Sunday 21 January – at least two seasons in one day. Down at the beach with the hoond in the morning – a crisp, clear day where you could see the snow-covered peaks of the Kingdom of Fife across the Forth, which was attested to be a sea state zero by my beloved. Jive forward a couple of hours and we are driving into the capital in a blizzard; we were in that ‘will we keep going and risk performing an impromptu Bambi on Ice excerpt on the slushy pavements, or will we call it quits and go home now?’ dilemma. We pushed on (streets are gritted, aren’t they?) and spent a good hour wandering around the BP Portrait Competition in the Queen Street gallery. Worth a look – if only to confirm that Scotland does indeed spend its arts money well. The gallery itself is housed in a fabulous red sandstone gothic building, and it’s worth it to go inside just to see the entrance hall with its beautifully-painted friezes.
Onto the scones. So – no plain scones left and the alternative was chocolate and apricot. CHOCOLATE AND BLOODY APRICOT? Whatever next? I mean – I’m all for mashups (hell, I even smoosh my peanut butter into my banana these days) but there’s a very definite line and chocolate and apricot is so far over it, it’s a mere dot in the distance.
Cheese it is then. Look promising – is that a wee bit of melted cheddar I see on the top there? Think so – and it’s a healthy dark-orange which means there’s maybe even a wee bit of paprika in there. Great size too – all good so far. On balance, however, it was another case of form over fancy – we agreed the scones were a bit doughy and had an overriding wholemeal flavour which stood out where it shouldn’t have. Might have been okay to dunk in soup as it was a sturdy ol’ thing, but on its own it was tooth-stickingly moist.
There are worse things in the world than a slightly-moist scone, however, so I shall return. Let’s just hope they have plain ones the next time, cos I aint eating chocolate and apricot ones.
Naw. Looked promising, but flatter than a pancake. Mair bicarb next time, folks and mebbes a lower oven temperature. The wifie who runs the cafe is a hoot, and the rest of the meals looked good (10/10 for having mac n cheese for a start), but not sconetastic. Also – pre-packaged jam? Come on, people, it’s no’ hard to lob a bit o’ jam in a wee glass dish to make it look homemade!
In April 2016 I attended a week-long course at the Chippendale International Furniture School at Gifford and it was one of the most productive, interesting weeks I have spent in a loooong time. We packed in lots of activities (more of them in later blogs) but in this post I’m going to bang on about the footstool I made and upholstered from scratch.
Firstly, I chose wood for the legs and frame – this was a bit of a rammy where all the students pounced on the woodstore like dogs on a value-pack of Iceland frozen sausages, but I managed to beat off the opposition and snaffled some spalted wood. I’m not sure which wood it actually is, but the spalting effect is colouration caused by fungi growth, resulting in funky black lines running through the timber.
The wood was already square planed, so once cut for length I slighty planed the edges and sanded from coarse through to fine 240 grit sandpaper. Smooooth as a baby’s bum. Next came construction of the frame – soft pine was used for the stretchers to allow us to staple the upholstery onto the frame easily so this was cut to length. I was then introduced to yet another DIY Object of Desire – a Festool Domino Jointer which makes incredibly strong, invisible joints. It drills elongated dowel holes in your workpieces which allow you to join the two together with proprietary (read expensive) beechwood dominoes and glue.
So – if you’ve never heard of Festool before I invite you to peruse their website. They make eye-wateringly expensive but very well designed tools for the professional woodworker (that p-word is the reason I havenae got any….) and everything just kinda works together. Sheesh – I wish someone from Festool would read this and sponsor me. Anyhooooooo back to the stool. As I was going to be tensioning webbing across this mofo I needed to beef up the frame by screwing in gussets to each corner (and now you, too, know what those bits in corner joints of tables are called). Free facts. Right here.
And see – with the benefit of hindsight I now really wish that I’d fitted the rails flush with the legs (you’ll see from the picture they’re slighty recessed) because this is gonnae cause fabric stapling problems for this amateur upholsterer later on in the process. In the words of 80’s funk singer George Benson: ‘if I knew back then what I know now’. Wonder if he’s into upholstery….
As it was a stool and not a commode I was making I needed to fill the big hole in the middle with a base for the padding to sit on, so, using tacks and an upholstery hammer I began attaching the webbing to the frame. The webbing forms a 3 by 3 grid with each strap interweaving the others and it needs to be tight for it to offer any support. An upholstery stretcher is used to achieve the tension, pulling it tight enough so it gives a satisfying PA-TOINNNNNG!! when you twang it. Beginner’s tip 1: Find a heavy weight like the one in the photo when you are doing this and weigh down the frame or you will clatter it into your own face as you press down on the stretcher for tension. True story.
I carried on tensioning, tacking and interweaving the webbing until it looked like something that someone who knew what they were doing had produced, and like I might actually be able to put some cushioning onto (see the photo at the top of this blog). Takes a while to get the hang of tensioning with one hand (and not smacking yourself in the face with the frame) and picking up the tacks with the magnetised end of the hammer, but this was the most enjoyable part. Time to fill the gaps with material which will stop the padding falling out the bottom. Hessian backing is attached with tacks, folded over neatly and trimmed; as belt and braces we were also advised to add a piece of calico which stops dust getting into the piece – I mean, HOW do they know I’ve got a dusty house? The cheek of it.
Now onto upholstering the seat itself. There are various types of stuffing you can use and here I used coir coconut fibre which is relatively inexpensive compared to horsehair and ends up with less bald horses I suppose. I fashioned a kind of hessian sausage around the edge of the piece stuffed with coconut fibre as this adds definition to the edge of the stool and stops the stuffing rolling over the sides, and this was tacked and glued down. Beginner’s tip 2: those hot glue guns aint messin’ around when they heat up. I invented several new hybrid sweary words when I went to wipe away some overspilt glue with my finger. And it sticks like shit to a blanket, so don’t go picking your nose when you’re using it or you’re gonnae look a bit of an eejit in A&E with your finger jammed up your hooter.
At this point if you were a proper upholsterer you would backstitch in loops of twine to hold the stuffing in place (called bridles), but as I’m a charlatan I didn’t. I teased it out into the rough shape of the stool and foofed it into a sort of light brown mound; it was at this point that I empathised with Donald Trump’s hairstylist. Not sure why.
It’s now a lumpybumpy, jaggy heap and if you were to simply cover it now you would get lumpybumpy jaggy bits sticking through the covering material into your ankles when you rested your weary plates of meat on the stool. The shock of that would be enough to make you spill your Merlot and we can’t have that so, resisting the urge to rush ahead there are a few more steps before we are done. I cut a piece of cotton felt wadding slightly wider than the stool itself and placed it on top. Again, if George Benson was an upholsterer he would say that this was a mistake, as it’s resulted in the sides of the stool looking lumpy. Every day is a schoolday.
On the home stretch now, and time to cover the pad with fire retardant calico. This is where the first real skill of the upholsterer becomes apparent. I smoothed the calico over the top and tacked in the middle of each rail with a couple of staples using a staple gun; the tautness of the calico is what will stop your stool from bulging out later when someone sticks their clodhoppers on it, so it’s important to get it as taught as you can. I then stapled out towards the corners and repeated the process with another layer of calico. At this point I was pretty much done, and trimmed the excess material from under the line of staples. And if you are wondering how far a staple flies out of the end of the gun when aimed at someone, it’s disappointingly un-far – oh the japes we played that day.
Aaaaand we’re done. Ready for covering.
So where is the stool now? Where is the grand reveal where I show you it lovingly wrapped in wool tweed with a colour-matching upholstery edging gimp – yes, that’s really what it’s called? Truth of the matter is I spent a fair bit of money on said beautiful wool tweed, however it’s got such a huge pattern repeat on it that I can’t get it centred so it looks correct and unless you’re patient (a-hahahahahahahahaaa NOT) and good at tensioning and tacking as mentioned above, the lines of the tartan are really difficult to get straight. The stool is therefore languishing under some piles of folded up material and will, at some point see the light of day again. I may even remove the calico, trim back the wadding and recover it. Stay tuned.
These scones are very expensive. Not because the scones themselves cost a lot of money, but rather that to get to St Abbs harbour you have to pass Number Four gallery on the way down the road, and we can’t go by without looking in to see what’s new. And that, dear reader, almost always results in the purchase of some form of artwork, whether it’s a print, a piece of glass, ceramics – it’s our favourite gallery.
Onto the scones themselves – usually a selection of at least cheese, fruit and plain scones. Well-fired with a satisfying crunchy crust hiding a light, flouncy inside with plenty of fruit (if you’re having a fruit one, obvs) or a nice hint of mustard if you’re having the cheese ones. Made on the premises and take pride of place among the rest of the homemade traybakes and sponges.
Oh my. If, like me, you are no stranger to a bit of homebaking then roll your spare tyre on down to The Loft Cafe and Bakery in Haddington. The cafe won an award in 2017 for Cakery Destination at the Scottish Food Awards, and it’s easy to see why. I am no stranger to the cake tin, and there are always at least two cakes or bakes I fancy in this place, and I’d say that the coffee sponge is as good as my dear-departed gran’s (whose sage words of advice for me were: ‘the more ye tramp on a sh1te the bigger it gets’. Think about it…). There’s a large seating area, with a cool mix of upcycled Ikea benches and Ercol Windsor chairs and tables, and there are always newspapers to read. It’s kinda tucked away in Peffers Place, which is behind the Corn Exchange and beside the cooncil offices. Monster carpark beside it but you’ll be pushed to squeeze your charabanc into it as it’s well-used by the afore-mentioned cooncil staff.