Friday, 3 August 2012


The Olympics in London are in full swing - if you weren't aware of that...where have you been? It's hard not to know about this event...whether you are a sports fan or not...especially if you are in the UK where it's been held this time around. Well, anyways, the track and field athletics kick started off today and we have a fair bit of UK interest competing and excellent tv coverage. I rather enjoy watching this stuff so quite frankly work has gone out of the window. I had the tv on in the background as I tried to busy myself in the studio....but it proved distracting and I kept downing tools and running up to the screen to watch. So I've given up and decided today might just have to be a day of computer work instead - got the lap top and I'm sitting in the lounge infront of the big screen so I can just enjoy the athletics...and doing updates, blog stuff and research on the 'puter.

Studio decorating and redesign is nearing completion...YAY! I've been holding off from posting about it and uploading photos here as I wanted to wait until it was all done so I could do a complete start to finish blog post. However, as promised, here's one project I've been doing as part of the studio overhaul. Decided to post a little earlier seeings as I'm computer working today -

Up until now, most of my jewellery tools and findings, beads and what not have been stored in various boxes, bags and baskets of all shapes and sizes...including one mahoosive plastic diy tool box (a nightmare to cart around, held together with duct tape, but made a great step to stand on to reach stuff on high shelves!). Nothing 'gelled', nothing matched...not even closely...and certainly not in any chic quirky or eclectic fact non of my storage for art, craft etc worked, so as part of the studio overhaul, new storage was on the agenda.

For some time now I've had one lonesome IKEA Moppe storage unit that I've kept art pens in - a nice useful 6 drawer cabinet in a plain unfinished birch plywood ('cuz IKEA like their naked wood...and also they like you to be creative and decorate and finish them off to your own tastes). Up until now, it remained untouched...basically because I knew I wanted to do something to it...but not what I wanted to do to it...

...until now.

So I decided that as part of the jewellery storage side of things I'd us this box and then get some more (to make up four units) so I could do them up to look similar and then have the ability to stack them all together to create a bigger unit. This idea sort of harks back to my days in the jewellery business and a little metal cabinet I had in my repairs office - a little thing with lots of mini compartments but something I didn't really take much notice was just a piece of office furniture doing a job, storing stuff, a little battered, a little rusty, not much value then...but now, ironically, the sort of thing you see on Achica and other trendy re-purposed furniture sites or highly sort after and vastly overpriced on ebay etc. I often wonder what happened to that metal cabinet - the place was closed down, sold off and gutted out and I heard lots of things went in a skip (I'd left the company way before it shut down)...if that's the case, some people out there are probably kicking themselves now for trashing that piece..and others that had character, charm......and some were even antiques...

...I back to IKEA...

...which is what I did in order to get more Moppe units. I was a little bit concerned as to whether I'd actually be able to get matching storage - IKEA do have a tendency to tweak some designs a little over time, and it had been some time ago I'd purchased the original piece. But, thankfully, they did have some left (and yes they have also introduced some other slight variations of the Moppe) but for some reason they don't list the design I have on their website (maybe they are going to discontinue it) anyways, I got my three extra units and I was happy.

While there, I noticed that had a small display of Moppes that the staff had give shoppers some inspiration as to the versatility of these storage units. Mostly painted up in lots of mixed up vivid paints...a bit crude but fun and cheerful....but not my style. However, one piece did catch my attention. They had attached wooden drawer knobs to the compartments (nice design feature on Moppe is the ability to turn the drawer sections around - one end has a finger notch, the other end has plain wood that you can stick handles, labels, pulls etc). These knobs were all the same but decorated differently - a very eclectic mix of colours...some with patterns drawn on them, some decoupaged with patterned papers...and this got me thinking. I'd initially had the idea of fitting name plates to mine so I could label each with their contents, but was having trouble finding some to fit. Seeing IKEAs efforts made me change my mind and decide that knobs were the way to go...but not their sort of knob...I wanted different things...different shapes, sizes and materials... the hunt for the ideal drawer knobs began...

...and in the meanwhile I started prepping the actual wooden units -                               
I stupidly forgot to photography the units in their original 'naked' state (I got too excited and eager to get decorating them). Here, above is one of the newer designs from the IKEA WEBSITE . Mine however are made up of six compartments - just imagine another two drawer sections on top.
They got a coating of wood stain first (same colour as the rest of my wood furniture in the studio).
Then I painted them. I wanted to keep some unity to the look and used the same emulsion paint I'd put on my one 'feature wall' (a nice chalky pale sage green). This was sparingly dry brushed on and no real care they were going to get sanded and distressed and aged. You can see one of the units where I've turned the compartment drawers around and painted them...the other hasn't been completed and still shows the drawers with the 'finger notch' side.
Then, they got sanded - this was done outside (thankfully had one of those rare sunny and dry days) - paint and wood dust ain't fun to breath in...and you certainly don't want to coat the inside of your house with it! The object was to achieve a distressed and aged look so I concentrated on areas that would naturally show signs of wear and patination ie around edges, corners and around where the knobs would be attached....taking it back in some areas to the bare wood and where you could see the dark woodstain base. I also did a bit of scratching to the surface to make them look even more ragged and used.

Next stage was where the 'faux' ageing really began...using stains and inks applied in similar areas to the sanding to dirty up, enhance the paint, create false splits and cracks in the wood and so on.
Cabinet drawer front 'pre' inking up...
...and after adding more colour. Now, it doesn't look much...but I had to bear in mind the units were going to be waxed and polished, which deepens the best to go easy - you can always add more later on...but you can't always take it away. Best to be safe than sorry! The other thing I was taking into account was natural wear and tear and ageing. I could have easily gone much further and really knocked these pieces around but I also wanted to give them the chance to do part of that process themselves.....I just gave them a gentle kick start! Had I gone the whole hog and really distressed them up...then later down the line, along with this natural ageing process quite frankly they would go past that point of being trendy shabby chic...and just look plain knackered and tatty! If you want a quick fix, immediate look, and the pieces are only for a short term use, then doing the 'full monty' on them would be ok...but these are hopefully going to be with me a I now want them to settle in and settle down and age gracefully in their own time...along with the rest of the studio...and me lol!
Here are some of the full units, mid treatment. I used a mixture of wood stains, Stazon inks and even Distress inks...which yes, are water based but a blast from a heat gun sort of semi sets them and the wax goes over it pretty good...but after all I wasn't after perfection so the odd smear just added to the charm of them.
Once all were colour treated, it was time to wax and polish them. They actually look very nice left at the above stage and had a lovely chalky dull appearance...but I wanted to give them an added protective coating, a bit of wood nourishment and a sheen to enhance the wood grain. I use clear Briwax a natural, toulene free, beeswax on most of my wood projects and furniture in the house, rather than varnish which can often yellow (and is often full of weird nasty smelly chemical things). Wax brings wood to life...
...which I hope you can see above, in the same piece after treatment. I rubbed in a thin even coating of wax using a lint free cloth, allowed to set and dry then gently buffed up with a clean soft cloth.

So that was that...the units were all done and awaiting the drawer knobs!

The drawer knobs at first posed a bit of a problem...for try as I might I couldn't find anything that fitted (general furniture drawer knobs are too big and looked awkward and cumbersome attached to the small Moppe pieces) and I felt totally uninspired by the designs available at the DIY stores. I wanted an eclectic mix...but at the same time something that all pulled together, had some sort of tie, and fitted in well with the theme and colour scheme of the studio...(and weren't going to break the bank!). I found one small set of brass ball shaped knobs that were perfect, so got those, but basically came to a dead end in my hunt. My plan was to have six sets of four handles - some identical sets, some different designs but with a connection, some made of same material...preferably metal and some wood...I was being picky and awkward but I knew what I wanted and I didn't want to settle for second best... basically I concluded that there was only one way I could do that...

...make the rest myself!
I'd recently had a delivery of polymer and air dry clays (intended for making jewellery beads and sculptures) and these seemed a perfect material to use. I did a bit of research on the Internet to see how people went about making polymer clay handles/knobs and the like and made the decision that the easiest thing to do was form the clay around a premade base (saved on polymer clay and also easier to bake). This obviously had to be something heat/fireproof as the polymer is cooked in an oven to cure and harden and it suddenly struck me that I had the very thing in my box of 'bits for altering and assemblage'. Tiny wooden knobs that on their own were mainly too small to use on the Moppe units as they were...but perfect to build up the clay over and being wood meant they could have pilot holes drilled into them so the finished handles could be screwed into place.
The first set I made were all going to be different designs but united by colour, to tie in with the odd splashes of red I have in the studio decor. I modelled the polymer clay around the wooden knob bases...using a blob of clay at the base to stabilise the piece as I sculpted and freeing up both hands.
I made two flower inspired designs, a rounded piece with quarter segments and a twisted rope spiral design. Apart from colour, all had another common design element - a small brass brad in their centres. The photos above show the pieces after firing and I didn't sand or highly polish them (one piece was textured using fine grit sand paper) as that would have taken away some of the detailing...instead they were gently buffed but I also added a dark oil paint to stain and age them. I don't have a photo of that stage, but you can see the finished pieces at the end of the blog post.
The next two sets were also made of polymer clay - and comprise of identical designs....four knobbly pieces made with antique gold coloured polymer which were inspired by the shape of the studios brass curtain pole finials...and four jade/agate style round beads formed using a green clay to match the painted wall, mixed with translucent polymer and metal gilding flakes to highlight the brass fittings and features in the room. These pieces were also left buffed but not sanded to high polish but on reflection I now think the green ones would look better with a gloss will do that at a later stage.
The final polymer set were made to look like a faux bone...each one a different shape and made in white (mixed with a little translucent) then scuffed up and stained (using oil paints) and buffed with denim to give a very gentle soft sheen. The white works well in the sets of knobs as the colour really pops out and gives a bit of life to the units... but the staining and distressing stops them looking too stark and out of place.

So that was all the polymer clay knobs done.
The brass premade ones needed no extra work done to them. They were a bit of a gem of a find and aren't strictly speaking cabinet drawer knobs...well actually the company who sold them to me dealt with antique furniture restoration  etc and said they were supposed to be ball feet for a small table or trinket box but they fitted the bill perfectly...and a nice discovery was that the engraved patterning on them was very similar to the materials on the Balinese wood puppets which are the main inspiration for the studio decor (wait for my blog post on the studio for that info and all will become more clearer). These brass knobs weren't cheap but seeings as I was saving money on the rest of the pieces I decided to treat myself.

That left just one set to go....and I was running out of ideas. I really wanted something wooden and struck upon the idea of using cotton reels. I had some small ones in that 'altering and assemblage' box so went to retrieve them....and instead found buried deep inside that box another small bag of wooden drawer knobs...same shape as some of the ones I'd used for the polymer clay pieces....only slightly larger!
This astounded I can't (still to this day) remember when I bought them...and how long I'd had them...but that really didn't matter now....I had enough for a set of four and they were a perfect size. I stained them the dark wood colour and was going to leave them at that...but when I held them up against the cabinets...they sort of looked...well...blah! they looked lost and rather insignificant and needed something to just give them a bit of spark. I drilled the tops with a small hole and inserted a brass brad with a fancy metal star shaped thingy (god knows what they are called) found lurking amongst the craft bits and bobs. They aren't all the same, they have different metal colours and slight differences in shapes...but they still seem to go together and form a nice set.
So, all knobs I just needed to attach them to the cabinet fronts. I opted to drill and screw each one rather than glue as this makes it easier to remove/replace any should they get damaged or if I ever change my mind and re do up the whole thing with new knobs. Some of the pieces needed the wood based sawing and levelling off a bit but the wood bases certainly made them easier to drill and secure. The brass ones already had integrated screws and fitted on like a dream!

Here's a round up of the knobs in situ -
The 'red' set - showing the dark staining patina achieved by rubbing in oil paints and buffing off the excess.
'faux bone', antique gold knobbly knobs, wood with metal detail, and 'green agate type' sets.
Antiqued and engraved solid brass ball knobs.
And finally, here's the whole set of four cabinets stacked together. Each cabinet has one from each set of knobs and are fitted on in a random pattern. The units themselves are being stored on shelving above the jewellery work bench and are being kept separate so that I can lift down and retrieve any one unit as and when required....but should I ever want them displayed stacked together, then I also have that option and they have been made as a matching set and so when put together, they form one nice whole piece of storage furniture.

So I hope you found that post of interest and it'd be nice to have feedback on what you think of the units.... last thing...


Things don't always go to plan...there were a couple of failures along the way and I have two sets of knobs that just didn't make the grade.
The first set of polymer round bead style knobs I made turned out the wrong colour mix - I wanted red and green streaks but over mixed the clay and the alcohol ink coloured gilding metals added into it all didn't help things at all and contributed towards turning the piece a bit orangey brown. They are actually still very nice in appearance and will look even nicer polished up....but didn't quite fit in with the Moppe units. They will come in handy for another project not a total loss.

The other knobs however, were the true disaster of the whole project...everything ran so smoothly in the making of these storage cabinets that I suppose it was only time a real eeekkkk moment turned up! I had envisaged having knobs looking like old Victorian cracked porcelain ones so formed a base of white air dry clay over wooden knobs, let cure and dry and then went about treating with a Crackle Glaze. This all went well, and my intentions were to rub in some ink to age them and highlight the cracks, then coat with varnish to seal and provide a nice shine and glaze...the knobs were fully dry and nicely crackled but as I picked them up to ink, the bits of glaze just started falling off in chunks. I tried inking them all up to see if it was just one bad piece, but no they all were too brittle to use...and funnily enough, although I used the same ink on them, it came out different shades so the whole set looked a complete mess. These ones are consigned to the bin...but I'll salvage the wood bases for polymer use. I've no idea what went wrong - the clay bases were sealed, primed, and given a key for the glaze and this technique has worked in other projects before but I guess I can ponder over that another day. I can learn from this failure...and the upside is that I went on to make the faux bone knobs to replace them...and I think they're maybe it turned out to be a happy accident!