Helen White meets Pontypridd-based textile designer Cath Janes of “Kraken Kreations”, a passionate feminist who creates funky accessories and loves sewing.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started.
I’m the woman behind Kraken Kreations, where I sew with really brightly coloured and graphic fabrics to create anything from bags through to home decor. I’m actually a journalist by trade and worked as a freelance broadsheet journalist until deciding to change careers by swapping pens for pins six months ago.
I have no formal training in textiles and my chosen craft, learning instead at my Nanna’s knee as a child. I sewed my own clothes through my university years until my journalism career took up my time and it was during a bout of poor health in 2010, when I was looking for a new interest to fill my time, that I rediscovered my love of sewing as well as my ability to do it. It began with a simple skirt and then a dress until I became addicted to accessories and home decor, by which time I realised that the only way to justify my wild spending on fabric was to start selling my products. That was when Kraken Kreations was born.
I love your name Kraken Kreations – how did you come up with that name?
Even though I left journalism I still had a passion for writing about political and social issues so I started a blog called The Kraken Wakes. It’s essentially one woman’s rage (often sweary) about all manner of issues. It made sense, when opening my online shop, to stick with the Kraken name not least because I am so well associated with it as a blogger. It’s particularly handy now that I have started trying craftivism, linking my angry blogging with my happy sewing.
What do you love about sewing?
So many things. I have always adored fabrics to the point that, upon entering a new fabric store, I’ll do little hops from one foot to the other with excitement. Sewing is essentially a fabulous excuse to work with those fabrics. More than that, though, I adore the creativity involved in taking a flat piece of fabric and working with it until it becomes something as beautiful as it is useful. Increasingly I am photographing my work as I go along to capture this transformation. The feeling of satisfaction I get at seeing what I have created never fails to thrill me. I also find sewing utterly therapeutic, if I’m not sewing to a snug deadline that is. Not only can it not be rushed, making me work at an even pace, but it frees up my mind. I often find myself working through problems subconsciously as I sew and I am always a much happier person as a result of it.
Who or what inspires you?
Inspiration hits me from all sorts of directions. Yesterday it was a vinyl floor tile as I passed the window of a carpet shop. In the evening it was the pattern of the Moshi Monsters that my little girl had left on the carpet. It can be anything from a colour or a pattern to a coat or a car that sparks a chain reaction in my mind. Mostly, though, I am inspired by fabric. Over and again I’ll go fabric shopping with an idea for a product in mind but I’ll then see a fabric that I immediately picture as a bag or piece of craftivism. It’s as if the fabric itself speaks to me. All I do is create what I think will show it off the best.
You are a very outspoken feminist, who loves a good old rant. How does this show in your work?
This is something I have wrestled with a great deal since I launched Kraken Kreations. I’m very much aware that my active life as a feminist won’t suit everyone who wants to buy my products, which is why, until now, I have kept both interests separate. However, I have been inspired by craftivism and am working through ways in which to unite my feminist side and my sewing side. I’ve started making small decorative placards with feminist, political and social messages embroidered onto them, I’ve started making applique textile art with similar messages and I’m working on a line of very sweary hearts for Valentine’s Day. It is early days but I’m confident that this a permanent line of products for Kraken Kreations.
Who are your main customers?
UK women between the ages of 30 - 45 (thanks Facebook analytics!). I am one of these women too and my work is certainly aimed at this demographic. One of the reasons that I work with strong colours graphics is to counter the flood of ditzy, pink, vintage prints on the market. I genuinely think that adult, intelligent, independent, earning women want to be represented by more than this ubiquitous print and that’s why my work is aimed squarely at them.
What is your favourite item you made so far?
It’s whatever I am working on at the moment. I become so impassioned by my latest product that it is always my favourite until I move onto the next one. My little placards and my latest textile art has thrilled me though, not just because I adore making them but because they allow me to develop my creative side as much as possible.
You do take on commission work. What has been your most challenging commission so far?
I have taken on a few handbags which have challenged me. They have turned out brilliantly but they have involved practice and mountains of mathematics before actually cutting into the chosen fabrics. It’s not the sewing that is a challenge as much as reworking patterns to suit the measurements provided by the customer. I’m happy to make anything to the requirements of the customer but creating a bridge between what they want and what can be done is sometimes tricky. That’s usually the toughest part of any commission.
Can you tell us a bit about where you create your bags and accessories?
I work from what I call my sewing shed. It is a brick shed an entire patio’s length away from my house which is brilliant. It was my office when I was a freelance journalist but now it houses all of the tools of my sewing trade. It’s flooded with light because the front is entirely glass and it is also beyond the reach of my WiFi which means that when I am in there I have no internet access. Not only is this conducive to work but it stops me messing about with feminist debate when I should be sewing.
What do you consider you biggest achievement since starting your business?
My biggest achievement is starting the business. I went through a lot of personal soul-searching before launching my online store, because I wondered what I could add to a market that is already very busy. My husband encouraged me to have no fear and just go for it. It was good advice. I have found that my work is really well received and I haven’t been without a sale or commission since I opened my cyber-doors. It’s been a learning curve for my confidence and my self-belief and I feel successful simply because I am making something work when I feared it may not.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business so far?
The juggling between making and networking is a constant pressure and one that I’m not entirely sure I have mastered. I usually spend my days doing a mix of both but there are never enough hours! I find networking tough, not just converting contacts into sales but in finding enough time to do this efficiently. I had relied on Facebook for networking and pushing customers through to my website but this is getting harder and harder to do thanks to changes in the way Facebook works. My current challenge is to find new ways of doing this.
Starting a small crafting business in tough economic times is always a challenge. What advice can you give those who want to start their own craft business?
It is a massive cliché but you have to love what you do because you are going to spend a lot of time not just doing it but talking about it, marketing it, convincing others to buy it… I believe that if you want something to work enough you can make it work but your passion for your craft can be seriously tested when things don’t go your way, when sales are slow or when no one responds to your networking efforts. You also need to conserve your self-belief for those days when someone is critical of your work or when you have wobbles of confidence. My sewing shed has all sorts of inspirational messages on its walls simply to remind me to never give up.
The New Year has already started – and for some of us it means making resolutions and plans. What are your big plans for 2015?
I don’t make resolutions because they make me ramp up the pressure on myself, something I hate. However, I do have fluid goals for the next twelve months. I’d love to finally crack networking, creating a large enough base of followers that my products reach a really welcoming audience. I would also love to get much more involved in craftivism and to draw in an audience that loves my craftivist makes. Above all, though, I want to keep selling. I know so many crafters who find the market tough and competitive and give up after not making any sales and I want to be one of those people who, this time next year, thinks I did it! I survived another year!
Where do you mostly sell your accessories?
I only sell online and only online, hence the focus on networking. I want to get much more involved in craft fairs but have a couple of sticking points! Not only is the weekend family time, which puts me off taking up an entire day at a craft fair, but I find it tough to find good craft fairs that have a good footfall that won’t break the bank.
You can find Cath's website and social media links here:
Facebook: : https://www.facebook.com/KrakenKreations