Last month, I found myself wearing kevlar steel gloves, wielding a saw, and looming over half a pig with the head still attached. A head which would stay attached until I, using the saw and the gloves, detached it. And I’d put myself up for this. A month or so before that, I was standing in a noisy workshop beside a lathe, being assured that over the coming hours, I would transform a rough, hexagonal blank of wood into a glossy, smooth curved bowl. To my greatest surprise, the promises that were made to me were fulfilled: the pig – with a huge amount of help and patient direction – I turned into a collection of chops and cutlets, tied loins, ribs and belly cuts, and even a few dozen sausages; and the bowl, which I’m still slightly unsure how I finished, now sits in pride of place on my desk, filled with sweets.
I’d been at the School of Artisan Food in Nottingham on their ‘Pig in a Day’ course, and before that, had been trying my hand at woodturning at Blackhorse Road Workshop in East London. I’m just one of a whole host of people who have been dipping their toes into day-long courses that take newbies like me from complete ignorance to walking away with a complete product and the beginnings of a new skill.
So where has this vogue for learning practical skills come from? It seems to appeal most to my millennial generation, those for whom woodwork, sewing or cookery have fallen away from their syllabuses, and whose jobs are often office-based and digital-focused. For some of those around me, it was a deliberate first step in the direction of a new career, but for many it was the opportunity to try something new and practical under expert eyes. Being taught a new skill and how to make something of quality with your own hands is certainly what seduced me.
Here’s a run down of some of the best no-experience-needed practical skills workshops across the country…
Calligraphy: Quill London, Clerkenwell
Not just for DIY wedding invitations (although that’s probably what brings a lot of customers through the doors), Quill London offer a ‘beginners’ modern calligraphy’ course, which promises to teach you how to write beautifully using ink and nib, while developing your own modern style and exploring creativity. The class includes their essential calligraphy materials, which can be taken away afterwards, as well as light refreshments.
Screen printing: Print Club London, Dalston
This workshop will teach you how to screen print your own design, and take you through the whole shebang, from the image on the screen, to pulling the squeegee. Along the way, you’ll lean about the history of screen printing, and a variety of techniques, inks, and get to use ‘Big Bertha’, the studio’s professional exposure unit. And bonus – you can become a member of Print Club London after completing the workshop.
Beginners’ sourdough: Bertinet Kitchen, Bath
Learn how to wrangle a sourdough starter and make all sorts of sourdough products under the expert tutelage of Richard Bertinet, bath-based artisan baker. Includes lunch with wine.
Butchery: School of Artisan Food, Nottinghamshire
Spend the day learning how to turn a side of pig into a whole host of primary and secondary joints, and practice your butcher’s knots and sausage stuffing, all under the eagle eyes (and patient, skilled hands) of Rich Summers and Chris Moorby. A hands on day; not for the squeamish! Breakfast, lunch and refreshments included.
Woodturning: Blackhorse Workshop, Walthamstow
This workshop takes you from a dull block of wood to a beautiful wooden bowl in just a day. Working in pairs on lathes, you’ll be taken through every step of the process by one of the resident woodturners, and really do it all yourself – but with a pair of skilled hands nearby to correct any mistakes. Wear comfortable shoes: this is a day on your feet. Lunch not included, but the onsite café’s sandwiches and coffee are excellent
Upholstery: The Ministry of Upholstery, Manchester
The Ministry of Upholstery in Manchester offer courses that start at a short footstool workshop and go right up to a six-week residency. The former is a two day course that will teach you the essentials of upholstery, and which will leave you with your very own footstool in your desired fabric by the end of the weekend. Wooden frame is provided and the course fee depends on your desired size of frame.
Pickling: Newton & Pott, Hackney
Join Kylee Newton, aka the modern preserver, to learn one or all four of Kylee’s preserving techniques: jam, chutney, pickling and fermentation. Each hands-on class focuses on showcasing seasonal fruit and vegetables, making three to four preserves, which can be taken home by students.
Perfume making: 4160 Tuesdays, Acton
Learn how to mix you own perfume, with access to both 28 different materials and the inestimable wisdom and knowledge of Sarah McCartney, creator of 4160’s perfumes. Price includes refreshments and a sample set of 4160 fragrances.