Linen for curtains & blinds

linen band

Subtle colours of our Linen Curtain Fabric

In the latest in our occasional series of posts about cloth the focus is on linen. Starting with the basics; linen is a fibre which is obtained by processing the ‘Linum’ or ‘Flax’ plant. ‘Flax’ has a pretty blue flower and is grown for both the fibre and the seed all over the cooler regions of the world, with high quality linen being particularly associated with Ireland, Belgium, Latvia and Lithuania.

Linen has a number of properties which make it really good to use in the home; it is cool to touch and can absorb up to 20% moisture before it feels damp, it is lint-free, does not pill  and is durable to abrasion although because it has low elasticity repeated ironing of folds will eventually cause the fibres to break (the cuffs of linen shirts bear witness to this) . It is not of interest to moth or carpet beetle and is easy to take care of washing well even at high temperatures and has only moderate initial shrinkage. It can be finished to maximise or reduce these properties and can be woven as a ‘union’ with other yarns to produce cloth with particular characteristics. Linen has been used by humans as a textile for at least 30,000 years and with such a long history and with it’s particular properties the uses that linen are put to are extensive; bed linen, tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, glass towels and bath towels, home and commercial furnishing items (wallpaper/wall coverings, upholstery, window treatments, etc.), apparel items like dresses, shirts and suits, luggage, artists canvases, it is used by bookbinders and bakers and for paper and banknotes. The Tinsmiths selection of ‘Linen Fabric’ has grown steadily over the years and we now offer linen in qualities from very fine sheers to the chunkiest 712gsm upholstery linen.


curtain making in linen

As curtain makers we have always been slightly dissatisfied by the drape achieved by some of the stiffer linens and we now offer ‘Washed Linen’ in a really good range of colours and stripes – curtains made with this ‘Washed Linen’ drape fantastically, falling heavily to the hem.

Washed Linen Curtains; with a super soft drape this curtain is made in ‘Washed Linen, Indian Ink’

Linen has always been the luxury choice for bedlinen in hot climates because it keeps cool and dry even in the most humid conditions, however we have always felt that natural unbleached linen for curtains and furnishings is an excellent option for bedrooms where a calm and relaxed environment is required.

Irish Linen Unbleached Linene

Natural Unbleached Linen, our Heavy Irish Linen drapes softly for these curtains, the valence is Ticking Large, cream and the cushions are from our folk prints selection, Rondo

Of course Linen is a good upholstery cloth, the heavier weights are required for durability and for ‘severe domestic use’ some linen unions stand up to wear outstandingly, achieving very high rub tests; our Irish Linen Union has a 40,000 cycle rub test putting it in this very durable category. For loose covers the stability of linen comes into it’s own, because it generally washes with a minimal initial shrinkage and takes washing and cleaning processes well, it is the ideal choice for loose covers.

A washable 100% linen loose cover on our showroom sofa

A washable 100% linen loose cover on our showroom sofa


Printed 100% Linen – Deerpark designed by Lewis & Wood






Bright Young Things: Hereford College of Arts


A strong collection of printed & stitched linens by Abby Bury

Herefords Textile Design BA(hons) course has become outstanding over recent years with a talented and committed group of tutors; the excellent degree show is one of the events I really look forward to. So I was delighted when Tinsmiths was asked to provide a ‘Real World Brief’ for the level 5 students.
The students were set a brief to design a small collection of fabrics suitable for the Tinsmiths brand and they had 6 weeks to work on this project (alongside a marketing project and some work placements – who ever said students don’t work hard!). The first part of their brief required them to find out about Tinsmiths; research the designers and fabric companies whose cloth we sell, the type of fabrics that we like and try to identify a ‘house style’. They then had to work through design ideas; some identifying our natural fabric theme worked from a starting point of the ‘natural world’ and others spotted our love of Central Asian and folk textiles and so drew on historical references like tapestries and folk designs.
The final part of the project required each student to present their collection to me in concise 10 minute presentation which covered the research, design development and finished pieces.
We have not been involved in a project like this before but what a treat it was! The Level 5 group, which includes students specialising in weave and print, although not large, are all committed, hard working and completely engaged with their work.
I was so impressed by the quality of the responses, each student had either a clear and coherent overall idea for a collection or one or two strong individual designs and on the whole they all seemed to have almost too many ideas for the time allowed. What a pleasure and well done all of you – I can’t wait to see what you do in your final year!


A subtle collection of wool mix weaves by Alice Noble


Soft ombre weaves by Sadie French


Holly Griffiths collection with an urban feel included a smart linear print.


A monochrome collection by Jess Evans based on observational drawing.


With depth and subtlety Becky Chambers-Perola’s work is based on Russian folk motifs.






2014-05-29 12.24.57

Sarah Fereday’s indigo collection including a lovely small repeat shell print.











Do click on the images to view full size.


Hereford College of Arts, Textile Design BA(hons) degree show 14th – 21st June for details visit

Tinsmiths’ Calendar Post – What do Potters do all day?

Trying to keep to a format for our Working Lives interviews has been a bit of a struggle. Visiting places of work often means that my mind veers off immediately to ask about a tool or technique, forgetting to stick to the questions I had planned; however I made an attempt this time when I visited potter, Patia Davis at her workshop near Ross on Wye.

Patia Davis

Patia Davis at her kick wheel.

What is Patia’s daily routine? There isn’t one, she said, but the perfect set-up is a 7am walk through her local woods with Ruby, her ever present, quick-witted, whippet/poodle. The apron is usually on by 9am. Every day is different.

Modern Malvernian Ware Jug by Patia Davis

Replica Pitcher for Brockhampton ready to be fired, also glaze & clay tests

The day I visited she was sieving grit for a project with the National Trust to produce replicas of medieval jugs for Lower Brockhampton, near Bromyard. “I’ve realised that every year is unusual. This commission came out of the blue and has meant interesting research – I’m partly using river grit to make a close match to the type of clay body used  by the potters in medieval times, known as Malvernian ware and galena (now very restricted) to make a lead glaze. When unusual requests come through it stretches my own understanding and  potentially adds to my own pots.

Pottery is a slow process, clay changes its physical properties according to the environment and it’s a part of the potter’s job to control this. Therefore, everyday is different since nothing is done from start to finish in a day. For instance, a kiln firing may take over 18hrs not including the cooling period! It takes a patient and accepting approach.

“When I was eighteen, after “A” levels, spending too much time lying on the sofa watching  Dynasty on tv, and about to fall-off into unemployment, my mum brought me up short. She wasn’t one to stress about things, so when she said “Patia, you’ve got to sort yourself out and decide what you want to do”, I sat up and took notice”. Patia was a self-motivated artist, painting and drawing unprompted throughout childhood. An application for an arts foundation course was made by slipping in through the back door, from there she enjoyed the famous studio pottery course at Harrow, meeting Mo Jupp and Mick Casson who gave their support without stint, afterwards joining the degree course at Cardiff.

Wobage Farm is Patia’s first and only workshop and she has always shared facilities with other makers, including its founders Sheila and Mick Casson. Her work has changed over the 24 years since leaving college and she has become well-known for her “Homage to Slipware” an individual approach to a traditional form of decorating earthenware vessels.

Slipware bowls by Patia Davis

Slipware bowls by Patia Davis

Pottery, historically considered a lowly artform, and certainly part of the everyday, nevertheless has significance. “The mug you have your first cup of tea in enhances your mood – it is my responsibility to put my creative energy into my pots. mugs by patia davisThat’s what I’m aiming for and is what I appreciate in other people’s work”, explains Patia.

So, what is a potter’s least favorite chore? There is nothing that Patia doesn’t enjoy about making pots, although when I got all excited about witnessing the opening of her latest kiln firing, she was pretty firm that this is a solitary moment.

” I’m pretty useless at promotion and marketing myself. I just find that aspect the least interesting”. Patia  accepts she on is the ‘creative introvert’ side of the spectrum. She began at  Wobage with a shared space, but later realised that a lone space is her ideal,   as creative ideas are ‘flighty’ and thoughts easily interrupted. This is not to say, that sharing ideas and thoughts is not equally vital.

Slipware Buttons by Patia Davis

Slipware Buttons by Patia Davis at Tinsmiths

Patia’s ideas are as fluid as the liquid clay (slip) that she uses so breathtakingly to decorate her platters, bowls and buttons.

She throws the more upright designs, like jugs, mugs and deep bowls on a kick wheel but the more shallow forms she makes from sheets of clay slumped and dried over formers.These shapes she relishes for their “canvas” – almost flat surfaces that allow expressive use of poured and trailed slip.

detailing the handle of a baker

Applying liquid slip to an un-fired “baker” – note use of tin cans.


The day I visited a group of mugs were off to Japan for an exhibition, but most of Patia’s pots are sold at exhibitions, or through galleries in the UK. Patia is also in demand to give talks, demonstrations and short courses. Wobage has an annual programme of  classes run by potter Jeremy Steward, with visiting tutors and taking up to 12 student potters.


We usually have a good selection of Patia’s work in the showroom at Tinsmiths and if you are touring around Herefordshire in September, Patia (and 129 other arts venues) will be open for from 6th September to 14th September – it might be worth getting out a map and working on your itinerary.

Tile shelf

Oak Tile Shelf at Tinsmiths




Tinsmiths Calendar Post – What do Green Woodworkers do all day?

Sitting at a generous ash dining table she made in her sun-filled home near Ledbury, I asked Gudrun Leitz to tell me how she became a green woodworker. “I always knew that I had worker’s hands, that I would do something with these” she said, offering them, open-handed. It took Gudrun some time to realise the privilege. She grew up in Stuttgart. At that time, in Germany, anything that looked back to a life on the land rather than forward to technology, was frowned upon; Gudrun’s education was totally academic, the only respite being fondly remembered days out and holidays in the Black Forest, where her mother “came to life” and this large family enjoyed nature and the outdoors.

Group in Japan 2013

Teaching in Japan 2013

Queen Anne Chair

Gudrun with her “Queen Anne” Chair

Gudrun came to Britain to study language and stayed, initially, for love. After three years as a language teacher she began to look around for other options, something that would be physical and use those hands. Luckily, London in the early 1980’s was just the place to find a 10 week course like “Women’s Introduction to Building” and of all the topics, joinery grabbed Gudrun’s attention. Pursuing this spark, she enrolled at the London School of Furniture and completed a traditional City and Guilds course in fine furniture, working late shifts photo-typesetting for the printing industry keep the wolf from the door. Back then she band sawed elaborate shapes from large sections of kiln dried oak to fashion a traditional Queen Anne chair as her final piece of coursework. She was brave enough to let me photograph her end of course piece, kept hanging on the wall of her workshop as a reminder of the start.

A piece just ready for the finishing touches, April 2014

A piece just ready for the finishing touches, April 2014


Schooner Restored in Bristol

Replacing Masts on the Pascual Flores in Bristol Harbour

Moving to Bristol in 1987 to help restore the “Pascual Flores” a 70 foot wooden schooner berthed in the harbour was an important milestone, “ We did everything by eye, trees delivered whole to the quay, we looked for the right shape from the start, it was a revelation to me that one could work in that way” Gudrun explained. Her year on the boat was a joy, in the open air, working with highly skilled and experienced boat-builders. This was quite a contrast to her next job, working for furniture-makers in nearby Bath but using machinery and power tools to shape wood to a blue-print. The sound and space of a modern workshop, the work itself, became increasingly alien.

Around 1990 green woodworkers Mike Abbott and Tim Wade were becoming known for using unseasoned wood to make chairs in the same way that craftsmen like Philip Clissett working in Herefordshire in the late 19th century had done. Via a series of short courses, often as the sole woman, and later as assistant to Tim, Gudrun became more and more drawn to this way of life which combined the outdoors, use of hand tools and traditional craft processes. Soon she had been invited by Mike and Tim to run greenwood courses for women in their workshops and progressed to her own annual series of courses.

Her affinity with the convoluted grain of ‘marginal’ trees twisting to reach the light in often under managed woodlands led her to develop her own very recognizable style of working with these timbers, full of exciting curves and wild grain.

Marginal Ash for Freeform Furniture

Marginal Ash for Freeform Furniture

She often uses the term “freeform” to describe her approach. Her process may take a specially interesting section of wood as a starting point around which the design develops. She cleaves the section with axes and wedges to reveal mirroring components which are further worked with a variety of hand tools resulting in very organic three-dimensional shapes for components. Combined with selected ash, oak or elm planks she has often dried herself for up to ten years she fashions her distinctive free-form furniture, be that a garden seat, a rocking chair or one of her trademark large elm or oak tables.


In 1993 Gudrun won a contract to make 200 pole lathe turned balusters for the new Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Southbank. “The Globe made my name, it was wonderful on every level”. For this project authentic processes, true to the era, were a priority. As 200 increased to 500 balusters, trees were donated from all over the county including the National Trust at Lower Brockhamption; the job took three winters to complete and was an amazing feat for an individual.

Shakespeare's GlobeWhile working for the Globe, Gudrun began looking for a woodland to work and run her courses in, and with Mike and Tamsin Abbott and furniture maker Chris Armstrong from Clyro found a deciduous woodland close to Ledbury which became known as Clissett Wood.

Woodland Shelter at Clissett Wood

Woodland Shelter at Clissett Wood were students can camp on site.

The group of four soon expanded to seven and she has worked this woodland co-operatively with a changing group of partners ever since, as well as running furniture making courses for the last twenty years from her large woodland workshop. The courses have developed a loyal following and every year both newcomers and returners come to stay in Clissett Wood for up to nine days to make a very individual chair or other piece of furniture, either pole lathe turned or free-form.

Freeform Bench by Gudrun Leitz

Freeform Bench by Gudrun Leitz

The year’s rhythm is fairly predictable, with the summer season being for teaching her greenwood courses, late autumn to spring for furniture making. “Luckily I can juggle to fit circumstances but I like to separate my own work and experiments in technique from teaching – eventually a new approach may become the subject for a course”, Gudrun explains. “I usually have a few commissions on the go, these come directly or through a couple of galleries*  who show my work but I really love making pieces that are inspired by the wood itself. Now I am well established, people bring me interesting timbers and I like to use what is offered locally.”

Cleft Oak

Cleaving Ten Foot Lengths of Oak in Childer Wood

Cleaving is the basis of all green woodwork, but Gudrun takes it further into an exploration of very large trees as well as very convoluted sections. Nearby Childer Wood, sustainably managed and worked with horses by her partner Doug Joiner, gives her access to almost all her greenwood material. Using wedges, Gudrun is able to cleave even the largest oak trunks, firstly by splitting them in half and then in diminishing segments to whatever dimensions are required. Very little waste or woodland damage, no transportation as the timber is processed where the tree fell and anything not needed providing a habitat for wildlife.

Lately there have been exciting developments in Clissett Wood. Interest from highly regarded product designers, looking to study craft traditions, resulted in the greenwood project “Bodging Milano” with the resulting collection being shown at the Milan Furniture Fair, Salone Internazionale del Mobile 2010. Interest in fusing traditional chair bodging and contemporary design is on-going with some industry partnerships developing.

Bodging Milano

Bodging Milano Group

This just about brings us to today. An April-showery spring day in Clissett Wood, buds bursting and seven students –mostly new, one returning – with Gudrun teaching an introductory weekend course by helping the students put together some simple three-legged stools. We stood back. Looking hard, identifying timbers, assessing the parts, checking for stability, making adjustments, handling tools with increasing confidence and listening to the “after rain” birdsong.

Short Course April 2014

Short Course April 2014 with stools to take home.

When asked if she would consider doing anything else for a living, Gudrun said simply, “ I realised long ago this (green woodworking) would be my passion for the rest of my life, there are so many directions to take. I don’t know what the future holds and I consider that a privilege”.

For course information go to Gudrun’s website

For woodland management using heavy horses go to Doug’s website

See Gudrun’s Furniture at 20:20 Gallery, Much Wenlock or New Leaf Gallery, Monmouth.

Win a Framed Squirrel by Mark Hearld

Mark Hearld Linocut Squirrel

Detail from Squirrel by Mark Hearld

We are celebrating the opening of our 4th biannual ‘St Jude’s at Tinsmiths’ exhibition with a chance for one very lucky winner the chance to win ‘Squirrel’ linocut by Mark Hearld, edtion size 95, mounted & framed in a simple oak frame. Just Like and share the ‘St Judes Giveaway’ Facebook Post.

Full Size image of Squirrel

The 2014 ‘St Judes at Tinsmiths’ exhibition opens with a private view on Friday 11th April and goes on until 10th May. We will have work by Angie Lewin, Peter Green, Jonny Hannah, Ed Kluz, Mark Hearld & Emily Sutton.

Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Open Good Friday & Easter Saturday.

Terms & Conditions: This competition is eligible for international entrants. The winner will be picked at random and will be notified via Facebook. The winner must like and follow our page.This prize cannot be exchanged for any other item. Entrants must be over 18. The competition closes 25/4/14 and the winner will be notified within 7 days. The winner has 30 days to claim the prize, in the event of the named winner not claiming the prize, another winner will be picked at random and notified via our Facebook page.

Tinsmiths Calendar Post – What do Hairdressers do all day?

Mervyn Parnell taking it easy.On being asked why he became a hairdresser, Mervyn Parnell is liable to give one of two answers, either: “I was good at art, I could draw and I knew I was creative. I could have gone to art college but it was full of ‘hippies’ not people like me, so I thought that hairdressing would allow me to be creative and earn a living”. The other answer is “I was a 5’2” lad with buck teeth, so I figured that going into an industry which had loads of girls and not too many heterosexual men working in it, that I would be bound to pull.”  I’m not sure which answer is true. In any case Mervyn started as a Saturday boy in a salon near his family home in Gloucester in his early teens, he was cutting hair at 15 and had is own client list at 16. “No one ever taught me, there was one chap John Phelps who ran another salon and had been a world champion, we just used to talk about cutting hair which sounds a bit sad but he’s the only person that I learned anything from”.

A girlfriend and job brought Mervyn to Ledbury at the beginning of the 80’s. “I remember getting off the bus with a Mohawk haircut wearing bondage trousers and I thought ‘What the heck am I doing here?’  Mervyn has continued to be one of Ledbury’s more stylish residents with a collection of more than 60 vintage Levi jeans, 25 Levi jackets from the 40’s & 50’s, Pendleton shirts and 1948 -1956 suits it can be said that Mervyn is more into clothes than most “It just smacks of laziness, dressing badly”.

Denim jeansIn 1986 Mervyn opened the Cutting Club, with a distinctly mid century feel and educational selection from Mervyn’s extensive record collection of northern soul, 50’s & 60’s R & B and roots rockabilly music playing, the salon has been busy since the day it opened.

50's vibe in the salon“My working day starts at 7.30 in the morning and ends at 7.30 in the evening, I have 20+ clients a day and I can’t wait to get a pair of scissors in my hands”. “So you like what you do?” “Absolutely; I like to create and change, I like cutting hair and I really like the people that I work with, in 28 years I’ve never had a crossed word with any of my stylists”.

The Cutting ClubLike Martin (the Printer from January), Mervyn is another Ledbury Luddite, there is no computer in the salon or in Mervyn’s life and no mobile phone either, this seems to be an aesthetic choice as much as anything ‘I struggle with technology, I’m just not interested, I prefer things which are crafted with a hand and heart’. And fashion as a concept is difficult for him too ‘I like style not fashion, I like a good hair cut where you can see it’s a whole exercise in shape, not to be dressed’ sideview

Mervyn and I go back along time; he first cut my hair when I was 14, it is a haircut which is etched on my memory because until that day my hair had been long, straggly and mainly scratched back into a ponytail and found under a riding hat but the sleek sharp bob that Mervyn gave me made me aware of a whole new world of possibilities!

The Cutting Club. Tel:01531 635866 and to get a flavour of the music Mervyn is cutting to follow this Spotify link to a few of his favorite tracks.

Tinsmiths’ Calendar Post: What do Upholsterers do all day?

Sam Prentice’s workshop is crammed with furniture. It’s always this way when I visit. Sam is self conscious about it, ‘You can’t photograph here, it’s too messy’ he protests. Over the years I’ve come to understand that any upholsterer that isn’t busy isn’t very good. Once people find a good upholsterer, commissions for small footstools quickly progress into a set of dining chairs, a sofa or two; as one job gets finished and delivered, another is picked up ‘I am never short of work but trying to make a plan or manage it, well that’s more difficult.’

Sam Prentice Upholsterer

Sam set up Hartpury Upholstery in 2005 when he and his wife, who had family ties with the area, decided that Gloucestershire was a good place to bring up a family. ‘I couldn’t do this in London, the overheads would make it impossible. You do need a bit of space’ and getting started with his own workshop? ‘Around here it’s all word of mouth, you do a bad job and everyone knows about it – but that’s been really good for me, because it works the other way too’

Being a one man band Sam has to cover every aspect of his business; part of the week will be spent heaving furniture in and out of the van either when collecting furniture to be reupholstered or delivering finished pieces ‘My friends joke ‘how’s the stitching?’ but, when they’ve lent a hand delivering, they realize it’s a bit more physical than that’.

Every job is different; the age and condition of the piece will dictate what is done, the materials used and how the work is done. The day starts at 8.30am and finishes around 6.30pm ‘If I’ve nearly finished something I will carry on until it’s done if I can, family permitting. I like to start the day with something new.’ Of course there’s the inevitable paperwork; invoicing and ordering supplies to keep on top of, as well as being a sales person. ‘I’m a tradesman, not a salesman. It’s not me. Some of the people I’ve worked for were quite ruthless about it and I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t take some of that, but it’s just not my nature.’ Sam reflects.

upholstery toolsupholstery springsindustrial singer sewing machine





So why upholstery? ‘It’s in the blood, my Dad and Uncle were both upholsterers, I did my apprenticeship with them and then worked with them. Seven years in total; they worked for a chain of hotels in London doing restoration and new furniture’. It was 1982 when Sam began his apprenticeship as a 16 year old school leaver. ‘The country was in recession, it’s felt a little like that ever since’. Sam’s Dad had been in the trade all his life. ‘At weekends he would have projects going at home. One of my earliest memories is the sound of the treadle on his sewing machine going in our front room.’ Being trained in the era of piece work and very exacting standards Sam’s Dad & Uncle kept a close eye on the apprentices. ‘I am so glad I had that time with them, the stories they had, working with my Dad I had seven quality years with him’.

Sam's father's union cards

Sam’s father’s union cards














After the hotel chain Sam went to work for small independent shop in Islington that offered a re-upholstery service, with a wide variety of furniture coming through the door it gave him a chance to increase his knowledge and suited him in other ways. ‘I’m an Arsenal supporter, so I could get to all the midweek home matches.’ Five years later, ‘We were in recession proper and that business went under,’explains Sam, whose move to work with an interior design business and later for an antique dealer showed him another world with a high end clientele and where qualities like longevity were not so important.  ‘It was a real eye-opener: it was all about the look of it.’

Webbing a seat base


chairs to re-upholster

When I ask how things have changed in the trade over his working life it becomes clear that things have gone full circle. ‘Customers today say to me,‘I want this to see me out.’ Excellent workmanship and good quality cloths, with an emphasis on value and long life, are once again the order of the day. I asked Sam whether he still liked his work, whether he’d change direction, “I didn’t realise what I was missing until I set up my own workshop. It’s very rewarding to see my customer’s reactions to the finished pieces. I think if you don’t enjoy it, it reflects in your work. You’ve got to have job satisfaction”.

close up of piped armchair

buttone back armchair in Lewis and Wood Fabricwing-armchair1

Sam Prentice Tel:01452 700 004

Tinsmiths’ Calendar Post : What do Chocolatiers do all day?

Sitting in the Velvet Bean’s chocolate kitchen, beside the shop in Church Street, Ledbury, was a deep breathing moment for me. Paddles slowly turning the gently warming chocolate in three “bain mairies”  that look like they mean business immediately attract my attention . Ben Boyle, Ledbury’s chocolatier, offers me a seat.


Tempering Chocolate at The Velvet Bean

This is not Ben’s first career, he spent many years teaching horticulture and worked as a landscape gardener and  taught horticulture in colleges across the South of England. Ten years ago Ben and his wife, Mel moved to Herefordshire. “We looked around the area and agreed it was a settling down sort of a place”, explains Ben; at the same time the couple looked for a career that would allow them to work from home and combine looking after their young family.


Chocolatier, Ben Boyle with his wife, Melanie.

“I’d always loved cooking, my Mum got me going. There seemed to be a gap in the market for independent chocolate-makers and the process gave me scope to be creative. I am an optimist at heart so I just launched in and taught myself. It was a slow start, working from home and selling at farmers’ markets”.



The naked chocs – waiting to have their chocolate coats.

Ben’s day length varies, the year being punctuated by regular chocolate-friendly occasions – Christmas, Valentine’s Day and, of course, Easter which can extend his normal 9-5pm day to midnight or beyond. The first thing he does each morning is to temper the chocolate which has been very slowly heating in the paddled bowls from early morning, thanks to automatic timers. Tempering is a process in which chocolate, in this case Belgian couverture chocolate with high cocoa butter and cocoa solids, is heated and cooled in a specific way. One of the properties of couverture is its polymorphous crystallization; tempering stabilises five different types of fat crystal by heating to 45 degrees centigrade, followed by careful cooling to 28 degrees and then heating again to the working temperature of 35 degrees. The process prevents “bloom” and allows the chocolate to work well with moulds and as a “robe” to Ben’s truffles and a variety of his original fillings.

Church St entrance to the chocolate shop

“I’m not computer-minded, I enjoy the chance to experiment and play with new ideas. I’m very happy running the shop – people come, buy and then call for one-offs or something particular. I think its good to have a High Street with artisan products – a more independent High Street. I’d like to see more makers here. When you make what you sell the future is yours, you are in control” says Ben. One of the creative parts of making cased chocolates is to formulate unusual recipes: rum and plum, vodka and orange, grappe, champagne, peanut butter and masses more, changing all the time. A novelty millennium falcon alongside a very decorative stiletto shoe also caught my eye.


Milk chocolates here with freehand piping so that the shop staff can identify them.

Talking of future, Ben and Mel have exciting plans to move up the road to number 33 The Homend – still on the “High Street” but into their own premises, formerly known as “The Cartoonery”. The new shop which will open after Christmas 2014, will allow them more scope to, for example, run chocolate-making day courses.


The New Velvet Bean (to the left of the apothecary shop) will open in January 2015.

Just as we finished talking, I asked whether the Chocolatier was keen to nibble a choccy or two of an evening or whether working with it all day long put him off. “Why wouldn’t I? A good strong 96% chocolate without too much sugar, full of anti-oxidants, good for  seritonin levels and coupled with a nice bottle of wine”, Ben says with some relish.


Portion Control? Long and thin or short and stout, all the chocolates are very generous portions.

After taking a few close-up photographs of The Velvet Bean’s selection, I could stand it no longer and packed little collection to take back to Tinsmiths, convincing myself that the rum and plum filling counted as one of my five a day – needless to say they didn’t last until evening.


I really wouldn’t mind staying on to clean up the surfaces……

Visiting The Old House Hereford

I knew that I really should have been Christmas shopping. I’ve walked past The Old House Museum for the last twenty years and somehow felt now was the time to re-acquaint myself. Thirty minutes away from the hustle of the High Town was altogether restoring.

The House itself was built, where it stands in the centre of Hereford, in 1621 and is full of 17th century furniture, murals and artefacts. Like Ledbury, Hereford had a wide main street, a Butcher’s Row, where cattle were butchered and markets held. The Row began to be demolished in 1816. The Old House is the last house standing in what had been a central row of houses on, the now pedestrian, High Town. The museum is free to visit, a lovely space to on four floors, three open to the public(although the stairs are very steep and floor uneven), if you take youngsters set them a challenge to find the dog flap!

Here are some images of its hoard, I’m afraid they are not the highest quality but I hope they inspire you to take a look.

carved head

Carved bracket below 1st floor window.

City Model

Fabulous Model of the City of Hereford when the Old House was built.

The Old House Hereford

On four floors, the magnificent timber-framed building stands in the middle of Hereford’s shopping street.

Elm quarter jacks

A pair of elm quarterjacks struck the quarter hour of Hereford’s Market House – now demolished

Whilst the elm torsos of these figures are completely smooth, the artist went to town on their coiffure.

Whilst the elm torsos of these figures are completely smooth, the artist went to town on their coiffure.

The Law Suit

My favourite artefact this visit was a small relief carving of a dispute over a cow showing two farmers and a lawyer milking the animal.

The Old House is open almost everyday of the year, excluding some bank holidays, call them to check hours on 01432 260694.


What do Printer’s do all Day? January Calendar Post

“I’m a compositor” Martin Clark explains, “but not many people will know what that is these days, so you’d better use the term ‘letterpress printer’”. Martin has worked at Tilley Printing for over fifty years, from the age of fifteen when he started as apprentice, to compositor, to printer and now, fifty years on, as proprietor.  Composing type as we speak, his unusually long fingernails working the tiny metal letters that make up words for print; address cards, business stationery, album covers, printed bags, poetry posters or artist’s books.

Tilley’s and Martin begin the day at 7.30am with ink at the presses, composing type is customarily done in the afternoon. For standard-sized jobs a Heidelberg press (circa 1970 and the size of a small washing machine) is used and a much earlier Wharfdale press for large works eg., land posters. The Wharfdale is the size of a very, very large dining table and runs from an electric motor using 5″ canvas drive belts that span the room. Considerable power is needed to move cast iron flat bed of the press which holds the chase or a heavy frame into which are locked wooden or metal letters.

Martin Clark

Martin Clark at Tilley’s printing poetry posters on the Wharfdale Press

When the presses are running there is a kind of percussive rhythm to the place; the sound of belts, rollers and paper-feeds all combine so that the place seems to breath. Added to this are the smells of dust, ink and parrafin but most memorable is the sight of the place – banks of letters of all sizes, with styles so singular, original engravings, illustrations and ornaments – some polished with use, some languishing in a corner waiting for re-discovery.

Tilley Type

Tilley type ready for the press

A tray of engravings.

A tray of engravings.

The print works, to a degree, tells the story of the town – just see how many engravings are connected with, for example, hop growing or agricultural machinery, cider making, soft fruit or local societies and clubs. Tilley’s working day is punctuated by a fairly constant flow of visitors – some simply to see the works which have barely changed in more than fifty years, others come to collect or order printing. Most are known personally or come on recommendation via a regular customer. The day usually ends around 6pm, five days a week – so a normal week is over 50 hours. I’ve been visiting Tilley’s for over six years, but I knew, as most Ledbury folk know, of the print works because of “Tilley’s Almanac”. This local directory was produced by the press from 1878 to 1993, it was to be found, well thumbed in most  households and businesses – a local bible. When Martin began his apprenticeship in 1963 there were four letterpress printing works in the town. Now Tilley’s, the only one left, finds its rarity a great advantage. ” Letterpress is sought after  – as artwork with the obvious use of archaic type”, explains Martin, whose workload is peppered with ‘arty-stuff’ nowadays as well as formal stationery for business and domestic use.

Large Type

Large Type used on Tinsmiths’ Calendar 2013

large type on wharfdale

Large type on wharfdale, printed example

Martin’s decision to train as a printer wasn’t exactly his first choice, ” I’d spent my childhood doing odd jobs on the farms around Ledbury – fruit-picking, pruning; I suppose I was romantic for those misty autumn days and thought I’d go farming but my Mum stopped me going on the farm, she could see how things were going – its all changed”. Miss Tilley inherited the works from her family who ran a number of enterprises in Ledbury from the middle of the 19th century. She always had an apprentice – someone who would spend five years indentured to the firm before moving on as a journeyman.

Compositor's Room

Compositor’s Room with draws and shelves of type.

Martin’s older brother, Phillip, worked for her and it was natural that Martin was familiar with the business. “When I was fourteen she said to me “You finish (school) early and come and work for me as apprentice compositor”, explains Martin who considered it a good offer; compositor was a step-up in terms of the fairly rigid hierachy of roles in the printing industry. Martin’s father signed the indenture and that was it. Cruelly, at the outset an apprentice was to “set” – that is place every letter, space, punctuation mark into a “form” be they psalms, or The Lord’s Prayer or any lengthy piece with tricky spellings, only to see it disassembled day after day until it was perfect.

The Heidelberg Press

The Heidelberg Press

” I’m no business man, I worked as a journeyman printer for six months or so after my apprenticeship was complete. I went to large newspaper printworks in Keswick, another in Stratford and a book publishing house in Oxford, but I liked the scale of Tilleys – I knew that although I was trained as a compositor, at Tilleys I’d have the chance to work in all the areas”, explains Martin, who could not have imagined quite how true this would become when, in 1983, he took over the works with just two printers and an apprentice and later worked on his own until the arrival of his current apprentice in 2012. When I asked Martin whether he plans for the future he smiled uncertainly, and looking over at his apprentice, Anneleise Appleby, said, “She’s the future, if you call that planning, in the sense that she will become a printer – all I can do is to do my best to train her.” Just as Martin, the returning journeyman printer, brought the innovation of machine-set type (linotype) to Tilleys, Anneleise adds her original artwork in the form of lino-cuts, to the repertoire of print processes that Tilley Printing can offer, setting it even further from apart commercial litho or digital printers.

Printing Blocks

Carved Wooden Printing Blocks

The invention of desktop printing undoubtedly had an enormous impact on traditional letterpress and hot-type printers, most either embraced the innovations or went to the wall. Tilley’s appears to have weathered the storm to take up a niche position. How did it survive? I believe partly due to the scale of the place, partly because staff had looked after the equipment, partly its position in a small market town with many loyal, local customers requiring shorter runs than commercial printers would entertain, but mainly because it is run by someone who has modest aspirations and who loves his work.

Poster by Tilleys, words by Beatrice Warde

Poster by Tilleys, words by Beatrice Warde