breath here and show you a photo of the first thing I sold on Etsy.

This is a small notebook which I cut, bound and stitched the cover for all by hand. It's a little cat design as you can see, which I drew and cut out of felt. It took me a pretty long time to make and I was quite proud of it, though I think my sewing skills have improved a fair bit since then! (I think my photography is a little better too maybe...) It sold to someone I know, someone who started out being my penpal in America when I was 15 or so, who I've stayed in touch with over the years. Thank you Sonia, for being my first Etsy customer! Most of my customers thereafter were total strangers, which is a strange feeling but kind of a nice one too.

After that I sold a couple of sets of clothes peg magnets (or clothespin if you use the American lingo) which I very painstakingly stamped with hand-cut star stamps made out of an eraser, and letter stamps put together with a kit, some tweezers, and more patience than I knew I had...

And then various bags and purses and iPod cozies with felt appliqué...I did all the stitching for the felt by hand, they took SO long to make... (It was a long while before I dared to try making appliqués with my sewing machine and discovered it went much better than I thought it would. I felt like using my machine was cheating, too, which was absurd, really!) 

In my 'Seedlings Beneath the Moon' bag, you can see the beginnings of my fondness for using big stitches to create pattern and texture, which later transferred into my Tree Stump Brooches for Treacle Toffee (the second Etsy shop) and then evolved into what I do for my JumpUp range.

And not forgetting The Attic Shelter For Troubled Felt Animals section, where I sold plush dolls made out of felt and cotton, all with a (heart wrenching!) back story. The Three Myopic Mice were a favourite.

I didn't feel I could compete on with all the other plush makers, so I moved away from making critters for a while (though anyone who follows JumpUp will know that there is a little selection of plush dolls in that shop now, of a different style)

There were other approaches I explored too, like the lino printing onto fabric:

The small number of items I made with the lino printing really were the products of blood, sweat and tears - literally, I cut myself a couple of times trying to cut the lino using the sharp tools, and shed a few tears when blocks I had spent over an hour trying to cut, went wrong at the last minute. I have so much respect for anyone who can accomplish lino printing with any degree of success - it is hard work and can be slow going. For the sake of my sanity, I had to give it up!

There have also been mobiles, writing sets and scarves:

I love those appliquéd kids scarves - perhaps one of my most favourite things I have made. I made them using brushed cotton flannelette (fabric used for pyjamas) so they were very soft and like being able to take a little bit of that cozy duvet day feeling out into the cold air. Sadly I realised that there are many laws governing selling things for children, with the new-ish law in America prohibiting the sale of things for under-13s (or things that could be construed as being for under-13s) that haven't been incredibly (and expensively) thoroughly tested for lead and phthalates, and then looking into the regulations here in Europe also, it all overwhelmed me. Doubt hit and I lost my motivation, my belief in my business and the things I was making. My trusty printer started to malfunction just enough to make it impossible to print any more writing sets without ink smudges. Suddenly, it all felt a bit impossible.

Even with excellent feedback under my belt and a pretty good number of people adding my shop to their favourites, I got into a slump. When I felt like creating again, I began experimenting with Gocco (the Japanese printing method that's sort of a hybrid of screenprinting and stamping) My character El Bandido got a good response and I sold several Gocco-ed notebooks with that cartoon on them.

So somehow I sort of came full circle - from one kind of cat notebook to another! El Bandido is quite different to that original fuzzy felt applique. He has been quite popular I think, judging by the 'hearts' on Etsy, the sales of various 'El B' notebooks, purses etc. So why have I stopped making El Bandido notebooks? Well, partly because I had to sell my Gocco printer (it sold to a lovely illustrator I happen to know named Emma) because I was struggling to get into a good groove with getting consistently good prints out of Gloria (um, yes, I named my Gocco. All inanimate tools and appliances tend to get a name here sooner or later, as Jan the Janome sewing machine would gladly tell you if she could speak) and also because I needed to free-up some funds so that I could afford to keep going with the business through the recession. (Cue Dickensian tale of woe featuring greedy bankers, clueless politicians, loss of consumer confidence etc, all beating down on the finances and spirit of this here artist, sitting in her cold little attic flat, eating Tesco Value Noodles and resting a hot water bottle against her stomach as she sews. She might even be wearing fingerless gloves and/or singing "Where Is Love?"...)

So what now? What's next for my little business? Well, I've had some new ideas. It's not a total change I don't think - hopefully there will be a logic to my progression and at least some of my lovely past customers will still be interested in the work that I'm making. While I am continuing with JumpUp (shop number 3) as well, I am planning on giving Scatterbox Originals another blast. You may have noticed the shop has a new banner...

Here is a little preview of what I'm working on - these are my images in progress on the way to becoming Things. Can you guess what they're going to be yet?

I will give you a small clue on what one of the images is cameo pin badges have had a good response in the past...

The Artist smiles inscrutably and perhaps ever so slightly annoyingly...and skips away to refresh her hot water bottle, and then to do some work on both her Etsy shops...please stay tuned! :)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Chase the dark away

Tonight, I went to see Truro City of Lights. For those not in the know, this is a parade of paper lanterns. Really elaborate lanterns in the shape of animals, as well as some smaller simpler ones. It's held annually in Truro, which is the nearest city to where I live. By most people's standards, it's not really a city but a moderately sized town. But going to this parade I realised just how many people there are in and around Truro. The streets were packed (and we apparently went to 'the quiet bit')

As I said in my previous post, my camera is dying. I couldn't take as good pictures as I'd like to, they were really very fuzzy and blurred (partly due to it being after dark and me not having the steadiest hands but I'm sure an element of it was the loss of focussing ability in my camera) The peacock pictured above had a tail that fanned open and closed - it was spectacular.

Anyway, I did at least succeed in taking a couple of short videos of the parade.

You can see some lanterns made by schoolchildren - they were pretty impressive, I think they were jumping fish in the first video but there were quite a lot of penguins too tonight - and also a larger lantern which had fairy lights (or something like that) inside rather than a candle. I have to admit, my favourites were the larger lanterns with the fairy lights inside - I think because these lit up the paper more than the natural light of the candles, and showed off the beautiful work the makers had done with the structure of the lanterns.

And there's also the fact that they MOVED! My friend John compared it to the stage show of Northern Lights, which deplorably I hadn't even heard about until today (oh how I want to see that!)

There was a very effective portion of the parade with people dressed in black playing eerie music, led in front by someone dressed as a sort of raven - or possibly it was meant to be a Cornish Chough, which is the county's symbolic bird and I believe extinct or no longer in the area.

Supposedly the parade kicks off the late night shopping/Christmas shopping season in the city. I'm hoping all the small independent businesses do well this year.

A triangular kind of day

Yesterday evening I was working on some new mountain brooches. It got dark early, so I worked by the light of my lamp. It's only an energy saving bulb (I say 'only' - some people think that energy saving bulbs are too dim but I like the softness of them), but it gives off a lovely glow inside the lampshade I think. Here's a couple of snapshots of my work station. Note the all important set-up of sofa, radiator and glamorous roll of toilet paper for if I get a runny nose.

You may notice a cardboard triangle there on my little table. It's the end of a Toblerone tube - I've been naughtily snacking on Toblerone lately and only realised half way through sewing the mountain brooches that there's a bit of a triangular theme going on here! Even my lamp is bordering on being triangular.

Sorry the picture is a little blurry. I'm on the hunt for a good (cheapish) new digital camera as I think my old Olympus has lost the ability to focus. I may have dropped it a couple of times...ahem.

Here on the table you can see:
* My tape measure
* My red kitchen timer (I use the 'pomodoro' method where you work solidly for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break, then another 25 minutes and so on)
* New mountain brooches! Note that they're a little different to my first batch, with the stitching running vertically. You can't see in this picture, but the wool base is two shades, with a lighter grey at the top cut to an angle from the stripe that was on the jumper's sleeve. It's a different wool to the one in the other mountain brooches.
* White wool yarn skein
* Grey thread for sewing brooches up
* My amazing Fiskars scissors specially for fabric (rather sharp)
* End of a Toblerone tube. I am considering using it as a template for some smaller triangle brooches.
* Wool jumper (sorry, that would be 'sweater' in American English) that I'm using for the brooches (the last owner shrank it in the wash) It has a little bit of nylon in it, but you can't really tell.
* Scraps of the aforementioned jumper for sandwiching inside the brooches to pad them out
* My notepad. Perhaps I'm the only one that does this, but I work out how much each item I make costs in materials, for reference when I do my stocktake (which again, some handmade sellers might not bother doing) where I calculate how much the value of all my stock and materials are. I do this in April for the benefit of those lovely people at the HMRC tax office. The biggest cost in making these brooches is going to be the time spent. Making, photographing and listing this batch will probably equate to a full working day.
* My chenille needles - these are sharp needles with big eyes. They are essential for sewing thick yarn embroideries - I am so glad I discovered them!

Anyway, I hope you folks enjoyed a little peek into the very glamorous JumpUp studio! I wish I had one of those lovely bright, insanely tidy flats you see featured on Apartment Therapy and such. Maybe if I got rid of the toilet roll?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

In formation

I discovered this amazing video of a flock of starlings:

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

The video is by Sophie Windsor Clive and titled Murmuration (who knew there was such a brilliant name for a flock of starlings?)

I got a bit hooked on finding similar things - this one is lovely too: