Making our wedding rings in Brighton

One of my favourite things we did to prepare for our wedding was making our own rings.

I first heard about the idea from a friend who had done it on Hatton Garden, the jewellery district in London. As usual, I left it rather late to organise and I thought we’d have to give up the idea. But then I met the lovely Laila from Cross Street Workshops at an ‘alternative wedding fair’ on Brick Lane in April. She had a free slot just 3 weeks before our wedding so I booked it straight away.

Her studio is down in Brighton. It’s a lovely space just off the North Laine, which she shares with a mosaic-maker.

studio 1

studio 2

Here’s what the workbench looks like. Lots of mysterious tools.

I wasn’t sure how the process would work, but basically you decide on your metal, and Laila then orders it in advance, cut to the right length for your ring size.

We went for white gold bands with a rounded edge – they look like the picture below when they arrive. We paid for the exact cost of the metal (and apparently we chose a good moment to buy it, as the price of gold had just dipped slightly!) and then just the workshop fee on top.


The first thing we did was to put the bits of metal in a bath with a mild acid solution to clean off any grime. Then you use a mini blowtorch to heat them up so they’re easier to work with.


This bit is fun. The rocks are there to put the metal on as they can absorb the heat.

Next, you get your bits of metal and start rounding them around a long shaping tool called a mandrel. You use a hammer made of hide, which lets you bash away without leaving any marks.


After a lot of bashing away, they start to become ring-shaped. Mine is the smaller one on the left, but I was actually making Alex’s larger ring on the right (and he made mine).


Then you take them off the mandrel and give them a more gentle bashing on the worktop, to close up the gap you can see above. There’s a special technique to this which Laila taught us. It’s very absorbing.


They look like this once you’ve closed up the gap. They’re a little bit oval but you fix that later in the process.


The next bit is the most exciting – soldering!

Here’s my ring all wrapped up in metal wire (so it’s easy to move). You paint this sticky glue stuff around the join, then use tweezers to put tiny pieces of white gold metal solder along the gap. Apparently the solder costs more than the solid white gold, but you only use the tiniest bit. It’s the shiny silver square in the photo below.

ring with solder

Then you get to use the blowtorch again. Laila showed us how to ‘paint’ with the flame around the ring, then concentrate the heat on the gap. All of a sudden the solder runs into the gap and totally fills it up, bonding the metal.


After that, there’s more filing and shaping to do.



Alex wanted a classic shiny finish, so I got to use the polisher to make it super reflective.


I had a matt finish on my ring, which you just do by rubbing it with some wire wool!

Here’s the finished products:

finished rings

finished rings and us

I’ve never done any jewellery making, and had no idea what to expect, but I loved doing this. Now I really want to take a jewellery making course. It was very satisfying working with the metal and watching it come into shape.

If you’re in the market for a pair of rings, I can only recommend this place. You can find out more about it here.

p.s. all these photos were taken by Laila – you get a disc of them included in the workshop price! Also please excuse my somewhat hungover appearance, it was the day after the By Hand London 1st birthday party…


Crafty hen do and bunting extravaganza

So, I’m getting married two weeks on Saturday. I haven’t really posted about my wedding planning, because I’ve done absolutely no DIY, crafting, or sewing for it at all. It’s been a total CRAFT-FREE ZONE.

This is because I prefer to keep crafting and deadlines far, far away from each other. Luckily for me though, my friends have more than compensated, putting me to shame with their amazing creativity.

This applies especially to my hen do which was a couple of weekends ago. My lovely friends hired a room above a pub in Shoreditch, and filled it with embarrassing photos, crafting activities and wine.

It looked like this:

knitting, wine and bunting

Check out the bunting/knitting action!

I am far too lazy to make bunting so I was very touched that so many lovely people took the trouble to sew so much, and decorated the room so beautifully.

My friend Lizzy made some of it, and it’s the most perfectly finished bunting I have ever seen – she’s posted about it on her blog here. It’s basically the Rolls Royce of bunting. I have some in my living room adorning the bookshelves.

bunting from lizzy
Photo stolen from Lizzy’s blog

As well as this, my friends organised a fascinator making session run by the v talented Jess, who I met on the textiles course at Morley College. She brought along so many trims, ribbons, buttons, templates, millinery bases, and bits of fabric, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Everyone was having a go! I hope to see them all at the wedding…

My friends don’t know I’ve posted this but hopefully they won’t mind. Or alternatively never find out.

Here’s my fascinator effort. Not bad for an hour’s work while drinking rosé, I reckon.


We also had a writing area run by my friend Bea, where you looked up the meaning of your name and filled in a template to create your own poem:


And a knitting area, led by Lizzy who is a knitting fiend. That woman has made more jumpers in the last year than I have ever owned in my life.


I loved that when I looked around, everyone was sitting crafting, drinking, and chatting. It was more relaxed than a formal crafting class, but still really fun and creative.

It was an amazing weekend, and I feel very lucky and privileged to know such lovely people. Cheesy but true.

Craftaganza, Sunshine, and Brighton

It’s taken me a week to write about this, but the Craftaganza market last week was really fun!

It was held in a beautiful building, an old church. I used to walk past it when I was a student at Brighton but I’ve never been inside. It’s a great space.

Zoe lined up some really amazing sellers and I did a bit of sneaky shopping. My lovely boyfriend also bought me a pair of Erica Trogal feather earrings, which I can highly endorse.

It was a scorchingly hot day. Brighton was packed, the train down from London Bridge* was full to the brim, and people were crammed everywhere along the sea-front.
* my new candidate for least favourite London station. Finally Euston has a worthy competitor in the hideousness stakes.

We didn’t make it onto the pier because it looked off-puttingly full of people, but we did see the sea, photo evidence above and below.

It was strange walking round Brighton again. The atmosphere hasn’t changed at all, it still has that charming, ramshackle energy that’s so much less polished and stressful than the way London feels.  All the old shops are still there, and lots of new ones too! But I was glad to see that the pick and mix shop on the North Laine was still present and correct.

The next Craftaganza event will be in June, and if you’re anywhere near Brighton, I definitely recommend popping down, it’s going to be epic. I’m really impressed with how much work Zoe puts into organising these things, on top of a full time job as well.

Zoe also gave me the greatest gift one human can give another: parrot fabric!!

Parrot fabric

This is just a small close-up of the magnificence. Don’t know what I’m going to do with it yet, it’s too amazing to cut without some serious planning first. Possibly I will just frame it and admire it every day.

She also gave me this gorgeous hand-made bag from wax print fabric, which was really overwhelming and too nice. I love it, the colours are brilliant.

Amazing bag in African print fabric

So that was my weekend, a week ago. Hope you have a good one coming up!

On Craft and being ‘crafty’

What does the word ‘craft’ make you think of?

Some twigs, yesterday

Those pasta necklaces you make for your mum at primary school? Church hall fairs and macrame plant pots?  The smell of PVA glue? Retro ‘Make do and mend’ posters?

Art and Design have it much easier – who wouldn’t want to be described as an ‘artist’ or a ‘designer’? But ‘crafter’ and ‘crafty’ sound so homespun and lumpy. Why does craft have an image problem? Is it something to do with gender?

What got me thinking about this was the Kirstie Allsopp programme, Handmade Britain. Something about the way ‘craft’ is presented makes me uneasy.

There’s only one aesthetic being pushed: the flowery, vintage-y, home-baking, village fair type. Even a book like ‘Queen of Crafts’ by Jazz Domino Holly (which promises to put the ‘rock and roll’ back into craft) is stuffed with the kind of cute, easy things you used to get in 1950s activity books for children: making your own lipbalm, growing plants, doing a bit of knitting. Try a bit of everything, it’s just a laugh.

At the other end of the scale there’s the ‘Craftsman’. Doesn’t that word have a lovely reassuring ring to it? Makes you think of tiny Parisian workshops, decades-old tradition, hand-worked leather luggage, etc etc. The kind of ‘craft’ championed by Wallpaper magazine – limited edition, exquisitely made, and very, very expensive. Oh, and usually heavily branded.

Although the big companies making these ‘craft’ objects might have  the majority of their products made by underpaid workers in China, sending out some press releases on their traditional craftmanship gives their brand a lovely, old-fashioned, top-quality glow.

Handmade perfume flagons in Wallpaper magazine - probably going to cost a bit more than your Superdrug bottle of Charlie Red

There has to be a middle path between the idea of craft as a fun, non-threatening pastime you can pick up and do on the weekends, and the professional, old-school, highly priced craftsman.

I think you can find it on the internet, on blogs and forums and groups. The old-fashioned (and non-derogatory) use of the word ‘amateur’ springs to mind. Amateur comes from the words ‘to love’, did you know that? You probably did if you paid more attention in GCSE French than me. People doing something just for the love of it. Trying their best and learning all the time.

I don’t really think of myself as ‘crafty’, in the sense that I could turn my hand to anything and make a good job of it. There are a few things that I’ve tried that really capture my interest and have kept me hooked, and sewing is one of them.

Interestingly, for the tutorial segments of the Kirstie Allsopp show, the experts she brings in to do demonstrations (90% women – no craftsmen here) all specialise in one particular area, whether it’s floristry, machine embroidery, applique, screen-printing – whatever. It’s a worn-out axiom that practice makes perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Kirstie Allsopp does have many lovely coats.

Making is one of the most satisfying things you can do on this earth. Can you remember the first time you knitted a tiny garter stitch square, or sewed a wonky pair of pyjama bottoms, or drew a just-about-recognisable vase of flowers? It’s an insane rush! But if you leave it there you’re missing the best bit, which is learning. Dipping your toe in the water isn’t as good.

That’s what sometimes makes me leery of the idea of ‘Craftivism‘. I don’t like the idea of ‘craft’ as a magical sprinkle dust which you can use to add trendiness, or authenticity, or old-fashioned values to your particular project. Nobody’s set up ‘Designism’ because design is just too broad a concept that encompasses so many things. To my mind craft  – making things, to put it simply – is also too broad to be narrowed down like that.

What do you think?

Bust Craftacular

Last weekend I went to the Bust Craftacular in Bethnal Green. This is the 3rd or 4th year in a row I’ve been, and this time I got a little bit of crafty deja-vu.


Maybe you know what I mean. There are so many talented illustrators, designers and makers at the event, but the pool of inspiration they’re drawing from seems to be getting quite shallow.

Here are some things that are increasingly familiar:

  • Moustaches. The absolute worst offenders. Moustaches have GONE TOO FAR.
  • Tea cups
  • Foxes
  • Birds
  • Cats
  • Antlers/deer
  • Trees
  • Drawings of girls with big eyes
  • Bunting all over everything

I’m not saying this to discourage anyone who’s about to put the finishing touches to their drawing of an antler-wearing, mustachioed fox, drinking from a tea-cup, holding a string of bunting in its paw, and standing on an owl’s wing (which actually sounds v impressive).

All I’m saying is, it’s refreshing to see something different. Check out these amazing illustrators I discovered at the Craftacular for starters:

Sarah Lippett drew this brilliant comic which is all about Yuri Gagarin and has proper Russian words in:

Image taken from Sarah Lipett's shop, where you can buy this comic, and you totally should

Also, how good is this vase – it’s a representation of the Mercury 7 space capsule.

Image taken from Sarah Lipett's blog

Just to make me look totally stupid, she has some awesome bird drawings on her blog, and I also bought a v funny zine from her which is all about….er…. facial hair.

The other illustrator whose stuff I really liked was Nanae Kawahara (she has a website here)

She draws some frankly bonkers illustrations, mostly involving poodles. I bought these sweet cards, one of which appears to feature an array of Christmassy chairs. Her Etsy shop also has the best wedding card I’ve ever seen.

(I was also going to mention Cleo Ferin Mercury, who draws colourful 1960s screen icons all over lovely silk scarves – but Chuck did a much better round-up of her stuff, which you should go and read instead)