Monday, 28 July 2014

Cob Oven Building

This is a slight diversion from my usual posts. Some of you may have seen on Instagram that I've spent the weekend building a cob oven! I've been fascinated by cob for a quite a while, I bought the book Shelter (all Lloyd Kahn's books are great!) as a teenager and it's been a method I've wanted to try ever since. It's a very ancient method of cooking, in Mexico it was called a Horno and used for cooking Adobe bread, made with honey. In Hungary it was called a Kemence and is shaped like the instrument of the same name.  I  love to cook and loved the idea of being able to do so outside (partly inspired by this amazing place). I really do love to spend time outside, even when it's raining! I think it's probably as a result of a childhood spent making mud pies (or choc chow as I called it) and dens. Anyway when I moved in to my new home I suddenly realised I could build a cob oven in my back yard! By some miracle like happening the same week that I had this thought I saw a poster for a cob oven building workshop at Camp Kernow in my local health shop. It was meant to be! My mum and I went on the one day course in May and learnt SO much. It was incredibly hard graft, we helped construct an oven that would cater for 40 children, but it was great fun.

Our yard conveniently already had a structure on which we could site the oven (this saved us a lot of work!) To begin with we levelled our plinth out with builders sand and layed out 18 firebricks (these are what keep the oven hot). We then chalked a circle in the centre (this marks the inside of the oven) and made sure that everything was level.

Next we worked out the height of the inside and exterior and marked it on a pole. We held the pole in place whilst building a sand former using damp builders sand. We used the chalk markings (we changed the size slightly from the first picture!) and the markings on the pole to get the shape. We did have quite a lot of trouble as it kept collapsing because our sand wasn't wet enough, we got there in the end though.

We then covered the sand former with 3 layers of wet newspaper, we mixed ours with little pva to help it stick (you can also use wallpaper paste). It's pretty tricky this stage as the newspaper has a tendency to fall off.

 Next up was the first layer of cob! We used a mixture of Clay that we sourced from the bank above our mosaic and subsoil from B&Q. The mix is supposed to be 80% subsoil/aggregate and 20% clay and some water to get the correct consistency, it shouldn't be too wet or too dry. We mixed ours on a large tarpaulin but you could do it straight on the floor!  It's a pretty messy job so I got my wellies on for this bit. It's also very tiring (I think people usually spend a lot more time on cob ovens and have more than two people constructing it hah!) After mixing each batch I made sausage shapes and my mum built them around the sand former. This layer should be around 3 inches thick (although this will vary with the size of your oven). My mum kept spritzing it with water as she went and making sure there were no cracks or holes.

Once the first layer was finished we scored it with a knife to create a key for the next layer. We covered it with a tarpaulin. The next day we began the second layer. This is pretty much the same as the first but you add straw to the cob mix (it helps strengthen it and add insulation) and make it slightly thicker (4"). 

Having finished the second layer we removed the pole and stopped the hole with a clay sausage.

We just have to wait for it to dry and then we can cut the door and render it! 

As you can see it's been a lot of work, I definitely wouldn't approach this task lightly but the results are well worth it. I can't wait to try cooking in it.

If you'd like to read more about cob have a look at these books:

Building with Cob: A Step by Step Guide by Adam Weismann & Katy Bryce

Shelter by Lloyd Kahn 

Homework by Lloyd Kahn

Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn

Also have a look at these sites:


Thursday, 24 July 2014

La Loteria

In my last post I mentioned that my mum and my shop, Mrs MacBeth's Department Store, would be popping up at our local arts festival for the weekend. It was such a fun weekend, we met so many lovely people and had quite a few sales. Here I am in a dress that I painted especially for the weekend. I took the motifs from the Mexican Loteria game:

Source: 1

The cards have such amazing pictures and brilliant rhymes that go alongside them. One of my favourites is for La Luna- 'El farol de los enamorados'  meaning the lamp or lantern of lovers! They are all very beautiful and poetic. I also recently discovered that often the caller will make up their own riddles or poems- the more oblique the rhyme the better the caller and the harder it is for the player to win! I definitely recommend investing in a set if you haven't got one yet (you can purchase them from Viva La Frida alongside many other delights!)

Our space at the festival was in a window of a new charity shop that has just opened in Penryn. They are encouraging people to make the most of their old furniture and re-paint it, mend it etc. Although I really hate the term 'up-cycling', I do think this shop is a very welcome addition. So much gets thrown away and the comments coming from customers suggested that people were really excited to see the things you could do with old furniture! I painted a table that I got for £15 from a charity shop. I used french enamels and pasted a painting of Frida and Diego that I did a while ago on top. To make it more durable I used Rustins varnish. We used the table to work from for the weekend. 

The rest of our window was decorated with a variety of wonders made by my mum including heart and parrot pinatas, fabrics and soft sculptures. 

It was such a fun event, we had a very jolly time making pom poms, wrap weaving and chatting to everybody! 

Outfit Details

Calico dress hand-painted using acrylics- Made by me

1970s floral skirt part of a waistcoat/skirt suit- Vintage stall at Port Elliot

Peruvian Embroidered Belt- Gift from a friend

Wooden orange beads- Charity shop

1970s Hungarian Blouse- Belonged to my Aunty

Floral and bird patterned tights- Local market

Pom pom headdress- Mrs MacBeth's Department Store

Hand-painted red clogs- From ebay, painted by me

Hand-painted espadrilles- Coming this week to Mrs MacBeth's Department Store!


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Virgin of Guadalupe

There are a number of exotic and wonderful discount shops in the area that I live in. My mum and I recently discovered 3 rolls of amazing photographic flower print jersey fabric. Needless to say we snapped it up in an instant! The backdrop to these photographs is my favourite of the three, I love that it looks almost like a painting and the colours are so beautiful (I'm having difficulty expressing in words how great it is!) 

I've always been very taken with the saint cards that are available to purchase in Cathedral shops, particularly their eyes! As a teenager I named their very particular expression 'caring eyes' and ever since my family have enjoyed practising our own versions of caring eyes. This is my tribute to those cards and in particular The Virgin of Guadalupe in all her mystical glory. 

I am about to start some paintings from this series of photographs, so I'll be posting those very soon (I'm going to start posting more of my creative endeavours in general!)

In other unrelated news this week my shop, Mrs MacBeth's Department Store, that I run with my mum will be hosting several pop ups for Penryn Arts Festival. We'll be decorating a multitude of windows with parrots, pom poms and flowers as well as making pom poms and other delights in a new charity shop which is opening this weekend! Should you be in Cornwall (or just fancy having a nose) have a look at the programme of events here. There is so much going on and the great thing is most of it's free!

Linking to Visible Monday.

Outfit Details:

Russian floral scarf-  purchased by my mum in Istanbul

1960s pink cherub tapestry top- Judy's Affordable Vintage Fair

Edwardian nightie (with collar embroidered by me)- charity shop

Gold and mint green Sari- gift from my mum

Necklace- Penny MacBeth

Ring- Portabello Market

Paper flowers made by me


Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Power of Objects

It's been a very busy week, nearly all the birthdays in my family fall within a 3 week space. An awful lot of cake gets eaten and not a lot of housework gets done. This is my living room before it descended in to a mess of tape, wrapping paper and glitter. This is about the tidiest it gets, my trick has always been to distract the eye as much as possible with plenty of paintings, cushions, colour and nick nackery! I hope it works. Not pictured is my desk which lives under a nook beneath the stairs. It's not looking too tidy right now and come to think of it I'm not sure it ever does?! I will take some pictures of it when it's a little clearer (there are lots of paintings piled on it). 
Our living room is perhaps my favourite room in our home, it's perfect for lounging and reading. The daybed is particularly good for lazily flicking through art books and sipping g&ts! We have a lot of books, far more than are pictured. 

 One very important part of our living room is the drinks cabinet. It houses a host of glasses from champagne boats to whisky tumblers as well as whole menagerie. I have used the bottom (and some of the top) shelf to house my collection of weird and wonderful creatures and a variety of objects that I treasure dearly. I am, by own omission, a bit of a hoarder. I have over recent months got a little better, moving to Cornwall forced me to really consider what was needed. The trouble I have always had is I attach memories and emotions to objects, each one contained within my drinks cabinet has a particularly special meaning. 

They are mainly things I've been given by loved family members who have since passed. I find it very comforting to have small objects to hold, I've always liked the idea of Netsuke. My assortment of Buddha's have always come in handy during in exams or difficult essays, I choose one and hold it in my hand, the soft cold texture is very comforting. Other objects are less easily transportable, due to size and delicacy. They however are no less treasured. The white owl is one of my oldest belongings, my dad gave it to me as a baby. It originally tweeted and fluttered it's eyes, it sadly has since stopped doing so but it's been with me through every home and I couldn't really imagine not owning it.  

I like to display them all because they help remind me of the people I've lost but also to always appreciate the people that are here.

Featured below are a few of my favourite objects:

The owl that my dad gave me, a marionette made by an auntie (I think!) in the 1930s, the lid of a long lost box featuring 3 carol singers originally belonging to my great-granny. 

A knitted llama a friend gave me for my 23rd birthday, my dad's business card illustrated by my mum and a cheeky little eggcup that was my granny's!

Steiff owl that belonged to my grandma, another marionette and the Bogart of Bohermore*

*Bohermore was the name of the area of Galway I lived in when I was small. My mum made this friendly little Bogart, he caused much mischief around our house. 

A whole collection of Buddha's.

Melon teeth the lion a recent purchase from Oxfam and a little Japanese bonsai scene from the Japanese Gardens.

 A selection of glasses and a little cardboard figure that belong to my Great Aunt.

Do you have any objects you carry with you? I'm always so interested to hear about people's attachment (or not!) to objects. My brother is very different from me and has barely more than a handful of possessions! He is always very bemused by my nostalgia for childhood objects. 
I hope you all have glorious weekends and treasure all your loved ones.