Here at Guild we are super excited for the second Cat Rabbit workshop, Make Your Own Plush Character being held on Saturday the 28th of October. Cat has been practicing as a textile artist for many years and is well known and respected within the craft community for her imaginative, character-driven sculptures. We interviewed Cat to find out more about her practice, her cat Porco and her passion for collaboration and a sustainable approach to making things...
Can you tell us a little about your self and your practice?
My name is Cat, I’m a textile artist from Melbourne working out of the Nicholas Building and also my spare room at home. My practice ranges from making custom plush toy portraits, handmade products for markets and my online store, to making books and fun art contraptions with Isobel Knowles under the name of Soft Stories.
When and how did you first get started in making?
I’ve always been making things - as a child it was houses out of cornflake boxes (designed for moths to live in, they didn’t though), pet rocks and lavender bags. In terms of plush toys, it was just a hobby at first - making little felt gifts for friends and sketching characters in the corners of my school books. I was living in Hobart at the time, and the handmade was starting to get a revival. Nice friends opened stores concentrating on local and handmade products, and I was lucky enough to be invited to stock with them. This gave me further purpose and confidence to create more regularly.
Can you describe those early days?
It was a nice time to be making things and feeling that big shift from buying fast, mass produced items to focusing on more sustainable ways of doing things. A good friend and I started up a market in Hobart with this in mind - just tables, a simple cloth, with our products on top. We made a corner for tea and biscuits - I remember we brought all our lounge room furniture into a gallery at Salamanca Arts Centre and screened Faythe Levine’s ‘Handmade Nation’ at the end of the day. It was a nice happy community of people with the feeling that something big was changing for the better.
What has the journey been like since those early days?
I had never set out to earn a living from my craft, but here I am! It has been a matter of jumping from one project to the next - and all of them have been quite different. There are times when I’ll focus on craft markets and then I’ll spend months just working on one exhibition. I suppose I’m carving out a path for myself in this plush toy field, so variety is key and it’s always interesting to see how I fit in within different art/craft communities. Collaboration has been very important for the growth of my practice, as has making sure I am constantly expanding my skill set. Lately, I’m really excited about the prospect of making more stories for my characters to act out. I just made a little photographic comic for a recent exhibition at Outré Gallery and it’s really inspired me to make more like it. It feels like the natural extension of creating the characters, to then make a world and storyline for them to exist within.
Can you give us some insight into your creative process and where/what do you draw inspiration from?
Because I am working on such a variety of projects at all times, my creative process varies too. A lot of my personal work - that I make for exhibition, or just as experimentation - grows in a very adhoc way. I don’t always sketch it out, I just sit at my desk and start sewing or felting bits together, not even necessarily looking at reference photos, just adding bits and cutting bits as it feels right. This is my favourite way to work but obviously isn’t always very practical when I have a deadline and also have to show clients/customers/collaborators how things are going to look, so my other creative process can involve a lot of planning, sketching and collecting reference photos. I don’t necessarily make patterns but I have a manual of how to make certain felt shapes firmly lodged in my head - this is what happens after 10 or so years of making plush toys - so I have this more methodical way of working too, which contrasts the more organic process. It keeps it interesting.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Each work day is quite different depending on my to-do list, so I try to organise regular activities such as gym classes and post office runs to give me a sense of routine. I really like routine. Even if it is just having a cup of tea at a certain time each day. I usually wake up. feed my cat, eat some yoghurt and get straight to work. If I faff about at this point the day gets away from me so I find that starting as early as possible is best for me. There’s a nice peaceful window of time before 9am - too early for texts/emails/phone calls - where I can just knuckle down and get ahead before things get busy. I also really like to read, and seize as much time as possible to do this - even in really busy days there are waiting rooms/train commutes/etc - so I try to have a book with me to make the most of these little reading opportunity pockets.
What are you...
reading? Always a few things at once! At the moment it’s a book of short stories by E. M. Forster, I just finished Patience by Daniel Clowes and I’m really enjoying reading poetry at the moment - I’ve been reading from a collected verse of T.S Eliot before bed every night and I’m finding it a nice thing to do before sleep.
listening to? The new LCD Soundsystem album, American Dream. Amazing!
watching? The Great British Bake Off. Always.
Can you tell us the first thing that pops into your mind when we mention the word…
Ritual: Vegemite on toast
What’s one thing you can’t live without at the moment?
I’m in Japan on holiday at the moment and I made a strange decision not to pack a needle and thread. I promptly ripped a seam in my linen jumpsuit and immediately regretted their absence, so I guess I’ll be going to the store for needle and thread tomorrow and should never be so silly as to think that I will go without it again; for creative and practical reasons.
Any advice or words of wisdom for other makers out there?
Always work on expanding your skill set! Learning to photograph my work was such an important skill for me to learn, but then there’s the small things too - like finding a better way of setting out a spreadsheet for accounts. It all helps and makes you feel way more in control of your life!
We are really excited about your upcoming workshop at Guild, can you tell us a bit about this?
The class will teach you the basics of making your own plush toy! I’ll go through the planning process, how to make different felt forms and the basic stitches. We’ll also talk about the fun bit - accessorising your character with tiny felt clothes, bags and food. Making a plush toy can be one of those things that it’s nice to take time over, so there’ll be a take home zine for participants to reference so they don’t feel rushed to complete it in the time frame.
Any other projects or news you want to share?
I’m working on a fun card game at the moment with my friend Eveline Tarunadjaja which we’ll be launching at Melbourne Finders Keepers in October. I’m also looking forward to running some workshops at the Big Design Market in both Melbourne and Sydney - it’s going to be a big market season this year!
You can follow Cat on Instagram