I interviewed Cath Janes some time ago now. I’d started reading her excellent blog and for many reasons could not pull myself away. This was a digital space with a heart to it. A large, thumping, flesh wrapped cluster bomb of a heart. I have to say I think I even fell in love with Cath. A bit. Her rage was a lull in the ocean for me. Her fury was my lullaby. A flat tide rolling over boiling water.
Then it all went a bit quiet. The edges blurred. Some break in stride I noticed. Then, one fiery morning, her public became witness to the birth of Kraken Creations, in her words “Handmade rays of sunshine for you and your home, online shop and one-woman war against ditzy florals.” I scratched my head. Had the claws retracted? Had the scaly form sunk deeper still in that volcanic tomb? I wanted to know more. Pray Miss Janes, tell me more.
Give me a vision of a typical day for you in five words.
Coffee, inspiration, determination, fun, coffee.
So what happened? First rage now sewing?
When I started writing on www.thekrakenwakes.org it was because I was recovering from a very serious mental breakdown, one which ended my career as a freelance broadsheet journalist. I’ve always felt passionately about social issues (and social idiocies) and the blog gave me a chance to get interested in writing again but without the pressure of deadlines or having to pay the mortgage. I found putting my rage into words deeply therapeutic and enormous fun. During this time I rediscovered my love of sewing, something I had abandoned and forgotten about during my career. I took it up again to give my days purpose and creativity and to give me something to look forward to. By the time I felt well enough to start earning money and coping with the outside world it was a no-brainer to turn my sewing hobby into a business which is now www.krakenkreations.co.uk. I enjoyed working alone and under my own steam so went for it. It shocks a lot of people when they hear the ever-enraged kraken now sews for a living but when they see some of the very sweary things I embroider it all makes sense.
You’ve raised a point recently about how female crafters squander their skills by endlessly making ‘home sweet home’ plaques and pink bunting. What do you feel is at the heart of the problem AND why aren’t there more male crafters?
The problem is multi-layered. In terms of what women make, I truly think that women have been told for so long that pink is a female colour that they naturally use it in products that are aimed at women. It’s a rut that millions of women fall into and in, my experience, it’s not until alternatives are pointed out to them that they see there is another way. The high street and its obsession with pink for women also gives the impression that pink is what women want to buy so when women set up their craft businesses they emulate this. As someone who sews, even mainstream fabrics are essentially floral which even gives us sewists less choice when we make our own items. Talk to any woman who eschews the pink and floral and they’ll tell you how hard it can be to find alternative prints. In all, it’s easier to go with the pink, floral flow than to forge your own way and this is what a lot of women do.
As for male crafters, there are a lot out there but they tend towards things like woordworking or metal crafts (in my experience). Women completely dominate the craft market at the mo and I suspect that is because they can do it from home and around the kids and they are falling back on skills they were taught in school. Also, the whole marketing of sewing at the mo is at women which doesn’t encourage men to do it too. You can pick up all sorts of sewing mags but many of them won’t have a single pic of a man in them. Saying that, The Great British Sewing Bee has a male judge (Patrick Grant) and this year a man won it so hopefully things are changing.
How do you organise your time? Seriously.
I am very structured. I go to my sewing shed every morning at about 9.30am and work for as long as I can until I pick up my daughter from school or after-school club. What I do during the day depends on whether I have commissions or want to start a new range of products. This means I either sew all day long or spend some of the day developing new patterns, assessing what I think will sell well if I make it, looking in books for inspiration, taking pics to share on the internet etc. This is all interspersed with social networking, without which I’d not sell anything. Mondays are utterly dedicated to scheduling my networking tweets for the week (it’s tedious but worth it) and planning how I want my week on the internet to look. Social media for crafters is an ever-hungry beast and I have to stay inventive to stay seen. Many people think that crafting means waiting for the muse to appear before floating around in a creative daze but the reality is way more business-like than that if you want to make money from what you do.
What first drew me to you was your clear strength and belief in yourself. Do you feel that self belief is key to sourcing your own creativity?
I have to admit to not always having self-belief and having days where I whimper and panic over whether I am doing the right things! I think self-belief is vital in being creative because if you assume you won’t be good at something you won’t even try it, which is the death knell for creativity. Crafting often consists of lots of fuck-ups but you learn and move on. Being fearful of those fuck-ups means you never try and therefore never succeed. On the walls of my sewing shed I have lot of images that I love and a few messages that make me keep going. One of them is by the author Neil Gaiman, explaining that he hopes the year to come is full of mistakes because it’s mistakes that lead us down exciting paths. I look at that every day. When setting up Kraken Kreations I went though a period of thinking, “What if it’s shit? What if I can’t do it?” but my husband reminded me that there was nothing to lose and he was right. If you have nothing to lose, fucking-up really isn’t fucking-up at all.
At what point did you think “I can actually do this”?
Really? Honestly? About three weeks ago. Kraken Kreations has been open for nine months and even though I know I’m on the right track it’s only in the last three weeks that I feel I’ve got a real grip on the balance of running a business again. After having a mental breakdown it can take a long time to stop doubting your abilities and I feel as if those doubts, those negative voices that crop up (I call it Shit FM because it used to play all of the time in my head when I was ill) are finally gone. This is the closest I have felt to a fully functioning human since 2010, the worst point of my breakdown!
How do you talk to your kids about self belief?
Oh, Kraken Junior gets endless pep talks from me. She says she wants to be an astronaut? I say, “If that’s what you want to do, do it!”. If she wants to roll about in a puddle of mud I say the same thing (unless I am dying with tiredness and need to collapse). Nothing but nothing makes me rage more than when parents tell their kids they’ll never be this or that because that’s not what ‘normal’ people do. When I see the amount of potential a child has it’s a crime to not encourage it. I try to be practical about these things too. If Kraken Junior wants to open a toy hospital (thanks Doc McStuffins!) we talk about what it would take to achieve that and how she can put that into action. It’s about encouraging her to see a problem or a goal, deconstruct it and find solutions. I think a huge part of self-belief can be about breaking issues down into manageable pieces and then making them work. You gain confidence and belief along the way.
Have you had any “personal” message requests you just couldn’t sew? If so please tell me what they are.
None yet. I’ll sew most things but nothing that involves Catholics, Tories, UKIP or the EDL. That covers most of the vile in the world.
Have your experiences made you think/act differently as a parent?
I’d certainly say that my happiness has a massive impact on the happiness of the family. When I had PND and PTSD, after giving birth to Kraken Junior, I was very ill for a long time and it completely impacted on my relationship with my girl. I didn’t even think she was my child for the first couple of years. Because of this I don’t know if I would have acted differently as a mum without having gone through my mental illness first. I only know life with it. However, my self realisation very clearly projects a strong image of me to my child. She sees me doing what I love and being self motivated enough to start my own business which I think teaches her so many things. She’s seven and already talks about having her own businesses, just like me, when she is older (a toy clinic mixed with a post office is the latest). My self realisation also makes me very conscious of allowing Kraken Junior to do what she loves because I now know that this is the key to most things in life. Parents set such a huge example to their kids and I want the lessons I have learned from my experience to be passed onto her.
If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?
Bloody hell! What a question! Don’t ask me how I’d pay for all of this or achieve it but how about:
Equality across gender, sexual, economic, health, social and political divides;
Eradication of the pink/ blue ‘rule’ for girls and boys;
Earlier retirement age for people who want to spend their remaining working days being creative;
The glorious smell of babies’ heads to be pumped into every household;
The use of blood, not blue water, in tampon ads.
A massive thank you to Cath for taking the time to give such an in-depth view of her life, some brilliant pearls of wisdom and a fat chunk of honesty. Do take a wander over to Kraken Kreations. The customer service is second to none. And lovingly sweary.