What was your inspiration in setting up Scatterpillar Designs?
My children are my inspiration. Everything about my company is inspired by my children. It is a story about parenthood, and of childhood. We have three children: two boys and a girl. We lost our firstborn, a little boy, in 2006. We went on to have twins, a boy and a girl, the following year.
My son came up with the name for Scatterpillar Designs. We were in the garden in the summer of 2010. There was a nasturtium in our garden and my children became mesmorised by the green things moving around. My son said “look mum, a scatterpillar”. I thought what a brilliant name! My children love drawing. I loved watching them create and explore different materials. As a qualified textile designer (I studied in NCAD), watching my children drawing, I really had the urge to create something. I began with my son’s drawings of houses. Then I started to look at the little characters they were creating. I began making them. My children were so delighted with their creations being turned into softies, I started to take commissions for softies, cushions and embroidery on canvas.
I wanted to combine all of these elements and set about creating a very special business based on our story of childhood. I want to share it with parents and families, who want something very special that will put a smile on their face.
Tell us about memories – what’s your first memory?
The earliest memory I have is of my grandfather handing me a big red apple. He brought me for a walk down the road to speak with one of the neighbours. It‘s funny how memories work. As I remember there was hoop high up on this square piece of wood. Now I know it was a basketball net. My grandfather died when I was four. This, I think, is why it is was so important for me to remember him.
Memories are so important, but speaking as a parent who has lost a baby, you realise how valuable memories are. From their blankets, babygros and their clothes, to the photos one takes – all of these become very special as the time passes. The smell of their clothes evokes memories that will propel/ carry you back to happier times. They are so powerful, they create strong emotions and feelings within us. It’s connecting to a time and place, where we can give space and honour these precious moments. I hope with my work, I help people hold onto the memories.
My commission work makes very special keepsakes. Each one is a unique, one-off design. It is based on the child’s own drawing. It’s important to note that I do not make commissioned work from a downloaded pattern, so they are very special. I can incorporate precious clothing into the softie, cushion or embroidery on canvas. I have been asked to create work for parents of children who have passed away. I work closely with the parents to create a very special reminder of their beautiful children.
Explain the Scatterpillar characters?
They all have names given to them by my children. The first character was Jack, then came Lula from my daughter’s drawing. They all have a special name. You can see them all in a short film I produced along with the help of Michela Orlandi explaining the story of Scatterpillar Designs. They each have a story behind their creation, from the time they were imagined by my children.
One that features in his own little short film is The Sock Detective. For my children’s birthday I wanted to make them a T-shirt, so I asked them to draw something. My son drew a boy wearing a T-shirt. He changed his mind, so he put it away. I had a look at it later. I found this interesting character (who is also in my logo minus the suitcase). I set about making him. That night I was in my children’s bedroom looking for socks. I said “Guys, where are all the socks gone?”. The two little people piped up “Mum you’ve got to get the Sock Detective”. With this, I had his name. And I gave him a suitcase for all his socks.
What’s your process? How do you work with the children’s designs?
A lot of the drawings from children are very simple line drawings. They might not have any colour, so I work closely with the parents or child to find out what colours they would like to use. As a textile designer, I would use various techniques to create their specially commissioned keepsake. Primarily, I use free-motion embroidery and applique. I invested in a new sewing machine three years ago and it is great to use.
Each piece is very unique. They are not made using a downloaded pattern. Each design is different and unique to each person. They are original works and take a lot of time to create. I have to start from scratch and I think about how to make the piece.
What are your hopes for the business?
This year I took part in Creative Island, Showcase 2015. It was my second year to take part. Last year, I developed a range of Viking softies in collaboration with The National Museum of Ireland. They are currently on sale in three locations: Kildare Street, Collins Barracks and Countrylife, Turlough Park in Mayo.
This year, I have developed a range of characters based on the original softies from my children’s imagination. They are imagined by my child, and designed for your children. They will be available online and in retail shops. I have had a lot of interest in my work and I am currently working on orders, so watch my website for news. I really love creating the commissioned work and it is very personal. This will always be the core of my business.
At the moment, my work is being exhibited with over a 100 designers from around the world in The Peninsula Arts Centre in Plymouth University. The exhibition is called Envelope. We were asked to place objects we are valuing or value into an envelope and post it off to them. The exhibition runs until the 28th of March, it will then go on tour.
I have been very lucky since I began this business to have lots of people that have helped me along this journey. They have recognised how special this business is and how it has grown from an idea based around special memories. It has taken a lot of hard work and determination. I have always thought, wouldn’t it be great for my children to come and work within the business in the future? But I suppose they already are working in it now!! I have often said this is all going towards their college fund!
What has been your best Scatterpillar moment so far?
Ah, there has been so many! I suppose, if I had to choose one, it was my children’s expression, when they saw Ryan Tubridy hold up The Angry Eyeball on The Late Late Toy Show (2013). My son is so proud of his creation. He just couldn’t believe his eyes, that his softie was on the show. I couldn’t believe my eyes either.
The heart of my business, at the end of the day is all about having fun with my children and children’s drawings through art and design. This is where the story of Scatterpillar Designs begins and what it strives on…
Facebook: Scatterpillar Designs
All photos by Ailbhe O’Donnell