Friday, 30 April 2010

a traditional craft saved for the future.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen Mike Turnock's workshop before and read about how he is the last sieve and riddle maker in the UK, steam bending wooden rims and weaving wire mesh sieves for gardeners, shellfish fishermen, cooks and potters.

The Heritage Craft Association have done much to help publicise Mike's work both nationally which has helped bring in more work and locally in the hope of finding someone suitable to take the business on. We are delighted to be able to report now that Mike has found a successor and so HCA can be proud to have played a part in saving our first Heritage Craft from extinction.

Damien Bramhall used to visit the workshop when he was a child and watch Mike and his father at work. he has been working as a lorry driver but was looking for a change of career when he read one of the press stories about Mike in the Buxton Advertiser. He got in touch, they came to a mutually convenient arrangement and Mike has already started training Damien up. Mike hopes to retire and pass the business on at the end of August. HCA are trying to help them find some funding to help cover the costs of the training since neither will be earning much whilst Mike is teaching and Damien learning.

I met with them yesterday and Mike was showing Damien how he makes the smaller kitchen sieves using prewoven stainless steel mesh. First he takes one of the small steam bent rims and fixes the ends together.

Then he cuts a circle of the stainless mesh.

and bends it round a former.

A strengthening wire is clipped to length
and the mesh wrapped around.
Now the mesh sits between the two steem bent rims and the whole lot is forced tightly together pulling the mesh taught.
A couple of tacks keep everything in place and the finished sieve should last a lifetime. I bought an almost identical one in an antique shop not so long ago.
To me it was an absolute delight seeing this old craft given a potential bright future since a visit to Mike's workshop 18 months ago played a crucial step in setting up the Heritage Crafts Association, pictures of that visit and the blog post here 

Some of the press coverage from the last year

Guardian article here
and audio slideshow here
discussed in the House of Commons here

and Mike's website

Saturday, 24 April 2010

closure of New Entrants Training Scheme at Hereford

A couple of weeks ago Hereford College wrote to students part way through the 2 year long NETS training to tell them that funding had been withdrawn and the scheme would close in July. The trainees due to start in May and September have also been told the course will not go ahead.

The NETS training is an excellent scheme originally started by CoSIRA in the 1970s, it provided in post training in wheelwrighting, blacksmithing, upholstery, wood machining and thatching.

Trainees were most commonly taken on as an apprentice in a business and their training undertaken at Hereford under the NETS scheme. They did 12 weeks intensive skills training over a 2 year period.

HCA are very concerned about the loss of this facility which is symptomatic of the loss of craft skills training throughout further education provision. We are coordinating communication between the organisations concerned; the British Artists Blacksmiths Association, the Worshipful Companies of Blacksmiths and Wheelwrights, the Guild of traditional upholsterers and various other interested parties.

HCA trustees met last Saturday and discussed the issue of NETS closure we decided unanimously that we should do what we can to opose the closure and publicise the situation. We have written to Ian Peake the principle at Hereford expressing our concern and asking for various points of background information about the situation at Hereford. We will pass on any information as soon as we hear back and be putting out information to the press.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

HCA planning for the future

Friday and Saturday were spent in London again.

Friday was meetings with charitable trusts who we hope may help fund the Heritage Crafts Association's work and also gave us good advice about how efficient, successful organisations work. Then after a night in a cheapy £35 hotel (a cellar room near Earls Court) it was back to our committee meeting rooms which are a stones throw away from Trafalgar Square, another cellar room but this one is free, loaned to us by a supporter.

After just over a years hard work we feel the Heritage Crafts Association is established as an organisation, we have good links with the various individual craft organisations and many good contacts within government and the charitable sector. We still have no money but as more folk are beginning to sign up to our friends scheme that is helping.

This committee meeting then focussed on revisiting our priorities for action. This is something we did last November when our prime priorities were advocacy work within Government and DCMS and holding a forum to bring all the various craft organisations together. 

Now we are established we feel we can start to address some of the issues facing craftspeople more directly.  Our key focus over the coming months will be on these issues. Broadly they are either about helping make businesses more viable with promotion and marketing help or about issues of passing skills on to the next generation.

We hope to create a database of traditional craftspeople working around the country. This we hope to make publicly available through a craft map which will be searchable by region or craft. We are already being asked regularly by journalists for details of craftspeople that they can do stories on and it would be good for this information to be more widely available so that say someone in Suffolk looking for a basketmaker or boatbuilder could easily find them. The research needed to create this database will also highlight any particularly endangered crafts so we may have an endangered list such as the rare breeds survival trust have. We also hope to run a course in internet marketing for craftspeople, we have many skills in this area within the HCA committee and with recent developments in web2  software it is easier than ever for craftspeople to sell their work direct to customers at retail price.

On the training side of things we wish to support the transmission or passing on of craft skills, especially in the most endangered crafts. There will never be one simple solution to training needs, different approaches will be needed for different crafts and situations. It was interesting to see from our online survey of craftspeople that only 8% of respondents came into their craft through traditional apprenticeship and over 50% were in one way or another self taught, perhaps drawing inspiration from having done a short course and read all they can on the subject. In each individual case we will hope to find ways of helping skilled craftspeople pass their skills on to new learners using methods that suit both parties.

We also discussed the closure of the excellent NETS training at Hereford and the cutting of Weave at Dundee and will be doing whatever we can to oppose and publicise these losses.

Friday, 9 April 2010


In August Nicola and I are heading to Japan to work with traditional craftspeople there and learn about how they are working to share traditional skills. Nicola did her PhD looking at how traditional skills are exchanged in the UK and this will form part of her ongoing research, she is also doing publicity for the event and has a very informative blog. from which I have shamelessely stolen the post below. 

Kesurokai meetings started in Japan in 1995, organised by the highly respected temple carpenter Sugimura san. His aim was to bring together different craftsmen who normally work remotely to exchange traditional craft techniques and knowledge.
These events serve not only the practical purpose of ensuring age-old skills are maintained, but also create a sense of community amongst the craftsmen, helping them maintain their businesses. The Kesurokai movement has around 1500 members in Japan and holds twice yearly meetings all over the country.
A friend just brought this web site to my attention which has some images from a Kesurokai meeting in 2006 which show just how large and well attended they are:
'Planing together' - paper thin wood
The scale of the event. 
Across the generations too!
There are also some really superb videos on the web site showing how various woodworking tools are made.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

English country pottery

We have a fantastic heritage of pottery in Britain with many threads. Medieval earthenware jugs are universally praised then there are gorgeous 18th century slipware dishes, the rise of industrial ceramics in the Staffordshire potteries, salt glazed stoneware in the 19th and early 20th C and finally the studio pottery movement and Bernard Leach's fusion of East and West.

I have recently been sent links to some great pottery videos that I wanted to share. I have a great love of old earthenware pottery and used to visit Roly Curtis at Littlethorpe potteries many years ago and dig clay and try to throw pots for fun.

So on to the videos, the first one is Isaac Button the speed and ease of working are a joy to watch.

This one is not English though he has visited and learned from many of the best old English potters works very much in that tradition and is a keen supporter of British traditional crafts. Guy Wolff centering 50lb of clay.

and finishing the pot