Settin’ Off Again – Chairmaker Mike Abbott

Settin Chair and Portrait

Above: an ash settin’ chair, right, Mike Abbott settin’

“I tried retiring in September 2015 – that lasted about six weeks” laughs Mike who has spent a lot of his working life teaching hundreds of people via his courses and thousands via his books about how to make chairs using greenwood.

Jointly founding The Clissett Wood Trust in 1994, Mike worked and taught in the wood, which is close to Ledbury; there he predominantly used a pole lathe to make traditional chairs, in much the same way that Philip Clissett (1817-1913) had in his workshop at Stanley Hill, near Bosbury. Later he established a woodland workshop at Brook House Wood, near Bromyard and continued to run courses in the wood from 2005-2015.

Brook House Wood Workshop

Above: The woodland workshop at Brook House Wood

“Nowadays it’s all about this – the cleave” explains Mike as he splits oak in his workshop to shape on the shaving horse  – a traditional device used for gripping a piece of wood, leaving both hands free to use a drawknife to shave the wood. Later, he shows me cleaving on a large scale with a large section of oak.

Mike was first inspired by the bodgers who worked in the woods of the Chilterns, turning in vast numbers, the components for Windsor chairs. “These days my influences lie further West, in America and in particular with Walden,” Mike explains. In his twenties, he came across a book entitled ‘Walden or Life in the Woods’. The author, Henry David Thoreau, a 19th Century American philosopher undertook a two year experiment to live simply in a self-built cabin in the woods. This encouraged Mike to accept an invitation to visit the USA in 1993, where he was influenced by the chair-makers of the Appalachians, who left their chairs with a simple shaved finish, rather than the more sophisticated, smooth turned finish.

Cleaving and Shaving Oak

Above: Cleaving and Shaping Oak with a Draw Knife held in a Shaving Horse

rosettes and bent legs

Above: Rosettes from County Shows, Chisels above Steam Bent Ash Chair Legs

On the rebound from retirement, Mike has set himself a challenge. To make and document 100 chairs – a sort of limited edition, each one branded with its number. He’s already on number 21 so he may have to come up with another goal.

With enthusiasm, Mike shows me his latest passion the “Settin Chair” a low frame chair with woven seat and steam-bent uprights forming the back rest. I don’t immediately “get it”. I need a demonstration.

We step up the garden to his latest timber-built space, and puts down the chair in its “Out West” natural environment, the veranda. He leans back (in just the way that youngsters in formal dining rooms have been warned against for generations) in a casual, end of day, way. That’s Settin.

Mike Abbott demonstrates the Settin chair

Above: Mike Abbott demonstrating how to sit in a Settin’ Chair.

Mike will be part of our chair exhibition, Working from the Wood at Tinsmiths 30th June to 30th July 2017 – celebrating the legacy of Philip Clissett in his bi-centenary year. Fellow exhibitors are Neil Taylor, Lawrence Neal, Gudrun Leitz (see earlier blog post) and Sebastian Cox. For an invitation to the show please e-mail your name and postal address to


The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

During the delicious, and as retailers frankly frivolous break between Christmas and New Year, I had a belated birthday treat of an outing to the potteries museum in Stoke-on-Trent. The collection of ceramics that it houses is a revelation; whilst describing bountifully the progression of styles and technical advancements within the Staffordshire potteries it ties this with changes in fashion and the political and historic context of the pieces. They include pieces from China, Japan and Classical Greece in the collection which influenced the innovators, who during the 18th century could certainly be said to have been taste makers. The energy of the potteries in the 18th century is inspiring, the pace of change and the variety and quality of the output just jaw dropping.

The revelation was just how many different wares these potteries were producing during a short time window; it appeared that over a twenty year period, in the 18th century, the Wheildon Pottery was producing 5 distinctly different types of ware. In modern production terms that indicates considerable flexibility and a very high degree of skill within the workforce.

I would heartily recommend a visit; explore the fascinating stories and finds of the archaeological digs at potteries sites (downstairs) as well as the wonderful 1st floor gallery brimming with ceramic masterpieces. Thank you Clare for an inspired and inspiring birthday treat!

17th and 18th Century Slipware beauties.

17th and 18th Century Slipware beauties.

Slipware Posset Cups

Slipware Posset Cups

Wonderful 18th century group; engine turned & creamware mug.

Wonderful 18th century group; engine turned & creamware mug.

Wheildon tureen

Wheildon tureen

William de Moragn tile frieze

William de Moragn tile frieze



We barely scratched the surface of the collection during our 4 hour visit and will certainly be returning when a shot of inspiration and joy are required.

Museum Details:

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Beshesda Street, Stoke-on-Trent. ST1 3DW

Tinsmiths Slipware Exhibition 9th September – 9th October 2017. Tinsmiths is having an exhibition of the work of contemporary potters who make slipware. We are really excited about this exhibition which will include work by; Dylan Bowen, Patia Davis, Paul Young, Carole Glove and Sean Miller.




Birds by Mark Hearld, Curtains to Calendar…..

Tinsmiths CalendarWe have been producing a letterpress calendar for nine years but this year is really special for us. For the first time we have commissioned original artwork from one of our favourite artists, Mark Hearld.

Mark Hearld at TilleysMark studied at Glasgow School of Art and then at The Royal College of Art;  “Tinsmiths” first experienced his work as printed fabric produced by St. Jude’s. In the intervening ten years we have held biennial exhibitions St. Jude’s artists and sold hundreds of metres of their stunning and diverse fabrics. Our sewing room have made innumerable pairs of curtains, blinds and cushions using Mark’s texile designs, much to the delight of recipients.

The idea of commissioning illustrations for this year’s calendar surfaced when Mark commissioned Tinsmiths to make a pretty complicated curtain for the extraordinarily rich interior of his York house. It seemed a good opportunity for an exchange.



Martin Clark, who runs Tilley Letterpress in the neighbouring alleyway here, in Ledbury, has always printed our calendars. During 2016 Martin and Mark worked together to produce some large linocut prints and some smaller hand-coloured line prints  for Tinsmiths’ “Spring Life” earlier in 2016, with this background the two were familiar and comfortable in working together on the calendar.

With a shared interest in British Wildlife we settled on a bird a month with a flock of pidgeons for our front cover. Mark’s twelve illustrations have an energy and fluidity that captures characteristics of each species. Thank you so much this collection, Mark and thank you Martin for the care you took in printing them.

To see more details of the calendar and to order on-line follow this link.

Mark Hearld Birds Calendar




Show me a Sign

Signs by Hannah Sunny Whaler

studioSign-writer Hannah Sunny Whaler’s exhibition “Fairground” in “Little Tinsmiths” shows her incredible control of a simple sable brush and traditional enamel paints to create some very uplifting artworks. Hannah lives and works in Bristol, studied Illustration at Falmouth College of Art and originally hales from Malvern. She usually works to a client’s brief, painting shop signs in most part. For this show she has taken time “off the street” and painted stand-alone signs on mirror and board, using traditional letterforms, scrolls and flourishes and she has thought hard about the phrases and embellishments used traditionally in Fairground and Circus. The result is an explosion of colour and ornament, evocative of the 19th century. Several of the works on show are painted on glass, both mirrored and clear. This gives the painted areas another dimension, adding a “real” drop shadow to the clear glass pieces which are set into a simple metal frame which is easily hung on the wall.

Oh boy by Hannah Sunny WhalerWe asked her why, when signage is so readily available at the click of a mouse, are her services so much in demand? “When I paint a sign for a business or for an individual there is a level of involvement that brings the process to life. Standing on a ladder, communicating an idea, the character and personality of the shop and its keeper simply makes a connection with passers by – immediately and in the long term. I think that shopping centres and the built environment have become stale, with signage mostly being impersonal and flat. Humans yearn to see the mark of another – especially if it is, in colour and style, uplifting. I think that’s why I’m so busy.”

holdyourhatsTo see examples of Hannah’s work, look on-line at Hannah’s area on our website  or best of all, make a visit 10-5pm Tuesday to Saturday at  8a High Street, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1DS 01531 632083, for more information about Hannah see our earlier Blog “Signs of the Times”

Tinsmiths in Town

pentreath and hall footer

We arrived in London last week paint brush in hand and with a sample of Tinsmiths made to measure curtains and blinds, lighting, cushions, rugs, world and artisan textiles, artist prints, homeware and hardware. This area of London has a village feel and is well-worth a visit, away from the frenetic centre but a stones throw from the British Museum.

Our month-long Tinsmiths residency continues until 30th June in a charming little pop-up – a tiny version of our Ledbury shop – adjacent to Pentreath and Hall, 17a Rugby Street, London WC1N 5QT. We hope to welcome new faces and that our on-line customers, designers and press in London and the home counties will call in Monday to Saturday 11-6pm.

A Day Out in Bloomsbury
Here are a few ideas to add to your visit to mini-Tinsmiths this summer.

Textiles at the British Museum, Fridays til 8pm

Pentreath & Hall

Interiors at Pentreath & Hall, our very close neighbours

James Smith Umbrellas

James Smith – it’s June so we’ll call this a parasol shop!

The Foundling Museum

“Found”, Curated by Cornelia Parker at The Foundling Museum

Thomas Farthing Menswear

Thomas Farthing Menswear – traditional or ready-to-subvert.

Persephone Books

Persephone Books, Publisher and Bookseller






















Spring Life – Mark Hearld & Paul Young


Our 2016 programme of exhibitions is starting with an exuberant flourish of British style and sensibility. ‘Spring Life’ features the work of Mark Hearld and Paul Young.
The exhibition at our Ledbury showroom opens on the 19th March and runs until the 23rd April.
Mark Herald’s fabric designs for St Judes Fabrics are firm favourites at Tinsmiths. For this exhibition Mark has spent some time printing linocuts with Martin at Tilley Printing in Ledbury; whilst he and Martin printed we made a short film of the visit.

We will be showing these prints alongside some of Marks wonderful collages and there will be a brand new fabric design for St Judes on show.
Paul Young like Mark, draws inspiration from European folk art and has an affinity with Staffordshire wares of the eighteenth century. Producing joyful slipware, Paul’s work includes both purely decorative pieces as well as extremely usable domestic ware; all with compelling lively charm.

Paul Young

Paul Young

Mark Hearld

Mark Hearld


Paul Young Slipware Dish

Paul Young Slipware Dish

Paul Young Slipware Dish

Paul Young Slipware Dish

Paul Young Decorative Slipware

Paul Young Decorative Slipware

Mark Hearld Mixed Media

Mark Hearld Mixed Media; print and ink

Mark Hearld Linocut prints. Mark came and spent a couple of days in Ledbury printing with Martin at Tilley Printing; here are some prints drying in the office.

Mark Hearld Linocut prints. Mark came and spent a couple of days in Ledbury printing with Martin at Tilley Printing; here are some prints drying in the office.

Mark Hearld linocut printed in Ledbury for our exhibition.

Mark Hearld linocut printed in Ledbury for our exhibition.

Do visit over Easter; the exhibition opens on the 19th March which is the week before the Easter weekend and goes on until the 23rd April. If you would like to attend the private view on the 18th March do get in touch and we will ensure an invitation gets to you.

Tinsmiths. 8a High Street, Ledbury. HR8 1DS (Tel:01531 632083). Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am -5pm (most Mondays but telephone to double check first!)