Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Saturday, 5 November 2016

I've made a lantern with sticks of willow and strong tissue paper

 Willow lantern-making workshop in Pinner - the final results, in a Pinner garden

Pinner is admittedly quite far from Blackheath (Charing Cross to Marylebone, fast train to Harrow on the Hill then 183 to Pinner works well but Pinner's also on the Metropolitan line, zone 5 (Watford trains stop there)) but if you happen to live a bit nearer than me then you might like to know that they sometimes do fun craft things at the Heath Robinson Museum which is in West House above Daisy's Cafe. This can be found at the far end (if you're coming from the station) of Pinner Memorial Park. The park is unlit at night so I recommend bringing a torch as the path is surrounded by trees so visibility is minimal. It's quite spooky!


On Thursday 3 Nov it was make your own willow lamp; these are lit either by a tealight or by a battery operated version.




I wish I'd taken a photo of the bushel of willow sticks tied up, it was quite impressive, possibly taller than me. You can buy them in stacks of about 250 (they're actually sold by weight rather than by number) from a variety of places, the class tutors recommended Somerset Willows (whose website is fascinating with lots of pictures of the process of growing, harvesting and preparing the willow sticks).

Dry willow sticks are still reasonably malleable in that you can, with a couple of firm thumbs, straighten them a bit and I think our tutors (the lovely Harinder and Kam who were fab and helpful) must have done quite a bit of pre-work on our ready-cut sticks so that we started the evening with some nice straight bits of willow.

The order of play is -
  1. Make a triangular platform for the tealight so that it can sit in the middle of the finished item
  2. At each corner add perpendicularly a willow stick so that a bit pokes out the bottom, raising the platform off the ground
  3. Towards the top add three smaller lateral sticks to provide a 'side' on which to stick the paper
  4. Add a sheet of wetted/glued paper to each side, add decoration, add another sheet of paper
  5. Quaff Prosecco and finger food, tidy up, let your lantern dry at home

The first thing we made is a strong triangular base on which the tealight will sit and once that's done it's tied to three sticks at each corner which are then brought to a point at the top. In the picture above you can see the white paper is attached on each side to a sort of A-frame - the bit at the bottom is the tealight stage and the smaller one at the top is added last (once the three vertical sticks are tethered at the top).

We used masking tape to construct the entire thing - it's much easier to tear of lots of two inch strips beforehand and stick them to a table. Then to bind the sticks together we split the masking tape bits lengthwise and folded the tape around the join, pushing in the tape to be as snug as possible. As masking tape is very flexible and 'flattenable' it's really good for this so we smoothed off our joins so they were quite neat. The trick is to leave a bit of stick sticking out then cut off the excess as it's much easier to join than trying to stick together two ends of wood.

Once we'd made the tealight platform we trimmed off the sticky-out bits from the bit the tealight sits on (but NOT the background triangle - for that we wait until the whole thing is constructed and has dried) and covered the ends with more masking tape.


The tealight is pretty light (ha!) even with a battery in so any platform will do.



Taking 3 longer willow sticks we lashed them perpendicularly to the tealight platform so that the platform was a few inches off the ground, then bound them at the top after deciding how tall we wanted the finished lamp to be. We spent a fair bit of time beforehand getting these to be reasonably straight and then did the perpendicular lashing.

The penultimate stage was to add to each side near (but not at) the top another shorter willow stick so that we had something to stick the tissue paper too.

Then we cut out some wet-strength tissue paper so that it was slightly larger than our A frame, and covered both sides in glue (50% water, 50% PVA glue) using the soft side of a dish-washing sponge dipped in the glue. This bit gets quite messy and a plastic-coated table cloth is a fantastic investment here! PVA glue peels off quite nicely from your hands once dried though (or you can just wash it off).

With care, place one sheet over one side of your lamp and cut so that it is just slightly larger. Stretch it taut over the frame (it will be even more taut when dry). This bit is quite fiddly and you need to roll it over the round willow stick but don't need it to fold back on itself inside (because you'll see all the joins once lit from within so the plan is to try and avoid any!). Same with the top and bottom, trimming away the excess and using the dipped spong add more glue where it contacts the willow. Repeat on all three sides.

We used leaves as decoration - again these are coated in glue on both sides and positioned on the tissue, then a second layer of tissue is added on top. Ideally try and get this taut from the get-go so that you minimise air bubbles and wrinkles, but good luck with that, especially if you've had a glass of Prosecco ;) I did my best!

Two sides of the nearly finished lamp showing leaves (once gently lit
you can see their colours, it doesn't look like a black silhouette).
 
Once you've put on six layers of tissue (two per side with a decoration in the middle, for which you can also regular coloured tissue paper as the colour of whatever you add will come through fine, even leaves) you can cover the masking tape with raffia fibre to finish things off.

Tidy up and wash your hands, walk home with a willow lamp and let it dry overnight. Then you can prune the ends with secateurs, tie the top (cover the masking tape) with raffia fibres, stick a battery in your battery-operated tealight and tell visitors how you came by your one-off piece of art :)

 Mobile phone acting as torch!

The next event, at time of writing, is monoprinting on Mon 7 November and a Christmas print workshop on Thur 1 Dec, both £25 with glass of Prosecco and finger-food. It looks like they do crafts on the 1st Monday and Thursday of every month.

Post-script: it's possible to make willow lanterns at craft workshops all over the place but I'm particularly glad I picked this one in Pinner as it afforded me what turned out to be the last opportunity to see my dad alive. We spent a lovely day together on the Friday (4th) before I headed off to the Royal Albert Hall for Jurassic Park Live. He rang me on Saturday morning shortly before I published this and we had a chat before he headed off to the shops, but he collapsed and died rather suddenly on the way back. To be fair he'd have been delighted at the manner of his death though - quick and painless, but the lamp will always be a bittersweet reminder.




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