By Pauline Neville
Karen is the powerhouse of creativity that is The Cat’s New Pyjamas. She designs and produces a wonderfully eclectic range of jewellery made in a range of metals incorporating found sea glass and sometimes, semi precious stones.
Born and raised in Stoneycroft, Old Swan, Karen now resides in Huyton. She is not the first parent to learn from her children and it was her son, Jed who set her off down the path she currently follows.
He was studying photography and found himself focussing on homeless people, she tells me. He became aware of the plight of refugees and what was being called the Calais Jungle and decided to photograph the area to raise awareness of the situation. He reasoned that if he was going to France to do this he might as well volunteer at the same time and after some time there, he retuned home only to leave university and return to France where he has been helping for the last 7 years.
He has founded a charity Mobile Refugee Support (MRS) initially driving a generator camp to camp and allowing refugees to charge their phones, a vital communication link with estranged family members. This charity has developed into a support for Kurdish Refugees at Dunkirk.
So, what’s the link? Karen became aware of the plight of the refugees through her son and when a refugee charity online was selling elasticated beaded bracelets, she bought one. Studying this one day she realised that she could do something similar and so made her own version using Moonstone, Rose Quartz and Sandstone, mirroring the charity’s initials MRS. She sold these at an affordable price and donated all profits to the charity raising just under £1000.
This was the start of her jewellery making journey. When a brief foray into beaded jewellery proved not for her, her husband booked two places on a a ring making class as a gift and she was hooked. Karen still wears the first ring she made there and explained that although a comparatively simple piece, its production ensured that she was introduced to many essential techniques necessary in silversmithing; filing, hammering, sawing and soldering.
Next she began trawling YouTube, hungry for instructional videos and acquiring new techniques, learning by doing with the very basic tools she had at her disposal. As her interest deepened, she treated herself to more and more tools and now boasts more pliers than her husband. In a final act of commitment to silversmithing she sold her bead stash. Investing the funds into converting her spare bedroom into a practical and specialist workshop. Her husband built two workbenches; one with an oxygen converter and propane cylinder which affords a hotter flame for working larger surface areas and she was good to go.
Initially working in copper to keep her mistakes less expensive, Karen especially enjoys working with silver now. Her pieces are stamped 925 but not hallmarked she explains that having a piece hallmarked is a costly process and she is trying to keep her jewellery affordable.
Karen works only with recycled silver which she buys in sheets or as wire depending on what she is using it for. In turn she collects and keeps even the smallest offcuts from her work and the company she buys her recycled silver from pay her for these to smelt down and produce more sheets and wire which Karen then buys back…in a shiny silver circle of life. She finds silver the easiest metal to work with as it gets to the right temperature more consistently and can be soldered without damaging the surface pattern that she has just created.
She often incorporates copper and brass, this mixture of metals is often put to best use in her fabulous fidget rings. These are rings that spin freely on top of base rings, great for those of us with ADHD. She also uses recycled copper pipes which she transforms into copper cuffs which may be stamped or engraved, engraving is a new adventure for Karen.
Following jewellers online for inspiration and to extend her repertoire of techniques Karen came across the use of sea glass set as a stone and coincidentally had recently acquired some when walking on Crosby Beach earlier that same week. Sea glass is often collected due to its vibrancy of colour and the seeming glow of light that even the tiniest fragment can sometimes afford.
Karen smiles when talking about her studio, she tells me “It is my happy place. I pop in there to do a five minute job and sometimes emerge four hours later with a handful of pieces!”
Her favourite task is creating unique settings for each piece of glass or stone as no two are the same and she often pierces the metal backplate to pendants to add interest and allow more light to shine through the piece. A technique that I can confirm is very effective judging by the beautiful necklace she was wearing when we met.
I wondered what the first piece Karen sold was. She told me that sawing is not as easy you might think, you cannot just pick up a saw and do it, you have to hone your skills so by way of a practice piece she made a chip fork! It sold in 10 mins and more followed sometimes stamped with initials or names. We have some very fancy chip eaters here in Liverpool! So, if you’re looking for a gift for the person who has everything, there’s an idea for you.
Her best sellers at the moment are her delicate stacking rings and the fidget rings which sold out at her last visit to the Liverpool Makers’ Bazaar at the The Old Police Station.
Karen is looking forward to retirement when she can focus all her attention on experimenting with new processes and designs…when babysitting duties allow! Her youngest granddaughter considers her “mumum” very cool, as she plays with hammers and fire and has already shown an interest in following in her grandmother’s footsteps.
All profits from Karen’s jewellery goes to support the charity Mobile Refugee Support.
The Cat’s New Pyjamas can be found as follows;
Facebook: The Cat’s New Pyjamas
Or telephone 07411 621 293.
Or swing by and try things on at Liverpool Makers’ Bazaar at the Old Police Station on Sunday 3 March.