The Sum And Its Parts

enjoying the bigger history of small pieces

I’ve often seen these (unmistakably French) ‘Comtoise Morbier’ clock face surrounds or headpieces. They’re usually still attached to clocks, so these two really spoke to me, in the way that displaced and orphaned things so often do!

The problem was that I just couldn’t choose between them:

one features various birds – obviously a favourite subject of mine

the other one illustrates a family at a graveside. There’s something so very French about that. I mean, we Brits would never show a mourning scene on a household object

I took them both and asked the guy to combine the postage costs (he didn’t)

I was very excited about them arriving. Unfortunately when they came they looked very rough, and I felt like I’d been ‘had’. I didn’t want to show Baz, so I left them in their meagre packing

But yesterday the rain scuppered my paint-stripping plans and instead I spent a happy hour with gloves and various pliers, gently teasing the thin brass repousse, which is very malleable but also easily torn. I then scrubbed them with a toothbrush and they came up a treat, as you can see

These relatively low-cost clocks were made in villages in the region of Franche-Compte, near the Swiss border, from around the year 1600. Various families in each village would be involved in making the different elements of the clocks, before final assembly by a finisher. At that stage the clock faces with their headpieces and workings were portable enough to be carried in groups of four on backpacks, along with their pendulums stored separately below, to be taken for sale further afield

clockmuseum
photo courtesy of Comtoise Uhren Museum

The final purchaser could simply hang the clock with the pendulum exposed, or they could pay their local casket maker to make a long case for it

The earliest clocks had cast brass headpieces, but these were replaced by brass repousse – like mine – in the early 1800s. Production declined after the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 permitted the tax-free import of German clocks to France, and then apparently ceased after the First World War

It appeals to me that so many people had a hand in this industry, that the clocks were readily available, and that the wonderfully decorative designs were often based on simple everyday scenes from provincial life

And so these two inexpensive pieces, bought for reincarnation as mirror frames, have a long pedigree of practicality as well as beauty

Could there be anything more French?

Reflections and Repairs

It’s all done with mirrors

I love all sorts of mirrors. There is the enormous (sadly, recently smashed) Mafia Mirror with its smugglers cavity, which Gill kindly picked up for me from the ‘Russians’ last summer, but at the other end of the size scale I have a few damaged 99p jobbies, one of which is splayed on a towel on my living room floor awaiting further surgery this evening

Before and after bending with pliers, then applying elbow grease with rottenstone and good old WD40. It still has a patina but is no longer filthy

I tend to think of mirrors as things to look at, rather than to look into. And ironically for someone so mirror-happy I spend way less time in front of one than many people, and probably less time than I should, taking the ‘casual’ approach to clothing and make up to the extreme. This despite the fact that I have hung good mirrors either side of the front door, in an attempt to remind me to check myself before leaving. (At least C and Baz use them)

Recent examples include:

Leaving yoga class last week I looked down at the logo on my vest top, wondering if it was Adidas, Sweaty Betty, New Balance etc, and realised that it was just a blob of grey undercoat. When I pointed this out to C she just said she assumed I already knew

Recently, Baz has pointed out blobs of face cream as I get into the car to work in the morning

One morning, C turned to me in the hallway and asked me, without a trace of irony: ‘Aren’t you going to work today then?’

To be fair, the skanky chicken-flavoured flip-flops didn’t help the look

I genuinely admire people who take the trouble to look good but I fully believe that one day it will be discovered that there’s an actual gene which compels some women to match handbags and shoes to outfits and to iron their clothes. Sadly, it’s a gene I do not possess, but thanks to Baz’s side of the family, C has inherited it (in part. Not the ironing!)

Isn’t nature wonderful

I’m not hideous, but I rarely get compliments on my appearance, even when I have made a real effort. At one excruciating Boxing Day family get-together where I was wearing a nice top with good jeans, someone remarked cattily that ‘I see you’re wearing your best socks’ and everyone roared with laughter. I wasn’t wearing my best socks, of course, but Baz’s socks as always. I just hadn’t dressed to impress

So why all the mirrors for someone so unglamorous? I love the light they bring in to a room, and the way a bevel (I do LOVE a bevel) sends light and reflections shooting off. Of course I buy mirrors with a past, so damage is acceptable and foxing is actually desirable because it just adds to the mystery

And it means I don’t have to look too closely at my reflection

But I digress. Back to the patient: its dear little asymmetrical bevelled mirror has had a hard life and the silvering comes away from the back in large thick flakes, so I’ll clean it up and put acrylic mirror (90p) behind to cover the silver losses. It’s very effective

IMG_2769

And after all, it won’t often get called into active duty!

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Debate – Porridge v Peelaway

Porridge – keep out of the reach of children

Following on from Porridgey Looks and Paint Removal

As I was paying for the cute (and kitsch) framed picture above, I noticed a dear little nicely foxed mirror that was filthy and absolutely lavished with paint – the ideal candidate for the porridge test? As it was too cheap to leave behind it seemed worth a punt (in the interests of science, of course)IMG_9125

It took me a while to spot the Quaker Oats packet in the supermarket. It was on the top shelf – for adults only, I guess. I didn’t have anything to mix it in, so I cut a San Pellegrino bottle in half, inadvertently creating the simple ‘coffee maker’ that I have failed to find in the shops so far. Handy, as going out for coffee breaks up the day and requires me to wear something much less indoors-y

Once it had reached the consistency I thought it should be, I applied it generously and covered it in cut up pieces of bin bag. This was lunchtime. It was only at six in the evening that I absent-mindedly noticed the part-can of Peelaway 7 in the hall, so I spread that on the rest of the frame and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. This made it feel like a properly scientific trial

No matter how much there is to do, it’s very hard to keep your hands off something when you have put paint stripper (or porridge) on it, so I had to try to keep busy. Even so, at ten o’clock that same evening I was peeling back the bin bags to see how both were performing and I couldn’t help picking away a bit on the Peelaway side with my available toolset, a plastic picnic knife. I was surprised to see how much paint had come off, but I realised that I had no neutraliser for it. Vinegar would work, but I didn’t have any and the shops were long-closed. I tried some brine from the olive jar, but (unsurprisingly) it didn’t work so I went scouting around, found some alcohol upstairs and poured some into a plastic cup (I know what you’re thinking but this wasn’t gin, it was proper murderous cleaning stuff that even I wouldn’t drink) and dipped the wire wool. It seemed to do the trick, and the paint came off quite cleanly, which was lucky as Baz’s toothbrush was the next implement I had in mind to use

When you start commandeering your husband’s current toothbrush for things like this it’s probably time for bed

I woke, well rested, at 6.50. Perhaps it was the fact that I now had coffee available, or perhaps I just couldn’t wait to get started, but I removed the rest of the Peelaway, which showed a vast improvement from the part I had messed with the night before. I still had no vinegar and even if the shops were open I was not prepared to go in search for it at that time of day, so I continued with the alcohol. It smells much nicer anyway and it evaporates really quickly. Then I removed part of the porridge as well, cleaning it afterwards with wet wire wool, then also with alcohol, for the sake of being equal. I have to say that the inner and most fiddly detailed edge came up just as well with porridge, but the bobbly beading was not really very good, as the porridge had been stopped in its tracks by a thick-ish layer of gloss paint, way too much to ask of the porridge mix. So, once I’d wiped down, I applied a small amount of Peelaway to just that area and covered it up again. Having plans for the day meant that the mirror would be safe from my meddling until the evening

The Verdict:

Porridge given enough time was very good at removing water-based paint. I would certainly do this again.  Plus, it’s easy to work with, environmentally friendly and cheap. It won’t damage anything and doesn’t need neutraliser

Peelaway 7 lifted all the paint, including the gloss, but don’t believe the videos of it coming off cleanly with all the paint securely attached. It is a very messy substance and not a joy to use at all. You absolutely have to neutralise it with something (they supply a bottle of the neutraliser, but never enough – it ran out ages ago) and there’s a lot of cleaning up to do afterwards

Just as a comparison I also tried the wire wool with alcohol on a separate patch, and it had little effect on the paint

So if the paint is water-based I would recommend the porridge method. It needs to be really gloopy and thick, but kept nice and wet for as long as possible to allow it to work

Thanks to Witch House for the tip. Ultimately I will be repainting the mirror frame, but I wanted to strip the details back first, instead of just disguising them even more

The ‘mafia’ mirror

This is another ten pound ebay purchase (if only that was always the upper limit!), sold as a ”handsmade’ Russian mirror over 100 years old’

Russian mirror
Russian mirror

I just had to have it and friends were kind enough to collect it for me. I warned them to take care because the glass was already broken and I explained that the guy had limited English and a strong Eastern European accent and was very hard to pin down over the phone, but they went ahead and arranged a pickup anyway

The mirror is huge, way larger than I had realised, so it took both of them to carry it. I got a call to say that the mirror shifted within its frame on the way to their car and almost dropped out, and at that point the door of the seller’s house was firmly slammed in a ‘your problem now, not ours’ kind of way. We have an in-joke that there may be Eastern European mafia connections as we are unsure whose mirror this actually was or whose house we collected from, and because the guy claimed it belonged to ‘my friend’ a la Borat

back surface of mirror
back of cracked mirror

The first thing we did was to chisel off the bodged wood and plywood backing, which was (clearly) not supporting the weight of the glass. There are no signs of any money or illegal substances stuffed down the back, which is sort of a pity. The glass itself is very heavy with hand painted silvering and it has a nice age. There’s also a lovely deep sinuous bevel which it may not be possible to re-create so we want to keep it despite the huge crack.  I’ll work on the wood frame and we’ve cut cardboard to provide a cushion between the glass and the backing plate. We will try using a windscreen repair kit to stabilise the crack. At least we’ll have a stable template for a new mirror if we really cannot live with the break, but just think what this mirror may have witnessed in its lifetime!