Meet the makers: Barbara Weidman

Gardening fanatic Barbara of the Jammery tells us about the allotment that is her passion and how the fruitful results of her labours get turned into jam and other preserves


1. Some people may be a bit surprised that you can grow enough fruit in Brixton to make and sell jam – tell us how you do it.
I live in a flat with a tiny back yard and front garden, where I grow tomatoes, herbs and orchids in pots. But my main pride and joy is my allotment in Herne Hill. It’s got a Victoria plum tree, which produced 20kg of plums in my first year. Then the second year I had 40kg! I got sick of eating plum pie and plum tart – that’s when I decided I had to have a go at making jam! I only make jam from fruit I can pick myself on my allotment, from friends or in the wild. For example, I made some great blackberry and apple jelly last week from brambles I picked on the hill by my allotment.

2. So  did you have a lot of previous experience of jam making?
None at all. The first lot I made tasted great but was a bit runny. I go on the internet and find recipes, but I’ve learnt through experience you can’t just, for instance, triple all the quantities. And I’ve had to experiment with different fruit to get different levels of pectin to get a good set.

3. You’re from Chicago originally – they take home-made preserves quite seriously in America, don’t they?
American foodies are definitely into making everything from scratch, like pâté, and bottling fruit and veg (they call it canning over there). I can buy equipment in the States that doesn’t exist over here. And the US Department of Agriculture publishes standards for preserving food, which I follow, though of course I’m also registered with Lambeth Council as a food producer. I boil my jars to sterilise them before filling with jam and again for 10 minutes after filling. I also use a two-part lid so that I can replace the central part if I use the jar again. I do encourage people to return the jar by offering a refund of 30p – the jar is the most expensive part of the product and it’s great if I can reuse it rather than buying more new ones.

4. You sell some of your jam already through Brixton Cornercopia – how did you get involved with them?
When I started making jam I had so much I couldn’t eat it all or give it away. So I saw a flyer from Brixton Cornercopia offering to sell produce from local makers and thought I’d give it a go. They suggested making jams with less sugar, so it was back to experimenting again! Now I’ve discovered a German pectin that lets me use about one pint of sugar to three pints of fruit, compared with the usual ratio of one pint of sugar to one pint of fruit. With less sugar the jam tends to discolour a bit more quickly, but it’s only cosmetic – it still tastes good!

5. So why did you decide to join Makerhood?
I have my own website, but I haven’t worked out how to sell stuff on it through e-commerce, so I would tell people to email me or go to Cornercopia to buy my jam. Now I can link them to the Makerhood site! I also tend to take stuff in batches to Cornercopia – Makerhood means I can carry on selling in between, as it accumulates.

6. What do you like about living in Brixton?
I love the sense of community here. Whenever I’m in my tiny front garden, people will always stop for a chat as they go by – ladies in their Sunday finery on their way to church will tell me to be careful of my knees! And in my local pub, the Trinity, people will always talk to me. I go in on my own with a book and end up chatting to the locals.

7. Finally, what’s your favourite place or experience around here?
It has to be my allotment. There are 450 plots, so there are always people around, but it’s the most peaceful place I know. It gives me a wonderful sense of space – the trees, birds singing, bugs in the grass – as well as views of the London Eye, the Shard and Canary Wharf. It’s completely magical. My husband proposed to me there, on a winter night, in the dark, as we were watering the plants!

You can buy Barbara’s flavour-packed jams and chutneys at http://brixton.makerhood.com/jammery

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Interview with Fiona Douglas, Oh Sew Brixton

This is the fourth in an occasional series of interviews with local people who inspire us.

Oh Sew Brixton is a sewing school & workshop based in south London, concentrating on teaching creative dressmaking. Fiona Douglas, the owner and founder of Oh Sew Brixton, took time out to tell us about her love of sewing, good puns and the occasional
cross-dresser!

1.       When you meet someone for the first time, how do you describe Oh Sew Brixton to them?

It isn’t complicated – we teach sewing and dressmaking!  If you want the sales pitch, then we have a lovely spacious studio dedicated specifically to teaching.  We also aim to be welcoming to everyone, whatever age, size and ability level you are.

2.       Where did the idea come from?

I’ve always loved to sew as a hobby and I could see that it was at last undergoing something of a renaissance. I wrote the business plan for fun whilst I was between freelance contracts.  This might sound a bit weird, but I used to work in marketing so this was relatively easy for me and was my way of seeing whether it was viable. Then I saw the space in Piano House and couldn’t think of a reason why I shouldn’t have a go.

3.       At Makerhood we love a good pun – did you have any good alternative names you discarded?

I do have a very fabulous alternative name, but it’s top secret as it will most probably be used for my next sewing related venture.  But Brixton Sewcial was in there, also Brixton Stitching, Dream Seams.  Oh Sew Brixton was a working title which made everyone smile so it kind of stuck.

I have also threatened to start a blog called ‘Do you really want to sew your armholes together?’….

4.       How did you get into sewing in the first place?

My Mum was a keen sew-er so I picked it up from her at a very early age. Over the years it has always been a great way of calming down after a stressful week of work.

5.       How can people get involved with you?

Check the website and then give me a call and sign up for a course.

6.       Does it matter if I’ve never done this before?

Beginners are very welcome and we have plenty of classes for those new to sewing.

7.       I bet it’s a great place to meet women – do you get many men coming along?

Only one or two, mostly aspiring fashion designers and the occasional cross-dresser!

8.       There seems to be an increased interest in these type of skills. Why do you think that is?

A timely collision of increasing environmental concerns and the onset of recession, I reckon.

9.       How do you see Oh Sew Brixton growing and expanding?

I’m looking at opening a fabric shop, together with an online sewing business targeted at beginners.  I have considered an additional school (Oh Sew Camden?), but I already work too many evenings as it is!

10.   How can Makerhood help you?

Find me customers, of course, but also it has been really nice to meet other local sellers and I do hope that that aspect of Makerhood does continue.

Bonus questions: Share a bit of ‘hidden’ Brixton with us…
It’s a bit predictable coming from a sewing school, but I would have to recommend Simply Fabrics on Atlantic Road.  Very good value, a bit random in its selection but you can always guarantee finding some really nice fabric for £2-3 per metre.  If only Robert would stop telling my beginners dressmaking students that “your first dress will be rubbish anyway, so it doesn’t matter what fabric you use”…

Final call for contributions to our online survey

Update. Wonderful news: Nadia Gilani of South London Press is doing a piece on Makerhood for Tuesday’s edition! We’ve extended the survey so that SLP readers could contribute their views.

Thanks to everyone who has entered our online survey which Karen wrote about previously. We’ll be closing the survey on Thursday, 26th May. So, if you’ve not entered yet, then please do!

A reminder that one entrant, chosen at random, will get a lovely hamper from the Brixton deli CornerCopia.

Of course this won’t be the only chance to feed into the development of Makerhood, but we won’t always be able to offer you such a lovely prize as our way of saying thank you!

Remember, it’s just ten questions, and will take about five minutes of your time to complete. If that.

Go on, you know you want to….

We go shopping!

Karen, Damian, Biba, Andy and I went to the lovely Crafty Fox Market at the Dogstar on Saturday. Fantastic! Great work from the organisers, three floors of lovely hand-made things and art, and great workshops. Artists and makers from all over London, and some from as far as Edinburgh and the Isle of White.

Among the sellers were James Ward (who created the lovely Crafty Fox logo) showing his amazing plates, Kanganarora with handmade textiles (absolutely loved the cow cushion!) and FabricNation making beautiful things from recycled fabrics. We also loved handmade puppets from Twisted Myth,  textile deer heads from Wooden Tree and cute creatures from Hope and Eden. And many many others.

Downstairs, there was a group of ladies totally consumed with learning to make brooches with Handmade in Tooting and Seaside Sisters – they came up with many beautiful pieces.  Ms Cupcake’s stall – from a new shop on Coldharbour lane– was constantly overcrowded. I’m personally not into cupcakes, but Damian had one and couldn’t stop talking about it. It was apparently delicious!

We brought some flyers and talked to people about Makerhood and the forthcoming local online marketplace. The makers we talked to were very positive; many said there should be one in their areas too – this was really encouraging.  Something to ponder for the future; meanwhile, I guess one option is to relocate to Brixton 🙂

Our beautiful banner image by Alice Angus


The Makerhood blog banner comes from this drawing of Brixton Village by Alice

You might have noticed the banner on the Makerhood blog. The illustration that always sits at the top of the page whether you’re reading about improvised pantomime or pork pies. Beautiful isn’t it? The use of that illustration was a gift to us by its maker, Alice Angus. Alice isn’t a south London girl so perhaps it’s a bit cheeky to use it on the Makerhood blog, but as it’s a drawing of Brixton market I figured you wouldn’t mind..


The set of 6 drawings Alice made in Brixton Market

Alice is one of the directors of Proboscis and an illustrator. Last year, Dan Thompson of the Empty Shops Network invited her to spend a week in Brixton Village making sketches and drawings of what she saw there. For the Makerhood blog we’ve used a part of the drawing at the top of this post. It’s a little hard to tell from the section we’ve used but Alice builds up her drawings layering scraps of different papers, black and white ink sketches and colour. I think they’re beautiful.


Detail from one of the Brixton Village / Granville Arcade drawings

I used to work with Proboscis and I’ve known Alice a long time now. When Kristina and I were talking about setting up the blog we couldn’t think of a better image to represent Makerhood than one of Alice’s drawings of Brixton market (this was before we met any Brixton-based illustrators). I was quite shy to approach Alice about using one of the drawings as we couldn’t afford to buy it or pay for it so I was thrilled when she said we could use one anyway. This spirit of generosity and willingness to share with others is something we’ve met again and again as we’ve worked to set up Makerhood. I hope one day Makerhood will have a chance to pass on some of the good will we’ve received to others.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Alice’s drawings (and you really should!) you can take a look at her Flickr account or email her on alice(at)proboscis.org.uk to find out about exhibitions, sales and so on.

Alice also has a blog for her ‘As it Comes’ project exploring the role of independent shops and Lancaster in Lancaster, see it at http://lancasterasitcomes.wordpress.com/

Christmas traditions come home

Every year, on Christmas Eve, my family has pork pie for dinner. The tradition has been passed down from my mum’s family where they had pork pie for dinner on Christmas Eve because my gran would be too busy plucking and preparing the turkey to cook. (Yeah, yeah, grandpa could have been doing the cooking – let’s just say times were different!) I’ve never met anyone else who eats pork pie on Christmas Eve though mum was recently told it’s a Midlands tradition which makes sense as her family is from around Birmingham. Anyway, this tradition means I’ve eaten many pork pies in my lifetime. Mostly these have come from supermarkets. Marks and Spencers and Waitrose both sell reasonable pork pies, however, in 2010, I bought the Christmas pork pie right here in Brixton.

In early December I found out that Ian, at Cornercopia in Brixton Village, was making pork pies to order in a variety of sizes. These pies were handmade from start to finish, pastry, meat filling and apple jelly. I went for the 10-person pie, judging the size from baking tins Ian showed me. It was the largest pork pie I’ve ever seen (yet not the largest I could have had..). I put in my order and on 23 December I went to pick up my pie. It looked magnificent. A pie worthy of Christmas Eve dinner (and Christmas Day supper and Boxing Day lunch as it turned out!). I carried the pie to my parent’s house near Cardiff. My mum cut the pie. The meat filling looked like, well, meat. “That looks different” everyone said, then “That’s good!” when they tasted it. The pork pie of 2010 has set a standard all other Christmas pork pies will have to live up to. I’m just hoping that Ian will be making them again next year..

But the fact that the pie tasted good is only one reason (albeit a pretty good one!) why the pie was so special. I loved contributing the pie to my family’s Christmas and more than that, I loved that it came from the place I live, and that I knew the person who made it. Telling my family the story behind the pie was as much a contribution to Christmas Eve dinner as the pie itself. And with this I understood even more clearly how Makerhood can work. Buying a pork pie from Waitrose fulfills the need to have a pie for Christmas Eve dinner. But I never felt like I was involved with the pie. Buying my pork pie from Cornercopia felt very different. I was contributing to the success of an independent business in my local area and contributing to my family dinner at the same time. I met the people who work at Cornercopia, they make great pies and I want them to be successful – not least so I can get my pork pie there again next year. In return, they provided me with the best pork pie I’ve ever eaten and a personal, friendly shopping experience that gave me insight into someone else’s life in Brixton. If Makerhood can make experiences like this happen I’ll be more than happy!