In 2019 the highly skilled scissor maker Grace Horne received funding from the Endangered Craft Fund to develop an experimental approach to scissor making that combines the modern technology of water jet cutting with the older technology of drop forging. The aim was to create cheaper but high-quality scissor blanks that could be used to teach scissor making to a wider range of people and to make small runs of blanks for manufacture.
The initial stages of the project went to plan. A die was made by Footprint Tools Ltd and tested by Josh Burrell with his Massey drop hammer. The unusual requirements of a piece of machinery that is no longer industry standard (and hasn’t been for a generation) required a learning process and the first blanks were nearly, but not quite, good enough for production. More tweaks were required… but then Covid 19 hit and work ground to a halt.
The impact on Grace’s business was dramatic. She was forced to put her professional practice on hold for a year and took on unrelated work to pay the bills. She describes the frustration of trying to run a craft business during lockdown:
“I don’t get the feedback, support and the feeling of community that I used to. It is much harder to engage with people, such as engineers, in order to make refinements to the design. This is worse when they are people that you haven’t worked with before. The process of innovation and developing ideas is much slower because it is difficult to maintain a dialogue and to communicate the subtleties. Ultimately, sharing online and through images just doesn’t replace handling the objects and communicating directly.”
Despite attempts to refine the process using images and videos, Josh and Grace found it impossible to deal with the issues without getting together to test it and resolve the problems.
It isn’t all bad news though! Grace is confident that the issues will be easy to overcome when restrictions are lifted and the die will work. She is looking forward to being able to teach regular scissor making courses in partnership with Owen Bush at Bushfire Forge and she has also been approached by Hereford College to run blacksmithing masterclasses in scissor making, which will mean that many more people will have access to the exacting and skilled craft of scissor making.
When asked if the Endangered Craft Fund had helped Grace with her craft business, Grace replied: “the project has happened, and it wouldn’t have happened otherwise”. More people will be able to make scissors and more scissors will be manufactured.
“The fact that I received the money and committed to the project was a stimulus to get it done. But it’s not just the injection of cash that is important, it is the fact that someone else is interested that validates the idea. It has given me the space to do something that could have failed.”
Grace also commented that the support and verbal reporting process of the project gave her an opportunity for reflection and evaluation that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
“This is something that many craftspeople won’t take the time to do, and would probably resent taking the time to do. It is great that the HCA take the written evaluation part out of the process, whilst still offering an opportunity for reflection. I am not a paper person. The reflective process is so valuable but we (craftspeople) wouldn’t usually do it because we wouldn’t want to write it. This is a barrier to many creative people.”
- Project funding: £2,000 from the HCA Endangered Craft Fund
- Project aim: To develop a process for scissor making that will reduce costs and make it more accessible to trainees.
- Top photo: Grace Horne
- Middle photo: One of Grace’s scissor designs
- Bottom photo: Massey drop hammer with test scissor blank
In 2019, Deborah was awarded £2,000 from the Endangered Craft Fund to help restore the Royal Loom. She aims to be designing and weaving her own linen damask on the loom when the restoration project is complete.
This project was generously supported by Allchurches Trust.
Stopping in on his way home from school at his father’s workplace was an everyday occurrence for the young Vincent Green. What was not quite so everyday was the factory itself, nor indeed the work that his father James undertook. More than sixty years on he still vividly recalls the dimly-lit factory, the single bare lightbulb dangled above his father’s head, the cumbrous, almost primeval wooden loom with its mysterious complex of cords and lead weights, and the race of the shuttle and the rhythmic beat of the sley. On occasion his father would stop off from his work, dismount the seat board and sit himself on a concrete block to have a quick cup of tea and a chat with his son. Any curiosity the young Vincent displayed for the craft was, however, promptly dampened by his father. Though a third generation hand-loom weaver, James remained adamant that none of his seven children would continue the tradition. And in spite of his evident pride in weaving for the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II he remained firm in his conviction that weaving was ‘a dead-end street.’ The 1950s held the promise of better education and jobs, and that was the future he wished for his children.
None of his children ever did follow him into hand-loom linen damask weaving. Indeed, the industry came to a complete end soon after in 1968, closing a tradition that had spanned nearly three centuries in the Lurgan region of Ulster. The factory was abandoned and the loom itself dismantled, many of the point-paper designs and the Jacquard punch-cards heaped into piles and burnt, or left to rot in the open. The craft had indeed reached a dead-end. Fifty years later, however, a remarkable turn of events has shone a beam of hope for the craft. “Would I like to have a look at an old loom that has been lying in a barn” was a question that did not have to be asked twice. It proved to be a ten-quarter broad loom, and the owner was anxious that as a hand- loom linen damask weaver I take it into my care. Countless hours trawling through archival records, interviewing those involved in the last days of hand-loom weaving, opening up a past that had been mostly forgotten led to the realisation that the loom was in fact the ‘Royal loom’ that James Green wove on all those years ago, his name lightly scratched into the frame.
The Heritage Crafts Association was quick to recognise its significance and its Endangered Crafts Fund grant has sparked a remarkable journey. Once supported by a network of ancillary crafts, hand-loom linen damask weaving now stands alone, the restoration of the loom necessarily drawing on a range of local artisans to make bespoke components, from Mark Hanvey, an exceptionally gifted cabinet maker to James Adair, a saddler with commissions from the Queen. Another, Andrew Hilary, a tool maker, works from the very factory in which the loom last stood! The scale of works and its complexity means it will be a long journey but one that will lead to the first broad-loom linen damask weaving in Ulster for over sixty years. It also affords a platform for my AHRC/NBC funded doctoral study of Irish hand-woven linen damask, and without the encouragement and support of the HCA none of this may have happened. So, it is thanks to them that a new pathway is being forged, an escape from the ‘dead-end’ that James Green had predicted all those years ago. How apt that it is his loom that has given us the chance.
- Project funding: £2,000 from the HCA Endangered Craft Fund
- Project aim: To bring a historic linen damask handloom back into working order so that Lecale Looms can start production of damask linen in Northern Ireland.
This project was supported by Allchurches Trust.
- Main photo: Examining the Royal Arms centrepiece of a tablecloth woven by James Green on the loom for Buckingham Palace in 1956.
- Second photo: The main frame in the course of being re-built in the workshop.
Heritage Craft Training Case Study – Lawrence Neal, Richard Platt and Sam Cooper
Bringing a craft back from the brink
The Gimson ladderback chair is a classic of the Arts & Crafts Movement, made by an unbroken line of craftsmen. Gimson was inspired and taught by the village chairmaker Phillip Clissett, born in 1817, and the skills were handed down through Edward Gardiner, Neville Neal and then to his son Lawrence Neal. In 2018, master craftsman Lawrence was approaching retirement age and, as the last in the line of chair makers, his skills and this important lineage were in danger of being lost. Hugo Burge of Marchmont Ventures became aware of this and commissioned a film, The Chairmaker, to tell his story. From this, and the attention that the film attracted, the idea of recruiting an apprentice was formed.
The apprenticeship opportunity was promoted through the HCA’s social media and other green woodwork networks. Two talented young makers, Sam Cooper and Richard Platt, were selected and began their eighteen months of training with a focus on equipping them with the practical skills to make rush seated ladderback chairs to a very high standard. They were supported financially by Marchmont Ventures during their training which covered their living and accommodation costs.
Spring 2020 saw them move to the newly equipped Marchmont Workshop, Berwickshire, where they will build their business. This exciting opportunity will enable them to develop a sustainable business using locally sourced materials from the estate and surrounding area. The workshop is one of seven units for makers and creators with an aim to create a community of highly skilled makers at Marchmont. Hugo’s aim, through Marchmont Ventures, is to invest in arts, crafts and early stage businesses that support sustainable creativity.
Sam and Richard are optimistic about their future making rush seated chairs and developing new complementary products. The apprenticeship has been hugely positive and constructive with both apprentices becoming highly skilled in a valuable heritage craft. As Lawrence says: “It’s a credit to Sam and Rich that they were able to grasp the craft in such a short period of time”, and it is evident that the commitment shown by Sam, Richard and Lawrence, combined with a realistic level of financial support through Marchmont, has been the key to the success of this project. The traditional skills and lineage of the Ernest Gimson and Phillip Clissett chair now have every chance of surviving and thriving in the stunning surroundings of the Scottish Borders.
“We’re very thankful to both Hugo and Lawrence for giving us the opportunity to learn the craft and the rich history it carries, as well as trusting us to continue such an important legacy. We can only hope that our story inspires other makers and their supporters to ensure endangered crafts are not lost.”
- Length – 18 months
- Qualifications gained – No formal qualifications were gained as it wasn’t considered necessary
- Financial support – Supported and funded by Marchmont Ventures
- Payments to apprentice – The apprentices were employed throughout their training period by Marchmont Ventures.
- Recruitment process – Advertised by the Heritage Crafts Association. Recruited through an application and interview process by the HCA, Hugo Burge and Lawrence Neal.
Photo © Hugo Burge
Heritage Craft Training Case Study – Felicity Irons and Demi Green
Do it… support young people!
Felicity Irons BEM is an award-winning rush merchant and weaver. Her company, Rush Matters, is a thriving enterprise supplying rush matting, baskets and other products as well as supplying sustainably harvested British rush to other makers. Rush matting is categorised as endangered on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts and Felicity is one of the last remaining skilled makers.
Eight years ago, the sheer workload and a desire to ensure that her skills are passed on to the next generation led her to advertise locally for an apprentice. Demi had just finished school, was looking around for apprenticeship opportunities and came across the advert ‘by accident’. It turned out to be a happy accident and now Rush Matters is now a team of three full-time staff with Demi focusing on making rush tableware and shipping. However, she comments that, in a small team: “we all know how to do everything”. Felicity says that they did present a challenge to the apprenticeship recruitment system, which is usually based on interview and not on practical skills. Eventually it was agreed that Demi could participate in a week long paid trial to assess her practical aptitude, which is vital for a maker.
Demi was the first formal trainee in the business and, in the early days, it was sometimes challenging to manage the time-consuming training alongside managing the business. “There were a lot of products that were not good enough to go out” says Felicity, “but the investment was well worth it; it has massively paid back”.
After eight years of working alongside each other, the apprenticeship has been a great success. The business is getting busier every year and the orders keep rolling in as the public interest in rush products continues to grow. Demi says:
“It’s the only job I have ever done and I can’t imagine doing anything else…It is a really nice place to work and a nice thing to do with my time. We all get on really well and it is good working in a small team.”
Felicity says that Demi is “invaluable, and extremely well skilled”. Most importantly, she is confident that she can manage the workshop and her business when she is not there, which allows her to be on the river cutting rush in the summer and perhaps even to take a holiday one day!
Felicity is passionate about the importance of apprenticeships for young people and urges other craftspeople to do the same. She says:
“I don’t really feel that I am working until my hands are wet and dirty… it is a brilliant thing to do and more young people should have the opportunity to have jobs like this … Do it, support young people. We push too many people into university and it isn’t for everyone.”
- Length – 1 year
- Qualifications gained – NVQ Fashion & Textiles
- Payments to apprentice – Paid at above the apprenticeship minimum wage. Now in permanent full-time employment.
- Recruitment process – Interview and one week paid trial to assess practical aptitude.
Heritage Craft Training Case Study – Greg Rowland and George Richards
What happens when an apprentice moves on?
Mike Rowland & Son Wheelwrights and Coachbuilders dates back to 1964 and remains a father and son business of Mike and Greg Rowland, both Master Wheelwrights. The original motivation for taking an apprentice into the business came from George Richards, a young local lad who expressed an interest in becoming a wheelwright. From this initial approach, and his obvious aptitude for the craft, Greg saw the potential benefit in future-proofing his business and succession planning. George joined the business as part of the Livery Company Apprenticeship Scheme that gave financial support to craft businesses wishing to take on apprentices. He excelled in the job and became a fully qualified Journeyman Wheelwright and talented wagon builder.
In early 2020 George left the business to set up on his own. This is a concern cited by many small businesses; what happens when you invest in a trainee and they then leave the business? Despite George moving on and some obvious sadness at his decision to leave, Greg describes the process as having been ‘massively successful’ and that his business is now more resilient and financially viable for the future.
A move like this doesn’t come without its impacts. The biggest change that had to be made was in the costs incurred in insurance, wages and pensions. It is a big step for a small craft business to start administering and paying for an employee, and this was daunting to begin with. The workshop also had to be made safe and compliant, which was a financial hit, particularly with the machinery. Work had to be scaled up in order to keep George employed and new approaches had to be developed. However, Greg views this as a positive move forward and as a step change in the longer term sustainability of the business.
“It has increased our work and our resilience. I now have more knowledge of my own business and my approach to business…It has made me better at running my business.”
Heritage craft skills will have also benefitted as George is a now fully qualified wheelwright and talented wagon builder. Greg also comments that it has impacted on his own skills: “not the hand skills as such, but the business, promotion and people skills”, which are crucial to managing a viable heritage craft business and in keeping it relevant.
“I would do it again”
In a couple of years the business hopes to take on another apprentice and Greg is confident that this will continue to benefit both his business and the longer term sustainability of wheelwrighting.
Livery Company Apprenticeship Scheme – It wouldn’t have been possible to have trained George without additional financial support from LCAS which gave £16,000 over three years to the host business.
- Length – 3 years
- Qualifications gained – Level 3 Diploma in Bench Joinery and is a Journeyman Wheelwright.
- Financial support – Supported by the Livery Company Apprenticeship Scheme which offered £16,000 over three years to train an apprentice.
- Payments to apprentice – Paid at above the minimum apprenticeship wage and then employed as a Journeyman Wheelwright.
- Recruitment process – None, as the initial approach was made by George himself.
Photo © Rankin
Heritage Craft Training Case Studies – Lucy McGrath and Eloise Dethier-Eaton
How does it feel to let a new person in to your thriving craft business?
Lucy McGrath runs Marmor Paperie, a successful paper marbling business with a studio at Cockpit Arts. Despite being a relatively young business, it has grown rapidly and Lucy has become a well-respected marbler who is not afraid to push the creative boundaries of the craft. Marbling is time consuming and Lucy was finding it challenging to both build the business and continue to develop the technical expertise in being a traditional marbler. She was keen to spend more time on publicity, developing new ideas and products, and her mission to preserve marbling skills for the future.
It was time for someone new to join the business. Lucy comments that this did raise some important issues for her and it was important that this happened when she was ready. On a practical level she ensured that she could financially support a member of staff and that the available studio space would allow it but, on a personal level, she also acknowledges that this is not always an easy transition to make:
“It is hard to relinquish control and bring someone in. I would recommend it.”
In 2019 Eloise joined Lucy’s business through the Cockpit Arts’ Creative Employment Programme. This pioneering programme was set up to respond to the needs of the craft sector and provides support to craft employers at the stage when they are ready to grow their business. It is aimed at young people aged 16-24 from the local area with an aim to reduce the barriers to employment and create more opportunities in the craft sector over the long term.
Both Lucy and Eloise’s experience of the programme has been very positive. Eloise has completed the apprenticeship and will continue to be employed in the business alongside developing her own creative practice as a print maker. It has been successful in that is has enabled the business to grow and new products have been developed. Lucy describes the viability of a craft business as “the point at which it gets repetitive, when it becomes about refining the process, consistency and control of materials” and it is this that marks the transition from skilled amateur to professional maker. Eloise can now contribute to the business as a skilled professional maker and also in helping to run day to day operations. Lucy has found that it has freed her up to finesse her own high-level marbling skills and to try new approaches.
There have been some frustrations along the way. There were elements of the Business Administration apprenticeship, particularly the ‘off the job’ training, that were challenging to manage in a small business. In short, the end result was very positive and the support received from Cockpit Arts was invaluable, but the formal process of completing the apprenticeship sometimes felt like “a means to an end”.
When asked what she has learned from the process, Lucy says that “communication is the key to success!” She is also keen to point out that it is this passing on of skills that will ultimately ensure a future for her craft in a contemporary context.
“Heritage crafts need to be kept fresh and interesting. Look for someone who is different to you, with different skills, and who will challenge you in a good way.”
- Length – 1 year
- Qualifications gained – Level 2 Business Administration
- Financial Support – Supported by the Cockpit Arts Creative Employment Programme and funded by the William Boreman’s Foundation. A wage grant of £3,800 was received that covered a third of the total wage bill.
- Payments to apprentice – Paid at above the apprenticeship minimum wage
- Recruitment process – Advertised and recruited through the Cockpit Arts’ Creative Employment Programme.