Tower Poppies – A sea of remembrance

part of the installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London
Part of the Tower Poppies installation


Last weekend I spent a few hours knee deep in ceramic poppies at the Tower of London.

No, I’m not going completely mad, and yes they knew I was there doing it, I had not just snuck in of my own accord. I had volunteered to help plant ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower as a part of an installation called ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ which is being put in place as a remembrance of the lives of British soldiers lost during World War One. 888,246 poppies to be planted, one for each life lost.

Coming out of Tower Hill underground station you can already see the poppies and the crowds of people looking down at them. The crowds extend pretty much all the way around the tower.


coming out of Tower hill underground station you can see the public looking at the Tower Poppies
The public looking at the Tower Poppies


Looking down into the moat the poppies are a really spectacular sight, a sea of red which is starting to ring the Tower. It is hard to make out any individual poppies from here, it is the overall effect that takes your breath away.


looking down onto the Tower moat and the sea of poppies that are starting to surround it
Looking down from the walkway into the moat the poppies are starting to surround the Tower and are a spectacular sight


Once you get down to ground level you can see the poppies in all their individual and unique beauty. Although they are made from exactly the same initial shapes of clay the fact that they are shaped by hand makes each an individual. Even the glazes vary from really shiny to matt and all ranges in between.


A closer look at the Tower poppies from ground level, from here you can see just how unique each one is
When you get a bit closer to the poppies you can see just how unique each one is


As a volunteer you get to get ‘up close and personal’ with the poppies as you are planting them by hand. You also get given a volunteer t-shirt and a badge which you get to keep. I met some lovely people and had a few fascinating conversations.


Volunteers get to get 'up close and personal' with the poppies as each one is planted by hand
Volunteers planting the poppies by hand


I’m not quite sure how many poppies I planted in the end, but this is my little ‘patch’ (just the ones at the front obviously!). It soon got swallowed up into the whole, though I do reckon that I can still pick out the general area where they are.


The little patch of poppies that I planted, just the ones at the front of the image
The little patch of poppies that I planted


As a whole shift we had 5000 poppies allocated to be planted, we seemed to get through them very quickly, then spent the time making up the stems so the next shift could get started planting straight away. Once that was done we had the chance to wander around the moat and take pictures of the poppies.


Poppies fill the area by the entrance to the Tower of London
Poppies by the entrance to the Tower


I came across this little fellow who seemed quite confused about what was going on…….


A very confused bug is trying to find the living part of the ceramic poppy
One very confused bug….


Further round the moat where the poppies have been in place longer the grass has started to grow between them, it makes them seem like they have been there a lot longer than a few weeks. There are even some rogue elements out to join the installation….


A rouge dandelion in amongst the Tower Poppies
A rouge dandelion in amongst the Tower Poppies


I really enjoyed being a part of the whole poppy planting process. It somehow seems wrong to say that I enjoyed it, but I do not know of the appropriate word. Its mixed emotions really, you stand there admiring the whole you see before you, taking in the beauty of it, then you suddenly remember what each poppy represents and it is overwhelming and emotional. That many lives…..


Planting of the poppies will be carrying on until 11th November when the last poppy will be put in place. Volunteers are still needed to help plant, if you would like to know any more about the installation itself or to volunteer your time to help then go to all the information you need is there.


If you are in London between now and 11th November I would highly recommend that you go and have a look, it is well worth the visit.







Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .



Something a little different – Mini Californian Longboard anyone?

Mini Californian Longboard
Mini Californian Longboard

Every now and then I do something a little different, mostly because my interest has been piqued and also because it challenges me to see if I can do it. I see it as one of the bonuses of what I do, being able to set aside a little time to try out different things using the mix of skills I have. Sometimes someone asks me to make something for them or to help them make something.

A friend of mine would really like to make a Californian Longboard Deck (its a type of skateboard that is built more for cruising than for doing tricks and stunts, the ‘deck’ is the board part that you stand on) and he asked if I would help him to make it. I know very little about skateboards, and I have never been able to stand upright on one, well I couldn’t the last time I tried which was when I was about 10 I think! Having looked at a couple of videos on how to make them I agreed, we’re just waiting now for him to buy the metal bits i.e. wheels and stuff (technical term that) as you need those before you start making the deck.

Anyway long story short his birthday was coming up and we still hadn’t made his skateboard, so I decided that I would make him a mini Californian Longboard as a gift. I hoped that he would like it and also see the funny side at the same time.

I didn’t even realise that there was such a thing before I decided to try to make one. Once I did a little research I discovered that there are quite a few out there, you can even buy ramps for doing tricks on and they are known as ‘Finger Boards’ as they are designed to be ridden by fingers. I couldn’t find any longboards though.

The great thing about those available out there is you can remove the wheels and supports from the deck, this lets you change the wheels as you like and also change the deck as you want to, very handy in my case. In the end I bought a Tech Deck Finger Board just to get hold of the wheels etc.

Rather than make the deck out of one single piece of wood I got together some strips of different woods and cut them to various widths and a constant thickness. Then I played around putting different colours of wood next to each other to get different patterns, I got a little carried away at this point and made up 10 sets big enough to take the shape I had drawn out. The one that I made up into a deck is mahogany-maple-walnut-maple-mahogany and I think it works well.


Mini Californian Longboard on palm of hand
Mini Californian Longboard on palm of hand


The whole board is 12cm long and you can see that it fits quite nicely onto my hand, it also moves well. I was really pleased with the result.

So now you’re wondering what he thought of it? When I gave him the board he was really pleased with it and it was totally unexpected.

If at some point we get around to making the full size Californian Longboard deck I will let you know how we get on.



















Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .

A Primitive Trophy brings a shine to my week

PAAS Trophy 2012. English Pear.
PAAS Trophy 2012. English Pear.

This past week has been a little odd for reasons I won’t go into here. One of the best things to come out of the past seven days has been the trophy I made that you can see in the photograph.

You may be looking at it thinking ‘er what is it for’, and I don’t blame you for that as its not really self explanatory unless you know what you’re looking at.


As well as being a wood carver I am an archer and I shoot a primitive bow (little more than a shaped Ash stick and yes I did make it myself with some help) and I belong to a group called the Prehistoric Archery and Atlatl Society or PAAS. You can learn a little more about the group here.


Last year the PAAS held the first ever Primitive Archery Championships and I attended, its where I learned how to throw a 6ft long dart using an Atlatl (but thats another story). Soon after that I joined the group and offered to make a trophy to be given away at this years event.

For ages I couldn’t think what I wanted to make, I was worried about what people would be pleased to receive, what was relevant and what was suitable. Every idea I came up with just seemed wrong in my gut, the day was getting closer and I didn’t have anything made. I ran through countless options but none was right, everything seemed to be too ‘polished’ and not ‘primitive’ enough. My instincts were screaming at me that my thoughts were wrong.

I was getting slightly panicky, I couldn’t even find a suitable piece of wood, something native was requested so as to fit in more with the ethos of the group. Then I walked past this piece of English Pear wood sitting on a work bench that had fallen off of a log when I was using it to split smaller logs for the wood burner last summer. When it happened I decided to keep the interesting looking piece rather than burn it, I knew it would come in handy at some point. I was fascinated by the different colours within the wood as I have only ever seem steamed pear before this, this is air dried pear from my mums friends garden more than 20 years ago (they should be nice and dry by now!).


As soon as I found it I knew it would make a great trophy and that the PAAS logo would look great carved in relief onto it as was with no smoothing of the wood. My instinct had finally kicked in with good feelings. Once the relief was carved I thought that it didn’t stand out enough so I painted it in with acrylic and added some rottenstone over the paint to age it. Painting on Danish Oil darkened the wood beautifully but removed all the rottenstone, the paint looked too bright without it so I re added the rottenstone before the oil dried in the hope that the oil will help it to stay put.

I am really pleased with the result as I think its really quite effective and to me looks like a cave painting (I know its on wood but the spirit of cave painting, though I can’t take any credit for the logo design). I loved making it, and if they tell me that they liked it and the Championships are run again next year I’d love to make another.


Unfortunately, and sadly, for various reasons I can’t get to the championships this year so I’ve posted off the trophy and by the time you read this it should be there (without me which is sad). I don’t know who will win it, obviously, but I hope that they like it and are proud to be its new owner.

If you’re reading this and you’re going to the Championships this weekend have a great time and know that I’m really jealous of you……





Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .


1960’s flat pack wardrobe needs some TLC

Meredew Wardrobe, one door already removed
Meredew Wardrobe, one door already removed

One of the things that has happened recently around here is that we had a house fire.

Now I know that sounds a lot worse than it really was, though it was pretty scary at the time, but we are all safe (us and the pets) and the house is still standing.

Just the one room was damaged and I think all in all we got off pretty lightly (someone was watching over us, thanks Dad).

We had an awful lot of ‘stuff’ in that room, most of which has had to been thrown away due to the smoke damage and the smell which is now ingrained in it.

However there were some things that even if we were given the money for them we could never replace so we have decided to keep them and try to get rid of the smell.

The largest and probably the thing with the most sentimental value is a pair of wardrobes that my mum and dad bought in 1962ish.

Assembly instructions found on the back of the wardrobe
Assembly instructions found on the back of the wardrobe

The best thing about these wardrobes is that they are flat pack! I know I didn’t believe it either when I first found out years ago (when we moved from London to here).

It wasn’t me who took the wardrobes apart when we moved, that job fell to my dad, but I do remember helping to put them back together again.

The guys who came to clear the room lifted them out into the hall and it was my job to take them apart.

What I didn’t remember was that on the back of each wardrobe is a set of assembly/disassembly instructions, very, very handy when you cannot remember how to take them apart!

The mechanism that enables them to come apart so easily is in fact very simple, I could use a flat head screw driver and I didn’t need to look for the special tool that was shown on the instructions.

Flat pack mechanism
Flat pack mechanism

So now the wardrobes are in pieces in the carport and my next job is to figure out how to get rid of the smell, thing is when I took them apart I realised that they are not solid wood. They are chipboard with a wood edge, very cunning and a very good idea and something I may discuss in another post.

I’m not quite sure how to go about getting them to let go of the smell without ruining them. I really do hope that I can save them for my mum’s sake.

If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them.