I have to admit that I am not the most houseproud person in the world (Ever Supportive Partner can provide plenty of evidence for this). It may therefore seem ironic to profess admiration for the handmade brushes of Rosa Harradine. I guess it’s possible to lust after something as an object while completely ignoring its function. 🙂

So when Rosa announced that she was running a brush making workshop last week as part of London Craft Week, I jumped at the chance. The workshop was held in the lovely riverside premises of the William Morris Society near Hammersmith, and Rosa had laid out lots of samples and bundles of materials for us to lust over when we arrived.

We started with arenga, a dark and very coarse fibre from an Indonesian palm, tying it with hemp. The hemp was wound around a wooden rolling pin on the floor, and once you have started tying you control the tension by turning the brush with your hands and the rolling pin with your feet. It’s a bit tricky keeping the tension as tight as possible while adding new bundles or straps – this is where the skill lies.

There’s also an art to flattening the bundles so that when the next one is added it doesn’t completely overlap the previous one and distort the pattern.

Next we tried the same technique using softer and silkier tampico from Mexico (another use of the versatile agave plant, this time Agave lecheguilla).

Then we tried a different tying technique, using nylon thread, which is stronger than hemp, and broomcorn, a type of sorghum. I loved the wispy ends of this.

After lunch we developed the techniques we’d already learnt, adding two bundles at a time to create a more symmetrical brush, or creating patterns with the hanging strap.

Brushmaking is definitely more strenuous than it looks. For trimming we used tin snips, normally used to cut sheets of metal. They are large, and I found them very difficult to hold and to cut accurately.

In the evening, after making five brushes, I could barely lift my arms! And the next day my glutes were killing me.

Just hope that ESP doesn’t expect me to do any actual housework with these creations!

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2 Responses

  1. I love making brushes. Taught myself how to do after watching the professionals at it. We don’t have any of these fibres readily available in NZ so I’m busy experimenting with what we do have. Such fun, and definitely a work out!

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