A winning craft weekend
I enter quite a few competitions - always the ones that come in email mailing lists, and usually ones in magazines, too. It doesn't take long, and whilst the odds of winning are never that great, you're not going to win if you don't enter. In the past I've won quite a few books, and a lot of porridge (Dorset Cereals have a prize draw every month, I've never won the top prize but I have won a runner-up prize of a case of porridge - twice!). Last summer I won my best prize yet through Let's Knit magazine: a two night stay for two people at The Manor House Hotel in Devon. They advertise themselves as a craft and activities hotel, so I booked the weekend for the end of June and Ben and I headed off to the south west.
Driving to Devon on a Friday afternoon takes quite a while - we were stuck behind a caravan for quite a while and then rejoiced when we finally ended up on a bit of motorway so we could overtake! I annoyingly had my contact lenses in so couldn't nap.
It was cold and overcast when we arrived - the whole site is a bit of a rabbit warren, but I found reception, got us checked in and we headed to our room. The hotel is a little bit old-fashioned in its decor, there is carpet everywhere which looks a bit sorry for itself in places, but it's quite cheery and the staff we met were all friendly and helpful. Which is useful, as the place is a rabbit warren (I may have mentioned that) and it is quite a walk to get from your room to anywhere. All meals are included with your stay so we headed to the dining room, sat at our allocated table, and ate from their buffet. The food is nothing special (Ben had a curry, I can't even remember what I had) but plentiful.
After dinner, we signed ourselves up to activities. There's a craft centre and a lot of sports facilities (we had too much craft to do, so never used any of these). Tennis, swimming, badminton, spa facilities...there's actually quite a lot to keep you busy. Most of the groups we saw were family groups or golfers. Ben and I signed up for six activities, fabric painting, jewellery making, candle making, pyrography, woodwork, and enamelling.
The first thing that annoyed me about this was the sign up procedure itself - you can't do it in advance, and have to sign up on paper sheets when you arrive. Therefore hoping that there are spaces on the sessions you want. 20,000 people apparently didn't turn up to sessions last year. I asked one of the tutors why they don't charge a deposit: all the sessions are free to attend, you just pay for materials. If a deposit was charged, this could be used against the cost of materials - therefore the hotel would gain by people not attending, and hopefully people would be encouraged to attend, or at least go to the small effort of crossing their name off a list. But apparently that goes against the laid back nature of the hotel. I then asked why the bother charging a deposit for tennis balls, for example, as surely that's the same sort of principle, and funnily enough they couldn't answer. Anyway, on with the craft!
Fabric painting I've done many times within Guiding, but the great thing about this Craft Centre is that it is so well equipped - the set up costs must have been huge! The fabric painting room was full of every colour of paint you can imagine, and pens, and stencils and stamps and brushes, and lots of plain fabric to use. I chose an £8 apron and got decorating.
Why yes, my apron does feature flowers and dinosaurs and a crab. I hung it up on an apron and left it to dry.
Then to pyrography - it's basically a hot piece of wire in the end of a 'pen' which you plug in and it heats up. This wire is then used to draw on to wood. After a few goes on a piece of wood, I decorated a few items for Christmas presents. Ben did the same. Total spend in this session was about £11 for us both.
Woodwork with scroll saws was surprisingly one of my favourite sessions - I didn't really think I'd like it. We chose the shape we wanted, found the paper outline, and then glued the paper to the block of wood, and then got cutting. I wanted my seahorse to be a clock, so the lovely tutor Duncan (my favourite tutor of the weekend) increased the size for me so that the clock mechanism would comfortably fit. Cutting it out was rather fiddly, and you needed to take your time, but I found it quite easy and without wanting to sound too boastful, the other people in the session were impressed too! Once cut out, we sanded them and had the option of painting or oiling. I chose to oil mine using Danish oil (I sound like I know what I'm talking about) and then these were left to dry overnight. The wood shape was £5, and another £5 for the clock mechanism.
Jewellery making wasn't terribly exciting, but again, it's having access to every shape and size of bead you can imagine. Ben and I made three new pairs of earrings for me (total cost, about £6).
Candle making was rubbish - you got a candle (£1) and had to dip it in liquid wax to add a layer of colour. Only it wasn't clear what colour was in the pot (when melted in metal containers, all wax looks about the same) and so my gorgeous light blue candle ended up a horrible brown colour. There were also too many people in the session for the amount of space in the room (the only session we felt like this) and I left after only a few minutes as I'd had enough. I read my book in the sun whilst waiting for Ben!
Enamelling, though, was my favourite session of the weekend. We'd ummed and ahhed about staying for it - it was on Sunday afternoon, so we would need to pay for lunch and hang around for a few hours for it. We'd also be quite late getting on the road home. But Ben pointed out that I'd won the weekend, it really hadn't cost us very much and when else was I going to get a go? Good point. So we stayed, and he's very pleased with himself for being right.
You start with copper blanks - in the photo above are two ovals which I was going to turn into earrings. Using emery paper, you file it so the surface is rough and then cover it in powder using a little sieve. Then you decorate it - using teeny tiny pieces of glass, or bigger bits of glass.
Once you've done this, you carefully put it onto a wire rack and then heat in a kiln at about 900 degrees C for just a few minutes until it all melts. Then you take out and leave to cool. Safety equipment aplenty!
The above photo shows the earrings post-firing. It's such a fun process as you don't really know what the finished item is going to look like - you know it's all going to go a bit darker, but you don't know how the glass will melt, how the colours might touch or mix.
Ben made the above earrings, shown pre-firing. I don't have a photo post-firing, but they're actually very heavy to wear. I kind of forgot that glass is quite a heavy material! This was the most expensive session we did, but three pairs of earrings plus some shapes Ben might turn into fridge magnets came in at under £15. I could have stayed there making earrings forever!
The seahorse theme continued - these earrings (above) are very cute and were complimented when I wore them to work this week!
But my favourite, favourite item of the whole weekend has to be my seahorse clock. It's not a craft I thought I'd be particularly good at, but I am very proud of the finished item. It now has pride of place in our bedroom, and I smile every time I look at it.
The hotel is in gorgeous surroundings - the sun came out whilst we were there, finally!