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La Basketry

Yesterday I went over to the London Loom again, this time for a basket weaving workshop run by the lovely Tabara N’Diaye from La Basketry (https://labasketry.com/). This was a totally new skill for me, but Tabara was very patient in explaining how to do each step and even though there was seven of us in the class she gave each of us individual attention when we needed it. I felt very well looked after and she was really encouraging, even when our work came out a bit wonky!

To start with we were given a bunch of grass, a special needle with a bent tip and a flexible silicon tube. We had to select which colours we wanted to use for our basket from a selection of plastic strings. You would recognise them if you made scoubidous at school (showing my age)! I chose purple and peach. 

We began by threading a few of the grasses through the silicon tube, which kept them all together and made it easier to begin the pot. Tabara then showed us how to create the first coil by tying the plastic string round, wrapping the grass and creating a stitch to hold it in place. This was the base from where we would continue to build the pot, adding a stitches as we went round. 

When the coloured string ran out you just threaded the new colour into the previous stitch and carried on. As the grass ran out you just had to feed some new stems into the bunch to ensure you maintained a consistent thickness all the way around the basket. 

Once the base was wide enough then you could begin to build up the sides. That was where the peg came in useful if you were having trouble holding everything in place. I didn’t use the peg as I found it much easier to weave going up the sides than I did creating the base. I also found that my stitches became more uniform and fell into a natural pattern, which created a nice look for the basket, and meant that my messy bit was luckily hidden on the base!

The little basket we created was to hold a cactus and Tabara had one for each of us. I didn’t have enough time to build my basket as high as I would have liked but I think it still looks cute with it’s little spiky friend inside it! The workshop cost £55 for two hours and took place at the London Loom studios (https://thelondonloom.com/v2/).

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Soldering Masterclass

This week I attended a soldering masterclass at the London Jewellery School where I completed my diploma (https://www.londonjewelleryschool.co.uk/). Soldering is a pretty essential part of silversmithing and something I dread doing. My diploma was now three years ago and I don’t use soldering very often in my work, so although this class was covered in my diploma some of the details have become a bit fuzzy and it’s not a skill I want to lose so I decided I needed a refresher. The class cost £149 and ran from 10am-5pm with an hour for lunch. It included all materials and use of the school’s tools, tea and coffee and most importantly, biscuits!

I have something of a mind block with soldering, it’s just not something that happens for me and it is a skill that requires practice, which obviously I don’t do, so I started the day feeling a little apprehensive. I needn’t have worried! The other students in the class were all at varying skill levels and the teacher Kimberley was really reassuring. She was very knowledgeable about all the processes and showed us each one step-by-step and was on stand-by if we needed any help throughout the day. She started the day by talking us through all the equipment we would be using and the different types of solder; hard, medium and easy.

The first thing we did was make jump rings and then learn to solder them closed and also how to turn them into a chain. Kimberley showed us how to apply the flux and the best place to position our pallions of solder. She then showed us how to heat the piece to encourage the solder to flow in the direction we needed. 

The second method we learnt was sweat soldering to join two flat pieces of metal together. We began by covering the smaller piece in pallions and heating it until it flowed so one side of the metal was entirely covered in solder. After pickling it to ensure the surface was clean we then positioned it on top of the larger piece and heated it again until the solder flowed, joining the two pieces together.

After that Kimberley showed us how to attached an earring post using the third hand (reverse tweezers on a movable stand) to keep the post in place. Following that we attached some of our jump rings to the top of a flat piece of metal, again using the third hand, and also to the side. 

Lastly we made a 3D shape. We started off by creating a ring using a strip of metal and then soldering the join together. The ring was then soldered to a flat piece of metal to create the base, which we then drilled a hole in to prevent the heat building up inside when we added the final piece of metal and causing an explosion! Finally we soldered another flat piece of metal to the other side. The final step is to cut off the excess metal and file it down to create a smooth 3D shape. As you can see I ran out of time to finish mine in the class, but I’m pretty confident with those skills so I can always finish it at home!

Soldering still isn’t really my favourite thing to do, but I definitely feel more confident about the process now that I’ve had a refresher, especially with such a great teacher. I always love returning to the London Jewellery School. It’s such a welcoming place and makes me feel inspired to keep going with my jewellery. Also, there’s always biscuits!

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Punch needle…at last!

I’ve been to the London Craft Club again! (https://londoncraftclub.co.uk/) This time for a workshop in the craft world’s biggest current trend; punch needle. I’ve been wanting to learn this craft for quite a while now as it’s so popular and I recently bought a kit from The Modern Crafter (https://themoderncrafter.co.uk/). 

The London Craft Club have moved venue from Bedford Square to Holloway Road, but for September when I attended this workshop they were using The Upper House near Highbury and Islington tube station as their premises. The room we were in was nice and spacious with big windows and lovely murals on the walls. There was four of us in the class and our tutor for the evening was Zoe. She had the table laid out with piles of yarn in a rainbow of colours and when we arrived she encouraged us to think about what kind of design we would like to do. There were several examples laid out on the table ranging from rainbows and watermelons to abstract pieces.

Zoe explained about which types of cloth were the best to use for punch needle. We used a type called monk’s cloth which we fitted into the embroidery hoop to keep it taut whilst we were working. She then showed us how to thread the needle using the wire threader. The needle we used was not the famous Oxford needle that has become synonymous with punch needle, but an adjustable one. We talked about the settings and how you could create different effects with the different length loops. After Zoe had shown us the best practice for using the needle we were free to start on our designs.

I decided to make a wall hanging with the initial of my nephew to hang in his room. I chose a range of greens to create an abstract background and an orange for the J to stand out against the background. I started off with the J and then worked around it using the greens to create a random pattern, trying out each of the different needle lengths to produce a range of textures and heights.

The workshop was so relaxed and we all had a great time creating our pieces. Some people had a clear design in mind and others just experimented. I’m really pleased that I’ve learnt this technique and I can’t wait to have a go at my kit. I have a few ideas for designs of my own and October’s MakeBox is a punch needle kit too, so watch this space for more of this addictive craft!

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Weave Your Genes at The London Loom

Last week I went to the ‘Weave Your Genes’ workshop at The London Loom (https://thelondonloom.com/v2/) and I had such a great time! I booked this workshop a little while ago and when it rolled around I wasn’t really that up for it. The London Loom is based over in East London which is a bit awkward for me to get to so I wasn’t really looking forward to travelling there and back. By the time I left it was a completely different story, the three trains were totally worth it!

I arrived a bit early but Francesca, the founder, gave me a lovely warm greeting and put me to work straight away. The idea of the workshop was to complete a questionnaire relating to various aspects of your genetic make up, for example: eye colour, bitter taste perception, odour detection etc. Each answer was given two letters which correspond to the four ‘building blocks’ or bases that make up DNA: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, Guanine. I chose four different coloured yarns and assigned each one to a base, then using my answers I created a design for my weaving.

Once I had completed the questionnaire and coloured in my design Francesca set me up on a loom. She showed me how to wind the yarn onto the bobbin and then feed the shuttle through the weft to begin creating my fabric. I did get into a few knots at the start but once I’d got into a rhythm it was easy to become absorbed in the process. I did have to have a few breaks to stretch my back out…I don’t know how women in the olden days managed!

After I got to the end of my design Francesca cut my fabric off the loom and showed me how to tie the ends so it wouldn’t all come unravelled. Now all I have to decide is what to do with it! I’ve had suggestions of a bag or a cushion so far.

The London Loom is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Francesca is really welcoming and talks through each stage in a clear, concise way. The people using the other looms were also really friendly. It’s based in a complex with lots of other creative businesses which gives it a really relaxed vibe. I absolutely loved Francesca’s massive rainbow wall of yarn! She recently won in the ‘best workshop’ category at the Mollie Makes Handmade Awards (http://www.molliemakes.com/lifestyle/mollie-makes-handmade-awards-2019-winners/) and she totally deserves it.

If you’re looking to try something relaxing and rewarding I would definitely recommend taking a workshop there. The ‘Weave Your Genes’ one that I did cost £65 for a three hour session including all the materials.

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Terrarium + Cocktail

This week I had so much fun when I went to a terrarium making class at Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals in Fitzrovia, London (https://www.mr-foggs.com/house-of-botanicals/). The class was hosted by Darren and Adam from the Botanical Boys (https://botanicalboys.com/). I was a bit early so I got an opportunity to talk to them before the class started. You could tell that they are both really passionate about plants and caring for them. Darren is one of the founders of the company and one of his main aims in doing so is to bring people back to nature and encourage them to protect the environment. Adam is an extremely creative person who likes to dabble in craft just like me, but when he realised that he had a passion for plants he got in touch with a Botanical Boys and eventually went to work for them.

We started the class off with Darren giving us a talk about the best way to care for indoor plants and some handy hints and tips about why our plants might not be looking their best or responding how we thought they should our ministrations. He said he hoped by the end of the class we would all feel like we could throw off the self-proclaimed ‘plant killer’ title!

After this we began to build our terrariums. Adam took us through how to add each layer to ensure proper drainage and encourage the jar to be self-sustaining, although it does still need watering occasionally. Luckily there is a helpful care guide on their website for clueless people like me! Once we had added all our drainage layers in and then the soil we could choose our plants. Adam showed us how to remove them from their pots and carefully release the roots so the plants were separated and then how to plant them inside our jars. Even though the class was quite large he still managed to give each of us individual attention and made sure we were planting correctly. Once we had finished that we then added some small rocks.

Darren then gave us some instructions on how to care for our new terrariums as well as directing us to the website. Then it was up to us to get our terrariums home upright and in one piece!

I booked the workshop through Obby (https://obby.co.uk/). It cost £45 and included all the materials plus a cocktail! There were twelve people in the class and it took place in one of the private dining rooms inside the bar. The only negatives I found were based on the venue. The space was a little tight for so many people and because it was in the evening the noise level from the bar was really high and sometimes I found I really had to concentrate to make sure I heard what Adam and Darren were saying.

The Botanical Boys have several locations where they sell their terrariums and host workshops including London, Birmingham and Norwich, but they were really excited to be opening a new store in King’s Cross. It opened last week, the day after the workshop, and I wish them the best of luck with it and hope I can get up there to visit soon.

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Candle Making at the London Craft Club

This week I went to the London Craft Club (https://londoncraftclub.co.uk/) in Bedford Square to join in with a candle making workshop. As you know I have tasked myself with trying out as many crafts as possible in my pursuit of a creative life. I really wasn’t sure I would enjoy candle making that much as I’m not particularly a candle person, but honestly, I had the best time!

There was nine people in the class and when we arrived we were offered a drink and took a seat around the table where our own candle making kit was laid out on a tray. The workshop was run by Alice from Scott’s Apothecary (https://www.scottsapothecary.com/). Alice is a chef and nutritional practitioner but has been interested in essential oils and their therapeutic benefits for years. She took us through the various oils, explaining about the top, middle and base notes that make up a well rounded scent and we passed lots of different oils around to smell and work out which ones we liked and which we didn’t. It was fascinating to see the range of personal preferences around the table. One person could love a smell and the next person could absolutely loath it. It meant that in the end all our candles smelt so different. I was surprised to find that although I thought I would hate the floral smells as I tend to stay away from them in perfumes and food or drink I actually quite liked them concentrated as an oil.

After we had smelt all the oils and Alice had talked to us about their properties we were free to mix some together to find a scent for our candle. Alice went around the room talking to each of us and advising us on the most complimentary combinations and the amounts we should use. I decided I wanted to create a citrus candle as that is my favourite scent. I used mandarin, grapefruit, bergamot and lemongrass. I only had a really small amount of the lemongrass in the end. Once we had mixed our oils together we poured them into our melted wax and mixed them thoroughly before pouring them into the jar. Alice had already attached the wick to the bottom of the jar so we just had to keep it central with a wooden stick and leave them to set.

Whilst they were setting we moved on to making a perfume. We could either make a perfume to wear or a therapeutic oil. I decided to make one to assist with headaches made up of peppermint, lavender and clary sage. I haven’t had a chance to test it yet but I’ll be interested to see if it works! For this we only required a small amount of the essential oils and then topped it off with almond oil.

I found learning about all the different oils and their properties really interesting as I’ve never really looked into them before. One of the things that made it so enjoyable though was the other people. Apart from two of them all the others were also there by themselves, which meant that everyone was more inclined to talk to each other and there was a lot of chat and laughter around the table. It was lovely to be crafty with a room full of like-minded people and it just goes to show that you can go along to things by yourself and still have a great time!

I will definitely be heading back to the London Craft Club for another class. They offer a great range of workshops covering a variety of different crafts and they are so welcoming. Now all I need to do is find time to burn my new candle…

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Van Gogh and Britain

I recently visited the Tate Britain to see the ‘Van Gogh and Britain’ exhibition currently taking place. The exhibition explores Vincent van Gogh’s relationship with Britain and the time he lived here in London.

The first half of the exhibition looks at the artists and images that influenced him when he lived in London from 1873-1876. This was before he was an artist and he worked for an art dealer, Goupil, which was how he was exposed to a lot of the pieces that he found inspiring. I didn’t realise but Van Gogh didn’t actually become an artist until after his return to the Netherlands. He first tried teaching and preaching but eventually turned to painting in 1880 and continued this for the last ten years of his life.

Whilst he was in London he immersed himself in culture, visiting as many galleries and museums as he could. Throughout the exhibition you can see examples of work by various artists that influenced his work from subject matter through to form and style next to Van Gogh’s own work that he produced later on in both the Netherlands and France.

The second half of the exhibition goes on to demonstrate the impact Van Gogh’s work has had on both his contemporaries and more recent artists. It also looks at the exhibitions of his work in Britain, most notably ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’ in 1910 and the showing of his work and publication of two biographies and his letters in the 1920’s. Many people linked Van Gogh’s mental health with the genius of his work and this led to a lot of interest in his paintings.

A selection of postcards showing some of Van Gogh’s well known paintings.

I thought the exhibition was well laid out and clearly showed the progression of Van Gogh’s life and work. The descriptions next to the work were very informative and I felt like I learnt a lot whilst I was there. They had several of his famous pieces such as Starry Night over the Rhône (1888), Sunflowers (1888) and some of his well-known self-portraits. It is a very popular exhibition as Van Gogh is a well-known artist and the rooms were extremely busy, with queues forming in some places to see certain works of art. I was also surprised that Tate Britain were allowing people to take photographs of the work. I found it quite distracting as it meant people were spending a lot of time lining up their perfect shot or getting really close to the paintings to photograph details. It seemed like many of the people there were just interested in photographing it all and were not really appreciating the art in real life. I saw several people going round photographing the painting and the description next to it, presumably to read later. For me this seems to defeat the point of attending an exhibition. They might have been better reading up about Vincent Van Gogh on the internet!

My favourite painting: Pollarded Willows, Arles (1888)

Tate Britain is a five minute walk from Pimlico tube station or a 20 minute walk from Victoria station. For a non-member the ticket cost £22. It took about an hour and a half to go round the exhibition and afterwards we sat down for a drink in the Djangoly Café inside the Tate. The exhibition finishes on 11 August 2019 and I would say it’s well worth a visit.

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Giant Arm Knitting

So, on the hottest weekend of the year so far I went to a giant arm knitting workshop! It was at Tea and Crafting (https://www.teaandcrafting.co.uk/) which is run by a lovely lady called Jane who has created a peaceful and creative learning space for crafters in Convent Garden. As well as workshops they also run private parties, hen dos and baby showers. Despite the heat I had such a great time! I have been wanting to learn how to do arm knitting for a really long time. I’ve seen blankets made out of giant yarn for sale on Etsy and I’ve seen videos of people doing it. It was right up there at the top of my craft bucket list.

The workshop was in the evening, starting at 7pm, which is perfect to get to if you work up in London. There were eight people in the class and it cost £65. We were asked to choose our wool colour in advance of the class and when we arrived our 2kg balls of wool were all there waiting for us with our names on. I chose a nice mustard yellow because I thought it would go well with some of the décor in my house (but also because it’s a bee colour and also because I’m a Hufflepuff!).

The tutor, Hannah, started off by showing us how to make a slip knot and from there cast on. We had to cast on fourteen stitches to start with, which took some time as we all got used to the tension of the wool and also how tight we could actually make the stitches as they went further up our arms. When we had all mastered this Hannah then showed us how to start knitting, moving the stitches from arm to arm by pulling a loop of wool through to create a new stitch as we went. Once I got into the rhythm of it, it was really satisfying. The blanket grew at a fast rate and I could feel it getting heavier and heavier the more rows I added. It took me about an hour and a quarter to knit a blanket almost as tall as me! When we only had about a metre and a half of wool left Hannah showed us how to cast off and weave the loose ends into the blanket. She was a really great teacher, very patient and encouraging, especially if any of us found ourselves getting in a tangle!

I’m so pleased that I ticked this off my craft bucket list. I loved how quick it was to have a finished and useful piece of work. I have ordered myself some more wool so I can keep practicing, otherwise I will definitely forget how to cast on. I used Woolly Mahoosive (https://woollymahoosive.com/), which is the same place where the wool we used in the class was from. We had 2kg balls in the class but when I went on the website I couldn’t find any of that size so I ordered a 4kg ball. The one I ordered was a man-made fibre and cost £60 (plus postage), for natural wool it was a lot more expensive. Now all I have to decide is if I’m going to make two blankets the same size or one double the size!

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Alternative London Street Art Walking Tour

This weekend I spent a fantastic day on a walking tour of London street art followed by a workshop where we got to try out spray painting for ourselves. The tour was run by Alternative London (https://www.alternativeldn.co.uk/). The tour on its own costs £12 and is offered in English and French. The tour plus the workshop is £40. You can also book private tours.

We met at the white goat statue by Old Spitalfields Market. There was a large group for the French tour, but the rest of the people booked for the English group didn’t show up so I ended up having my own personal tour guide, which was amazing! Emilie was my guide and she was excellent. She was very familiar with the area and all the artwork, including who had done each one. I couldn’t keep up with her as there were so many names and styles.

We started off the tour discussing the history of the East End and how the immigration of several large groups had influenced the area. As we walked around Emilie showed me all the various forms of street art that appear in the city, some of them commissioned and some illegal. We not only looked at spray painted art from tags to full murals, but also stickers, wheatpasting (posters), casts and sculptures. And of course she took me to see a Banksy!

Some of my favourite pieces were bronze castings mounted on top of signposts by an artist called Jonesy. The theme of most of them is global warming and the environment. They are very subtle and unless you were on the look out for them they could very easily go unnoticed. Some of the more obvious street art is found at eye-level where it’s easy to access. There is a lot of politics and rivalry in the street art world and as a lot of it is about marking territory, to cross out or tag over someone else’s work makes a big statement.

One of the things I liked most about it was the organic nature of the work. It is a constantly evolving piece of art, which changes on an almost daily basis, whether that be someone else painting over part of it or the addition of stickers or posters. Once you are aware of it, it makes the whole city seem like a giant canvas covered in layers of art, just waiting for the next change.

We headed over to the Alternative London studio after grabbing some lunch, ready for the workshop. Some other people joined us for this section of the day. The first half of the workshop was dedicated to creating stencils. We had a look at existing stencils and explored the idea of negative space and bridging to keep the sections of the stencil together. Once we had drawn out our design we cut it out using a craft knife. I decided to do my bee logo so I had to create three separate stencils, one for each colour.

Once we had all finished cutting our stencils we took them outside where there was an area especially for graffitiing. First Emilie showed us how to attach the cap to the can and then the different ways to apply the paint to the wall to achieve various effects such as thin lines or filling in larger areas. We were then allowed to have a go creating our own tags. Tags are quick to do, usually just a couple of lines in one colour. I created one using my initials, CLD. We then had a go at ‘throw ups’, which are bubble writing usually consisting of one colour for the outline and another to fill it in. After this we moved on to our stencils. We tried them out both on the wall and on paper so we could take our artwork home. I used white for the wings, black for the outline, head and body and a mixture of yellow and orange for the stripes.

I was so pleased with my final piece! It was so much fun to create and it was such a great way to spend the day. I felt like I learnt a lot on the tour and I’d love to have another go at spray painting.

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Crafty Fox Market: 1st June 2019

At the weekend my sister and I visited the Crafty Fox Market (http://www.craftyfoxmarket.co.uk) on Saturday. The market runs at Mercato Metropolitano in South London once a month on both Saturday and Sunday, with different stall holders on each day.

The actual market was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, but the stalls that were there were selling lovely, high quality items. There were only a few stalls I wasn’t really interested in, but that was only because they weren’t my style, not because they weren’t selling great stuff. We did purchase a few things. I bought a card and my sister bought some pencils from Oh Squirrel (http://www.ohsquirrel.co.uk), my sister also bought some baby shower presents from HexNex Jewellery (http://www.hexnex.co.uk) and a necklace from Relic the Jeweller (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/relicthejeweller). All three ladies who were running these stalls were very approachable and engaged us in conversation, which was very welcoming and encouraged us to buy from them.

As part of the market there was a workshop being run by Samantha Warren who creates printed accessories (http://www.samanthawarren.co.uk). The workshop was to make a wax resist card. You drew a design on card in white wax crayon and then painted over it with a wash of watercolour paints. Where the wax was applied the paint didn’t stick and your design was revealed. It was a really fun, quick workshop and reminded me of being a child as we used to do that with my Mum. Samantha was really friendly and talked through what to do clearly with a demonstration. We popped in to the workshop when it looked quiet and we were probably only in there for about 10 minutes. It was a nice little rest from the bustle of the market. We left our pieces to dry and then picked them up after lunch. According to the Crafty Fox Market website there were two workshops running on the Sunday, one free and another you had to book in advance.

Mercato Metropolitano (https://www.mercatometropolitano.com/) is between Borough and Elephant and Castle tube stations. Elephant and Castle also has a train station. The venue was quite hidden away. I felt like you had to know it was there, it wasn’t a place you would just stumble across. But inside was a fantastic array of street-food style eateries with plenty of seating both indoors and outdoors. We started our visit with a smoothie from the Vegan Shack and after strolling around the market and trying out the workshop we shared a pizza from Fresco and then headed to the Gelato Lab for an ice cream. The gelato was so good and another visitor even came over to ask where we had got them! The only thing we struggled to find was a normal soft drink. In the end we bought some fruit cordial but they were very expensive at £6.50 for two. In fact a lot of the food was quite expensive. It was all artisan and prepared on-the-spot, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you are planning a visit.

The weather this weekend was beautiful! The sun was out and the temperature was lovely. I think this really added to the vibe of the venue and by lunch time the outside areas were packed with people enjoying food and cocktails. Whether you’re going to the Crafty Fox Market or just heading there to enjoy some food, drink and live music I would recommend arriving early to bag a seat as it’s clearly a popular place to hang out. I’m looking forward to attending my next Crafty Fox event; one of their summer night markets in Brixton which they are holding once a month from June to September. I’ll let you know how it goes!