Back in the heady days of the 1970’s, adult evening classes were in their infancy and hugely popular with people flocking to learn how to do nail art, macramé and throw pots. Somewhere over the next few decades everything changed and adult education became a much more serious activity – learn a language, have another go at your O-levels (not Harry Potter exams as someone once asked!) – if you were lucky you might find a yoga class or maybe guitar, but on the whole adult education transformed into just more school. This is no criticism of the system though as I became hooked on computing and all things technical whilst a ‘stay at home’ mum in the early 90’s. A night out then comprised of various computing evening classes at Standish High School with several of my like-minded friends!
Jump forward to 2018 and crafts are enjoying a huge resurgence. Pay a visit to Youtube or Pinterest and you will find instructions on how to create a wide variety of arts and crafts.
We are an enthusiastic (!) family of crafters some of us paint, some of us sew, some of us make a mess…. but we do love to try something new!
Imagine our excitement when we heard that Lizzie Griffiths, aka @potterylizzie, in conjunction with her team at Wigan STEAM, were starting arts and craft classes in the evenings at their base in Wigan Town Centre. Trying hard to curb our enthusiasm (and purses) two of us signed up to have a go at three of the classes during 2018.
May 2nd brought the first of these classes and off we went to create mosaic bird feeders.
From past experiences art usually passes me by - I love to look at it and admire other people’s work, but finding a spark of creativity is not one of my skills! I am a keen sewer and, as you know, love photography and writing and in those areas I do seem to be able to be a little bit ‘creative’ but art/painting/making things usually results in items only your mother would love! I approached the class with low expectations for my finished piece, but a night out with my daughter and a chance to work with Lizzie was highly anticipated.
Wigan Steam’s base is opposite the Wigan Life Centre; a small shop front leading to a creative, quirky place fully reflecting Lizzie’s personality. Rows of stringed lightbulbs and Radio 6 playing in the background - the four of us worked under the guidance of Lizzie to create our bird feeders on what was almost a kitchen table. It was intimate and friendly and who knew how much health and safety is involved with mosaic making? Watch out for flying shards of tiles, don’t inhale the glue and watch your fingers when you grout!
Lizzie was a great teacher and as a group we worked together to produce extraordinary feeders. Despite having no idea what design to do (everyone else had clear ideas from the start) I got very distracted by a gorgeous red tile and was persuaded by my daughter to do a poppy. Lucy settled on a bee theme and off we set smashing and cutting, glueing and arranging. In addition to being a relaxing creative pastime it is also extremely therapeutic – smash away your worries and stress with the hammer, but just remember to warn everyone else so they can keep hold of their pots!
Two hours soon passed and the evening ended with Lizzie showing us all how to grout. We took our grout home in doggy ‘poo’ bags – any dog owner will always have a supply of them in their pocket! 24 hours and our pots will be ready to grout and then finished.
I am pleased to say our pots survived the journey home despite the crashing noise I heard from the boot on the way home! They are now both waiting patiently for us to grout and I am thrilled and really quite amazed that I actually love mine! I fully embraced randomness and love how haphazard and colourful it is. Maybe this is a lesson for life I should give up on everyday structure and fully embrace my randomness!
We are now booked on a course later in the year to screenprint and just before Christmas we will be creating lanterns! It was such a fun and entertaining evening and I bought home something pretty for a change I am quite sure we will be trying many more crafty things this year!
Thanks to Lizzie for a great evening and sorry about the mess we all left!
PS - Photos were taken on my new Huawei P20 Pro, which claims to have the best mobile phone camera ever at a very reasonable price - none of the photos have been edited and I am pretty impressed with the results!
We’ve all been in social situations when you've talked with people about their jobs and some of the things they get up to and despite some fancy sounding title they usually end up doing something pretty mundane. I’m sure though if you met someone and they said they carved spoons then that really would be something different. Well, recently we not only got chance to spend a full day with someone who does this but had a go ourselves. And it was brilliant.
Giles Newman lives a few miles away from us and his wife works with Viv. For a number of years we’ve followed his work on Instagram as he has developed something we think is unique and wonderful. Carving wooden spoons and jewellery doesn’t quite describe what he actually does – he creates miniature masterpieces. Visit his website if you want your eyes well and truly opened! www.gilesnewman.com
Last year he started to offer workshops to people and unfortunately we couldn’t make one however we managed to make one of the first ones this year and what an outstanding experience it was.
Adam, Lucy , Simon and myself took part under the ever watchful expert eye of Giles himself and in the space of a day, sitting around the kitchen table, we managed to turn silverbirch logs into something we were very proud of and which I think we were amazed at too.
Not exactly knowing how the day would pan out Giles put everyone at ease straight away with a quick run through of some of his previous work and a little about the basics of the craft - as well as a comprehensive health and safety talk. Whilst we only used 2 knives all day they were of course incredibly sharp (scalpel sharp was the phrase) and we wore cut-proof gloves all the time.
After an outline of how things work and some demonstrations of a few of the techniques – again safety in mind all the time - it was time to practice on some test pieces. After getting comfortable with the basics it was down to choosing the piece of wood each of us would be working on and getting the design onto it. This was done with some guidance from Giles about knots and how the grain of the wood works. After about 10 minutes and some last minute changes we all had our designs sketched out on our pieces of wood.
As the son of a joiner (which I did keep getting reminded of!) I am in reality not the greatest using my hands, but the simplicity of the tools and holding the wood was actually quite relaxing and at various stages I think we all “zoned” out a little and got right into it.
With a great supply of coffee and tea, an endless supply of chatter, stories and laughs (whittle waffle) and a break for lunch, progress was quickly made. Giles joined in with work, starting on a new piece and made it look so easy compared to our efforts! Before we knew it several hours had passed and we had all got something in our hands that: looked like a spoon, was in line with the designs we 'd planned and which we all seemed a bit surprised that we'd actually made!
After a bit of magic with a boiled potato to dry the wood out, some sanding and a dip in a bath of Tung oil (the spoons not us!) we all had our finished spoons ready to take home (after some more photos).
It really was a full - on day but a fantastic one and I love doing stuff like this when you know you are in the presence of a real expert who helps guide and advise in a friendly way. It’s also an eye opener when you can actually do something like this to fully appreciate the skills that someone has and how they use them.
Giles, thank you once again for a great day.
For more of his work visit: www.gilesnewman.com
Or follow on Instagram - @giles_newman
Life and other