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Lime mortar master class in Edinburgh

Lime mortar master class in Edinburgh

Mosaic Inspiration: Lime Mortar Master Class*

Lime mortar master class, dagmar_friedrich_mused4
The Lime Mortar Method. Dagmar Friedrich of Spilimbergo. Photo: © – Miriam Bastisch

I recently signed up for a lime mortar master class in Edinburgh and as I sat down to write about it, I felt a door gently click open. I left the writing and went back to my current mosaic project – a house warming commission of a tree; an oak for Ireland with roots winding around the frame for the roots of family.

oak tree mosaic sketch
Sketch for house warming mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

And as I worked, ideas began to creep in through that open door. At first they were hesitant and kept their distance and then they grew bolder and came to lie at my feet. The simple act of signing up for a lime mortar master class to be taught by Dagmar Friedrich of Spilimbergo and Joanna Kessel of Edinburgh Mosaic Studios had let in a whole new world of mosaic inspiration.

lime mortar master class
The Lime Mortar Method. Dagmar Friedrich of Spilimbergo. Photo: © – Miriam Bastisch

As with all inspiration, however, the ideas had always been there, but they were translucent, hovering things which would occasionally try to land and take hold but were mostly batted away by current projects, domestic duties and more familiar, easier ways of working. But as I read what the lime mortar master class entailed, about the gathering of materials – of stones, marble, porcelain and glass, sea worn glass, ceramic and fireclay – and how I would learn to mould the lime substrate, to make it textured or smooth, and then take the materials and press them into the surface, the ideas began to grow larger, to gain substance and to gather around me.Lime mortar short3

I have long wanted to go to Italy to learn the lime mortar mosaic method but Life – that slippery, tricky thing -was for ever getting in the way. So when I heard that Friedrich was coming to Edinburgh at the end of August, during the last few days of the Edinburgh International Festival, the very time that I would be there, I signed up without a moment’s hesitation.

Joanna Kessel mosaics
Mosaic by Joanna Kessel. Photo and mosaic: @Joanna Kessel Mosaics

I could see clearly that the source of inspiration was coming from three distinct directions and converging on the malleable surface of the lime mortar. These were:

  • 1. The work of found-object and collected stone mosaic artists like Rachel Sager and Julie Sperling:
    julie sperling 1
    All Else is Junk by Julie Sperling. Photo and mosaic:@ Julie Sperling Mosaics

    2. A part documentary and part travel-log I had recently watched about Greece which included footage of a landfill outside Athens where I live. This landfill, the voiceover informed me, is the largest in – the – world.

  • 3. My father.

    My father and brother in happier times. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

My father has always been a collector, whether of art or stones or books or clippings from newspapers. He is now a nonegarian mostly reliant on others for his personal needs but his old, somewhat eccentric, habits remain. When I visited him not long ago in hospital, where he sat in a high backed institutional chair unable to do anything but read, eat and wait for my mother’s visits, he produced a set of  thimble-sized plastic pill cups from under his pyjamas and gave them triumphantly to my mother. He has started a new collection and is determined to see it grow.  If he’s not vigilant, he said, the nurses would whisk them away and put them in the bin.  Back home, on the mantlepiece in their bedroom, the pillars of cups are growing.

stones in burn
Stones in the burn that runs past the house. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

So what I want to do, what I will try to do, is to use the lime mortar masterclass to make a mosaic piece about the things we leave behind.  The inconsequential, unwanted, trivial things; the neglected, disregarded, and discarded, which are scarcely granted any importance or attention in our lives and yet which are as much a part of us and of what we bequeath when we die as any of the more valuable objects or recognisable achievements which we hope to be remembered by. That landfill is our endowment.

lime mortar master class
Old cooking pot and nettles, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Of course I do not seek to claim that there is anything original about this. Using reclaimed items to make new objects, to make us re-see the ordinary, is a well trodden path. But I wish merely to say that the lime mortar master class has inspired me to explore what is new territory for me. I am excited about all the possiblities of experimenting with texture, about the sheer physical fun of working with a new material, about pressing down into the surface of the mosaic, like toes into moss, fingers into dough. Working with lime mortar will let me explore angles and oddities which my two-dimensional work up until now has not permitted.

lime mortar master class
Wedding mosaic for Thomas and Lucy. Photo and mosaic: @Helen Miles Mosaics

I have always enjoyed making mosaics which are personal. I like the way that the medium which is so inherently timeless and ownerless can be used to celebrate or memorialise a specific private event. So this mosaic, as I see it, will be about my own father’s life. I would like to gather in one piece the small things which I associate with him. It helps that he, too, is a lover of stone and that I spent time as child helping him repair the dry stone walls around our fields in Scotland.

lime mortar masterclass
Moss covered dry stone wall, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

He also carefully collected fragments of pottery which turned up when he dug in the garden and of course they would work well in the mosaic. So, too, would pebbles from his beloved burn which runs past the house.

lime mortar masterclass
Pebbles and wood, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

That’s the easy part. I will have to think long and hard about what to bring to the lime mortar master class. Screws, maybe – he is a maker and fixer. Pieces of wood because trees are a passion. But it’s important for me to include the equivalent of those plastic pill-cups. To incorporate the stuff that he has accumulated around him, the lovely and the not-so lovely that he has allowed to pile up or left to decay.

lime mortar masterclass
Old sink in the garden, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

Needless to say collecting the materials is only part of the preparation process for the lime mortar master class. The mosaic needs a design/pattern too so there is much to ponder. It’s time to go back to my mosaic table and let the thoughts distill.


*There are still places available at the Lime Mortar Master Class. 

For bookings, contact: / +44 (0)7974 810621

Edinburgh Mosaic Studio, Patriothall Studios, Hamilton Place, Stockbridge, Edinburgh, EH3 5AY, Scotland.

Further information below:

Lime Mortar Master Class. 27-29 August, 2016. 

£280, 10am to 5pm.

This specialist mosaic masterclass focuses on the expressive potential of lime mortar to create a contemporary mosaic and it is the inaugural class of what is hoped will become an annual Mosaic Masterclass Programme held during the Edinburgh International Festival.

During the three-day course, students will learn how to prepare and work with lime mortar to achieve smooth, textured and shaggy effects and how to combine this with tesserae to create a contemporary mosaic artwork. Students will create one lime mortar and mosaic piece and a few small lime mortar samples.  Students will also be encouraged to discuss their design concept with the tutors prior to the course.Dagmar3

The course fee includes use of equipment and materials; marble, porcelain and glass, sea worn glass, ceramic and fireclay as well as wood substrate and lime.  Students will work with both hammer and hardies and nippers.  A light homemade lunch will also be provided on the first and last day.

The course has been scheduled to coincide with the last few days of the Edinburgh International Festival so that students can enjoy a creative and cultural experience. The spectacular firework concert which acts as the finale to the Festival takes place on the last day of the course and is set against the magnificent backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.edinburgh castle

Atelier Dagmar Friedrich is based in Spilimbergo in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, and Dagmar trained at the famous Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli in Spilimbergo. She undertakes mosaic commissions for a range of clients and has won a number of public art competitions  Her studio practice is innovative, creating intimately detailed contemporary mosaic artworks utilising a range of materials and techniques, and she runs a popular mosaic course programme from her studio as well teaching in USA and Belgium.   You can see more of Dagmar’s work at

Joanna Kessel MA RCA runs Edinburgh Mosaic Studio and specialises in the design and fabrication of mosaic artworks for domestic and public spaces. She studied at Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art, London and in 2010 received a Creative Scotland creative development award to undertake specialist mosaic study in Italy.  Joanna creates exquisitely crafted mosaics for exhibition and shows work internationally in the mosaic biennales in Ravenna and Chartres.  She is currently exploring the creative potential of cast concrete combined with mosaic.Joanna Kessel7

Places are limited to a maximum of 12 students, with a minimum of 8, so if you are interested in this opportunity please book early. Please also be sure to arrange your accommodation early too as Edinburgh becomes very busy during the Festival, and it is best to book accommodation in advance.

Students may also wish to sign up for Edinburgh Mosaic Studio eNewsletter and ‘like’ Joanna Kessel Mosaics and Atelier di Dagmar Friedrich on Facebook.


  1. Helen, I always thoroughly enjoy your writing. Please never stop! This particular passage was pure poetry for me and truly touched me:

    “The inconsequential, unwanted, trivial things; the neglected, disregarded, and discarded, which are scarcely granted any importance or attention in our lives and yet which are as much a part of us and of what we bequeath when we die as any of the more valuable objects or recognisable achievements which we hope to be remembered by. That landfill is our endowment.”

    Just beautiful. Can’t wait to see what you make as you venture into this new territory!

    1. Thanks so much, Julie! I am really excited about working in a new medium but it’s a bit daunting too. I will certainly need the time to think through what I should bring and what form the mosaic should take. It might turn out be a horribe mess but it’s all part of the learning process 🙂

  2. You must incorporate some old metal knitting needles in your new work, mustn’t you? An ivory button? A tiny antique globe?

    Will be anxious to see where your thought lead you. So excited for you that you will be able to take this class.

    1. I love the knitting needle idea – perfect – and the globe but I dont understand the button. Am I missing something? Yes, I am very excited to be taking the class!

      1. I was actually misremembering on ivory buttons. So…

        Think ram horn pieces sawn off and burnished, fashioned into fasteners on garments the ancients might have used… Ivory would not have been the ticket in the Old World in times before.

        1. Ram horn buttons would be perfect. Bizarrely, I found a set of false teeth on a country walk this weekend and wondered if it would be too macabre to incorporate them too?! Just a few separate teeth as a reminder of our mortality and of my father’s problems with his own false teeth.

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