kate rowland

Making & Manufacture

Aeroplane Factory; A Designing & Making Process

Making & ManufactureKate RowlandComment

Earlier this year I was commissioned by the V&A to design a piece of jewellery to go alongside their upcoming exhibition, Plywood: Material of the Modern World. The design was to be based on an exhibit, a plywood aeroplane built in 1912 called the Deperdussin Monocoque. It was a revolutionary plane, breaking the aircraft speed record thanks to the lightweight, strong plywood fuselage. Also, it looks super cute, like a toy!

I thought I'd share my design process for the brooch, now available in the V&A shop, as it was quite a journey, experimenting with a few new materials and techniques.

I started out with some rough sketches of the plane. I always start with a pencil, it helps me work through and make sense of the things floating around my head! I quickly realised that the design was going to be pretty fragile, especially the wings and propeller. 

Designing this piece, I really wanted to show off the plywood and make the material a focal point. Instead of simply engraving the design into a flat piece of wood, layering up super thin layers of ply would show depth, strengthen the design and add visual interest. This is an ink drawing of one of the viewpoints we were most happy with. I just love the toy-like shape of the plane!

Here's an exploded view of how the plywood layering would work. I create all these vector files for laser cutting on Illustrator. The cloud is made from transparent blue acrylic, and will help support the thinner areas of wood, as well as creating that flying illusion! Now the samples are ready to be laser cut. I had to adjust the design many times during this process, as it was clear that some parts were too small or fragile. I made roughly 8 samples before a final design was realised.

Below are the stacks of different laser cut plywood parts for the final aeroplane design, after being stained and sanded. The smallest pieces are just 2mm wide!

kate rowland laser cut planes

Many hours later, there is a fleet of assembled aeroplane brooches, complete with blue acrylic clouds. The side view shows off the multiple layers of 3.2mm and 0.8mm plywood used. All the plywood I use is sustainably sourced, and is made of either poplar or birch.

kate rowland aeroplane brooch v&a
kate rowland aeroplane v&a
kate rowland aeroplane brooch

I hope this has been an interesting insight into how my work is designed and made! I'm always trying to develop my skills as well as the materials and processes I use to create new, exciting jewellery. This project was challenging, but I'm happy with the final piece, and I'm so excited to see it in the V&A!

The exhibition opens on 15th July, in the Porter Gallery, and it's totally FREE to enter! A must if you're into design, or just a complete nerd about all things wooden like me. The Deperdussin aeroplane brooch will be available to purchase from the V&A store when the exhibition opens.





Why buying my own laser cutter was the best decision ever

Making & ManufactureKate RowlandComment

Last December, after years of indecision, I placed a deposit on my very own laser. For four years I had been outsourcing my laser cutting, and while there were many benefits to this, the time had finally come for me to make the leap to owning my own. Here are a few reasons why it was a brilliant decision! 

My laser! She needs a name...

My laser! She needs a name...

1. Creative freedom 

When outsourcing, I was restricted with the experimentation of new ideas; it just wasn't cost effective to trial something out of curiosity without extensive consideration and design time. Now I can develop new, more complex designs using different materials, and if it doesn't work, it's only my time that's wasted. It allows me to make more mistakes and not feel set back.

2. Buying all the different materials 

It's opened up a whole new world of acrylic plastics, woods, plywood, metal... I've even had a go at engraving ceramic stoneware (it looked super cool - watch this space!) 

3. Speedy turnaround times

Having an in-house laser means I can cut and make orders super quickly. No anxiously waiting for the delivery man - hurrah!

4. Custom orders

Making one off pieces, custom designs and personalised jewellery is SO much easier. I've had the pleasure of making some brilliant, daft and downright crazy designs. My favourite has to be the brooch of a customers face - a gift for his girlfriend. Lucky girl!

5. Feeling more like a maker! 

It's so good to be fully involved in every aspect of making my jewellery. Although I've always designed, painted and assembled each piece myself, I've always felt like I was cheating a little sending it away to be cut elsewhere! 


So there it is! I'm super happy with my laser cutter, although it's definitely not been without its problems. The week it was delivered must have been the coldest all winter, and it reached -4 degrees overnight. The laser tube froze and cracked. I made the sensible decision to insulate the shed that weekend!

laser radiation

Would you like a custom or personalised piece of laser cut jewellery? Please get in touch! I would love to hear your ideas.