In the bleak mid-winter, Illuminate

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People have celebrated festivals for thousands of years in the bleak mid-winter.  The festivals, usually involving fires and feasting, around the mid Winter Solstice have many names, Yule, Christmas or Saturnalia (the Roman festival around the middle of December).   Lights are central to all of these festivals.  As we decorate our homes with lights, the Illuminate exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre lights up with a selection of lighting from young designers.

scAmong the highlights for me were the Rod Standard lamp (pictured right) from Sebastian Cox.  The stem is a steam-bent  hazel rod, and the shade is made from fine hazel shavings.  The hazel is grown locally to Sebastian and he harvests it every winter.  Coppicing is a way of cutting and  managing trees, creating a diverse woodland, and a sustainable source of timber.  The desk lamp’s shade is made from compressed hazel fibres, and casts a warm glow.

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Drws y Coed means Door to the Woods and the row of lights (left) are laser-cut with intricate patterns to create effect of dappled light in the woods.  The lights are made of local Welsh timber and plywood. The designer, Hannah Wardle, grew up in the Clwyd Valley, an area with much woodland, and her experience informs the materials and light effects of her products. Other influences stem from an interest in Japanese architectural ideas and the formal experience of an MSc in Light and Lighting at Bartlett, UCL, and 6 years working as an architectural lighting designer.

Claire Norcross, former head of lighting at Habitat, also takes her inspiration from the natural world, often super scaling a microscopic detail from the natural world to create a surface or structure.  I also appreciated the subtle engineering evident in the Lock Lamp, a collaboration between Colin Chetwood and Nick Grant.  The ‘lock’ stands for the mechanism that positions the light, whether extended, raised or rotated, without the use of springs, counter-weights or screw clamps.  A neat, elegant solution that is simply functional.

For Louise Tucker it is understanding her materials and the intervention of the hand that is central to the design process.

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Louise has chosen Pren, the Welsh word for wood as the name for her collection of light sculptures.  Each light is a developed by making a series of intricate small-scale models of the three dimensional structures and refining the models until satisfied the structure of the weave echoes the organic curves of the sculpture.  Hand-making is the alchemy that turns the natural materials into these sophisticated forms showing the subtle beauty of the materials to their best advantage.

Illuminate runs until 4th February 2014, and entrance is free.

Preloved at Restoration Station

RS1After a pit-stop at ‘Paper & Cup‘,  a coffee and secondhand book shop with a bright, fresh vibe that is a social enterprise from the New Hanbury Project, I headed to Restoration Station’s new shop at 118 Shoreditch High Street.  As the name suggests,this latest venture from the NHP restores vintage and designer furniture.

The furniture is carefully selected from pieces that have been donated, cleaned, thoroughly prepared and then hand finished.  A process that often requires a lot of elbow grease.  The chair being worked on in the picture was made of four different woods, oak, beech, pine and ash.  It was being meticulously hand sanded before being oiled, waxed and polished to reveal the different wood grains, all under the watchful eye of Bernard, a furniture specialist and volunteer at the NHP.

The small team have trained in furniture restoration at the NHP, a Drop-in, Rehab and Training Centre run by the the Spitalfields Crypt Trust to support local people recovering from addiction and homelessness.  Furniture restoration and carpentry are two of 20 different subjects taught at the NHP.  These skills are bolstered by specialist knowledge in design history, and finishing techniques from local craftspeople that volunteer, such as Bernard looking dapper in an Ally Capellino overall (her shop is around the corner).

restored-furniture-Restoration-Station2There are a few pieces available to buy, and they also work on bespoke pieces, such as making a cafe counter.  There was a real pride and purpose in the work, so if you have a piece that could do with a ‘make-over’ the Restoration Station would be delighted to help, and add another layer to the story.

 

Pop-tastic for Christmas

Lauras-Loom-scarves-Blues-150x150 Creative Clerkenwell is open for four more days featuring a selection of jewellery, ceramics and home wares.  It will be a beeline to Laura’s Loom to check out the throws made of 100% British wool, (I have an eye on the Howgill Scarves woven from  Bluefaced Leicester wool, £42, pictured), followed by a pitstop at Waffle Design to hear more about their work with natural fabrics and artisanal production.

SCT_318dJust opened at 118 Shoreditch High Street is a pop-up shop for Restoration Station, a social enterprise that restores vintage and designer furniture for resale.   Some of the team working on Restoration Station have trained with the New Hanbury Project (NHP), a skills training centre for people recovering from addiction.

lucentiaSitting alongside the seasonal ice-rink at Somerset House is the Christmas arcade with the Handmade in Britain Christmas pop-up with work from over 65 designers and makers.  I love the cushions from Lorna Syson, Noa Design rainbow necklace, and Lucentia‘s subtle, translucent place mats and coasters made from recycled plastics and textiles.

If you enjoyed Design Junction in September, you’ll be delighted to hear about their Christmas pop-up that is taking place at 53 Monmouth St, Seven Dials, in collaboration with Clippings.com.

Across the river on the south bank at Gabriel’s Wharf is the Shake the Dust pop-up, selling a bright selection of home wares, kitchen accessories, jewellery and prints that are all collaborations between emerging UK designers and ethical producers in developing countries.

Also on the hit list is a trip to see Lozi Designs pop-up in Alfred Place, WC1E 7EB showcasing their new collection of clean, contemporary furniture made from steam bent birch plywood, organic glue and milk-based paint.  I am looking forward to seeing the bedside table, and kitchen furniture.

Further afield, in Bristol, the Christmas Design Temporium is taking place at the Architecture Centre in Bristol showing a design led and architectural inspired collection of jewellery, textiles, prints and artworks.

More news from Restoration Station and Lozi Designs to follow.

Wonderbag

 

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Christmas came early in our house with some relatives going away, and we were given a Wonderbag.  I have long cherished my Mum’s slow-cooked food on her Aga and here is a much smaller, much cheaper way to achieve the same process!  Heat-retention cooking is not a new idea, it is an age-old technique, in a hay box, or a hole in the ground.  Wonderbag just makes it easy to do in your kitchen!

The Wonderbag is a “a non-electric, heat-retention cooker that allows food that has been brought to a boil, to continue cooking after it has been removed from the fuel source.”  It is effectively a super thick sleeping bag (filled with recycled foam or  polystyrene granules) for your pan.  Once you have given the pot a kick start with a conventional cooker, you can pop the pot in the bag and it keeps cooking without burning any more fuel, wherever you are, indoors, outdoors, or in the bush.

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We had a go the next day, the Sunday roast of lamb shoulder became a pot roast.  I cooked it on the hob to brown the meat and then simmer it in a small amount of stock until the pot and meat were both hot.  The pot nestled into the Wonderbag, I tucked on the lid, and out we went for the morning, without any worry of pots boiling over or untended ovens.  The meat was delicious, so tender from the slow-cooking.  The bag also doubled as a popular toy……

The bag comes with a recipe book, and the variety of recipes online is fantastic with lots of nutritious and economical suggestions.  Moroccan vegetable soup will be the next recipe on my list, though the rest of the household has its eyes on sticky syrup pudding.

It is cost-saving and time-saving in my kitchen, but the ambition of Wonderbag’s founder Sarah Collins is much greater.  After years working in social development, and a spell of cold dinners caused by power cuts  drove her to experiment with cushions, Sarah conceived the Wonderbag.  For families in developing countries cooking on  kerosene, paraffin or wood, the stoves and fires don’t just cause smoky homes, they   are expensive, time-consuming and dangerous.  The positive impact of Wonderbag is compelling, clear and far-reaching.  Less deforestation and more time for family and other work are just the immediate and most obvious benefits.   For every Wonderbag sold in the UK or US, a Wonderbag is placed in a family in Africa.  To date 600,000 are in South Africa, each one cutting the average family’s fuel usage by around 30%.

What a wonderful recipe!  Last date for Christmas delivery is to order by midday on 18th December and the Wonderbag starts at £30.  The perfect gift for the difficult to buy for.

 

A breath of fresh air in the garden

perhIf you have been looking for an excuse to get out into the garden, there is no more gentle reminder of the seasonal fruits of your labours in the allotment than the delightful ‘Perpetual Harvest’, a set of 12 prints illustrated by Claudia Pearson (£14.99).

Each individual print, one for each month of the year, has a list of what to plant and what to harvest that month with fresh, colourful illustrations of the produce.

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Even December tempts the taste buds with a note to harvest kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, carrots and beets. There is a reminder to plant cabbage, broccoli, bare-root apple, peach and walnut trees.  The prints would look fantastic framed and hung together across a kitchen wall.

There are more comprehensive reminders, but few as attractive!  Quickcrop, for example, has an online growing calendar with sowing, planting and harvesting information as well as plant guides.  They specialise in providing ready to grow planters, particularly for the urban gardener.  Their plug plants have been organically grown, with out the use of peat.  A low maintenance gift to get the patio garden going.

As well as an encyclopedic  gardening calendar the Royal Horticultural Society’s website also has guides on how to attract more wildlife to your garden, establishing a wildflower garden and which plants attract pollinators.

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Bold and Noble fuse pattern and nature to create clean, contemporary prints.  Pictured is ‘Bee Kind’, which is  a hand-pulled screen print of bee-friendly plants on recycled off-white card.  The print is 50cm x 70cm (so fits ‘off the peg’ frames), and £43.  15% of retail profits from  ‘Bee Kind’ will go to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and if you order before 31st December you’ll get a free A4 special edition Christmas print.

For something more tactile, and textile, Stuart Gardiner Designs produces a range of seasonal calendars on tea towels, aprons and mugs, as well as screen prints. There are guides to fish, fruit and vegetables, and besgr_smalle-ing friendly.  There are also even more inspiring guides to plan your foraging for fungi, nuts, herbs and other edibles, and notes on which wild and garden flowers for creating a seasonal bouquet.  If it all seems a bit like a Gantt chart,  rest assured such useful information is rarely so beautifully presented.  Tea towels are £10 each. What perfectly practical stocking fillers!

Window shopping at the New Craftsmen

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You can’t exactly window shop as the New Craftsmen pop-up store is in a garage in central London, but I have been trying to find a moment to peak behind the big black doors for a while.

I was immediately struck by the beautiful turquoise glazed, embossed tiles on the walls. What beauty, and expense, to adorn what would have been stables and a  carriage house.  The tiles reflect an attention to detail that is the essence of the New Craftsmen.

Before popping-up, the founders spent two years  touring the country, meeting exceptional makers of traditional crafts, masters of skills that are often centuries old, and capturing their stories.  New Craftsmen is the result.  A selection of beautiful, and useful wares presented to customers in a place, and space that also shares the stories of the people and processes that make them.

Some pieces are produced just as they always have been, such as the Sussex trugs (gardening basket) handcrafted from locally coppiced sweet chestnut and willow by Thomas Smiths since 1829.

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Other things are a contemporary take on a classic piece, such as the Coventry chair, pictured.  Made by Sitting Firm in Coventry, the chair is one of a number of variations on the classic Windsor chair that are stocked by the New Craftsmen.  Chris Eckersley designed the chair during a green-woodworking (also know as bodging) project at Clissett Wood, in Herefordshire.  This intensive designer mash-up, now named ‘Bodging Milano’, inspired spin off events such as the ‘Elves and the Chairmakers’ in the Lloyd Loom factory in Spalding when seven chair concepts emerged over two days.  I love the notion of designers’ creative energy sparking off one another to hot house new concepts and experiment freely with materials in their environment.

Bashot_0466_copysmallercropped_compactck to the New Craftsmen, where my eye was caught by a Taylor’s Eye Witness lambsfoot pen knife.  Sheffield, the City of Steel, has a tradition of knife making dating back to the 14th century, and Taylor’s Eye Witness have been fine exemplars of the local skills for over 150 years.  The knife is made entirely by one craftsmen (and comes with a certificate bearing its maker’s signature) from stainless steel and an ironwood handle.   To see how,there is a video on the Taylor’s Eye Witness website. The knife has a reassuring weight in your palm, and yet the wood grain on the handle has a delicate beauty.  Pen knives remind me of my grandfather making all manner of things for us, from whittling sticks to rope ladders. It would make a special present for someone.  A thing of beauty to enjoy forever.

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East London Design Show – the CC edit

935606_748233341857996_477679725_nIt was a trip for all the family to the East London Design Show.  The website said, “Bring the kids” so we did, and they were catered for making hats, colouring and perusing the stands.  Their edit might have been different to mine.

Like a magpie draw to the bright and brilliant, I honed in on the Galapagos stand.  I have admired their uber-luxurious take on up-cycling before at Tent London, and there were plenty more mid-century chairs reupholstered in colourful, contemporary prints  to covet  at the ELDS this weekend.  The founder of Galapagos, Lucy Mortimer, is on a mission to provide “high design products without the environmental impact”, and to make buying vintage furniture as accessible as buying new. The chairs are so beautifully reupholstered they look like new too.  I love the latest collaboration with Parris Wakefield (thats the chevron print on the chair to the left).

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Re-purpose is at the heart of [re]design, a social enterprise that promotes ‘Good and Gorgeous design that is friendly to both people and planet’.  Here is a picture of clocks made from playing cards, a neat re-use of that deck of cards that is missing a few.  For the instructions on how to make the clock, and other things such as a pallanter (that is a planter made from a pallet, get it?), or a bath mat from a wetsuit, have a peak in [re]craft, a book full of everyday designs to make at home, from waste.   For more seasonal inspiration, try “Why don’t you…[re]design Christmas?”  I can’t help having a flashback to 1980s kids TV programming….

480774_10150923607836059_462348813_nMore making good use of the things that we find, was on display with Eco-pouffe, a social enterprise.  The pouffe is handmade in Shoreditch from recycled car tyres, bicycle inner tubes and legs turned from recycled timber.  The stool is traditionally upholstered using cotton felt (a by-product from mattress-making) and covered in fabric from Holdsworth, suppliers to the Tube, or a fabric of your choice.  It is certainly built to last.

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From London to Laos and the beautiful, subtle textiles of Passa Paa.  Founder Heather Smith, a graduate of Chelsea Design School, combines traditional handcrafting techniques with innovative materials to create textiles that are firmly rooted in the patterns and symbols of traditional textiles in Laos, but re-interpreted for today.

The Hmong people of Laos have long used hemp for clothing and household items.   Pass Paa hand screen print the hemp with indigo and black environmentally-friendly dyes to make these stunning cushions, some of which are finished with applique work.

58_8b3b438d-645c-4ae7-b0b8-83edf31f535c_largeAlso from the east, and drawing on traditional skills are the place mats, storage boxes and picture frames from cuvcuv. The debut collection, ‘Wild One’ is  made from mendong, a rapidly renewable (growing!) aquatic grass grown in North West Java, Indonesia.  cuvcuv founder, Ruth, has been working with a small family business to develop this, first range for four years.  As a former buyer for Fortnum and Mason, Ruth knows a thing or two about quality, artisanal skills and provenance, and her new venture, cuvcuv is full of them.

Around the corner was another new (ad)venture in renewable materials, Mind the Cork.  I only had chance for a fly-by chat with Jenny Santo as the kids were hungry by this point.  Suffice to say, Alice (aged 3) loved the place mats, or more specifically the holes that had been punched through the cork to create a floral design. I love cork, its look, feel and material qualities.

I was all touchy, feely with the gorgeous jumpers at  Monkstone Knitwear.  The wool for Monkstone knitwear comes from the Monkstone flock at Trevayne Farm, a mix of Black Welsh Mountains and Dorsets.  After the sheep are shorn, the fleeces are washed, and spun into yarn for hand or machine knitting. You can buy the yarn (£5 per 50g of undyed, naturally colour wool) or a delightful chunky jumper that is ready to wear.

Other stands we flew by wishing we could linger longer were HAM to admire the playful, minimalist prints of a pig, horse and rabbit on 100% British homewards; and Group Design to talk about their bamboo shelves.

And then we were off!

 

5 of the best Christmas stockings

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The Christmas tree is up, and the decorations are down from the loft.  If your stocking is looking a little moth-eaten, here is a small selection of replacements: five of the best stockings.

1. For an injection of colour, try the felt stocking made by Sew Heart Felt for Toast at £39.  The stocking is hand made by communities of women in the Kathmandu valley, Nepal, from organic Tibetan lambswool felt and finished with a multi-coloured hand-embroidered stars.  All the pigments to product the felt are environmentally friendly.  And you could kit out the family in felt slippers to complete the ensemble, which character would you chose from badger or bee, wise owl or fiendish fox?  Another felt stocking, also made in Nepal, by the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal is available from Shared Earth (£6.49) in ice blue or hot pink.

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2. Chevrons are all the rage, so if you or yours have been seduced by geometry, try this 100% Merino Lambswool stocking from Tori Murphy that is woven in Lancashire with a woollen cuff knitted in Yorkshire.  If you are more celestial than chevron, a similar stocking is available in a monochrome star pattern.

jaul_red_01_web_1024x10243. For a Scandinavian look,  you might be tempted by the Jaul stocking (£38) from  Anna Söderström, made of 100% British lambswool and handcrafted in London.
preview_recycled-ricebag-christmas-stocking4. A stocking made from recycled rice bags by a Fairtrade project in Cambodia (£7.50) available from Recycle Recycle.

5.  Make your own.  If your quick, there still might be space to join Emily Gibbs’ Make a Christmas stocking workshop on Monday 9th December.  Or Purlbee provides instructions to make a ‘super easy snowflake stocking’ (their words not mine!!).  Or, of course, you could always tie a huge bow of ribbon around an actual wellington boot!

P.S. To avoid any moths nibbling holes in the toes of your stockings for next year, try sandalwood or cedar balls.  Apparently Giles Deacon, the fashion designer and a keen insect collector, uses conkers as a natural deterrent.  Their brown skins contain a compound called triterpenoid saponin that wards off the pests.  Colibri make natural anti-moth sachets filled with sandalwood and essential oils packed in cotton paper that last up to six months , and available from John Lewis.

What’s on this weekend

79%2F700%2FChristmas+decs+on+stairs+mod_thumb_460x0Victorian, Georgian, Jacobean, Tudor or present day, there are National Trust events around the country exploring Christmas through the ages. There is still time to learn how to make a wreath from locally foraged materials and foliage.  Or you could make hand sewn felt tree decorations, hunt for baubles or enjoy costumed interpreters telling stories.  All safe in the knowledge mince pies, mulled wine and Santa’s Grotto are never far away.  And probably a Christmas market too!

If your stamina for the festive season is flagging, how about trying something different this weekend.  What about a bracing nature walk to clear the head?  Or learning a countryside skill such as hedge-laying?

These are just a selection of the wide variety of events that are taking place at National Trust properties around the country in the run up to the holiday season.  A comprehensive list of events is searchable by geography on the National Trust website.

 

Design your own Christmas

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The East London Design Show opens tomorrow, Thursday 5th December at the Old Truman Brewery and runs until Sunday 8th December.  There will be 38 brand new designers of product, interiors and jewellery showing their wares alongside some more established independent designers and makers.

As well as the show and tell, there are a whole series of  ‘Design your own Christmas’ workshops and demonstrations taking place over the four days.  You can even try your hand at a bit of upcycling with (Re)Design, the social enterprise on a mission to promote sustainable design.

Other exhibitors I shall be checking out include Mind the Cork, who as the name suggests make things for the table out of cork; Galapagos who refresh mid-century vintage chairs with some wholly contemporary prints, such as this 1960’s German Marchena armchair that has been reupholstered in Parris and Wakefield’s new Zig Zig fabric; handwoven storage from cuvcuv; and handwoven textiles from Lawsonia to name a few.