17 Nov 2012

Making the best of a bad job

I must apologise for my blogging tardiness of late – it’s been a combination of not actually having much to say, little enough time for getting everything done and finding the new Blogger interface to be tedious to say the least.  I have started posts on several occasions, but after 20 minutes of trying to post one photo, my boredom threshold is reached quickly.  After all, I could be making something instead which, as we all know, is way more fun.  If I can get it to work, I’ll salt a few photos of my recent work within the post, as to be honest, I don’t have much else to show you at the moment – I haven’t had enough quality time with my camera recently either.

A large circle link bracelet in antiqued copper.

My last post was about the flood we experienced in August and the significant volume of mud it had dumped in our cellar.  As an update, the mud has all now been removed, the cellar deep cleaned and sansitised and an industrial capacity fan and dehumidifier installed to dry out the room.

Being a cellar, the external walls are below ground level and the floor is large stone flags onto what amounts to bare earth, so as the water table has been so high since, it has been necessary to make significant efforts to dry everything – the flood water was over 30″ deep and well and truly soaked into the walls.  And the flood caused an assortment of structural movements that have left us with some of this below-ground wall area structurally compromised, so when it rains heavily, the walls seep water.  So until the structural repairs are done, the insurers have said to leave the drying equipment in place to ensure it remains as dry as possible.

A Sterling silver horseshoe pendant, highly polished and worn on silver snake chain.

Unfortunately, the repairs are taking some time to even get started.  Obviously the repair work is being funded by our insurers, but in their enthusiasm to ensure that it is all done properly and to check all the problems thoroughly, we’ve entertained a number of surveyors, engineers and technicians.  And unfortunately, they have been sufficiently thorough in their investigations to uncover a number of problems, unrelated to the flood, that we now have to fix.  They haven’t said it in so many words, but the implication is that they must be done, now we know about them, to ensure future buildings cover.  So whilst we’re fully insured and it will cover all of the actual flood damage, we’re now faced with a considerable repair bill and upheaval on top of mitigating the flood damage – for other matters that we would have been quite happy to remain blissfully ignorant of. 

Antiqued copper squiggle earrings with long drop Czech glass beads with a Picasso and lustre finish.

On the plus side, we did get a full settlement for all of our lost contents, so have been gradually replacing the items that we need to do so and using the opportunity to do things just that bit better for the future.  When we bought the house, the cellar was already home to some of the departing-occupants junk, stuff that they seemingly couldn’t be bothered to move with them.  So over time, we just added more of our junk to it, so that space was never anything more than a rather untidy storage space.  We’re determined that it won’t end up the same with our second chance down there.

A Sterling silver version of my square chain link earrings.  Mr Boo calls this design my ‘Space 1999 earrings’.  I can certainly see that they have a very retro feel to them, but looking at photos from Space 1999, I don’t think earrings were a big feature of their futuristic and rather utilitarian uniforms. 

In an effort to start thinking more positively about the area, Mr Boo declared that it would no longer be referred to as ‘the cellar’ the very word suggests a dark corner somewhat out of sight, but will in future be referenced simply as ‘downstairs’.  It’s such a large area that it would be a shame, when starting with a new blank canvas, not to put it to better use.   When it was first empty and clean, we stood there marvelling at what a large space it is and how much it would cost us, even if we had room to do so, to build an extension of a similar footprint.  We perpetually complain about not having enough space, so squandering one large room would clearly be silly.

I wanted to make some ‘party’ earrings for the festive season ahead.  These are Sterling silver with faceted crystal rondells.

So we’ve decided to use some of the content settlement funds to have the whole ‘downstairs’ properly wired – at present there are no wall sockets for power at all and only two inadequate light fittings at the bottom.  I’m sure that once the stairs themselves are lit and all of the walls painted white (there were once, in the dim and distant past) and additional lights it will look even larger and considerably more cheerful.  I’m going to have one corner area as an additional work space, where I will do metal clay, polymer clay and enamelling work.   

My greatest sadness about the flood was that amongst the contents lost was my grandfathers woodworking bench and a trunk of his tools – nice quality chisels and the like that no amount of money would truly replace.  We looked to see if they could be salvaged, if only for sentimental value, but they really were damaged beyond rescue and the insurers condemed them.  So I have decided that the best way to do those items justice and in a manner that my grandfather would approve of, is to buy myself some tools that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford or justify and to use it to the best of my ability to make things with.

I’ve made a few necklace and earrings sets which might prove good for gifts  – these feature a hammered copper ring hung with a selection of Czech glass Picasso beads.

He was a great and skilled maker of things with his hands so I think he’d think this a worthy solution.  So I ordered a kiln for my metal clay work and take delivery of it on Monday.  I’ll have to use it temporarily in my normal work area until the wiring is done, but I somewhat selfishly bit the bullet and ordered it before the repairs swallowed up the funds I’d allocated and the opportunity was lost to me.

Unfired clay pieces waiting for a session in the kiln.  Whilst they look somewhat metallic at this stage, it’s purely because I’ve smoothed the surface to get them as ready as possible before firing.  The bottom pendant piece with the recesses will hopefully contain some coloured enamel in the not-too-distant.
I’ve been a bit besotted with sculpting flowers on everything recently.   I have a lot of ideas for more sculpted pieces when I will have the means to fire larger pieces, including hollow forms using cork clay.

So in anticipation, I’ve been working on a few slightly larger pieces that I couldn’t fire with my torch and hope to get these fired in the next few days – once I’ve figured out how to drive it.  I have a head so full of ideas to make with metal clay – and enamel – and maybe even fused glass – that I could do with stopping time for a while whilst I tinker with them.  If only!  {{{{ sigh }}}}

17 Sep 2012

If only I were a piggy . . .

. . . I’d perhaps be a little happier right now.

Actually, apart from about half a ton of mud that’s been bagged and is awaiting collection, we think we’ve largely seen the back of the mud that came to visit us during a torrential downpour a little over three weeks ago. We’ve had a lot of assorted visits from contents removal crews, mud removal and cleaning crews, insurance assessors, council maintenance managers etc. etc.

As if the distress of the initial damage isn’t enough, it seems to be a pretty ongoing battle getting anything resolved properly. The contents removal crew removed 90% of the contents, failing to deal with and itemise a corner full of our muddy junk. Whether they simply got bored, ran out of time, or space in the van, we were left with a pile of muddy stuff that we can’t now dispose of or claim for until someone has inspected and reported it to the insurers.

You can see the gaps that have opened up between the flags in our external path. After more cleaning and heavy rain since the photograph, the gaps and recesses are even more evident now.

Likewise with the mud removal, they seemingly only took 75% of it. The window that blew in under the force of the flood had a recess behind it and the crew claimed the detritus in that area was old muck, dead leaves and the like, compressed over time and not part of the flood residue. I couldn’t check as they’d taped bin liners over the opening of the lost window to help their drying equipment to work. But when Mr Boo came in and I told him of this, he reminded me that we’d completely cleared it about 10 years ago and put a fine mesh layer under the metal grille to prevent detritus from accumulating – which had been pretty successful. I’d totally forgotten about that at the time.

The horrendous and embarrassing state of our cellar mid-way through the contents clearance. You can see the depth that the mud and water had been on the side wall. The freezer had been floated and moved several feet from its starting position – the level and angle clearly visible on the side. The window that blew in can be seen with bits of jagged glass remaining. There is mud spattered on the brown structures and backboard of the electricity meter left of the window, so it reached just about everywhere.

So on removing the plastic covering we could see that the level of mud in that area was certainly deeper than it should have been. So we decided to clear it ourselves on Saturday – totally underestimating the task. Had we realised just how much deeper it was, we would simply have called the crew back to finish the job. We now have a dozen bags full of heavy mud and silt, we calculate it to be approaching half a tonne in weight. But they can certainly come and dispose of it for me. I think I might submit an invoice to them for 2 workers for 4 hours at whatever rate they charge our insurers. Plus 40 heavy duty bin bags, a bottle of shower gel and some new rubber gloves! It was truly horrible – and Mr Boo did the worst of it.

The area at the front-most point on the property where our path meets the council-maintained tarmac pavement, the edge of which (it never was a good job anyway) has been significantly nibbled away by the force of the deluge. You can see the size of the rocks we retrieved from the garden and pavement, just before the council collected them. The pavement is now marked up with white paint and they’re going to put me a proper kerb stone in to form a better step where the edges join.

Saturday proved to be a very hard day physically – whilst the weather was fine, we washed all the possessions from the cellar that we’d opted to keep, that had been piled up in the garden since the initial clearance. By golly, can that mud stick. I variously scraped off and swept up dried mud, washed with a brush and warm soapy water, rinsed with the jet setting on the hose and allowed to dry. At which time, the mud just appeared on the surface again. So my next stage was warm soapy water on a cloth and hosing again. Some things are destined to remain cloudy looking with a fine layer of silt. I think we’ll be living with this dirt for a very long time.

Now our attention will turn to repairing the structure. The window area needs replacing at least and the insurers have agreed to allow us the value of the repair towards measures that might prevent it happening again. At present we’re looking towards bricking up the window entirely (it brings in minimal light anyway, it’s main function for us was ventilation) and filling in the recess outside below the path and re-paving over it. I can’t even imagine how much that might cost, so it may not prove to be an option once the quotes are in.

More worrying are the cracks that suggest movement. Several large flagstones outside (and they’ve been there since 1874) have either new cracks or they’ve tangibly moved and we have a large crack through the stone window lintel in the lounge, immediately above the window that blew into the cellar. Yesterday we had another torrential downpour and whilst the cellar was starting to visibly dry since blowers and dehumidifiers were installed on Friday, we went down the stairs yesterday to see how the temporary sheeting we’d fixed over the open window was holding up.

Unfortunately, we were met with wet stairs and a puddle at the bottom. It would appear that water is running through an area that was perfectly dry beforehand. There were assorted trickles down the walls and where the stone stairs join the outer wall. So it’s clear to us that something has seriously moved. We have a building surveyor coming later this week, so we’ll have to await his findings.

Enough of that, I’m bored with it now, even if you’ve manage to stay with me thus far! 😉

On a happier note – recent work:

Between brewing up for tradesmen and seemingly incessantly mopping my kitchen floor (I told you that mud got everywhere, it sneaks under dustsheets too!), I have actually managed to make a few new things recently. Because my work area is immediately adjacent to the area the tradesmen have needed access too, I’ve not been able to get into anything more than I can work with hand tools. I’ve not wanted to solder and certainly not work with clay with all the dirt around at the moment.

My main focus during available working times has been to look after customers and fulfill orders, so I haven’t made much progress with new projects and photographing and listing finished pieces. But I have got my accounts up to date (they were woefully behind) and started on a full-scale audit of my own site – I have a lot of older designs still on there that I wouldn’t necessarily mind selling and making again, but I might prefer to re-make plated pieces in Sterling in future etc. So I’ve been working through my listed items and gradually modifying the details to bring everything up to date. Which has only served to lengthen my ‘to photograph’ list even further as I want to properly update some of my earlier listings. And I’m only about a quarter of the way through it.

I’ve gone a bit squiggle-tastic with recent work – once I work a shape or idea, my mind runs rampant with further related ideas, so I do tend to work in themes for a period of time. Once I’d settled on a method and sizes for making these squiggle shaped links, they lent themselves to a variety of pieces and worked especially nicely in bronze, which I left polished and bright in these particular earring designs.

I then wondered if I could link them together as a bracelet, much as I do with my leaf spiral shapes. I wasn’t entirely sure that it was working as I made the first one in copper, it didn’t look as nice as I’d hoped. But once I antiqued it, it totally came alive. It looks significantly better with some form than it had in its initial polished format.

My obsession this particular week is Egyptian Coils – I’ve sold a couple of pairs of earrings I made some time ago, so decided to re-make some more for stock and re-photograph them. I’ve just finished a bracelet too, so I’ll show that once I’ve antiqued it. The clasp on that gave me more trouble than usual and I’m still not entirely satisfied that it can’t be done better.

I love making a clasp that follows the same structure and patterns as the rest of the piece – ending the design then just plonking a toggle or clasp on it always feels like a cop out to me, so I feel the need to make the clasp an integral part of the design. With the Egyptian coils, the hook was easy, a suitable loop for it proved more elusive. I’m close, but haven’t yet got that buzz of satisfaction when you know you’ve nailed something. I like that a metal bracelet in wear can move around however it wants and the clasp area won’t be obvious. I like them to blend into the overall effect as seamlessly as possible. Beaded ones don’t need quite the same attention as the pattern is more varied to start with.

I made this copper clay pendant a little while ago, the top of which I angled, intending it to hang directly on chain. It didn’t work as well as I’d envisioned it, twisting a little in wear, so it went into my procrastination box (it’s another function of my ‘to photograph’ box) awaiting a suitable Eureka moment. I was working on a clasp arrangement for a customer to add to some ribbon herself, working out how she could do it herself without suitable tools and during that process, I wondered if this design might sit better on ribbon.

I dug through my stash and found a piece I had squirreled away from SowZerE Designs and the colours were a really good fit with the colours of the bead in the central section where they’d come together. Just stringing it on the ribbon still didn’t work well, so I made a bud-ended collar for it and now it works. I’ll make the necklace to length when someone buys it, the ends are just temporarily in place for the photographs.

I’m very short of bracelets in stock, so have been working on some beaded ones too. I spiral wrapped these sesame jasper ovals as their shapes are a little uneven and it compensates for that irregularity.

21 Aug 2012

I have a date tomorrow with mud

Heavy showers were forecast during today – fairly typical August weather in Lancashire, unfortunately. And right on cue, it started raining quite heavily as I was eating a somewhat late lunch.

As I listened to it getting heavier, I decided to check if it was splashing in through the open backdoor and as I was greeted by a patch of wet floor, I mopped up the wet patch and pushed the door closed, expecting it to be temporary until the shower passed. There was nothing especially noteworthy at that point – within 15 minutes that had changed considerably.

It progressed to raining substantially and then there was a flash of lightning. As I started clearing away my lunch dishes, braced for the imminent thunder, I spotted a large spider walking down the inside of the kitchen window and decided to catch it and put it outside – when I reached the window, it was evident that the rain was significantly heavier than I’d realised as I was greeted by the sight of the garden completely under a deep layer of muddy brown water a mere handful of minutes after there hadn’t even been a puddle.

It was running like a river through the garden and over the low perimeter wall like a waterfall – as the stones at the base of the perimeter railings are about 10″ or so deep, that must have been the minimum depth of the water.

The muddy rock-carrying water hurtling at speed past the front door.

I was now aware of the sound of running water and dashed to the front door, wondering whether it was wise or not to open it for a look out, so I cracked it very gingerly and was met by a torrent of incredibly fast moving water running down the path around the house and lapping over the front door step, just breaching the deep metal channel in the doorway. It was rumbling and rattling with the sound of rocks and debris being carried along in the stream of mud.

The water and mud poured over the pavement, garden and front path, deep enough to totally obscure the structures and differentiation between the levels.

The mud flowing through the garden a little while later once the peak level of flow had subsided a little.

I stood in the lounge and was aware of the sound of running water underneath me – I’d totally forgotten about the cellar underneath the house. I cleared the area at the top of the cellar steps so that I could open the door and peer down and was almost afraid to look. I could hear very fast running – no; gushing – water and a lot of crashing and banging. I shone a torch down the steep steps and could see muddy water lapping against about the fourth step up the stairs – the large marbled square above is a heavy kitchen worktop which had been stacked several feet away – now floating and bobbing about in the deep water.

I decided that there was nothing whatsoever that I could do about that and I’d just have to let it be and whatever happened happened. As I walked away I heard a large crash and a lot of banging and at the time, I thought it was just something large falling over, but we later saw that it was the window smashing inwards under the force and weight of the water and mud.

The cellar has an external window, but it’s below ground level and there is a recess in the path around the house to allow light into it and there is a grid within the path covering this ‘hole’. As this structure was right at the point where several flows of water converged, the large recess around the window obviously rapidly filled with water and the weight of it was clearly too much for the window frame and surround to hold. We can’t yet fully assess the damage as everything is covered in mud, but can see shards of glass sticking out of the frame at one side and splintered wood on the other.

The entire events described above lasted for a period of no more than 15 minutes, from pushing the door closed as the rain increased and splashed my flooring to realising the extent of the event occurring and being largely helpless to mitigate the damage. After about 45 minutes of a pretty substantial thunder storm it eased and the flow of water slowed, only to return in another pulse a couple of hours later as people were assessing the damage and starting to clear up.

Locals and a couple of council workers built me a little wall at the end of the path (which goes round our house and the rest in the row) with sandbags and buckets of stones that they gathered from the middle of the road as the firemen had been up the top of the hill to source the deluge of mud and rocks and found that one of a pair of fishing lodges had burst it banks in spectacular fashion and it was their assessment that the second was close behind and if we got more rain of that magnitude overnight it certainly wouldn’t hold. So the wall was to protect against a second potentially catastrophic event overnight. Thankfully although it rained several times overnight, it was rather more subdued than earlier downpours.

After the water subsided, it has left a layer of mud over everything in the area – my garden is going to need quite some cleaning. At the other end where the flow entered the garden, the gravel covering it has been swept away, even stripping back and displacing the liner fabric underneath and gouging a hole in the mud beneath.

The water levels have now subsided, but in its wake is a lot of mud, rocks and debris and the cellar (which thankfully has a large drain in the floor, at least some of the source of the flooding initially) is now under about 8″ of stinking silty mud – all our considerable amount of junk (and thankfully, that’s mostly what it is) that’s stored down there has been tossed about it the torrent and left in a scattered filthy mess – and the prospect of trying to sort it out doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. Mr Boo declared “I know I was overdue for clearing out the cellar, but this wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”

So my day will be filled with buckets of mud (I don’t actually know where to start – how does one dispose of tons of mud?) and phone calls to insurers – suddenly the prospect of photographing and listing a lot of jewellery which had been my plan for today, seems far more attractive than it usually feels!

Post script:

It transpires that the deluge of mud and water wasn’t from the fishing lodge (although it certainly overflowed), but purely the volume and force of rainwater, with nowhere else to go, cascading down the hillside above, dragging anything loose it crossed with it. The private drive to a large detached house much higher up has been removed down to the gas and water mains and most of that earth and gravel is what is now in our houses. The council have done a Sterling job this morning, using diggers and flat beds, to remove the bulk of the debris from the public roads and pavements and it looks significantly better than it did. They have removed many, many tons of mud and rubble.

It looks like we might avoid having to deal with the worst of the mess ourselves, it seems that the insurers employ specialist clean up companies for just such tasks, who have the right gear to do it quickly and efficiently and they’ll also assess what needs replacing for the contents claim.