KATHERINE Pentney is the maker behind Paisley-based brand The Canny Squirrel.

What do you make?

I work in my home studio in Paisley, and my collection includes Harris Tweed cushions, tablet cases, accessory cases and wall art which all feature my signature free motion embroidered animal designs.

How do you make them?

Each product begins as a panel of Harris Tweed. I draw and cut out different colours of felt which will become the main body of the animal, and then embroider the felt onto the Harris Tweed. I use free motion embroidery to stitch the designs. This technique is like drawing with a sewing machine and it’s all stitched by eye. Once I finish the design, the pieces of Harris Tweed are sewn together to make the final product.

People often look at my products and think I have a fancy embroidery sewing machine, but this isn’t the case! No two designs are exactly the same and each one has its own personality.

The National:

Katherine in her home studio (with Morris)

What materials do you use?

I chose Harris Tweed to make the products as I wanted to use a material that was manufactured in Scotland and also support other independent makers.

Harris Tweed is a wonderful material. I love the warm, tactile texture of the cloth which is steeped in history and tradition. It is woven by enthusiastic weavers who are proud of their heritage and who use traditional techniques that have been passed down through the generations. Their enthusiasm and skill can be seen in the quality of the fabric they create.

Harris Tweed is full of life and is deeply inspired by the landscape of the Outer Hebrides where it is woven, so was the perfect choice to create the backdrop for my embroidered animal designs. There are so many beautiful colours to choose from and the colour often sparks inspiration for a new animal or bird design.

I find the combination of Harris Tweed and felt creates a beautiful texture that is really tactile, and brings the animals to life.

The National:

What’s the story behind your brand?

I’m originally from Gateshead and studied graphic design at Newcastle college, then moved to Glasgow in 2004 when I got a job as a graphics and magazine designer. For the first few years I was focused on my new career and settling into a new city, but then I started exploring hobbies outside of work where I could use my design skills, using my hands rather than on a computer. I had a sewing machine but wasn’t that confident using it in a creative way, so I decided to enrol on a textile design evening course where I learned lots of techniques including free motion embroidery, which later sparked the inspiration for my business.

The launch of my business was quite an organic process. I love animals, and there are so many beautiful species to take inspiration from, so I spent a lot of my free time experimenting with the free motion embroidery technique, as is it’s perfect for replicating the lines and textures of fur and feathers. I gradually cut back my hours at my day job, and after lots of practice and hard work, in 2013 I decided to leave my job and concentrate on growing my business.

People often ask where my business name – The Canny Squirrel comes from. I wanted to include something that reflects my roots, which is why I chose canny – in Newcastle canny has a slightly different meaning than in Scotland, it means something really good and positive. People often say "that’s geet canny!”. As my main inspiration is the natural world and animals, I wanted to have an animal in the name too. I chose a squirrel as they are inquisitive creatures, and I love watching them foraging and collecting things in the same way that I always seem to be on the move and foraging for fabric!

The National:

What sets you apart from other makers?

There's a growing community of talented makers out there who all have their own unique style and are creating amazing products, so it’s important for me to make products which are made with high quality and skill. Running your own business is incredibly hard work and it has taken a lot of time, patience and dedication to get to the skill level that I’m now happy with, and I hope this is reflected in the quality of my designs.

Making has taken over my life, and I have to feel proud and happy when I finish each and every piece, to make sure the quality and craftsmanship is at the highest level and good enough for someone to buy. It’s hard to analyse your own work as it’s so personal, but I feel customers really connect with the animals I make and they stir up fond memories and make them happy. It’s wonderful to hear reactions from customers when they receive one of my creations who have laughed or cried with joy and then treasure their gift for many years.

Each of my designs are very detailed and unique, and the animals all have their own personalities. My commissions are very personal to people, I can pretty much make any animal or pet to order, and I like to try and meet all requests if I can, which have sometimes been weird and wonderful. Some of these have included a unicorn fighting a narwhal, pets sporting various outfits, and a dog eating a slice of pizza! Some sewing days can be very interesting!

The National:

A customised pet cushion

What are your most popular products?

We live in a nation of animal lovers, so my most popular products are usually chosen based on someone’s favourite animal, as most people have one. Some of my designs like puffins and Highland cows are a popular choice for customers who have visited Scotland on holiday who would like to buy something to remember their happy trip, or people who have moved away and would like a nostalgic reminder of their childhood.

My most popular products are definitely my pet portraits. Customers can send me a photograph of their pet, and I use this as reference to embroider them onto any of my products. They are beautiful gifts and often bought as a special presents, or to remember a pet who is no longer around.