Last weekend I visited The Handmade Fair 2015 at Hampton Court Palace in London, the brainchild of Kirstie Allsopp, and hosted in conjunction with Hobbycraft and Mollie Makes Magazine. I had bought myself a ticket for the Friday, at a very reasonable £29 which included three workshops of my choice, as well as general entry. A couple of days before the event I saw a tweet from Kirstie advertising a competition to win tickets to the fair by entering our best handmade project (#lovehandmade). I replied with my recent makes, the footstool I made from an old wardrobe, and the abstract canvas art, and Kirstie retweeted the footstool, which literally made my day! I may have talked about how exciting that was a bit much, as by the end of the day Ste was referring to “my new girlfriend Kirstie!” Oops.
Imagine my extreme excitement then when an email arrived from the organisers to say that I was one of the winners of the competition inviting me to bring my project to meet Kirstie on the Saturday! Also included were two free tickets to Saturday’s event, so I hastily booked a new train ticket back home so I could attend, and enlisted my lovely talented crafty friend Beth of Baby Boo who makes stunning baby outfits from vintage fabrics, who I knew would love the event as much as me. Then I excitedly posted on Facebook to see which of my projects I should enter – the result was overwhelmingly in favour of the footstool, so much so I started to feel sorry for my poor canvas! Of course, being over a metre and a half long, and made of solid wood, there was no way I could carry it down on the train, but I was assured pictures would suffice.
Anyway, the Friday dawned and I made my way to Hampton Court for the Fair. The weather was typically London in summer – one moment overcast and pouring with rain, the next, blazing sunshine. I was extremely lucky and seemed to be inside a tent at one of my crafts every time the rain poured down so I stayed dry all day. I’d selected my workshops so as to spread them out, starting off with a calligraphy workshop with Claire Gould. I love the modern calligraphy you see all over Instagram these days and I am desperate to learn how to do it – slightly different to the medieval style the nuns taught us at boarding school! (True story). Claire was super enthusiastic and really helpful, and I managed to copy an entire sheet of the alphabet, though it did look a little as though I was drunk (possibly was – I might have had a delicious gin sample just beforehand).
Still, not bad for a first effort, and I am keen to invest in a pen and keep practising, so that labelling presents will be so much prettier in future, if nothing else. I will certainly go to a longer workshop if Claire holds one up north (hint hint Claire!).
My next workshop was redwork, a type of embroidery using red thread, and we started a design of an Emma Bridgewater mug and custard cream, to later be sewn into a pin cushion. I absolutely loved the needlework, and got more thread the next day because I carried on with it as soon as I got home and ran out! I’ve finished the embroidery part now, but I’m yet to make the pincushion. It reminded me that I find this kind of thing very relaxing, and I am planning on making a few Christmas decorations using this technique because the red is so festive, it will look great on a Christmas tree.
In between workshops I browsed the huge and impressive shopping villages. Happily (or not, depending on your perspective) it was the end of the month so my bank account was running dry, which meant that I couldn’t buy too much so I had to take time and choose wisely! I bought a few fat quarters of pretty fabric with the intention of making some bunting for the spare room, and a subscription to Mollie Makes.
I also had a bit of a surreal moment meeting Tilly of Tilly and the Buttons fame. I’ve been reading her blog for years, way before I got into sewing again (I always knew I would at some point) and she is such a nice person and gives really great advice even to complete novices, having answered a few of my probably silly questions over the years. I’ve been meaning to buy a Bettine dress pattern since it came out but I thought I would wait and buy it from Tilly herself, which was my other purchase of the day. We had a nice chat, but I was too starstruck to ask for a photo.
Another highlight of the day was the #Instapretty party in the Bloggers’ Lounge with Louise of BLoved blog. Over a beautifully set table, Louise talked us through some top tips for curating our Instagram feeds, and composing great shots. We then got to play with her amazing collection of props and have a go ourselves. So much sparkle and pink – I loved it!
Even though I was at the Fair on my own, all day I seemed to end up chatting to really friendly people, all of whom totally understood the need to make things! I felt as though I had found my tribe, and was eager to go back for round two the next day.
On Saturday, with an equally excited Beth in tow, we arrived to collect our tickets and were taken to the Press Lounge to wait for Kirstie. The other finalists were awesome and I was very proud to be in such great company – Caroline of Broadsheet Boutique had made some beautiful clothes for herself and her friend and a small fluffy guinea pig, Anja of HoppsyDaisy had brought felt ball-filled letters, which must have taken forever to make, but happily you can buy them in her Folksy shop. And speaking of taking forever, the final entry was the absolutely incredible crochet robe by Matthew, otherwise known as One Man Crochet! He wore his robe with panache and I think ended up being instagrammed all day.
When Kirstie arrived, on a bunting-covered golf cart, all nerves at meeting her disappeared, because she is exactly like she is on television, fun, bubbly and really really into crafts! She told me that she loved my footstool because it proved you could make something special from bits and pieces that might otherwise be thrown away. Unfortunately for Ste, this rather vindicated my “It might come in handy one day” ethos and will no doubt result in more hoarding. She said she didn’t want to have to choose an overall winner, but there was a voucher for one person, and I think it was clear to us all that Matthew deserved it, not only for the two months of work it took to make the robe, but also for the sheer balls needed for wearing it to the Fair! We all got an unexpected prize though of VIP tickets for the day, which included a glass of champagne and a huge goody bag.
Beth and I decided to head straight for our champers, despite it being not quite 11am, and sat in the sunshine outside the VIP lounge getting giggly and catching up.
I had booked myself into another workshop – stencilling with Annie Sloan – so when the bubbles were finished I wobbled off into the sunshine, leaving Beth to the temptations of the shopping village. We were given a piece of board each, a choice of three AS paints, and some stencils, and Annie talked us through how to do it. The stencils are a new product line and I was immediately tempted, especially when I saw the beautiful curtains she had made with them. Chalk paint on fabric is apparently totally do-able and the results are pretty amazing too. Going to have to give that a try very soon.
When the workshop was over, buoyed by the champagne and ashamed at my cowardice with Tilly the day before, I went to say hello to Annie and had a nice chat with her. A girl took a photo for me, and asked if I could take one of her, but with my camera as she’d forgotten her phone!
We left the tent chatting, and since she was waiting for a friend and I was heading to meet Beth in the art deco style bar tent, I invited her to join us.
Beth arrived and we all decided it was time for another glass of fizz in the sunshine, before packing ourselves into the photobooth at the back of the Airstream that housed the bar.
We were laughing like schoolgirls by the end, and Kristyn had become a new friend!
After a spot of lunch, Beth headed off to her paper garland workshop, and I braved the shopping village one more time, as I’d only managed one of the two tents the day before. I bought a block printing kit with some fabric paints, which I can’t wait to have a play with, and then found myself back at Tilly’s stand, so I bravely asked if I could have a photo with her as well. Of course she agreed. Look how happy I am! I am so uncool.
Sadly after that it was time to head to St Pancras for my train back to Yorkshire, but not before discovering that there is a Handmade Christmas Fair in November, and even better, it’s in Manchester! I will absolutely be going, and if this all sounds like your idea of fun, you should have a look at tickets too. You can find the website here.