Arts & Culture, Behind the Design, Our Houses

EXHIBITION AT CREATIVE EXCHANGE: Reconnecting product with process and customer with creator.

DSC04426The exhibition will be held at  Creative Exchange, Leith, from Monday 13th March – Friday 24th March, 10am-4pm.

Our exhibition champions the design process, reconnecting product with process and customer with creator.

For the exhibition, ten new and established designer makers were selected in open competition from across Scotland to showcase new work, representing a wide range of disciplines, materials and techniques. Their submissions were first exhibited at our launch party and exhibition in September and we are thrilled to be taking this exhibition across Scotland over the coming months.

Come and see the ways in which our winning competition entrants pushed their practice and challenged themselves. Extraordinary results all round including knitted chairs and woven houses as well as interractive exhibits. Reconnect with craft and discover the processes behind the pieces and the designer makers for whom they constitute a lifework.

Featuring works by: Amy Benzie, Annette Baumann: Licht ID, Carol Sinclair, Kathryn Williamson, Laura Lightbody, Olive Pearson Designs, Pea Cooper, Ruth Hollywood, Vicky Swales Woven Textiles and Wanshu Li.

DSC04401We will tour the exhibition taking it to Dundee, Shetland and Paisley, linking in with local designer makers from the different regions and celebrating the country’s craft and design traditions and contemporary design culture.

At the end of the tour, the exhibition works will be auctioned in Edinburgh for ‘Modern Makers’, a programme run by Upland Arts Development CIC which gives young people in the Dumfries and Galloway region the opportunity to work with makers to learn new skills and find out about design processes and collaborative working. The aim is to extend this opportunity into other regions of Scotland.

Focusing on the designer makers’ creative processes, our film team documented them as they produced their works, as well as showing elements of the research process and development of materials

As a part of the exhibition you can download ‘Behind the Design’ by Craft Design House, a location-based interactive and educational app, uncovering artists, spaces and inspiration. The ten selected exhibition makers will feature on the app, where children and adults can learn more about the inspiration and material behind each piece, which will be expanded during the exhibition tour, connecting the work, heritage and culture of design and craftsmanship.

DSC04445The panel who selected the featured designer makers were: Alex Milton – Programme Director of Year of Irish Design 2015, Xanthe Weir – Design industry expert and founder of Lair, Sarah Rothwell – Assistant Curator Art & Design, National Museum of Scotland with a focus on Contemporary Craft, specifically ceramics, glass and jewellery and Catriona Baird – freelance curator and GSA design graduate.

Our exhibition has also been instrumental in our shortlisting for the Arts & Business Scotland 30th Annual Awards that celebrate the best in Scotland’s business and cultural sectors. Their prestigious awards aim to inspire cultural creativity and engagement, recognising those companies that perfectly blend the relationship between business and culture to deliver innovative experiences to the people of Scotland and beyond. The award ceremony will take place on 23rd March when the winner will be announced so fingers crossed!

The exhibition is also an opportunity to highlight the range and diversity of innovative contemporary craft and design work being produced across Scotland. At Craft Design House we want to enable anyone to engage with and develop a greater understanding of the value and worth of the works. We want to renegotiate interactions with Craft, so that craft pieces are accessible, and appreciated and utilised as everyday objects, not merely as ornaments gathering dust.

The aim of the exhibition was to champion the design process and provide a platform where visitors could engage and have a greater understanding of the value and worth of the work made. This was achieved through telling the designer makers’ stories and bringing the skills and workmanship to life through video and imagery, such as the video of Wanshu Li’s work and process below.

Carol Sinclair, one of our competition winning designer makers, comments:

“What Craft Design House do that is very different is tell the makers stories in the round – supporting exhibitions with films, social media with an effective selling platform, finished products with samples, sketchbooks and films of production.  It is this fully considered approach that makes the relationship between Craft Design House its makers and audience so satisfying and productive.  And as the membership grows the network of makers and audiences grows too.  It is a community with shared interests and passions.”

Creative ExchangeA11A6004 in the heart of historic Leith is not only our HQ but also the perfect place to begin our exhibition tour with its light and bright gallery space on the ground floor in an exceptional and iconic building. Creative Exchange, previously the Corn Exchange, is a innovatively restored and re-purposed listed building that now nurtures new start-up talent and nestles snugly in the artistic and industrial core of this unique community.

Arts & Culture, Landscapes, Our Houses

CRAFT DESIGN HOUSE LIVES HERE. The Creative Exchange in Leith

Even online companies must have a headquarters, and when looking around for ours, we were lucky enough to come across and be accepted by the Creative Exchange in Leith, a recently renovated Corn Exchange and landmark building of the Victorian Era.

Creative Exchange, 29 Constitution Street.
Creative Exchange, 29 Constitution Street.

As a creative company, we pride ourselves on the uniqueness and exceptional quality craftsmanship of every Designer Maker we represent. It seemed only fitting that our headquarters should also reflect this.

Inside Creative Exchange with our fluffy companion.
Inside Creative Exchange with our fluffy companion

Built between 1860 and 1862, the Corn Exchange cost the then exorbitant sum of £7000 to construct. The hall is 110 feet long and 70 feet wide, with an Italianate exterior and a distinctive octagonal tower. This was not a building designed to blend in with its surroundings. It was a statement of economic strength, of civic pride, and of cultural intention.

Part of the frieze on the exterior of Creative Exchange, carved by John Rind
Part of the frieze on the exterior of Creative Exchange, carved by John Rind

Like icing on a cake, the exterior of the building was decorated with a frieze depicting various agricultural activities, carved by John Rind, a prestigious sculptor whose other projects included the golden Winged Nike who perches on the dome, atop the Bank of Scotland building on Bank Street, and the portrait heads of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the National Museum of Scotland on Chamber Street, all in central Edinburgh.

The renovation that earned the Corn Exchange a commendation for "best re-use of a listed building" at the Scottish Design Awards
The renovation that earned the Corn Exchange a commendation for “best re-use of a listed building” at the Scottish Design Awards

The Corn – now Creative – Exchange retains many of its original features, although it has since been radically re-purposed and renovated. In its newest incarnation, the building earned a commendation at the Scottish Design Awards in 2006 for “Best Re-Use of a Listed Building”. The former mercantile hub is now a hub of a different kind, home and incubator to a variety of small technology and creative start-ups, and a true community spirit.

Lighthouse pillars on the stairwell in the Corn Exchange reiterate the major marine ties of the port of Leith
Lighthouse pillars on the stairwell in the Corn Exchange reiterate the major marine ties of the port of Leith

Community and identity are key components of life in Leith, an area that until 1920 was legally distinct from Edinburgh. Prior to the emergence of Glasgow as an industrial centre and trade across the Atlantic, Leith was the industrial powerhouse of Scotland and the main trading port. It was the shore to which royalty came, boasting not only a King’s Landing a la Westeros, but also a Queen’s Landing, and in the 1800s, a Victoria Dock and an Albert Dock were also built. Leith’s royal associations extend to games of golf, as played in the Leith Links. It was here that the first ever rules of golf were drawn up in 1744. Indeed, the first reference to golf being played in Scotland also comes from this course some 300 years earlier when King James II banned the game for interfering with the vital and patriotic activity of archery practice.

Stained glass detailing from within the Creative Exchange
Stained glass detailing from within the Creative Exchange

Innovative in its games, proud in its architecture, Leith has also been a key player in industry, with shipbuilding providing the main but by no means the only skill to its bow. Glass making was a significant industry from the time of Cromwell through to the mid-1800s. Sugar refineries were established in Leith by the early 1800s, and Leith was also home to the largest flour-mill in Scotland and one of the largest in the whole of the United Kingdom. It was during this Golden Age of Leith that the Corn Exchange, and many of the other exceptional municipal buildings, were built along Constitution Street and Bernard Street, leading towards the Shore.

The Shore at sunset
The Shore at sunset

In the 1900s shipbuilding declined, the nation was ravaged by two world wars, and the fortunes of Leith declined, forcing the merger with Edinburgh in the face of fierce opposition from Leithers. However, the motto of Leith is ‘Persevere’ and the area has slowly begun to recover, with restorations carried out on many of the once majestic buildings of the area – among which the Corn/Creative Exchange is certainly numbered -, as well as a flourishing multicultural community and a wealth of creative output.

The Craft Design House exhibition will commence its tour in the gallery space of the Creative Exchange on Monday 13 March 2017, available for viewing until Friday 24 March (weekdays only). Come see this incredible building (not to mention the works of our inspiring competition winners) for yourself!

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Arts & Culture, Landscapes


Why not try some of these pancake fillings as suggested by our followers?


Top 5:

Lemon and Sugar. You can’t argue with a classic.

Grand Marnier. The perfect end to a long day.

Dutch Pancakes. Not a topping but so delicious we don’t care.

Bacon and Maple Syrup. Another classic.

Condensed milk. Russian habits die hard.*

If you’re pretending to be healthy:





For the lesser-sweet-toothed-being:

Wild mushroom, cream cheese and tarragon

Mushroom, cream and bacon

Bacon and apple


Mars bar wrapped in a pancake. Also possibly the most Scottish answer, but it actually came in from China!

For the serious connoisseur: 

Anything with copious quantities of sugar, but sometimes white sugar with some lemon juice can hit the spot… Thank you Matthew P for this considered answer

Pancake stats:

A pancake (who says it’s a pie anyway) chart of flavours and their popularity according to Craft Design House followers:

meta-chart (1)

Is anyone else thinking mushrooms are surprisingly well-represented here?

PS. Dutch pancakes totally count, I just didn’t know how to write them into a pancake chart as they’re not really a topping, but they are delicious and have not been forgotten!

*Try with strawberries as well as condensed milk. It’s a life changer. It will also give you a dangerous sugar high so pick your time wisely and consume responsibly.

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The Craft Design House Team.

Arts & Culture, Landscapes


Pea Cooper MillineryFor all its mass-produced cards, chocolate boxes, and the inescapable fluffy pinkness that envelops the world for a fortnight from the beginning of February, Valentine’s Day has its roots in pagan festivals, very confused but romantic ecclesiastic history, innovative design and imagination.

Cliff Wright Sleeping BearsValentine’s Day as celebrated on February 14th was introduced in the 5th century A.D. by the Catholic Church as the Feast of St Valentine. It was timed to coincide with (and hopefully supersede) Lupercalia, a pagan Roman festival. Lupercalia, which took place on February 15th, involved smearing women with the blood of sacrificed animals to improve fertility and was said to have incorporated some fairly ribald coupling traditions.

St Valentine seemed the perfect Saint to appoint to the day as he (or rather they – there are about a dozen including a woman and a pope) had long-standing associations with marriage and love. At least one St Valentine was martyred for conducting forbidden marriage ceremonies. As well as being patron-saints of lovers, they are protectors of beekeepers and epilepsy sufferers, amongst others.

Kirsty Adams Ceramics

The celebrations of Valentine’s Day as we now know them were first mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”. Indeed is has been suggested that this was Chaucerian artistic licence that captured public imagination and led to the establishment of these traditions, rather than a commentary on ones that already existed. The notion of sending tokens and letters to loved ones fitted well with the ideals of courtly love and adoration that were popular at the time.  Written valentines proliferated thereafter.

Lucy McDonaldValentines tokens remained very much a handmade and personal affair until the 1840s when the sale of mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards began. Victorians, inspired by revivals of courtly love traditions, embraced the use of mass-produced cards and the traditions of Valentine’s Day to indulge friends, family and lovers.

Meanwhile, chocolate was arriving on the scene as the gift of choice, courtesy of an inspired member of the Cadbury dynasty, Richard Cadbury, who oversaw sales. In the 1840s Cadbury’s drinking chocolate-making techniques changed, and the new method created cocoa butter as a by-product in huge quantities. This was turned into eating chocolate. Richard Cadbury identified a niche in the market for beautiful presentation boxes of chocolate, and designed the first heart-shaped, cupid-and-rose-covered boxes for Valentine’s Day. The boxes were so beautiful that they could be kept and used long after the chocolates had been eaten.  They became instantly popular and are now sought after by collectors.

Camilla LeeWhile we respect the ingenuity of Richard Cadbury and his ability to tap into a market with innovative new products, not to mention his zero-waste prototype production line, wouldn’t it be wonderful to take Valentine’s Day back, away from mass-produced cards regurgitating the same trite sentiments, and chocolate boxes, and give something personal? Easter is just around the corner, so you’ll be consuming plenty of chocolate then anyway…

Whether you make a card, organise a day out, cook all your loved one’s favourite desserts or give them something handmade (it’s up to you whether you make it or leave the hands-on part to a talented designer maker), revive courtly love traditions and make your token a unique and meaningful expression of your love this Valentine’s Day.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out our Made with Love, Gifted with Love gift selection.

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Behind the Design, Jewellery & Accessories, Our Houses


Wanshu Li UV Jewellery

Do you remember those Pin Art executive toys that were all the rage in the 80s? I confess I don’t really, or at least, not from their heyday. I discovered the odd curios that survived purges; the ones that languished forgotten amidst forests of photo frames.

Do you remember that tingly delight as you pushed your hand against the pins (or your face if you were small and thought it might be a good idea) and everything moved, creating a perfect imprint of whatever you pushed up to it?

Wanshu Li Green Collar UVNow imagine wearing something that responsive, enjoying the feeling as each individual pin or – in this case – bead rippled with your movement, with the shape of your collarbone, the twist of your head. This was my first, unforgettable experience with Wanshu Li’s jewellery. Did I mention that it glows under UV light?

The launch of Craft Design House coincided with the launch of our first exhibition, an exhibition that celebrated innovative craft and design in Scotland, and encouraged designer makers to challenge themselves with their practice. Wanshu Li took part in this exhibition, and her collection included some incredible pieces, but her showstopper was a green collar. It was so tactile that I couldn’t stop myself from holding it in my hands and watching as each link and bead undulated, or from stroking it as I reverently laid it on its plinth. I had never seen anything like it.

Wanshu Li JewelleryWanshu, a recent graduate from the Edinburgh College of Art and current artist in residence in their jewellery department envisages her work as ‘moving art on the body.’

‘I would like to provide wearers with a live and intimate wearing experience for the body.’

Her jewellery is intended as a ‘multi-sensory experience’ involving touch, sound and vision. Her unique work is characterised by the free movement of every single bead, painstakingly painted and attached individually, and the soft sounds they create as they move. Each piece, and each bead of each piece, develops a luxuriously sensorial relationship with the wearer as it plays uniquely upon the skin.

Originally from the town of Harbin in northeast China, where she first displayed her creative flair and attended her first jewellery workshop, beginning her love-affair with jewellery, Wanshu studied Jewellery and Silversmithing at the Beijing University of Technology, and then pursued postgraduate study at the ECA.

Wanshu LI sketches and jewellery‘For me, [living in Edinburgh] was the first time that I lived and studied in a foreign country for such a long time. After gradually being familiar with my studies and life here, I found myself becoming more independent, confident and open-minded especially in developing my work. In order to find more inspiration, I often go to museums, galleries, and travel around Europe.’

Edinburgh appealed to Wanshu for its artistic atmosphere and cultural diversity and inclusiveness, but travelling in general is vital to her work. She actively seeks out new cultures and perspectives and relishes the continuous fresh sources of inspiration that she gains from travel.

Exploring and pushing the materials with which she works is Wanshu’s favourite stage of her jewellery-making process, and her graduate collections led her to experiment with UV light and florescent materials as she sought to capture the essence of ‘free-swimming marine animals such as jellyfish or coral, which are soft, light, and glowing with characteristic amazing colours’ and made her determined to combine a sense of movement and light in her work.

In the future Wanshu Li hopes to collaborate with fashion designers, lighting designers and dancers to push her work and challenge her practice in different ways. We can’t wait to see what she will come up with next! Wanshu Li is currently working with the Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show, courtesy of an introduction by Craft Design House. The fashion show will take place on March 11th.

Find out which of our other designer makers will also be involved in the show via our Journal over the coming weeks.

Check out this video interview and footage of Wanshu Li’s incredible jewellery-making practice by our very own filming duo Pete and Eilidh!

Wanshu Li’s work will soon be available via Craft Design House, keep an eye out on her showcase.

If you enjoyed this article please share it with friends and family via your social media.

Behind the Design, Home & Interiors, Our Houses


Annette Baumann – LICHT id competition submission in the Craft Design House Exhibition 

Like a moth to a flame, Annette Baumann has always been drawn to light, with a creative eye and gifted hand that brings a new sense of wonder into the world of illumination.

From her earliest days as a student of interior architecture and design, to her experiences working as a lighting consultant around the world, and now to her newest and bravest venture, as a designer maker of extraordinary lampshades, it really would seem she was drawn moth-like to light. Annette’s appreciation for light seems tightly bound to notions of its atmospheric and aesthetic qualities – not just any flame will do…The lampshades Annette creates are mysterious and beautiful, the lighting designs she worked on as part of the team at  FOTO-MA Lighting Architects and Designers for Rosslyn Chapel and the National Portrait Gallery are sensitive to the heritage and demands of the spaces, and even a university project that centred around light yielded an extraordinary frosted-glass-cube confection that revealed hidden messages when lit.

Annette makes sure that we, her audience, gather awed and moth-like around her silk creations, mimicking the behaviour of the moths she depicts.

Annette Baumann at workDon’t worry if you are not a moth-lover though, there are plenty of dragonfly and dot variations to keep you happy too, with further designs in development. Annette laughs that she had to create an alternative to her moth idea, even though that was her original inspiration, because her husband did not appreciate their home being invaded by hordes of moths, no matter how luminous and silky…
So how did an undoubtedly talented lighting consultant move into designing and making unique lampshades?

Annette Baumann at workFor Annette, having children prompted a change of pace, at least briefly, but in the aftermath of the recession there were not vast numbers of creative jobs available. Innately creative with an eye for detail, Annette took up upcycling furniture, but found herself working in a fiercely competitive market. The discovery one day of an old wooden standard lamp, however, was to change her creative practice completely. Having lovingly restored and re-wired the lamp, Annette could find no shade that she deemed worthy of it. As she contemplated this problem, and the sort of shade that would be worthy, the concept of a lampshade, with moths that only appeared when the light was switched on as if drawn to it, was born. She may not have known it at the time but the lampshade for her standard lamp was to become the prototype for her technique and ‘Moth Flurry’ collections.

‘Like in real life I wanted to convey the idea of the moths only appearing at night time when the light is actually being switched on. I liked the concept of the lampshade transforming from something seemingly ‘ordinary’ into something special when lit and the sense of surprise and magic this holds. It took a lot of experimenting and trial and error to come up with a technique to get the idea to work.’

Moth Flurry Lampshade OFF – Annette Baumann, LICHT id
Moth Flurry Lampshade ON – Annette Baumann, LICHT id

Annette Baumann

Having eventually completed the lampshade to her satisfaction, Annette realised that this was something she could do, that she had many contacts from her career in lighting, and that she was creating something that was truly unique. She first launched her work two years ago and has been carefully gathering a loyal following ever since.

‘Every lampshade I make is made to order and very often fully bespoke. I invest a lot of thought and time into each piece I make.’

Annette hopes to grow her practice, by expanding her designs to reach new audiences, that will eventually enable her to earn a living from her work. ‘It’s a shame that more people don’t impulse buy lampshades’ she sighs good-humouredly. Happily, Annette is establishing herself at a time when there is increasing respect for handcrafted pieces as something more wholesome, more immersive and more desirable than mass-produced products, something truly unique. Moth-fury, or even her dotty lampshade editions are certainly not something you will find on the highstreets.

Annette Baumann‘Personally, I find it much more fulfilling to find and buy something original, hand-made, maybe even created in collaboration with the designer maker. Apart from the thrill of owning something truly unique, the piece will forever connect a memory or a little story which adds a certain value or quality. Buying mass produced, throw-away products from big department stores just doesn’t give me that same experience. I think it’s great that more and more people are starting to feel this way and really appreciate original crafts again.’

Annette, we whole-heartedly concur #slowbuying


Craft Design House. Where unique is standard.

Curators' Edit


Burns’ Night, January 25th.

A night of storytelling, haggis-eating, singing, too much whiskey drinking, and perhaps even a whirl around a ceilidh…

We’re celebrating Scottish craft and design with our wonderful Scottish designers and makers and their exceptional work.

Happy Burns’ Night!

Behind the Design, Jewellery & Accessories, Our Houses



Silver brooch Jo Baker What is it that drew you first to jewellery design and making?

I love making things by hand, from painting pictures to binding books and growing flowers. I enjoy wearing unusual and artistic jewellery and was inspired to learn how to work in silver after my sister took a weekend class and presented me with a pair of earrings that I still wear.

You didn’t start out as a jeweller. How did you transition from physics, astronomy, and landscape architecture into jewellery? Is there an overlap between the disciplines that you can identify?

It’s a strange route I know, but there are overlaps. Forms and natural processes are central to each of these disciplines – from gravity to spiral galaxies to ecological cycles to metallurgy. I have shifted away from trying to test mathematical descriptions of nature to trying to find my own more expressive ones.

Jo Baker work detailYour most recent collection is inspired by Robert Smithson whose work you describe as a exploiting chaos and serendipity. How did you discover Smithson? What was it that drew you to his work and encouraged you to explore his themes in your own? Is the dichotomy of chaos and serendipity an important message for you?

Yes, I like the idea that you can’t control everything in life and some of the most beautiful moments are unanticipated. I first heard of Smithson from his Spiral Jetty work in Utah – a giant spiral causeway of rocks set into a shallow salt lake. But I really came to appreciate the variety of his work when I saw an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA) in Los Angeles. I was amazed at the breadth of his ideas – from his obsessions with maps, contours and landforms to his love of geology (crystal shapes, weathering and decay). And his humour, from collages of Godzilla with mining machinery to his Hotel Palenque video where he documents a dishevelled hotel in Mexico. I share some of those interests and thought that because he is process-led he would make an interesting subject for a project.

Do you design jewellery that you would wear or is your view on the pieces you create more broad/dictated by another factor?

My graduate collection is experimental – it is not necessarily something that you would find in a high street store – but it is also wearable, if sometimes for dramatic effect or special occasions. I try to work with metal in the workshop a bit like a scientist would in a laboratory, trying out new methods and seeing what surprises await. I want to push the boundaries of the materials and techniques I work with to make something that is unique.

Can you tell us about the actual techniques involved in realising your jewellery pieces? Is your design process quite in-depth or is the fluidity of silver your starting point and you allow that to direct your creations?

Jo Baker silver ringFor the poured silver pieces I first build a frame from silver wire of the basic structure I want to make (a ring, or some shape) and suspend it on a clamp. I fill a crucible with silver beads and melt them with a blow torch. When the beads become a pool of liquid I pour the silver quickly over the frame, trying to ensure it runs down the wires. Sometimes the silver goes where I want it to; other times it doesn’t. Some of my favourite pieces are serendipitous, when the frame breaks or a stone falls out, leaving behind an unexpected silver strand.

How do you go about choosing which semi-precious stones and other elements to incorporate into your work?

Most jewellers choose cut precious or semi-precious stones like diamonds or topaz because of their shine, colour and value. I am also interested in geology and ordinary materials, from concrete to uncut stones. My current work uses fine opaque stones like (black) jet and (red) jasper, minerals such as (green) malachite as well as clear quartz, volcanic glass (obsidian) and translucent flakes of mica. To show off the forms and textures of minerals I often use them in the raw or in crushed form. Some of these were sourced from Arizona, where jewellers use stones like red opal and turquoise for inlays. Others are from geological specimen collections.

You work as an editor for a scientific journal. How do you balance your work as editor for Nature with your jewellery practice?

Barely! Both fuel my curiosity in different ways – scientific editing keeps my mind spry and swimming in ideas. Jewellery pushes me to think more creatively and to realize those ideas in concrete forms. Making jewellery is very physical and when I leave the workshop after a day spent sawing, soldering and sanding I feel grounded and less stressed.

Jo BakerDo you think being in London is important to your practice? Would your work be different if you were not in an urban, cosmopolitan, cultured environment?

London is full of diverse and creative people and I don’t think I would have been bold enough to make jewellery with such a strong theme without the tutors and other students on my course, who were really inspiring and encouraged us to ‘go for it’ and explore unusual ideas. It is also helpful to be able to go to lots of galleries for inspiration. And to walk along the Thames – the river is the heart of the place in my view and I am always drawn to its banks. It’s a good place to think.

Garnet Ring Jo BakerYou’re a January baby and quite fond of garnets (the January birthstone) –  is there anything in particular that you associate with them? 

Yes I love garnets for the depth of their colour – like rich velvet or pomegranate seeds. When I studied geology at university my favourite rock was garnet schist – the red garnets peppered through a silver grey stone seemed almost unreal. And on a recent trip to Prague I admit I did buy some lovely garnet rings and earrings – garnet jewellery is a speciality there. The stones are especially effective packed in clusters. (I’m wearing a garnet ring now!).

Curators' Edit


Revolt against Blue Monday, scientifically proven most depressing day of the year!

Here are a few positive ways to be blue today.

Landscapes, Outside Our House


scilliesIt’s January, that cold month that follows all the December revelry and indulgence, that month when we make resolutions, we guilt-trip ourselves for the money we spent, the food we ate, the alcohol we drank and possibly the decisions we made in the last year.

But why? Can’t we allow ourselves an indulgence or two and not feel guilty?

Enter the carnation, the flower of January. Perfect for anyone, even those of you who have taken avidly to drinking pond water or doing asanas before work this month. But actually, in keeping with our mission of sustainability and our support of small businesses and communities doing something unique, we would like to propose the pink instead.

Pink? You query, rubbing your forehead in bafflement. Why pink? Is pink a thing and a colour or a thing in a colour? Weren’t we just talking about carnations?

scilly pinksWe were talking about carnations, and pinks come from the same family, the dianthus. They are smaller and infinitely more fragrant than their carnation cousins, which were bred to be larger and in the process lost out on scent. And yes, pinks often are pink, but it was not actually their colour that earnt them their name, but rather the shape of their petals. It is said that their crinkled shape is reminiscent of the shapes created with pinking shears.

In fact, pinks are a very old variety of dianthus that rose to popularity in Tudor times, frequently featuring in the newly designed formal gardens of the period, and even in portraits. A couple of famous portraits featuring the pink come from the following (seventeenth) century, painted by no lesser an individual than Rembrandt himself.

Girl with a pink, Rembrandt van Rijn. 1660s.
Girl with a pink, Rembrandt van Rijn. 1660s.
A woman holding a pink, Rembrandt van Rijn. 1656.
A woman holding a pink, Rembrandt van Rijn. 1656.

And why are we all about pinks?

Firstly, we love things that are a little bit out of the ordinary – why have a carnation when you could have a more unusual and beautifully scented pink?

Secondly, we love innovation, local produce, sustainable and ethical business, especially when it comes with such a great story.

isles of scillyWe talked to Scilly Flowers, one of the flower farms based on the Isles of Scilly, (a tiny idyllic archipelago projecting into the Atlantic ocean off the toe of Cornwall) for their take on all things pink.

It is said that flower-growing came to the Isles of Scilly when a Dutch merchant attempted to reward the Governor’s wife with bulbs for services rendered (we’d hate to speculate on the nature of these services…) The Governor’s wife mistook the bulbs for onions, but upon tasting one found them so revolting that she cast them out of the window, into the moat. The bulbs rather liked the moat and flourished, bringing the first ornamental flowers to the islands. The story has yet to be proved but we love it.

isles of scilly pinksThe next story, however, is one you can fact-check. World War II came around and all agricultural land was turned over to food production. The flower industry was so vital to the islands’ economy that they appealed to Churchill to be exempt, with a bouquet of flowers when he fell ill, and a note, pleading with him to reconsider because of the morale-boosting effects of fresh flowers. Churchill, we are happy to say, relented, but not without caveats. The islands could keep their flower farms, but they would only be able to ship them to friends and family on the mainland. Suddenly every islander was best friends with or second cousin to a florist, and what couldn’t be shipped to these recently-acquired family members in plain sight was smuggled to the mainland in assorted improbable containers – coffins were a favourite!

The Scilly islanders were nothing if not resourceful, and have continued to be so. Scilly Flowers not only grows fabulous flowers, but also owns a herd of cattle which take part in conservation grazing across the island on behalf of The Wildlife Trust, encouraging biodiversity. Zoe Julian, one of the partners at the family-run business, feels this is a vital part of their work: ‘If agriculture is done well, it helps all of the environment which the tourists come to enjoy.’

pink plantation scillyAfter all, tourism is by far the islands’ biggest industry, but 10% of the economy remains agriculture-based and a huge part of that is the flower industry, providing year-round employment. St Martins, the island upon which Scilly Flowers is based, has a population of 120, and the business is able to employ 20 of them: that’s one sixth of the population. Due to the unique location of the islands, they enjoy a micro-climate far warmer than their mainland counterparts. This owes something to the Gulf Stream, but also to the island effect: being surrounded by so much water means the warmer sea temperature acts as a duvet for the islands, and the island’s rarely experience temperatures below freezing. As a result, they can grow flowers outdoors all year.

pinks for postageIt does not seem that the remoteness of the islands has presented any hindrance to the business, a mail-order flower service. Zoe praises the Universal Service Agreement, with its commitment to delivering post to and from all areas of the UK, whether mainland or not, for the same price. She sees this as vital to the continuance of rural communities and their industries. I’m sure many of our more isolated designer makers would agree…The speed of postage is particularly important when shipping perishable products like flowers and previous consignments have managed to travel the length of Britain from the Isles of Scilly to Shetland in a day, although up to two days is fine.

Flowers are also an important social part of the local community. Zoe tells me that on Mothers’ Day all the children on the island gather flowers and don’t just present them to their mothers and grandmothers but to all the women on the island, as the island conflates International Women’s Day and Mothers’ Day into a charming floral extravaganza.

narcissi scillyBut actually, there’s a problem. Whoever devised the list of flowers assigned to each month clearly had little appreciation for botany, or at least deference to the seasons. Carnations and pinks are summer bloomers, and they certainly don’t grow naturally in January. But don’t despair – while pinks are very much a summer crop, the Isles of Scilly have an equally delightful, scented and colourful winter alternative: scented narcissi. Scilly Flowers specialises in particularly unusual multi-headed, scented narcissi varieties, which, like the pink to the carnation, are the little cousins of their more common, larger, unscented cousins – daffodils. These vibrant little flowers are sun rays that help get you through the chilly winter days with their less-than-optimum hours of daylight. Zoe jokes that their only problem is that the British male is yet to appreciate that yellow flowers could be a viable option for Valentine’s Day.

Permission for flower images kindly granted by Scilly Flowers.