State Postillion’s Jacket

CIMG2275At the launch of London Craft Week, Keith Levett, Director of Henry Poole & Co, tailors of Savile Row, was making a state postillion’s jacket – it was in pieces when The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall looked at it (click on the link and scroll down to see photos of Keith at the London Craft Week launch). When Keith finished it, he very kindly invited me to see his incredible craftwork and take some photographs. The jacket is a real tour-de-force in red and gold, and the style of it has remained unchanged for years.


CIMG2289The wool cloth comes from the Abimelech Hainsworth Mill in Stanningley, Pudsey, West Yorkshire, and is the only ‘vertical’ mill there. This means that the fleeces go in at one door and the finished lengths of cloth out of another. The red wool is a rich, vibrant and dense colour and provides a real contrast with the extensive gold decoration. Here is Keith showing the back of the finished jacket.


CIMG2274The lace, or gold braid, is 2•5% gold and woven into a specific pattern used only by the Royal Mews and Household; it is produced to order, is rich and substantial, and looks simply amazing.




CIMG2271The 80 decorative gold buttons and the 13 buttons that actually secure the jacket are saved from one garment to another. They are covered in gold, first by electro-gilding in 18 carat gold, and then there is a second coating of frosted 22 carat gold. This makes them rather orange and so they are burnished back on the high points to give a depth of burnish. (This reminded me very much of the layers of gold I add to mediæval illuminated miniatures to give a depth to the shine of the gold.)

CIMG2276Some parts of the gold braid on the cuffs are padded and raised, giving another 3-D effect to the jacket and a real richness to the look. Historically this was done with sheep’s fleece, which was substituted in the later twentieth century with cotton wool as it was more readily available. A visiting Australian wool farmer suggested that sheep’s wool may be better, provided it, and this is what is now used. The fleece, straight from the sheep is first washed in a pillow case, to keep the fibres all contained, and then spread outside to dry. This can be done only in the summer as it is rather smelly! When I was there, Keith reached over for a bodkin-like long needle and pulled up a piece of the gold fabric to make the gathering more even; his eye is that keen!

CIMG2270On the left sleeve is the badge of The Queen. It consists of the Order of the Garter motto in a circle (Honi soit qui mal y penseShame on him who thinks evil of it), and the circle is made to look like a garter with a buckle at the bottom. The Order of the Garter is the oldest order of chivalry, and was founded in 1348. In the middle of the circle is the cipher of The Queen, EIIR, and above all this is the Royal Crown.




CIMG2269This badge is made by Claire Barratt at Hawthorn and Heaney, and Claire is actually featured in the first photo at the launch of London Craft Week on this link. I thought Claire’s work was exquisite, even though, apparently, she had far less time to create this badge than she would normally have had.





CIMG2282Inside the jackets are padded and lined, and everything stitched by hand. The padding must be very welcome when it’s cool, but could be a bit much when we have those rare hot and steamy days!




CIMG2283I was intrigued by the fastenings additional to the gilded buttons and ribbon loops. A row of strong hooks and eyes were sewn in down the front, but instead of having all the hooks on one side and all the eyes on the other, they were alternate. I asked Keith why this was and he explained that if they were as I had expected, when the rider leans forward or pushes his arms together, all the fastenings would come undone; this way, though, they were secure. It is little touches like this that come only from years and years of experience!




The jackets usually take 3–3•5 weeks to produce, but this one had to be rushed through, and Keith worked long hours into the night to get everything done in 16 days, though you would never know to look at, even as close as I was able to get. Keith produced a completely new jacket, but the one I tried on (see my March 2015 newsletter on my website) from the 1930’s clearly had a number of wearers who had each written their names inside!

Le_Royal_Mews_de_Londres-016The jackets are worn by the riders who guide the horses that pull the state coaches. The rest of the uniform can be seen right – white riding breeches, long black boots with a buff cuff, a white shirt and cravat, and finished with a grey wig and riding cap.



article-0-022FE9B6000005DC-915_468x286This is the Coronation Coach at the Royal Mews and shows the riders, with their hand-made jackets, as they would appear in procession.




imagesAnd when they’re not being worn? I rather liked this image of the jackets hanging up in a cupboard at the Royal Mews. What workmanship there is there, and I wonder if those who wear the jackets are aware of the huge skill and craftsmanship that has gone into their making.

Henry Poole & Co have held the Royal Warrant for producing livery since 1869, and are now the only tailors working to the old standards and producing like for like. Their standard is so high that, when presented with a cupboard full of jackets as above, they can actually pick out the ones produced by them.


Gilding and painting a mediæval letter

CIf you ever wanted to learn how to cut a quill, what the difference is between vellum and parchment, how to deal with real gold leaf and use it in mediæval miniatures and illuminated letters, and how to paint them, then this course is for you. We shall be covering the techniques of gilding and traditional skills, and you will go home with your own initial letter, gilded and painted on vellum, and with gesso laid with a quill that you will have cut yourself.



Lovett courseI’m running a 3-day course in May – Saturday 23rd May to Monday 25th May 2015 – at my studio in Sevenoaks, Kent. Everything is provided – feathers for quills, vellum, gold, burnishers, paints, brushes, etc.

And tea/coffee and snacks and a light lunch is also included in the price.


gilding courseClasses are kept deliberately small so that individual and personal attention is emphasised.


Previous students have been kind enough to be very complimentary about the courses I’ve run:

Excellent – patient and with expertise, generous with materials and information, good humour welcome!

owlHighest level of coverage and specialisation. Everything was well thought out. Help and encouragement was always given. Patricia was very professional and enthusiastic.

Very good introduction and explanations of how to paint a mediæval miniature and the techniques used. Very encouraging to all students.

One of the best course tutors I have had.

Excellently taught – enthusiastic – well thought out and relaxed in a clear and concise manner.

I have achieved a long held ambition, and, thanks to Patricia and the relaxed atmosphere she created, I have amazed myself.

I honestly don’t think the course could have been better.

Every day has been excellent and I have achieved more than I thought I was capable of. Thanks for everything.

Please contact me if you want more details and the application form.

The Art and History of Globes

Farnese AtlasEven around the time of Pythagoras in the 6th century BC, the ancient Greeks thought that the earth was a sphere, with Plato (c.429–347BC), a little later, likening the earth to a leather ball. Similarly, the heavens were considered to be spherical in form, and the Farnese Atlas (right) shows Atlas, a Titan, holding the heavens, as a globe, on his shoulders.


Globe, 1606-21Globes were made before 1500, but very few have survived, and it was in the early 16th century that printed globes were made. This new publication, The Art and History of Globes, from the British Library is a detailed and lavishly illustrated book, beautifully designed. The author clearly knows her stuff, and covers the history of globes in a thorough and detailed way. The section on how globes were made is fascinating and one of the best sections in the book for any craftsperson. What follows then are page-after-page of stunning photography of globes, some enlarged over two pages with wonderful close-ups, and detailed information on each. The globe on the right was originally made in 1606 but revised to include the discoveries at the tip of South America in 1616.

Globe 3The North Pole on this globe from 1730 (right) is shown as ‘Parts Unknown’, but the East Coast of America depicts details of new discoveries. The prime meridian line goes through London rather than Greenwich, but after the founding of the Royal Observatory in 1675 at Greenwich astronomers and navigators began to use it as the base zero for longitude.




Globe 4This globe on the right was engraved by Thomas Bowen (c.1733–1790), and includes details of the recent discoveries around the North Pole. The distance from the sun from the equator throughout the year is also shown. However, this globe pre-dated Captain Cook’s voyages, so that part of the world is rather vague!





Globe 1Of course, globes were not just for the earth, but also for the heavens. This celestial globe on the right was made by Thomas Malby in 1869. It was in rather a poor state before it was repaired and conserved.

This wonderful book is not only essential reading for anyone interested in globes, the mapping of the world, and the engraving of maps for globes. But I also think this is a book that would be just the ticket for those who you just don’t know what to get them for Christmas or a birthday! Thoroughly recommended!

A sea of red poppies

poppy 1Bright red poppies have become synonymous in the UK by marking the sacrifice given by those who have lost their lives in conflict. Many of us wear a poppy on Armistice Day (November 11th) having made a contribution to military charities to remember this.


poppies 2A stunning display of brilliant red poppies is being installed in the 16-acre moat at the Tower of London to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. Each poppy represents one of the 888, 246 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the conflict. The first poppy was ‘planted’ on the day that the UK took part in the war, and the last poppy will be placed on 11th November this year, filling the moat. On that day, too, William the Conqueror’s White Tower will be encircled by a sea of red looking like a huge poppy from above, with its round black roof forming the centre.


poppies 3The inspiration for this display came from the poem Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red written by an anonymous soldier in the First World War, and this was coupled with the idea of creating poppies by the ceramicist Paul Cummins and the inspiration of theatre designer Tom Piper.


poppies 4The poppies are made at a warehouse in Derby. Led by Paul Cummins, a team of 52 people are working for 23 hours a day in shifts. The clay has to be cut, rolled to the correct thickness, the petals stamped out by hand using the correct pressure, then assembled and finally shaped into poppies by a team of three skilled craftspeople. The poppies have a central hole cut in the soft clay before they are fired. This is how the poppies are made.

Once they have been fired and glazed, they are sent to the Tower. Here teams of volunteers assemble the poppies and plant them. The stalks are individual black metal rods, and washers have to be pushed on to them so that the poppy heads don’t slide down once assembled. The ceramic poppies are then carefully placed on the top of the stalks, and the round black centre pushed on the top so that the poppies are held securely and they look like the real flowers. Above: the volunteers are assembling the stalks.

poppies 5Finally the poppies are carefully pushed into the soil of the moat. It is an amazing spectacle, and although it will be dismantled by the end of the year, there will be a lasting legacy. The poppies are being sold for £25 each (to buy, click here), and all the profits will go to military charities.

In addition it is possible to sponsor the name of a British or Commonwealth service man or woman so that it is announced at sunset at the Tower. This list of up to 180 names is then followed by The Last Post. This will stop on November 11th 2014 when the installation is complete. (Click here for details.)

Apples of Gold

Apples of goldBeing a scribe and illuminator, I usually work in 2-D, but love, and am fascinated by, lettering in 3-D. I decided that I would experiment with the various ways of working when lettering isn’t flat and chose A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver from Proverbs in the Bible.

The first thing that I realised was that I would need a different lettering style from those I was used to. Pen-made letters were too thin and fragile, and the shapes needed to be blockier and more substantial. The second was appreciating that, although on paper, lines can extend beyond others, when the words are going to be part of something solid, every letter has to be supported and linked. So rules of spacing and evenness of rhythm went out the window, as ‘apples of’ had to be squeezed in between the lines of ‘is like’ and ‘gold in’. I also had the idea of making the letters o as apples with a cunning stalk and leaf which I could rotate and use to link and support some of the letters.

apples mouldMy brother-in-law is a designer, artisan and a caster in metal, and he took my design forward, creating a mould (right) which could be cast in metal.






mould and white powderThis was placed in a metal surround, dusty white powder sprinkled on top, and then fine sand added on top of that.





mould and upper surroundThis would be one side of the cast metal, but it needed a back as well, so another metal surround was added, and the process replicated with the back of the mould.




making holes and channelsLarge holes and channels were made so that the metal could flow easily into the sand and design, and then the actual mould removed.





hot metal into the sand and mouldRed-hot liquid metal was transported from the furnace and poured into the hole made in the sand to spread out through the channels into the spaces of the designed piece. This was one of the most exciting stages, seeing that heat and smoke from liquid metal.





bronze castingBut the most exciting was seeing the metal surrounds being separated and removed, once the metal had had time to cool, then the sand removed to reveal the bronze cast shape of my design. Of course it needed a lot of cleaning up, but even in this raw state it looked absolutely amazing. Jim was able to then polish the bronze and ensure that the apple-shaped letters o were burnished to look like actual apples of gold, and mount the cast piece in a marble base. The whole process was absolutely fascinating. Now I need to make some time to create my next idea!

All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education

westminster hallVisiting the Houses of Parliament is always a privilege. It is not all as originally mediæval as I would like, in that only Westminster Hall, begun in 1097 by William II (William Rufus), and ready two years later, has original features. But the work by the architects Barry and particularly Pugin in the nineteenth century, after the fire that destroyed much of the original building, means that it definitely all has a very Gothic slant, and it is always a joy to be surrounded by such history and such rich design.

photo copy 10I was delighted, when I went to my first meeting of the APPG for Art, Craft and Design Education to see hand-craft at work. Just at the top of the main steps from Westminster Hall (the top of the picture above) they were re-laying the tiles to the pavement. This showed great craftsmanship in that the right mix of mortar, the right amount to be laid, and the correct pressure in tapping a wooden mallet all needed great skill. The designs reminded me when I was learning heraldry of the ways in which we had to fit lions and other heraldic beasts into particular shapes without losing the character of the animal (this was when I learned calligraphy and illumination as well). Notice that the lions in the square tiles above have four legs, swirling tails, heads etc etc but still fit into the shape.

photo copy 11I arrived very early for the meeting because of train times, and noticed a piece of M C Oliver’s calligraphy in the Central Lobby explaining the designs in the mosaic situated in the wall above this text. The lettering style is very typical for the period and written in a strong hand on stretched vellum. I am not sure whether we would find his very closely textured lettering with potential clashes of ascenders and descenders and tiny margins acceptable nowadays!


But I was there to represent craft and the Heritage Crafts Association at this committee and so had this to focus on. Chaired by dynamic Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equality, and supported by NSEAD, the agenda was wide-ranging. After the first item I was able to give a brief introduction to heritage crafts and the Heritage Crafts Association, mentioning some of our challenges. Other items covered were the Art Party Conference, and a fascinating insight into art, craft and design education by HMI Ian Middleton who mentioned two reports: Making a Mark, and Drawing together: art, craft and design in schools. Ian is also Ofsted’s National Lead for Art, Craft and Design in Education. The problems of Discount Codes for children choosing subjects to study for GCSE were also raised and it seems that subjects in the arts and crafts were most hit. A student could take Maths and Stats for example, with both subjects counting for school published statistics, but taking photography as well as design, or graphics and design, would count as only one subject when schools added up their GCSE successes. This is not likely to encourage take up of art, craft and design subjects! Yet these subjects involve different disciplines and were usually taught by different specialists (unlike Maths and Stats). The UK has some of the best innovators in the world in terms of designs and craft. Encouragement at all levels should be happening, not discouragement for reasons of statistics! The NSEAD proposed Day of Action was also raised. This is likely to be on June 14th and is an opportunity for art, craft and design teachers and amateur and professional practitioners to take their skills to the community and to schools to give everyone a chance to experience the skills involved.

It looks like a group keen to raise issues and get answers, and will certainly add to the excellent work being done by the Craft Industry Board.

Heritage crafts and a National Honour

Buckingham Palace gatesA great day for heritage crafts – the first national honour was awarded today, and what a day that was!



photo copyWe had been advised to get there early, and so we were, and queuing with Brian Rea, from Northern Ireland Policing, and his family, at one of the wonderful Buckingham Palace gates.

Fortunately it was a fantastic day. Last night there were gale force winds and horizontal heavy rain. If this is the weather tomorrow, I thought, my hat will be flying off my head and be completely ruined!



BUCKINGHAM PALACE LOOSOnce we had had our tickets and passports checked, we were led through the central archway of Buckingham Palace and into the building itself. Then we were directed to the cloakroom and loos – the latter quite extraordinary. Vast wooden seats covered a rather ancient loo, with a wooden ‘stirrup’ pull up handle instead of a chain or lever.





Access_BP_grandstairs_lgThen up an amazing gilded staircase, where guests/family went one way and recipients the other. We were led into the picture gallery, and once our names were checked, a hook was pinned to our jackets. This meant that when the medal was awarded, it was simply looped on to the hook.


Picture GalleryThe picture gallery was stunning – if only we could have just looked at the wonderful art – but there were so many interesting people to meet and find out why they were being awarded honours. They ranged from Pamela Goldberg who got hers for the Breast Cancer Campaign, Wing Commander Teresa Griffiths, who is doing sterling work at Birmingham Hospital with those who have been injured in conflicts, Christine Edwards for Higher Education, and our celebrity Adele (Adkins), the singer.

First Football Match In Buckingham Palace Gardens To Celebrate 150 Years Of The Football AssociationThe awarding procedure was then explained to us – not too complicated – and we were then told to wait until our names were called. We were taken out in batches, through some wonderful rooms, and then led across the back of the huge ball room to a parallel corridor and were checked yet again at the entrance to the ballroom. One by one our names and awards were announced. Forwards, stop, curtsey/bow, forwards to The Prince of Wales, medal awarded, chat and then go. (picture on right is of the Duke of Cambridge presenting awards earlier this year). It was a thrilling moment, not least because, coincidentally, In Paradisum, from Fauré’s Requiem, one of my favourite pieces of music, was played by the orchestra just as I went forwards for my award.

The Prince of Wales, President of the Heritage Crafts Association, was charming, as indeed he was to everyone I spoke to afterwards. He was interested in what we were doing and very supportive. Once out of the ballroom, I did give a little jump of celebration, but then remembered that there were video cameras everywhere (you could buy a film of your own presentation) and hoped they didn’t catch that rather non-MBE behaviour! The hanging pin was removed for us, and the medal was put into a smart box, then we were shown to the back of the ballroom to watch the remaining people being awarded.

When everyone had received their awards, The Prince of Wales left after the National Anthem, escorted by ghurkhas, and the Yeoman of the Guard marched out.

Patricia Lovett and her MBEI met up with my family in the Ballroom, and took my medal out of its box straightaway and pinned it on. As I said to the people as we walked out at Buckingham Palace – if you’ve got it, flaunt it! Then it was out into the courtyard for our photos.

This is the first time heritage crafts have been nationally recognised like this, and the first time for calligraphy for about forty years. The Heritage Crafts Association is working hard to nominate deserving traditional craftpeople for honours and we hope to see many more makers in future New Year and Queen’s Birthday lists.

And the singer Adele? Well apart from standing next to her and her smiling back in the picture gallery, and spotting her a few rows in front in the ballroom, we didn’t see her again. Speaking to the photographers they said that celebrities and VIPs are usually fast tracked through afterwards.

What a fantastic experience!

St Vitale, Ravenna – secret pens and ink pots

16436-san-vitale-basilica-ravenna-view-northRavenna is one of the most amazing places I have been fortunate enough to visit. I was so bowled over the first time we went there that this year we went again, and if you haven’t been yet, don’t leave it too long before you go! For me one of the best places was the Church of St Vitale, the patron saint of Ravenna. The building was begun in 526 and finished in 547 – an amazing feat of craftsmanship in just over 20 years.

It is octagonal in shape and is a mix between Roman styles (dome, shape of the doorways, etc) and Byzantine styles (the capitals to the columns and narrow bricks).

San Vitale RIt is the mosaics that are the most spectacular though to me, and perhaps the most famous is that of the Emperor Justinian and his court to the left of the high altar, and his Empress Theodora opposite him. Justinian is wearing a deep Tyrian-purple robe, dyed from a liquid which comes from the murex brandaris mollusc. Each sea creature gives only one or two drops and it’s been estimated that 12,000 molluscs were required to dye a single robe. It’s easy to see why the colour was restricted to the most important people and even Roman Senators had only a broad purple stripe on their white togas!

San VitThe Empress Theodora with her court is depicted on the wall opposite her husband, and she is dressed in a rich purple cloak, but this time hers is embellished with a gold pattern and figures processing at the base. As her hand reaches out to hold the gold and jewelled bowl, it pushes her robe aside to reveal a white dress with a magnificent gold thread and coloured border. Of course, all this decoration, the expressions on the faces, and the richly patterned dresses and headdresses are not painted, but are mosaics. The workmanship is simply incredible! Look particularly at the patterns on the clothes of the woman on the right in this picture.


Ravenna mosaicIt is interesting in such an old church to see within the mosaics, if you look closely, examples of writing equipment – perhaps an indication of the importance of the written word to Christians. The man to the right of Maximianus in the Justinian mosaic above is holding a jewelled book (more on Golden Books), but there are also images of writing paraphanalia. Here is John the Evangelist holding an open codex, and beside him on a little pedestal table is his quill, quill knife, ink pot, and probably an ink horn. Note the red tabs on the book which are just dropping down. These were used to secure the bouncy animal-skin pages when the book was closed. Quite a few manuscript books had hasps and clasps, though not all have survived still attached to the binding.


29205-san-vitale-basilica-ravennaIn this mosaic the Evangelist Luke is pointing to his symbol, the calf (though looking more like a full grown bull here!), and holding his Gospel. You can make out the hasps and clasps a bit better here. At his feet is what looks a bit like a hat box with a strap to carry it. In fact this was a container in which to keep scrolls, as you can see they are tightly wound and stacked vertically inside – and remember that all of this is made up of tiny pieces of tile.




San VitaleThe Evangelist Mark indicates a very ferocious lion as his symbol, and again, on a pedestal table, are his quill, quill knife, ink horn and ink pot.






San VitaleAnd lastly, here is Matthew with his winged man symbol. Perhaps rightly so as the first Evangelist he has both writing equipment and a box of scrolls. Note the lock on the front of his scroll box.


Drawing the street

Drawing the Street image 1A wonderful new exhibition in Newcastle-under-Lyme library is on show only until November 30th, 2013 but is well worth making the effort to get there if you can. It shows a drawn record of the buildings on the streets mainly in and around Newcastle-under-Lyme.


Drawing the street image 2Conservation Architect Ronnie Cruwys, whose exhibition it is, is a fantastic draughtswoman and she is applying her incredible skills to record the buildings in the streets so that the amazing range and mix of buildings that we may well pass every day and not give them a second’s thought are shown. By doing this, Ronnie is making a record for the future.

Drawing the street image 2She has a great eye for detail, and includes passersby and pets on occasion to bring the drawings to life and give them a scale. Some of the buildings in the drawings she has made have already made way for replacements, and these are rarely as charming as their predecessors!


The exhibition has had rave reviews:

So impressed by the magnitude and detail of the whole project – your talent is amazing! What a wonderful way to open our eyes to the buildings around. 

Fantastic detailing, great use of colour makes the town look like a place you’d like to shop in (what a pity it isn’t). Spread your wings, other streets, a focus on certain buildings (pubs might be popular) maybe these pics could inspire great things in Newcastle!

Absolutely beautiful – keep up the good work. Great historical pictures (for our future children)! 

Your drawings are amazing, taking care of the tiny details made the drawings look as if they are documenting the streets very well, also the scale and dimensions are very true.

There are also prints and postcards available. These are all on Ronnie’s website, but seeing the real deal in person is so much better!


On the rebound – a 14th century book

Cover of choir bookMany of us don’t fully appreciate the work that has to be done behind the scenes to ensure that manuscript books in exhibitions are presented in the best possible way. In the Victoria and Albert Museum, a choir book made in Tuscany, probably Florence, in around 1380 for a religious house of nuns is one such. It contains the chants to be sung in the Masses for saints on their feast days.




Piccolomini LibraryThese choir books were usually large enough to be propped on a stand so that all the choristers could see the words and music at the same time. Many of them are quite huge, and there is a glorious collection of these books which can be seen by the public in the Piccolomini Library at the cathedral in Sienna, Italy.


Choir book before restorationThe V&A book, though, was not in a good state of repair. It had been stored upright rather than flat and this had put a strain on the binding such that the front cover and the first few quires were separated from the rest of the book. Handling the book was challenging without causing further damage.


Detail of damaAlso, the inside was in a sorry state. It was very dirty, and some of the pigments and gold leaf had started to detach. There is a large chunk of gold leaf that has fallen off in this illumination and the other areas of gold look damaged too.






Partially cleaned manuscript pageSo the decision was made to completely rebind the book and also clean and consolidate the pigments. Most of the cleaning was done by using a soft eraser, although there was some use of a chemical sponge. The results can be seen here on the right and below. The pigments were also analysed and a whole range of colours including the precious lapis lazuli (ultramarine) and Enlargement of cleaned areavermilion (cinnabar), as well as red lead (minium), lead white, (ceruse), azurite (citramarine) and organic pink (probably madder looking at the manuscript). The non-destructive tests on the ink were inconclusive, so it is not clear whether it was oak gall or carbon ink used.



Book sections sewn on to alum tawesThe book was rebound, including removing the metal bosses on the covers to enable the latter to be attached to a new spine. A series of photographs of this process is shown on the website page and it is a fascinating record of a true craft process.