The Sieve and Riddlemaker

Updated: 2 days ago

It was a happy afternoon with sieve and riddlemaker Steve Overthrow watching him steam and bend ash to form hoops for his riddles and sieves. Four years ago Steve discovered that there was nobody in the country making these traditional sieves any longer - the last sieve and riddlemaker had given up his business and the craft was in danger of becoming extinct. So, Steve set to and learnt the trade from scratch.

The riddle is made with one single hoop, the mesh is woven by hand, wire by wire, bending each one over and knocking the end into the outside of the hoop, like staples. Sieves have two hoops - the mesh is factory-made and has to be squashed between them - the top one is called the hoop and the bottom one is called the batt.

"Sieves have been used to sort materials for hundreds, or thousands, of years, the mesh would have been made from sticks once. Mike Turnock in Derbyshire was the last riddlemaker in Britain. He stopped in 2010. A lot of his sieves were used in the potteries. And fishermen always had riddles and sieves. I started making them three years ago. They are still used for cockles and shrimps, and mussels - there are regulations, they have to be hand-sieved. And lots of gardeners still want sieves for soil, potters still use them for glaze materials and foundries for green sand. I’ve got plenty of orders."

The pastel drawing is included in the book 'Craft - Somerset Portraits and Voices now available. Full colour, hard-back, 84 pages. The book includes paintings and drawings of the 30 traditional craftspeople as well as their stories. Craft - Somerset Portraits and Voices available from the Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury and many other outslets, as well as from my website here.

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