Make your own merchandise

My housemate has got a real obsession with the TV show Mongrels, BBC Three’s adult puppet comedy series. We had pre-agreed not to buy each other Christmas presents this year (she didn’t know what I wanted, and I’m totally broke), but it’s her birthday several days after Christmas, and last year, she paid for me to go to The Gadget Show Live in Birmingham, so it seems like I couldn’t not get her anything, no matter how broke I am.

I figured I’d get her some merchandise from Mongrels. Easy, eh? Well it would be, if not for the fact that they don’t make any. Lovable as the characters are, you can’t buy mini versions, or cushions with their faces on, or…well..anything. There’s nothing to buy from the show except series 1 on DVD. That’s a bit boring, isn’t it?


The cast. (Image: © BBC.)

Figuring the DVD was easy, I saw it online, then figured (what with Christmas and everything), I’d go and buy it from an actual shop. HMV have it on their website, so into a HMV store I went. What a horrible place to be. I haven’t shopped for CDs/DVDs in a real life physical shop in years. And in a few short minutes I remembered why.


It’s irritatingly loud, with some horrible music pumping away. The aisles are too narrow for the amount of customers they have, so I was constantly apologising, or being apologised to as cramming ensued. Would this DVD be in the sale section near the front? In the section with Comedy? In TV? Everything is alphabetized, yet also – not alphabetized. You follow the letters from A to say.. G. Then where you would expect to find H, there’s a promotional stand of something I’m not interested in. Where’s H gone?

After about 5 minutes and quite a few perfect examples of “sorry.. can I just squeeze past?”, I gave up and asked an assistant if she could help me find this DVD. She went to the tills, checked on the computer, said they had ordered one in for someone a fortnight ago, but that they don’t have it in the store. And that “if you’ve seen it on the website, I’d advise you to order it from there”. And people wonder why nobody goes into physical stores any more?

I went home and ordered it, but I couldn’t be bothered with HMV, especially as it said “usually ships in 24 hours” and “should be received in 2-5 days”. As someone who had left this too late, I wanted an example date of when it will actually arrive, which I got from Amazon. HMV do a faster delivery, but it requires a signature and I wouldn’t be home to receive it.

Now for the hard bit

What else can I get her? I know she’d commented about a lamp she thought was nice, advertised on a Channel4 B&Q ident, but I couldn’t remember which one, except that it was black. I went online, found the company that produced the idents, and watched through a massive long medley of B&Q idents. I couldn’t find it. I trawled through B&Q’s website, and couldn’t find anything that looked familiar, so that was ruled out.

Then I hit upon a novel idea. What’s to stop me finding a picture from Mongrels, and making my own merchandise? Sites like Cafepress allow you to put a picture of your choice on anything from cushions to aprons to t-shirts. Why don’t I make her something? (Or pay for a company to make something for me, for her.)

I Google image searched for Mongrels and found very little available. Also, what was available was quite small. According to various websites, if you’re intending to have a photo printed on something, it helps to have it in a large size (high resolution) image to start with. Makes sense, really.

I considered a cushion with Marion’s (character from Mongrels) face on it. I wasn’t sure I could get a high enough resolution image, but even if I could – while Cafepress do cushions, and at quite reasonable prices, standard delivery takes 9 working days. That’s bloody good when you consider they’re printing a cushion just for you, AND it’s coming from America, but I didn’t have that much time left, what with all the bank holidays over Christmas. I had a look around UK companies, and could find nobody that could print me a cushion in less than 14 working days. Ridiculous. How can it be quicker to have it done in America, even allowing for shipping?

I considered aprons (she’s just been on a cupcake course), but I’ve never known her wear one. Then I hit upon the idea of a mug. Sure, it’s not the most interesting thing in the world, but she’s been complaining about how hard it is to make a nice cup of tea at work – so a proper China mug is a good step in the right direction, no?

Now for the even harder bit

I’ve said already that pictures are in short supply. And the one that kept cropping up, I wasn’t sure would work as a mug design. So how else can I get pictures? Stalk the set designers? Tweet some of the people who work on the show?

The picture of Marion that I kept finding time and time again. (© BBC)

Well, the entire current series is on the BBC iPlayer, in HD. I figure that is at least 720p resolution, which might be high enough quality for a mug. Maybe I could get a screen grab at the right moment, then cut it down (a bit) to size?

I sat down and started watching the show, looking for still images that might work. I wanted two, with similar lighting, featuring Marion and only Marion. I started making notes of time positions.

“1m30s into episode 1 of series 2, there’s a good shot of him in the bin.
2m56s there’s a still closeup of him, sans bin.
4m10s again.
8m14s great shot of him with blurred background (as he spots the goldfish).”

…and so on. Lots and lots of notes.

“Ep3 is probably a fail, as he’s got a black eye for the first 4m50s.”

As she uses my computer a lot, I hid the notes in Google Docs, and the pictures quite a few folders deep in amongst some radio stuff she’d have no interest in looking at.

On/off over the course of several days I did this. When she asked what I’d been up to after work (I was finishing work at 2pm, coming home and doing this), I made up some bollocks about me testing some new Twitter photo sharing thing (which I had been doing, but not nearly for this long).

Several days when trying to find something to watch in the evening, she’d say “do you want to watch Mongrels from this week?”, but I was sick of it having watched it all, repeatedly pausing/playing/winding-back/playing/pausing to try and screen-grab a good clear non-blurry still image.

Eventually I had been through all my time positions on the HD quality version, screen grabbed, and then went through all the stills and found what I thought were the two best images.

I found a company called TShirtStudio that had very quick turnaround times. Even on the run up to Christmas, you could order from them on the 21st and they’d guarantee it before Christmas Day. Brilliant. They’ve also got a very easy system where you upload an image, then type in the text you want, choose fonts, etc., and get a live preview of what it’ll look like. There was a mild moment of panic when my finger slipped and the text nearly ended up in comic sans.

I ordered, and waited mildly anxiously. 24th December, they both arrived. DVD through the letterbox, mug on the doorstep. Want to see how it turned out?

Original pictures sent:

Series 2, Episode 1. (©BBC)
Series 2, Episode 2. (©BBC)

Resulting mug:

Slight copyright infringement.
And a bit more.

Not bad for a first attempt. It’s slightly darker than I’d hoped for, but if you look at how dark the images were that I sent, it’s hardly a wonder. I should have lightened them a bit first, maybe. I’ll know for next time, if I’m ever crazy enough to attempt it again.

Update: Early reports suggest that the owner thinks her tea “tastes better out of it”.

Update 17/01/12: Apparently someone my housemate works with has spotted the mug, and asked where you can buy Mongrels merchandise. Her favourite character is Destiny. It’s a good job I’m a law-abiding citizen, with temptation like that.

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