Skull and Cross Buns

wamc_jan13_promo_scb So, can you guess what this website sells? You’ll never guess and that’s one of the best things about small independent businesses. This fabulous website is the brainchild of the very lovely and very talented Emily Fox. Emily sells hand carved stamps and designs, but not just any ordinary designs, some really fun animals, words, bunting and seasonal stamps. All lovingly hand carved by her fair hands!

I was asked by Emily to come up with a design for a website that matched her unique and quirky style. We had a great palette of pinks and greys to work with. Emily was keen to have a neutral website which allowed the products to shine through, but was also fun and not too serious.

I used a combination of washi tape patterns in the pale pink and we introduced a new fancy font to add some interest to the design along with a lovely duck blue colour to add some zing!

The website was designed using the fabulous create.net platform and I think the simplicity of the layout and the design really works and I am thrilled with the results. The new site has had such lovely feedback on the official Skull and Cross Buns facebook page. Go over ‘like’ immediately (please) and be sure to visit the website and get yourself some proper fabulous stamps.

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Why it’s important to support your independent local business

I have always been a believer in supporting local businesses and during the lead up to Christmas I made a conscious decision to shop local and indie whenever I could. Without our local trades and services we will end up with soulless, generic town and city centres.

It is with a sad heart that I greeted the news of the closure of one of Peterborough’s most loved independent retailers. Reba Boutique is owned by indie champion Rachel Parkin, one of the most dynamic and business savvy people I know. The closure was prompted by a number contributing factors, but the reason that struck most with me the most was the fact that it’s so tough for small independent businesses to survive today. It appears that not enough is being done by the Government and local authority to help support the smaller businesses. Lots of sound-bites and words, but just not enough action.

Since the announcement of the closure, the Reba team had been inundated with messages of support and sweet stories from people who have used or been a customer of Reba during its 19 years of trading. People have felt a real connection and fondness for this little boutique. What made it stand out from the crowd was the unique range of products and the amazing staff. I would challenge you to find the same level of relationship between a customer and a large high street chain.

Peterborough has lost a little gem and a little bit of its heart today. Goodbye Reba, it’s been fun knowing you.

P.S. The final trading day will be Saturday 11th January 2014. There are still some corking bargains to be had in the epic end of lease sale so be sure to pop in and show the girls some love.

You can read the official press release below.

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End of an era

When I opened Reba way way back in 1994 As a young 24 year old I wanted to bring something different to the city. I fell in love with the building, its vaulted ceilings, stone walls and air of timelessness. My logic was, if you’re going to spend all day somewhere it should be somewhere beautiful. I’ve never regretted my choice.

Fast forward 19 years. While Reba has had many incarnations it has always offered something a bit different from the norm, either handmade, beautiful, quirky, or from a small label or company. I’m a firm believer in the “have nothing that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful” adage.

Sadly, it’s the end of our time here in Peterborough, a city that has for the most part been kind to us and supported us with enthusiasm. For many people reading this, this really won’t register as important in the grand scheme of life and of course it’s not really up there with finding a cure for incurable diseases or anything so noble, but it is, in my estimation at least, the end of an era, and not just for my little shop.

It’s an embittered and embattled time for small independent retailers, rents are way out of line with the footfall that’s a daily reality on our high street, business rates are unbelievably high and all this against the backdrop of the highest internet usage in Europe means that it’s no longer reasonable for us to continue in Peterborough.

On a personal note, this saddens me, not only for the good people who’ve lost jobs at Reba through no fault of their own, many of whom have worked for me and together for years, building great relationships with each other and our customers. But also for the city. Not because I think we are irreplaceable, but because what we need more of on our high streets are independent shops and businesses that bring character to an area. The thought of a city filled with clone stores interchangeable with any high street in the country is to me, simply not appealing but it is the future we are looking into.

I’ve always believed that a great business comes from the heart. Sure money in the till is the final demarcation of success, but doing something well and with passion, professionalism and enthusiasm should be applauded – I worry for fledgling businesses trying to start in the city…. Where would you open to try out your business idea? If we don’t have spaces for these new businesses where will our young entrepreneurs go? Without that entrepreneurial spirit what will be the cost to the city in lost ideas, talent & youth?

So what has happened for us to finally call it a day after 19 years….? Well, the change in demographic of the city has had a huge impact. The work on Cathedral Square, while necessary to upgrade the city, took a massive toll on shoppers habits and then the never ending increase in parking charges… But the final nail in the coffin was the opening of the Peter Brotherhood retail park. Why would a customer pay to come into town to shop when they can pretty much get what they need out of town with free parking to boot?!

We’ve long been told that we can have it all. We’re the internet age, we can shop online and then visit an indie store, Garden Park, farmers market or thriving market town. Except of course we can’t! Or at least if these other sales avenues are going to exist outside of the traditional high street then rents and rates have to change and fast! Today, not tomorrow, that kind of fast.

Many of you reading this will have seen our campaign to promote independent retail in Peterborough through the launch of the indie retail map and local indie retailers. When I started this campaign early in 2013, I already knew that we would have to close, but I promised myself that if I was going to leave then I would leave with my head held high knowing that I had done everything in my power to challenge attitudes both in consumer’s minds and within the ranks of the authorities responsible for making many of the decisions detailed above.

So how do I feel about the closure of Reba today? If I’m truly honest, I feel as if I’ve failed. Logically I understand that 19 years can’t really be construed as a failure, but that is most certainly what it feels like. I understand that the odds were against us from the start…. But it still hurts.

As a wholesaler too, this story of mine isn’t just “my story” it’s being played out on High Streets up and down the country – We are in a time of change and it’s my belief that when the dust settles we’ll end up with a deeply divided system. Indie shops will, for the most part migrate to affluent pockets, market towns, community driven areas and out of the way places that can support them without crazy rent demands. Whilst our cities will become soulless clone towns that are interchangeable with every other high street in the UK.

While I might sound like a embittered doom merchant, that’s really not my intention. I’d merely like to point out that this is happening in front of our eyes. The opening of yet another betting shop in Bridge Street must surely be a wakeup call?

My vision for the city is for an aspirational centre, not because I’m a galloping snob, but because apart from it being pleasanter socially for each of us to live in a city like that, it also makes sound economic sense. Companies looking to relocate and bring their workforce with them will be looking at the amenities on offer… A vibrant city centre is high on their agenda. This is and always has been about so much more than simply “shopping”

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not “Peterborough bashing” I’m just reporting on things from my own little corner of the world. Peterborough has been good to us and in return we’ve tried to give something back. My vision was and remains to something different, to celebrate individualism, to offer choice and variety and fun…. It was not about purely making money, lest anyone confuse the two.

Facing our 20th year of trading, taking the decision to exit our lease has been a difficult and emotional one for all of us concerned. We would like to thank our staff, our suppliers and of course we’d like to thank the people of Peterborough and the surrounding areas, who have supported us for the past 19 years. We’ve had a blast and we’re so grateful to have been part of your lives. We wish you the very best.

Finally, I’d like to thank the local media who have always been very supportive of us and the council who listened to us. If you’re out and about shopping, please support the other indie retailers in the city.

We would like the farewell for Reba to be a celebration of our 19 year history, so if you are in the city centre before the 5th January please stop by to check out the sale, say goodbye and sign our picture!

For fun:

19 facts about Reba :

1. We opened in September 1994 – the no 1 then was Wet Wet Wet’s Love is all around.

2. In 19 years we’ve only had 6 managers.

3. We’ve employed some of the Reba girls from the age of 16 through to becoming parents (& beyond)

4. We’ve had 6 Reba babies.

5. The Reba building is a scheduled ancient monument (for those of you who’ve wondered why we don’t do anything about the steps 😉

6. When we opened I was told we were crazy and no business survived there…. As a retail location it’s not an easy one that’s for sure.

7. The girls have always sworn that there’s a ghost…. They call him Alan! To lay to rest a Peterborough myth I’ve never encountered him.

8. The Hangman’s Gaol door that used to hang in the museum was given back to us and is our stockroom door – complete with gruesome markings 😉

9. We’ve had one robbery! Who breaks into a gaol!?!

10. We are precisely xx feet under street level

11. The building has been a men’s clothing store, a Christian bookshop & a pharmacy (to my knowledge)

12. In 1994 the minimum wage didn’t exist (but hourly rates were around £2.50) today it is £6.31(for over 21 year olds)

13. In 1994 there were no websites & internet usage had just begun. Faxes were the order of the day! Oh and no-one had a mobile phone – Let’s take a second to remember that 😉

14. Our top selling item when we opened was the inimitable incense stick! In 2013 it’s scarves !

15.When we opened we were called Balagan, this is a Hebrew word meaning chaos ! We changed it and rebranded in 2006 to separate ourselves from our wholesale design business.

16. Reba started from a Saturday market stall (next to WH Smiths) and yes it was cold in winter 🙂

17. We’ve had a few celebrities through our door, all of whom we never thought to photograph

18. Our jewellery designs have been featured in Grazia, Heat and a host of
other fashion magazines.

19. We wanted to end on a grand finale, but we can’t begin to count the number of people who’ve given or received a Reba gift over the past 19 years… It has to number thousands and thousands….. Thank you to every one of you. You have made the ride enjoyable! Sometimes slightly bonkers, but deeply enjoyable !

Goodbye from Rachel & the Reba girls

Dear Santa Letter – Free Download

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For personal use ONLY.

You may not use the file
For pornographic, unlawful or other immoral purposes, for spreading hate or discrimination, or to defame or victimise other people, sociteties, cultures.
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Happy Christmas folks!

icon_downloadTo download the PDF, right-click on the link below and select ‘Save Link As’.
Who Ate My Crayons – Free Letter to Santa – December 2013 – PDF 311KB

***UPDATE November 2016*** There’s also a 2016 version now available for FREE downloading.

Carrot and Apple Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting

carrotmuffins1This is a super easy recipe for moist and fluffy muffins. Takes around 10 minutes to prepare and 20-25 mins to bake.

Ingredients

175g brown muscovado sugar
100g wholemeal self-raising flour*
100g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp of cinnamon
zest 1 orange
2 eggs
150ml sunflower oil
3 medium sized carrots, grated
1 medium sized apple, grated with skin
*You can use a total of 200g of self-raising flour

Icing

I use the fool-proof recipe from The Pink Whisk, Perfect Cream Cheese Frosting.

Method

1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
2. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases.
3. In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients sugar, flours, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice, cinnamon and orange zest.
4. Whisk together the eggs and oil, then stir into the dry ingredients with the grated carrot and apple.
5. Divide the mixture between cases, I use an ice-cream scoop or measuring cup to ensure consistent levelled muffins.
6. Bake for 20-22 mins until a skewer poked in comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before icing.
7. Scoff!

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Personalised illustrated cards for new baby twins

I was asked the order day if I could produced some ‘new baby’ themed cards based around the same theme as the popular floral heart cards.

I thought about some possible shapes that I could use and when I found out that the babies were twins I immediately thought ‘socks!’. So here are some ‘socks’ doodle illustrated floral design cards (try saying that with a mouthful of cake!).

New Baby Floral Heart Illustrated Card

Available in the Shop soon.

Cherry Pie Lane

A while back I recieved an email from Charlie of Cherry Pie Lane (imagine my excitement people), alas, my dream of being paid in the form of cake was quickly dashed, but very quickly replaced by wanting to own lots of beautiful ceramic designs.

Cherry Pie Lane already had an online presence but it was time to upgrade to something that was easier to manage and give the business a new face-lift. Charlie wanted to start using the create.net system for her e-commerce solution. I believe that we found each other through the mighty twitter-sphere, although I am lucky to be in create’s little ‘black book’ of WDK designers and often get referals via that route.

So, Charlie gave me a detailed design brief which was along the lines of ‘I like clean lines, pink gingham and linen’. Simple really.

After a few rounds of revisions, me insisting on ‘less is more’ when it comes to gingham and some whipping sessions (don’t ask) we arrived at the final result. Although I jest about the loose brief, I knew that Charlie had a clear vision of what she wanted and it was up to me to translate that into a website that not only looked delicious but worked for Cherry Pie Lane.

It has been a pleasure to work on this project with such a fun and clever lady and I am thrilled that the website really does let the designs shine and take centre stage. Check out the new website and tell me which designs you love. My personal favourite has got to be the circus inspired designs, but I may just be channelling my inner clown.

Kyleigh’s Papercuts

Late last year I was asked by the very talented papercutting Goddess Kyleigh to help her set up and develop her own website. Kyleigh is a best seller on Not on The High Street, but she had never had time to set up her own website.

So the idea was that Kyleigh would provide me with a design concept and I would ‘plumb’ it into an e-commerce platform. We discussed various options and in the end we settled for a system that offered flexibilty to grow and be 100% client manageable.

It was a great pleasure working with a designer who knew what she wanted, but who was also open to suggestion when it came to adapting her ideas into something that would work online.

We actually completed the website last year, but because Kyleigh was totally swamped with orders over the holiday period she wasn’t able to finish uploading products to the site. I only nagged her a few times over that period. Honest.

I am thrilled to announce that it is finally launched and it is totally magnificant. Please go and admire the unique designs and wonder at the skill (there’s a clip you can watch) at what it takes to complete a custom papercut.

Thank you to Kyleigh for allowing me to be a small part of her papercutting empire. It was a pleasure working with such a talent.

Rosettes by Little A Designs

I received the most amazing package of goodies the other day. I had asked the very lovely sewing and hand stitching goddess that is Marna of Little A Designs for some special rosettes.

I knew they were going to be gorgeous, but I was blown away at all the attention to detail, from the washi tape ribbons to the hand made ‘little a’ ceramic buttons to the authenticity certificates. Beautifully presented and all made with love. When you commission something from Marna, expect something very special indeed.

My only dilemma is that I want to hang my HQ rosette in the middle of my monitor so I get to look at it all day long, however, this makes is a tad difficult to do any actual work.

I look forward to wearing my ‘nobber’ and ‘cakeface’ rosettes with utter pride.

Grammar obsessed posters

As promised recently I have now produced my grammar postcards in large format A3 posters.

These would make perfect gifts for friends, family members, teachers or anyone who appreciates the humor in grammar (or someone who is slightly obsessed with grammar, and needs to get out more).

If you’re anything like me, once you see the wrong use of your/you’re it will be almost impossible to see anything else.

“Help! I can’t seem to stop correcting other people’s grammar. *Sobs*
Awww, there, they’re, their.”

There They're Their

“The difference between knowing your shit & you’re shit.”

The Difference

“Let’s eat Grandma!
Punctuation saves lives.
Let’s eat, Grandma!
Think of the Grandmas.”

Let's eat Grandma

What’s your favourite twitch inducing error? Posters can be purchased in the shop.

Geek IT Unusual Valentine Cards

I love sketching and illustrating especially with simple black pen. I like the crispness of a black and white design. Sometimes I toy with the idea of introducing colours into my designs but invariably I always return to the black pen.

The other day I received an order for a ‘Love u’ code card and from someone in Canada (I love the idea of being international). I subsequently found out that the buyer found my card via a google search using keywords ‘Science Valentine Card’. How awesome is that? Just goes to prove that it’s worth updating your website content and blog.

So, today I am mostly wrapping up A2 periodic table of elements posters and illustrating geeky, nerdy and IT related valentines cards and the sun is shining AND it’s Friday.

If you would like a card, please go to the online shop where there are a few geeky designs to choose from. Have a great weekend 🙂