The Cottonwood
Workshop Blog

Personal Pleasures – A Breakfast Tray

Posted on March 5th, 2018

One of the things I like about living in Norfolk, is getting up early in the morning and making my breakfast of choice ~ a bowl of porridge and a cup of coffee. Cooking jumbo porridge oats slowly on mark 2 for 20-30 minutes produces a nutty thick consistency that I love, as I’ve never been that fond of milky ‘porridge swill ‘

I used to have a special porridge bowl that I took on solitary retreat. This recently got broken, so I returned to Made In Cley where I originally got it from. Whilst buying a replacement I sort of acquired a matching mug as well.

When I got homeI realised a small tray given to us to refinish and sell, would do nicely as a breakfast tray. I sanded off the dark varnish, revealing a rather soft oak edged tray with an oak laminated plywood base. I briefly toyed with the idea of staining it grey, but decided in the end to leave it as it was and just matt varnish it. I like the effect the combination of bowl, mug and tray has, a sort of Zen feel for a rustic naturalness.

In Progress : ‘Gansey’ Styled Cushion

Posted on March 5th, 2018

There was an exhibition at the Sheringham Museum at the Mo over the summer of Gansey jumpers from the Netherlands. It was an exhibition that started me thinking about adapting elements of a pattern for cushion designs. I was bought the book More Traditional Dutch Gansey Patterns by Stella Ruhe for my birthday. This is the first fruits arising from that initial burst of inspiration.

After choosing a design I had to decide what elements to use and how. At this stage I was doing lots of gauge tests. Traditional Gansey patterns are done in quite fine yarn on fine needles, this gives the design sharpness and the fabric produced density. I wanted to keep aspects of this but enlarge the pattern, for example; where it said two purl stiches I’d do four instead.  Using graph paper I drew out the enlarged design and made sure the differing elements linked together.

Because a Gansey pattern is simply all about stitch definition its unforgiving of even minor slip ups, missed stiches and any knit stitches that should be purl. So there were quite a few yelps of frustration from me, when I spotted a fluffed stitch several rows too late.  After being blocked it was worth the effort.


I’m now knitting two more front covers for ‘gansey’ style cushions, one in dark blue and one in off white, plus knitting the backs. As these are in 4ply wool on size 3 knitting needles, it maybe some time before these cushions get finished.

Current Work In Progress

Posted on January 1st, 2018

I’ve been meaning to work on knitted cushion designs based on Gansey patterns. Over Christmas I started adapting part of a pattern from a book of Dutch Gansey Jumper designs by Stella Ruhe. Here is a photo of the work in progress.

No 8 ~ A Refinished Chest of Drawers

Posted on October 27th, 2017

Around twenty seven years ago, I had just moved into my first unfurnished flat and my parents quickly sourced a number of items for it. One of which was this chest of drawers. Its been through the wars a bit since, the varnish cracking and was a bit water damaged in places. I’ve always intended at some point to re-varnish it, but never got round to it until now.

It didn’t match the dark brown wood with black that the rest of our bedroom is finished in. So one a refinishing job on one of the largest items I’ve attempted so far began

I started with the drawers. Though the original varnish sanded off very quickly, the veneer finish underneath didn’t absorb the dark wood stain evenly. I found it was better if I applied it with a natural sponge rather than a brush, it left a less streaky finish. A couple of coats of stain appeared to provide a sufficiently good base for the Ronseal Satin Walnut Varnish to build on.


Its a truth of  decorating jobs, that once you emulsion a wall it will highlight the shabby nature of other paintwork. In the case of the drawers the rather stained and dirty state of inside the drawers. So I decided to paint the drawers interior with Farrow & Ball Portland Stone No 275. This made the process of painting and re-varnishing of the drawers far more logistically complicated than I’d at first planned. I tried to adopt a sequence where bye  I’d not be endlessly touching up edges or redoing varnish finishes. I didn’t entirely succeed in this aim.

The drawers took an age to do. So by the time I got to the cheat of the drawers I was looking forward to something a bit more straightforward. I varnished only the top. I chose to paint the sides and drawer edges and handles in Blackfriars Matt Black. The matt finish providing a contrast to the satin finish. However, I didn’t think it would take constant handling well, so I ended up having to apply Ronseal Matt Clear Varnish in order to improve its durability. On the sides of the unit it took several coats to get a uniform finish.

When I put the drawers in it became immediately apparent that the top three were substantially different in tone to the bottom three. I blame the poor light levels in my workshop, because I had checked this and thought they were OK. Any how it wasn’t hard to rectify, a further three coats of walnut varnish and it was sorted.


You are always more aware of the process of doing a job, and this often affects how you feel about the finished piece. I am quite pleased with the completed finish of the chest of drawers, whilst also being aware it went a bit beyond being a labour of love at times.

No 7 ~ A Refinished Crate

Posted on October 2nd, 2017

Once we moved into Winter we found we needed to set ourselves up for the colder months. Buy kindling, logs, smokeless coal, fire guard and irons. Rather than have kindling knocking around in a plastic bag, we decided to convert a crate we had into a holder for kindling.



The wood the crate was made from was quite poor and dry, as soon as I put paint on it soaked it up.  So first I pre-primed with a wash of diluted PVA to seal the wood. Then used my favourite paint of the moment, Johnstone’s All Surface Primer, that covers most surfaces, even old gloss paint and is water based to boot!


Then three coats of Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275, followed by two coats of satin varnish.  We wanted to line the crate, and used hardboard cut to size with hessian stuck to it with 3M Craft Spray glue, both back and front so the hessian would be seen through the slats in the crate.


I’m very pleased with the end result, which transforms a necessity into something that is quite an aesthetic thing to have in your lounge.


No 6 – A Refinished Display Cabinet

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.

We bought this display cabinet from the British Heart Foundation shop for £15. The previous owner had attempted to give it a black laquer look by painting it in black gloss paint, in a rather slapdash manner.

dscn4232I removed the door handles, the small strip light and paint encased hinges, and began by sanding off the black paint. The original wood grain underneath was a machine made one so not very substantial. I ended up in places sanding more than the paint off. Once it was removed the surface took the Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275 rather well, and the Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison as a finish.




dscn4233I intended to remove the fake leading from the glass doors. However, I tried a few solvents, and then a glass scraper. It was as tough as Teflon and hard baked onto the glass. It just wouldn’t budge, so it would have to stay. I replaced the original period style handles, with some more modern cabinet handles from Homebase, and bought new hinges.

No 5 – A Refinished Side Table

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.


This table shown on the left, is one of two side tables that we bought for £5 each from the British Heart Foundation shop. One had a dark varnish, the other a light varnish. We wanted to make both tables identical in tone, with a dark varnish finish that would match the rest of our furniture.  I took the top off from its leg supports. With both tables their was some remedial work required either on the table surface or the leg supports.


The varnished veneer of the table surface sanded off very easily. I then re-varnished with 4 coats of Ronseal Satin Walnut Varnish, finishing off with 1 coat of Ronseal Clear Satin Varnish. The edges and underside I painted in Blackfriar’s Matt Black Paint, which is the hardiest, blackest, mattest paint there is. Its touch dry in half an hour, but hard dry after 16 hours, so you have to be patient, this paint will not be hurried.







The folding legs proved much easier to sand down than I initially thought. I decided not to re-varnish the whole thing, because the quality of the wood in the legs structure was poor. So I only varnished the outer facing edges with Ronseal Satin Walnut Varnish, and used Blackfriar’s Matt Black Paint on all the interior structure. This maintained an aesthetic link with the table surface, whilst also creating a more uniform appearance to the rest.






dscn4235The Finished Side Table




No 4 – A Refinished Nest Of Tables

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.

fscn4231When my Grandma died many years ago, I inherited a few pieces of furniture one of which was this nest of tables. Originally there were three tables, but one got lost in a previous house move.  The veneer was a bit battered and water marked, so I gave them a good sanding down before re-varnishing with Ronseal Clear SatinVarnish.

I took the base framework off in order to paint and wax it more easily, and to produce a neater edge between painted and wood varnished surfaces. The paint was Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275 and I finished it with Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison.

No 3 – A Refinished Mirror

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture and room accessories can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.


This mirror we picked up from a Car Boot at Upper Sheringham Village Hall, for £10!  It was a simple varnished frame, with a beveled mirror. The frame had a few small dents and gaps in its mitre corners, which required filling. After a base undercoat, it had 3-4 coats of Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275, and 3 layers of Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison, to give the paint finish a richer lustre.


No 2 – A Refinished Coffee Table

Posted on August 16th, 2017

This is an example of the sort of furniture finish we can produce, and how second hand pieces of furniture can be easily refreshed to suit contemporary tastes and decor.

dscn4226We picked up this coffee table for free off Gumtree. Its table surface had been much abused by a child with a blue biro. As the surface was only an oak veneer it required quite careful sanding to remove the biro marks without wearing through to the MDF beneath. The table top was then finished with several coats of Ronseal Satin Light Oak Varnish.

The legs and framework were painted in Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone No 275 and then waxed with Liberon Neutral Wax Polish Black Bison. A piece of the framework had broken in storage so it had to be reinforced by gluing/screwing a piece of plywood on the reverse, and filling the crack in the front before painting/waxing.