Festive knits

Advent Calendar 260x310Cosy up on your sofa and have a go knitting your own Christmas decorations, either for on the tree or cluster them on a shelf or mantelpiece for a seasonal scene.  There is a whole family of winter animal patterns are available for free from Rowan with their suggestion of Fine Tweed and British Sheep Breeds yarns.  Penguin or polar bear, owl or rabbit, all are cute, and even come with their own accessories.

Or if knitting is not your bag, pictured is an advent calendar designed by Jemma Weston (pattern available for free from Rowan) to crochet and felt.  It makes good use of all those odd bits of yarn you might have left.  The calendar is a crochet and felting pattern.  It can be saved and savoured for many years, and filled with little treats.

Fireworks and Shake the Dust discount this Saturday



By happy coincidence the 5pm fireworks for the Lord Mayor’s Show will add to the celebratory mood at Shake the Dust’s pop-up shop on Gabriel’s Wharf (a prime spot for viewing the fireworks) this Saturday.  It will be a happy first birthday for Shake the Dust customers with 10% off all day and the promise of a glass of bubbles and other treats.  You might remember we enthused about Shake the Dust’s colourful vases (pictured), bowls and baskets woven by ethical producers in developing countries.  The products are the result of collaborations between British designers and traditions of grass plaiting and weaving.  The Fluro vases pictured (from £70) combine waste sweet wrappers with native lutindzi grass and sisal fibres.  What better way to brighten up someone’s home this Christmas.  Other wares include place mats, baskets, bowls, blankets and other accessories.

Handmade in Britain – this weekend



After Made London last weekend, the Christmas shopping season is well underway, so rather than leave it to a blind panic at the last minute, or  the almost overwhelming task of navigating online offers, try a slow, steady, even enjoyable browse of some of this season’s autumn fairs.  If you are in, or around, London, ‘Handmade in Britain‘, is being held this weekend (8-10th November) at the  Chelsea Old Town Hall.  The contemporary craft and design fair is the seventh annual showcase of around 90 designers and makers showcasing their wares in the run up to Christmas for some original, and creative gifts.  If last years event is anything to go by jewellery, textiles and ceramics will all be well represented.  I shall be looking out for the driftwood sculptures from Mike Lythgoe.

This year, for the first time, the show includes a ‘New Graduate’ showcase, I wonder if any of the designers and makers I saw early in the summer will be exhibiting.




Five of the best winter warmers for Wool Week

Here are five of the best DSC8077winter warmers for Wool Week.

1. A bang on trend chevron throw from Tori Murphy (£250).  The throw is 100% Merino lambswool woven in Lancashire, washed in the Yorkshire Dales and made in Nottingham. The throw is deliciously soft, with a reversible design and hand finished with a traditional blanket stitch.

2. An organic duvet from Devon Duvets.  A duvet made from platinum grade British Wool that has not been bleached or chemically treated and 100% cotton and is handcrafted in Devon (from £130).   The untreated wool fibres work help to repel and wick away moisture encouraging evaporation, leaving an environment that is not moist enough for dust mites or bacteria to easily survive.  Regular airing helps the wool fibres maintain their capabilities.  You could even add a folding pillow, whose smart design enables you to air the pillow.


3. A blanket from Welsh mill Melin Tregwynt, in the heart of Pembrokeshire and owned by the same family since 1912, the products fuse traditional Welsh designs with innovative colour.  For a more midcentury zing of colour look at Seven Gauges studio , whose lambswool products are designed and machine knitted in England.

4. A hot water bottle.  Handmade in Lampeter from sections of vintage Welsh blankets that have otherwise been damaged.  They are available in standard size (£30), and mini hand warmer size. (£19.99). from Jane Beck Welsh Blankets.  As the name would suggest the company has a wide range of Welsh blankets new and vintage, as well as other woollen accessories.

5. A desinature-shop-honey-green-450x352felt lampshade made of 100% wool felt dyed with environmentally friendly inks from Desinature (£28).

And if you fancy having a go, the Handweavers Studio runs an extensive workshop programme and regular weaving classes.


The Best of Best of Britannia


After an aborted attempt on the opening night, I made it to BOB on Saturday afternoon.  As the sun shone down into the courtyard, there was quite a buzz, and it wasn’t just the boutique refreshments and high-octane entrance past a couple of Morgan cars.

Spread over three floors, there was a wide range of exhibitors from Fletcher powerboats to natural beauty care. I made a beeline for Solidwool to admire their beautiful chairs made from a sustainable composite of UK wool and bio-resins.

bob2 The material could be moulded into a wide variety of things, the chairs are just a starting point.  Designed and manufactured in Devon, the founder Justin Floyd, wanted to combine his product design with support for Devon’s wool heritage.

From the new to the old, vintage shoe lasts from the 1930s that have been recycled and remade into bookends, coat hooks, lamps, and even loo roll holders by White Dove and Wonder.


It looks rather dashing in our downstairs loo!  Next door was the cosy collection of blankets from Romney Marsh.  The sixth generation of sheep farmers on the Romney Marsh in Kent hand-pick Romney and Merino fleeces which are hand-processed and woven in the UK by traditional weevers to create covetable cushions and throws.

More furry fleeces are at the the heart of Penrose Products, makers of luxury bedding made from alpaca fibres and organic cotton.  No chemicals or dyes are used in manufacturing the products, whose sleep performance rivals that of wool.

Leaves foraged from parks and paths, as well as kitchen scraps are used to create Entanglewood‘s botanical prints on lengths of cotton fabric that have themselves often been salvaged or off-cut.

bob3The results are subtle, warm colours evocative of an autumnal walk, complete with the silhouette of the leaves themselves.  The fabrics can be purposed as shawls, cushions or bedspreads.

Outside of my regular remit (it was the weekend), I was drawn to Sara C‘s collection of clothes with their vibrant nature-inspired prints.  Made from organic, natural fibres such as bamboo, cupro and peace silk, and eco-friendly dyes, and manufactured in the UK, the collection feels good on many levels.  I could not resist a scarf.  If it had been summer, I would have indulged in a pair of Mudlark sandals, too! With willow heels that are a bi-product of the cricket bat industry, and vegetable tanned leather, their credentials might be as good as they look.



Design Junction


After pedalling furiously across London from 100% design, it was a relief to have a rest in the beautiful handcrafted Scapa rocking chair from Pengelly Design.  The chair, designed by Simon Pengelly, combines a contemporary wooden frame with a traditional technique of weaving oat straw into chair backs. Pengelly Design are collaborating with Jackie, pictured adding the finishing touches to a chair, and Marlene Miller of Scapa Crafts in the Orkney Isles to produce the chair in oak, ash or painted frames.

Rested, I took in the rest of the show that was filling with after work crowds.  First stop, Melin Tregwynt where their new colour ways, Knot Garden Indigo and Knot Garden Bluestone were on display, as well as a new range of bags made by Brady of Birmingham in the Melin Tregwynt fabrics.

Upstairs, I found a contrasting selection of woollens woven in Wales from Eleanor Pritchard.easterly1  Eleanor Pritchard’s aesthetic is influenced by English mid-century design, characterised by bold geometric and graphic reversible patterns, fused with traditional British textile crafts.  Designed in London, fabrics are woven in 100% pure new wool at a small traditional mill in South West Wales.

Luxurious woollen drapes, offset by shimmering wallpapers caught my eye at Rapture & Wright.  Their distinctive, contemporary graphic fabrics and wallpapers are handprinted in their Gloucestershire studio.  And then it was on to investigate the commotion at the recraft station.  [re]design were launching their new Make-It-Yourself book which contains step-by-step instructions for more than twenty designs made from domestic rubbish.

In contrast to many products we consume, the hand-crafted accessories for the home made by Turner and Harper are built to last.  They make simple things for everyday living with care and quality.


My last stop of the day, was Granorte‘s fantastic selection of cork pendant lamps, stools, bowls and even bird boxes made from waste cork from wine stopper producers.  The cork wall panels created a geometric sculpture on the wall cast striking shadows, as well as providing acoustic and thermal insulation.  The stacking stool was comfortable, and as with all the products, they have a striking simplicity.

Cork has featured heavily in my LDF experience,  and I wondered whether it would feature on my final trip to Tent London.


Department of Seaweed


After Materials Moulded by Environments, I was uplifted by a sneak peak into the studio of Julia Lohmann, V&A Designer in Residence and Head of the Department of Seaweed.   The studio is a magical space with long tendrils of  seaweed drying overhead, rattan skeletons awaiting their seaweed sheath hanging from other bigger sculptures in progress and a selection of artefacts from masks and handbags to stained ‘glass’ and Urushi lacquerware.   The Japanese influences are evidence of Julia’s long residency in Sapporo Japan.

Julia’s research is exploring seaweed’s potential as a sustainable alternative to manmade materials such as plastic and glass or leather.  The Oki Naganode installation currently on display in Gallery 108 at the V&A shows seaweed’s potential as a design material.  This huge installation has been made from Naga Kombu, Japanese seaweed, hand stretched over a cane frame and fused into position.  The material qualities of the marine plant vary, but the wonderful warm colours, and textures are inviting to the touch.  The lampshades created from crinoline rattan cages covered in seaweed that has been cut with a delicate filigree cast a gentle glow.  During her current residency at the V&A, Julia is able to compare seaweed’s qualities of colour, texture, tensile strength, malleability and stability with other materials  and artefacts in the V& A’s collection, and analogies in creative and technical processes used to turn materials into objects.

Julia currently imports the seaweed she is working with from Japan where it is cultivated on a commercial scale for the food industry.  The research process requires a consistent standard of material in order to replicate techniques, however Julia uses co-design processes to create her work, and is promoting open-design strategies to further share her research and work processes with craftsmen from other disciplines, and ultimately geographies.  So, in time Julia’s techniques could be shared with other seafaring communities to explore their craft heritage and techniques in this medium.  As I swim off the coast of the British Isles, I will look upon the seaweed fields swaying in the currents with a renewed appreciation next summer!  What a wonderful substance that slippery seaweed it.

There are further open studio sessions this week, and a seminar on Friday 20th September, as part of the London Design Festival.


London Design Festival…on your marks, get set..


The London Design Festival starts in 3 days, so time to pop out your calendar, consult the online events’ planner, download the map and plan your assault.  There will be product launches, demonstrations and pop-up shops galore.

Some top of my list are: The Designers / Makers pop-up shop at 135 Colombia Road with 40 designers submitting their responses to Flora + Fauna; the exhibition at Coexistence, 288 Upper Street in Islington, exploring Roger Batemen, of Sheffield Hallam University‘s work with flax and plant-based polymers; the launch of the Bloomsbury shop from Thornback & Peel selling mid-century furniture upholstered with their hand-printed fabrics; The Scarcity Project; The SustainRCA Show & Awards 2013 and a whole host of events at the V&A!

Sleep tight

The seasonal shifts of an Indian summer can cause the thermometer to yoyo and make it tricky to be just warm or cool enough in bed, so I find myself cherishing our wool duvet.  I have long been persuaded of the benefits of wool clothing, and a couple of years ago bought a wool duvet.

In summer, the wool’s capacity to breathe keeps us cool, and in winter, wool’s excellent insulation keeps us warm.  It also keeps you dry, perhaps more than all natural fibres, as wool can absorb water quickly, up to around a third of its weight, and release it back into the environment slowly (polyester and nylon only absorb 1% of their weight in water).  This helps to control humidity,  which makes the environment less hospitable to dust mites, a boon for allergy and asthma sufferers.  Wool will even moderate each person’s micro-climate under the same duvet!  And the wool doesn’t all get clogged down one end, as some other duvets do.  What is more, wool is natural, flame retardant and sustainable as Shaun the Sheep gets a shear at least once a year!

When I bought my wool duvet, I could not find a British product, but at the Little Creatures Festival at London Zoo last weekend, I met Jen from The Wool Room who were supporting the Shaun the Sheep Pom Pom Parade, along with the Campaign for Wool, to make pom pom sheep out of wool and to set a new world record.  The Wool Room produce a range of bedding from British wool as well as a range of blankets and nursery items like baby sheepskins.  Prices for a duvet start from £90.

And if you fancy making a friend join Shaun’s flock at home you can download the official PomPom making kit from the Wool Room website.


Too good to eat?


Butterflies are the product of a remarkable transformation and the same is true of the decorative flair given to vintage tableware by designer Melanie Roseveare, the designer who started Melody Rose.  Vintage ceramics are refired with new and vintage images to create quirky, bite-size pieces of art, some of which can even go in the dishwasher.  The butterfly plate I bought is too beautiful to eat off, and is hung on the wall in my daughter’s bedroom.

After much success upcycling vintage tableware, Melody Rose has introduced a range of new fine bone china tableware, manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent.  Pieces are gilded by hand and fired with designs from the Melody Rose collections.

Priced from £30, the products are available to buy online or at select markets and events, next up will be Tent London, which is running 19th -22nd September 2013, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London, E1.