Race for Life – Cancer Research

I took part in the Race for Life with two other Deben Rotaracters on Sunday 17th June in Chantry Park, Ipswich.  The race is a sponsored 5k run raising money for Cancer Research, and you can visit our sponsorship pages here:  http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/deben-rotaract and here: http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/rmorris

I’d planned to fit in plenty of training sessions before the big day, but the weeks running up to the event were especially busy and I missed more scheduled jogs than I ran.  As the Sunday loomed, I was seriously worried that I wouldn’t make it around the course without a great deal of staggering!  At least light rain was forecast, I thought.  I’d be exhausted but cool.  Sunday morning dawned too soon, and far too bright… not a cloud in the sky!  I walked through Ipswich to the park, phantom twinges jolting through my legs which I imagined would send me sprawling at the first corner, worrying whether I was wearing too much, or too little, did I have enough water, would there be hills?  All was forgotten as I met up with Tasha, Helen and Vanessa, and mingled with the crowd of women and girls of all ages, busily donning their race numbers, pink accessories, and in some cases, full length fancy dress costumes!  We were led though a fun warm up routine from the stage, reminded of why we were there by speakers and organisers, and then led into position: runners first, then joggers, then walkers.  The four of us fell in with the joggers, just behind a green dragon and a little girl with wings and a pink tutu.

The run was really very hot, and time seemed to stretch out between each km marker to the point where I was convinced I must have passed the 4km mark ages ago and not spotted it, when in reality it was still up ahead.  At 22 minutes into the race the loudspeakers announced the first runner had crossed the line, and from then on a steady stream of congratulations was beamed out across the park.  There were hidden surprises along the way: turning a corner to find a band starting up a cheery song; a choir hidden in a valley near the 4km mark singing ‘the show must go on’; and the way the course dipped in and out of the park centre, so our supporters could keep track of how flustered and red we were getting.  It was an amazing sight: a ribbon of pink winding its way around the entire park – so many women running to support the cause.  I’d settled into a dogged slow pace by the end and it was almost a surprise to see the finish line looming.  I put on a final burst to sprint the last leg, grabbed my goody bag and water from the stewards, and promptly flopped over onto the nearest free patch of grass to try and cool down.

Despite the heat it was a fantastic experience, and I was up and jumping around after a good few minutes rest, cheering people on from the side-lines.  I managed to get around the course in 33 minutes, which I thought was fairly respectable and a lot faster than I’d thought I’d be.  Still, I’ll have to try and beat it next year!

Originally posted at Deben Rotaract.


Bookbinding Course with Mia Leijonstedt – 9th June 2012

I discovered Mia Leijonstedt’s website early last year when I first became interested in book binding.  I’d just completed a day course at Brignell Bookbinders in Cambridge where I had learned to use a whole array of large and expensive equipment: metre-long guillotines, book presses so wide you could stretch out and lie down on them, specialist hotplates for gold lettering, delicate alignment mechanisms, book sewing frames, and vats of unlabelled glues, to produce this:

A piece of work I’m really rather proud of.  The course was brilliant, Barry was an attentive and helpful tutor, there was a constant supply of biscuits and tea, and the level of expertise and skill displayed by the bookbinders there was awe inspiring.  There was only one catch: there was no way I could replicate the process at home without all that equipment.  Barry kindly offered the course participants the use of the bookbinding studio for our future projects, but Cambridge is just too far away if I wanted to create books on a regular basis.  I turned once again to the internet – seeking out shortcuts, DIY methods, and following bookbinding threads and links around the web.  On one such day of research I chanced upon Mia Leijonstedt, and was instantly entranced by how beautiful her books were.  Head over to http://leijonstedt.com/ to glance through her work, and you’ll see what I mean.  Just seeing the way in which she turned bookbinding into an art form reinvigorated my attempts, and I spent a happy few weeks trying to combine the formal techniques I’d learned with new and exciting combinations of materials.

I’ll admit that it was some time later I wandered back to her site and looked at her blog, and there – in between the photos of books, beads and exotic locations – was something I recognised: a bronze flower embedded into a pavement, strikingly similar to ones I’d seen dotted around Cambridge… the very place I’d done my first bookbinding course earlier in the year.  A short investigation proved it: Mia was based in Cambridge, and what’s more, she too did bookbinding courses!  Surely this was meant to be!  But if fate had arranged it, it also took it’s time in allowing all the pieces to come together.  All the dates Mia advertised were days that I was working, and it was almost a full year later before I could make the journey and attend the very last course Mia was running before moving abroad.

An early morning drive from Ipswich got me to Cambridge well before the course start time, so I spent a happy few minutes camping in the sun outside the studio gates.  Gradually other participants arrived, and between helping set up the workspace I discovered that despite the journey from Ipswich I was actually one of the most local attendees that day!  Book artists had come from as far away as Germany, Australia and South Africa, all incredibly talented and bringing their own styles and inspirations with them.  Being the organised person that I am, I managed to forget both pen and paper to make notes during the course, but Mia and Lizzie (a fellow student- see her lovely bookbinding blog here: http://lizziemade.blogspot.co.uk ) came to the rescue.  Mia had produced course notes in the form of a tiny palm-leaf book, and no sooner had I noted out loud how daft I was to forget such essentials, than a speedily hand-bound notebook arrived in front of me thanks to Lizzie!

The aim of the course was to create a palm leaf book (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm-leaf_manuscript), a deceptively simple format which leaves plenty of room for creative variation.  Unlike the Brignell course which followed strict steps to create a standard book, Mia’s teaching was very much focused on helping us draw on our natural creativity to create our own, highly individualised books.  Between sanding the wooden covers and cutting pages to size over the course of the morning, she talked us through three creative exercises (which she herself uses) to get us in the right frame of mind for the bookbinding process.

In the first exercise we were shown five piles of assorted objects: buttons, threads, pieces of metal, odd stones and material scraps; and told to choose five items, one from each pile.  I picked out a length of gold thread, scraps of leather and vellum, a metal ring, and a small slate.  We then had to combine them to form an object which we felt expressed who we were, so I spent a good few minutes pushing the objects around and seeing how they might work together.  Eventually I came up with this:

The last scrap of vellum already suggested a hare, I just refined the shape, honest!  I really enjoyed this exercise, and it put me in mind of the charms I used to construct when I was little.  On walks in the countryside I’d collect objects along the way that caught my eye: sticks, leaves, stones, and then see how they wanted to combine at the end to make a kind of physical memory of the walk.  My parents used to get rather frustrated with all the random sticks and stones I’d bring home, so sufficed to say, the charms never stuck around for very long after they were made!

The other two exercises were equally as fascinating.  The second was a session of intuitive drawing: Mia would read aloud a word, and we would immediately set pen to paper and create marks that channelled how that word made us feel.  Sedate lines for peace, star-bursting lines for joy, tangled weaves for curiosity, and so on.  The last exercise was a guided visualisation, read aloud by Mia, which was both a strange journey through places, symbols and imagery, and yet deeply relaxing.

After lunch all focus returned to constructing the book.  Mia was ever on hand to answer questions about technique and guide us where necessary.  She somehow achieved that perfect balance between instruction and freedom: not dictating every step, and equally not giving us the studio and then ignoring us until we needed something.  She opened up her treasure-chests of objects, beads, beautiful papers, gems and other materials for us to use.  I used pyrography sets to burn designs onto wood and leather, and a small stove to melt tin and create tiny sculptural forms.  My first attempt created a lovely ring of metal, but unfortunately it was just a tad too wide to sit atop my book, so I picked it up and started to bend the rapidly-cooling metal to fit it back in the melting pan for a second try.  At the moment when it had cooled to the point where I could no longer bend it, it had formed a rather lovely curved shape, and amazingly, sat steady and upright when I placed it on the book.  I decided it was a happy accident, and went with it!

The whole day was a fantastic experience.  It was wonderful to meet a select crowd of people who loved book binding, and to see the masterpieces they created.  Unfortunately I forgot my camera on the day, so I only managed to capture our finished pieces with my phone.  I hope you can see the quality of the work, if not of the photo!

And here is my finished book, complete with metal sculpture.  On any other kind of book this would be a pain to open with such a delicate weight on top, but the nature of the palm-leaf book means you can set the cover aside and still look through the pages.

       I had immense fun, and came away pleased with what I had created, impressed with everyone else’s work, and inspired to (finally) clear my craft table and set about experimenting with books.  As soon as I get some spare time I’ll start posting updates and photos detailing my efforts!  Many many thanks to Mia, and everyone else who made the day so special.


Mia’s website: http://leijonstedt.com/

Lizzie’s blog: http://lizziemade.blogspot.co.uk

Chocolates, Oysters, and Running Around in the Woods

Over the past few years I’ve noticed myself picking up more and more hobbies and ideas: coming up with endless new and exciting things that I want to try, getting the hang of them, and then moving on to the next one.  My pessimistic side would note that this probably started in school, when the pressure to choose your career path was pretty intense.  Other kids were happily applying for medicine, law, engineering, and all those other good solid options, while I dithered around wondering why there wasn’t a job that involved books, learning about trees, art, writing, and wandering around in the mountains and forests in the career centre manuals.  Until then, we’d been able to engage in a spread of subjects, and by the time A Levels finished I still hadn’t decided on just one that I wanted to pursue.  My optimistic side would argue that my brain is a multi-coloured sponge, and all the random skills, ideas and experiences that I pick up will re-emerge through my artwork at some point, and in the meantime make life a lot more interesting.  Here’s what has been keeping me busy recently:

At the end of May I stocked up on double cream and set about learning how to make chocolates.  I’d intended just to make a selection of plain ganache-filled chocolates, but soon started pulling in random ingredients from the kitchen stores, resulting in some unexpected successes (the sweetness of homemade quince jam was matched perfectly with very dark chocolate filling.  Baileys ganache was a more predictable winner) and one inedible failure (not being bothered to wait for the sugar to melt properly led to a pretty dismal minty batch).  It was all rather unscientific, but turned out surprisingly well.  And now my candy thermometer has arrived I’ll be making a few more – when these heat spells have settled down a bit.

For two years running I’ve attended the Rodings Rally orienteering event in Epping Forest.  This involves turning up at 9pm, being given a map of the forest with a selection of clues, and then powering through the forest until the sun comes up the next day looking for 10 very small, unlit tents.  The whole route is 12 miles as the crow flies, but in reality it’s possible to spend hours scouring a small area looking for a tiny tent hidden in some brambles.  As my only experience of orienteering, I assumed all that was normal.  So when I went for my first proper orienteering event on the 20th May in Chantry Park, I was astonished at how easy it was…  The points are already marked on the map!  There are lines showing you the routes between them!  They’re each housed in a giant neon bag!  Sufficed to say, I had great fun, and ended up doing another event in Bramford on the 30th.  The boiling, muggy heat broke half way through doing the Bramford course, and we ran through that marvellous big ploppy kind of summer thunderstorm rain while lightning danced between the clouds overhead and the sinking evening sun illuminated everything.  Magic.

On the 31st I went wine tasting at Arlingtons Brasserie in Ipswich. We tried out a range of whites and reds and were talked through the differences before guessing the grape type and country of origin in two blind tastings. It was fascinating to hear how the subtle variations in taste are created, and how to recognise where a wine comes from just from its smell.  I’d definitely like to go again, but the evenings are so popular they’re getting booked up two months in advance!

Last weekend was the annual Oyster Fayre in Colchester: a medieval fair featuring falconry, knights battling in the tourney ring, a weekend long archery competition, and more stalls, musicians and performers than you could shake a knight’s lance at.  The weather held out, I tried oysters for the first time (not too bad- salty seafood), ogled at very pretty weaponry and acquired a mild sunburn.  A brilliant day out.

The weather turned on its head for Sunday, where I helped alongside Rotaract at a fete in aid of Children of Pulilian.  Despite the endless rain we sold plenty of raffle tickets, and I got a good look around the abandoned St Clements Hospital site.  I love abandoned and decaying buildings, so I’ll have to get back there with a camera someday.

Finally, this Saturday I attended a bookbinding course in Cambridge, but that was rather special and deserves its own post.  So that just leaves this afternoon’s archery session, and I’m up to date (for the moment at least!)