Childhood toys are the inspiration for a range of jewellery handmade in York. MAXINE GORDON reports.

MOST of us grow out of our childhood toys, but 25-year-old Catherine Armitage is building a career from her treasured play things. Catherine is a jewellery maker whose pieces come out of the toy box.

Her collection of colourful and funky miniature fruit and vegetables is made from Fimo, a modelling clay that bakes solid in the oven and is finished with a gloss of varnish.

“As a little girl, I collected the Sylvanian families and I used Fimo to make food for them. They didn’t come with food and I used to worry that they would starve,” says Catherine, known to her friends as Cat.

“When I started making jewellery, I couldn’t find the sort of charms I wanted, so I got my old box of Fimo out and started making exactly what I wanted.”

And what she wanted to make were mushrooms. “I’ve always really liked mushrooms,” says Catherine, who adds she has a collection of mushroom paperweights and money boxes at her home. Her mushroom charms are toadstool shaped and are decorated with two dot eyes and a smile on the stem. “I only did red ones, then people asked for different colours.”

She mounts them on sterling silver wires to make earrings and uses them as pendants for necklaces. New for this summer are mushroom charm bracelets.

Realising there was a market for quirky jewellery, Catherine began making other fruit and veg charms – giving them all names and personalities and quickly building up a steady stream of customers through her online shop.

Catherine has a knowing gleam in her eye as she reels of her fruity family. “There’s Alfie the happy apple; Dardan the solemn pear; Lynda the embarrassed lime and Miriam the sour lemon.”

Catherine, who also manages York gift shop Give The Dog A Bone, on Fossgate, also does a veggie line. In her ears are a pair of green peapod earrings, with three peas in each one. “They have names too – Fabian, Penela Pea and Snap,” says Catherine, a former archaeologist.

A favourite charm is a pair of bananas – Frank and Terry – who have inspired the name of the collection, Two Bad Bananas.

Catherine is hoping to expand her business. Last weekend, she took part in a huge trade fair, Hyper Japan, aiming to sell her wares.

She says the jewellery is particularly suited to the Japanese. “It is very strongly Japanese influenced,” says Catherine. “They call this sort of thing Kawaii, which means ‘super cute’. It’s a very famous style in Japan and even the government use it on their adverts.”

Super cute could apply to Catherine’s other jewellery range too, which she sells under the banner, Two Penny Lane. Vintage in look and feel, it features miniature charms from dolls houses – another of Catherine’s childhood pleasures.

“I take dolls house items and turn them into jewellery,” says Catherine. “There are mini telephone rings, birdcage necklaces and even a ring featuring a goldfish in a bowl.”

Many pieces are inspired by fairytales or children’s stories, such as Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard Of Oz. “I have a necklace with ruby slippers and a wand,” says Catherine.

These pieces are more subtle than the fruit and veg jewellery, says Catherine. “I don’t want them to be that obvious. If someone has a favourite fairy story or character in a book and wants that to be in their jewellery, it’s almost an in-joke; a secret that someone else might see. If anyone else recognises it, they might give you a smile.”

• A small selection of Catherine’s jewellery is available at Give The Dog A Bone, Fossgate, York, and Me And Mrs Fisher, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York. It is also available online at and