Well dressing in progress

Well Dressings at Quad with Spiral Arts

Today I went to the first of the well dressing sessions being held in the Quad’s participation room, where the lovely ladies from Spiral Arts taught me all about the tradition of well dressing. Well dressing is a Derbyshire tradition dating back many centuries. It is believed to have started with the pagans, as a way to give thanks for clean fresh water. They would make offerings of natural materials like flowers. Over time this was adopted by the Christian church to give thanks to God for the gift of water. The Victorians were probably the first to make well dressings into elaborate murals rather than a general decoration, with the earliest recorded in Tissington. Today the dressings we were working on had the theme of the 175th anniversary of Arboretum Park.

Steps for making a well dressing:

  1. Prepare your clay – You need soft clay for well dressing, which means it needs to stay moist. The wooden frame that holds the clay must be soaked for several days to prevent the clay from cracking. Then the clay itself needs to be puddled. This means using hands or feet to work the clay to the right consistency. Spiral Arts kept the screen for their clay wrapped in damp towels to keep the clay from drying.
  2. Design an image – Draw a design onto a piece of paper the same size as the clay you will be working with.

    Drawn design for well dressing

    Drawn design for well dressing

  3. Transfer the design – Prick holes through the design with a needle to create a dotted outline on the clay.

    Drawing placed over clay to transfer design

    Drawing placed over clay to transfer design

  4. Make an outline – Next you go over the dotted outline placing pepper corns (or in some cases banana skin). This makes the outline for your design; pepper corns must be placed with gaps between them, as they absorb moisture from the clay, which will make them expand. If they are too close together they will push each other out of the clay.

    Make an outline with pepper corns

    Make an outline with pepper corns

  5. Colour! – Now you can add the colours to the design. Traditionally flower petals are used, but these are extremely time consuming to place, so we were using coloured stones.

    Add coloured stones to the design

    Add coloured stones to the design

  6. Add petals – Some petals will be put on the well dressings, but they will be added last to keep them in good condition.
  7. Make a display – Finally enjoy the outcome of your hard work and find somewhere for your masterpiece to stand. The well dressings made at Quad this week will be placed around the town center and in Derby Arboretum on Saturday 27th

If you want a go at well dressing Spiral Arts will be at Quad all week:

Tuesday 23rd June, 11am – 12pm

Wed  24th June, 2pm – 4pm

Friday 26th June, 2pm – 4pm

It’s free to drop in at any of the times shown above, and you can do as much or as little as you want.

As well as celebrating the arboretum, the well dressings also form part of the activities going on for Inspiring Derby 2015, an event running from 22 June to Sunday 28 June. Over the course of the week there will be a multitude of activities to get involved with; including workshops in computer coding, seated Tai Chi, silk painting, sign language, portrait painting, mixed language and cooking lessons (French, Spanish, Italian, Punjabi), and performances. And that’s just the tip of the ice burg. For more information on events taking place as part of Inspiring Derby 2015 you can download the full programme at http://www.derby.gov.uk/whats-happening-in-derby/events/inspiring-derby/

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