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 Coleporteurs and Me


As I get older, I sometimes wish I did some light weight craft like papier mache rather than heavy pottery!Doing lots of craft fairs can mean long hours and hard work, especially if you are traveling by by public transport.

I one evening I weighed myself -  I weigh 8 stone and I was carrying 7 stones worth of pottery- no wonder my muscles were aching

I remembered something I had read in Graham Robb's wonderful book The Discovery of France about the Coleporteurs ,French pedlars who every year until the 1870's left their mountain villages with 100-pound baskets or wooden chests strapped to their backs.

They were masterful packers (like me!) and a basket from 1841 was found to contain 9800 pins, 3888 buttons, 3000 needles, 36 thimbles,36 combs, 24 lengths of cotton, 18 snuff boxes, 96 pens and pencils, 200 quills, 40 pairs of scissors and a variety of hooks and eyes, knives, notebooks, suspenders and soap. They also provided medical and veterinary services, pulled teeth, pierced ears and told fortunes

It inspired me to find images of Coleporteurs and similar pedlars

This all made me feel not so hard done by, at least I don't have to carry my wares hundreds of miles and up mountains, however maybe I should consider extending my practice to extracting teeth and telling fortunes! 



Holbein's Danse Macabre, plate 38 Le Coleporteur  1526


 Le Colporteur ou L'enfant Prodigue

J Bosh C16th


 Voirze Jolis Le Marchand de Verres from Cris de Paris C 1500

  Colporteur Vosges, France - Janvier 1910

© DR / Archive de Bruno Claude http://www.linternaute.com/actualite/magazine/photo/les-metiers-d-autrefois/le-colporteur.shtml

Basket and Broom Seller 1890's Japan by Nobukuni Enami http://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/288/basket-and-broom-peddler

Le Colporteur by A Mintchine




Peddlar by Jost Amman 1568 from Han's Sachs Eygentliche Beschreibung Aller Staende auff Erden..., A compilation of 114 craftsmen, costumes and tools of the period


Le Colporteur de Livre (cir. 1840's)

published in Le Charivari ou La Caricature by Clément Pruche (1811-1890)


Le Colporteur By Alphonse Levy from La Vie Juive 1886



Colporteur Japan

Photo by Felice Beato, a Venetian who traveled to Japan in the second half of the 19th century. He reported on his travels a lot of pictures amazingly some of them in colour

Jacques the Colporteur 2009 https://picasaweb.google.com/maryisabelle/JacquesLeColporteur 

Colporteur (Marchand Ambulant)

from Senegal



Mr Jean Caroff, from Brittany, he was a familiar sight selling onions from his bicycle-come-stall in Parliament Street during the 1970s (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)



Pedlar Singapore


November 2014

I've been asked by Love Productions working for BBC2 to take part in this but I'm much to camera shy. If you know of anyone who might be interested please get in touch, details below







(working title)

Do you live and breathe pottery? 

Fancy your chances in a nationwide talent search?

We're scouring the country for enthusiastic potters and ceramicists who want to share their passion with the nation! 

In this brand new talent search for BBC2 your entire repertoire of skills will be put the test! So if you think you've got what it takes we would LOVE to hear from you!

Contact us now by:


Post: Pottery Team, Love Productions, 43 Eagle Street, London WC1R 4AT

Tel: 020 7067 4829 


July 20th 2013 


HapaZome workshop

In these summer months with the garden full of flowers I've been getting back into the art of Hape Zome

It is a way of transferring the pigments of flowers and leaves onto cloth by hitting them with hammers!


 The name was coined and the technique explored by eco textile artist India Flint  in 2006 when she made a floorcloth for a scene in a stage performance by beating leaves from roadside weeds and cemetery prunings and it now commonly known by this name although she acknowledges it is probably an ancient technique. Using flowers to color cloth has been done for thousands of years, until the mid-18th century natural dyes were the only option available for colouring fabric.  The Cherokee certainly used it to decorate cloth and today in North America it is called flower pounding and is used as a way to preserve flowers and memories, usually by quilters or embroiders, who often embellish it with stitching, beading and quilting.

I'm running a workshop in HapaZome on Wed eve 31st July 6.45-8.45

It was due to happen at the Amazings headquarters where I have run workshops before however they have stopped doing live classes so it will now take place in my garden near West Ham Park E7.

The good news is that it will be cheaper as I don't have to pay their fee, so now £18.50 instead of £25 and also we get to plunder my garden flowers!

You will print some test pieces and greetings cards and a calico tote bag (handmade by me!) I'll provide, hammers, card, cloth, tea coffee, wine, flowers

So if you would like to learn an ecologically sustainable printing process, come to the workshop on 31st july drop me an email

I will invoice you by paypal


May 5th 2013


I recently rebuilt my raku kiln and thought it might be useful for others to have a 'how to'.

Please read the warning about ceramic fibre at the end of the article where there is also a list of materials needed and suppliers.
If anyone is thinking of doing this project I ordered too much ceramic fibre so have some leftover- enough for a similar kiln.
Contact me about this or any other questions.
1. Dustbin ( the kiln) - It's amazing what you get on a bike! Mine is 46cm diameter x 56cm high. It is best not to get one that is flared at the bottom and handles are useful if you are not using a hoist.
2. Ceramic Buttons-You will need to make about 100 ceramic buttons, about 4-5cm diameter with two holes 1cm apart. They are used in pairs to secure the ceramic fibre.Use high fired clay that can take thermal shock like Earthstone or Crank
3.With a felt tip pen, mark 2 lines at right angles that bisect the top of the kiln, ( bottom of the dustbin),one of which lines up with the dustbin handles. Also draw a circle about 12cm diameter in the centre for the flue
4.Continue lines down the side of the kiln on the non- handle side. This will be used to mark where the guide bars are to be (if you use them)
5.Drill a hole in the centre wide enough for a blade and cut out the flue hole with a jig saw
6. Mark the location of the pairs of holes for the ceramic buttons (I have used 8 on the top) It is good to have them near the edge but remember to leave enough room to fit in the ceramic buttons. Centre punch and drill out
7. I am using a hoist for my kiln so have attached two 'U'bolts near the rim at the top of the kiln, at the mid point between the handles

8. Drill to the exact diameter of the bolt. And use washers inside


9. Mark where the area where the hoist bars will be on the sides of the dustbin without handles. I have also added two right angle brackets to the side as guides. Drill the holes
10. This will stop the kiln swinging from side to side as it is lifted with the hoist

11.  Mark and drill the ceramic button holes on the sides of the kiln. I have done 5 rows of 8. The bottom row is very close to the rim.

Ideally your ceramic fibre be should wide enough to overlap around the rim providing a better heat seal at the base of the kiln. My ceramic fabric is 61cm wide which gives enough room for a small overlap around the rim so this is why you need the holes as near the base as possible.

12.Cut the ceramic fibre for the top of the kiln with sharp scissors. The top can be marked by pressing the dustbin lid into the fibre and cutting out. This will make it slightly larger than the circumference of the kiln but  an overlap is good.

 13. Push the circle of ceramic fibre inside the kiln

14. Measure around the bin and add about 8c-10cm to get the length of fibre for the sides of the kiln. This extra amount provides an overlap. Cut both edges at 45 degrees to provide a sleeker overlap and make sure when fitting it that a line of buttons go through both layers on the join

15. Cut 48 pieces (or however many you need, one for every two buttons) of nichrome wire into 20cm length and bend in half then thread through the buttons

16. You will need the ends of the wire on the outside of the kiln. This makes it difficult to thread the wire through the holes from inside the metal bin as you are going 'blind' through the ceramic fibre.  I've invented a way of solving this with two biro refills but learn from my mistakes- use empty one, I got covered in blue ink!

17. On the outside of the kiln push two biros through a pair of holes in the bin and then through the ceramic fibre so that the protrude inside the kiln 18. Get a nichrome threaded button and push the wire into the ends of the biro refills. Puush further and the wire will be guides through your metal holes to protrude outside the kiln. Most of the buttons you can do by feel, limiting the time you spend with you head inside a ceramic-fibre filled dustbin- which is always a good thing
19. Remove the biro refills and thread on the outer button onto the wire.Twist the wire as tight as you can
 20. Finish off with pliers and cut off excess 21. Bend the wire flat around the button.

22. Continue securing the buttons on the top of the kiln


23.  Continue adding the buttons to the sides of the kiln remembering to have a row of buttons through the 2 layers of the overlap24. Finish by folding the excess fibre around the base of the kiln and adding the final row of buttons which go through the fibre on the inside and outside.
25.  Arrange the fire bricks on the ground. I have put the fire bricks on a wire mesh not to scorch the concrete underneath. 

26. Build up the stilts and kiln shelf are built up

27. If the work to be fired is not too high, the dustbin is high enough to have two shelves ensuring more cost effective firings
 28. When attaching the regulator to the propane bottle it is advisable to drip a bit of washing up liquid on the joint. Then you will know if it is bubbling you have a leak.

29.The size of the hole for the torch can be reduced with a half brick, depending on need, wind direction etc 

30.The size of the flue can be reduced by placing a broken kiln shelf on top to increase the 'draw' 
 A hoist is fairly easy to make if you have access to a welder and lots of scrap metal. It could be from scaffolding although this would be quite heavy to move. It needs to have a sturdy base and frame to suspend the kiln.
I use steel wire on two pulley wheels. A heavy counterweight is useful when lifting it, possibly a weight from a sash window. It is best to have dimensions of kiln and brick base and then decide measurements of frame around Make sure the frame is about 5cm wider than the kiln and that you can fit the kiln brick base within it.  

You will need
Ceramic buttons
I made about 100
Ceramic fibre
- enough to cover the roof, sides of kiln and and overlap- You can order a roll from Castree kilns but I have some leftover if anyone wants to buy it from me
Metal dustbin I bought mine from the fantastic Handyman's Store. They have everything! Always good for helpful advice and a laugh,
020 8472 2393.
Nichrome wire http://www.castreekilns.co.uk/nichrome-wire-950-p.asp
Roofers torch, regulator and hose £30
16 fire bricks http://www.castreekilns.co.uk/76mm-42-alumina-fire-brick-756-p.asp Propane bottle- will have to pay a deposit

Castree kilns do a raku kit. It is very good price includes fibre, bat, props and torch and other useful bits
http://www.castreekilns.co.uk/raku-kiln-kit-142-p.asp £150

Hoist you will need- scrap metal, Steel wire, counterweight, pulley wheels U bolts, right angle metal brackets for guides
Tools Electric drill, jig saw metal blade, pliers, cutters, mask, gloves, overalls

Ceramic fibre warning! Beware it is evil stuff. The fibres themselves can irritate the skin, eyes and upper respiratory tract but the main concern is that the individual fibres are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs. Wear a mask and clothes that it will brush off easily not a fluffy jumper, ideally loose-fitting one-piece disposable overalls, preferably with a hood, should be used, and disposed of at the end, tie back hair! It can irritate you skin so you may want to wear latex gloves too (Wet sweep or vacuum up meticulously afterwards and immediately bag and seal any leftover fibre. And obviously don't drink, eat, smoke whilst handling it