ceramic candlesticks

Maybe you’ve noticed by now that I become quite beside myself with joy at learning to throw all kinds of things on the pottery wheel. One of my greatest delights last winter was to learn to throw candlesticks.

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At first my attempts were a bit wobbly, then a bit stodgy, but after a few tries I found my rhythm. As you can see, I simply centered a base of clay on the wheel, and pulling it up very narrowly. The trick is to keep a finger tucked in the spinning top of the candlestick, once delicate fingers have formed that shape, to steady it as the undulating forms below it are pinched. Otherwise it tips and collapses. These are stoneware candlesticks, fired hot, with a glaze that I’ve been told looks a bit edible, like a glaze of icing. Combined with the intoxicating scent of my children’s hand-dipped beeswax candles, we should be a bit ravenous for honey and cake all through the autumn. Not a bad state to be in, really. What do you think of them? I’d love to make some more ceramic candlesticks, perhaps in the local studio in the cove that we’ve begun working in, where they fire earthenware. My children still want me to make an old fashioned candleholder with a curved handle to carry around. Perhaps they imagine themselves walking around with an open flame, wearing Dickensian nightshirts?

I hope to finish the bases for the turned wooden candlesticks very soon, I shall show you.

saddle stitch binding

The printed guides to good old fashioned patchwork quilting are the trusty companions to appleturnover’s old school movies. They’re great to refer to as you work on your project, especially if you haven’t always got the movie in front of you. I adore bookbinding and it is a pleasure to make these little booklets to go in every quilting kit. Let me show you saddle stitch binding.

printed guides © elisa rathje 2012

The booklets are printed with petite black & white stills, accompanied by detailed text to consult as you need to. I like to work from both the moving image and the still when I’m learning a new skill, do you?

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I laid the images and text out, and had them printed at an excellent, environmentally sound old printshop in Vancouver, where I could get fully recycled, certified papers. Binding them was a little trickier, as I don’t have a long-reach saddle stitch stapler, though I hunted for one. In the end I discovered Paul Tseng’s brilliantly simple solution and followed it as closely as I could.

After folding the signatures (using my imaginary bone folder – wish, wish!), I clipped the pages in place and gently pressed a stapler into the spine of the booklet just enough to mark two spots. Now, find a sturdy, sharp needle. An awl would be better still. (Wish, wish.)

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

Gently puncture the pages through;

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

Til you’ve got clean holes to work with.

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

Saddle-stitchis standard for booklets, requiring no more than a few staples into the centerfold. Paul’s simple solution is to insert the staple by hand, and press it shut. Of course! So smart.

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

I pressed the booklets a little, and they were complete. There’s the pocket guide to Quilting Squares, a traditional “nine-patch” patchwork quilt, and Quilting Triangles, a traditional “broken dishes” patchwork quilt.

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

linocut carving

We gathered our newly acquired printmaking tools around a shady table in the garden, and spent the afternoon carving the linocuts. Would you like to try it?

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Have a couple of blades, a v-blade and a rounded gouging blade, and a handle or two, a pencil and eraser, and a sheet of printing linoleum. Our table had an uneven spot where we could brace the linoleum as we worked, but a bench is ideal. Strong shears to cut the piece to size later are also useful. Draw a simple design, nothing too detailed, keeping in mind that you’ll be working with subtractive cutting – slicing away around the image, leaving the drawing raised to take the ink. I’ve begun by translating a bit of my logo.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

We were working on a very warm day, otherwise it is a great idea to carefully warm the linoleum near a lightbulb, or with a hairdryer, to make it easier to work. Following our wood-carving practices, we outlined the shapes with the v-shaped blade. Always cut away from you! (Mind that children are carefully supervised and taught to keep little hands out of the way of blades. A good first aid kit is worth having nearby!)

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Wiggle the blade a little as you cut to help it move without jumping away with the pressure. Slow and steady. Once all the lines are cut, take them a little deeper with the little v-blade. Like wood, if the cuts are nice and deep, it will prevent the drawn area from being lifted or damaged as the material in the negative space is cut away from the image.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Use the rounded blade to begin to lift the linoleum from around your image, again with a slow wiggle, working away from you.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

If your first cuts are deep enough, you can cut right up to them without fear of nicking the image. Begin to clear a low-relief of linoleum.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

I sheared the piece down to size with some heavy snips, as I was working a petite image. Later I’ll mount the matrix on a block of wood for easy stamping, but this isn’t necessary. My tall girl was capable of cutting her own subtractive pieces, but I carved the small one’s drawings out with her, holding the tool together, usually just cutting away the drawing itself.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

A flat-sided blade seemed just the thing to smooth out the negative space. Do you think that’s what it was for? Sometimes I’d rather go ahead and do it, with a guess, than wait to be correct, and never do it! (Yes, I did later attack the surface of my piece to give it texture, it wasn’t a mistake!)

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

All ready for inking, or mounting on a block and stamping! I’m delighted with linocut carving. Carving, drawing, printmaking are such pleasurable old skills. Working with my hands is a meditation for me. Next, printing! Will you join me? Back with that soon.

hand-tied bouquet

Would you like to learn to hand-tie a bouquet? I spent a beautiful day studying floristry at the Blooming Green flower farm, and made a little movie for you to see how it’s done. Jen showed us some very simple directions to follow, to stunning effect, using gorgeous flowers and extraordinary greenery, freshly picked on the farm.

You’d like some more detail? Let’s take it slowly:

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After cutting your plants and standing them in a bucket of water for a good soak, begin by conditioning the flowers. Simply strip the lower leaves off the flowers to keep them from decomposing in the water. Wear gloves if you like.

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Lay out your flowers and greens and have a sense of how many you have of each. Odd numbers are often the most pleasing to the eye.

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Begin with a fluffy, well-structured bit of greenery, to support the flowers that will surround it. Fennel is quite wonderful.

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Lay your first blossom at an angle to the green.

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If you have three blossoms to add, turn the bouquet a third, add another at the same angle, turn another third, and add the last blossom. Have a look at the movie to get a sense of how Jen turns the bouquet and adds more flowers.

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Continue to work in this way, choosing greens and flowers and paying attention to multiples, so if you have five lengths of weeping willow, turn the bouquet in fifths, always adding at that same angle to creating a tight, spiralling structure to the stems.

hand-tied-bouquet

Now and then turn the bouquet to have a look from the top to see if you’ve got a rounding, arching shape to the bouquet – though if there are longer sprigs that naturally want to spray up and out, Jen likes to let those have their way, too.

The tie Jen uses is quite wonderful. Simply fold a length of twine in half, loop it round your thumb as you hold the stems in place. Wrap the two ends around the stems and back to the loop, and slip them through it. Then you can pull the ends in opposite directions, wrapping as many times as you like around and tying a firm bow when they meet. I’ve forgotten the name of this tie, it’s charming!

hand-tied-bouquet

Snip the stems cleanly at the end, leaving enough length to support the flowers.

hand-tied-bouquet

A well-made hand-tied bouquet will have enough structure to stand alone! Let me know if you have a go. I’m so pleased to have had a lesson in hand-tying, such a satisfying thing to be able to do yourself. Thanks Jen! If you’re in England and looking for ecologically, locally grown flowers to buy online, or better yet, you’d like to pick your own for an event, visit Blooming Green in Kent. They are such a delight.

If you like studying traditional skills this way, have a look at the old school movies. They come with beautiful patterns, guides and materials, available in the appleturnovershop.

linocut tools

Roughly twenty years ago I first used the linocut in my studies of printmaking. My mother is a printmaker, so I’ve grown up surrounded by her beautiful work in etching, drypoint, collagraphy and digital print methods. At art school I fell in love with lithography, though I experimented with silkscreening and watched the woodcut printers with great interest. I’d love to return to all of it. Linocutting seems like a good place to begin, and I’m delighted to have acquired a gorgeous set of old tools and a stack of linoleum out of my mother’s studio.

linocut © elisa rathje 2012

Amazingly, I never noticed that linoleum is a word created from linseed and oil, its main component. For a human-made product, it is surprisingly organic. I love that the prints made a hundred years ago were called woodcuts, to sound respectable, and I love it even more that Picasso and Matisse just went ahead and called it linocut. That it is the printmaking tool of choice for children is also pretty fabulous. I’m going to begin with a few experiments with these linocut tools, in small, ornate designs, with more resemblance to rubber stamping. If they work, they’ll adorn the little parcels that enclose the homemade projects from the shop. Ah, and I find myself revisiting mail art!

Don’t miss the preview of the old school movies that support homemade projects in my appleturnovershop.