Sunday, 26 June 2016


I've just been watching a great TV programe about Chippendale furniture. Appearing on it was a gentleman who restores laquer work or japanning. I have been self taught , so I was relieved to see that I do the job in the same way as him...although I often use loose leaf as well as transfer...but one thing he uses which I never cotton wool....he uses it to wipe off , but I find that any tiny trace of gilders size will pick up fluff from the cotton wool..... but he does his job everyday so probably doesn't have any stray gold size.

Above shows damaged box and below is my restoration.

The history of lacquer is over a thousand years old, originating in China. In the 1930's modern laquer techniques were very popular giving a shiny gloss surface. It is still used in Japan and all over the world. There are three main categories of laquer, the first is the' true' laquer then 'resin ' laquer and finally  japanning or Japan work. Modern laquer paint is another variation of japanning being sprayed onto furniture to achieve a high gloss tough finish.

New decoration for a frame .

True laquer used the sap of specially cultivated trees. The sap has to be processed and coloured before its used and is very poisonous. It was built up in lots of layers onto thin wood creating a wonderful smooth surface. I think this was sometimes done on a boat because there is less dust. The artists that did the fancy gilding and decorating were never given the job of prep because they were needed....I know sounds an awful way of treating workers but that was the way it was.
Resin Lacquer was made from the female of an insect related to the cochineal beetle. The insects fed on sap , were collected , crushed and heated slowly. After sieving ,the top clearest layer would be dried to form sheets that would be flaked and stored. Mixing with alcohol made a liquid that could be again built up in layers. It was used in Indian and Islamic laquer.

Top: New Victorian style firescreen.
Below ; gilded box. My design is based on wallpaper in Brighton Pavillion.

Japanning is the European substitute for oriental laquer, and was popular in the 1718th century. the wood or papier mache was built up with layers of shellac or varnish, even 20 or 30 coats ! The colours mostly used are black, red, green, blue and yellow. The raised designs were built up from gesso and then gilded. This is not as strong as the laquer base which is why so much chips off.
I used this technique when repairing, and nearly always aim for an old appearance, The Grandfather clock case had a new base and I designed a new decoration for the base, matching the original top and laquered it to match.

Brand new but aged

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Painting a Gypsy Waggon-Part Two

The first things you have to think about is,,,,
How much work does it need and how much do you want to do ?
You might decide that the paint and waggon is in pretty good condition so you are just going to tidy it up, maybe dose the bare wood in woodworm treatment and varnish the paintwork.....n
Hopefully your waggon won't need a complete rebuild but before dismantling or stripping .....
Photograph it...under, inside close up etc.
If you are not sure what type,age or builder than check it out and ask questions. Not long ago I popped to see a waggon that someone had been 'restoring'. They said that all the carved porch brackets were rotten so they had burnt them ! BIG mistake. There are some great wood treatments and wood hardeners but you could also have a mould taken of them or splash out and have a carver make you some new ones. They add so much to what sometimes is a plain boxy waggon.
If you can, even though it seems like a lot of work it is sometimes better to strip all the paint off back to bare wood and metal,,,again recording as you go,
Xmas card by Katie B Morgan

You might find remains of old colour and decoration which will be useful when you redecorate. Wear a mask when sanding...If the paint is old then it will be lead based...white,red and black lead paints....If its really ancient then you can even have arsenic in the green paints...probably unlikely because it was widely used in the time of William Morris, but be careful.
If the paint is sound then I prefer to keep it...some of those old paints are really tough so leave them and rub down and key for new top coats. I once had a person 'help me' by completely burning the paint off some old wheels...the old paint that was on them was brilliant and in really good condition.
If the paint and woodwork is sound then you'll be able to skip the next bit....If not, then here goes...get ready for lots of elbow work!
Try to repair rotten wood as well as you are able, and likewise any metal work. Don't just burn rotten pieces of can treat them, fill if necessary, sometimes use but you can have moulds taken and use these for decoration.
Most DIY shops will help you with the best timber and metal treatments in your part of the world. Don't skimp because fingers crossed once prepared you will never have to do this again.
If the canvas is rotten the remove and take out all the tacks....quite straight forward on a bow top but can be more complicated on a reading for example. Once again some of the old tops on straight sided waggons were often painted in white lead.
I would treat all wood with anti rot, woodworm etc treatment and you will then need to leave the waggon for a few days before starting to paint.
I'm restoring my own old waggon at the moment, a long job fitting it in between jobs but I will use photos of my own work to update you on my progress.
In the meantime hear is a link to an old film of Fair Hill at Appelby Horse fair
I have had a set of new wheels made, and had new furniture built inside. Now I am taking off all the loose flaking paint. The old canvas has been completely removed and I have a new canvas ready and waiting.I'll add some photos soon.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Wild Garlic

The Bothy Shop
Down an old path behind my bothy workshop is a blanket of wild garlic....a fabulous smell and free food.

I've been making soup with it and now the flowers are almost over but there's just time to make some more wild garlic soup....and it's tasty and easy.

You just need a hand full of leaves, an onion, some potatoes and some stock.
fry the onions,add stock and chopped potatoes...boil for twenty minutes.... add washed and chopped garlic leaves , simmer a bit longer then eat or blend to make a smooth fantastically green soup.
Add a lovely swirl of cream and some fresh bread...of course made using the flour from the neighbouring Stanway water mill. To add to the colour sprinkle some finely chopped red pepper.

The smaller leaves earlier in the season have a more delicate taste but now that it's later you can always cook with half nettles and half garlic leaves.
If you'd like to read more about wild garlic then please click on Vegparadise.


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