Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 8 December 2020


When I was a kid, lots of things were handmade or homemade. I never ate a meal that wasn’t made from scratch, until I was in secondary school. My first ever burger was from our local Wimpy. Going to a restaurant was a very big deal. I had my first steak dinner at the ‘Wig and Gown’ for my best friends tenth birthday.

The same was true of other things, too. I never had a shop-bought uniform sweater until secondary school, and, even then, I was still regularly knitting my own.

I learned to handmake or homemake when I was still a small child. My father taught me to knit before I even went to school, and I would sit and watch my neighbour sew for as long as she’d allow me to. About two years ago, I was in a vintage shop, and saw hanging on a rail, a dress and jacket in the same fabric that my grandmother had used to make one of her favourite dresses, back in the sixties. I never saw her in a shop-bought dress. My mother made me a trouser suit for a birthday party when I was six or seven.

My father did all our home diy, including hanging wallpaper, and he did all the mechanics on our ancient family cars. He taught me how to use tools, and there isn’t much I can’t turn my hand to.

We live in an incredibly disposable society, now, particularly, it seems to me, when it comes to clothes and home decor. There are enough garments on the planet to clothe the next five generations of people… if the Earth lasts that long. Frankly, I don’t imagine it will if we keep producing, wearing and throwing away such huge quantities of what is, essentially, cheap fashion…

Anyway, this is not intended as a political blog about the ills of our disposable lifestyles. I’m not having a dig at Primark, or those who shop there.

The point is, I’m a maker of things. Some of you know that I write, but it’s a relatively small part of the time I spend making things. I knit and sew, and even try to crochet. Thanks Jess Woo. I also draw and paint, although less now than I have in the past. My favourite make is throwing pots, which I’ve been busy doing quite a lot of recently. I bloody love my pots. I’m never going to be a master potter, but I take classes with one, and I’m finding it a huge creative outlet, as well as a chance to learn a new skill.

I’m a practical person, but I like to think that I’m creative, and even, when the spirit moves, artistic.

So… This is a blog about Christmas… No, really, it is.

In the past, we have revelled in Christmas, buying heaps of gifts, and opening them together, on our bed, on Christmas morning with whoever happens to be with us. Once in a while, we try opening gifts in the drawing room, under the tree, but bed is still the best place, still the cosiest for exchanging gifts.

We’re incredibly lucky that we can be a little excessive at Christmas, but we’re also lucky that we can have the things we want when we want them; and, the older we get, the less we want.

This year, we’re trying a new gift-giving system. It goes like this: everybody gets something they need, something they want and something handmade/homemade.

So for the past few weeks, and from now until Christmas, I have had and will have the very great pleasure of making things. Some knitting has already happened so that the kids have something they can always use for a blanket fort. There are ongoing sewing projects, as I piece together vintage fat quarters (batches of 1/2 square metres of fabric) of sari silk to make quilts for some of the more grown-up members of the family, and then there are my pots.

Dan wants a new tea mug. This sounds simple enough; I’ve made plenty of mugs in my little studio, and under the tutelage of Alan, my instructor. I’ve made teapots, too, jugs, plates… All sorts of things. The problem is that I work in stoneware or earthenware, and we all know that pot is the right medium for coffee cups, but that tea needs to be served in porcelain. Working with porcelain by hand is a real art; it’s like putty, it moves easily under a potter’s hands, but doesn’t hold its shape. I’m a pretty precise crafter, but I tend to thrash about when it comes to the arts, and porcelain is an art. I can manage drawing with big lumps of charcoal on huge sheets of paper, and I can watercolour with big brushes on soaking wet paper, but draughtsmanship with a pencil or delicate, pretty painting eludes me. Porcelain fits into this category.

Aylesford Pottery for
West House Restaurant, Biddenden

My pots tend to be solid, unsophisticated, robust things. They please me, but they are not delicate or pretty, and neither do I want them to be.

So, Dan wants a new tea mug. I won’t be making it for him, but I know a man who can. Alan at Aylesford Pottery, and his oppo, Billy are master potters, who make everything from flowerpots to tableware for restaurants, and they are artists, too. So, Alan is going to make me half a dozen porcelain mugs for tea. Dan can pick his favourite, and I can pick mine, and the rest will go into the cupboard for when we have visitors (if that ever happens again).

Meanwhile, I have other projects. I know someone who has regularly admired my beakers, and there might be a baker in want of a new cake plate.

So much to do, so little time.

Meanwhile, my latest patch of pots, which I’m calling ‘Pot Shots’ are almost ready to be photographed.

Make something this Christmas, and if you’re not a maker, buy something lovely from someone who is.

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