Where to learn spoon carving and natural coloring in Suffolk


“It’s so impressive to find out that there’s so much more to so many plants than what we see on the surface,” says Fay Jones.

“Stinging nettles are a good example of this. People often consider them a nuisance, something to get rid of, and yet not only are they a good source of yellow dye, they are also very nutritious food and good for making twine and paper – apart from being the only food plants for larvae are for some of our favorite garden butterflies like Tortoiseshell and Peacocks.”

Fay is known as Woodland haberdashery. She has a workshop at Wakelyn’s organic agroforestry farm, just outside Fressingfield, where she explores the world through the variety of materials she offers – carving spoons from scrap wood scraps and experimenting with vegetable dyes to create beautiful and functional objects.

Some of Fay’s hand-carved blackthorn, oak, ash and alder spoons
– Photo credit: Richard Allenby-Pratt @thesuffolkproject

“There are so many different shapes, textures, colors and patterns,” says Fay.

“The more you look, the more you find what amazes you. It can be as small as a dead leaf curled in an unusual way, or as large as the pattern of prehistoric trails that criss-cross an entire landscape.

“Influence doesn’t just come from a material perspective either. In an increasingly fast-moving world, craftsmanship offers a slower and more natural rhythm for the day.

“You can’t rush and you can’t bang out parts like a machine because you aren’t one. I think you become better attuned to the pace of what’s around you, more aware.

“This year there is a tawny owl sleeping in a tree across from my workshop and I knew earlier that in winter it’s time to call it a day when it wakes up and does its first ‘twit-woo’ of the day. Now he gets it up late, but for about eight weeks I was running on owl time.

“If you can start cultivating a different perspective, the world will open up around you like an ever-expanding water lily. The world is truly full of wonders,” she says.

Fay strolls through Wakelyns on her way to the Waidbeet

Fay strolls through Wakelyns on her way to Waidbeet, the blue dye-producing plant she grows there.
– Photo credit: Richard Allenby-Pratt @thesuffolkproject

Raised near Bury St Edmunds, Fay loved art at school and has a background in conservation. She studied agriculture at Sparsholt College in Hampshire and went on to work for organizations such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.

As well as selling her work at markets, Fay also gives creative workshops across Suffolk and Norfolk at venues and events including Wakelyns, Bradfield Woods, Pakenham Water Mill and Strumpshaw Tree Fair.

Last year she held an exhibition, Anima, at designermakers21 in Diss, featuring work she created while living in Breckland during the coronavirus lockdowns. And one of her spoons was selected for this year’s Harewood Biennial at Harewood House in Leeds.

Seed Surfer, one of the pieces in Fay's exhibition Anima

Seed Surfer, one of the pieces in Fay’s exhibition Anima
– Credit: Becky Demmen

Fay describes her way of working as “embracing the shaky”.

“I still have one spoon, it’s awful,” she laughs. “But there are so many variables because of the wood, where the wood comes from. You may have a small log, but until you start splitting it you don’t know if the grain is straight, what the knots are like, if there is rot in it. And that’s what makes it interesting.

“I find it very encouraging that with a few simple tools and your own energy you can make something great out of a raw material.

“Something as typically everyday as a spoon suddenly becomes much more than just a utensil for moving food, it becomes a small useful work of art, practical and pretty, and all the more so for having made it yourself.

“It’s not a picture on the wall just to look at, it has to be used. With wear and aging, the wood acquires patina and even more character, enhancing the wood’s inherent characteristics such as grain and knots. Wood carving is something you get better at the more you do it. I need to be around 650 now and I feel like I’m still learning and improving with everyone I do.”

Fay's haberdashery box, which she takes to fairs and shows

Fay’s haberdashery box, which she takes to fairs and shows, contains the little things she makes, like crochet hooks, buttons, and jewelry.
– Photo credit: Richard Allenby-Pratt @thesuffolkproject

The materials come from Wakelyns, Bradfield Woods (“it’s like the M&S of the wood,” she laughs) and sometimes people give her wood from trees that have been cut down in their gardens – and as souvenirs they have the first choice of what she manufactures .

For most of the spoons, Fay uses only a few tools – including a simple carving knife to shape the wood and a circular knife, as well as a small serrated knife, sharp on one side only, used to carve out the bowl of the spoon.

“I try to only use hand tools as much as possible because I think it helps give you a better feel for the material and makes the crafting itself a pleasant experience. However, I tend to give in and use an electric drill if I’m making a lot of buttons,” she says.

“I got lucky with some junk finds and managed to snag some nice older tools.

“[It’s] Good to know that they are back in action and doing their job instead of sitting in a shed somewhere unloved.”

Shades of Elm tapestry

Shades of Elm tapestry. Natural dye from elm bark has been treated with different fixatives to obtain different shades.
– Photo credit: Richard Allenby-Pratt @thesuffolkproject

Around the same time that Fay began exploring wood carving, she also began experimenting with vegetable dyes, first trying pieces of wool from an old unraveled sweater.

“For me, they’re a natural pairing of crafts,” she says.

“I try to save as much tree bark from my wood carvings in the fall and winter as I can have for workshops and projects in the summer. It’s wonderful to be able to use all parts of the tree for something, minimal waste and maximum appreciation, especially in a medium that isn’t overtly connected.

“Knowing this you can do some really interesting projects, like make a pocket for the spoon and color it with the bark of the same piece of wood, or make a small wall hanging in different shades and then incorporate wood and sometimes yarn from that species too, like a miniature display case .”

Fay enjoys working with tree paints as they contain a range of interesting acids and dyes, creating a wide range of shades and tones.

“A lot of the nonwoody species that are good for coloring are plants that people often mistake for weeds, although I don’t approve of that word, so they’re both widespread and plentiful and easily accessible,” says Fay.

“The hedge palette lacks the striking brightness of synthetic colors and even some of the stronger traditional natural dyes like madder and woad,” she continues.

“The colors are usually quite muted and subtle. They can be rich and deep, but they can also be cool and pale. Chocolate and caramel browns come from trees like walnut, more reddish browns from high tannin trees like oak and chestnut, lighter tans from hazel. All Prunus trees have a sort of orange hiding in their bark, warm coral and tangerine terracotta.

“For a fuchsier orange, using alder is your best bet. Yellows are the largest group of natural dyes. Gorse, silver birch leaves and dandelions. Some less likely things also make a usable color, like ivy berries and reeds – although both are purple, both make green.”

Fay also experiments with the ancient craft of lacing or cord making.

Fay also experiments with the ancient craft of lacing or cord making. This is hand processed lime bast yarn from inner tree fibers used to make nets and lace up bags.
– Photo credit: Richard Allenby-Pratt @thesuffolkproject

Another craft that Fay enjoys experimenting with is the ancient craft of rope or cord making, which in turn uses fibers found in nature.

“Ropework must be one of the oldest crafts, probably somewhere in the timeline close to flint and basket making. A simple activity that takes you back to the Stone Age, but also has use in the here and now. It’s good to know that I’m one of the links in an unbroken chain of string splicers through the ages,” she says.

“It’s a very engaging and mindful activity that becomes quite meditative as you strive to get the fibers to an even thickness and decent continuous length.

“Again, the opportunity to harvest the raw material and be involved in every stage of the process from tree to object is immensely rewarding. It requires no tools, is easy to carry, and can be picked up and put down indefinitely and used anywhere. ”

And taking time out to get away from the screens that dominate our lives and connect with nature through creativity is something Fay encourages us to do on a regular basis.

“Not everyone has to live in la la craft land like me, but people sometimes have to take a big walk once a month and make a spoon or boil some leaves and put some wool in it and make it bright yellow.

“I’m very sad when I meet people and they say I’m not creative – of course you are, it’s just repressed with a lot of people.”

For details on Fay’s workshops visit her website thewoodlandhaberdasher.co.uk and wakelyns.co.uk and follow her on Instagram @thewoodlandhaberdasher


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