THE CLOGMAKER’S APPRENTICE
Woodworker Jojo Wood is carving a unique path for herself with a modern take on traditional footwear from a bygone era
Woodworker Jojo Wood is carving a unique path for herself with a modern take on footwear from a bygone era
IN A WOODLAND CLEARING IN THE WYE VALLEY, Jojo Wood gathers up an armful of birch logs she has felled and carries them back to her home – a yurt surrounded by broadleaf trees. As a professional woodworker, living close to her raw materials is a great source of inspiration, and the coppice setting is especially beautiful in autumn, when the leaves fall onto her canvas roof. Setting the timber down, and sitting on her doorstep, she inspects a piece of alder shaped like the sole of a shoe, and begins to carve at the edges with a knife. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to make something with your hands from a renewable resource,” she says.
Growing up in Derbyshire, with a master woodturner (Robin Wood MBE) for a father, Jojo was immersed in the craft from an early age and did her first piece of woodwork before she can remember. “My dad turns bowls on a pole lathe,” she explains, “so I grew up around all of that. All the plates, bowls and spoons we had were wooden.” Although, during her teenage years, Jojo wasn’t sure that she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps (she chose to go to art college for a year after leaving school), ultimately she decided to focus on
craft. While helping with Spoonfest, the annual spoon-carving event run by her dad in Edale, she noticed that all the teachers were men. “I thought that wasn’t right and was determined to become one of the instructors the following year.” She now sells her handmade utensils online, and leads spoon-carving courses at Spoonfest and all over the world.
By the time she was out of her teens, however, Jojo was thinking about her next challenge. “I love spoons, but I’m pretty good at them and I’m only 22,” she says. For years she had worn a pair of clogs owned by her mother. A low-fitting ‘Welsh slipper’ design, they had been made by Jeremy Atkinson, a clogmaker Jojo’s dad got to know through the show circuit and whom her mum, Nicola, an academic, met (along with an 11-year-old Jojo) while doing research into traditional skills. Jeremy, now in his sixties, is the last craftsperson in England to make whole clogs by hand (he also trained Geraint Parfitt, the only clog carver in Wales). It’s a discipline dating back generations that takes years to master, involving both wood- and leatherwork skills. “It looked like something really complicated that would keep me interested for a long time,” Jojo says. “And it’s a craft without many
practitioners – it needs more people doing it if it’s to survive.”
Jojo first asked Jeremy if he would teach her two years ago and, in order to pay for one-to-one tuition, set about applying for funding. She succeeded in gaining a scholarship from the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust – QEST (see above) – in spring 2015, and also received a grant from the Association of Polelathe Turners and Greenwood Workers. This financial support enabled her to start an apprenticeship at Jeremy’s workshop in the market town of Kington, Herefordshire, learning alongside him three days a week. On the remaining days, she focuses on her spoon-carving and teaching.
To keep costs down, Jojo lives a simple life in her yurt deep in the countryside. People also rallied round to help her get started: she was given a set of leatherwork tools by friend and fellow
“They used to say you could tell the village a man came from by his clogs”
spoon-carver Jane Mickelborough, who had made clog uppers in the past. Meanwhile, Jeremy found her the wood-carving tools she needed, many of which date back to the turn of the 20th century. These are kept at Jeremy’s workplace – a former tailor’s shop in the centre of town. There is no sign outside, but a glance through the window reveals his trade: the shelved space is stacked to the ceiling with wooden lasts, newly carved soles in alder, birch and sycamore, and rolls of moccasin leather, while antique clog irons hang in bunches from the exposed beams. There is a formidablelooking blocker in the centre of the room, encircled by wood shavings. “Jojo picks things up really fast and she’s got a very good eye,” he says of his student. “As soon as she’s ready to take something on, I usually only have to tell her once and it sticks.”
Jojo began her apprenticeship by making clogs for family and friends – easier for both fittings and feedback. Crafting bespoke clogs takes time: while an experienced maker might be able to carve one or two pairs in a day, they then have to allow the green-wood soles to dry out for a month, before checking if they fit, usually in person (Jeremy, cleverly, manages to do this by post). Once any adjustments have been made, the leatherwork then has to be stitched and nailed – plus any fastenings, such as clasps or eyelets, and steel or brass toe tins, added.
Jeremy’s handiwork has attracted customers from all walks of life (he has also done special commissions for film and theatre productions, such as Coram Boy at The National Theatre). One of the advantages clogs have over conventional footwear is comfort – especially if you have arthritic toes, as these don’t need to bend in the traditional, curved clog shape – and natural materials mean the feet don’t sweat. Though they cost more to buy than factory-made shoes, clogs do not wear out anywhere near as quickly. If cared for, they can last for up to 20 years.
With a keen design sense, Jojo – who today is wearing a pair of clogs she has made herself, with a duck toe and a mid-height heel – hopes to devise her own style of clogmaking, something Jeremy encourages: “They used to say you could tell the village a man came from by the cut of his clogs,” he says, “because every maker was different.” Jojo sees a lot of potential for innovation, and for building on the tradition. “There are plenty of leather techniques that haven’t previously been used on clogs, such as broguing. I’d like to make high-heeled ones and platforms, too.” She plans to be open for orders by Christmas.
When her apprenticeship is complete, Jojo wants to establish her own business, providing bespoke fashionable clogs. Passionate about trees and the countryside, she intends to maintain a rural base while travelling to major cities every few weeks for fittings. “What I love about clogs is that I can spend the rest of my life experimenting and exploring,” she says. “There are endless possibilities and places I could take this.”
For more information on Jojo’s products and courses, plus details of Jeremy Atkinson’s designs, visit jojo-wood.co.uk and clogmaker.co.uk.
THIS PAGE AND OPPOSITE Jojo is embracing her new craft creating beautiful bespoke clogs – the leatherwork on this red pair was inspired by an antique pattern