There is always a queue for the car park at IKEA. Or at least there is when we go there, admittedly at weekends, to stock up on batteries, candles and other (not exactly) essentials. I can see the appeal. Everything home-related under one roof, free parking (eventually), cafe with high chairs and plenty of loos! Not just a shopping trip,then, but a whole family day out. You can wander round for hours and examine potential purchases at length (and width, with the tape measures supplied), get fed and watered and return home at the end of the day with at least one bag full of exciting must-have items. The only negatives were the time it took to locate said car again in the enormous car park afterwards and the equally enormous amount that you spent. Every time we go there we look at one another at the checkout and exclaim, "Hoooooow much?" Especially when the things you picked up seemed so cheap that you bought two. Just like the supermarkets, IKEA have developed ways and means of making you spend. In fact, they could probably teach the supermarkets a thing or too there. And once we get our purchases home - and I'm talking about the Marketplace buys here, not big pieces of furniture - did they really improve our lives in any way? Did we gaze on that fruit bowl and think it was something we would enjoy using for the rest of our lives? And how many of us - if we were tested a couple of days later - could remember all (or any) of the things we bought there? Cetainly not me. We went in the week after Christmas, ostensibly for some batteries and some of those boxes for storing magazines upright. But the sale was on, we saw bits that we thought might come in handy - you know, "while we were there" - and then we picked up some useful storage boxes with lids and before we knew it we'd parted with the princely sum of sixty three pounds and sixty seven pence. Two days later I couldn't remember what we'd bought.
My point here is that most of us will go to IKEA and the like on a regular basis and part with our hard earned cash for things we don't need or - dare I say - particularly like? Worse, is that a few months down the line it has to go to make way for goods bought in a similar vain. Either that or it is stashed in your capacious IKEA storage. We know this as fact; we have their wardrobes! Yet if I were to suggest that instead of repeatedly buying mass produced one-style-fits-all-taste stuff, you chose something hand crafted and individually made that you would cherish forever, many people would throw their hands up in horror and complain about how much it would COST! Moreover, if I proposed going on a day's course to learn how to make beautiful things with which to adorn your home, personalised to your own taste, a similar number of people would say they didn't have the TIME. Allow me to try and persuade you otherwise.
Two weeks ago we visited an Open Studios event at The Harley Foundation Studios on the Welbeck Estate in North Notts. The studios (up above) are not open to the public ordinarily. They are places where the artists and craftspeople can dedicate themselves to their chosen field relatively undisturbed. Most of the beautiful items they produce are sold through galleries, at exhibitions featuring their work and at craft fairs. The magnificent chair shown above was made by Ian Saville out of walnut and ash and has been carefully constructed to last a lifetime. Ian makes limited editions of his furniture and also works to commission, one of his particular specialties being music stands. His was one of the larger studios on the site and the first thing that hit us was how wonderful it smelled. It seems a silly thing to say, really, because a studio working with wood is always going to smell of .. er.. wood but so much of what we buy nowadays has no sense of where it came from. We discussed the price of his furniture compared to that of the 'better' furniture shops and concluded that their prices reflect the costs of designing, sourcing, construction and materials, transporting, marketing, staffing and their place on the high street. Ian's chair costs £400 and was made and designed by him. Do feel free - as I have just done - to compare this to the price of dining chairs on the Heal's website, designed (not constructed) by Matthew Hilton, for example. In this instance Ian's bespoke furniture actually costs less! Of course this blog is not just about less in terms of finance but less soul-less mass manufacture and less damage to the rainforests to plunder their tropical hardwoods. In contrast, Ian sources all his wood from within Europe and the UK so he offers both a cost effective and ethical choice. And just to add balance we are also about more: more individuality in our homes, more craftsmanship in the items we choose and - last but not least - more fun!
Georgina Bell's felt version of the china plate wall display embodies all three of the above. She works with felt, embroidery, print and drawing - often a combination of two or more of these - to produce original and highly individual pieces with a lighthearted touch. I really liked the idea of taking something you see often, like plates on a wall, and giving the idea a twist. They also illustrate my point that there are handmade creations to suit all pockets. At £22 each, Georgina's plates are probably less expensive to buy than some of the china ones on which they were modelled. And they won't break if you drop them! If we'd had more time I would have liked to join in with the needle felting taster session that Georgina was offering. Perhaps next time. You can join her mailing list to be kept informed of future courses she offers or to find out if she will be exhibiting anywhere near you.
Magie Hollingworth has likewise embraced the idea of taking something familiar and turning it into something special. The fish knife and fork above are made of papier mache, as are the fruit spoons at the top of this post, that I couldn't resist buying from a box labelled '50p per item'! I imagine that these are demonstration pieces from classes she has taught but even the larger utensils such as fish slices in black were only £5 each; very little when you consider that each item is individually made. Artists studios tend to be very neutral in colour but Magie had painted a broad stripe of deep orange across one wall. With the black kitchen implements hanging in front it created a wonderful contrast. I told her how much I enjoyed bright colour and she said she was thinking of painting a bright pink stripe below the orange. So that inspired me to take the photograph above. Do you like the combination, Magie? Something I really admire about her work is that she is taking waste paper and turning it into something beautiful. I'm hoping to display my pieces in some box frames, probably using the same backgrounds as above. The bright backgrounds would not be to everyone's taste but they are mine and surely one of the functions of home is to reflect our own personal tastes, not those decreed to us by the high street. And while the high street allows you to buy ten mass produced mugs that are exactly the same, the particular charm of handmade things is that no two are identical.
If I have suceeded in whetting your appetite for handmade loveliness in your home, what could be better than going on a course to learn to make things for yourself. Pictured above is the very lovely Louise Presley who runs workshops for "all things vintage and sewing" at The Harley Foundation Studios. She trained in fashion and commercial textiles but began working for herself ten years ago under the name of Hope and Elvis and describes her occupation as being that of "professional treasure hunter"! As I have said in previous posts, craft is experiencing a huge resurgence in popularity and in addition to hosting her own courses (both weekday and weekend), Louise attracts some of the biggest names in the crafting world today such as Julie Arkell, Tom of Holland and Viv Sliwka of Hen's Teeth (who I, quite incidentally, follow on Pinterest).
Louise's studio was packed with visitors when we arrived so we decided we'd earned a cuppa by now and a piece of homemade cake in the pop up tea room. So friendly and professional was the service that we thought that the two ladies running it did catering for a living but not so. Elaine and Kim have been on previous courses at Hope and Elvis and as keen home bakers relished the chance to run a tea room for the day. We sampled the banana and walnut loaf and the lemon drizzle cake and both were to die for. In fact Si' - who is not known for giving praise lightly - said it was VERY VERY nice and he could be described as something of a cake connoisseur, having both a mother and wife who bake. This photo shows Elaine in her superb choice of pink pinny; not only does she sew and bake, she makes jam AND she has an allotment. More about this kindred spirit in another post!
I met Louise initially through my mum. Louise used to buy from her years ago when my mum had a shop locally and when my mum gave up the shop they lost touch. They have only met up again relatively recently and my mum introduced us as she knew we'd have a lot in common. Her workshops are sponsored by Brother Sewing UK who have supplied the sewing machines for the courses and Louise caters for all abilities from the novice to the professional. The studio was so busy on the day it was quite hard to find space to take photos but the one above shows the sort of things that have been made or 'upcycled' courtesy of a Hope and Elvis day. The courses are incredibly popular and as Louise puts it on her website are "booked up in a blink" so to get first dibs you really need to subscribe to her mailing list. Now don't tell her I said this but Hope and Elvis courses really are incredibly cheap.(Particularly since it is easily possible to 'waste' £60 in IKEA on nothing!) They start at £40 for the day - which includes tuition and all materials - and go up to £75 for some of the guest tutors. The latter price bracket includes lunch. Car parking is plentiful and free and you can pick up some amazing sourdough bread from the estate farm shop while you're there.
Don't get me wrong, IKEA has its place. We bought our kitchen unit carcasses from there, made our own doors and they look as good as new 14 years later. But when it comes to personalising your home do you really want what everyone else is having? Whether you like it or not? There are Open Studio events up and down the country, throughout the year and likewise one day courses covering every craft imaginable. Handmade need not be either costly or time consuming. It may actually save you money and you may end up making more than you bargained for. Friends. And you don't make many of those in the queue for the car park at IKEA!