Saturday, February 08, 2014


What you see here is a spoon and spatula carved by my own two hands!

This is the result of a day-long spoon carving class with spoon carver extraordinaire Barn the Spoon which I was given as a Christmas present from Mr B.
Barn does evening classes at his shop in Hackney, but this class (with about 8 students) took place one Saturday in January at his other workshop in Stepney City Farm and it was an excellent day!

We started with a sharp knife and a spatula blank - a bit of wood (in this case Alder) that had been roughly shaped, and as Barn showed us various knife grips and cutting techniques, we carved away a bit here and a bit there until we had a spatula!

My progress as we broke for lunch.
You can see I employed one of my handy dandy notebooks to take notes! 

After lunch we each took turns splitting a log using hardwood wedges. This wood is Lime, although not the kind you put in your G&T.
This slice will soon be my spoon!

We removed the bark and drew a rough guide line to follow...

...then roughed out the shape using an axe (!) I was a bit wary to carve with an axe but I found I had more control than I expected. 
That's not my blood on the wood btw! They're scuff marks from the axe while I was trying to flatten out the face of the spoon. I managed to get through the day with all fingers and arteries intact!

Then it was a matter of refining and refining using the carving knife. The bowl of the spoon is dug out using the curve-bladed knife on the right.

The whole thing was such a satisfying process! The texture of the wood, the smell of it, the sound of the carving, the growing pile of wood shavings all around me as a spoon emerges from the chunk of wood! 
It is quite an addictive process too - I'll just round this bit off more, I'll just smooth this bit out, I'll just take a bit more off here etc etc etc...

This is how my spoon and spatula looked by the end of the day. I was pretty proud of my efforts!

I let them dry out for a few days, sanded them down a bit, and gave them a couple of coats of almond oil (which I had lurking in the back of the cupboard). I was pleased that the oil really brought out the richness of colour in the Alder wood spatula.

And now I have two new kitchen tools which are very satisfying to hold. Plus I have the knowledge of how to make more! Hooray! 
The spoon is especially good for making porridge as the pointy bit gets into the corner of the saucepan.

Have you had a go at wood carving? If you ever get the chance I highly recommend it!

Watch a video of Barn the Spoon in action here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

curmudgeonly crochet

Hello and HAPPY NEW YEAR to you!

We're in the depths of winter, and while London's weather is nothing like America's polar vortex, we have had our share of chilly days. I like winter, especially on clear crisp days, but there is always a moment when I first step outside from my warm flat and the reality of the situation hits me. This is the scarf I crocheted on and off through October/November to commemorate the one thought I have in my mind at that moment...

This is my first experiment with filet crochet which is a technique where a design is created by contrasting filled in squares against a mesh background. 

I used the information in Debbie Stoller's The Happy Hooker to make up my own chart and coloured in each line as I completed it so I could keep track of where I was up to.

I wanted this scarf to appear to the world to be a lovely innocent lacy confection so I added a fancy border...

When it is wound around my neck the message is obscured. I like that I am the only one who knows that my lovely lacy scarf is secretly a potty-mouthed curmudgeon. Well, now you know too.

Monday, October 21, 2013

handy dandy notebooks

Remember the stamping I did with carved pencil erasers and an ink pad? I used those stamped cards as covers for little notebooks.
(The other two patterns you can see here were done with little potatoes and an ink pad)

Usually when I have proper moleskine-style notebooks, I get overwhelmed by the permanence of them - I feel like I should fill them with profound thoughts and beautiful sketches, and so don't end up using them at all! I made this batch of notebooks with the intention that they would be ephemeral - I used normal old printer paper, and my stamped cards for covers and I decided they would be used for mundane things - shopping lists, little reminders, that sort of thing. And if I happen to jot down a profound thought, well then that's an added bonus! I will not hold on to them forever, I will enjoy their covers for the time it takes to use them, but then off they go.

They are A6 size with 16 pages.
I followed this tutorial for making notebooks and the same lady's tutorial for doing the saddle stitching.

I didn't have waxed thread so I used 4 strands of sewing thread and holding them as one, ran them across a block of beeswax before stitching. I used my new flower press (without the cardboard layers) to flatten them overnight before trimming the edges the next day.

Ready and waiting for boring old to-do lists!

burnish your brogues!

I recently bought these lovely oxford brogues from Clarks. They are super comfy and I will be wearing them a lot this winter (and I know I'm not the only one!) But...

...have a look at the holes, see how the pale raw edges makes the shoe look a little... undercooked? I decided to remedy that by burnishing my brogues!

This is a technique I have used on other pairs of brogues and it is designed to deepen the colour of the punched pattern, and in this case to darken the stitching too.  Here's how.....

Grab an old toothbrush and some shoe polish that is darker than you would use if you were just going to give your shoes a polish. You might want to test it out in an inconspicuous spot first to make sure you're happy with the result before doing the whole shoe! 

With polish on the tip of the toothbrush bristles, use small circular motions to work the colour into all the holes - you're trying to dye the edges of these holes, so get those bristles in there! 

You want to darken the holes as well as the stitching, but not the rest of the shoe, so be quick about wiping off any stray bits of polish. 

Now, you can either let the polish sit for a little while before polishing it off (in which case the leather between the holes will deepen in colour too, which can give an interesting effect) or you can polish it off the surface straight away. Make sure there aren't any clumps of polish stuck in the holes.

Make sure you dye the raw edge as of the toecap, vamp etc as well as the edges of the holes. Here you can see the difference it's made already.

Raw edges left, burnished edges right.

A couple of days later I went over it again, this time leaving the polish on a little longer. So there you go - a way to get a richer, deeper colour into you brogues and to get them looking more finished (and dare I say looking more expensive?) 

Now that my brogues are sorted, bring on winter!

Monday, October 14, 2013

signs of autumn (past)

I bought this flower press at a local charity shop recently. It reminded me of the one I had when I was a kid.

When I opened it up I discovered that the previous owner had carefully preserved some favourite colourful autumn leaves. I have no idea how long these leaves have been slumbering between the layers of the press.

I like to think that these leaves are time travellers. They escaped their fate of turning into mulch the year they turned these colours, and have managed to be transported between layers of paper, cardboard and wood (cue sci-fi voice) TO THE YEAR 2013!

I left them on the balcony so that the wind could scatter them - to mingle with this year's crop of fallen leaves and tell them what autumn was like back in the good old days.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

stamp stamp stamp!

I have been experimenting with stamps.

I started off with some simple potato printing, but the results were too crude and clumpy for my liking, so I went for something much smaller that would allow me to do more intricate designs...

I carved into pencil erasers and using a normal old ink pad started playing...

I allowed myself not to think too much about where each mark was going. The repetitive nature of the exercise is quite calming and therapeutic. I'd recommend it!

Thursday, September 26, 2013


I made a squishy owl for my friend's baby's first birthday.

 (and yes I am aware that this is a potentially frightening gift to give a small child!)

This is a pattern I developed a few years ago and is a good way of utilising small amounts of interesting fabric. This fabric was part of a stash of fat quarters of lovely Japanese fabric given to me by my mum.

In case you are concerned - I stitched the buttons on very securely and let my friend know that if she was worried about them getting chewed on/choked on, I'd happily re-do the eyes without the buttons.

I wondered whether I should add wings and feet but I quite like the minimal nature of this little fellow.