This week we are very excited to be talking with Jenny McCabe, author of Handprint and make your own Bags, here's what Jenny had to say...
1. Welcome to our Mid-Week Chat Jenny, it’s fantastic to have you with us! Tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from and how did you get into crafting?
It's lovely to be here, I live in Lancaster in the northwest of England with my husband and 2 children. Crafting has always been a huge part of my life, I can't bear to buy anything as I can usual make it, from knitting booties to fitting a kitchen, I’m a stubborn woman, who won’t have any help! Sewing has always been my best craft skill. When I was a teenager I started making my own clothes and it hasn’t stopped, I love constructing a garment or using the sewing machine to free embroider an artwork. It’s like magic, making 3D forms out of fabric, it never ceases to amaze me and there’s always so much to learn.
2. What sort of craft products do you make?
I make and sell hand printed fabric bags and home-wares through my brand Coo & co. I love to keep it simple and all my fabric designs are simple hand drawn lines on rustic linen. My imagery tends to look at nature, birds, butterflies and trees, this is a genuine love of mine, we have an amazing garden backing onto a local park and woodland and it’s always full of the most amazing bird and wild life, it’s a daily joy to watch and learn about our fantastically varied British wildlife.
3. Your first book Handprint and Make Your Own Bags has recently been published, what can people expect from the book and what is your favourite project?
The book is jam packed with projects, you start by printing your own fabric, using hand printing techniques which can be a simple or as intricate as you choose, then pick from one of the 35 different bag patterns to make. I tried very hard to make sure there were lots of different projects to cover every level of sewing ability, but I also wanted to inspire people to try out something challenging and feel the joy of finishing a project and saying I made that. My favourite project in the book is probably the children’s back pack- I just love the print, it’s so simple to build up the waves with a little shell shape.
Jenny's favourite project!
4. Birds have always played a big part in your designs, how do you make sure that your work stays unique when certain designs become particularly fashionable?
Birds have always been in my work, even in my primary school books. I am a real twitcher and birds are a big part of my daily life. I’ve tried not to draw birds but I just cant help it! The trend for birds has been around for a while now and some things you see do feel a bit forced, but if the designs have passion behind them, that always shines through.
5. Talk as through a typical day for you as a maker.
I have one child still in primary school so my day usually begins with the school run, out to a beautiful rural school so there always a good bit of bird action on the way there and back. Coffee is the next stop, usually in my home studio with a pencil and paper to make the list for the day. I always have a few orders to make and package, so that would be me sewing and finishing. I try to do my printing in big runs so once a month I will spend the whole day printing 10 metres plus of my fabric, ready for all the order that come in. Whatever activity I’m doing I need a bit of background company to pace my day, I love radio 4 in the morning but by lunch I swap over to a Sci-fi film or vintage British comedy to see me through till the school pick up
6. Did you enjoy making things as a child? What was the first craft item you made, who was it for and did they like it!?
Wow that’s a great question, I did love making and can’t remember a time when I didn’t, I have jumbled memories of sewing rag dolls as a very young child. The clearest first memory is the comic and stop frame animations I used to draw with my brothers, all very silly but such a great sense of team work and creativity.
A Perfect One for the Children to Make!
7. Have you ever had a craft disaster?
Oh many many, some days I spend most of my making time unpicking! I live in fear of sewing through my finger with the sewing machine ( my mum did it when we were little and it has frightened me ever since) I did try to make a tailored jacket a few Christmas’s ago for my husband, I was so pleased with how the front pockets turned out that I neglected to spend much time on the fit, needless to say it has never been finished after the first trying on and realising that it wasn’t even human shaped, it will remain in a bag behind my fabric stash forever more.
8. When did you realise that your love for making could also earn you a living and how did you go about setting up your business?
I spent the first 12 years of my working life after graduating working as a community artist, devising and delivering creative projects in schools and hospitals, helping other to realise their creativity. I loved that work but it could at times be stressful and after having my second child 6 years ago I started to have a desire to make my own art works and started painting and drawing again in my spare time, and soon re-found printmaking, the beauty of being able to repeat an image lends itself very well to selling handmade things because you can make lots. In 2010 I wound down all of my other work and started to make and sell my hand make textiles, I found out about selling online with sites like Etsy and folksy almost right away and learnt quickly how they worked, it took off right away and has been going form strength to strength ever since.
9. Who is your greatest artistic influence and why?
The assistants from Take Hart were my first art love and remain my greatest artistic influence, along with Tony Hart himself- a permanent fixture on British children’s TV through out the 70s, 80s & 90s, he is just the most perfect English gentleman with the most versatile creative skills and knowledge, what’s not to love! I dreamed of being one of the girls who used the staple gun to create massive art works on the wall or show us how to do clever things with pastels.
10. What new ventures do you have in the works?
There is always so much going on in my studio, I have new bag designs nearly ready for sale, a new range of scarves coming out in the summer and I’m about to begin work on the second book! Hand printed fabrics again but this time looking at Homewares- so cushions and curtains and much more.
Handprint and make your own Bags by Jenny McCabe is published by CICO Books and is available here.