World Book Day

World Book Day is nearly upon us (3rd of March 2016 in case you are wondering). If you are anything like me, the thought of putting an outfit for school together is slightly scary, especially when it has to be themed. I don’t know why but the moment Little Man says he has to dress up as a book character, my mind goes blank. We read together all the time but for some reason I am unable to remember any of it. I think its the mild sense of panic, along with all the overwhelming practicalities (it has to be worn all day at school; not too hot or cold; able to survive the playground/classroom/dinner time; be good enough so his friends don’t laugh etc etc etc………..ok I may be over thinking this!) that does it. Well I’ve finally solved it (for us at least) and I thought I’d share it with you in case like me, you are desperately look for inspiration.

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Here is Mr Fox (or Fantastic Mr Fox; Mr Tod; the fox from The Gruffalo….or whatever for you like). He’s fairly simple to make. You do need basic sewing skills but or very basic!

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I started with felt in the colours I wanted; an orange hoodie (could be red or brown, I just happened to find an orange one first); buttons for eyes (but these could be made out of felt if you prefer) and fur if you want to add a tail (which I wouldn’t have done except that I had some spare fur fabric and couldn’t help myself!).

Draw rough shapes for ears, nose; eyes and white bit around the nose on a piece of paper. Cut them out and check that they are the right shape/size for the hood. Snip bits off if you need to until you are happy (if you snip to much off, start again, it’s paper). When you are happy use these bits of paper as the templates (that’s right you’ve just made pattern pieces) and cut out your fabric. Now here’s the lovely bit. Because you are using felt, you don’t need to worry about any ends fraying which means that you can now sew the felt onto the hood without worrying about any fiddly folding over edges etc. Pin the eyes; nose and snout pieces into place so they don’t move and sew away (I used running stitch ). If, like me you want ears that stand up, cut 4 pieces of brown felt and 2 pieces of black. Sew the black pieces onto one brown piece each (you should now have 2 brown pieces with black and 2 without). Take 1 brown and 1 brown and black, put the right sides together and sew. Turn the right way out. Repeat with other ear pieces. Place on the hood and sew into place. Sew buttons on the eyes and you’ve finished!

You now have a fox outfit that is wearable, comfortable and if you used acrylic felt as a pose to 100% wool felt, is also washable!

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You can use the same principle to make anything you want to. We’ve made dinosaurs but you could make lions (Wizard of Oz); Raccoons; Cats; Dogs….the list goes on!

Should I make my hobby into a business?

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this blog post for a while. In fact I actually sat down and wrote these thoughts in my notebook, then put it aside because I wasn’t sure whether to post it online. Why am I in two minds about this? Well basically I have read so many fantastic blog posts and articles about how to turn a hobby into a business; all written by amazingly talented crafters who have successfully turned their passion into a business. I love reading these; they inspire and encourage me. They are always full of great advice. However, they do give the impression that as long as you put enough work in and you believe in it enough, you can achieve your dream. There is a lot of truth in this but it is also true that many people who start a craft business, don’t make it or don’t make it as big as they hoped. This can lead to people feeling discouraged and wonder where they went wrong.

This blog post is for anyone thinking about whether they should try and sell the things they make; not from someone who has made it but from someone who hasn’t (yet!!). I often get approached by people who want advice on starting to sell their wares, which is great but if you are in that situation hopefully this will give you a few things to think about, that you may not have thought about first. They are things learnt through trial and error. I hope it won’t put you off making the transition from hobby to business but will give you a few ‘reality checks’ and make you more prepared.

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  1. What is it that you really want? Now for someone who hasn’t made it, you’d be surprised how many time people come up to me and ask my advice on selling their handmade stuff. It’s fine, I try and help as much as I can. The first thing I try to find out is what they really want. What is it that they hope to gain? Some people are looking for an easy way to make a bit of extra cash; others are bored in their jobs and want to make a career change; others want to do something extra while they are at home with their children. All of them have thought about why they want to craft for a living but haven’t actually thought about what they want. It’s a business. What do you want it to look like? How much time can you put into it? This is not something you can do as a hobby. Do you want to sell primarily online? Do you want to go around the craft fairs? Do you want to try and sell in local shops? Do you want to have your own online shop or try selling to an online retailer? These are all things you need to think about. In today’s world you need to have an online presence even if you want to sell at shows. People live online. You will need Facebook pages; email; Twitter; Pintrest; Instegram etc. All of this takes time to keep up. If you like blogging, it’s helpful to have a blog so people can get to know you and can see what you’re up to. How is this all going to fit around what you are already doing? Do you really want to put this much energy into something that might not work? Are you going to run workshops to supplement your income? It’s hard to make enough from selling handmade items.

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2. What do you want to sell? This probably seems like a no brainer. Obviously you want to sell what you are already making…..who doesn’t? Now I sew, knit, crochet, spin, draft my own patterns and have taught one to one and a few small classes in my time. I could really go into any of those areas if I wanted to….in fact, if you look back over my blog, you’ll see I have, with varying success. So why I have chosen to focus on spinning? Or rather why haven’t I focused on knitting? Most people who tell me that I should sell my stuff, think it’s my knitting that I should sell. I explain to them that I don’t mind doing one off commissions but it’s nearly impossible to make money from knitting. People don’t want to pay you for your time. That’s the reality. They might love your work, they might really want to buy what you’ve made but if it’s too expensive, they just won’t buy it. You are running a business and one way to keep costs down is to choose something that can be made quickly…….or just acknowledge that you won’t be able to charge for your time and make what you love, in which case, like me you probably fall into the ‘hobby’ camp that tries to sell the surplus and so get it out from under hubby’s ever patient feet 😉                                                                                                                           IMG_20150428_214810

3. I’ve said this before but think of it as a Business and that means trying to be objective about what you are selling. As artists (and we’re all artists really if we create things) you will love what you create. they are like our babies. they are special. For a lot of us, it’s just something that has to flow out or we feel stifled and agitated. However, we have to remain objective. I chose this picture because I love natural colours, especially the grey and brown but it turns out, no one else shares my love of these, they prefer my dyed skeins. Now I could get upset that no one else has got my passion for the natural beauty that reflects nature in all her glory (ok I may have gone a bit far there…..) or I could give the people what they want and enjoy doing it (for the record, I sell more ‘rainbow yarn’ than anything else and I love the colours and how it knits up). Does this mean I can no longer be creative or be passionate about the colours nature gives us? No! It just means that I keep my business hat on and use natural colours at home instead.

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4. Price carefully. Pricing is really hard. I don’t know if I’ve actually got it right yet but I do know there are a few traps it’s easy to fall into. To start with try not to price your time. I know that goes against every other blog advice out there but I have a very good reason for saying it. When you first begin you are not quick. It takes you a long time to do something, then the more you practice, the quicker you become. Now take these harma bead coasters. They took me ages to make! I had to sort through the pot to find the colours, I have to pick each one out, position it, tweak the pattern to get it exactly how I wanted it etc etc. If I sold these and charged for time I would have to sell them for over £10 each. No one in their right mind is going to buy one tiny plastic coaster for over £10 (and that’s not taking into account postage and packaging either….which you need to think about if you are selling online). It’s not because they don’t appreciate the hard work that has gone into it, they just won’t pay that much and to be honest, if I hadn’t made them, neither would I. I speak to too many people who time themselves and proudly announce that they deserve x amount of money because it took them so long to make and their time is valuable. Fine. If you can sell it for that much, great. But I know I can make it in half the time and charge half the price. If you were the consumer, whose would you buy? I know it sounds harsh but people buying your stuff don’t know you, they don’t care about protecting your feelings. They want to see something, fall in love with it, take it home and enjoy it. They will buy what they feel is best for them. Do your research, find out a good price that still means you make money and try that. You can always play with pricing later.

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5. Make sure you are offering something different. There are hundreds of people selling the same things. They can be really nice, really well made items but if the market is flooded with the same items, you may struggle to sell. People either make impulse buys or they go back to someone they know (and trust). Do research. Go to local craft shows to see what other people are doing. Look on Folksy and Etsy (although be careful with Esty now as since it sold out, it now lists items that aren’t handmade so competition is hazy) Is your stuff different enough? If not, maybe try somewhere else.

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6. Try a few craft show. It really is worth trying a couple of craft shows. You learn so much from even having 2 or 3. You learn what people are interested in; what the competition is like; how to market yourself and your product (yes you do have to market yourself if you are a handmade crafter); how other people deal with pricing and how you might want to brand yourself. I know you have to pay for tables etc but if you are serious about making a business, it’s really very cheap for the kind of market research and advertising you are able to do. I want to sell mostly online but I have found doing a few shows very important for guiding my products. A quick note here. You probably make more contacts through craft fairs than actually selling, so don’t be discouraged. Make sure you have your online contact stuff set up first so people can contact you after the show/fair.

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7. Finally, don’t sell to your friends. That’s right, I said don’t sell to your friends. For that matter, don’t ask them what they think of your products. I’ve left this one until last because I think it’s one of the most important points but also the point that offends most people I talk to. The reason I say this is very simple. Your friends (and family….lets throw them in there too) love you. They really want to encourage you. They want to support you. They won’t want to offend you. They won’t be objective. As a Mum I can tell you that I think whatever my little ones draw is brilliant. I am so proud of them. I tell them that all the time. However, I can safely say that if I was to try and sell their pictures, no one would buy them. Ok they are very young at the moment but I’m pretty sure that my wanting to encouraging them in what they are doing will continue as they grow up. Friends and family will tell you your stuff is great even if it’s not. They may even genuinely think it’s great because they think you are great however that does you no favours in the long run. I have had people in the past show me their stuff that they want to sell to ask what I think and have been very angry when I have in (I promise) a nice way said that the may need to work on it a bit first; because their Mum and their friends think its great. The problem is that when they come to try and sell it, no one wants to buy a wonky donkey toy that looks more like a rock (ok that is not what they made but you get my point). The disappointment that leads from this is really hard to deal with. These people genuinely thought they had a good idea, put money into it and have nothing to show at the end. I’m not saying that is you, most people I talk to are really good at what they do. I would suggest though that you take the brave step and (with the encouragement and support of friends and family) try a few craft shows. See what people who don’t ‘care’ about you think of your work. Hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Ok so why not sell to your friends? Well in my experience this creates a false bubble. I’ve seen it happen too many times where people throw parties to sell their stuff (I’m now thinking more about the latest ‘trend’ rather than crafts) and rope their friends in to ‘support’ them. The problem is that your friends will only buy until they feel they have shown their support enough. Then they stop buying from you. You, in the mean time have been thinking that this is brilliant, you’ve sold loads, this must therefore be a great idea; everyone seems to love it! However when you take a tentative step into the world of strangers buying your things, you realise that it’s not that easy, people don’t buy as much as you thought they would and now you feel discouraged. I strongly recommend that you bravely step forward on your own and see how things fair in the real world. Things will grow a lot slower but the growth will be more sustainable because it will be more real. By all means sell to friends if they show an interest but don’t rely on them to make your business for you.

That’s all really. I hope its’ been some help!

The tale of two scarves and a snood (patterns)

This week I thought I’d share with you my super easy scarf and snood patterns. As you probably know by now, I spin and sell my own yarn. I want people who buy my yarn to be able to make something beautiful from it. So, I have written 3 very easy patterns that can be knitted from 2 skeins (100g) of my yarn. They are all a variation of the same pattern and can be easily adapted for whatever yarn you are using.

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Adult Scarf: You will need 100g of DK yarn

(this works best with yarn that has different colours in it rather than just one block colour)

10mm knitting needles

(usually when knitting DK you use 4mm knitting needles, this pattern creates large stitches that keep the scarf light, soft and if you are using 100% wool, really warm!)

Pattern: Cast on 25 stitches.

Row 1: knit 25 stitches (in other words, knit the row)

Every further Row: Repeat Row 1

Carry on knitting until the scarf is the length you desire then cast off.

That’s it. See, easy. This is called a garter stitch and looks really effective on large needles.

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Toddler/Child scarf: You will need 50-100g of DK yarn

(this works best with yarn that has different colours in it rather than just one block colour)

8mm Knitting needles

Pattern: Cast on 15 stitches.

Row 1: knit 25 stitches (in other words, knit the row)

Every further Row: Repeat Row 1

When the scarf is the length you want it cast off.

Now I like to add a small bit on the back so the the scarf can be held in place without having to tie it around little ones neck.

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If you want to add one too, cast on 6 stitches. Work about 15-20 rows in garter stitch (each row is ‘knit’ all stitches). Position it towards the bottom of the scarf and sew in place. I’ve lifted it up in the picture so you can see it but I actually sewed it in place, flat.

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The Snood Pattern:

I love this one especially as I made it from yarn I spun from 50% super soft Alpaca and 50% Angora Rabbit (don’t worry, both were sourced from responsible pet owners!). I cannot tell you how soft and warm it is! Now you don’t need to make it from this gorgeous wool; this pattern would actually work in either a single block colour or a multi colour yarn.

You will need:

100g of DK yarn

10mm knitting needles

Pattern:

Cast on 25 stitches.

Row 1: knit 25 stitches

Every further Row: Repeat Row 1

Repeat Row 1 until the snood is at least 120cm long. Cast off. Take the two ends and sew them together. Now you have your lovely new snood.

My Kransekake Show Stopper

In honour of the Great British Bake Off final tonight I thought I’d share with you my favourite bake.

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This is a Kransekake. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a Scandinavian celebration celebration cake made, basically from marzipan. Yummy!

Last Christmas, they featured a recipe for this on the GBBO Christmas special. You can find the original here. I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe, hopefully to make it nicer and a better size for a normal celebration. It’s probably worth noting here that you make it over two days but each stage is actually fairly quick and easy to do.

What you’ll need:

For the Kransekake:

250g Ground Almonds

250g Icing Sugar

2 Egg Whites

2 teaspoons Almond Extract

Clingfilm

Kransekake Tins (this is ideal but you can try and do it free hand)

For Icing:

300g Icing Sugar mixed into a thick paste with a little Almond Extract and Water

What to do:

First, make the dough by mixing the almonds, icing sugar, egg whites and almond extract together in a bowl.

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(Sugar and Almonds)

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(Add eggs and extract)

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Work together until they make a kind of firm paste. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in fridge over night.

When you get it out the next day you will find that it’s firmed up. Prepare your tins by lightly greasing them; pre-heat the oven to 200oC and lightly dust an area to roll the dough out, with icing sugar.

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Divide the dough into 3 pieces then divide those into 3 more rough pieces. Start rolling one piece into a sausage roughly the same width as your finger.

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You want it to be the right length to go round the smallest ring in your tin. Put the remainder dough aside to use later (as the rings grow bigger, you need less dough at the beginning and more dough later).

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Starting from the smallest rings in each tin, repeat until you have used up all the dough. I always have a little left over which I roll out and use as a tester piece (in other words, an excuse to sample the yummy cake without ruining it!). You won’t fill up all the rings on the tins but I’ve found this is more than enough for a party. Bake for 8-10min or until golden brown.

Leave to cool in tin until hard, then transfer to cooling rack.

Once completely cooled you can ice it. Make the icing and put it in a piping bag. I’ve done it before by dripping it from a teaspoon and it does work but you get a much nicer effect if you pipe it!

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Apologises for the terrible picture, my camera gave up! Start with the largest ring and zigzag all the way round. Put the next largest ring on top (the icing below holds it in place, which is why it can’t be too runny). Repeat, working your way down (or rather building your cake up). At the end, if you want to, you can add extra decorations. Use the icing to stick it on.

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Well there you have it. Your very own Kransekake. It really does taste as good as it looks!

Cakes, Cakes and more Cakes

Here in the UK this time of year isn’t just the beginning of Autumn, it’s the culmination of weeks of blood, sweat and tears that is otherwise known as ‘The Great British Bake Off’. If you are unfamiliar with GBBO, it’s basically a TV programme where the best home bakers in the country compete, all trying to be crowned the Great British Bake Off Champion. Each week they attempt to tackle 3 baking challenges or ever increasing difficulty………sometimes to the point of the ridiculous (I mean what was the point of setting an obscure technical challenge that no one has heard of and doesn’t stand a chance of completing properly?!). They then get judged; their bakes ruthlessly pulled apart; and finally one lucky baker gets that weeks ‘Star Baker’ (although sadly they don’t get given an actual star) while another is sadly sent home. Despite the gentle jokes, I do love watching the programme. I enjoy baking although, I’m not nearly as gifted as all the bakers in the tent. I like being inspired by the amazing ideas they come up with.

Well in celebration of the semi final tonight I thought I’d share with you a few of my favourite bakes that I’ve been making this year.

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This was the cake Little Miss wanted for her birthday. It’s actually really easy to make (although it takes a while to do the icing). It’s made of 3 round madira cakes that (two go on top of each other to make the main bear head, and one that is cut up to make the nose and the ears). The rest of the bear effect is made by piping icing to look a little like fur (I started on the outside and worked round and in, so the over lapping looked more ‘fur’ like).

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These were my favourites. I made them for World Book Day (because we do that now Little Man is at school). I adapted our favourite chocolate biscuit recipe and added sliced almonds to look like Gruffalo claws. Next year in the run up to world book day, I’ll blog the recipe 🙂

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Finally, my ‘Show Stopper’. We’ve had a few big birthday’s this year and I wanted to make something special for them. This is a Kransekake. It’s a Scandinavian celebration cake made of marzipan. I love it! Next week, if you’re lucky, and to celebrate the GBBO Final (ahhh excited and sad at the same time!!!!); I’ll post my recipe with a photo walk through.

Folksy Autumn Inspiration

It’s been a while since I’ve done a ‘Folksy Friday’ post so, seeing as Autumn is just around the corner, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favourites.

acron bracelet folksy

This lovely bracelet set is made by the very talented Bobby’s Boutique. Isn’t it beautiful? One of our favourite places to walk the dog have lots of oak trees and we love walking through them watching the squirrels collecting acorns, ready for Winter.

Linen cat purse

This purse has been made my one of my all time favourite designers The Linen Cat. I’ll be honest, it wouldn’t be a Folksy Friday post from me, without featuring the Linen Cat. I really wish I was as talented as her!

peacock cushion folksy

I guess by now, you are getting the idea that I’m really into tweed this season. This fabulous cushion is by Seaforth Designs. I think what I know about this cushion (apart from the peacock…….who doesn’t like peacocks?), is the beautiful combination of colours. So talented!

tartan wrapfolksy

Ok, ok, I’ll admit it. Last year when blanket wraps were all the rage, I proudly wore mine. I loved it. It was amazing. So imagine my delight when I found this little gem. I love tartan and I love the colour combination. It’s been lovingly made by Diane Frances Designs.

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I had to include this in my Folksy friday, Autumn Inspiration. In my opinion, you don’t get much more Autumnal than this. Do check out Original Artworks by Suzie Nichols, they are simply stunning works of arts.

tweed hat folksy

And we’re back with the tweed! This hat is made by Moaning Minnie. I’ll be honest, she has so many lovely hats, it was hard to choose just one but in the end I settled on this one. Doesn’t it just remind you of those slightly chilly mornings and beautiful autumnal walks through the fallen leaves?

Autumn rose folksyWhat I like most about this are the colours. Autumn for me is all about the colours. There are so many beautiful colours that you only get at this time of year. This beautiful Rose by Style Textile I think captures some of that. Wouldn’t it look perfect on a hat or a cord coat?

shawl folksy

Finally I had to include this stunning shawl by The Feminine Touch Designs. As someone who spins my own yarn and sells it, I know how hard it is to get the quality across in a picture but this shawl looks beautiful. You can see the love and care as well as the thought that has gone into it. It looks supper snuggly too!

That’s it for now. If you fancy seeing more, I have a Pinterest Board completely given over to my favourite Autumn finds this year. Do pop over and have a look. I also love to see what’s inspiring you. Feel free to share your boards or posts 🙂

A tale of two blankets

This time last year I was working on two blankets. One of them was my 2014 ‘Granny Square a Week’ blanket and the other was a blanket for little man, inspired by his love of a certain hama bead Super Mario character we’d recently made.

Well I did manage to complete my 2014 blanket and on time! Here it is:

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It was a real labour of love. 2014 was not an easy year for me and I’m glad I didn’t attempt to do a square a day, otherwise I’d still be hooking it! Despite that, I’m really pleased with it. I decided half way through that I’d make it for little miss and thankfully she loves it. I know the colours don’t all work perfectly but for me it does sum up the year and each square has a special memory and meaning.

Blanket number two was completely different. While I was making this blanket for little miss, little man expressed a wish for a blanket of his very own. I was racking my brains to see how I could achieve this when I saw him playing with the hama bead Super Mario Character we’d recently made. I don’t know it was because I had squares on the brain thanks for my granny square blanket, or what but I realised that if it worked in hama beads, I could probably make it work in crochet squares (I subsequently found out later that I am, unsurprisingly, not the first person to think this). Here’s how it turned out:

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Little man loves it and it lovely to see them both cuddled up in their respective blankets.

(If you fancy having a go at the Mario Blanket, I’ll publish a pattern in my next blog post 🙂 )

Washi Tape Fun

For Christmas, I was given this lovely little recipe tin:

IMG_20140306_114608594It was such a thoughtful present as I’d run out of room in my last recipe book and spilled over into another. Now I can keep everything together in one place. There was only one problem with this tin:

IMG_20140305_171827501These were the inserts. Now they aren’t that bad but all the titles, apart from this one, were not the kind of thing I wanted. They had things like ‘soups’ and ‘starters’ which is fine but I don’t organise my recipes like that. Basically it was the perfect excuse to revamp them and label them how I wanted to label them.

IMG_20140306_114435735Here’s the ‘after’ shot, after they got attacked with washi tape (which by the way was brought back by my wonderful sister when she travelled to Japan a few years ago). I love them!

A few things I love

We were on holiday recently in Devon. It’s a place that I’ve never really visited (always either driving through it to get to Cornwall – a county dear to my heart – or holidaying in one of it’s neighbours). I completely fell in love with it. We stayed in mid Devon and it was beautiful. Not too far from Tiverton or Exeter. There was a very nice pick your own fruit near us, which we visited on more than one occasion. Anyway this is really taking me away from my original point.

On the last day of our holiday we went to a craft fair in Exeter. If you are anything like me (an avid craft lover) you will love craft fairs. I love seeing what other people can do and craft fairs are the perfect place to appreciate peoples different skills. This craft fair was particularly  good. It was large without being too large and everything there was of a very high standard. I have to confess that I usually go to these things and when I see stuff that is similar to what I do, I appreciate it but don’t buy it because a little part of me thinks that if I wanted something like that I could probably make it myself and have the satisfaction and fun of making it. Of course I never do make it, so I should probably buy it and support other crafters like myself. These are a couple of things that I saw and just had to get (to be honest there was so much stuff that I liked, I had to restrain myself, we only have a small house and don’t need new mugs; cushions;  paintings; hand carved beautiful things etc).

This is a badge and a button from a ceramic jewellery designer, Kate Bartholomew. I have to admit that it would be hard to find anything more ‘me’. I love this flower design on the brooch and the delicate blue flowers. I also love the buttons, with a touch of purple around the edge and the blue flower in one corner. I’m not sure what I’m going to use the buttons for yet, as I want to wait and use them for something special. I’m already wearing the brooch 😉 They are beautifully made and and I love the thought that has gone into the design of them.If you’re interested she doesn’t seem to have a website but you can contact her at katesbeads@googlemail.com

I said before that I rarely buy things at Craft Fairs, well this next brooch I just had to make an exception for. There is no way I could make anything this detailed. I had a lovely conversation with the lady who made this. She was very passionate about what she did. I am gutted to tell you that I lost her business card (if I find it I’ll post her details here!). She had a whole range of embroidered pictures, brooches and also some ribbon flower brooches (a little like the ones I make for my shop). This was beautiful though. Even before she started talking about her craft I had fallen in love with these little birds. It makes a perfect accessory for any bag!

 

Anyway these are just a few things that I found and loved that I thought I’d share with you. If you’ve been to any craft fairs recently or found any good buys, I’d love to hear about it!