2018 brings a new arrival to the blog - oh yes! We’re starting a series of features called ‘Six of the best’ and our first one (spread over two parts) is dedicated to six brilliant creative workshops in Somerset.
In here, you'll find lots of fab stuff to try your hand at across our county, whether you live here or are just visiting - we’ve been up and down the length and breadth of it over the past few months, seeking out the very best of the best things to try. So, if you fancy learning a new skill, having a bit of an adventure, are yearning for some creativity, or are seeking out a cool present for a loved one... hopefully you’ll find some inspiration right here, right now!
1. Introduction to Soap Making – Boo Cottage Botanicals, West Bagborough
Kicking off our new feature is an absolute gem... and as soon as we meet Nic and Ben, owners of Boo Cottage Botanicals, we know we’re in for a fantastic workshop. Quite apart from the fact that they're such lovely people, they both have a wonderfully calm way of helping you learn - as well as patience by the bucket-load (I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to follow instructions ;)).
Workshops happen in their peaceful rural shop and studio, tucked away in the stunning Somerset countryside at the foot of the Quantock hills. It’s here they create their ranges of natural handmade soaps, lip balm and other gorgeous cosmetics – and if you’re looking for someone with incredible knowledge about the process of making soap to guide you, (as well as someone with a flair for combining essential oils to create beautiful fragrances), then look no further than Nic. With a degree in Biology, Nic’s also a self-confessed serial crafter who’s tried lots of different creative pastimes herself, before falling for the balance of science and creativity that soap making offers.
If you’re not sciencey (I’m really not!), never fear! Nic’s got that bit totally nailed and we start the session with a cuppa and a cookie, as she takes us through the chemistry behind the craft.
Nic explains everything in a way that makes our eyes light up. Her passion for using natural ingredients that are both gentle on the skin and kind to the environment, is an absolute joy. There are no artificial colours, no animal fats and from this moment on, you know that at the end of the session you’ll come away with soap you can’t wait to get into a lather over! ;)
We ask lots of questions, learn about different soap making methods (we'll be following the ‘cold process’), how to combine the ingredients and we get to choose the main ones we’d love to use. Nic talks us through the benefits of each and we get stuck in, touching and smelling them before making our final choice.
It’s pretty tricky to decide, as our skin’s crying out for the goodness of them all! How do you pick between Almond, Shea Butter, Mango Butter, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil and Sunflower Oil? Well, we plump for Shea Butter because it’s good for anti-ageing, rich and soothing and now all we need to do is decide how we’d like our soap to smell and look! This is where the fun really starts, as there’s a myriad of awesome options to send your senses spinning with colour, texture and scent.
We hit the essential oils first and have a good old play, as Nic guides us on which ones blend brilliantly together.
We change our decision shed loads of times (technical term there) but in the end, combining lavender and rosemary with a touch of cedarwood feels right… and we add drop after drop until the perfect balance of fragrance for us is reached.
Now it's on to colour. Ben shares pictures of some of the brightly coloured soaps people have made in past workshops, but we take inspiration from Boo Cottage Botanical’s own soaps and their natural appearance, using ingredients like Pink French Clay, Paprika infused in Olive Oil and Calendula to get their shades.
We decide on two different approaches… Nettle Powder, so that half of our batch will turn out a pale green (and we can decorate it with dried rosebuds), and no colour in batch two (I know! Controversial! ;)). To this batch we add texture instead, by sprinkling oats into the mixture (great for exfoiliation) and we plan to decorate the soap with a flurry of Cornflowers. Sounds almost good enough to eat!! (of course that’s not the idea, so don’t try that at home kids!!!)
We all follow our recipes with Nic and Ben’s expert help… and there’s definitely some excitement when we carefully combine the ingredients that cause the chemical reaction to happen!
Once we’ve combined, poured, decorated and left our soap to set, we have a demo of how Nic and Ben cut their soap blocks.
We’ll need to leave our little versions in their containers for a day or so before we can slice…
...and the soap takes around six weeks to cure before it's ready to use.
We came away having learned tons and absolutely loved exploring the mix of creativity and science behind the craft. We’d return to have another go in a flash - and that’s one of the beauties of this workshop. You can come back time and time again to create new, personalised combinations that really work for you and your skin. We've now tried the soap we made too... and it's flipping heavenly! :)
Why we love the workshop: For the focus on natural ingredients that are gentle on your skin, the calm and helpful guidance by Nic and Ben, the fun of combining essential oils and the ability to come away with a beautiful finished product you’ve handcrafted yourself, in two and a half very happy hours. Great for presents or for keeping all to yourself! :)
To browse and book: Click right here! Boo Cottage Workshops
2. Contemporary Loom Weaving – Nineteen, Clevedon
Nineteen is a stunning shop in the fab seaside town of Clevedon and as soon as we walk in, a calm, relaxed feeling washes over us, as we covet the pottery, pictures and carefully selected interiors that fill the space with unique beauty.
Towards the back of the store is a gorgeous workshop space with the same dreamy feel – whitewashed walls, chalkboard cupboards, simple displays of greens and ferns. It's a space you could happily while away several Saturday hours in...
... which of course we do and basically, Nineteen has us at 'workshop refreshments of fresh cafetière coffee served in Vintage China, with homemade cake'. Sigh! :)
Lovely owners Victoria and Becky, with the help of gorgeous Mini Daschund 'Albert Sausage', certainly know how to select a fantastic range of artisan workshop topics too.
There’s always something different to try out, including Natural flower arranging, Lampshade making, Reed basket making, Creating your own fabric and lots more besides.
The workshop we're here for is Contemporary Loom Weaving. The only weaving I’ve ever done before was back in Mrs Worthington’s primary school class, so I'm not really sure what to expect or whether I’ll get along with it ;)
I needn't have worried though. I absolutely love rifling through the assortment of wonderful wool in every colour of the rainbow, thinking through my own choice of colours and textures ( I decide on a blue theme with chunky and fine contrasts), threading the small loom and weaving it up and over the taught string - attempting to get into some kind of rhythm and create a cool hanging I'll be happy to show off when I get home ;).
Our tutor Liv, is awesome and shows us lots of different techniques to build up our contrasting textures, chunks and plaits.
The time just flies by as we relax, weave, eat cake and laugh! I'm not sure any of us quite finish our hangings, but we take home enough wool to complete them another day.
All in all, if you fancy whiling away a few hours in heavenly surroundings and learning any number of new skills, Nineteen’s definitely the place for you!
Why we love the workshop: The store surroundings really are just beautiful. The quality of tutoring is spot on and the choice of workshops is fantastic - plus when you're done, you can catch some sea air! ;)
To browse and book: Click right here to go to Nineteen's website.
3. Jewellery Making – Linda Sandeman, Black Swan Arts, Frome
Next up, is a day-long workshop spent in the company of one of the loveliest teachers you're likely to meet.
We first got to know Linda when we interviewed her last year and we loved her style so much that we had a beautiful moonstone ring commissioned. When we heard she was running these workshops, with the help of Yasemin Sweet (who shares her studio at Black Swan Arts), there was no stopping me from going along! ;)
Basically, if you want to make a beautiful piece of jewellery in a day, then this workshop is absolutely for you. I’d wanted to make a thumb ring for ages, so it felt like the perfect opportunity to see if I could create one in 6 hours... with Linda's expert help of course!
The workshop is held at The Round Tower in Frome - another stunning venue. As an arts exhibition space, there's normally cool artwork on the walls and the building has a real feeling of light and space as soon as you step inside.
Before the day, I'd had a think about some ideas - as one of the brilliant things about this workshop is you can truly use your imagination to create your own design. When I arrive though, Linda shows our group a technique that makes me ditch my previous thoughts, as I'm itching to give it a go!
Linda has some William Morris stencils that can be pressed on to silver, leaving a subtle imprint on the top and I decide to cover my thumb ring with the pattern. Other people in the group choose to make rings and earrings - some will etch their silver, others try the Keum Boo technique Linda has mastered... and that's the beauty of this creative workshop. Everyone develops their own style, creating their own unique piece that's ready to wear by the end of the day.
I trim my flat piece of silver to size, attach my stencil and roll the silver through the special press!
It needs a fair bit of hammering to make sure it's completely flat, before it can be filed, joined, made in to a perfect circle, pickled, (to restore its shine) tarnished and polished. That's easy to write, but it takes hours of skill and guidance to achieve...
When we're done, I've made a piece that I didn't expect at the beginning, but one I absolutely love at the end... and I've worn it every single day since.
Here's a shot of the pieces made by our workshop of four (Mine's bottom right):
And here's a selection of amazing pieces created at some of Linda's other one-day workshops.
Why we love the workshop: The freedom to design and make your own piece of jewellery in a day is awesome. You come away with something to be proud of. Linda and Yasemin are brilliant guides and bring the best out in everyone, with their gentle encouragement and coaching.
To browse and book: Check out Linda's workshops right here. A fantastic present, or a creative treat for yourself.
So, three brilliant workshops down... three to go! Stay tuned for part two, coming soon. It includes willow sculpture, book binding and a few other surprises along the way! :)