Tuesday, 11 December 2012

James Virgo Castings

James Virgo Castings (07785 102 054) is like a trip back hundreds of years. In a large warehouse in south east London, he creates beautiful pieces of craft by casting in metal. Not only are railings and door fittings from the most prestigious homes in the UK cast by him, but he also creates artworks himself which are then cast in bronze and brass. He was just the right person for me then to cast a piece of my artwork.

I followed the process through and the results follow. As a calligrapher I found the changes in working in 2D to 3D very exciting but also challenging. From my artwork, James arranged for a wooden original to be made from which he could make a cast.


The artwork ready to be covered with sand.


Fine white dusting powder and then red and then back sand create a good impression for the cast.


Ready for the other half of the mould.


Ensuring that the bronze can get into and then drain out of the mould.


Transporting the red hot metal.


Pouring the metal into the mould.


The metal in the mould.


The cast ready to be cleaned up and polished.


The finished piece.

Blog post by HCA Vice-Chair Patricia Lovett

Friday, 23 November 2012

HRH The Prince of Wales supports new craft award

I am delighted to be part of the judging panel for a new national craft skills award which is being supported by HRH The Prince of Wales. The awards were launched on Thursday and these are the Prince's words of support.


"I have always had a huge admiration for those who have the talent to use their hands, mind and eye in a way that can produce objects and buildings of great beauty.

I believe most strongly that it is vital to support and encourage these remarkable craftsmen and women to ensure the survival of such unique and special skills. That is why I am so pleased that a Craft Skills Awards scheme has been established, to identify and celebrate all the wonderful work that is being done across the country. I am only sorry that I cannot be with you today to attend the launch in person and do hope that you will forgive my absence.

The future of craft skills is at great risk, like so much else that is of timeless value in this world. There has been a gradual and widespread loss of the family firm and master craftsmen, through whom traditional skills were passed down from generation to generation and from master to apprentice. Seventy-seven percent of those practising heritage crafts do not currently undertake activities to pass their skills and knowledge onto others, while higher education specialist craft courses are closing due to lack of funding, capacity and reasons of practicality.

In addition to preserving these special craft skills, it is also vital to show that maintaining these traditions is not simply hanging on to the past, but vital for bringing genuine economic, cultural and environmentally sustainable benefits to our communities today and for generations to come. For example, there is considerable and growing demand abroad, particularly in the Far East, for so many of this country's wonderful crafts – both heritage and those more contemporary – and we must do all we can to capitalise on this appeal.

I am delighted to support these Awards, which I hope will encourage the next generation of craft-makers and demonstrate that the skills and expertise of craftsmen and women continue to make an invaluable contribution to this country’s culture, economy and heritage. I am sure that today’s launch will prove a successful and thought-provoking event and I would like to offer my warmest best wishes to the organisers. I very much look forward to hearing more about the Awards and, of course the winners, next year."

This has got to be great news for raising the status of craft skills.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Gormley and Frayling on designing and making stuff

This morning there was a great piece on Radio 4 "Start the Week" which had interesting conversations by important thinkers. I want to transcribe a few sections here before it gets lost but for those in the UK you can listen again for a few days here

Sir Anthony Gormley "This is a real subject of passion for me, I think it's absolutely essential that there is a continuity between design and making and I try and make the majority of my work here. But I work for example with a foundry in Halifax in Yorkshire, Halifax in the sixties had fifty two foundries, there are now three, and actually if we don't keep them going we are really going to be screwed, and the fact is I was very sad when Dyson decided that all of his production was going to go to Singapore because it is the link up between doing the drawing and then having the things made that needs a continuity and that's the very thing that could reinforce our manufacturing."
"In building the Angel of the North this was a totally linked up project...we got back the shipbuilders that could make the bough bulges to make it's bum and make it's head. You know how do you turn 6.5cm ship plate into a compound curve? Well you do it by spraying it with ice cold water and at the same time heating it with an oxy acetylene flame, it's like playing a violin, it's a skill, but we found those skills back and what did we do? we ended up making this thing that was in some ways an extreme act of confidence in this community's future....I think that what's happened with the Swan Hunters is that those skills have had to find new outlets but they are still there and with a new idea of what to do with them they can flourish, and that's my point that we don't have to say we can export all that industry elsewhere."

Sir Christopher Frayling "Ruskin gave a wonderful lecture called the two paths in I think the 1870s where he talked about the roots of art education being the head, the heart and the hand. The head work is all the think work that the Victorians did, and they certainly did a lot of thinking about design, the hand thing is about craft and the heart is about having your finger on the pulse of contemporary culture but also personal expression and Ruskin argued the best kind of art education brings those three things together, the head, the heart and the hand, thus we bring out the whole person. I think there have been moments in the history of art education where one or other of those things have been overbalanced, too much headwork in Victorian times, too much handwork in the arts and crafts period, and the heart really letting rip in all sorts of ways since the 1950s. A balance between those three concepts is I think the future of art education."

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

do what you love every day

Today's blog post is a group of inspirational places, first North Bennet Street School, an amazing place that has been teaching the highest quality of craft skills since 1885



Another inspirational place is North House Folk School, I am hugely impressed by their work. See the website here

In Sweden the national folk craft school at Sateglantan is a very special almost magical place, I have spent time there three times including teaching two courses there, if you ever get the chance to go don't miss it. website

and last one not craft related but another educational video which I find inspirational.

Friday, 12 October 2012

heritage at risk

The Today program this morning was looking at "Heritage at Risk" this is English Heritage's program highlighting those heritage buildings most at risk. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/
It is a good methodology and we would like to see a parallel system highlighting living heritage at risk. Another model is the red data list for species or the "watch list" of the rare breed survival trust https://www.rbst.org.uk/rare-breeds-watchlist. The first step toward any of these lists is a survey of what you have got in the first place, we have not even got that far yet. As Joni Mitchel sang "don't it always seem to go you don't know what you got til it's gone"

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Saville Row tailoring behind the scenes

Yesterday I had the delightful experience of seeing behind the scenes at No.1 Saville Row home of Gieves and Hawkes. I was astonished at how many people work in the cellars below the shops on the Row and how much handwork is involved. This is the view down the long room where most of the work is done, there are hardly any sewing machines virtually everything is done by hand, laying out, cutting, stitching and that takes a lot of people, all specialists in their own trade.

And this is one of the specialist trouser makers. I did not note his name but he has worked there for many many years just doing trousers, doing them quickly and doing them well.

They all deny that there is a hierarchy but  everything that follows is dependent on the work of the cutter. The cutter is responsible for the design of the bespoke garments. Bespoke for those that don't know means you have a unique pattern made specifically to fit you. This is different from "made to measure" where an existing pattern is tweaked and sized up or down to get as close as possible to a fit. There is also a lot if difference in how it is made with made to measure being made in the same factories with the same machines as off the peg suits. Bespoke is hand made all the way. In the background is head cutter Davide Taub who's blog gives an insight into the more interesting cuts and designs.

Having measured the client and discussed their requirements a pattern is made and the fabric is cut. 

Much of this was familiar to me as I spent a year in the 1980s working on a cutting table of a lingerie firm in Liecester.

 About 10 years ago the actual act of making on Saville Row looked under threat. High rates and rents meant that if left to market forces all the workshop space would be converted to sales space trading on the Saville Row name, but how long would that name maintain it's value if the bespoke business moved out? The Saville Row Bespoke association have done much to avert that potential decline and amongst their initiatives has been setting up a pre apprenticeship scheme at Newham college. This is one of the Newham College students on her first day on the Row watching and learning.
One day maybe I would love a Saville Row suit but at present they are out of my price range. For those interested in the differences between various suit options and what you get for your money I enjoy Thomas Mahon's blog, he even gives advice on how to get a decent suit for £200

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Making vellum (calfskin) and parchment (sheepskin)


post by Patricia Lovett, HCA Vice Chair

Vellum and parchment making has been going on for thousands of years. It is a writing surface that lasts - the earliest vellum books in existence are 3rd century AD. 

William Cowley in Buckinghamshire is now the only parchmenters in the UK and they continue to use traditional methods to treat the skin. They supply the world in quality skins.

Goat, sheep and calf skins are selected at abbatoirs for quality and, once at the parchmenters, are first soaked in a lime solution to expand the hair follicles and treat the skins.

Skins soaked in vats of lime solution


Once ready, the skins are the placed over a beamer and a special knife called a scudder is used to remove the hair.

Removing the hair using a scudder


Skins are washed and treated again and then stretched out on wooden frames. There is skill at every level but here a slight slip  and the whole skin could be ruined. Tension in the skin is adjusted continually while a razor sharp lunar knife is used to scrape the skin. This creates an even thickness as well as ensuring the grain is all in the same direction. 


Master parchmenter Lee Mapley scraping the skin with a lunar knife


Skins are then allowed to dry still on their frames. This obviously takes less time in summer than winter. 


Skins drying on wooden frames


When  completely  dry the skins are cut from their frames, rolled and stored ready for use.

Storing skins


Writing, painting and gilding on vellum is unlike using any other material, and is wonderful!


© Patricia Lovett 2012

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Wartime Farm





Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and HCA Patron Alex Langlands are back – this time it’s Wartime Farm. Following on from Edwardian Farm and Victorian Farm, in this series the trio are turning back the clock to World War II to run Manor Farm in Hampshire for a year. The first episode was broadcast last Thursday, 8pm, BBC2 (available on i-player until the end of October) - with another seven episodes to keep us Farm addicts happy!


The new series focuses on how Britain fed itself during World War II. At the outbreak of war in 1939, Britain imported 70% of its food. Shipping was a key target and Britain had to look at how to provide for itself. 


Heritage craft has already made an appearance in the first episode. Blacksmithing as a craft was in decline in the 1930s but came back into demand during the War, especially as blacksmiths were able to 'make do and mend', making new tools out of rusty metal as scrap metal was going to the war effort.

In Episode 1, blacksmith Simon Summers showed Peter how to make a mole plough for draining land. When war broke out 4 million acres of land needed draining before it could be ploughed and converted to farmland. A mole plough consists of a narrow blade which, when dragged through the ground, leaves a deep channel which acts as a drain. 


Simon and Peter search the hedgerows to find suitable metal to make a mole plough from. This piece of iron will form the bullet-shaped 'blade'.
Transforming the rusty axle into a mole plough.
The mole begins to take shape.
The finished mole.
Peter and Alex with the finished mole plough.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the mole plough wasn't quite heavy enough or strong enough to break through the soil, and eventually Alex, Peter and Ruth (driving the tractor) had to plough the field without draining it.

Hopefully we'll get a chance to see some more crafts over the series. Take a look at the HCA website to read a message from Alex about crafts during the war, and some of the things he's had a go at over the series. Don't forget to watch tomorrow night!




Wednesday, 5 September 2012

filming for BBC Paul Martin's "Handmade Revolution"

We have been working with the producers of this new BBC series since February and are quite excited about how it is looking.
Today Paul Martin and crew came to film in my workshop for an episode which will air in October. He made a bowl and I carved the spoon, by the end of the day he was tired but happy and he did a great job.
 I started planning the day before with daughter JoJo turning a bowl so I could check out how long it would take, how the wood was working and sharpen up my tools.

Today the National Trust were flying a helicopter up and down the valley airlifting sacks of stone onto the moor for footpath work. I know on camera you are supposed to do soundbites but we had 1 1/2 minutes quiet whilst they were loading down the hill then 2 minutes noise then 3 minutes quiet whilst they were up the hill and 2 minutes noise again all day.

 crew setting up.
 Paul launching in with huge enthusiasm
Close attention of camera and sound men.
 outside nearly done.
 hollowing the inside
 nearly there
 finished bowls
 Paul is genuinely passionate about traditional crafts and has agreed to be patron of the Heritage Crafts Association.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Day Two at the ‘Woven Communities’ basketry symposium


Day Two of the ‘Woven Communities’ basketry symposium was just as good as Day One. Everyone arrived early to have a go at making bits and bobs and playing with materials, and there was lots of swapping of ideas, techniques and experiences before the presentations got underway.

I’d say that there was a more temporal theme to the day, looking at basketry in the past, present and future. The first session, ‘Basketry and the past’, focused on basketry (or the absence of it) in the archaeological record. Willeke Wendrich of UCLA showed us some photos of ancient basketry from Egypt and other parts of the Mediterranean. She made an interesting point about how ‘tradition’ means different things to different people, giving an example of two basketmaking communities in Nubia – one which goes to great lengths to find traditional materials, valuing the material above all, while the other uses modern materials such as chocolate wrappers, valuing the pattern and colour above all. Next up was Hugh Cheape from the University of the Highlands and Islands on the subject of curachs (coracles) and coffins. This was followed by a joint presentation by two conservators, Sherry Doyal and Pieta Greaves, who spoke about the practicalities and problems of conserving the very few waterlogged baskets that are found.

While the official title of the next session was ‘National and international woven communities’, it was very much a session about the present. First up was Joe Hogan, a basketmaker and artist from Ireland, who gave a wonderful talk about Irish baskets and his own practice. We often talk about regional variation in baskets, but Joe gave examples of variations between villages often only three or four miles apart. He was followed by Anne Morrell of the Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmenabad, India, who looked at the relationship between embroidery and basketmaking, and cautioned us against our obsession with naming every stitch, weave, action etc. There was a great quote from Anne ‘Do not assume that things are made using the same methods you know about’. The final talk of this session was from Carlos Fontales, an expert in Spanish basketry, who spoke about the relationship between basketry and pottery in making jugs to hold wine, and introduced us to beautiful woven willow jugs lined with pine resin to make them watertight.  

The afternoon session began with a mixture of present and future, looking at ideas of sustainability. Mary Butcher spoke about sustainable resources in basketmaking and some of the problems facing supplies of willow (shortage of beds and commercially grown willow), cane (an export ban imposed by the Indonesian government, the largest supplier of cane) and black ash (being destroyed in the millions by the emerald ash borer beetle). Rehema White of the University of St Andrews discussed ideas of sustainable development in relation to basketmaking. Ben Campbell of the University of Durham looked at the effects of nature conservation in Nepal on a bamboo basketmaking culture – when the creation of the Langtang National Park in 1976 banned the trade in forest products and made it necessary to have a licence to cut bamboo.

The final session of the symposium was ‘Weaving into the future’. I gave a talk about intangible heritage and heritage craft, and spoke about the work the HCA is doing to ensure that craft skills and knowledge carry on into the future. This was followed by a discussion session led by Emma Walker of CraftScotland, with basketmakers Lois Walpole and Jane Wilkinson, and me, and contributions from the floor. The day ended with Tim Ingold of the University of Aberdeen bringing together the various strands of the symposium, such as tradition, knowledge, materials, politics and a whole lot more.

To cap off the day Ewan Balfour, a landscape architect and basketmaker from Shetland, finished the kishie he had been making throughout the conference. On the first day, he could be seen in the front row making what seemed like an endless length of rope, and on the second day he made the basket. That was one of the great things about the conference – the mix of the practical and the academic – and it was great to see people working away with their hands, exploring materials and having an experiment while listening to the talks.