Writing this post has been on my to-do list for most of this month... but there has been rather a lot going on.
I arrived back from Wonderwool and was straight in to painting and plumbing, most of which was done in the evenings after work so I wasn't in the way of the people who I was actually paying to do a job!
However, I am now tentatively saying that everything is finished. The electrician does need to pop back and extend a light cable, but aside from that it's a fully functioning studio. It's just over a year since I made the decision that I had reached end of life with my converted caravan. It had been patched up for years, with more repairs to the roof to try and stop it leaking than I care to think about. Most of the floor had been replaced due to it being rotten, and it was freezing cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. The business finally felt like it was in a position to pay for something which felt like an extravagance...
I explored lots of options, most were too expensive, or the wrong size and shape, at one point there was even a consideration of buying another second hand caravan and stripping it out as I had done the last one. But fortunately there was a local option that is actually perfect. Will from Woodlanders is about 20 minutes drive away from here, and he builds wooden cabins from scratch using as many locally sourced materials as possible. So I could have a space that was fully insulated, with windows and doors where I needed, to the dimensions I needed, and I could afford it!
As we're in the Snowdonia National Park I had to jump through quite a few hoops to get planning permission, even though we were only replacing one temporary structure with another. That took up most of last year, and at one point it was touch and go if everything would be in place for the planned start date.
Whilst most of the outside was new, inside is a lot of reused things form the old studio. It would have been lovely to buy things so they were all pretty and matching, that's just not how I like to do things. If something was still functional and working it was kept, so inside is not a pretty studio for Instagrammable shots. It's my work space, and that means efficiency and cost effectiveness over prettiness. Where possible everything from the old studio has been reused or sent for recycling. The aluminium outer and steel frame were picked up by a scrap metal merchant. The plywood and chipboard was take to the local council recycling centre, and the wooden frame has been cut up and will be our kindling wood for the next decade!
What there is now space for, is all the stock to be in one place... previously it had to be split between 2 different areas, and there's space to actually move around as you pick items.
A giant work table gives me space to put things that are works in progress. It's nothing fancy, just a piece of plywood on top of drawer units from Ikea (purchased years ago and now discontinued). Covering that are some giant vinyl banners I had made for the stand when we were still going to shows like Woolfest and occasionally needed something sturdy and colourful to disguise an ugly piece of cattle market!
The floor is lino about which I am not precious... it already has a few marks from moving around furniture. It is so nice to be able to quickly hoover over it and gather up the fibre tumbleweeds!
The shelving is nearly all made from offcuts, often from the original caravan. Some of it is a section of the plywood originally used for a replacement floor, and others from the panels on the walls. I have a lot of things that I use when I go out to teach, or that I only use once in a blue moon, and they're perfect for shoving up and out of the way on shelves like this. The walls are painted OSB wood, so the shelves are easy to move in the future, just undo a couple of screws, fill the holes, and reattach where I need them.
In the other half of the cabin is the new workspace, where at last I have a "golden triangle" of work table, sink and oven. I also now have a window to look out of as I work. The shed I previously used for drying everything is no longer needed as I've now got a giant ceiling airer where I can hang up damp fibre and pull it up out of the way. That's now going to be moved, and will be the storage for our winter firewood and the spare grid walls and tables I use at shows. That means the view from the house is much nicer (at a lovely wooden building), and the view from the studio will also be more pleasant.
The old gas oven has been replaced with a new electric oven... which has many features, of which I shall only ever use one setting and one temperature. I am very tempted to try the rotisserie function to cook a Sunday roast one day though! The bucket I use for the citric acid solution is another example of function over form... it's a brewing bucket with tap, and needed to be raided up so sits perfectly on an empty salt lick bucket. These are everywhere in this part of Wales, we often end up picking them up out of hedges where they've blown when empty, and are universal solution to just about anything that needs a plastic container!
This corner is one of my proudest moments of revelation in the planning process... Previously anything wet and drippy had to go outside, which often meant that I got rather wet and drippy in the Welsh weather. Installing this giant shower tray was a bit of a nightmare given it was me, my 65 year old Mum, and 66 year old Dad doing the heavy lifting, but it so amazing to be able to do wet, splashy stuff and not have to constantly wipe up. The spin dryer can also sit on it, and drain directly on to the tray, freeing up space on the draining board of the sink.
I also indulged in a new double sink, which means I can have one space devoted to hot water and rinsing fibre, and one where I can empty cold and dirty things. The old gas boiler has also gone (sold via Facebook to someone who will use it for spare parts, the old sink also went to a new home to carry on being used) instead there's a small electric water heater, which does the job very well. I did the plumbing, and getting this installed with the appropriate safety features and not getting any leaks was an absolute nightmare. I have spent hours sat under this sink with a pair of spanners!
I've also got a new storage system for dye stock solutions. Previously I used 1 litre plastic tubs and measured using a syringe, which was a real pain for larger quantities, with repeated use of the syringes often leaving me with sore hands. The final system isn't quite set up as we still need to drink more fizzy pop, but swapping to these bar optics has been great. I can still measure out quantities, but can also use them to add splashes of colours to create a palette of shades. It also frees up table space so I'm going to be able to dye in larger dyelots, which will make those of you who want bigger quantities happy!
The existing decking has also had a tidy up, with some planters made from offcuts of the larch cladding, and the wood used for the internal framing. The guttering runs in to a giant water storage tank hidden around the corner giving us increased capacity for water to use on the garden during any dry spells. The larch cladding will slowly fade to a lovely silver colour.
Someone commented to a friend of mine that I was very lucky to have such a nice space, and whilst that's true, I am lucky to live in a home with enough space for me to build something of this size, I have also worked hard for ten years to be able to afford to build this. For years I haven't taken every penny of profit the business made, leaving myself a cushion to be able to afford to do a grand project like this. This building represents ten years of hard work, and it will allow me to work for the next ten years in conditions where I can be more efficient, and enjoy working even when it's hot, cold or rainy!
The only ones who seem to miss the old caravan are the chickens. They used the underneath as a dry space to hang out during the day, and this new cabin sits flush on the old concrete slab... so no chicken hang out!
I suspect some of you are reading this and thinking you'd love to visit, which alas isn't possible. One of the conditions of the planning permission is that it's not a space used by members of the general public, and our property insurance also doesn't allow it. What I do now have is internet in the studio, so as the summer goes on there's the possibility of some live dyeing sessions, or online workshops.
PS. The fibre on the table is this years Tour de Fleece fibre, which I have been waiting to arrive for weeks! As a result I've not announced it with as much of a fanfare as I might normally, because I wanted to get it listed online and posted out to people as soon as possible to make sure it arrives internationally in time. Thursday is a public holiday, so the next postage day is Monday 5th June, and if you would like to join in, you can find the full selection here.