This week, as we transition into December, I wanted to share something a bit different on the blog, and I wanted to tell you about a fantastic day out I had recently with Mike Finnie of Red Houss Shetland.
It pains me to say it, but with Christmas approaching, we’re all looking for that extra special gift, idea or experience and Mike’s jewellery making workshops make a fantastic gift. Choosing presents can be so tricky as we all have so much already, and it’s often hard not to buy things that are just adding to the layers of ‘stuff’ people already own. I like to try and choose unusual gifts; ones that support local businesses and are unique and meaningful.
Last year, mother was gifted a voucher for a day’s Silversmithing – Jewellery Making at Red Houss Shetland. Always keen to try something new, I joined her for the day, armed with a small bag of sea glass and pottery that I hoped to transform into a beautiful piece of hand-crafted jewellery.
It occurred to me that this was not only just a fantastic gift idea but, also, it would be a really special way to spend a day whilst in Shetland on holiday – particularly if you had picked a glistening piece of sea glass or pottery from a beach during your visit. This class would allow you to create a beautiful, hand-crafted keepsake, and pick up a few new skills to boot!
We had such a memorable time with Mike, and it was a really special day spent with mam, who I hardly ever get the chance to spend any meaningful time with.
We arrived at about 9.30 am and began to think about what we would make. I had selected some pottery which I’d collected from the uninhabited island of Oxna; a small isle off Burra which I have strong family connections with.
I like to imagine that the pottery I held expectantly in my hand had belonged to a great-great-great-relation somewhere along the family tree through the mists of time. Perhaps it was a great-great-granny’s favourite plate or part of the teacup that she served tea to the minister in – or maybe, it was an old plate from the press that she had flung out the door at an errant husband who had spent too long fetching supplies from Scalloway! Who knows, and that’s the beauty of these treasured beach finds – we will never know what forces caused them to wash up on the shores where our magpie eyes seek them out of the ebb-stanes.
I wrote about beachcombing and the treasures that wash ashore in my last blog, Gifts from the Sea, and you can read about that here.
Mother had a jar of old Chinese ceramics that she had bought in the former Danish settlement of Tranquebar in India – in the end, I used one of her pieces alongside my Oxna pottery to create my jewellery, the captivating blue and white designs proving too alluring to resist!
We started by deciding what we would make; we both opted to make a ring for starters and began shaping and polishing our pottery to the desired size and shape. We then had to create the silver setting; carefully cutting, soldering and securing the parts together.
Once the ring had taken shape, more shaping of the pottery was carefully done so that it could slip into the setting before being fixed in place. Mike was ever patient, and a great teacher who really let us get hands-on despite our (or rather, my) apparent ineptitude for the finesse required in jewellery making.
Lunch was prepared by Mike’s wife Gill, and a better bowl of soup I haven’t tasted! They were both delightful company and the views from their house, looking across the sea to Papil made the whole experience all the more enjoyable.
After some fine-tuning of the rings and a moment to let lunch settle, we started on the second pieces of the day; pendants.
The process was much the same, and my lack of finesse had not much improved, despite the hearty bowl of vegetable soup! However, with a lot of guidance from Mike, I was able to finish a beautiful blue and white pendant.
I have to say, mother, ever the creative, took to the process like a duck to water and by the end of the day, she had developed an unhealthy love of the sanding machine and produced two elegant pieces of jewellery too.
The whole day was one of those incredibly mindful, relaxing and indulgent experiences that you come away from feeling nourished and proud of having spent a day quietly and productively, picking up new skills and, with a beautiful take-home at the end of it all.
The workshop; information:
Courses are held in Red Houss (which is Mike’s workshop on the island of Burra, just a short drive from Lerwick) which can accommodate one or two people. If two people are attending all equipment and the workstation will be shared. The course lasts one day, and you will be able to make two simple items of jewellery in sterling silver. These can be a brooch, pendant, earrings, cufflinks or a ring. You may wish to create one slightly more complex item during your day. Courses are aimed at beginners. Classes can be held at any time of year subject to availability. Dates and times can be arranged to suit you. Please contact me to discuss your requirements.
You’ll need to bring a packed lunch. Tea or coffee will be provided at the studio. A day course costs £150 for one person or £120 each if there are two people. This includes the use of all equipment and enough silver to make two small or one larger item of jewellery.
Red Houss is on the Shetland Craft Trail and is located at the south end of East Burra. Follow the road signs to Burra Isle and then to Houss. The studio is signposted once you get near to Houss.
If you would like to book a jewellery experience like this and build it into a day-long tour, this can be arranged. Red Houss can offer short two-and-a-half-hour workshops making Fair Isle inspired buttons or brooches. The popular Burra Bears workshop is a short stroll away, and you can easily combine a visit to both studios.
If you would like to find out more about incorporating jewellery-making into a tour or to arrange a visit to the studio where Mike sells jewellery, watercolours, prints and much more, send me an email, and we can arrange that for you during your tour.
Alternatively, to get the full experience of silversmithing, or to buy a gift token, you can contact Red Houss directly here.
Hopefully this blog will inspire you to let your creativity fly too!
A little about Laurie
Hello, and welcome to my blog. I hope that you find what you're looking for, whether you are planning that perfect holiday or maybe you're from Shetland and looking for some inspiration. Hopefully, there is something here for everyone.