19 December 2014

'Sorry we are Closed'

The last pre-Christmas order is wrapped and packed, and I have just put a 'Closed' notice on my little Esty shop, so I can take a well earned break and enjoy the festive period with my nearest and dearest.

You can still place orders, which will be delivered in the new year. Thank you to each and everyone of you who ordered something this Christmas. I do hope all the things I have made you are well received on Christmas day.

14 December 2014

The best shortbread recipe

It's always nice to take something with you when when visiting friends, and I often make these little bite sized all butter shortbread biscuits. I cooked up a batch today, which filled the house with a gorgeous smell of baking. They were sprinkled with castor sugar as soon as they came out of the oven, and many were munched by my kids while still warm.

4oz 110g butter
2oz 50g castor sugar
6oz 175g plain flour
extra castor sugar for dusting

Oven 300 F, 150 C, (130 fan), Gas mark 2

Cream together the butter and sugar.
Add the flour - the mixture will be very dry and crumbly.
Roll out to 5 or 6mm thick, and cut out biscuit shapes. 
(At this time of the year, I often do little Christmas tree shaped ones.)
Bake for 30 mins.
Sprinkle with castor sugar while warm.
Place on a wire rack to cool.

The biscuits are quite soft while they are warm, and develop their crunch as they cool.

9 December 2014

Sunbury Antiques Fair

It must have been a chilly night for the traders at Sunbury Antiques Fair who park up about midnight for the early morning start. There was a thick frost here last night. It was the last Fair of the year, and as I have avoided it for ages, I decided to have a quick dash round after I dropped the kids at school.

As always, gorgeous haberdashery was calling me. (I resisted.) 
Look at the little striped reels of thread.

You could buy stacks of old books for a bit of instant styling.

If you had a vintage bauble, this was the day to sell it.

The place was rife with whiffs of mulled wine and I spotted lots of mince pies and chocolates. There was an abundance of mistletoe being sold, and people walking out with huge bunches. As I came away, I wished I had stayed a little longer to take a few more snaps. I could have done a lovely Christmas set.

In case you wondered, I came away with a galvanised two handle bucket, some teeny and ancient sports trophy cups to make in to pin cushions, a very small old Asian shrine (?), and my mum came away with an old sack to use for Secret Santa.

4 December 2014

Christmas Advent Calendar

One year, when I was small, a creative family friend presented my brother and I with the most magical advent calendar. She had appliquéd a tree, and stitched 25 brass loops onto it's branches. From every loop, hung a little wrapped gift. We were open mouthed in admiration. Nearly 35 years ago, things like this just didn't exist, it was more your cardboard nativity scene, open a window type. They didn't even have chocolates in them back in those days. My mum carried on the tradition for a few years, (and it was just as magical every year mum!) Now I do the same for my boys, but instead of an appliquéd tree, they are hung on a stick, or branch, what ever takes my fancy year on year.

The little gifts are collected over the year, you don't notice 50p or a £1 here and there, and it's a nice surprise for me when I add to the box that I store them in and remember what I have bought. I do love wrapping (which is why all of my jewellery goes out gift wrapped), and I had a lovely evening in front of the fire, Christmas music on, glass of fizz, getting things ready for this year's twig. 

It involved tissue paper, some of my collection of washi tapes, glassine bags, ribbons, string, and little numbers and words I printed out on the computer.

People always ask what I put inside. It gets trickier now the boys are getting older (9 and 11), but it includes: chocolate snowmen, stickers that are bookmarks, a polystyrene plane to make, a shark tooth necklace, chocolate Father Christmas, gel pen, sharpener. (Good job they like stationery.) The glassine bag is a bit of a tease with the chocolate on show.

I thought they all looked rather lovely, and the boys were thrilled to see it. It's quite funny how excited they are every day, as they take turns to open one. As my biggest is now 11, I wonder how many more years he will be as interested.

Christmas has arrived!

(Sorry about the photos, it is very grey here in London today.)

18 November 2014

Beautiful Papercuts of Sarah Morpeth

I must share with you the lovely work of Sarah Morpeth. She is an talented artist who works with paper - cutting, stitching, painting, spraying and constructing. She produces beautiful, graphic works, inspired in part by the nature around Northumberland where she lives and has a studio.

My photos, snapped briefly at Handmade in Britain held last weekend at Chelsea Town Hall, definitely do not do the work justice.

"the hare is an acrobat she tumbles under the moon"

Sarah works by hand drawing these on the back of the paper. That means she is working in reverse to how the finished piece will look. Can you imagine?

Apart from the moths, this is just a single piece of cut paper. The greens are all hand painted. The frames are box frames and the work is suspended on pins.

Here the text is flat and the running rabbits are mounted on pins, giving depth to this smaller piece mounted in a box frame.

Sarah also makes books, that are stunning three dimensional works of art. Some are simple concertina folds like this, others much more complex with birds spilling from the top.

Loose threads intentionally left to add detail.

Paper baubles. I now have some of these hanging from my mantel piece.

Please do visit Sarah's website www.sarahmorpeth.com This is how Sarah describes herself there.

I am an artist who works mainly in paper, making books and illustrative cut paper pieces. My work has all sorts of sources - I find inspiration in my obsession with British films of the Forties, in poetry, philosophy, science fiction and stories. Visually the imagery I use often comes from nature and the landscape that surrounds me in rural Northumberland. There is usually a considerable conceptual aspect to what I do - but I don’t need it to be obvious to the viewer. I value not only the conceptual but also skill in making and aesthetic qualities.  I use a wide range of processes, often incorporating stitch, painting, hand and machine cutting, drawing, printing and bookbinding in my pieces. 

10 November 2014

Commissions from a distance

Last month I had the pleasure of completing a lovely set of rings commissioned by a couple who had found me via Facebook and liked my work. Distance meant that we never met, but the wonders of the internet meant we were able to chat, exchange photos and ideas, and eventually come up finished rings that met my lovely client's brief.

The rings were to be both Engagement and his and hers Wedding rings at the same time. The happy couple had been together some years, and were combining a 40th birthday, with a trip to Iceland, and a laid back, low key Wedding that only a small few knew was going to take place.

I was very excited to be considered to make the rings. Commissions fill me with pleasure and pressure in fairly equal amounts. I absolutely love to be able to produce something special for a client, turning their thoughts to reality, and leaving them with a unique something to treasure, often a reminder of a very special occasion. The flip side of this, is knowing how important the commissioned item will be to someone. They want it to be just right, and until the moment the final piece is received and approved by them, I do feel nervous - even if I really love it.

From seeing my work, the client Nikki, knew the kind of colours and gemstones I am naturally drawn to - tranquil and icy aquamarines and moonstones. This was what she was looking for. We started the process by her sending me some pictures of rings she found that naturally appealed to her. By looking through images she was able to clarify what it was that she liked - the colour of gemstones in one, the size of the stones in another, colour and finish of metal, setting etc.

From this we decided on the overall style / size of the rings and the width of the bands. At this stage I made up the bands, and sent them to the client to try both for size, and to see if she was happy with the look on her slim fingers. While they were winging their way around the country, I was able to send Nikki some pictures and combinations of gems. 


The aquamarine and moonstone were settled on straight away, and then we added a rose cut faceted white topaz, for a little bit of icy sparkle. Once we had settled on a colour combination of gemstones, I then showed Nikki various combinations of how we could place them together on a ring. Nikki knew she liked them overlapping the ring, in an organic way,  rather than a formal symmetrical layout.


In the end, this was the combination and setting that worked for Nikki.

At this stage, we decided they were to be set in gold. So I started the mounts.


We had talked about engraving on the inside, but in the end a subtle secret snowflake was decided upon. Each ring is marked with a teeny 3mm snowflake.



Rings were hallmarked, stones were set, and here are the finished items ready to be posted.

Best of all I received this photo of the rings being worn at the Glacial Lagoon at Jokulsarlon in Iceland, with a note telling me 'it is like wearing a snapshot of this on my finger everyday.'

14 October 2014

Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair from an exhibitors point of view

Blogger unkindly disappeared the blog post that I had written about this, but actually it has made me re-think the post and re-write it from a slightly different point of view. This time with some of the details that expectant makers were wanting to know. (Apologies in advance for a long post!)

This September saw the first ever Kirtie Allsopp's Handmade Fair. It was set in the parkland surrounding Hampton Court Palace. A very unique and beautiful setting. Hardly any events are allowed to take place here, but such a special idea, required a very special setting.

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

I had stumbled across this event, right when the press launch was being done, before the stands were even available for booking. I am proudly passionate to call Hampton Court Palace 'my turf' as I live just a mile away. I run past it often, float past it on the river on our narrow boat, and we always had passes for it when the children were little as it makes a wonderful and local day out.

A quick tweet to Kirstie about involving 'local makers' producing beautiful hand made things, and she tweeted me back and told me to get in touch with the office. Before I knew it I was taking a big leap (financially) and was on board as one of the exhibitors.

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

As this post is for makers, at this point I must talk money. Costs are not secret, anyone could ring up and enquire about the cost of a stand. The fact is they were very, very, expensive. More than £1000 more, and nearly ten times as much as I have ever paid to exhibit somewhere. Without getting into how much money I earn by making jewellery (not a lot) the stand cost represented a huge investment and big risk for me. The stand price would certainly have put it out of reach for a lot of makers, which is a big shame, but ultimately, even if you champion craft, an event like this is a commercial enterprise therefore ultimately it exists in part, to make money. I am aware of the strong feeling the stand price ignited in some makers. I am aware that some makers considered it may not contain enough high end craft. Those points are valid. But it's up to the individual to decide if it's right for them. You decide if you want to wait until next year and let the others test the water first - or you take the plunge!

I for one was really keen to be involved in the first ever Handmade Fair. Perhaps I was emotionally drawn in because of my attachment to the setting? I was also interested because I certainly believe Kirstie has wide influence and a magic touch. She appeals to such a diverse audience and whatever kind of maker you consider yourself to be we must all applaud someone who has succeeded in getting 'craft' on mainstream telly at peak viewing times. Good on ya gal!

The record breaking 'World Pomination' pom-pom chain.
PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

As the fair approached we were bombarded with some last minute logistics and disappointing costs. One plug socket cost me £150 (so necessary to have spotlights to make silver jewellery sparkle). Wifi was to be charged at £75 for the weekend (panic - if everyone was using the phone lines, how would I take card payments?) Public Liability had to be bumped up to £5 million per exhibitor. After your plug socket had been installed, you would then be charged for it to be tested before you could use it. I am sure somewhere in my paperwork these costs were probably detailed, but I certainly hadn't spotted them. Sometimes it's hard for the creative mind and the business mind to work together? We are all used to paying for light and sockets at decent shows, but I have never been charged anywhere near this sort of money, and I do expect everywhere to have wifi available in this day and age. The thing is at this stage - what choice was there?

Set up day approached. (Thursday before Friday opening.) There are unique logistics to using a Royal Park for an event. I drove into the park a mile from my home for my allotted 9am unloading slot. The system was somehow already running late. I then sat in the park in a holding area for an hour and a half until they finally moved me to near the tents to unload. There were some angry makers, some rule breakers, some poor folks who had hired their vans by the hour, but you can be glass half empty or glass half full, so I enjoyed an hour and a half enforced rest in the beautiful sun in a beautiful setting, and made the most of it. It was after all the first time I had stopped in days. When I unloaded, I was very glad for the 'sack barrow' my dad had suggested I put in. Be warned, no porters and no trolleys here! 

Squashing it all in. 

Off I went into the Handmade Fair for the first time. Do you know what? It was magic. The brilliant blue sky and the bright sunshine probably helped, but here I was in a mini Glastonbury of craft! Lots of beautiful tents and marquees, bunting everywhere. Little vintage vans for Prosecco, a caravan for cake. Tables and chairs outside, a beautifully decorated vintage tea room. It had a lovely atmosphere right from the start. The two 'shopping village' tents were huge, carpeted, partitioned, well lit with labels for each exhibitor. I set up and met my neighbours for the weekend. There was a definite happy buzz - at least from those who had managed to set up without too much delay.

Bunting everywhere!

Opening day dawned bright. Customers were queuing, and Kirstie cut a ribbon to open the Fair. People flooded through the gates and the tents were a hive of activity from the word go. The public were enthusiastic, happy, excited, bubbly and super friendly. They had made efforts to dress up, and were really looking forward to 'a day out'. The mood was infectious.

By Friday afternoon, I was feeling less jolly. The atmosphere had been terrific, but the sales were shockingly low, and not just for me, most of those around me had had a similar day. I was facing a gamble that hadn't paid off. My show neighbour and I decided drastic action was called for, so we slipped of for an alcoholic ice tea, and I decided to visit the Etsy business school for a talk on 'Etsy Shop Optimisation' (may as well use the time resourcefully!) 

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

Saturday and Sunday were a different kettle of fish. Constantly busy but with good sales. It was interesting to see what sold well, the lower priced, less of a big financial decision to be made, items were flying. The mid price not shifting so much, and some of the more expensive necklaces which were a bit more special went as presents spotted for birthdays or Christmas. Lots of postcards and business cards were taken, and I genuinely believe many of these will lead to Christmas orders. There was certainly a flurry in the days immediately afterwards. (We wondered if possibly the Sat / Sun visitors had been busy working hard in the week and perhaps had a higher disposable income for the weekend?)

Around us people were buying craft supplies, yarn, kits to make things, items that they had seen used in demonstrations. Some makers were frustrated by having bought in supplies on sale next to them as it made them look very expensive. I must say, when I booked my stall, I was very much under the impression that we would all be 'artisan makers', but the public loved the items they could buy to produce craft themselves. Some makers thought next time there should be two tents, one containing stalls of hand made items, and one containing stalls of craft supplies, but I didn't agree about this. I think that someone may have popped in to buy some felt and walked away with an impulse buy necklace. I was happy. The feedback I have seen from the public seems to show they were happy with everything they could buy, and I have seen several comments about the high quality of hand made items on offer.

My stand

For customer's this was an expensive day out. Full ticket price was nearly £30, in fact some people happily paid £95 for a VIP day out. (It included tea with Kirstie I think!) I thought this was a huge amount of money, but actually I think the public generally perceived this was really good value. They didn't pop to a craft show for a couple of hours, they had a complete day out experience. In fact one of the bits of feedback that came through strongly was that people wanted two day tickets for next year. Public had come from far and wide, Scotland, Ireland, Australia even. I can imagine next year, now more people have heard of it, they will be flocking from all over. The £29 ticket included a up to three events I think - talks / workshops, (this is where I struggle on details as an exhibitor not visitor.) Once there people could book in to even more workshops, and this is what they did, so in many ways, spending money was almost last on the list. How's this before you start? Ticket £30, travel or carpark £10, morning coffee & pastry £5, lunch £10, afternoon cup of tea or glass of prosecco £5, show guide £5, B&B or hotel £? - ouch! And with that last £10 or £20 people were often looking to do another workshop while they had the chance. 

So despite wishing I could have had more sales, the upshot of it all was that I have decided to do it all again next year, and I can't wait. I am sharing a stand to halve my costs (I didn't need 3m x 2m), I will be making more of the things that sold brilliantly, I will have some big visuals to draw people in, and I will be just as excited, but a lot less nervous, now we know what's in store. Not every exhibitor was happy, and not everyone will return, but fact that about 60% of stands were re-booked during the show says a lot.

PHOTO CREDIT www.photocraft.org

For those of you that were wondering, Kirstie was full-on there in body, as well as name. She wandered, selfied with stand holders, drank tea, chatted with guests on stage, and must have been as exhausted at the end of the weekend as we all were. On Saturday night Kirstie and her team held drinks and nibbles for all the exhibitors which wasn't something they had to do, so I appreciated it for that very reason. A nice touch. I think her and her team must have felt pretty pleased to deliver  such a unique event, with mass crafting, that was such a hit with visitors. Here's to Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair 2015!

A big thank you to www.photocraft.org for letting me
use some of their photos from the weekend.