Hands up who has a pet? Hands up those of you who have lost a pet; who think of them fondly yet miss them terribly? I have had many pet dogs over my lifetime: Sophie the Yorkie; Ben the German Shepherd; Jack, Barney, Thomas and Scooby the Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Cats too: there was Thomas the fluffy white one; Jack and Jill the kittens; Tibs, who belonged to my granddad; and Princess Rita, who we lost last year. There was also Roland the ferret, and Oscar and Morris the chinchillas …. These were all my Friends, and I miss them all; Even though our family currently includes Rita’s brother (Supercat Roddy) and Izzy and Jack our Springer spaniels. I wish I took more/better photos of all the others; I’d love to have their portraits on display now.
Izzy, Jack and Roddy often feature on PackThePJs, so I tend to take more photos of them than I ever did my other pets. Our pets are a huge part of our family – we have photos of the children all over the place … so why not cushions of the dogs 🙂
My springers never (ever) sit still, so I smile as I look over towards the chair with the two dog cushions on: Jack and Izzy have never been so well behaved (and quiet!)
Chester’s Friends are beautifully handmade (in the UK) bespoke cushions that start off life as a photo of your pet. You then receive an attractively boxed, gift-wrapped cushion that is the perfect reminder of a pet, or a decorative piece for those of us who are dog mad!
Sue is the creator of Chester’s Friends, and she agreed to an interview so we could learn more about her, Chester, and her business.
Your business is called Chester’s Friends. So, tell us about Chester!
Chester was our first family dog. We got him as a rescue from the RSPCA. He was devoted to me and me to him.
I could write a book about his escapades. One of my favourite tales is that after I finished working for a large telecoms company, I answered the door to the postie who asked me where his friend was. I was puzzled, so asked him who he meant. He then proceeded to tell me about how Chester would jump over our 7 ft fence, do the post round with him and then when at the end of his round, Chester would nudge his leg for a fuss and then go home. Chester would then knock our next-door neighbour’s door so she could let him through their house and into our back garden again. This happened every day for 3 years without me knowing! It also explained why people would say to me, “Oh you’re Chester’s Mum” when I was out walking. I could never figure out what they were on about?
Sadly, Chester died in 2005 and then I truly knew that your heart could be broken. I still can be drawn to tears at how much I miss him. He took care of me when my health failed for a number of years, and if I had a fall he would lay with me until I felt able to move. Chester would also walk beside me with his shoulder touching my leg in order to guide me when I was unsteady. He was and still is my angel.
Tell us a little about yourself and your business?
Drawing and making have been the two constants in my life. Through life’s ups and downs, I know that by getting my pencil or sewing machine out I can find a place of calm and renewal. My art had always been a side hustle, but since the kids had grown and left home, it made sense to do something that I had truly wanted to do all my life. It was me time! It was my first thought to do something that involved a pencil and if possible a sewing machine. I knew with a bit of creativity I could use both.
I have an online store that features my hand drawn and painted illustrations and also my Chester’s Friends store. My finger print is on every aspect of the business. I draw, print, sew, package and hand my parcels over to Melanie at the post office. I’m by no way a control freak (LOL!) but I do like to ensure that there is a continuity and quality about each piece I make. Every day I have to pinch myself as I am now truly living the dream.
Where did the inspiration come from to make personalised pet cushions?
I wanted to print my own fabric to make cushions so I bought myself the equipment and set about working on some of my illustrated designs. I had made a series of simple stuffed dolls from drawings I had made of family members, and then thought I could do the same with drawings of our pets too. Whilst browsing photographs of our beloved pets, my mind simply took itself to how I could use the photographs themselves.
One of the other things Chester would do, was let himself out of the front door and find some little stray puppy to bring home. Each one was presented to us with the look of “can we keep him?” This happened most weeks and Chester was always told to ‘take him back where you found him’.
“The one regret I had was not to get him the dog friend he always wanted. This is where Chester’s Friends came from”
I now enrol every pet pillow I work on into the hall of Chester’s Friends. I am sure he would be most excited about the many new chums he now has. Also, at the number of countries his friends live in! I am always excited when one of my pillows goes to a country I haven’t shipped to before. One of his chums now lives in the Beverley Hills Hotel, on Sunset Boulevard in the US. I’m sure that I am more impressed by that than Chester would’ve been.
I often work on Friends who have passed over the rainbow bridge, and I do often shed a few tears whilst stitching them. Each one reminds me of the gift that Chester was and I know that the people I send the pillows too also know just what it is to be loved and to love that one special beloved.
It is important to me that I work with complete integrity and care with the Chester’s Friends pillows. I have received many messages about how the pillows have helped in the grieving process for both the owners and also any pets who are missing their companions.
What animals have you ‘cushioned’, or is it just dogs and cats?
I love this question! Most animals have been ‘cushioned’. I have cushioned horses, mice, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish, rabbits, chameleons, birds and a host of other creatures on two and fur, feet and fins.
Dogs and cats are the most popular but I love to work on whatever people love.
Take us through the process of making a cushion?
Firstly, I ask for as many photographs as you have of your beloved pet. I find it the best way to work. Looking at pictures of animals is never a chore to me and I always say never be afraid of spamming me. I can then see clearly which would make the best pillow.
I then use my computer to enlarge the image, enhance any areas that are lacking in clarity and remove from the photograph any background details. At this point I can also add missing parts of the animal when I need to. Getting a good photograph is a tricky business without the use of bribery or food induced sleep, so often the right photograph has a bit of paw or ear missing. I then use other photographs to pinch the missing bits and reattach them where needed. When I am happy with the result, I then enlarge the image ready to print.
I also use the image to create a bespoke pattern for the reverse of the pillow. It is important that every aspect of the pillow is just right and I didn’t want to simply stick any old fabric on the reverse.
I print the images onto fabric in my studio where I also then stitch and stuff them.
Each pillow is hand finished and then I prepare a story card. This is a short story of a few paragraphs about the beloved pet. I include this as it’s the little tales we have of our beloved pets that make them ours to cherish. Retelling a story can make us laugh or cry and it brings them close to us again if we have lost them.
I also make a charm that I attach to the story card. I use the initial of the pet and a delightful heart charm that has paw prints on it. It has a small clasp so it can be attached to keys, your purse or bag. It’s like carrying your beloved pet around with you.
I have also recently started to use new packaging. Whilst I have always wrapped the pillows in a paw print tissue with paw print ribbon, I wanted to send the pillows in a more fitting way. I now have some beautiful boxes that I am now so proud of. It’s another way of me saying “I know your beloved pet is special and I too have loved them whilst they were with me”.
Do you make any other items? Are these all personalised?
For Chester’s Friends, I now also make little brooches from photographs. These can be a lovely little gift if the pillows are just not the right thing for you. Each one comes in its own box. I can also print your beloved onto a mug as I have that facility in my studio too.
Can you tell us about your studio/workspace?
My studio is the best! I work in a she-shed in our garden. I adore it in there as it’s my own little oasis. It’s toasty warm in winter and I can throw open the doors in summer and listen to the birds sing.
I have everything I need in there: my printing machines, sewing machines, oh yes and room for the dogs too. We have Tilly, a Jack Russell who is now 9, and Ralph, a rescued pug, who is nearly 5. I call them my bridesmaids as wherever I am they are just behind me. My hut has the added benefit of being only several paces from my kitchen and therefore the kettle.
The walls have some of my favourite images pinned on them, and there are also many of my vintage cameras scattered around. I have collected these for years and most of them work too.
Is your business purely online, or might we see you at any shows/fayres?
Chester’s Friends is purely online.
Where would you like your business to be in, say, 5 years?
In 5 years’ time I hope to have introduced many, many more beloveds to Chester’s Friends. I am naturally an ambitious person but to be honest, since I have started making Chester’s Friends, I have found it so fulfilling that I do not have any major goals or ambitions. I am truly proud of the quality and design of the pillows and the whole package that I now produce. With that being said I am also always looking for new products that I can introduce, so maybe my product line will have expanded. Any suggestions are always gratefully received!
Where can our reader’s find out more/contact you?
Chester’s Friends can be found at www.chestersfriends.co.uk or you can email me. If you are unsure that you have a photograph that will work, please just email them to me to check first. I can also give you oodles of tips on taking the best photograph, so it’s always a good idea to get in touch with me.
Just for fun
What is your favourite film, and why?
Everything is illuminated. It makes you laugh, cry and is wonderfully heart-warming. There is a dog in the film called Sammy Davis Jr Jr. It makes me chuckle just saying his name. Watch with tissues though.
Favourite song, and why?
Secret Love by Cathy Kirby. I saw her when I was a toddler in the 60’s and she had the most magnificent lip gloss. I remember thinking, when I get grown up I’ll have lip gloss. Also, I love the sentiment that whilst once no one knew of her love, she is now ready to shout it from the highest hill! It’s a song I sing when I feel joyously happy.
Dream holiday destination, and why?
Bergamo in Italy. We have visited there many, many times, especially when EasyJet’s flights were bonkers at 80p for a return. We have taken friends and family there too as we adore it so much. There is the new town at the lower level and then if you take the little funicular you are taken into the medieval part of the town. It is still occupied by the university and there are lots of beautiful bars and restaurants there.
We went with friends for her 50th birthday and we ate at a restaurant where we had the best meal we have ever had, in a square where to one side a party was going on in an apartment. They had an opera singer on their balcony and there was a point where I honestly thought I had died and gone to heaven. If you get the chance to go you must.
Favourite food, and why?
Chocolate. I tend to eat healthily on a daily basis but if there was one food that I couldn’t do without it would be chocolate. Why? It makes me feel happy and loved. It speaks to me you know. Never ask me to share my chocolate. It will never happen. You will be met with a steely and withering gaze.
Dogs or Cats, and why?!
Dogs. Not just because of Chester, but because of the other rescue dogs we have had. Tommy and Tetley the Lancashire Heelers we rescued. Tilly our JR who I traded for 12 reflexology sessions (I used to be a reflexologist before Chester’s Friends), and Ralph our Pug who likes nothing better than to sit and stare at me. I know … he loves me. Chester’s furry companion was Tigger, a cat that we found as a kitten at the bottom of our garden. Chester loved him and Tigger ruled Chester and was his constant tease. I adored Tigger too, so cats don’t be offended at my answer please!
Tempted? They make the perfect, unique gift, so please do visit the Chester’s Friends etsy store to take a closer look. We love our cushions