Cack-handed Kate

left-handed views on the world

A Grand Day Out

Yes, the title is a deliberate reference to Wallace and Gromit.  It is amazing what can be done with models a few inches high plus a mountain of imagination, and Will and I went to see a fine example yesterday.  We took a short trip around the A414 to visit the first annual exhibition by the Hemel Hempstead Model Railway Society.

We found people of all ages carefully watching complex layouts and pressing switches.  They were concentrating on train movements, but I confess I was more interested by the amount of work that had gone into creating the scenery.  On the way back we were marvelling at the amount of time people spend on such intricate work.  However, Will then spent hours on Photoshop trying to get my photos fit for publication: and they looked so good in the camera.  So I suppose each to his own does apply.

The copyright in these photos is ceded to Hemel Hempstead Model Railway Society.

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01/11/2009 Posted by | Art and crafts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the origins of my egg candles

I promised I would say more about the origins of my hollow candles.  Well I shall, but not just yet.  This is just a place holder as I haven’t yet worked out how to group discussions by topic rather than in chronological order.

25/10/2009 Posted by | Art and crafts | Leave a comment

On making creams

Also copied across from my Facebook notes, originally written on 28/7/09:

As well as making candles, I also make creams. They are not so very different as creams need melted wax. However, the creams are made very carefully, with full records in my logbook.

The reason I make creams is I had an accident when I was a teenager which damaged the skin of my face. Commercial cleansers and moisterisers tend to make my skin very dry and flaky so I have always used the simplest things I can. Then I bought a copy of Culpeper’s Herbal and got interested in the properties of herbs, which led into aromatherapy… Eventually I tried making up my own creams and found I have the knack.

For a long time the biggest problem was what to put the creams in. For years I paid a ridiculous amount for jam because I bought the little guest jars which were just the right size. But now, thanks to the internet, I have found somewhere I can buy proper glass jars and lots of nice ingredients too.

I stress that the reason I give away creams is that I make them for myself but the smallest amount that can be made results in more than I could use. I won’t accept any money for them and advise a patch test first. A friend who is a microbiologist is going to find out about the necessary tests so I could sell them but what is really intriguing him is that I found a 5 year old jar at the back of a cupboard and there was no black growth on it, i.e. no visible bacteria. A lot of essential oils do have some antibacterial properties but that is amazing!

I did make some creams a few weeks ago but people who had had them before heard and suddenly I had none left. I am still learning, and I am upset that I have wasted some wonderful ingredients. I bought some carnauba wax to try and the books say it is an excellent emulsifier so I decided to use it instead of beeswax in my rose face cream. Then I decided to make twice as much as usual because it is a lovely cream. But it was a disaster! The result is very heavy and waxy, not feather-light like the batch I made last month. However, water bounces off it so it should make an excellent handcream: a very luxurious handcream given it is made with organic safflower oil, organic rosewater and real rose absolute.

I have several aromatherapy books and one on the properties of all sorts of plant-based ingredients. It is quite scary how many list uses in soaps, perfumes, cleansers, etc etc and then, against aromatherapy, say “do not use”. My most-thumbed book is almost ten years old, from when my son went into Culpepers, looked at the book they were using for reference and bought a copy for my birthday, along with lots of goodies like mixing bottles that I still use for oils.

I have despatched one each of the creams with the candles to Victor and Lesley. I also sent two pots of the rose handcream to Aina for her birthday and as a thank you for the wonderful blog her cat TamTam writes. I have promised two other people creams. It is always worth asking if you want a particular cream as I make these quite often.

This time I made:

Juniper and Rosemary: juniper, rosemary and lavender essential oils in a cream made of geranium water; cold-pressed rapeseed oil; avocado oil and carnauba wax. This is for my cronky knee and Will uses it on various joints. This was made on 7th June.

Rich Rose Skin Cream: rose absolute and carrotseed essential oil in organic safflower oil; organic Rose Otto water and carnauba wax. See above for discussion. Made on 22nd July.

One I wasn’t sure what to call and decided on its name because the ingredients are antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral! Not at all glamorous, but sometimes it looks like athelete’s foot might be lurking after a swim (changing rooms, ugh) and this knocks it out straightaway. So “Fighting Fit”: lavender, myrrh and tea-tree essential oils in geranium water; olive oil; avocado oil and beeswax. Made on 22nd July.

Soothing skin cream: lavender, neroli and sandalwood essential oils in geranium water; grapeseed oil; organic jojoba oil; avocado oil and beeswax. Very low dosage of essential oils because for use on the face and neck: Will’s aftershave cream and I use it on my neck. As well as being soothing for the skin the ingredients are also supposed to be good for dry coughs and sore throats, so smoothing some onto the neck could have double benefits! Made on 23rd July.

24/10/2009 Posted by | Art and crafts | , , | 6 Comments

On making art

You will probably only be interested in this if you receive one of my candles.  It was originally written in my notes on Facebook, 28/7/09.

Way back at the beginning of this year, Victor Hugo Roa, who is an artist in New York, sent out an invitation on Facebook. The idea was to make something for other people. Something, anything, for five people. So I volunteered straight away. But but but while I knew what I would do I am sorry to say I only despatched my intended contributions on Saturday. I have done some extra stuff as well and have finally allowed myself to open the framed photo Victor sent months ago – and very beautiful it is too: Thank You.

The candles are made in real eggshells. As such, each is individual and unique. They look like candles, but they are actually performance art. ..

The candles are made in real eggshells. As such, each is individual and unique. They look like candles, but they are actually performance art. ..

I have been making these candles for a very long time but circumstances have to be right for me to feel able to make them. I was asked to make them to sell in a very upmarket shop and I tried with total lack of success and couldn’t make any for several years afterwards. I will add more about how their history later, but for now just a brief description.

... They look like ordinary candles but they are hollow. They take 20-30 minutes to burn and each observer sees it from a different angle so has a unique experience. ...

... They look like ordinary candles but they are hollow. They take 20-30 minutes to burn and each observer sees it from a different angle so has a unique experience. ...

Making candles is usually a craft or even industrial process. Decorative candles usually only look good if they have a nice even finish and there is the safety aspect too if people try to burn them. By the way, if you have a decorative candle you’re tired of and want to burn, get a reel of wick, drill three holes in the candle and insert the wicks. Commercial decorative candles are almost always under-wicked.

I can make candles that burn properly but my egg candles are more than that. They are not meant to merely illuminate, they are meant to be watched as they burn. Very few eggs are actually egg-shaped, the candles are hollow, the flame dances, once it’s low enough the whole thing glows, the irregularities in the wax create patterns that I cannot predict and each person watching is at a different angle so sees something different. These candles are my performance art.

These are for Victor Hugo Roa, who started the whole "make art for others" snowball, and his muse Anita. Victor is committed to black-and-white in his photography. In two of these I used black "paint" from an old Feng Shui candle, for the others I used the charcoal from a water filter

These are for Victor Hugo Roa, who started the whole "make art for others" snowball, and his muse Anita. Victor is committed to black-and-white in his photography. In two of these I used black "paint" from an old Feng Shui candle, for the others I used the charcoal from a water filter

First of all I have to blow some eggs. This means I eat a lot of omelettes when I am in candle-making mode. Blowing the egg isn’t as time-consuming as it sounds because I need a reasonably-sized hole in the bottom of the egg. This is the only part of the process that isn’t as time-consuming as it sounds. The egg has to be thoroughly washed out and left to dry.

Then I have to choose some wax and melt it. I am working on feelings rather than logic so I like using wax that is already mixed so I don’t know exactly what is in it – there are various types of wax that can be used for candles. I like recycling part-used candles as well. Years ago a friend begged some used candles from a church and they kept me going in high-quality wax for years. The eggs don’t need a lot of wax.

I can only make candles for people I can see a colour for. In fact people who are really close to me don’t get many candles because I don’t see a single colour: they are too close. For my friend-who-has-everything’s wedding (the same friend who got the church candles even though she is a Buddhist) I made a set of two of each of six colours, using each colour to represent a different hope – peace, love, etc.

OK, I have the eggshell; I have the wax. I try to remember to roll a tiny drop of oil round in the eggshell because otherwise it is so very hard to get it off afterwards. I melt the wax and tip some into the shell, swill it round and tip out the surplus. I do this two or three times, peering into the shell to try to make sure it is thoroughly coated. All the while I am thinking really hardabout the person the egg is for. That’s it. Then I have to pick the shell off, trying not to break the wax egg, or catch it with my nail or the tip of the knife. It is very rare not to add some blemishes at this stage!

Then I need to make a hole for the wick. Trying to get this exactly at the top of the egg is, I have decided, impossible. The wick is actually a birthday cake candle. This is safer than trying to make a wick from scratch – there’s the real danger of these falling over while the candle’s burning. Birthday cake candles are very over-wicked to ensure they don’t drip at all, which means they can handle the extra wax. Finally, the bottom has to be closed. Sometimes it is possible to do this by careful positioning and melting of flakes of wax, but usually I have to make a little plinth.

The eggs on the left are for Lesley Richards, who has nearly 3000 friends on Fb. Lesley completely overturns stereotypes, since she is educated, intelligent and a cat-lover plus being a great fan of tattooing, so I wanted to achieve something delicate, with a hint of purple

The eggs on the left are for Lesley Richards, who has nearly 3000 friends on Fb. Lesley completely overturns stereotypes, since she is educated, intelligent and a cat-lover plus being a great fan of tattooing, so I wanted to achieve something delicate, with a hint of purple

Anyone who has seen the photos of the eggs will know I only sent to four people, not five. In fact, I did try to make candles in memory of our old friend Gabrielle, for her sister. That was on the first anniversary of her passing. But the candle simply refused to be made. It looked fine, nice and sturdy, but as I tried to remove the shell the wax simply collapsed. It’s not unusual for the wax to break off at the bottom of candles, but the way this went was quite extraordinary.

On the right, Dennis Williard's eggs. Dennis lives in upstate New York and until recently had the company of a remarkable ginger tom called Mike. Mike wandered in one day and stayed for a long time but has gone again..

On the right, Dennis Williard's eggs. Dennis lives in upstate New York and until recently had the company of a remarkable ginger tom called Mike. Mike wandered in one day and stayed for a long time but has gone again..

The other candles were for Facebook friends I haven’t met. And another oddity, every one had a flaw at the top. Again not unusual for eggs to have a blemish when the membrane inside the egg shrinks a bit but not usually at the top and it was all of them.

And later … In one of those glorious, spontaneous, out-of-the-originator’s-control-but-totally-in-the-intended-spirit moments, Dennis asked Lesley if he could swap one of his for one of her candles.  So I despatched all four to her and left it for her to chose.  I know she did send one of each to Dennis, but which she kept I do not know.

24/10/2009 Posted by | Art and crafts | | 2 Comments