Today I learned a new skill from someone. I have frequently visited the blacksmith over the road and he (Richard) and his friend (John) have always been amazing at helping me, making me tools, inspiring me to do my own craft and believe in my own work. A few weeks ago when I visited we talked about a number of different things that can be read here When things just fit into place…
Basically the drawer was left outside the blacksmiths shop, I needed a drawer, I used the drawer, John offered to teach me how to forge and make a handle for it. As the PhD is all about passing on stories and knowledge, this was a great opportunity to learn and talk (my two favourite things).
Lighting the forge at 9am the smoke was beautiful, like an early morning mist. Story telling of jobs and experiences past flowed freely and so did the cups of tea! I learned how to lengthen a piece of steel, the rhythm needed for the hammer to get it even, straighten it out and mark the middle. I learned when to take it out of the fire, how to use the bellows and how to brush off the oxidised muck before hammering. How to hold the hammer, work the anvil and then how to put it back in again. The next part (and with a very achy arm) I twisted the hot metal in a vice with a pair of pliers to create the twist on both ends. Then hammer into right angles to create the handle shape. Fitting it into the drawer was easy, just a little bit of a drill and it pushed in like it had been made for it (it was made for it so I suppose that’s why it fit!). It was cleaned up with a wire brush to get rid of the muck and tada! The experience was exciting, interesting and exhausting. It made me feel a real part of a team and learned something that I would like to know more about. Again this project has built friendships and told stories along the way.
The flap over bag is the last story I collected and so technically the newest in design and production. It has been a slow process so far as stitching the handles has taken a good few weeks down to being not so well and also the pain hand stitching leather exerts on your fingers. Its like learning to play the guitar…until your fingers have got used to it it blooming hurts!
Today I set aside to get something of everything done. I didn’t have a plan as such but things just happened as they usually do. I glued the hinge on the bottle piece so whilst the room was smelly I thought I may as well glue the base of the bag into place. Then once i’d glued it and left it all to dry I thought I might as well punch in the stitch holes. A nice rhythmical job. Then because I’d done that I wanted to check if the needle would go through the different layers so started stitching. I sat with my legs either side of my tall lump of wood I used for stitch hammering and had the bag draped over. The needle glided through as I’d waxed the cotton well before stitching and although I sat in silence I started tapping my foot as I was stitching, then I realised I was singing San Quentin by Johnny Cash! Thank goodness it was only me in the house! I thought about it and I think it was me getting lost in the work. It reminded me of the women in the mills weaving or stitching. I would like to look up work songs or something. I re-found Illuminations as well so I’m going to have another read of it.
The other thoughts were of the mother who the story was about. Her make do and mend culture and how she cut a bed sheet in half and sewed the outside edges in when they wore out in the middle. It made me think about this as I’d opted to do all the stitching by hand rather than using machine which also gives me more attachment to the piece as I feel I am investing time and thought in it.
The drawer that was found outside the blacksmiths shop was made of hard wood. It was too long at too tall but the circumstances of its appearance fit in with my work so well that I had to use it and adapt it. It already had its own meaning and its own memories embedded. It had once held someone else’s treasured possessions. An archive of something that I would never know. But already built into the wood was the history of someone else life, passed on to me from someone else ready to store its next memory.
So I took the drawer to pieces and played with the location of where the watch could go. On the back of the drawer or on the bottom. The bottom seemed more fitting for a natural location for the object. instead of just placing it into the drawer I wanted to embed it so I drilled and sanded the shape for the object to fit. I then cut down the length of the drawer, but it felt too high, so I then cut the tops of each piece down and the front panel and glued them back together, clamping so it fit properly. And it did! It just worked being this size. I sanded the tops down and thought about the story with the rhythmical motion. Then the front piece was cut glued and screwed into place on the front of the drawer awaiting its forged handle that is yet to be made. The handle will give me the opportunity to learn the skill of forging. Hopefully this will happen next week.
The drawer felt the right finishing touch to the watch. It needed something to sit in rather than the strap or something around it.
Having recently completed the first half of the watch piece, I set about creating its ‘surround’ which I thought was going to consist of the strap. I’ve always thought this was a bit too literal so I tried to adapt slightly. However making it in paper it didn’t fit the proportions of the watch and looked odd and it didn’t feel like it fitted the story. Referring back to the story, the place where the participant keeps it is in her dressing table drawer, where she keeps all the odd objects you only need at certain times, so I went back to it’s house and where it should sit. I came up with the idea that it should be sat in a drawer made of hard wood. A part of the story discussed how her father was always good with numbers and converted plans from cm to inches when moving house to make sure all his furtniture would fit. I therefore want to measure and convert, leaving the measurements present so these can be seen as an homage to his skill with numbers. The silicone also signifies his support for water aid making it look like a big bubble of water in the surface of the drawer.
Having decided to change the design, reality then hit as to how I was actually going to make the piece as I would need to source hard wood and work out how to make a drawer. This was because I felt I needed to make it as part of teh process.
On a trip over the road on friday to visit the blacksmiths I found Richard and John working away on some railings. I had taken bits over to show them and just to have a general chat. I mentioned I needed to make a hard wood drawer to which Richard mentioned he had a dove tail cutting jig. We mused about this for a bit and then he mentioned someone had left two hardwood drawers outside the workshop the day before. He told me to go and have a look. There were two long drawers, but the wood was exactly what I’d envisaged. I took one down to the shop and started thinking about it. I suddenly felt this was teh right thing to make the drawer from. Re-measure and cut it to fit what I needed. And working alongside craftsmen is what my project is all about. AND a found object that needed a home. Richard hadn’t wanted to burn them as they were good wood, but this is why people leave wood for him. It felt complete. the only thing that was missing was the handle.
John who is a whizz on the forge and anvil has recently been teaching me basics of ironmongery. He mentioned we could make a handle and he could teach me to forge it. Everything seemed to just fit into place. The story combining more elements of the participants memory and my relationship with craftspeople and new techniques further developing.
My dad’s workshop has always been a plae where you could find just about anything! Tools, oils, paint strupper, alsorts! When I needed to work with brass again, my dad was the person to help. It was a freezing cold day, so we stayed in the garage and worked out what we needed. We needed a tool….a tool that could bend metal, a tool that was very specific, but also lost…”I’m sure I’ve seen it”. We spent a good hour or so looking for the tool and we couldn’t find it. Looking through alsorts of boxes and bags. Coming across things such as parts for old printers or chrome door handles, each with a story to tell. I enjoy my dad telling stories and I always try and remember them. We came across a hammer with resin ends, both of which had corroded. I said, “throw it away, it’s useless”, to which the reply, “I can’t it was my dads” came. It was interesting to see that even though he comes across items less than once a year, he can’t part with a broken hammer because of it’s memories.
We eventually found the tool. Dad was keen to demonstrate it’s multifunctionality and we managed to bend the metal so it could be bonded. I didn’t get as much making done that afternoon as I’d hoped, btu sometimes it’s as much about the interaction with people as much as the doing.
The Brass rings complete it was back into the studio to complete the joining process of the silicone to the rings. This was for both the Brass Shoes piece and the Watch piece.
I had to mix a minimal amount of silicone, which was handy as I haven’t actually got much left! It felt homely to be working with the silicone again and the calm. The brass frames had to be set horizontally so as to make sure the silicone levelled out to allow the domed piece of silicone to sit on top of it and make a good seal. One of the problems I encountered was the brass shoe ring was slightly wider than the domed piece of plane silicone and so I needed to add a couple of mm more to one piece. The silicone is very forgiving and when layered the seam is very hard to identify and so this was not a problem. It meant that the first day of sealing in the shoes I could do one side (as below) and then the following day when this had set I could pour into the other side of the frame to create the orb shape. There were a couple of air bubbles that appeared in the seal, however this is where the silicone has settled and so they felt like breathing spaces rather than being problematic.
The watch piece used the same principle, where the silicone had to be poured into the gap in the brass frame and allowed to settle. Then the already cast watch dome piece was positioned on top. It fit so well and instantly looked right. It was a satisfying process to finish the brass shoe piece and think of showing the story teller!
I am really lucky that where I work I’m surrounded by people who know how to use so much different equipment and have used it for long enought, that they knwo exactly what they are doing! I had a sudden thought the other night that the UV printer we have at work could maybe just create enough height in its printed text that I could wrap this round a tube and cast into it.