Post by Cecily Vessey
Sitting in a cafe in New Orleans, Louisiana it seems kind of appropriate to be thinking about the designer/maker craft scene outside of London. Last night I wandered over to Frenchman street and stumbled upon a beautiful night market, it felt like home chatting to makers about their work and made me realise that wherever you are, the designer/maker community is just as rich and welcoming as it is back home in London. I think it’s all too easy to think of London as the centre of the UK craft scene and as someone who has lived there for 10 years I’m as guilty as anyone of that mind set.
The largest city after London is Birmingham, it is home to two Crafty Fox regulars; ‘Sophie from ‘Oh My Clumsy Heart’ and Sarah from ‘Sarah and Maude’. Aside from getting much more space for your pound there is a flourishing creative arts and food scene and you are less than two hours from London should you need to pop down for meetings.
Sophie lives in the ‘Jewellery Quarter’ overlooking a leafy graveyard (sounds creepy but I’m assured it’s very beautiful!) with her partner and their guinea pigs. She has a two minute commute as her studio is in the same building as her apartment and has been running Oh My Clumsy Heart - a minimal handmade jewellery brand for three years.
Sophie’s tips for Birmingham creative things; ‘Glug Talks are fantastic, Flatpack is an awesome annual event and there’s always something going on at the weekends for creatives.’ She also told me that she makes an effort to connect with local designer/makers to build local friendships and create a crafty network .
In comparison there is Sarah, who runs the design and letterpress studio Sarah & Maude (Maude is Sarah’s 100 year old antique print press). She lives in a leafy suburb of Birmingham with her partner and their whippet puppy, Willow. I love the pet selection that these ladies all have! They chose the location as it’s close enough to the city to enjoy the fun things but far enough away to enjoy a nice quiet life and lots of long walks with Willow. Sarah’s studio backs onto their sunny garden.
Bristol is another city high on my list for a weekend visit. I spoke to Alice Shields, who lives and works in Bristol. As well as making illustrative ceramics she runs the shop Paperplane with a co-op of designer/makers. She says ‘Bristol is a busy, bustling hub of creativity and energy. It is small enough to get around on bike or foot but big enough to never get bored or discover new areas. There’s pretty much something for everyone and you tend to bump into someone you know wherever you go.’
Alice’s studio is shared with 25 makers so she has a ready made community in her work space. Together, they plan to start a monthly meet up in the Bristol/Bath area. Sign up to Alice’s mailing list to be kept in the loop.
Looking to find out about a more rural part of the UK? I spoke to textile designer Jenny Sibthorp who lives in the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset. Jenny creates screen printed homewares and accessories in linen and leather. If there was ever an instagram account that could give you country life envy, it’s hers. @JennySibthorp
Pros for Jenny include a studio backing onto a field (which is currently filled with lambs) and only a two min commute to work down a country lane on her bicycle.
Jenny lived in London for 6 years until 2013 and still has many friends in the city. Trips her for events don’t hurt the purse too much as she can stay with them. This is the same tactic used by the other ladies in this post, keep your friends who live in London close!
Jenny’s craft community includes traders at her local market in Bridport in the summer months and her upholsterer neighbour in the studio next door. They often share lunch breaks and chat about their business ups and downs.
All these ladies seem to be pretty good at taking a lunch break, something that has become a bit of a stranger to Londoners.
The biggest upside to living outside of central London is the space that you get for your money. All these ladies have pets, outdoor space and a short commute. Things that aren’t really possible for central London living on a designer/maker budget. However, I’m not about to persuade you to jump ship from the big smoke just yet, London of course has it’s pros too!
It’s apparent that wherever you live in the UK there is some form of designer/maker, creative community. Some take a bit more digging to find but I for one am compelled to leave London a bit more often and search out the markets, exhibitions and events that the UK has on offer.