When I show people pictures of ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams’, after they say “Wow!” they ask, “Who made the bed?”. Well I did. When I moved to the UK in 1998, I went on a Furniture Design, Making & Restoration Course at the Chippendale International School of Furniture in Gifford, Scotland.
During the first term I made a serving tray from laburnum oysters, Cuban mahogany, black walnut with a green baize backing. I used traditional techniques and a contemporary design. It stays in our living room and is used for serving special libations.
We also had a design competition at the end of the first term. I won First Place for a maquette and design of a tête à tête dining table/booth for two. I can’t begin to describe it, but it gave the diners a very intimate and private place to enjoy a meal. It had a table shaped like a leaf, branches supporting the table and the green velvet covered seats. It looked like a yin yang design from above with big swooping curves that enclosed each diner. (This was in the days before digital cameras, blogs and Facebook. I didn’t even own a camera then, so alas, no piccies.)
By the end of the first term, we were supposed to choose a final project for the graduation show in June. I think the Principal, Anselm Fraser, and the tutors would have been very happy if I decided to make a reproduction Queen Anne bureau, but I kept saying “I want to make a bed that’s like going to sleep in the forest.” I had a meeting with Anselm just before Christmas break and he conceded, but said I’ll need to make a maquette first. So I got a cereal box for the mattress, gathered and glued together some dried twigs for the headboard & footboard and drew the quilt on a piece of paper and taped it to the headboard. Ta-da!
After we got back from break, the tutors circled uneasily around me, but none of us knew how to get started. Then, a new tutor, James Laidlaw was brought on board. Jimmy had been a pattern maker during his professional life. One of his big jobs was re-casting the beautiful, disintegrating iron railings in Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town in black fibreglass, and splicing them back into the existing iron balconies. So he knew how to figure things out.
I was all ready to get started on my bed, but Jimmy wisely suggested that I make a smaller piece first. So I made ‘Solstice Moon’.
Then, we got started on the bed. We found some wood in the drying shed that was either olive ash or some sort of elm. It had an amazing grain and I made the frame for Solstice Moon and the bed frame from it.
I made a full-sized paper pattern, traced it onto the wood and used a bandsaw to shape most of the branches. We joined the branches with half-lapped joints, then I spent hours with woodfiles and sandpaper to shape and smooth them. The branches were morticed & tenonned into the surrounding frame and I think we used some Bondo at one point. Anything to make it work!
I had brought a French Provincial bed over from America. We cannabalised the mattress support rails and the metal rods hidden in the base of the bed posts which they hooked over, then integrated them into the new bed frame.
There weren’t many quilting fabric stores in Edinburgh at the time, so I faxed my quilt pattern and colorway to my friend in California and she bought and posted the fabric to me. I used some sheer yellow fabric from John Lewis for the sunbeam shining onto the glade. It was my first time using a sheer fabric and I felt quite excited about it!
And here’s the bed as it was in 1999. I dyed a duvet cover with Procion dyes and used walnut wood stain on the valance.
After I finished the course, I decided to stick with textiles as my main medium. I prefer the fluidity and sensuality of fabric. I also find it more forgiving than wood to work with, I can deviate from my design if I want to. Not possible with a piece of furniture.
I am however, looking around for a good artisan/craftsperson who works in wood to make some frames and structures for my art quilts and fibre art pieces. I also have some designs up my sleeve for some sheer urban landscapes set in clear acrylic or brushed aluminium frames.
So in a couple of weeks, I’ll be able to lie in my bed, which I’ve made :).