Part of my responsibilities as editor of Vancouver Fashion eZine is to attend events. I have to admit, getting dressed up and out the door to drive downtown after working all day is not easy. Inertia sets in. But once there, it becomes exciting as there are always new and interesting people to meet. One who has become very special to me is Pam Jackson, the talented jewellery designer behind Street Cat Designs. She is the mentor who encouraged me to start this blog and I will forever be grateful. What surprised me most when I sat down to write this is I can't find ONE SINGLE PICTURE of the two of us together, something I have to remedy immediately.
Pam (left) with friend Bob at a LuvNGrace event
Jackson was born and raised in Lytton where, "If you weren't careful, it could suck the soul right out of you." Her grandmother was an early influence, teaching her to knit and crochet at the tender age of 5, "...thank-you Gramma for your patience..I wish you could see what I've done with it..." She also created Barbie dresses and spent time with her friends teaching them to sew, but as she grew older began to spend more and more time alone reading. During her teen years, Jackson began to rebel against the small town mentality. Even though a straight A student, her artist soul was crying out for more. An undercurrent not discovered until years later was that she was bi-polar - a ticking time bomb for an adolescent. She remembers, "After many unfortunate incidents that had no explanation, my parents became exhausted and asked me to leave home." She was only 16. While most of that ensuing time living on the streets has been forgotten, what she does remember is purchasing coloured wooden bead, making earrings and selling them back to the store.
It was while dealing with the death of a friend years later that Jackson began to create jewellery in earnest. "I was getting ready for work and got a phone call that my dearest friend had tried to commit suicide, but had not passed yet. She was at VGH in the ICU and they didn't know how long she would hang on for. My sister and daughter immediately came over for support and took me out to lunch. Afterwards, I remember getting off the bus in front of Country Beads. I had been crying and everything was a blur, but the window of the bead store was this beautiful riot of colour - the brightest spot of my day. The memory of the brilliance drew me back and I started beading." Not only was it relaxing, but there was a healing effect to be found in the process of creation
Books, tutorials, articles, magazines, advice from other jewellers and trial and error were Jackon's teachers. It took 2-3 years before her pieces began to sell. The first time out was a fundraiser. "It was a fashion show and artisan market called 'An Artful Life'. I couldn't believe the interest in my work; it was a crazy, beautiful feeling. People were swarming my table and buying. That gave me the courage to apply to Portobello West Market, and I GOT IN! My work has evolved since then, but my aesthetic is still there." At that first market she was approached by Shelley Klassan of Blushing Boutique about carrying the line. That boutique became the first of many and Street Cat Designs can now be found at Blushing Boutique, House of Jewels, Jeweliette, Just Jewellery, Oh Kuol, Phresh Spa, Portobello West Market, Pure Something and Ric Yuenn.
Street Cat Designs is elegant, but subtle. Viewed from across the room you see beautiful jewellery. When you get up close and personal with the line, the quality of the materials and strong techniques used to craft each piece brings an even greater appreciation. There is a lot of small detailing. When I popped by Jackson's house to watch her work, what surprised me was that she makes most of the individual elements. Even the earring wires are made by hand. I asked her to show me, and it was obvious that she had it down to a science. A piece of wire, a hand tool, and in seconds she had a perfectly shaped, identical set finished. It was also inspiring to watch the AAA grade gemstones and real pearls being chosen for a new piece - no glass or quartz here - along with various gauges of sterling silver and 14 K gold wire. Different colours and shapes are strewn randomly on the worktop and she intuitively groups the shapes and colours into combinations that inspire her.
Only a few tools are used - 3 different types of pliers, a pair of wire cutters and 2 different hammers. From there the process of creation takes over as Jackson intuitively bends and hammers various wires, attaches the gemstones and pearls and adds hand-made earring hoops or purchased chain. Describing the process, she shares, "My work is all cold connections, so there is no casting of metal or soldering. I use wire wrapping. Some of the techniques I use date back to the ancient Vikings. I have perfected them so my jewellery looks refined and elegant. The look of each piece has to be impeccable, it has to be durable enough to last for years and be classic in design, not a fad."
A couple new tools were added to Jackson's repertoire a few years ago - a pair of knitting needles and a crochet hook. There was an elderly lady online who was making chained flower brooches and the idea arose of making a wire chain with a crochet hook. "The base filigree stamps were just coming out in earrings and from a far they looked like a crochet circle, so I tried it and it worked! The rest is history. After that I learned a technique called Viking Knit which makes the most beautiful woven chains." Knitting and crocheting wire creates lacy, ethereal pieces that have wide appeal, but are particularly popular in the bridal market. Custom designs for weddings have become a growing area for Street Cat Designs, creating the new challenge of keeping up with boutique orders while addressing the needs of the clients needing unique pieces.
I had Jackson answer a few specific questions -
1. Favourite part? Buying the pretty gemstones and finishing a beautiful piece that someone will love.
2. Least favourite? Small details like filing the ends of earring wires and attaching clasps to chains.
3. Inspiration? People, her garden and the design essence of a garment, but top of the list is the jumble of beautiful gemstones on her work space.
4. Favourite colours? Currently pinks, greens, turquoise and neon blue.
5. Favourite piece? "I loved making each and every piece I've done. I love doing it all, BUT the most fun are the ones that incorporate layers of hand made components."
6. The difference between a designer and a hobbyist? The materials and the techniques. An artist works with the finest quality materials and the best hands-on techniques available.
Jackson hopes to have Street Cat Designs grow to provide a comfortable living upon her husband's retirement and to create an opportunity for them to travel widely, but for now she is happy making jewellery people love. Her final words of wisdom for those starting out are actually words that apply to us all, " Never stop learning. Be true to yourself and don't follow fads, because fads are just that. You want your jewellery to be everlasting."
For more information on Street Cat Designs, you can visit the website at www.streetcatdesigns.net.