Handmade: Cat blankets have 'sweet smell of success'
While growing up in Metamora, Jesse Roberts learned his way around a sewing machine at the encouragement of his mother, who wanted her sons to know how to sew just in case it someday became a dying art.
Roberts, who took his first sewing class at age 5 or 6, said "I took lessons all the way up through high school. We (he and his younger brother) would go twice a week and work on projects we got to pick out. I was into hunting and fishing, so I would make all my hunting vests and backpacks. I have tons of camouflage fabric left over from then that I bought from the Bernina sewing store in Lapeer, where I took the lessons."
The father of a 5-year-old girl, named Charlotte, Roberts, 31, continues to live in Metamora, where he's turned his sewing skills into a small business, "Dad's Kitty Creations," which he's busy developing when not working as a manager at Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills.
In fact, just three months ago, after overhearing a conversation at work, Roberts surprised Premier Pet Supply owner Mike Palmer of Novi, and several co-workers, by offering to make "catnip blankets" for the store.
"We'd had a woman making them for us. She was elderly, and we lost contact with her," said Palmer. "He overheard the conversation (about the need for more catnip blankets) and asked if we wanted him to make them for us. We thought he was being funny. Then he said his mother made him take 12 years of sewing. We still thought he was joking."
Shortly thereafter, Roberts put his skills to work to create his version of catnip blankets, with the first one making the purrr-fect fun item for his four-year-old cat, "Flynn." Palmer said, "When I saw them -- the craftsmanship was great and the quality of the material he used was fantastic!
"Right now, they're primarily at the Beverly Hills store, but people can go into the other (Premier Pet Supply) stores (Rochester Hills, Novi and Livonia) and requests them," continued Palmer, who'll soon open two more locations -- one in West Bloomfield and another in Canton. "They're honestly selling like hotcakes! They've been so popular he's having a hard time keeping up at this point. We keep probably 15-20 (in stock)."
In just a couple months, Roberts said he's made over 100 catnip blankets for the store. He constructs them using polar fleece on one side and a print fabric, usually one with a cat theme, on the other. Sometimes his mother and girlfriend help cut the fabric, after he's pre-washed it with a pet detergent. He then sews all four edges together, leaving a small opening to turn the 12-by-17-inch blanket inside out. It's then filled with "a decent amount" of organic catnip. He also makes some with a plastic crinkle material inside because some cats like the sound it makes.
The blankets sell for $12 each, and customers are welcome to place special orders by selecting their fabric through his Etsy shop (DadsKittyCreations).
As a kind gesture, Roberts donates a blanket to each cat in the store that's up for adoption through the Michigan Humane Society. The blanket is placed in the cage with the cat. Palmer said, "They've absolutely reaped the benefits of Jesse's blankets, and they're really enjoying them."
In case you're wondering why cats like catnip, Roberts said, "Catnip is a kind of mint with a really pungent smell that hits certain receptors in a cat's brain. Some feel calm and playful, and some will eat the catnip. It can get them wound up (because) some love to play after they sniff the catnip."
Asked how he feels about being a man who enjoys sewing, Roberts said "When I was a kid, guys would make fun of me because I had to leave school for lessons. But now, as an adult, it's great because a lot of men, and even women, don't know how to sew, especially younger women my age. It's been challenging, but financially, it's paid off!"
Roberts hopes to expand his business by doing craft shows, and creating "all encompassing cat toys." He said, "We're kind of playing around with the designs now -- maybe catnip pillows and beds!"
Contact Dad's Kitty Creations at (586) 360-7528. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, email@example.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.