Although it’s a while since I waved a hot glue gun in anger, I’m confident I could give craft queen Kirstie Allsopp a run for her money if only I had the time, money and patience to follow basic instructions.
Sadly, my previous attempts at crafting – toy making and calligraphy – only left me with a scar on my thumb and ink stains I’ll never get out of my dungarees. But putting aside my husband’s complaints that my homemade Fox Terrier project was a waste of good pipe cleaners; I decide to have one more stab at mastering a craft without having paramedics on stand-by.
Thanks to the handmade boom (the £3bn UK craft market is currently growing by 4.5% a year) it really is possible to learn the basics of most crafts via workshops.
Although I was tempted by batiking in Belper and weaving woodland animals in the Peaks, I reached out to multi-media artist and animator Magdalena Aron (30), because her motto ‘If life gives you broken pieces, make a mosaic,’ appealed to both my artistic soul and my clumsy fingers. “Don’t worry,” Magdalena reassures when I tell her about the unhappy hour I’d spent unravelling thread from my sewing machine after completing a six-week sewing course. “We will be making heart-shaped mosaic but I can adapt the class to suit all levels from absolute beginners to professional artists.”
Transylvanian-born Magdalena has loved mosaics since visiting historical sites in Italy when she was a teenager. Her initial stab at mosaic, a beautiful self-portrait, re-ignited this passion and eventually led her to set up Minoan Mosaic Studio in July 2019. Since then, she’s on a personal crusade to breathe new life into this 3,000-year old discipline. In addition to Magdalena’s own projects, she sets aside regular Sunday mornings to host workshops for children and adults creating everything from decorated vases to Faberge-style eggs (workshops usually cost £25-30 for a session).
“Even people with no drawing or painting skills can be successful with mosaics,” Magdalena says. “I think the outcome of mosaic is more predictable than say painting and will teach patience and calm like no other medium. It’s so rewarding when tiny tiles come together to make a story. Once you try it, and find out how amazing it is, you’ll become addicted.”
The smiling faces of fellow students together with a large cup of Italian coffee does much to allay my pre-craft nerves. Most of the attendees at Magdalena’s stunning workspace in Bank Mill Studios, Derby, have done previous workshops and they are potty about mosaic. “I’ve made a heart before and a thistle,” says Angie Bethwaite, of Littleover. “I’m hoping to make something different and don’t mind if it’s something challenging or fiddly. I’d love to make a butterfly.”
It’s a tribute to Magdalena’s teaching prowess (as a freelance instructor, she’s taught a variety of art and ceramic classes to children and adults over the past six years) that she doesn’t raise an eyebrow when others decide to do their own thing. She’s equally enthusiastic when Anna Pearman, of Borrowash, prepares to make a mosaic replicating patterns in her mum’s Persian rug. “I think we’ve all got the urge to be creative,” Anna says as she starts work on the intricate mosaic she intends to gift to her mum. “I tend to devote my weekends to learning a craft. That’s why I love my weekends so much.”
Before we are allowed to get too creative (we are all giddy with the excitement of rifling through the delicious assortment of candy coloured tiles) Magdalena gives us a safety briefing on how to handle the tools of the mosaic trade. “You have to be careful as chips can fly everywhere,” Magdalena says handing out safety goggles. “Even into your coffee so don’t leave cups on the table. It does happen, I was cleaning up after a session with a soft brush and a little piece flew into my eye. Keep the glasses on when cutting and use tweezers to pick up glass to avoid cuts.”
“It reminds me a bit of the welding course I once did,” Pauline Axby, of Sawley, laughs as she adjusts her goggles. “I can tile a wall so I might be able to put my skills to good use today. I’m also going to make a butterfly because I have the perfect spot for it at the top of my stairs. I love anything to do with nature.”
Although I stick to the allotted task – decorating a pre-cut heart – I decide to add a flower cut from opaque glass using a wheeled nipper (a fancy tile cutter). Thanks to Magdalena’s calm encouragement, it’s all done without loss of any fingers.
“It’s a lovely thing to do and in such a friendly atmosphere,” Jenny Woolley, of Mickleover, observes as we get busy with our nippers. “Everyone should make space in their life for crafts, it’s so relaxing.” Jenny is spot on. I didn’t expect the mood to change so quickly from one of skittish excitement to sheer calm. When Magdalena suggests we break for coffee and cream cakes, she almost has to click her fingers to get us back into the room.
“After teaching art to people for years, I can often see the positive effect on people’s moods. It’s like a yoga class for the mind,” Magdalena concludes. “It’s even more beneficial learning in a group as people support and inspire each other. I think we’ll live to see a day when people view art’s centres in the same way as they do the gym; one exercises the body, the other the mind.”
The positive effects of crafting certainly resonate with Gerry Henegan-Barr, a professional artist and holistic therapist from Nottingham. “My mum was big on craft. She had five children in total so I think making things gave her an outlet from the family and much-needed time on her own,” Gerry recalls. “I also find arts and craft help you to work through life’s problems. It’s amazing how solutions to problems can just pop into your head while you’re crafting.”
Incredibly, after what seems like an hour, Magdalena says we are drawing to the end of three and a half hours. “I thought I had loads of time left, I’d better do some speed gluing,” laughs Sue Orchard, a fellow first-timer. “I have always wanted to try mosaic but I’ve never really had the time. I see doing crafts as a way to get me-time and I have really enjoyed it. It was totally absorbing and everyone was so friendly.”
The last ten minutes are spent listening to Magdalena give advice on how to grout our mosaics (the glued pieces have to dry for 24 hours) giving us a take-away pot to do this at home. All that remains is to admire everyone else’s mosaics which are all in varying stages of completion. Incredibly, I manage to finish mine with time to spare. Although my fellow students are all complimentary, I have a suspicion the pink slithers on my heart make my creation more meat-feast than master-piece. We all have a giggle when one lady suggests my heart was clearly ‘inspired by Francis Bacon’. They all urge me to come back for more classes and I realise there’s more to workshops than making stuff; it’s also a handy way of making friends.
“I really enjoyed it,” Jenny Woolley echoes my thoughts as we leave. “It’s nice to have a laugh and joke with other people. Spending a day making something is so rewarding and I loved being able to put my own stamp on it. I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend the day.”
Minoan Mosaic Studio, Banks Mill, Bridge Street, Derby, is hosting two workshops in April. The first is on April 1st, from 18.00pm – 21.30pm. The second is on April 5th, from 10am – 13.30pm.
Magdalena will be leading a community mosaic project at Sharpe’s Pottery Museum, 23, West Street, Swadlincote. Sessions will be hosted in the museum on the 4th, 11th and 17th of April. 11am – 2pm.
For more details, visit Magdalena’s website; https://www.minoanmosaic.com/workshops
Scrappy Quilts & Things 8th April 2020
Come and start a quilt or table mats, pot holders – anything to use up your pile of fabric scraps. Lots of ideas and techniques 10 am – 4 pm £35.00 – all things sewing.
Bargello Quilt 21st April and 22nd 2020
Made using a simplified version of bargello using blocks so you can make as many as you want.
Tuesday chose fabrics and cut out – Wednesday start sewing!
1 pm – 4 pm Tuesday
10 am – 4 pm Wednesday £70.00 both days (does not include fabric, 10% off fabric for anyone on the workshop)
Call 01335 360211/07914035172 to book
What; Wax melt workshop
When; April 16th, 1.30pm-4pm
Tutor; Heather Brown, owner and candle-maker
Where; By HeatherMay Gift Shop and Studio, 8-10 Chapel Street, Ripley, DE5 3DL
Contact; 01773 689293
What; Wet Felting
When; April 7th, 10am-3.30pm
Tutor; Alison Rose, Cheshire-based artist and felt maker
Where; The Art Room, Wilkin Hill, Barlow, Dronfield, S18 7TE
What; Willow sculptural forms
When; April 25th, a one-day course
Tutor; Emma Parkins, freelance artist specialising in willow weaving and sculpture
Where; Zantium Studios, Godfrey Hole House, Godfrey Hole, Hopton, Wirksworth, DE4 4DF
Contact; 01629 824377
What: Dovedale landscape panel featuring applique and embroidery
When; April 30th, 10.30am-3.30pm
Tutor; Kath Perry, seamstress
Where: Betty’s Sewing Box, Cokayne Avenue, Ashbourne, DE6 1EJ
Alternatively, look out for weekly, drop-in craft sessions at local cafes, art centres, libraries etc. These include; –
What; Cuppa and card
When; Third Thursday of the month
Tutor; Helen Read, a freelance card maker and demonstrator
Where; Dot-Tea’s Emporium, 99-101, Bridge Street, Belper, DE56 1BA
Cost; £6 including the cuppa
What; Sip & Paint (art plus a glass of wine)
When; Wednesday evenings, 7pm-9pm
Tutor; Caroline Pilia, a designer and illustrator
Where; Pitch Blue, Newbridge Works, Coldwell Street, Wirksworth, DE4 4FB
Cost; £40 per month
Contact; 07736 423 352