Tag Archives: reskilling

Why learn a craft?

Traditional crafts are dying out as their practitioners retire. Soon the vast knowledge base attached to them may be reduced to outlines in books.

Learning a real skill as a hobby can keep these alive. We may need them once the fossil fuel party is over. Developing a craft can provide you with continuity in a society where jobs and homes are continually shifting. Spend time with a teacher, exchange ideas, join an interest group, network with other crafters.

Take a look at your lifestyle. What do you value most – clothes, furniture, kitchenware, ornaments, the garden? In what area do you buy yourself luxuries? Explore the variety of crafts available. Attend craft demonstrations, search online, read some of John Seymour‘s iconic books.

Find one that really interests you and start to learn. Persevere for at least a year. It takes time to acquire a practical skill. Once you are involved, you’ll find other options open up. You may decide that using a potter’s wheel is not for you, but become fascinated by the art of mending bone china. I didn’t like spinning much, but found that I loved weaving!

The hobby which I developed into a personal skill was wine making. Now, people ask me for advice, and bring me useful equipment. My friends keep bees; I’m going to discuss making mead from honey.

Extracting honey from a fresh comb
Extracting honey from a fresh comb

Many years ago, my father made wine as a hobby. I was, of course, taught to knit by my grandmother. The school tried to teach me sewing, but I was too busy resenting the fact that the boys got woodwork. Again, carpentry was something my father did quite well, while my mother hated sewing.

If you’re bringing up children, having a craft of your own could inspire them much later. Although I didn’t take much interest at the time, I do wonder if just having practical skills happening around me taught me more than I realised!

willow crafts
Baskets are always useful around the house
amazing socks from Norway
You can find the pattern for these under the More Information tab

Part of your personal resilience plan is to take up a craft – if you haven’t got one already – and try it out for a year. If you can’t get on with it after giving it a fair go, choose another one. You score for trying, not for producing wonderful works of art.

Learn more about this in the Reskilling section of the Resilience Handbook!

Hallowe’en special – Trick or Treat cakes!

Most of these special seasonal fairy cakes have a nice chunk of banana in the centre – but some have vegetables!

You’ll need a baking tray that holds a dozen cupcakes, paper cases and a few precooked vegetables. I used some chunks of baked squash and some broccoli florets lightly cooked until the stems were just going soft. For the rest:-

4 ounces butter

4 ounces sugar

7 ounces self raising flour

1 ounce cocoa powder

2 eggs

a few drops of vanilla essence

a couple of tablespoons of milk

a banana cut into six pieces

some chunks of cooked vegetable about the same size as the banana – I used squash and broccoli, but small Brussel sprouts would be good too!

Turn the oven on to gas mark 5 (190 C; 375 F) to preheat it, make sure there’s shelves just above and below the middle.

Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs and vanilla. Fold in the flour and cocoa, adding a bit of milk if the mixture is too stiff to work easily.

Dollop a small spoonful of mix into each cake case, spreading it to cover the bottom. Lightly press a chunk of banana into half of the cases, and a piece of vegetable into the other six. Carefully cover these fillings with the rest of the mix until they can’t be seen.

Cook on the higher shelf for 20 minutes, then move to the lower middle shelf for another 5 – 10 minutes till the cake tops are firm. There’s extra moisture in the fillings, so they take a little longer than usual. Take the cakes out of the tray and leave them to cool on a wire rack.

You might want to use colour coded paper cases to avoid ambushing yourself with a broccoli cake!

Trick or Treat – take your pick!

 trick-or-treat-3

June Diary 2016

I expected June to be a quieter month than it usually is for me, as I’m not going to the Glastonbury Festival for the first time in many years. There’s no going against the rhythm of the seasons though, and events conspired to make this month every bit as hectic as before!

I’ve been working hard on my next book, about food and resilience…this involves a lot of experimental cooking and field studies. We finally got an allotment garden for our project; it’s quite overgrown. Although late in the season, we’ve managed to plant out the last of our seedlings, and there are quite a few food plants there already which only need the undergrowth cleared away.

Linda hoeing our new growing space
Linda hoeing our new growing space

It was the Green Scythe Fair on 12th June, which is an annual fixture for me. Strolling among the colourful stalls is like visting a future where everything has worked out fine. People gather around to admire the latest electric car on display, discuss the merits of the various tools offered for sale, consider hand made clothes or choose a pair of angora rabbits to breed for wool. The faint tap of peening scythes underscores the murmer of conversation. A woman plays her fiddle while children dance; other youngsters make nests from the cut grass.

A tremendous selection of local delicacies are to be sampled here, from crystallised flowers to venison steaks.

sea buckthorn juice stall
A stall selling juice made from sea buckthorn

You can get anything you can think of to do with honey, including a hive of bees. All the brand names, the shiny labels, are absent though. The cafe heats its water by wood-fired rocket stoves; the electrical power is from storage batteries recharged by renewables, including the lights and entertainment at night.

In the Craft area, one can see blacksmiths, stone masons and thatchers at work. There’s a stall selling hemp twine, another with leather pouches. A man haggles for an enamel basin, a woman picks a new copper kettle. The plough horses watch curiously as you pass by; yesterday they were demonstrating techniques for a land workers’ training session.

The centre piece of the event is the scything. A grand marquee is set up like a scything supermarket, with blades, whetstones, files, all the odds and ends of the craft. You are ‘fitted’ for the right size of handle, consulted about the appropriate blade and shown how to attach it. The complete novice is given a introductory pamphlet, but it’s wise to enrol on one of the day courses. Like any skill, it’s best learned alongside a master.

On the day of the Fair, however, all these craftspeople were out on the long grass in the centre, where the competitions were taking place. There were trophies to be won, reputations to be made! A sudden downpour had flattened much of the grass – how would this affect the form? The skilled scythers – men and women in separate heats – would cut their allotted square down to the length of a well trimmed lawn in only a few minutes. Assistants raked up the fallen grass while the judges inspected the quality of the job and considered points.

After the business of the day was done and the cups awarded, the music and carousing began in earnest. The stalls closed up and stole away; the families left. Only the crafters and campers were left to wind the evening up in traditional style and wobble gently home across the dark, empty fields.

How the craft workshops are getting on

It occurs to me that people may not be notified of changes to other pages, so I thought I’d just draw your attention to the progress of the free craft workshops.  We held the third of these yesterday (15th March), and there’s still another three.  Follow the link to read how things are going.

If you’re in the area – Glastonbury or Street – try and drop in.  There’s the Bocabar cafe next door; you’re welcome to just sit with a coffee and watch the crafts happening!  Although large, the Event Space is warm and there is plenty of parking nearby.

drop spindle workshop crochet workshop

Diary February 2015

It’s been a quietly busy winter.

I finally paid attention to completing my English teaching course before the deadline, and was awarded the certificate with its shiny hologram. The grammar section was surprisingly challenging, even for someone with an ‘old-school’ education!

Still looking for a distraction from waiting for the Resilience Handbook to work through the publishing process, I set up a series of free craft workshops. Reskilling is a vital part of resilience plannning.

So are adventures.

‘Why don’t you come to the Lyme Regis LitFest?’ said Tracey, my publisher.

Why not? It is the sort of excursion expected of a writer, and I could meet many of my fellow authors from the Magic Oxygen stable.

I stayed at nearby Monkton Wyld Court, a hostel and education centre. The peaceful community of today is a contrast to its lively decades spent as a St Trinian’s style progressive school.

Arriving early, I spent a day wandering along the Jurassic shore, admiring the delicate outlines of ancient ammonites sketched on the mudrocks, collecting driftwood and flotsam for art works. The air was cold, the stony beach quiet apart from the tapping of fossil hammers.

A literary festival turns out to be just the sort of event a writer enjoys. There were some excellent lectures and discussions, although I had to miss the weekend programme. Meeting authors and having the chance to leaf through a book is far more satisfying than buying online, or selecting from the promoted range of titles in a supermarket.

Home in time to deal with the final details of the first craft workshop session, which went very well. I had been prepared to sit there on my own if necessary, but there were over forty visitors during the afternoon, despite the problems we’d had getting publicity out.

Next craft workshop day is 1st March….next adventure may well be a day trip on a tall ship.

Diary, December 2014

The Resilience Garden glitters with frost, which should finally put a stop to the ravages of slug and snail. The September rocket sowing bolted due to the warm weather, a November replacement sprang up with enthusiasm but then settled down to wait out the winter as seedlings, and the molluscs ate most of the spinach.

Feeding the leeks has worked, though.

Waiting for a book to get published is an arduous task. I’m using the time to develop my own Resilience Plan some more.

This has involved me in adventures with an anti mould paint based on calcium hydroxide. The resilience pioneer can study the manufacture of this and other basic chemicals in The Knowledge. Use your Xmas tokens. It’s a good ‘man book’.

I’ll be appearing on The Knowledge website as a guest writer in the New Year, covering some of the amazing projects I’ve found on my travels!

Meanwhile, I’ve been designing learning modules to go with the Resilience Handbook, exploring more strange landscapes, repainting the house….

…and working with CREW HQ to organise a series of free craft workshops next year!

These will be held fortnightly on Sunday afternoons at the Red Brick Building between Glastonbury and Street, in Somerset. The first one is to be on February 15th. We’ve been part-funded by Aster Communities, and about thirty local craftspeople signed up at the Frost Fair last month.

Traditional crafts are going to be demonstrated and visitors can learn some simple techniques on the day. You can learn to fix things, get advice on your own projects, and generally network with skilled artisans. If you’d like to talk about a Repair Cafe, starting or joining a community crafts group, building a career as a craftsperson or anything like that, do come along.

I’ll be there teaching resilience. How resilient are you now? Why are practical skills important? Try out the questionnaire and design your plan.

Best Wishes for the New Year!

How to use a Spider to braid cord

for the people I met on my travels this summer

Find some thick card which does not crease easily, yet isn’t too thick to cut. A scrap of mounting board is ideal. Draw a circle about 9 cm across and cut it out. Divide the circumference into 8 sections of roughly equal size. Cut a thin notch, no more than 1 cm long, along each dividing line. Around the centre of your circle, cut out a hole about 1 cm across.

This is a spider.

Cut seven equal lengths of wool, ribbon or thread and knot them together at one end. Push the knotted end through the hole in the spider and lay the threads on top.

preparing the spider for braiding cord

Slot each thread into one of the notches around the edge. The notch should grip the thread quite tightly. There will be an empty notch. Hold the spider so that this is at the top.

Count three threads to the left. Take the third thread and lift it over the first two, slotting it  into the empty notch.

taking the third thread from the left across the other two and into the empty notch

Turn the spider clockwise so that the new empty notch is now at the top. Repeat the process, lifting the third thread to the left over the other two. Your cord will start to form in the centre.

spider 3 v2

Keep the braiding firm but not overtight.

As you work, the loose ends waiting to be braided get tangled. Separate them every so often. This limits the length of your starter thread to about two arms’ length, but once you get the hang of braiding, you can splice new lengths in. Do these one at a time to avoid unsightly lumps, and to maintain the cord strength.

Once you have had some practise and know what you need this tool to do, you could cut a longer lasting version from thin plywood. Try making cord from wild grasses, braid heavy duty cables from thin rope using a much larger spider.

The use of braided wicks was a key development in candle technology. Can you replicate this process? Could you invent a simple machine to braid cord? Why might you need to?