Scarf Monkey's News

Welcome to Scarf Monkey's Blog!

14th August 2018

According to a quick google search, 660,000 new companies were registered in the UK in 2017.   Wow.  Just wow.  The harsh reality is that 8/10 will fail within the first year (check here).  Starting a start-up is the hardest thing I've ever done.

I finished teaching around this time last year, and now I'm in business with my own limited company, doing something I believe in passionately.  It sounds great.  Inspiring even?  The reality is much much darker.  It's hard, demanding, lonely, costly, demoralising, pricey, frustrating ... did I mention expensive?

I'm lucky, I could afford to stop earning for year.  But I'm not rich by any means, and now it starts to bite.  I'm exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do, so why am I not raking in the cash?  Well, to be honest, I think that part is just further down the line than anyone realises.

In an effort to remind myself how far I've come, I'd like to tell you how I got here :)

How to design a t-shirt

This how much I knew about t-shirt design before I got started:

That's about it: zip, zero, nada, nothing.  I couldn't even have drawn that graphic!

This how much I know about t-shirt design now:

The first thing I had to do, was learn how to draw.  How did you know you could draw - I hear you ask?  Well, I pretty much feel I can do most things most people can do if I try hard enough (by most I'm excluding extreme sports, astro-physics and a variety of other very specialised things).  So I set about learning from scratch.  This is where I began, with youtube tutorials.  I chose inkscape because 1. it's free 2. I have a general preference for freeware after decades of working in cash-strapped schools!:

Mostly I used (and use) tutorials by an American guy called David Saporito.  He has a nice voice, (which as it turns out is surprisingly important) and with practice I can copy what he does at the same speed he speaks.  I found him by chance, and I tried and rejected a fair few others on the way.  Apparently he also does tutorials on gimp (which is like a free photoshop and allows you to manipulate images, whereas inkscape allows you to draw them), which is where I may head for my next set of tutorials.

This is the very first thing I drew, you'll find her featured on a number of my Creepy Crawlies designs ... a cockroach ... because why not?  It took days, and days of painstaking work and rather a lot of frustrated tears ... watching a video, trying it out, coming across a problem, finding a video to solve the problem and on and on:

If I drew it today, it would take about 10 minutes or so.  Safe to say I've improved.  These days I can draw like this:


Designing is the part I enjoy the most, and I can't imagine running out of ideas.  I'm more frustrated by my own inability to make things look the way they do in my head, than by wondering what to draw next.

How to print a t-shirt

It took me until January 2018 to have a collection of t-shirt designs I thought I could sell.  The next 6 months would prove much much harder than just learning to draw.  On my to do list: 1. register my company, 2. make a website 3. buy a DTG printer 4. learn to use it 5. learn how to market my company.  As it turned out, 1,2 and 3 were fairly straight forward, if slow.  4 and 5 a titanic task.

This is me printing a t-shirt

Part 1 - pretreatment

 Part 2 - printing

How did I learn?  Of course, the answer is obvious - youtube tutorials!  Is there anything you can't learn on youtube?

Doesn't it look simple?  Relaxing even?


I've messed up each and every stage many times over.  It can go wrong at any point, my pile of t-shirt 'seconds' is a whole box on the top shelf!  I have very high standards, I can't bear to send something that isn't exactly right.  It must be perfect.

Testing and Packaging

I spent ages testing the t-shirt and printing in my washing machine, I have one t-shirt that no-one has ever worn, but it goes in the washing machine every single time I do a dark wash.  So far so good at least 30 washes later, the print looks great!

Then I went around and around in circles looking at packaging.  Being eco-friendly is super important to me, but when I looked at the prices compared with non-eco packaging I admit I wavered.  Ultimately, I couldn't imagine sending thousands of plastic bags out into the world to end up in the oceans, so all my packaging is bio-degradable.  It was definitely the right decision, I love my mailing bags, and I smile every time I use one!  Is that weird?

And finally

So, here I am.  Three months in.  Open for business.  I'm beginning to think this is the hardest part of all.  Getting out there.  Selling my wares.  Selling my ideas.  This is hard.

Can you help?

Can you write a reviewBuy a t-shirt for a fierce little girl, or a tenacious teenagerShare my blog on your page?  Tell your friends about me, about my website and my ethos?  Honestly, if you share all my posts you'll be really helping!  It's a competitive market, and I'm new to this game. 

I'm absolutely not going to be one of the 8/10 who fail, I am in this for the hard run, I am absolutely going to make a success of this ... I need you to help me get there!  


26th July 2018

While the rest of the UK is sweltering in boiling humidity, the Scottish Highlands are a balmy 26°C with a lovely strong breeze.  What better time to start Scarf Monkey's blog, to talk about all the ups and downs of starting a new business, and the reasons why it's more than just a business to me, it's a project from the heart.  

Where to begin?

Let's start with the pink. While a little pink is lovely, too much is just ... too much.  Imagine reading this blog if all the words were pink instead of just a few.  When I look through the photos of my 1970s and 1980s childhood, pink doesn't really feature much, if at all. There are green dresses, blue trousers, red blouses, yellow pyjamas and stripey jumpers - some of highly questionable taste for sure - but very little pink.  Now, when I look down 'girls aisle' (there's another topic for later), it's a sea of pink, usually pale pink, a bit of white and yellow, the odd pastel blue, but mostly, overwhelmingly, pink.  It's limiting.

Then, there are the slogans: 'when I grow up I want to be a unicorn', 'born to be beautiful', 'beach babe', 'princesses have more fun', 'rainbows forever'.  I found myself having an internal dialogue - and occasionally accosting another innocent bystander - with, 'when I grow up I want to be an astronaut', and 'born to be an engineer', 'future beach lifeguard', 'sporty girls have more fun', 'smart girls forever'. 

An epiphany

The final moment came in Tesco (not many life changing experiences happen in Tesco I suspect) while I was looking through the girls clothes, there in sparkly pink sequins on a pink t-shirt ... 'GOOD AS GOLD'.  It might not seem as bad as 'princesses wear pink', but I think it's worse.  I think it's dangerous.  I think that the clothes we put on our children tell them what we value about them, and although being good has its place, you can bet your very last penny you'll never ever see such a thing on a boys t-shirt.  That's why it's dangerous. I knew immediately I could do better.  By happenstance I had read a quote of uncertain provenance (possibly Eleanor Roosevelt) the day before: 'well behaved women seldom make history'.  Now that would make a better t-shirt, I thought.  And then I knew what I would do.

I had wanted to stop teaching for a few years.  I loved the kids, there are few things more entertaining than a room full of teenagers, and I challenge anyone to find a job so full of belly laughs.  After 22 years though, it was enough, I was becoming jaded, and that wasn't healthy for me or the students.  I didn't know what to do instead, so for a while I carried on and pushed the thought of changing careers away.  I was pretty successful as a headteacher, and I had never done anything else ... ever.

At the same time, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the clothes on offer for my daughter.  I would go shopping for news tops, skirts, trousers or even socks and come back empty handed time and again.  It was just so much the same, pink pink princess, pink pink unicorn, pink pink puke: limiting at best, and limiting at worst.  

And so, I decided I would make t-shirts, for girls.  How hard could it be?  But that's a tale for another day.

I'll write again soon.  Meanwhile, have a look at some of my designs ...

See you next time!