Cabinet making for women

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa
I would have liked to have featured Sheffield’s open studios event this week, but, unfortunately this year not many artists are taking part, including the woodworkers I’d hoped to visit, so I am not going. Instead I will relate some of my experiences of learning to make things out of wood.

To set the scene, my son was nearly a year old, and had started nursery for half a day a week, supposedly to give me a rest, but in fact enabling me to go on a course, at Sheffield Tech. “You might get chatted up” said my cheeky friend Heather, when I announced that I had chosen a cabinetmaking for women course.

I did wonder what to expect, though. Would everyone else be rather ”butch”? I am quite girly myself, so would I fit in? Anyway, what I did find was a very enjoyable hobby class of mainly retired women. They weren’t butch, were very friendly and were mostly well educated (many Oxbridge) and usually great characters, so it was always fun and lively.

The first three items I made were set pieces that we all had to do, to (supposedly) give us the skills to progress onto other things. I began by making a spice rack, although it was never used as such - our only available kitchen wall has a door opening onto it. It is in use in the garage instead now, with my husband’s fossil collection displayed on it. It was relatively straightforward, and I progressed onto the jewellery box quite quickly. At this point, it got a lot harder. I had wanted to whizz through that as quickly as possible and make a box of my own design. I then made a small side table.

The swine!

For these last two, I painted a design on them, flowers for the box and autumn leaves for the table. Suddenly I was doing something in two dimensions! This idea originated when I wanted to cover up my slightly botched routing of the corners of the bottom edge of the jewellery box. It needed filler – and it showed. I therefore came up with the idea of some flowering bulbs on the side and top of the box, and fine roots and bulbs underneath. I was pleased with the effect.

I went on to make a telephone unit and a cover for the strawberry urn in the garden (to stop the birds eating the strawberries – and it works). I made the telephone unit a metre tall, to stop my small son interfering with the phone – and it has. We couldn’t find anything like it in the shops, so it made sense to produce my own one. It fits beautifully into the space we have in our small hallway and the “pidgeon holes” for directories etc have proved very useful. I made it in oak, which felt like concrete to work with as I’d only ever used pine before, but it has proved sturdy and childproof, a good choice for anyone with a young family.

Another offending item.  I enjoyed making it really.  Honest.

I stopped going in the end, mainly because we moved house and are now quite some distance from Sheffield. This made getting to the class difficult, and I eventually gave up. I would certainly like to try it again if I was given the chance. I used to like the noisiness and mess of it all, and was pleased with the things I made. We students were very well looked after – we had our own fridge, kitchen and a designated technician. Even the soap was non-allergenic and there was handcream to use in case your skin got dry. It can be difficult to do things in a class though, you can be waiting quite a long time for instruction (I used to think we needed a ticket system like the meat counter at the Co-op). Also you have to do everything in front of other people, so you feel you are showing yourself up if it goes wrong. And then there is that all too frequent feeling of “I don’t know what to do”. The bits I liked best were designing an item, then finishing it at the end. Once I brought my telephone unit home I remember giving a rueful look, but then all the tussles I’d had with it were quickly forgotten as the family complimented me on it and it proved its worth.

No, I am not this clever - I spotted this wooden car in Ilkley, and it has tiger print seat covers and an "I've got a tiger in my tank" sticker on the back window. I would not have been very popular had I tried to make something like this at class! We had limited space. I remember someone making an enormous rabbit hutch once. Soon afterwards, we were asked to restrict the size of our items.

I was taught by Anna Childs, who has taught furniture making and worked with wood for around 20 years. She takes commissions for all sorts of wooden items of furniture Her partner is John Thatcher He is a full time craftsman and has been making furniture for over 10 years. His blog is highly recommended. They have very different styles, his being more conventional and “classic”. All in all, a very talented couple. Also worth a mention are two of their friends: Finnbarr Lucas, whom Elizabeth and I visited when he exhibited last year at Sheffield, and Becca Hopkinson, with whom he shares a workshop. I noticed Finbarr and his wife had a young baby and hoped it was well behaved, as sleep deprivation and heavy machinery are not a good combination (as I know from my own experience). Becca was taught by Anna, and began by producing jewellery boxes, but her website shows she also carries out commissions for furniture. Roger has a talent for sculptural design, and makes some very clever looking coffee tables which are created from many different layers of wood, seemingly bent round to make a rectangle. You really have to look at his website to see what I mean.

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