When I was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, I was always on the look-out for an interesting tea towel. On the Royal Mile, every day, near St Giles Cathedral, were Craft Stalls with all manner of things, from mugs and coasters, to jewellery and handbags, soft toys and wood crafts and, yes, inevitably, tea towels. I spotted Kirsty’s stall on the corner of a row, full of ‘old maps’. These weren’t maps as such but old maps printed onto tea towels, coasters, notebooks and much more. “Got to have one of them” I thought. So I bought one of East Lothian and as soon as I got it back to the caravan, thought “Kirsty would make a good subject for In Conversation With..” and so here we are. Kirsty says:
”I run my business, Blockart, from my garden ‘shed’ (studio would be a more appropriate description). I work from the kitchen table; I have a wee studio in the garden but the kettle is in the kitchen so I ended up inside. I consider myself to be both a graphic designer and business person. I have degrees in unrelated areas but most useful was experience in business and computer graphics.
How do you keep a small business both going, and growing? “I mostly do wholesale now, with one or two major retail shows, to help shift stock! I really enjoy meeting shop owners and striking up a relationship with them. I have been working on a beautiful website but when it crashed, I was too scared to go back and look at it. It’s working ok now. I pride myself on the fact that Blockart is small but growing, 100% designed and produced in the UK. The business has been growing every year and I want to expand into England, but slowly. It is very important to me that the whole tea towel is designed and made in UK, as much as possible. Many other designers get their designs made up in China which is about 70% cheaper. It is hard to stay competitive.”
Which designs stand out? “The most successful designs that I sell are maps which are sold in that location i.e. a shop in Skye will have a tea towel with a map of Skye on it. (Hence my being able to buy a tea towel with a map of East Lothian on it when I was in Edinburgh). And my favourite tea towel is East Coast of Scotland Tea Towel as it shows the ‘dog’s head’ of Fife, beautiful Edinburgh and the Forth….. and Dalkeith (where I am based). I did, however, have another range, with Scottish Sayings on which was fairly successful but there were a few similar designs around”
At school, what did you dream about being when you grew up? “I can’t remember. I always liked drawing and designing and creating but I don’t think I thought about being a grown-up”
Kirsty’s map designs translate from tea towels into other goods like coasters, framed maps, tote bags and notebooks which make delightful gifts. I just love the Map Hearts which look great on a Christmas tree. Thank you Kirsty for letting me share your work with visitors to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum. A great start to In Conversation With… 2018!