Calling Kim Thomson’s jewellery studio a shed would be doing it a disservice. Certainly, it shares common ancestors with the potting variety, but as the double doors swing back to reveal three cute wooden stools with red cushions placed at individual work stations, vintage tools mounted to pegboards on the painted walls, and a rose gold clock draped in fairy lights, it’s clear that this is a well used, and, above all, well loved space.
Clutching a coffee in a spotty mug, Kim lets Pepper, one of her rescue dogs, out into the garden at her home in Mangotsfield. They both ascend the step into the shed, and Kim takes up her usual pew at the end bench, reaching with practice for her tools. “This is my main studio, plus I have another outhouse,” she says, rolls of wire around her in a state of thoroughly organised chaos. “I hunker down in here!”
Kim is a creative practitioner – primarily a silversmith – and offers jewellery-making workshops at her home studio and also at Park Street’s Folk House. Working with metal runs in the family, she explains as we sit and begin to make simple silver rings.
“When I was really little, my grandad would show me how to use hand tools. He was a woodworker and metalworker,” she says, clipping a piece of silver wire to size and filing the ends down flat. “He had this huge hammer and he taught me to use it when I was about three. I’ve still got it-” she gestures up at one of the shelves “- and also his hand drill. I always used to think he was really special, having his name, Stanley, on his drill. I was far too old when I realised it was the brand name!”
A picture of him, in faded sepia, hangs on the wall. He’s working in the garden, in front of his shed. “That was where he did all his making, and cooked his kippers for breakfast because they stank so much,” laughs Kim. “I would to stand on his big metal toolbox to reach. I grew up in that shed.”
Her great-uncle Rusty was also a metalworker, making trophies for Birmingham School of Jewellery, according to family legend. “The whole family has always allowed us to do what we wanted and never batted an eyelid. At school, I was never great academically – my dyslexia was still undiagnosed – and the art department wasn’t great either,” Kim explains. “But, in my last year of A levels, I decided I wanted to do silversmithing, so I went to art college and did a three-year degree in jewellery silversmithing.”
Fifteen years on, she’s never looked back. She tutors students one-to-one here in the shed, and says she’s inspired by the creativity of the people who come in. “I never get bored. It’s always different – people can do what they like. One student asked me if it was possible to solder porcelain. I said I had no idea but I was willing to give it a go, and it worked! There’s no way in a million years I’d have thought to do it.”
It’s time to solder the ends of the ring together, using a blowtorch and a tiny piece of dull silver solder on a heatproof mat. The ring glows red with heat under the flame of the torch and then hisses with satisfaction as Kim plunges into water and then dunks it in a solution rather wonderfully called ‘safety pickle’.
As well as jewellery-making workshops for fellow creatives, interested newbies and romantic couples who want to forge their own wedding rings, Kim has also worked extensively with young people with physical or learning disabilities, and from pupil referral units. “I’m all for kids using blowtorches and hammers. The more ‘dangerous’ an activity, often the more respect they have for it,” she says. One of the young people she supported, who has Asperger’s and ADHD, even helped her to construct the shed.
“People with Asperger’s are often thought of as difficult to engage in activities, but actually he wanted to keep sanding and keep working on the shed,” she says, smiling at the memory. “If not for him, it would never have been this standard, and I’d never have got at much done as I did.”
With the ring soldered, Kim uses a ring mandrel and a rawhide mallet to make it perfectly round (“Just keep walloping it!”) and then it’s back to the bench on the other side of the shed to polish it up with a machine like a big electric toothbrush, controlled with a foot pedal. The air smells of Silvo. The final result is beautifully simple.
“My whole life, people have commented on my random choice of music, my hair, my dress sense,” Kim says. “Apparently, you’re meant to pick one and stick to it, but I just can’t imagine doing that. I’d get bored.” It’s the constant flow of new commissions, students and projects that keeps her out here in the shed in all weathers, making things with her grandad’s tools. No doubt he would be very proud of how far his granddaughter has come, since the days she needed his help to reach the bench.
To see more of Kim’s work, including her recent challenge to make 100 different things from a single piece of silver in 100 days, follow her on Instagram at @Makeitkimtoday. To book a workshop, visit www.makeit.kim.