Friday 30 October 2009

Scirpus lacustris - what's that!!

Because of the recent surge in demand for rush restoration, there have been a lot of conversations with customers about what exactly "rush" is. It always comes as a surprise to find that so few people even know that it grows in water and those that do, think it is the reed mace "bulrush" with the brown fluffy poker top. So I thought I would revisit a lot of the really interesting stuff that I have learned over the years about this amazing and yet very ordinary looking plant and share it here.

Its botanical name is Scirpus lacustris and it grows in mainly temperate zones from Lapland through Europe to Asia, north, south and central America. The flowers are clumps of tiny brown bracts, they are hermaphrodite, pollinated by the wind. The plants can grow in light, medium and heavy soils, whether acid, neutral or alkaline. They can grow in semi-shade or no shade, moist or wet soil, ponds, lakes and in a moving body of water. The root is edible raw or cooked and is rich in starch. It can be dried and ground into a powder or made into a syrup. The buds at the end of the rhizomes are crisp and sweet. The seeds can be ground up into a powder and mixed with flour for use in making cakes, the pollen can also be mixed with flour and used in baking. But most interesting of all, the root was traditionally used to treat cancer, it is both diuretic and astringent. (But please...., don't try messing about with any of these things without doing some very serious research and taking really good advice on use beforehand....!)

I also remember reading some time ago that a very large rush bed was planted in Holland to serve as a sewage disposal treatment plant for a very busy holiday camp - it worked, the water was cleaner after filtering through the rush bed than most other modern methods. I also read that another experiment was carried out somewhere, (which sadly ran out of funding!) to see if scirpus could clean "heavy water" ie radioactive and other very dangerously polluted water. It did. More surprisingly when all parts of the plant were tested after filtering the dangerous chemicals, there seemed to be little or no trace of metals, pollutants or radioactivity, amazing.........

And that's just the bit about it's "chemistry", another time I'll put together the folklore and its other practical could take me some time.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Back to the traditional

It's quite strange how things go sometimes - for months you might not see a single close woven chair and then, like buses they all come at once, which is what has happened to us over the past few weeks. For some time now we have also seen more "modern" 20th Century seats for re-weaving than you would normally expect, but it seems that the tide may be turning. This week has been "traditional" week. Loads of hand woven rush and cane seated Victorian chairs have arrived and the enquiries have also been for more traditional antique restoration work. Could it be something to do with the recession I wonder? Perhaps people are more concerned with looking after their antiques now as an investment. Either way, it keeps us busy thank goodness!

These three seats are today's work, they're still very wet but should dry by tomorrow. The weather is so very mild for this time of the year, 17 degrees yesterday - unheard of in late October! There have been some stunning sunsets, here was one I snapped last week...

For me, nothing quite compares with a beautiful sunset.

Sunday 25 October 2009

The big declutter operation

It had to start sometime, so now is as good a time as any! Next week will see the beginning of our massive "Declutter Campaign", 30 years of marriage, (anniversary next week) and 22 years in the same house occupied by four human squirrels certainly add up to a lot of history and acquisitions. Add to this the 25 years of restoration work and the detritus that attracts, there's an awful lot to do. There'll be a lot of soul searching - where on earth do you start?

The big things that are no longer needed will go first, probably through auction or private sale, then we can tackle the backlog of our own furniture in need of restoration, like the old saying, "the cobbler's children are always ill shod", we have definitely neglected our own things.

Then we'll tackle the smaller things, the idea is to have boxes for those, one for the charity shop, one for the rubbish dump and one "I don't know what to do with this" box. Sooner or later it's bound to make a difference - I hope. We've already started the painful process this weekend, walking around the house picking out things and saying, "keep or not keep". How much easier it would be if there weren't four opinions to take into consideration.

We're just going to have to be brutal!

Wednesday 21 October 2009

I spoke too soon

Serves me right for being so smug, thinking we wouldn't see any more close canework for ages - a set of six lapping cane seats arrived last week that we had forgotten to put in the diary! There's been enough time to do five of them so far. It's not especially difficult work, but very time consuming and tedious, you just have to take a break every so often and do something else......anything else.

The very large Danish sideboard in the background has gone home now, so at last there is more free space in the workshop, but it's already in danger of filling up with other things. Everyone seems to have Christmas in the back of their minds, all of the enquiries for restoration are starting off with, " rush, but it would be nice if it could be done by Christmas.." I'm not keen on this time of the year. Apart from the cold, dark and damp it's the thought of the stress of the "deadline jobs" that in the past have been collected as late as Christmas Eve. Don't really want to be in that position this year.

Friday 16 October 2009


Must catch up with household stuff this weekend and then get out into the garden to prepare everything for the Winter. There's a long list of things to do, hedge trimming, splitting old woody plants, planting bulbs, digging over the vege patch plus the usual lawn mowing and edging.

We've always had a vege patch, but have never grown Jerusalem artichokes before this year - so it came as a surprise to find that on average they grow up to 2.5 metres tall. Nobody could have told our plants that they're supposed to stop at that height, because now they are now about 12 feet tall! What concerns us even more is that they are showing no real signs of dying back and it's October, they've been in the ground since March.

We have a theory, either they will have roots like footballs, or all of their effort has gone into producing these huge plants with pretty sunflowers and we shall end up with pea sized roots. Either way, we love artichokes.

Thursday 15 October 2009

To Restore or not to Restore? - that is the Question

It happens from time to time and this week was no exception. A lovely lady arrived with a very dilapidated chair to which she has a very strong sentimental family attachment. As normal, you look at the work that needs to be done to return it to good useable condition and then calculate the likely cost of restoration. The conclusion is that the chair is just not worth the cost of total repair, (it's almost a complete re-build!) it's too far gone, it's days or weeks of work, you can't justify spending so much of your clients money on this particular piece of furniture, you know that almost the same chair in perfect condition can be bought for much, much less. But equally you can see the love in her eyes, cost is not the issue, it is this chair that is special.

Now the problem - how do you explain this to your client without hurting their feelings?

So many times despite giving a gentle explanation, we have been persuaded to carry out the work needed because we haven't had the heart to say no. The regret comes later when there is inevitably a hidden problem that takes much longer to repair than expected - the job has to be done properly or not at all. On the other hand having done the work, when the owner comes to collect, the sheer delight on their face when they see their "facelifted" old friend is priceless.

So what to do for the best - any suggestions?

Monday 12 October 2009

Larmer Tree

Home again and exhausted. We enjoyed the Cranborne Chase Woodfair, it was hard work, but good fun. Friday was a cold, wet and foggy start, so it was a pleasant surprise when Saturday turned out to be as warm as any day we have had all summer. I think most of us enjoyed the fabulous sunset that evening and the music, food and hospitality, (aka beer tent) arranged for the exhibitors on Saturday night - it was a chance to wind down after a busy day.

It's not often you get the chance to meet so many interesting and passionate people in one place. The show field and gardens were brimming with craftspeople at work - pole lathe turners/chair makers, basketmakers, iron workers, wood carvers, etc., etc.... Our friends, (and neighbours in crafty business at other events!) Neil the Welsh stick chair maker, Owen the oak swill basketmaker, and Kath the willow basket and coffin maker were all there, and we met lots of other inspiring people  that we have not had the chance to meet before - hi to David and James from Fivepenny chairs, Sean with his beautiful wooden birds and Dave the blacksmith/historic toolmaker, it was good to meet you all! I forgot the camera this weekend, so thanks for taking some pics for me James....

Sean and one of his birds

Dave using the bellows

Fivepenny chairs

So that concludes our show season for this year. Now we go back into an increasingly cold and dark winter workshop.

Friday 9 October 2009


We have food, clothes, plenty of work to do, and lots of blankets for the cold nights in the lorry. It is raining again, so we're just hoping that it stops for long enough to unload the French polished furniture into the marquee when we get to the Larmer Tree site this afternoon. At least the forecast is dry for the weekend!

Wednesday 7 October 2009

DIY kits, Danish furniture and Synthetics.

What a couple of days we've had. Everyone seems to want kits just now, so much of the time has been spent making up orders and loads of extra bits and pieces for the show at the weekend. We also grasped the nettle of finally weighing, measuring and "decanting" the synthetic materials into sensible quantities, especially plastic hand cane for canoeists. The air has taken on a strange shade of blue here, and the rest of the household are keeping out of the way - trying to measure materials and then make them sit into nice neat rounds isn't fun, in fact it is purgatory. But, it has to be done!

One set of Danish furniture went home today and the huge sideboard is finished, so I may get some space back in the workshop soon, fingers crossed. Tomorrows another day, back to sorting out for this weekend.

Monday 5 October 2009

No more close canework for a while

The target for today was to finish the polishing of the Danish sideboard and the weaving of the close caned chair. It would just about have been possible except the phone and doorbell rang too many times this morning and it was impossible to get on with the work. Finishing the sideboard will have to wait until tomorrow. At least one target was met today.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Finished cleaning, then the Woodpecker arrived

My fingernails have rarely been so clean and white! It was the bleach, we used half a bottle of it to scrub Bernard's interior mercilessly to bring it up to scratch. The ramp, cab and bodywork have been pressure washed and polished, not an ounce of mud remains. The bed linen is washed and the tinned food stacked in the cupboard, all that's left now is to pack our clothes and stock for next weekend. We'll leave that until Thursday, we're both exhausted!

I was just writing this and relaxing here with the heat pad on my back in the office, when a green woodpecker landed just outside on the lawn - what a treat! I took this photo.

I'm really pleased it came out because the photo was taken through a double glazed window with the camera on full zoom. We see a lesser spotted woodpecker in the garden almost every day, he loves one branch of the Oak tree, but we've hardly ever seen a green one, that's really cheered me up and made my day special!

Saturday 3 October 2009

Bernard's Bath

One week to go before the last exhibition of 2009 for us and Bernard needs a thorough clean up. The weather was so bad at the Great Dorset Steam Fair that the mud and damp got into everything, especially the ramp. This weekend has therefore been allocated to "do the dirty deed" and give Bernard a bath. Blandford mud dries like china clay, it sticks solidy and won't come off easily. When you do manage to finally dissolve it, it turns into a chalky beige slick and takes three or four washes to remove.

So, this weekend please think of us, we will be removing ultra dry, baked on Blandford mud from the inside and outside of a 19 foot long, 10 foot tall truck! It'll keep us busy for a while and to add to the fun, it looks like it's going to rain all day today. With a bit of luck by Monday we will have a sparkling "after" photo...

Friday 2 October 2009

Close cane weaving

The trouble with weaving close canework is that you can only suffer doing it for so long before you become cross-eyed and irritable. So each day I have a goal, today it was to finish one half of the seat.

I did it!! Now for tomorrows target......