Buckingham workshop and an adventure

This month saw me down in Buckingham for a repeat workshop at the Buckingham Summer School. It was great last year and it was great this year - with the small problem of my stupidly arriving on the wrong day. Something I only realised on my arrival, when I was greeted with 'hello Gretel, lovely to see you again - a day early'. At which point my brain caved in somewhat, as I had booked my motel room for that night only. As well, I had been asked to do a live interview from the cottage with BBC Shropshire (on the day that my workshop actually was) and had pre-booked my train tickets.


I'm not normally this daft and I can only blame it on my being a bit under the weather this summer and my head not being in its normal steady place. After recovering my senses, I set about sorting things out. I cancelled the interview (which was to be about this blog), managed to book the last room at the motel for an extra night - at some cost - then rang Joe and whined at length, before settling down for a dull night in a bland motel room.

I was saved by a lovely local lady (who had just ferried me from Milton Keynes train station to the school) who rang me to say that she was sorting out her spare room, so that I could stay the extra night with her. Thankfully I was able to cancel my booked room and things started to look a little better. 


The next day, when I had mistakenly expected to be doing my workshop, I ventured into the pretty and bustling little town of Buckingham and pottered about taking photos. I even managed to locate a nice sweet shop, where I was able to buy Joe some of his favourite truffles

Back at the Summer School, I was just in time to snaffle some afternoon tea.


The previous day, I'd  been introduced to a fellow felt maker, who's name I know from reputation; the lovely Sue Pearl. At precisely the point when my head was imploding. I hadn't really made good conversation, apart from the occasional whimper.  


Sue was also holding workshops at the school.  Today, she was holding a natural plant dying class and I popped in to say hello properly and have a look around. 


We had a good old chat and I had a peek at something which I've not encountered before. All of her students had produced beautiful work and Sue herself had examples of her work for sale. As you can see, she is multi-talented. Compared to her I'm just a one trick pony, but I do love seeing other people's work.

After that, I trailed back to what was to be my workshop room and spent a couple of hours in solitary splendour, doing my own work. During which time, I was rung by the nice people at BBC Shropshire, who told me that they really, really wanted to go ahead with the interview and could I do it by phone instead?  So that was another thing sorted out.

Later, I was picked up and taken out to dinner by my guardian angel. I don't  eat out often, so this was a proper treat and a chance to catch up with someone who has become a friend, since attending my last year's workshop. 

And so the next day began with a live early morning interview on BBC Shropshire, about my blog, and why I do it. I managed not to make an idiot of myself and Jean-next-door heard me as she was having her breakfast. 

At last the workshop started. All of my class were totally new to needle felting. And they were, without exception, fabulous.


As was lunch. I have very happy memories of last year's lunch, and I was not disappointed this time.


The rest of the day flew by on needle felted wings. One person had brought along some foraged sheep's wool, hoping to make it into something - which she did, making a delightful little lamb.

By the end of the day, there was a flock of geese. It is always so rewarding when the day's labours have produced fabulous results.

As for me - I was taxied back by my friend to the train station for my return trek home to Shropshire. Great relief when I discovered that there was no extra fee to pay on my train ticket. And on the way, I was rung by  a charming chap at the BBC, asking me to do another live interview on the Friday night with Georgey Spanswick, broadcasting on all of the UK's local radio stations. And again, miraculously, I managed to chat about this blog without any pratfalls. Most of the conversation was about jam, as recorded in my last blog post.

So despite a nightmarish beginning, it all worked out in the end, mostly thanks to someone going the extra mile for me. I am due to do one of my last workshops this year at Indigo Moon, Montgomery,  in Powys on Saturday October the 17th. We will be making decorative acorns.  (And yes, I really have got the date right this time!) There are still spaces left and it would be great to see you.


Blackcurrant Jamminess

When Jean and Brian invited us to help ourselves to however many blackcurrants we wanted from their garden, it was the perfect excuse to delve into a new activity. I myself prefer making chutney (less faff, more fool proof), but Joe had a hankering to try jam making.

There were certainly plenty of currants, and within 20 minutes of concentrated picking, we had 3 kilos.

The thing with so many currants, is that there is a lot of fiddly de-stalking to be done. We didn't bother with taking the dried flowers off, because as we later discovered, they simply disappear in the boiling process. I mention this specifically, as I searched the internet for ages trying to find this fact out, with limited results. So if you're reading about this via a search engine - don't sweat about the tops, just try to remove as many of the little green stalks as you can, without your eyes going squiffy.

Then we unearthed an ancient old pan of mine (now officially the 'jam pan') and began cooking. Had I realised how simple jam making is, I would have taken it up years ago. And it makes the kitchen smell delicious!

I even managed to find some waxed jam discs which had been lurking in a box for Lord knows how many years. Sterilised jars were filled.

And the next day, suitable labels were made. All a bit home-made, but pleasing nonetheless.

Bread and jam has become a very acceptable and affordable meal. We're about to make our third batch.


Whittling not Wooling

The day after my last needle felting workshop, I was invited to a workshop of another kind. My bete noir: wood. I have never been good with wood. I have no feeling for it, no magic in my fingers. But Ian the Toymaker was going to initiate me into the gentle art of whittling. I wished him luck.


We had limited time, so I was to start a little bird project, from an original design by a Czech puppet maker, Martin Lhotak. A little bird wired to a peg. It's the simplest of moving toys. How hard could it be? We started off with a block of lime wood and I drew out my design, with a little advice from Ian.

The next stage was to cut the lumps out, on a saw. I think it's a band saw, though I'm not very good with electrical stuff. Actually, I have a healthy respect (fear) of any moving sharp things, so Ian started me off, showing me how to gently guide the wood through the blade.

I managed to get the rest of it done on my own, with much deep breathing and concentration.

Then the next stage - the whittling. another sharp blade. A Swedish whittling knife. Again, I'm a bit lethal with sharp objects. Except felting needles, I'm ok with them.

This is Ian showing me how to polish the blade - you don't sharpen it, but it does need polishing, which helps shine up the wood as you work.

And off I went. Totally out of my comfort zone, feeling a little like many of my students must feel when they are picking up their first needle felting project.

The workshop is a wonderful treasure house.


Intriguing drawers and boxes full of useful things. Rather like my own studio, but less haberdashery.

And works in progress, displaying clever automata mechanisms which make things move. 

After less than an hour - and having been taught the correct way to hold the knife and carve - I had, to my amazement, managed to create a crude bird. Admittedly with some help from Ian. And even more miraculously, I had not cut myself.

I swapped a needle felting kit with Ian for a lump of lime wood, determined to go home and try some more whittling. It's a bit like needle felting; addictive once you get going.

So later, with my special new birthday whittling knife from Joe, I finished my wonky bird. He remains pegless, and resembles a shark without fins. I poked some bead eyes in him, so that he could see. I no longer fear wood. But I am much better with wool.

Ian was a fabulous teacher and often holds workshops with similar projects - the results of which can be found on his website, here.