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Handmade in Britain

26 Nov 2012

Barbara Chandler


If there’s anything more cheering than Made in Britain, it’s Handmade in Britain – and happily our makers are on a mega-move towards a higher profile. The handmade brings a unique touch to any interior, adding originality, poetry and even drama.

A little book has landed on my desk – it’s called Inspired: London, and it’s by Mary McDermott, from We Make London, an enthusiastic bunch of designers who’ve been organising their own selling events – for example, they’ll be at Battersea Arts Centre Christmas Fair in London on 1 December, and at Handmade at Old Spitalfields Market on 22 December. Mary wants us “to take a refreshing break from high street monotony into the exceptional world of handmade.” She thinks online shopping is too impersonal, with its plethora of mass-produced good. “People want to have a personal experience and to know that the products they buy have been lovingly made – ideally locally  - by gifted individuals.”

Mary’s book - a neat handbag-sized hardback - itself lovingly details 162 designer-makers, arranged by area, with photos of their work. Buy it for £12.99 from which also has details of all their events.

The book is very diverse and inevitably the ritzier entries are for fashion and jewellery – Boobou’s extravgantly fringed scarves for example or Mahliqa’s knitted wire chokers.

Nova and Lorsten

As for the homewares, there’re the inevitable folksy motifs with bunnies, owls and foxes. But I was seeking stuff with a sharper edge, and soon found some names new to me. For example, Nova and Lorsten (above), who rescue unloved old furniture from flea markets in SE London and give it a loving makeover with decoupage using coloured paper cut-outs.  Then there’s “punk potter” Lesley McShea, who throws strangely  misshapen tableware on her wheel, and hand-paints vivid animals onto her work.           

Sam Wingate

But undoubtedly it’s the graphic artists who excel, mostly selling prints, but also putting work onto t-shirts and ceramics. Or cushions, as with Mr Wingate (above), who hand-prints his delightful drawings of London buildings including pubs. And for sheer charm, you cannot beat the simple sculptural curves of the little birds Dawn Painter fashions from London clay (below).

Dawn Painter

At Handmade in Britain, founder Piyush Suri also enthusiastically supports designer-makers, and has also published a register of his favourite designers - Handmade in Britain - Appreciating Contemporary Artisans; for details click here

Adam Aaronson

Piyush regularly organises selling events, and I popped into the most recent, amidst the faded splendour of old Chelsea Town Hall. Here I found an old friend, Adam Aaronson (above), with his charming perfume bottles. Glass-blowing is one of the most dramatic of the handmade arts, and yields treasures for interiors such as door knobs and curtain finials.

Melody Rose

The fashion for “upcycling” has helped keep craft alive, as old pieces are rescued and given a makeover. At Handmade in Britain, I found Melody Rose (“actually it's Melanie but Melody sounded better”). She takes vintage plates and adds her own decoration, placing skulls and other motifs in the centre of floral and gilded plates.

But the definitive source for high-quality designer-makers has to be Design Nation, originally founded by the legendary Peta Levi. When sadly she died nearly five years ago, I was privileged at the time to write her obituary.

Andrew Tanner

Now Design Nation has found a new director in ceramic artist Andrew Tanner (above), who has been pushing the membership forward, making vetting more rigorous and getting a good website organised. Check out who can make what for interiors here

And Andrew is yet another author documenting the handmade scene – this time with a weightier tome, a beautifully-illustrated coffee table book called Batch – check it out and see sample pages at Andrew Tanner Design

Kathleen McCormick

But perhaps the most charming “hand-maker” I have met recently was at SCP Designs in Shoreditch, where Kathleen McCormick (above) demo-ed her weaving skills amidst beautiful examples of her work. I said her bicycle baskets would be in high demand in cycle-crazy London. Kathleen said she’d had to sit down and weave herself a replacement after sending all her stock over for the show. "How long did that take?" "Oh, about two hours..." The basket behind her head in my photograph is a potato straining basket - or Scoib - pronounced "Skib" she told me. Many baskets have such beautiful workmanship they indeed look good on a wall. Of course, strictly speaking, Kathleen is from Ireland not the UK - but she speaks English and I had to fit her in...

Pictures by Barbara Chandler. 

Barbara Chandler is a design writer and photographer. Follow her on Twitter, or visit her website to find out more. Her photography book, Love London, is out now.



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