Friday, 31 July 2015

The Amazingness that was London Craft Week: Part Two

The first ever London Craft Week, held in early May this year, was utterly wonderful. So much making! So many skilled crafts people! So many beautiful creations! So much inspiration!

I spent two days zipping round London trying to visit as many of the events as I could and had a total blast (but kinda wore myself out in the process and had to give the weekend's events a miss while I put my feet up. Oops!).

I blogged about the first morning in part one... but what did I see after lunch?

First on my list to visit was the Rolls-Royce showroom at Berkeley Square. I have to admit that I know next to nothing about cars but it was really interesting to see the different leathers and woods customers can choose from and to be able to peek inside the cars themselves.

Next I headed to Mulberry, where I chatted to one of their craftsmen about the techniques that go into making a Mulberry bag and how he got started working for the company. Mulberry were also - rather excitingly - hosting a craft workshop in the store, offering people the chance to make their own personalised bracelet. This was a huge amount of fun...


... and it was delightfully surreal to have a table of people hammering away in the middle of the otherwise serene Bond Street store!

Everyone chose slightly different things to add to their bracelets - names, special places, silly phrases, anniversary dates. I ummed and ahhed over what to choose for mine, eventually deciding to make a black bracelet for my mum (which she loved, hurrah!).

 

After I'd finished my bracelet and oohed over all the lovely things on display in the store, I headed to Kathryn Sargent Bespoke Tailoring.

It was rather thrilling to be able to visit a tailor's workshop as it really isn't a space I would normally ever visit. It was wonderful to be able to see the work in progress, to see and feel some fabric samples and to chat to Kathryn and her team about her business and the art of hand tailoring.


Hand embroiderers Hawthorne & Heaney were also demonstrating their monogram service in the studio - I was quite in awe of such perfect, precise embroidery!

 

My next stop was Drake's, where (among other things) you can buy a handmade tie or order your own bespoke tie... and where the techniques of the tie-making process were being demonstrated.


Ties are something I'd never really given much thought to before (as a woman, I don't tend to wear one - and haven't since I was about 8 and ties were part of my school uniform). Drake's website has lots of tips for the stylish gentleman aiming for "relaxed elegance" - it's all about details and, of course, your tie is an important part of that!

Continuing with the tailoring theme, I then headed to Norton & Sons on Savile Row. Norton & Sons "have been tailors to the royal households of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom, and to three US Presidents." The tailors of Savile Row are so famous, it was amazing to be able to visit one of them (instead of just nosily peering in the windows as I've done before!)

I met the owner (Patrick Grant of Great British Sewing Bee fame) then chatted to the tailors in the workshop.


I cannot even begin to say how awesome this was! Being allowed into this working space, to chat to the tailors and ask them about their work: just wonderful. It was fascinating to hear how the tailors had got started in their profession, to see them at work and to hear details of their working life: the process of making a suit, working with different fabrics, fittings and alterations, and so on.

 

It was so fascinating, in fact, that I and another girl who was visiting Norton & Sons ended up being quite late to our next planned stop: a demonstration of cordwaining in the window of Gieves & Hawkes.

A cordwainer is someone who makes shoes from new leather (this is different to a cobbler, apparently, who mostly repairs shoes or makes them from old leather).


Bespoke shoemakers James Ducker and Deborah Carré of Carréducker were demonstrating some of the 200+ steps involved in crafting a pair of hand-sewn shoes, using only hand-held tools.

James discovered his passion for shoemaking totally by chance, and now works with Deborah making bespoke shoes and running shoemaking courses in London and New York. Their talk was highly entertaining and really interesting - they demonstrated different tools and techniques and explained how much time and skill goes into making shoes by hand (short version: a lot).

 

As the day was drawing to a close, I squeezed in a visit to Dashing Tweeds - just over the road from Gieves & Hawkes.

Here Kirsty, who designs all Dashing Tweeds' weaves in house, was showcasing their textiles and the steps involved in designing and weaving tweeds. It was lovely to see the little looms set up surrounded by the finished garments that get made from the final tweed designs, and to chat to Kirsty about her designs and the challenges of "thinking in three dimensions" to make something two-dimensional.

 

On my way home, I took a small detour and popped in to The New Craftsmen - a shop selling a whole assortment of luxury British craft, from hand-woven throws to hand block-printed wallpaper to hand-made ceramic lamp bases to hand-crafted knives.

They were showcasing the work created as part of Made of Mayfair, where makers took inspiration from the history, architecture and craft of Mayfair. It was great to see this collection after chatting to one of the makers that morning.


Such a busy day! And there was still more crafty goodness to come... which I'll blog about in part three, sometime soon :)

P.S. You can read part one of my visit to London Craft Week here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A Happy Blanket Becomes... A Happy Rainbow Blanket!

Remember my happy patchwork blanket?

I started with some knitted squares left over from one project (a blanket that never became a blanket in my teens) and some bright yarn left over from a couple of (much more recent!) projects. I decided to use them as the basis for a nice new patchwork blanket: adding these sorbet colours plus some bright red left over from yet another project, knitting slowly in the quiet evenings and gradually building up a nice pile of squares.

After much umming and aahing about how to arrange the colours I decide lay the squares out in colour order.

 
 
 
Don't all those bright colours look delicious together? Yum.


I've now got 70 squares knitted for the blanket but the colour mix is a teeny bit imbalanced. The perils of using leftovers!


I thought about just adding in some greens to balance out the reds and pinks at the "hot" end of the spectrum but then I thought how nice it would be to "go full rainbow" and cram in as many bright happy colours as possible.

So, these are the new colours I've bought...


 ... and here's (roughly) how they'll fit in with the other colours. 


I love how all these bright colours just ZING together.

 
I'll probably switch some colours around later when I come to arrange all the squares, and maybe add in some more shades if they're needed. But for now, knitting squares from these new colours will keep me plenty busy!

P.S. In case you're interested, I'm using double-knit acrylic yarn on size 8 needles and casting on 30 stitches making squares approx 14 cm across. The finished blanket is probably going to be a good size for a single bed, or curling up on the sofa. The new shades I bought are all Stylecraft Special DK - sunshine, aster, citron, spice, fondant and lime.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Swan Upping!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to take an extended lunch break this week to see the Swan Uppers passing through my home town - enjoying some of the delights of the river along the way.

What on Earth is Swan Upping, you ask?

It's a historic ceremony, hundreds of years old, where the Queen's Swan Marker and the Royal Swan Uppers row down the Thames to conduct an annual census of the swan population - crying "All-Up!" when a family of swans is located. The Royal Swan Uppers wear traditional red uniforms, row traditional wooden boats, and (as they pass Windsor Castle) stand to attention and salute "Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans".

I love quirky traditions like this! I unfortunately missed seeing the Swan Uppers last year (I was too busy working towards a deadline to take the time off) so I was determined to see them this year as they passed through Boulters Lock.

As the scheduled arrival time approached, the sides of the lock began to get crowded as people showed up to watch. From snippets of conversations I overheard it seems some people come back every year to see the Swan Uppers and others follow them along their route up the Thames. How nice!

Just past 1pm the first boats came into view. The Royal Swan Uppers (in red) and Swan Uppers from the Vintners’ and Dyers’ livery companies (white and blue) rowing in traditional wooden skiffs, with support boats behind.


The Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers are two of the only three bodies with rights to own swans apart from the Crown. The Companies' swans are marked with leg rings and the Crown's swans are left unmarked. Together, the livery companies and the Crown maintain the tradition of Swan Upping in the third week of July each year.

Many years ago swans were valuable as food to be served at banquets and feasts, but these days swans are no longer eaten and the emphasis is on conservation and education. The Queen's Swan Warden examines the birds for disease or injury, cygnets are weighed and measured and the swan population is thus recorded. The Uppers meet with school groups along the route, teaching children about the history of Swan Upping and how they can help protect the river and its wildlife.

 
The boats waited for the lock to open, then made their way through the gate...


... and into the lock. Check out the Queen's initials on the oars in the Royal boat and the swan feather in the Queen's Swan Marker's cap!


The support boats fly special flags so the lock keepers can easily identify them. I loved the swan vases filled with flowers on the top of each boat.


We all had plenty of time to admire the boats and the flags as the crews waited for the water level to adjust.


Then the lock gates opened and they were off again!

Next stop: Cookham Bridge (immortalised in Stanley Spencer's famous Swan Upping -inspired painting).


My next stop? Home and my work To Do list... via a leisurely stroll back along the river, of course.


P.S. Can you spot me in these photos from the day? (Tip: I was wearing a floppy black hat!)

If you're interested you can read more about Swan Upping and watch a video of the Swan Uppers in action here. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Visit to Boulters Lock & Ray Mill Island

Earlier this week I took an extended lunch break and headed down to the river to see the Swan Uppers pass by. Even though I live walking distance from the Thames, do I ever go for a stroll along the riverside? No, I do not. Going to see the Swan Upping was a great opportunity to (re)discover just what I've been missing.

I reached the river at Maidenhead Bridge (built 1772-77, apparently!) and headed towards Boulters Lock where the Swan Uppers were scheduled to arrive at about 1pm.


Maidenhead was a fashionable resort in the late 19th and early 20th Century, with people boating along the Thames and taking tea at the riverside hotels. The Thames at Maidenhead pops up in a W.H. Auden poem about love and the area appears in one of my favourite films, Kind Hearts and Coronets, as the place where Ascoyne D'Ascoyne takes his mistress for their (fateful) weekend away.

Just next to the bridge is the now derelict Skindles Hotel which used to be notorious as a place visited by people having affairs!


It was a gorgeous sunny day, perfect for a walk along the river - though it was a bit breezy so I had to keep a firm hold on my hat to stop it blowing in the water.


I love that Three Men in a Boat -themed weather vane. Jerome K. Jerome was not a fan of Maidenhead, judging from the mention it gets in the book!

Boulters Lock was immortalised in this painting by Edward John Gregory. When I was a kid, there was a big re-enactment of the painting for the 100th anniversary (so much fun!). I was rather sad that the painting wasn't on display when I visited the Lady Lever Art Gallery this spring (the gallery was undergoing renovations at the time, boo).


Next to the lock is a very unusual telephone box - a green one! This type of kiosk was the first standard type introduced by the Post Office. The box was installed by the lock in 1926, then restored and moved to its current location in 1979. Apparently there are now fewer than 50 green kiosks left and very few as old as this one.


I arrived at Boulters Lock with plenty of time to spare, so I went for a wander around Ray Mill Island. This part of the Thames has lots of small islands on it, and Ray Mill Island (formerly the site of a flour mill - as you might have guessed from the name) is now a public park.


I have fuzzy memories of feeding the ducks here when I was little and there were lots of families out enjoying the park when I visited - including one kid who loudly announced that this was "the best day ever!"(so cute).

The park is a lovely place to explore and you get a great view of Boulters Weir from the island.


There's also an aviary!

 
And lots of cute guinea pigs! 


After a good look round the island, it was nearly time for the Swan Uppers to arrive so I headed back to the lock to buy an icecream and wait for them to arrive.

You'll have to wait until my next post to see photos of that... so be sure to pop back on Monday! :)

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