Wednesday, 28 January 2015

All the gear, no idea.



The house reeks of cabbage. My fingernails have disintegrated. My hands feel like brillo pads. I have caused a small kitchen fire (just the 1). But I feel great! For the last week and a half, I have been busy experimenting, investigating and hatching a possible plan for a small project/business. With no experience and very limited skills, I managed to produce 6 half decent bags in 7 days.


1. Red Onion


2. Mixed Berries


3. White Onion


4. Blueberries


5. Carrot + White Onion



6. Red Cabbage + Bicarbonate of Soda

I must be honest. I have LOTS of ideas and hair brained schemes on a very regular basis. My friends can confirm this. These schemes and business ideas often change monthly, however, this seems the most achievable. It is something I can do from home, it can fit in around my freelance work in TV, and is right up my street in terms of being something creative. And while these may not be to everyone's taste, I would definitely buy them if I saw them in a shop and my friends have been very positive so that's a start.

The journey so far:

After making these first lot of prototype bags using fabric I purchased from a local Charity shop, the fabric ran out. I had no idea what the material was called so after some investigation discovered it is something called 'Crash'. Frustratingly, this has turned out to be rather hard to get hold of locally, despite being very good at absorbing the dye, its not widely used anymore. It's usually made from a mixture of linen and jute and originated in Russia. I wanted to buy my fabric locally if possible so for my next lot of bags I bought some Heavy Calico. This is smoother material, stills seems to absorb dye well and feels less likely to sag than the Crash.

The dying process has been interesting too. Some vegetables/fruit have worked really well and others have been a waste of time (and gas). Carrots and Beetroot's both produced such pale colours I had to dye them both again with other dyes but in turn this has produced some quite nice fabrics. I am not throwing any fabric away, if one dye bath doesn't work so well, I will dye it again. For example, the bag below went into a Carrot bath and came out very pale yellow (the bottom part) so I then stuck the top part in White Onion to make it a bit more interesting.


The fabric below has all been dyed in the last 2 days and is ready to be sewn together. The yellow came from Turmeric root, the purple was from a mixed berry bath and the 2 grey fabrics were the result of a berry bath dye that I then put through the washing machine and it changed the colour completely.


I'm really finding this whole process very interesting. Not only can you change some dye colours prior to dying (Red Cabbage is the best for this, see below) but also, if you put the fabric though the wash and /or iron it after the dye process, the colour can change again!


Red Cabbage dye with vingegar, with Bicarbinate of Soda and left as is. 

After some very limited 'market reserach' I had an idea of how to make the bags more practical. The body of the bag needs to be bigger and the straps need to be over the shoulder, rather than 'hand held' but the next step in the process to was to get hold of a sewing machine. I have never used a sewing machine before but have always wanted one and now seemed like the perfect time to invest. So, on Saturday, we went to Franklins to have a look. It turns out that not only is this shop an awesome Haberdashers it is also Europe's largest needlecraft store! They have been trading for 60 years and supply machines to companies including Mulberry, and several car manufacturers for their interiors so we really were going to the best place. We were lucky enough to be seen by Mr Franklin himself who advised on which machine to get based on my non-existent knowledge and the fabric I will be using. Behold, my new best friend:


I am rather feeling now like I've got all the gear and no idea but practice will make perfect. 
Fingers crossed.

The next challenge is to source more leather. I had wanted to get it locally if I could (Essex or Suffolk) but its proving a bit tricky. In the meantime however, some very kind and generous Costume Designer friends of mine have offered to donate some leather to the cause so once that arrives, I can start the final part of assembly of the next batch.

Once I have built up a pile of bags (I also want to make cushions too, and anything else that doesnt require lots of washing. Baby and Pet products will be a bit of a non-starter), I need to decide on a name, get my branding sorted and start selling! I would like if possible, to base the name on the area that we live in, the Dutch Quarter of Colchester. In terms of textile history in the UK this area is as important as Spittalfileds in East London.  The Dutch Quarter is named after the Flemish Settlers who arrived here in the 15th Century to avoid Relgious Persecution in the Netherlands. They were predominantly weavers who brought their skills, wealth and prosperity to Colchester making it one of the most important textile towns in England. (Again, why Colchester Council / The Tourism people here don't make more of this is mind boggling...). Most of the houses in this small area have huge windows at the front, this was to help the weavers with their work by bringing light into the rooms and also allowing people walking past in the street to watch the Weavers at work on their looms. They mostly produced  a cloth called 'bays' which we now know as 'baize' which is used to cover snooker tables!

Anyway, I digress. So, moving forwards, lots to do and think about, but I feel quite excited about it all. There is no doubt this is quite a time consuming process just for a bag but I think they are quite beautiful. Each one is unique, each one has been made with love and enthusiasm and zero chemicals. Its keeping me off the streets at least.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Three Wise Monkeys, 60 High Street, Colchester, CO1 1DN

Well, well, well, what do we have here... Another new place, just popped up on Ye Olde Coolchester's High Street... To say I was excited when I saw this place open is a humungous understatement. Dear Reader, feast your eyes upon this:









Hallelujah is all I can say. A thousand thank you's to the Monkey's and their Monkey helpers. What a wondrous watering and eating hole right in the middle of town. These guys opened just before Chrimbo and I had a very nice evening here in their first week, however I wanted to wait until they started serving food before I posted about it. And let me tell you, it was worth the wait. 


Behold, The TWM Taster Combo.
We chose to try the Ribs, Beef Brisket, Pulled Pork, Mac and Cheese, Fries and Slaw. 

 We popped in today to sample their wares and I left feeling so happy in so many ways. Not only did I have a slight meat coma from the ribs, beef and pork which may have added to my euphoria, but I felt like we had finally got somewhere to go, within walking distance from home, that felt like our old manor. Which sounds weird seeing as we wanted to move away from there, but I really felt like a little bit of East London had landed on the doorstep. But the nice bits without the shitty bar staff, yes I'm talking about you Cat & Mutton.  This place has the best bits of lots of great places and has put them all under 1 roof, and this is still without having opened up their top floor!

The ground floor is small but perfectly formed and dominated by the wonderful 'Tap Wall' behind the bar (no idea the correct terminology). A sign says they have 20 different beers on tap which sounds like a lot of beers to me (as you can probably tell, I know nothing about beers). They also do beer 'racks' so you can try their selection out. The Skinny Jean Gardeners also created a lovely living wall here which has to be a first for Colchester. It looks great.

The first floor upstairs, where we sat, has another bar, loads of seating (sofas and mismatched industrial chairs) and this is where the open kitchen is located. I've frequented Bodean's many times but I can't say I'm a slow cooked meat connoisseur, so the TWM taster combo was the perfect option for us. A little bit of everything. Being greedy hogs, Wig and I were slightly concerned the dishes might be a bit small as the menu said they would be smaller than the main options, but we really shouldn't have worried. The portion was huge! We couldn't finish it actually. The ribs and cowboy beans were my highlites and it only cost £20 for the lot! Amazing.

I am so happy about this place. In terms of what you want from a drinking/eating place this has it all (in my humble opinion):

* Really friendly staff
* Great environment to hang out in (even better when their coffee machine arrives, but top marks for making us an instant to make up for it).
* Very tasty food and very reasonably priced.
* Good music (and not too loud).

Well done TWM Team, you've done a magical job of transforming a shit hole into a really great place. I salute you and wish you all the best for a long and happy future.  

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Franklins Haberdashers Colchester and the handmade, locally sourced bag.


Colchester has a lot of great independent shops. 
And 3 in particular enabled me to make this bag, in less that 24 hours and for only a couple of pounds. 


I started it yesterday afternoon when I decided to boil some red onion skins from some onions 
I had purchased from Humphrey's the Grocer. I've never done this before. I don't know why I decided to do it.  It was probably because the weather was bad and my son and I were housebound which neither of us like.

After an hour in boiling water, I removed the skins and put in a small length of my Emmaus Charity Shop fabric (£4 for almost 2 metres) that I had soaked in tap water. I had folded and tied it based loosely on Japanese Shibori dying techniques but using onion skins rather than Indigo. 
Or tie dye to the hippies amongst us.


I placed this in the 'onion water' /dye bath and simmered it for an hour. 


After an hour, I removed the fabric from the pan, took off the bindings, washed it under a cold tap until the water ran clear then let the fabric dry. The dye bath had been a dark red so I was a bit surprised when the fabric dried brown/yellow...


I was pretty pleased with the effect nevertheless, not bad for an almost free project, made with materials from the high street!  But unsure at what to do with the now dyed fabric I went to bed. 

However, at 5:30am this morning I woke up and decided to make a bag. 
I do not need a bag. I am currently selling loads of bags on eBay but I had an idea of 
what I wanted to do. Onions have never made me so excited before.


I stitched the fabric together to make a very basic shopper bag shape. 
Even I couldn't quite believe the neatness of my hand stitching at 5:30am, however it has 
confirmed my belief that if I had a sewing machine I would definitely make good use of it. 

Once the sides were sewn together, I had to wait for the shops to open as I wanted to try 
and buy some leather for the handles and some rivets to attach them to the bag. 

As soon it was open, I headed to one of my favorite shops in Colchester, maybe even the Universe. Franklins Haberdasher's. It's wonderful. A veritable Aladdin's cave of all things haberdash-y.  
I would happily spend days here.











As luck would have it, they had a 'scraps' box full of leather trimmings, 10 pieces for £1!
So I jumped in and picked the longest bits I could find. 
I then bought a rivets pack which was £9 for the rivet tool and 10 rivets.


When I got home I sorted through the leather and cut the pieces into more useable, handle shaped strips, sadly none of the pieces were long enough for an over the shoulder bag they were such a bargain, it didn't really matter.


I then attached the rivets and handles to the bag with a hammer, narrowly smashing a floor tile in the process (always hammer onto something you don't mind damaging folks).



And that, my friends, is that. I'm pretty happy with it. On the one hand it looks like the Turin shroud but on the other it looks like something Plumo or Anthropolgie might sell for £50. 

I am definitely going to make more. I am not sure it would stand up to carrying a sack of potatoes but it would definitely hold a phone, purse, keys, book, Milky Bar Buttons, all the essentials basically. 

So, thank you to:

Humphrey's for the onions.
Emmaus for the fabric.
Franklins for the leather.

Shop local, you never know what you might end up with!


Friday, 16 January 2015

Colchester Castle, Castle Park, Colchester

I love History. Always have and more than likely always will. When we saw our house for the first time, a very exciting feature of it was the fact that we could see the top of Colchester Castle from the back window. I used to look out my back window in Hackney and see a housing estate and rutting foxes, so the prospect of even the tiniest bit of such a unique building was very exciting. A quick Wiki search has since told me that it was commissioned by William the Conquerer and is the largest Norman Keep in Europe. Although due to the fact that there seems to be no one responsible for Colchester's PR I'm sure not a lot of people know what a rare place it is. Shame.

Anyhow, 2 weeks after we moved here, The Castle closed. So there was a long, almost 2 year wait before we could actually go inside. Then in May last year, it finally opened and after a £4million lottery funded revamp, it's pretty good! My son thinks so anyway and would go every day if he was Head of Entertainment.


Imagine a blue sky, it really is a great building.


I do love a crest and this one hangs over the doorway at the entrance.

I didn't want to take too many pictures as that would spoil things for you if you end up visiting, but it's definitely worth a peek, especially if you like 'dug up treasure'. This place is bursting with artifacts that have been found in the ground round here. Below are a few pics to give a brief glimpse of some of the contents but there is also dressing up for the children, huge screens with loads of info on, the jail that Matthew Hopkins imprisoned his 'witches'. A fair bit to see basically. It costs £7.50 per adult, which actually I thought was a little steep but I think that is due to years of being able to visit London museums for free. However, you can purchase a yearly pass for about sixteen quid, which is what I decided to do. When you live locally and have a little kid, more than likely you will come here ALOT. My castle pass now gets almost as much use as my Colchester Zoo pass.





Of all the things on display here, my favorite items are the glassware. Not only because it is so beautiful, but because I think I may have found some of it in my back garden!


One day last October, I was sniffing around our poor neglected vegetable patch when I saw something shiny sitting on top of the soil, just below the Gooseberry Bush / stick. I have found lots of broken glass out the back over the last 2 years while trying to make the outside space more like a garden and less like a prison yard, and think it was probably used for drainage over the years. (Although we do live in the centre of town so it could have been chucked over the wall by the 'nightime economy'). However, on closer inspection these shiny objects were a different colour and thickness to anything I have found before.







There are 4 pieces in total of between 3 and 4 inches in length, its very thick in places and is a sort of pale green iridescent colour. Considering our house is built on top of the Roman Theatre, I'm not surprised there are things in the ground. Watching The Detectorists recently really made me want to buy a metal detector. Who knows what could be lurking underneath our miniscule shallots?! Its rather an exciting prospect particularly since last summer work on the the £30million refurbishment at Fenwicks / Williams + Griffen's on the High Street had to stop as the contractors stumbled across this in the ground:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-29029917

A Roman Hoard!

Having looked at the glass in the Castle I think my glass might be pieces from a Funeral Urn (creepy) but to be sure I asked the Castle if I could bring it in for them to look at. Also, I wasn't sure, if is is Roman, if I should hand it in or if they might want to dig up the garden (be my guest), but sadly their Archeological Curator has just retired. Typical.

So, while I wait for the Curator position to be filled, I shall hang on to it and hope that no spirits got disturbed in the revealing of it. To get haunted by a Roman Ghost is all I need right now.