Friday, 27 April 2012

My first book

So this week I had my first adventure in book making. I drafted up a small leather book to use as a visual aid for a client project, using leather offcuts from Spittalfields market and thick handmade paper I bought from my college shop.

There's an ugly seam on the back because I has to sacrifice leather size for colour. The guy I bought the leather from has a full sized shopping trolley of offcuts to dig through (all just £1 each!) but only boring colours- grey, black, brown- came in larger sizes.

The paper is thick and luxurious, with a lovely raw edge. I had to trim down the pages to fit within the leather so instead of using scissors and ruining the edge, I laid a ruler down one size and tore the pages down to size.

The pages were sewn in down the centre line and the outer pages carefully glued down to cover the edge of the leather. Then, as an afterthought, I made a bookmark out of embroidery floss and had to pry the glued pages back so I could shove it in place.

The final touch was using Letraset rub-on transfers to title the book. Turns out rub-on transfers are hard to rub on leather that's not properly stretched!

I think I'm definitely going to have a crack at making books again in the future, maybe as presents for friends with made up stories or quotes in them. If I make another blank one, I'll document my working process properly and make a tutorial post on it. It would be cool to combine this with other hobbies I want to take up- how about a lino-block printed book with a cover decorated with pyrography?

Monday, 16 April 2012

Throwing with Svend Bayer

When people ask you what you study, and you reply with "ceramic design", first you get this blank look of vague, ignorant terror. Then, if the person asking recognised the word "ceramic", you might be lucky enough to get the return question "so like pottery, on the wheel?"

Then you hang your head and mutter "I don't know how to throw" and wander off because trying to explain slip casting to strangers gets boring very fast. So, because I want to be ridiculously well rounded and able to do everything, I booked myself onto a throwing course at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, run by Svend Bayer- a potter who specialises wood firing. He also appears to be some kind of mud magician who can spin dirt into pots about the same size as me. Observe.
He starts out by spiral kneading about 18kg of clay, then bashing it into a cake shape with a paddle on the wheel before beginning to pat out the hollow. Then he gets things moving and goes up...

and up....
and up a bit more...

...before flaring it out.
At this point he tinkers with the shape using a potter's rib before leaving it overnight to harden up a little more. The next day, he begins by rolling out coils and attaching them with a pinching motion.
then attaches some more...
smoothing them out with a metal kidney as he goes. Then it's time to get the top wet and moving to help put more form in.
And then Svend smooths things off,
before cracking out the old flammenwerfer (fire! Exciting!)

And that's how he starts off a big, big pot. As usual, my attention span was not behaving, so I don't have any other photos of the pot in production, but you can see it in this photo as Svend begins to throw the lid. It's over 1m tall.

So what did I make? Well, uh, wonky stuff. But I made good progress. On the first day I couldn't even centre and by Friday I felt I'd really got somewhere. I could have gotten further if I'd actually pushed myself but at the moment I'm having tremendous trouble staying focused (literally I have been writing this post for about 15 hours on and off) and the beautiful weather meant I just wanted to go and chill out on the beach instead.

Here's what I churned out:
Bud vase/carafe wonky thing

really wonky I don't even know what the hell this is thing

mug so heavy you could kill someone with it

big bowl which got squished as I took it off the wheel...

... so ended up squared off.

vase, which collapsed at the shoulder

wonky bowl

wide wonky bowl which ended up with a tear in the rim

trio of jugs

And that's it. Very unimpressive, I know. But it's a step in the right direction, and I picked up some good tips and techniques that I just want to get into the studio and practice. Unfortunately, this stupid little thing called "university" stops me going and doing what I want because they want me to do what they want. Boo.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


Okay, so this doesn't make up for a lack of updates (there will be a BIG one in a short while, I went on a throwing course so I have lots of lumps of misshapen clay to show you), but last night I found out you can make mini versions of Japanese style sponge cakes.

Super adorable. Just pour the mixture into a greased bun pan (I used the Cooking with Dog recipe again), and cook for 15 minutes instead of 25. They will turn light brown on the edges. Then shove a couple of strawberry slices on top and a dusting of icing sugar, and you're done. They are really lovely when they're still warm.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


Thanks to a generous transport grant from the Queen of Bloomsbury (my friend Clara), I got my sewing machine back last week. And thus I discovered how hard it is to sew clothes in a tiny box room when you're used to having half a house to spread out over with a hardwood floor and a big dining table. Right now I have to use my bed as my paper cutting zone.

And then I was using the floor as a fabric cutting table, until I realised that I could just about jimmy enough space on my desk if I moved my laptop onto the windowsill. I need my laptop when I sew to listen to the radio or podcasts. This project was completed with 1 episode of This American Life, 3 episodes of Woman's Hour, and various hours of Absolute Radio.

By the end of the first day I had sewn all the main seams (bar the collar) and got the pockets on. It's the cutting at the start that always takes the longest, urgh. Oh and dismantling whatever you're making your stuff out of. This was 2 vintage pillowcases but they were pretty easy to destroy because the stitching was so old.

On day two I had to trek up to John Lewis on Oxford Street because it seems to be the only place in London that sells interfacing. Ridiculous. I also went to East Street market to buy some buttons too, there's one stall that sells baggies of buttons for £1, and another that had buttons in tubes that you can buy individually. It's the best value place for buttons I know, a lot of places now will charge you 20p for a bog standard 5mm fish eye button, grr.
By the end of day 2, I had a handy sweatshop employee.

And finally, this morning I had the heart-wrenching task of choosing the right buttons...

I settled for the fake moonstones at the bottom to add a touch of glitz.
And finally, after 2 and a bit days, I was done! To make minimum wage on this damn thing I'd probably have to charge £60 at least. But eh, I don't sew to make a living wage, I do it because I love it. This blouse is for sale though, I'm planning to set up an Etsy store this month when I get back from Aberystwyth (oh yes, I'm going to the seaside next week!).

So there you go. I personally think it would look great with white cropped jeans, or a 50s style skirt. I'm happy with how I've done because I really took my time and paid attention to detail, but there's still room for improvement. Now that I know my machine has a fantastic overlock stitch, I need to get in the habit of overlocking my seams so they don't fray.

You wanna see the back? It needs an iron but I'm not talking to the iron after burning every single fingertip making my own bias binding (huge pain in the ass and a time sink, but cheaper and easier than trekking off to find somewhere that sells it).