Clerkenwell Design Week & the bamboo stylus!

The Clerkenwell Design Week 2012 was yet again, a very inspiring few days. The studios and showrooms in Clerkenwell opened their doors, there were talks and events, parties and a brilliant walking tour run by Creative Clerkenwell.

Clerkenwell Design Week 2012

The walking tour was with designer and historian Jane Young of London Kills Me and sponsored by wacom bamboo stylus, THE pen for sketching on the iPad. Jane took us all around Clerkenwell, pointing out buildings of significance, taking us past the new Goldsmith Centre, explaining the relevance of the Jerusalem Taverns in the area and allowing us time to sit and draw what we could see around us.

Creative Clerkenwell Drawing Tour

We stopped in the park behind St James Church, Clerkenwell Green to do some drawing and found a fabulous art installation titled ‘Spring Forest’ by the architect, Franceso Draisci. Made of scaffolding poles, red insulation foam and umbrellas, the installation provided a play ground for children, shade for those craving to get away from the sun and a colourful piece of art for the eye.

I just had to sketch it using my bamboo stylus and ‘paper 53‘ app on my iPad.

Spring Forest using the bamboo stylus

Then we discovered, sitting amongst the installation was the architect himself – what a great find and surprise!

Charlene talking to Francesco

Such a lovely couple of hours enjoying the May sunshine, meeting inspiring people, looking beyond my normal field of vision and learning new facts about Clerkenwell. Thanks Clerkenwell Design Week, Creative Clerkenwell and London Kills Me.

The Stylus and App
If you like drawing/sketching, enjoy using a tablet and haven’t tried using a sketching app yet, quick, download one and get hooked like I have! Not only does the App make drawings looks wonderful, it is really fun to use, easy to draw with and can be erased, changed in colour and given different finishes/textures. I use the Paper 53 App but there are plenty of others out there to try. The bamboo stylus is very elegant, lovely to hold and just works. The stylus tip is very sensitive and allows for different strokes to be made with a simple movement.

What do you make?

Charlene Lam‘s story-telling at the IDEO Make-A-Thon reunion last week was really entertaining. Her talks allowed me to reminisce and make me think back to my ‘making days’.

Charlene is a creative who works with materials and textiles. Her company Creative Clerkenwell looks to connect creatives in London and will feature at the Clerkenwell Design Week in May. Charlene told a great story of the things she makes. Meet the ‘operation red rabbit‘:’To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, a warren of red rabbits were made from papier mache and placed around the streets of East London’.


Charlene’s story telling inspired me to question what I make…

When I was about 9 years old my dad bought me a hot glue gun. Accompanied by a scalpel and balsa wood, I used to enjoy making structures and boxes. They weren’t anything in particular but I loved it. My dad enjoyed encouraging my creativity and I loved making things – it was a win-win!

A number of years later, I took the then called ‘CDT’ craft, design, technology A Level
and discovered the wood work and silversmith workshops. I’d find any excuse to turn objects on the lathe or make pieces of jewelry.

Then I went to university and built on all these skills by discovering the soldering iron. It’s amazing what you can create by soldering an electronic circuit board together…! I designed the ‘anti-theft handbag‘, a biometric handbag which only opens when the correct finger is scanned. I thrived on making prototypes and models.

One theme I have carried through all my life is enjoying making birthday cards, wrapping paper out of old paper and making purses or small bags to hold objects. Give me an old piece of card, scrap material or unusual packaging and I can guarantee it will be kept for a rainy day.


When I graduated from my undergraduate degree, however, I moved into London and no longer had the space for much model making or workshop equipment. Life changed too and London had lots to offer and plenty of places to explore. My interests also change slightly. I became very interested in sustainability and reusing objects. It was Victor Papanek’s ‘The Green Imperative‘ that changed my view on ‘life’. I started to view objects and consumerism in a different way and set myself the challenge of not buying new clothes for a year. I found this remarkably easy and I got a real kick out of rediscovering my wardrobe again.

So, this is where my ‘I make….’ story comes in.

I (like to) make old clothes comes to life. Not buying new clothes did nonetheless mean I could continue indulging in my love of buying from charity and vintage clothes shops. There’s something really exciting about knowing that a piece of clothing has a story behind it, is cheaper than its original price and has potentially been saved from landfill. The only problem is that most people are turned off buying second hand because of the smell, it may not fit properly or more often than not, hasn’t been displayed in a way that they can relate to.

Talking of clothing with history, DoTheGreenThing recently created Glove Love ‘an initiative where we take lonely single gloves that have lost their original partners, wash them and then pair them with brand new glove lovers’. The best bit about buying the gloves is the lovely message that comes with them. Each pair of gloves is tagged telling you a story of where they were found. Seriously, it’s worth £5 to just read the story (and to have an odd pair of gloves with a Do The Green Thing label on them).


I don’t often find a garment of clothing fits perfectly but that’s where a pair of scissors, needle and thread and accessories come in handy. I wish I had taken “before and after” photos of some of my creations but instead will have to list them out and hope you can use your imagination.

– The ugly 70s dress that ended mid calf: 15cm off the length gave it a new lease of life.
– The shoulder padded ‘Dynasty’ dress: removing of the shoulder pads and a brooch made it this season.
– The 80s pencil skirt: a tuck in the top made it sit higher and therefore more flattering.
– The black, sleeveless, moth eaten, shapeless dress: stitching up of the holes and a retro belt transformed it.
– The boring tweed jacket: now with red button holes made it this seasons must have.


Sometimes a new belt, change of length, additional stitching or different combination of accessories can transform an outfit. Trust me, it’s very satisfying when people ask where an outfit is from and the answer is ‘part charity shop, part old garment, part hand-me-down’.

I worked on a project a couple of years ago which is very relevant to this love of making old clothing come to life. In collaboration with [re]design, we took ‘Chalky Van’, the chip-fat-powered-chalkboard VW van to the Vintage Festival at Goodwood. I facilitated a few engaging sessions with the festival goers around the reuse of clothing. The most insightful was when I placed a nasty old shirt on the van and asked people what they would do to give it a second life. People of all ages came to write or draw their answer on the van.


Some of the best responses that really touched me were:
‘use the buttons as eyes for my puppet’ – girl aged approximately 6 years old.
‘blow my nose on it’ – man aged approximately 50 years old.
‘tie a belt around it and wear it with my tapered chinos’ – girl aged approximately 25 years old
‘make a scarecrow’ man aged approximately 30 years old.


I’m clearly not the only person who sees the value in an old piece of clothing!

Making old clothes come to life is a passion I have. I will never have a fashion label from it, nor will most people ever realise the story behind my wardrobe but it does make me happy knowing that I wear second hand clothing. Keeping spare buttons, boxes of material and never throwing away clothes my infuriate my boyfriend but that’s the designer in me….! Forever curious about what I can get my hands on next and adapt.

Caring for someone with dementia – a novice’s insights

I’ve recently been carrying out research into dementia – the huge, overwhelming topic that most people tend to steer away from because it’s so vast and not particularly fun! It is however incredibly interesting and important that more people become aware and understand the disease (yes, it’s a disease, not a condition); these shocking statistics are taken from the Alzheimer’s Society website:

  • There are currently about 750,000 people in the UK with a form of dementia
  • There are over 16,000 people under 65 with dementia in the UK
  • One in 14 people over 65 years of age and one in six people over 80 years of age has a form of dementia

The point of the research was to be able to enter the Design Council ‘Living Well With Dementia’ challenge – something I did with a team of multidisciplinary designers to help make caring for someone with dementia a more manageable and collaborative experience.

The best way I could gain a deeper understanding of what it can be like to care for someone with dementia was to speak to as many people as possible, do as much desk research as I could, visit care homes, remember visits to my great grandmother as a child and read, read, read.

It was recommended I read the book ‘Keeper – a book about memory, identity, isolation, wordsworth and cake’ by Andrea Gillies. It was sad in parts. Really sad. But fun and enlightening in others. Gillies writes about a lady who cares for her mother in law (and father in law) who is suffering with dementia. They move to a Scottish village with the view to running a bed and breakfast in the country side while caring for her husband’s parents (and running her family). The lady struggles, gets frustrated, feels isolated, tries different tactics, looks for help and questions her actions a great deal. I highly recommend anyone to read the book – it’s incredibly well written. The book is very insightful and helps someone, like me, who hasn’t cared for someone with dementia to start to understand what a challenging and personal experience it is.

The following points are what I have learnt about living with dementia over the last three months. I am nowhere near an expert but have learnt a great deal.

Living with dementia is about:

  • understanding the patient
  • being prepared for changeability and feeling like a stranger
  • living with guilt, longevity and unpredictability

When someone is diagnosed with dementia, they may have the ‘classic’ signs of losing their memory and getting confused but it is clear that every patient is different. It can also take months if not years to get a straight diagnosis. It is also a disease that develops over a long period (anything from 2 years to 25 years) and while some people are able to look after themselves for a number of years, others require help early on. This makes planning for the future very difficult. If someone appears to be able to cope alone, planning for the future is a tough subject for a carer to bring up with the patient. It is essential that bank accounts, housing etc are thought about for when the patient begins to forget the essential elements to everyday life. Keeping a journal is recommended to remind the patient (and carer) of events and key dates in the future and finding ways to jog the memory to remember comforting scenarios is often beneficial.

Carers have noticed sufferers have changes in mood; aggression leading on from frustration and anger towards the carer when the patient is confused as to who they are. It is very sad to hear stories of carers being seen as intruders and often being accused of stealing from the patient. People diagnosed as having dementia have good and bad days. The people living around the patient need to be aware of these and not take the mood swings personally even if this is easier said than done! Keeper describes situations where the patient is very affectionate to her grandson one minute and then accuses him of being a nasty little boy the next.

People with dementia often have moments of clarity which can help them deal with a situation or confuse them even more. What should a carer believe or put down to the disease? I have read many accounts where a carer isn’t sure how to deal with a situation. They do not understand how the patient is feeling and in turn feel guilty that they do not understand the disease better. There are plenty of sources of information online, forums to join and organisations set up to help people living with dementia but it is very much a personal journey that a carer and patient go through. Dementia can leave a carer feeling very isolated.

The more I learn about dementia, the more I keep relating it to babies and toddlers – expect in reverse years. A baby needs full time care and support from feeding to sleeping and a toddler understands some things but still needs full time care. A patient with dementia will go from understanding most things to needing help brushing their teeth towards the end of the illness. This can be a painful experience for people close to the patient which is where a carer who is not related to the patient often finds caring easier. Non-related carers are able to treat the patient as they are and not get emotionally involved. They don’t feel the need to justify actions or reason with situations.

I have heard a number of accounts where families have tried to keep the patient in their own home for as long as possible. Moving a dementia patient into a care home is a good decision to make sure they are looked after properly but can be very disorienting for the patient. Unsettling the patient is not only hard for them but hard for the family to witness. The patient is more likely to remember past stories from their earlier life than recent stories and because of that, keeping the patient in their familiar surroundings can help trigger the memory. Research is currently being done into creating environments that trigger a time in their lives that was most influential to them. The aim is to give the patients a sense of place.

To sum up my learning’s:

  • it is obvious that no one patient is the same
  • families find it incredibly hard to care for a loved one and see their health deteriorate (especially as there is no cure),
  • planning for the future is essential but difficult to do successfully and
  • carers find it hard to make time for themselves when the disease is in its later stages.
  • When no one patient is the same it’s hard to know what to expect.
  • When caring for a loved one becomes hard the carer is prone to stress.
  • When planning for the future is difficult, the carer needs a simple way to make this possible.
  • When a carer is finding it hard to make time for themselves they can feel very isolated or guilty.

The good news is that the National Dementia Strategy has been developed to provide a framework to deliver quality improvements, provide advice, planning and guidance. And the Design Council and Department of Health ‘Living Well with Dementia’ challenge is a fantastic example of encouraging designers to be creative in helping to improve the situation.

Using the sun to charge a mobile phone

I’m not sure if I was more excited to have a beautiful sunny weekend in London because of the opportunity to be outside or because it meant I could test out the Freeloader, solar charger I was lent!? Made by Solar Technology International, the charger looks very cool – small, sleek with brushed aluminium finish which I, as a designer find appealing. It is also very easy to use; you pull sides apart and push the solar panels into the sides of the main body, place it in the sunshine and watch the flashing display show that the charger is charging.

The website makes the device look like a gadget everyone should have but does it work? After excitedly putting a message on Twitter saying I was going to test the charger out for the weekend, I received a number of negative reactions all implying the device didn’t work. Not wanting to believe that solar power charging isn’t effective, I set myself the challenge of charging my iPhone 4 (purely using solar energy) over the weekend and this is what I discovered!

The device is very convenient to carry around (it weighs hardly anything which is a real plus point) so I took the charger out for brunch and left it on the table to charge, took it to the park and left it in the bright sunlight and finally left it for another hour on my balcony in direct access to plenty of sunlight.

Freeloader in direct sunlight

I realised that after a day of charging (probably about 4 hours on and off) I only had 2 bars of power displaying on the charger screen. Slightly disappointed, I decided to try charging my phone anyway and I literally managed about 15minutes of charging before the solar charger ran out of charge!

Freeloader charging phone

I realised I should probably read the user manual and look at the specification to see if I was doing something wrong. Surely for the cost of £32 and for the wide range of electronic products it charges, the device must be worth having and I must be doing something wrong.

I downloaded the specifications from the pdf booklet:

Electrical Characteristics / Performance
1. Solar Panel (mono/multi crystalline): 5.5V 150mA
2. Rechargeable Lithium Battery:
3.7V 1200mAh 3. USB charging cable: 5V 500mA
4. DC Output: 5.5V+/– 0.5% 500mA
5. Time required to deliver power from Freeloader Classic: 30 minutes to 2 hours
6. Time required to charge the FreeLoader Classic internal battery using the USB charge cable: 3 to 4 hours
7. Time required to charge the FreeLoader Classic internal battery in sunny conditions using the solar panels: 5 to 10 hours
Note – light quality plays a key role in determining the speed of charge. Cloudy days or the Freeloader Classic being positioned behind a glass window will all increase the time needed to charge its battery.

It’s clear that I needed to charge the Freeloader for between 5-10 hours (when in the UK do you ever get 5-10 hours of bright sunlight?) which is rather annoying. If you thenread on to the FAQ this is written:

If Freeloader Classic is connected to a device that has a near full battery (if for example you were testing Freeloader Classic from new), Freeloader Classic would, potentially, not deliver power because if the battery in the device has more or equal power than the Freeloader Classic, Freeloader Classic will not be able to deliver power. Wait until the device to be charged is 50% to 60% full


After 1 day in full sun (9am to 6pm) the Freeloader Classic hub will be pretty much fully charged. When connected to your device it will deliver power for 30minutes to 2hours depending on the device.

I feel that 30 minutes – 2 hours is a large time frame and I wonder if 2 hours would really charge my iPhone to full power anyway? Check out Justin Horn’s charging time test of the iPhone.

As much as I LOVE the idea of using the sun to power my telephone, I do wonder if I could successful use the Freeloader to charge my phone on a regular basis. I do also have to question the actual energy used to manufacter the Freeloader in the first place. Does anyone know what the carbon footprint of the device is?

Considering devices like the iPhone (the Freeloader is suggested for use with iPads, Blackberrys and iPods) use very little energy to be charged, I think I will stick to my iPhone charger as the cable and plug are small, light weight, come with the phone and using that bit of kit it only takes just over an hour to charge my phone from the mains supply.

Sorry but the Freeloader is going back to where it came from. If, however you have a different experience, I’d love to hear from you!

I’m not saying I won’t ever try and make my own one though! The instructablesMightyMintyBoosh‘ looks amazing!

Peckham is a real community

When I tell people I live in Peckham, I am often faced with the question ‘why?’  Known for being the home of ‘Trotters Independent Traders’ from the tv show Only Fools and Horses and the place where Damilola Taylor was murdered, I can understand the question but it’s clear whoever asks hasn’t visited!

It’s a very creative neighbourhood with Camberwell College of Art and Goldsmith College close by, the South London Gallery and numerous art projects – Frank’s cafe, the pop-up Campari bar on the NCP carpark is a great example of the creative projects happening in the neighbourhood.

Peckham was hit by the sad events of the London Riots – shops were vandalised and a shop and bus were set on fire.

Photo from The Guardian website

Photo from The Guardian website

The riots were heartbreaking, sad and scary but over the last couple of days an even stronger sense of community has emerged. Peckham clearly has such a strong sense of togetherness that people have turned the Poundland boarded up window into a place to stick post-it notes of their feelings.
Peckham Poundland, Rye Lane

I went down to have a look to see what messages people were putting up. It had drawn a crowd of people reading what the community had to say and it has turned into a real piece of artwork. Peckham felt colourful, full of life and meaningful. The following messages really stuck out:

‘Peckham is home’
‘I love Peckham. I hate rioters’
‘Need discipline’
‘Community, don’t do it’
‘Crime doesn’t pay’
‘Burger King will reopen and you are barred’

Peckham post riot messages

These messages are important, not only for people to get their feelings across to others but to strengthen the community, make the rioters realise that the critical mass of poeple is made up of people wanting to live in a pleasant place, that if we empower people to make a difference we can live in happiness. The riot clean up was amazing, I wish I could taken part to help clean up after the riots – I would say I’ll be there next time but my hope is that this community won’t allow this to happen again.

Message being written on post-riot board, Peckham

Message being written on post-riot board, Peckham