In a quiet corner of a family home on the edge of the Surrey Hills, a replica of an acorn is being shaped in silver. The perfectly proportioned nut, still in its cup, was a chance find during a stroll on nearby Headley Heath. Now it is being recreated, a long-lasting reminder of its autumnal perfection.
Working on the acorn is jeweller Caroline Brook. Accompanied only by the background murmur of the radio, she makes gold and silver pieces inspired by nature. “I love the work,” she says. “I like the idea of the permanence of what I make, and the fact people nearly always buy it for a reason, usually as a gift.”
After leaving school, Caroline worked in a bank. It was only when she was in her early 30s that she finally succumbed to her love of making things with her hands. She enrolled in a series of evening classes. “I signed up for sculpture, but the class was cancelled, so I ended up on the jewellery course. I was completely hooked from the very first day,” she says. “I have always liked detail, so I fell in love with the tools, such as the tiny files and tiny saw blades. I appreciated the way the metal was so malleable that you could just form it to create anything.”
She attended evening classes for three years, then was offered work experience in London with a Hatton Garden jeweller. Initially, she helped out with paperwork, but was soon working on the jewellery. Caroline ended up staying there for seven years, serving what was in effect an apprenticeship. “It was a fantastic environment, being in a real workshop and learning from a master,” she says.
Today, 20 years on from her first course, she works from home in her peaceful studio space. Here, she has a traditional jeweller’s bench. Taller than a work bench, it allows the craftsperson to sit tall, without hunching over the work surface. It has a curved indentation on which sit clamped tools and a jeweller’s peg. This is a wedge of wood on which the jeweller places the metal being worked on.
Beneath, there is a drawer designed to catch any pieces of scrap metal or gold dust. This can then be melted down and re-used. There are boxes of tools with wooden handles and a series of blow torches. A section of beech tree trunk was found on a walk on the heath. “A beech tree had been cut down and pieces were left,” says Caroline. “It is perfect for hammering and punching metal, as it absorbs the shock.”
She makes a range of jewellery including rings, bracelets, pendants and cufflinks. Almost all her pieces have their roots in nature and the gentle Surrey countryside surrounding her home. “I have always been attracted to nature. I walk every day with my dog and watch the seasons come and go,” she says. “I search for objects and pick things up that appeal to me like tiny acorns, twigs and branches or pretty stones. I really enjoy the search for that special piece.
“I picked this acorn up because the detail was incredible. It was a lovely size and very delicate. I liked the volume of the cup, its texture and the way it’s quite a deep cup with a little acorn in the middle,” she explains.
To turn the acorn into a silver pendant, Caroline has to make a clay mould. This allows her to create a cast of the nut that accurately reproduces all its detail. “I have the skills to make my own version, but what appeals to me is the idea of preserving a piece of nature forever. I want to capture its beauty in precious metal,” she says. Casting highlights the intricacy of the natural detail on objects. “You don’t realise the lovely texture on an acorn cup until you see it cast.”
The next stage is to prepare the silver. For this piece, she uses sterling silver, an alloy containing 92.5 per cent silver by weight and 7.5 per cent other metals, usually copper. She prefers to work with fine silver, which is almost 99 per cent pure. “It is very malleable with a nice white colour. But it is softer, so not as good for this type of piece,” she says.
The metal is heated using a blow torch, and becomes liquid after approximately five minutes. Caroline then quickly pours the metal into the mould. This is very tricky. The silver hardens the moment the heat is removed. If the pouring is not timed correctly, the mould can be ruined. If that happens, the process has to start again. The metal can be melted down and re-used, but the burnt areas of clay have to be thrown away and a new mould created.
The silver acorn is removed from its clay casing and the finishing process started. First, Caroline removes the sprue, the stem created by the remaining metal in the pouring channel. A piercing saw with a very fine blade is used to do this. The rough edge left by the cut is then smoothed with a fine file, without removing any of the surface detail.
To make the silver acorn into a pendant, Caroline attaches a jump ring, the little silver loop through which the chain is threaded. This is made from silver wire and is neatly soldered to the base of the acorn. The soldering can be a fiddly procedure, but one that she enjoys. “I have endless patience, and love working with small things,” she says.
She cuts small pieces of solder to fasten the jump ring on the acorn. These are applied to both the base of the cup and the jump ring, and then the area is heated.
For this fine work, she uses a traditional jeweller’s mouth. This involves blowing through a rubber tube, controlling the flame with her breath. The solder has a lower melting point than the silver, so the flame melts it but leaves the precious metal untouched. The melted solder acts as glue, joining the jump ring to the acorn.
The soldering work leaves a dark discolouration created by oxidisation. An acid compound called pickle is used to remove this. The silver is added to a mix of pickle and water in an old slow cooker. It is then gently heated for approximately four minutes. When the silver is taken out, all the black oxide has disappeared.
The final stage of the process is polishing. This turns the whitish finish into shining silver. Caroline polishes the acorn by hand using a fine mop head made of lambs’ wool attached to a pendant motor. This mechanically rotates the mop head, allowing the polish to be applied evenly. The process takes 20 minutes.
Hand-polishing allows her to retain the all-important contrast between the smooth acorn and its minutely dimpled cup. Once the polishing is finished, the acorn pendant is threaded with a chain and is ready to wear.
It takes a full day to make this tiny, delicate acorn pendant, for Caroline time well spent. “I always feel that I need to make things with my hands, and my hands just want to work,” she says. The detailed work involved in making jewellery particularly appeals to her, but she also enjoys making something special for other people. “I often hear the stories behind pieces such as engagement rings. People like to tell me their stories and I like to hear them,” she says.
“I love the fact that my pieces are something that people will wear and cherish for a long time.”
Making a mould
Caroline uses the Delft clay casting method. The process was invented by a Dutch goldsmith in the 1980s. This is perfect for jewellers such as Caroline, who work on a small scale. It allows her to cast items without recourse to expensive tools. To make the mould, a small, circular aluminium ring frame is filled with Delft clay, which is oily and sticky. The frame comes in two sections which fit on top of each other. The larger ring measures approximately ¾in (2cm) high and 1½in (4cm) in diameter. The smaller is approximately ½in (1.5cm) high. Small marks on each ring mean they can be carefully aligned when joined together.
Creating the shape
Caroline firmly packs the clay into the smaller bottom ring and pushes the acorn into it. She then fills the bigger ring with clay and places it on top. It is essential to check the rings are aligned and the acorn is completely buried in clay. She then taps the top with a mallet. This gets rid of any air pockets. It also ensures the shape of the acorn is neatly moulded into the clay.
Now the two rings are separated and the acorn removed. Caroline uses a knitting needle to create a channel through the upper ring of clay. She pushes up from the acorn indentation to the outer edge and widens the hole at the top with a small bladed knife. This is called the sprue hole. The molten metal will be poured through this.
A series of smaller holes will let out the displaced air and steam created when the molten metal is poured. The rings are carefully re-joined to finish the mould.
Mark of origin
Caroline’s larger pieces require hallmarking before she is able to sell them, although pieces like the acorn pendant which weigh less than 7g are exempt from this legal requirement. Caroline sends her jewellery to the Sheffield Assay Office where it is stamped with the year it was made, the quality of the metal and the Sheffield stamp. It also has her maker’s mark: the initials SCW within little diamond-shaped frames.
Acorn pendants from £55
Words: Diana Woolf Photography: Clive Doyle
A Devon artist captures the sharp outlines of leafless trees in his striking linocut prints
An ancient oak wood sits in a valley on the edge of Dartmoor. Mist drifts down from the moors and hangs in the top of the trees. Their leafless, stark winter silhouettes are the inspiration behind artist Richard Shimell’s evocative prints.
“I like their many curving, complex branches,” he says.“I am attracted to trees for both their simplicity and their complexity. The shapes in winter are hugely complex and interesting. You could lose yourself staring at one, but a silhouette doesn’t have to involve tone. That means I can cut something which is simple, in that sense.’
Richard spends time walking on the moor and in the surrounding woods. While he walks, he photographs views and trees that catch his eye. Returning home, he checks the images. “I need to have lots of images in order to find one that I like and which will work as a silhouette,” he says.
Content and configuration
The pictures he eventually selects are the ones that stand out for their composition and shape. One photograph that attracted him depicts two hawthorn trees. One has fallen over and is supported by the second. This in turn is being pushed into the lower tree by the prevailing wind. “There are two things going on here, as the wind direction is going one way and the fallen tree the other,” he says. “This creates a sense of balance or tension between the two. It’s difficult not to anthropomorphise them, as the two trees are an obvious metaphor for someone supporting someone else, co-existing with them, but still being separate.”
When planning a print, he also takes the negative space into account. “You want to have nice blank areas of empty space to balance the areas of detail,” he explains.
A former journalist, Richard only took up printmaking when he moved to Devon in 2010. A chance visit to a local printmaker’s studio inspired him to find out more about linocut printing. He joined the Dartington workshop. “I found printmaking very difficult to begin with. But it was a way of expressing myself that I had been waiting for, so I just kept going,” he says. He did find that a long-held interest in photography helped him with the composition of his prints.
Once a photograph has been chosen, he makes a sketch of it on paper. “I always do a sketch to make the image mine,” he says. He sometimes sketches in pencil, but prefers working in charcoal. “I have a tendency to be too precise, but charcoal makes me freer as it moves so easily and you can smudge it.” The sketching process lets him see how effectively the photograph will work as a print. He edits out details such as houses, simplifies forms, and experiments with tones.
Once the sketch is right, he copies it exactly in pencil onto a panel of vinyl. The vinyl is 2mm thick and has a smooth surface. It is the same size as the intended print, as it will eventually become the printing plate or block. Most of the prints are in the region of 15-18in wide by 12in high (40-50cm x 30cm).
From flooring to print
When Richard first began printing he worked with lino, but now prefers to use offcuts of vinyl flooring. “Working with vinyl is the same principle as working with lino, but it’s much easier to define detail in vinyl, as it’s a harder material,” he says. This is important, as precise detail and crisp lines are a key part of his work. The vinyl comes from offcuts of material normally used for flooring in institutions such as schools and hospitals. “I like the fact that it’s such a mundane material and that I am able to recycle something that people don’t want any more,” he says.
Cutting the pattern can take up to a month, but it is the part of the process he enjoys the most. “I love the cutting. I get into a rhythm or flow and then I can do it for hours and hours. At the end I feel relaxed and fulfilled,” he says. Cuts are made along the drawn pencil lines. They remove all the vinyl except those areas which will form the finished image. These untouched, raised sections will be inked to form the pattern on the print. This method of printmaking is called relief or block printing.
To cut away the surface, Richard uses wood-cutting tools. These are steel blades, roughly 5-6in (12-15cm) in length, with rounded wooden handles designed for holding in the palm of the hand. The blades vary in shape and size, with some having a V-shaped profile and others more being U-shaped. Because of the detail, he uses the smallest tools he can find, some as narrow as 1mm across. The wooden handle held in his palm, he pushes the blade gently into the vinyl. His other hand acts as a brake, or to guide the movement. The work is so intricate that a magnifying lamp is needed to help him achieve the neat, precise outlines he requires.
Recently, Richard started working with wood-engraving tools as well. These enable more texture to be created than the wood-cutting tools. “I can achieve more variety with the engraving tools,” he says. “They allow me to make thin or patterned marks on the vinyl, which will show up in white.” His plates are now cut using a combination of both types of tool. “What I do is a kind of hybrid between a linocut and a wood engraving. I use the linocut technique for the tree and the wood-engraving tool for the landscape. This opens up a lot more opportunities to depict a tree in the landscape.”
When the plate is finished, Richard is finally ready to start printing. He uses a modern Hawthorn press, printing on to Somerset 250gsm paper, made from cotton rag. This is an etching press, with a bed approximately 47in long by 21in wide (120 x 54cm).
Most of the tree silhouettes use two plates. The first is a plain vinyl plate used to create the background colour. Richard pours oil-based, washable Caligo ink onto a glass slab, using it to coat a hand-held spindle roller. When it is evenly covered with ink, he rolls it over the plate three or four times. The ink-covered plate is then put on the printer with a sheet of paper carefully positioned on top. The plate and paper are wound through the printer rollers, the process transferring the colour to the paper.
The background colours may be graduated to give the effect of a winter’s sky at twilight. Colours fade from a deep blue to a subtle primrose yellow. Richard achieves this by colouring the first plain plate with a blend of inks. He places three different colours, dark blue, pale blue and yellow, in bands along the glass plate. The roller is pushed through the colours, Richard moving it slightly across the bands to mix the colours. When the roller is evenly covered, he coats the plate with the ink and then uses the inked plate to print a coloured background.
When the background is finished, the image of the actual tree can be printed. The inking process is repeated, but this time black ink is used to coat the plate cut with the tree image. The ink sticks to the raised surface, while the cut-away areas are left uncoloured. Richard places the paper printed with the background colour on top of the black inked plate before rolling the two through the printer. The result is a dramatic black silhouette against a gently coloured sky.
“I love doing this,’” says Richard. “It is fantastic and hugely exciting when you are printing something new and you first lift up the paper and see what you’ve printed.”
Linocut is relief printing, a method of transferring an image onto paper using a plate, or block, with a pattern cut into it. The background is cut away leaving a raised image on the surface which is then inked. The recessed background remains untouched. The plate is then pressed onto paper, in the process transferring the inked pattern onto the surface of the paper.
The earliest form of relief printing was woodblock printing. This was carried out for centuries. Then, in the early 1900s, artists realised they could replace the traditional woodblock with a new, softer material called linoleum – lino. This had been invented in 1855. Made out of solidified linseed oil, it was intended as a flooring material. Artists discovered that it was much easier to work than wood, as it was softer to cut and had no awkward grain.
The new technique was taken up by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Picasso produced his first linocut in 1939, going on to use the technique more in the 1950s and ‘60s. It was popularised in Britain after the Grosvenor School of Modern Art opened in London in 1925. Here, students were taught linocut classes by the artist Claude Flight. Today, linocut is often taught in schools as an accessible introduction to printmaking.
Linocut printing can be used in several ways. The simplest method is to print in one colour using one plate. However, more colours can be introduced by using more plates. Each different plate is cut with a different pattern which can then be covered with a different colour ink. For example, a bowl of fruit could be printed with three plates. The first could depict the bowl itself in blue, the second, apples in green and the third, a bunch of yellow bananas.
A more complex method of making a multi-coloured print is by using the linocut reduction method. This is when one single plate is used to create a print with a series of progressive cuttings, inkings and printings. The disadvantage of this method is that, as the plate is gradually cut away, more and more of it is destroyed. This means it cannot be re-used. However, using the same plate for each printing means that the problems involved in exactly matching the paper to the plate, or registration, are avoided.
Contact: www.richardshimell.co.uk Print prices from £50
Words: Diana Woolf Photography: Jeremy Walker
CHILDREN'S FAVOURITE IS CREATED USING TECHNIQUES DATING FROM VICTORIAN TIMES
The smell of wood, fresh leather, paint and glue mingle in the one storey workshop of rocking horse makers Steve and Alison Smith. Shelves containing thick planks of wood line the walls, curly wood shavings and sawdust crunch underfoot, and all around the room are horses in various stages of construction. A box of smoothly carved heads sits atop a cabinet. Hanks of horse hair, which will be used to make manes and tails, hang from a row of hooks. Five unpainted horses are lined up waiting for their transformation into sleek dappled grey steeds with jingling leather bridles and burnished brown leather saddles.
Here in the Shropshire countryside, Steve, Alison and a small team of skilled workers produce approximately 25 rocking horses each year. Steve makes the horses from wood, and Alison, a trained artist, paints them. “We are constantly trying to recreate horses that are as lifelike as the ones made by the Victorians,” says Steve. “We’re replicating a particular style of workmanship to achieve that incredible quality and attention to detail.”
The couple have been making rocking horses since 1985 when a friend asked Steve if he could make one for his first child. “I had trained as an engineer, but wood carving had been a hobby since I was a kid,” explains Steve. “We had an old horse in the family and I copied it. It was falling apart so I took every stick to bits and studied it. That first horse was a success, and other people started to ask for them. We turned the hobby into a business and sales grew quickly.”
Alison and Steve were living on a narrow boat, a 72-foot craft called the Heather Bell, at the time. At first they worked on board. “We had planks of wood delivered to the boat,” recalls Steve. “But after a year and a half, when our baby daughter Heather arrived, demand for the horses was growing and we decided we needed to move to dry land.”
By 1992, they had relocated to Shropshire, where they still live in a lock keeper’s cottage by a canal. The horses are now made in a small workshop six miles away and the couple have a showroom in a converted chapel just a few minutes walk along the lane from their home. “We have up to five staff who help us with painting, carving and office work, depending on demand,” explains Steve. “The busiest time is in the run up to Christmas.”
The couple estimate they have made around 1,500 horses. The design of the horses is based on a traditional pattern. “In Victorian times a company called FH Ayres made the best quality horses. They are regarded by collectors and craftsmen as the ideal,” says Alison. “The company was in production from 1857 to the end of World War II. We try to copy these horses and replicate the craftsmanship as closely as we can. They were beautifully made and had a certain finesse.”
Initially, rocking horses were made as an aid to teach basic equestrian skills and balance to children from privileged families. Traditionally, it was important that the proportions of each horse were accurate and this is something that Alison and Steve strive for today.
From planks of wood
Each horse starts life as a simple plank of rough wood approximately 13ft (4m) long. A mixture of different woods are used to make one animal. Beech, a hardwood, is used for the legs, which need to be strong to take the weight of the rider. The larger horses can bear an adult. Tulip wood, which is easier to carve, is chosen for the heads and sturdy pine or oak is used for the stands. Oak stands are much heavier and stronger than pine. Pine is strong, but lighter to lift. “We do also make rockers, but stands are safer and give a better ride, so they tend to be more popular,” says Steve. The smallest horses they make are 41in (104cm) high and 54in (137cm) long. The largest ones measure 57in (145cm) high and 70in (178cm) long.
Steve usually makes up to five horses at any one time, working in batches. Cardboard templates are cut out in the shapes of the body, neck, front and hind legs. These are traced on to the wooden planks. A band saw with a rotating blade is used to cut around the shapes. Steve now begins to assemble the horse. He first makes a coffee table shape, a flat-topped body with four legs jointed into the wood. The jointing is done by cutting a slot in a plank of wood at ten degrees. A corresponding slot is cut into the top of each of the horse’s legs. The two pieces are then slotted together.
A neck is then fixed to the body, using glue and clamps to secure it. Twelve blocks of wood called muscle blocks are stuck on to the neck and clamped until the glue dries. These give a three-dimensional effect while replicating the powerful curves of a horse’s neck. “The muscle blocks are square shaped, so at this point it does not look much like a horse,” says Steve.
He now turns his attention to the horse’s body. This is transformed from a set of sharply angled blocks into a smooth torso. He uses five different grades of sandpaper, starting with a coarse one, and then using progressively finer ones. Some of the sanding is done by hand, but he also uses a handheld power sander to refine the wood. Next, the head is glued on with a specialist glue which dries in 20 minutes.
The art of creating heads
Steve takes special care when carving the horse’s heads. “Each is unique. I am always trying to make the next head the best one yet,” he says. He has no precise patterns and instead carves them largely freehand. “There is a template for the basic shape, but you have a picture in your head of how you can create something that is beautiful. It is the most artistic part of the making process.”
Steve uses three differently sized gouges to shape the head, creating flared nostrils, the open mouth and the undulating cheeks of the horse. Concave holes are made for the eyes to be inserted later. “Things do go wrong sometimes,” he says. “You might get the nostril in the wrong place or the head is not symmetrical.” In the situation where, for instance, a nostril is not in symmetry then re-carving can save the head, but if it is too far out, the head will be discarded. On a good day, Steve can carve five heads.
A stand is made using four flat pieces of pine. These are fixed in a cruciform shape, then screwed and glued together. Two holes are drilled at the intersection of the cruciform. On the lathe, two circular posts are shaped or turned and these slot upright into the previously made holes. A piece of flat wood with two holes corresponding to those in the base is made. The horse will eventually rock from this on two swing irons.
Applying the paint
Before this happens the horse must be painted. Alison applies a white, oil-based undercoat which is slightly transparent to bring out the grain of the wood. This is left to dry overnight. She sands the paint and applies a good quality wood filler to correct any small gaps or imperfections. After it has dried, she sands the horse again and paints on a grey undercoat. This process is repeated three times to make it very durable. Now the horse is ready for dappling. Using a black water-based acrylic paint, Alison works with a round stippling brush, around 2/3in (17mm) in diameter, to create the stencilled effect. “I might use a larger brush if I am working on one our bigger horses,” she explains. On a new horse she copies the traditional dappling pattern of the Ayres horses.
She uses a dark red paint to add the nostrils, mouth and inner ears. “It is a three- to four-day process, including the drying times,” says Alison. Once the painting is finished, the horse is ready to be varnished. She applies a polyurethane oil-based varnish, tinted with a yellow hue to give an aged effect. Again, she repeats the process three times, sanding the horse in between to create a super-smooth finish.
Glass eyes are inserted into the pre-made sockets. These are sourced from a family firm that has been making glass eyes for 200 years, originally for the teddy bear industry.
The next stage is to add the distinctive flowing mane and tail. Real horse hair is used for this. Customers can choose from light grey, mixed grey, brown or black. “The manes arrive in our workshop with the hair still on the tanned skin,” explains Steve. One horse’s tail provides sufficient hair for two rocking horse manes. The mane is cleaned, shampooed, brushed and cut to suit the horse’s size. Glue and nails are then used to attach it to the neck.
“Kate, who works with us, really enjoys transforming the manes,” explains Steve. “They feel like silk when she has finished brushing and cleaning them. She often takes them home to give them extra care.”
Ready to ride
Now the horse is ready for its bridle and saddle. These are leather with proper buckles and a steel or brass bit. “Our bridles are made for us by a skilled craftsman from the famous leather-working city of Walsall,” says Alison. “They are removable, and are just like a smaller version of a bridle you’d find on a real horse.”
Two styles of saddle are available. The sewn or padded saddles, traditional on rocking horses from their earliest days, are fixed to the back of the horse with nails. Steve and Kate often make these themselves in the workshop using an industrial-sized sewing machine to shape and stitch the leather. For the deluxe horses, a removable saddle, complete with stirrup leathers and irons, is handmade in Walsall in the West Midlands.
Finally, the horse is ready to be placed on to the stand. A hoof rail, a long piece of wood stretching between the front and back legs, is bolted on. There are two rails for each hoof. Swing irons are inserted and the horse is lifted up and placed on to its stand. A metal bearing strip goes under each swing iron and is held in place with a metal cap and four bolts, to ensure that it is secure. “Kate will trim and comb the hair, and check the leather work for any marks,” says Steve. “We then attach a brass breastplate, which is customised with an inscription for each customer and given an individual registration number.”
The horse can then be delivered to its new home. “We do some of the deliveries ourselves, because it is very satisfying to see people’s reactions when their horse arrives,” says Steve. “Customers who choose a rocking horse are always lovely people with a passion for horses. Some people save up for months, or even years, to buy one. It has often been their childhood dream to own a traditional rocking horse. We also have parents buying them for their children as presents, and bridegrooms purchasing them for brides, and vice versa. Our customers are always 100 per cent thrilled with their horses, and that makes all our hard work and attention to detail worthwhile.”
Words: Fiona Cumberbatch Photography: Clive Doyle
For nearly 50 years, Pat Perryman has been creating beautiful works of art in Honiton lace
Outside, winter is at its height. The leaves have gone from the trees, the east Devon skies are darkening, the light low. Inside a neat home, tucked away from the bustle of daily life, a piece of exquisite lace is slowly being created.
Pat Perryman’s nimble fingers move silently across the curved surface of a blue-clad pillow, weaving bobbins and cotton thread around an array of silver pins. Fraction by fraction, a picture emerges, following the pattern on a card beneath the pins. For hour after patient hour, Pat works towards her finished creation. Eventually, several hundred hours after she started, the work is done, and a new piece of historic Honiton lace is born.
For Pat, making this complex but beautiful piece of lace is a therapeutic labour of love. “If life is stressful, I can sit and do lace and be in another world,” she says. It is something she has been doing for nearly half a century now. Today, she is a seasoned expert, known around the world.
A natural talent
A trained dressmaker, Pat came to lacemaking by chance. In 1969 she joined a class at the local community college. The mother of two young children, it gave her the opportunity to do something away from the house.
Her teacher spotted her innate skill as soon as she started. Three years later, the teacher retired and Pat was running the class. “I was the youngest in the class, both in age and experience,” she says. “I had to go into that class and tell them I was the new teacher. It was daunting.”
In the years since then, she has created a prodigious quantity of work. It ranges from tiny, delicate pieces enclosed in pendants to larger work displayed in frames. The majority of her creations are decorative, although some have practical application. A lace parasol, adorned with 24 different butterflies, is redolent of a more feminine age. A sumptuous lace garter made for the wedding of her granddaughter-in-law took 80 hours of dextrous work. To make a wedding veil could take several years. “If you have a five-year-old daughter, you had better start now,” she says.
A Parliamentary task
In 1980 she was asked to make a new Honiton lace jabot, or ornamental neck frill, for the then Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas. The pattern was designed by Honiton School’s art teacher, Tom Griffiths. It depicted a portcullis and crown, the flower emblems of the UK’s four countries, plus images inspired by the Devon landscape. It took Pat many hundreds of hours to make, over three years.
By the time it was finished, a new Speaker, Bernard Weatherill, was in office. He came to Honiton in 1984 to be presented with the jabot. Later that year Pat was invited to the State Opening of Parliament, at which the Speaker wore her unique creation for the first time. At the subsequent reception she was asked to make a pair of matching cuffs. That resulted in a further thousand hours of work over four years.
Project of beauty and skill
Her biggest single project is safely contained in a quilted box. This is an exquisitely beautiful fan, consisting of 11 separate pieces of lace. “I always wanted to make a fan, and I was working on this for about three years,” she says. “I had all sorts of ideas for its design, but was eventually inspired by a piece of lace we have here in Honiton, in Allhallows Museum, called the Treadwin Flounce.
“Mrs Treadwin was a 19th century Honiton lacemaker. She made the flounce for Queen Victoria’s fourth son, Prince Leopold, the Duke of Albany, for his wedding in 1882 to Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont. The intricate designs in this flounce inspired my fan.”
She has presented her own work to royalty. When Princess Anne visited Honiton in 2005, Pat gave her a piece of lace with an intricate swan design. It had taken her approximately 350 hours to complete. She also gave the Princess a brooch depicting a lace horseshoe with the initial ‘A’ woven in it.
In 2013 Pat achieved the jewel in the crown of her career. She was awarded the British Empire Medal for Services to the Heritage of Lace-Making in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Today, she continues to teach lacemaking classes. She has also had two books published. One is her New Designs in Honiton Lace, created in collaboration with a lacemaking colleague, Cynthia Voysey. The other is Pat Perryman’s Lace Patterns. Both remain in demand.
The future for lace
For almost half a century Pat has inspired many people to take up the threads. She is delighted that the craft is continuing to thrive. “We still have a class on a Saturday morning for children. It is now taught by one of my former child pupils, and it’s rewarding to see the tradition carried on.” Her enthusiasm for the lace is infectious. For her, it is a task of unstinting dedication to creating works of delicate art that will last for centuries.
Creating a picture
Making a new piece of Honiton lace is a long process that starts with a design. “The most challenging part of the process is deciding on the design, then preparing it correctly, so it is ready to start working on,” says Pat. “One of the women I teach is a wonderful artist. If I can’t get a drawing quite right, I pass it to her and she sorts it out for me.”
The design is traced onto tracing paper. Pat then follows this first tracing, putting dots on a second piece around the outline of the design. This second tracing is placed on a piece of oiled Manilla card, a strong card treated with linseed oil. The dots she has made are pierced with a needle, marking the pattern on the card. Pins are placed in the holes on the card, which sits on a lacemaker’s pillow.
Pat has already wound fine, white, two-ply thread on the ends of the bobbins, slim pieces of turned wood. She is now ready to start a process she describes as weaving the thread with pairs of bobbins round the silver-coloured pins.
Each picture is constructed in sections. These vary in size depending on the image that the finished piece depicts. They may be small, just a flower face, or bigger, as with Pat’s fan, which comprises 11 sections in total.
“Once you have the pattern you need to take time to work out the best place to start,” she says. “Experience helps with this, and the creation of the piece becomes instinctive. The first pin is then inserted, a pair of bobbins hung on it and off you go. It’s like anything else where you cease to think about it after a while. I still remember that moment in a class when I suddenly realised it was coming naturally and I didn’t have to think about it.”
Slowly, the picture comes to life beneath her hands. The meticulous intricacy of the work demands a very orderly process. Pat is focused and methodical in her work, totally absorbed in
her detailed creation.
The number of pairs of bobbins in use at any one time is dependent on the width of the design at that point. As the design narrows, fewer threads are needed, and Pat reduces the number of pairs of bobbins. “That’s the freedom of Honiton lace. As I work,
I watch the emerging pattern, not what my hands are doing with the bobbins. That way, I can see any mistake immediately. And I’m always working ‘upside down’, looking at what will be the underside of the finished piece.”
The outlines of the design are created first before the central area is filled in with a criss-cross lacework. This filling is called leadwork, which Pat believes is named after the leaded lights of windows.
When a section is finished, the pins are removed and the lace taken off the card. The finished piece will be the same size as the pattern on the card beneath it. Finally, the different sections are joined to create the finished picture, with the same thread that was used to make the lace.
Contact: Allhallows Museum of Lace and Local Antiquities, www.honitonmuseum.co.uk
Tel 01404 44966
Words: Simone Stanbrook-Byrne Photography: Clive Doyle
PAIR PRODUCE CURVED WOODEN BOWLS BURNISHED WITH PRECIOUS METALS
A bed of spiralling wood shavings forms a dome on the floor of woodturner Richard Mills’ workshop in Kent. Clamped to a motorised lathe is a partly-turned wooden bowl. A film of fine dust clings to the timber and tools on surrounding surfaces. The lathe clatters into action when the motor is turned on, and the bowl spins round rhythmically. More curled slivers of wood collect on Richard’s arm as he holds his bowl gouge against the revolving wood. The sharp point of this long scoop-shaped chisel slices small ridges off the timber.
In contrast, his friend and business partner Lenore Zavitz works at a quiet table in her home, 20 minutes’ drive away. Here, she gilds the wooden bowls Richard has turned and polished. The gold leaf she uses is delicate and ultra-fine, requiring a clean, moisture-less and draught-free space.
Richard has been woodturning since he was 12. “My father is a carpenter and I took an interest when he bought a lathe, so he taught me,” he says. During the day he works in the City of London. His evenings and weekends, however, are spent woodturning. His aim is to be able to pursue his craft full-time. “I love the beauty you find in wood,” he says. “I get to see all sorts of colours inside the wood that other people never see.”
Lenore trained at the London School of Picture and Frame Conservation. For nine years she worked as an oil-painting and frame restorer. The gilding techniques she uses on Richard’s bowls are those she uses on picture frames.
The pair met eight years ago, but only formed their company making gilded bowls in 2014. “When the economy slowed down, there wasn’t a lot of restoration work, so I was looking to broaden my range,” says Lenore. “Richard often gave me bowls as presents, and I thought they would be nice with gold leaf on them because curved surfaces complement the gilding best. He didn’t want me to cover the grain at first but, once he saw one, he was sold on the idea.”
The company’s name, Moth and Mirror, comes from the combination of wood and metal. “The moth represents the organic material, which is the wood, and the mirror represents the reflective gilding,” explains Lenore.
Sourcing the wood
They use a wide variety of woods for the bowls. Richard keeps an eye out for spare lumber from any trees he sees being felled. He points down the lane to a house where a large cedar once grew. “I used to see it when I was growing up,” he says. “Then one day I heard a chainsaw. It was being cut down, and the tree surgeon gave me some offcuts.”
Newly-felled wood is chopped into manageable pieces, which aids drying, and the ends sealed with paraffin wax. “Moisture escapes faster from the ends, so the wax enables it to exit in a uniform manner. That helps to stop it cracking,” says Richard. “Then I store it in ventilated garden sheds until it’s dry. It dries at a rate of about one inch every year, but that depends on species, thickness and conditions. A moisture meter is a valuable tool. If it has a moisture content of more than 15 per cent it will split and warp after it is turned.”
The majority of the wood he uses comes from timber specialists. It has been kiln dried and cut into rough rounds, called blanks, ready for turning.
The bowl Richard is creating today is made with wood from a London plane tree. This is known as lacewood, because the pale, intricate patterns in the grain resemble lace. “It’s gorgeous stuff,” says Richard. “I like the way the wood talks to you. You’ve picked the area you want to work, and dried it for several years. Then, as you’re turning, you come across defects and knots you want to cut out and others you want to keep. All that leads to the shape needed. I love big natural splits that happen in the growing. They add an eye-catching feature and make it unique. If the bark is nice, I might keep that as a natural edge on a bowl.”
Sometimes, however, a split can be detrimental. He has suffered a black eye and dented the workshop door when bowls have flown off the lathe when his gouge has caught a split in a piece of wood.
Turning the bowl
Richard’s bowls range in diameter from 3in to 24in (8-60cm). Once a piece of wood is dry, he cuts it into a rough circular shape on a bandsaw. The centre of the area to be cut is marked and a circle scratched with a pair of verniers, a measuring compass. Then the middle of one surface is flattened with a sander or plane. This will be the bottom of the bowl. A face-plate is screwed on to hold it on the lathe. This is only temporary and the screw holes will disappear when the inside is turned.
Most of the work is done using a sharp ½in (16mm) bowl gouge. For small bowls, a ¼in (7mm) gouge is used. To keep the tool steady, a hinged metal rest is fixed in place approximately ⅓in (1cm) in front of the section of bowl he is cutting. As he works, Richard pushes the shaft of the bowl gouge firmly against the rest with one hand. He holds the handle equally firmly with his other hand.
“A bowl is naturally pleasing to the eye, and I like them chunky with fat rims,” he says. This lacewood bowl measures 15½in (39cm) across. It will have a 3in (7.6cm) flat rim with a 1in (2.5cm) U-shaped rim in the centre of that.
Richard starts with the base. Turning on the motor, the bowl starts to spin. In the early stages, a slow speed is needed as the shape is uneven and rocks the lathe. The gouge makes a fast hissing sound as it slices into the timber. Shavings pile up as Richard moves the tool from the base towards the rim to form the bowl’s curved outer profile.
“I make small light cuts, taking off a very thin layer at a time,” he says. “Once it’s circular and smooth, you can turn up the speed, which allows a quicker cut.” He keeps refining it until he is satisfied.
Before the inside of the bowl can be worked, it needs to be reversed and clamped to the lathe. A chuck, a metal clamp with jaws, is used to do this. First an indent is cut in the base to hold the chuck. This will also act as a stand for the finished bowl. Richard cuts the recess with the bowl gouge initially. He then uses a skew chisel, which has an angled blade, to cut the inner edge with precision.
The surface is planed so the rim will be flat. Richard then digs out the middle. He makes deep cuts with the bowl gouge, working from the outside in. Once that is complete, he cuts a U-shaped channel within the wider flat rim of the bowl. This is the section that will be gilded.
Some of the bowls are fully gilded on the inside and some are gilded in special rims such as this one. “It’s simply a case of artistic preference,” says Lenore.
“Once I’ve finished with the tools, I sand the bowl, working through at least six grades of sandpaper from coarse to fine,” says Richard. “I hand-hold it against the turning bowl to remove tool marks so you see just the shape and grain.” A small cloud of sawdust forms around the bowl as it spins.
The friction created by sanding produces heat. Too much can cause micro-fracturing in the wood, which can not be eliminated, unlike some small natural splits, which can be glued. As soon as he feels his hand getting warm, Richard pulls the sandpaper away.
“Next, I rub on sanding sealant with a rag. That brings out the grain a bit more and fills any minor imperfections. When that’s dry, I go over it with very fine steel wool, then apply wax polish to help resist finger marks. I then hold a rag against the spinning bowl to give a high sheen. It feels like silk at the end.” The bowl takes up to five hours to complete.
“Turning is very therapeutic and relaxing,” he says. “My favourite bit is sealing and waxing it, because you really see the grain, which can be stunning.”
Now the bowl is ready for gilding. Richard and Lenore meet every week to discuss ideas and sketch possible designs. He nearly always has a batch of bowls ready for gilding. The actual number can vary from three to 20 a week, depending on their sizes.
There are two forms of gilding, oil and water. Lenore uses oil gilding. “I don’t do water gilding because it requires layers and layers of preparation using animal glue dissolved in water,” she says. “The advantage is that you can burnish it to a high sheen afterwards. But there is an extra cost for the time it takes.”
Oil gilding involves brushing oil size onto the dish or rim of the bowl. Size is a form of slow-drying adhesive made from boiled-down linseed oil, which has been used by gilders for centuries. “You leave it to go off for about an hour, though the time depends on environmental factors. I never gild on a rainy morning because it’s too humid and won’t go off. On a sunny morning, it can go off in 10 minutes.
“If the bowl is still too wet, the gold ends up a mess and will probably come off. If it’s too dry, it won’t adhere. I keep touching it until it just catches the skin. That’s when it’s ready. I use the back of my finger so I don’t leave prints.”
She uses 24-carat gold leaf, bought from British gilding suppliers, in 3in (8cm) squares. It used to be beaten with hammers until it was thin. Now, it is flattened with rollers.
“All the yellow gold I use is double thickness,” she says. “It handles better, doesn’t curl up on itself as much, and you get a better surface. But even that is so thin you can see light through it. You’re intimidated by the gold at first because it is the purest gold you can get.”
Great care is needed. Opening a door, laughing or coughing can cause the leaf to wrinkle or blow away.
As well as gold leaf, Lenore uses silver, copper and champagne gold. “The copper leaf is a bit thicker because copper is cheaper,” she says. “It has a warm smoulder as opposed to the flame that gold produces. Like silver, it needs sealing with clear gilding lacquer because it will go black exposed to the air. Champagne gold is 22.5-carat gold with palladium in it, and has a warmer hue than yellow gold.”
To gild the U-rim of the lacewood bowl, Lenore cuts the leaf into squares the size of large postage stamps on a suede gilding cushion. The cushion makes it easier to cut, and the leaf does not adhere to suede. She makes sure she never touches the gold by hand. “Getting to grips with not being able to touch it is very difficult. It will stick to your fingers and pretty much everything else.”
Instead, she uses small, flat, badger-hair brushes, called tips, to apply the leaf. “The gold has to adhere to the tip, so I put Vaseline on the back of my hand, then touch it with the tip before I pick up the leaf.” She lifts each piece and gently positions it in the U-rim. It clings on contact, but she uses a blusher brush to tamp it into place. This process is repeated until the rim is covered with gold, and takes over an hour. Two more layers are applied in the same way. The bowl is left to dry overnight between applications. The excess on the edge is removed carefully with a scalpel and steel wool.
Now, the wooden bowl gets its final polish. The base is then imprinted with their maker’s mark, a moth in a circle, using a specially-made branding iron.
“Gold is fabulously beautiful. If you leave it alone, it will be brilliant for hundreds of years,” says Lenore. “I start to move more slowly when I use it. There’s a delicate flow to the process that is quite meditative. We both have a similar artistic vision and a strong sense of what a piece is going to be like as soon as it’s on Richard’s lathe.”
The results are desirable timeless objects, handmade from natural materials using ancient techniques.
Words: Caroline Rees Photography: Clive Doyle