Christmas fairs, craft collectives, open studios….seasonal shopping galore!


This weekend seasonal shopping events are popping up all over the capitals and beyond.  Here are just a few of those on offer.  So maps, diaries and pens to the ready to curate your own excursion.

Starting in the east, it is open studios at the Chocolate Factory in Hackney on Saturday 30th and Sunday 1st December.  You can meet the artists, talk about their work and buy direct from each of the 27 studios with fine art, design, illustration and ceramics.  Close by there is also the Dalston Christmas Market on Sunday 1st December.

Made in Clerkenwell, kicks off this evening, Thursday 28th November (5-8pm), with an open studios in conjunction with Goldsmiths’ Centre featuring 150 designers and makers across 3 venues in Clerkenwell selling fashion, jewellery, accessories, ceramics, printmaking, illustration and interior products.  This little polar scene is a card by Decarbonice, purchasing the card will offset a week’s work of Christmas carbon, and that must be a heavy load with festive lights, paper, and travel.  MIC is open over the weekend, for actual times check the website.  Tickets are £3, and free for under 16s.

From east London, we head to central London, and the Cockpit Arts Open studios in Holborn (the Deptford open studios is 6-8th December).   Tickets are £5 for entry all weekend, and under 15s go free.  We all enjoyed the summer Cockpit Arts, with my daughter enjoying the show and tell element as well as the delicious food from the Hand Made Food cafe.  This weekend highlights will include a kids competition to create a woolly jumper for Baatholomew the sheep with Mary Kilvert and the Head Buyer of Paul Smith is sharing her top picks from the Cockpit collection.  You could even try your hand at weaving with Bonnie Kirkwood who will be giving a demonstration on her hand loom.

A little bit north in Queens Park, it is the Homeworks Christmas Bazaar coral wallight in coral red smallon Sunday 1st December from 10am-2pm in the Salusbury Road Rooms.  Homeworks was set up by a group of like-minded women who work from home, and like to make and buy things that are made with care.  A couple of the highlights are this coral light from Charlotte Peake, colourful felt accessories from Isolyn, and Lou Rota‘s beautiful flora and fauna designs on vintage china.

Further west to the Chelsea Old Town Hall where the third Selvedge Winter Fair is taking  place on the 29th and 30th of November.   As the name would suggest Selvedge’ speciality is all things textiles.  There will be over 100 stands of antique textiles, talented designer makers and vintage haberdashery.  Tickets are £5 or £7.50 for both days.

A little bit south it is the Boutique Christmas Market in Kew Gardens.  Organised in conjunction with We Make London, Kew Gardens is opening up after hours with an illuminated trail and the opportunity to buy distinctive ceramics, textiles, prints, fine art, home wares, jewellery, kids toys, needlework and accessories.

Westward ho to the Bath Christmas Markets which run from Thursday 28th November to Sunday 15th December.  The streets  and square between the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey are colonised by over 150 wooden chalets selling unusual and handmade gifts and decorations.

On the east side of the River Severn the Made in Bristol Christmas Gift Fair is taking place this Saturday 30th November with handmade jewellery, original illustrations, interior products in ceramic, glass, paper, metal, wood and textiles, as well as clothing from established and emerging designers and makers from the region.

A leap across the River Severn to the Cardiff Arts Collective Christmas fair taking place this Saturday 30th November with over 30 designers and makers from South Wales selling jewellery, textiles, decorations and cards.  Among my top picks would be the lighting ByKirsty and textiles and fantastic geometric prints on cushions, textiles and wallpaper by Sian Elin.

And I am sure there are many more in a town near you.  If there are, please and them to the comments!!


Sweet dreams with wool

duvetI have had my eye on some woollen bedding for a while, but recently out found that feathers and household dust may aggravate my daughter’s eczema.  Along with the 20% discount on all wool bedding that the Wool Room are running until 1st December, I had all the justification I needed.

The deluxe all seasons single duvet (reduced to £124) arrived with free delivery the next day!  The duvet is a summer 200gsm (3-5 tog approx) duvet and spring/autumn 300gsm (6-9 tog approx) duvet that can be snapped together with poppers to make a winter duvet.  The duvets are made from 100% platinum grade British wool, covered in 100% cotton and held in place with a quilted stitch pattern.  The duvet is machine washable on a wool cycle with wool detergent, spin and line dry, and benefits from a good airing.

Why wool?  Wool is a great insulator, helping to regulate temperature in hot and cool weather.    Wool ‘breathes’ and wicks away moisture (perspiration) when you are sleeping.   When moisture is trapped in a duvet, humidity increases which can make for a restless and disturbed sleep.  House dust mites also love warm, damp, dark conditions, and duvets made of synthetic fibres such as polyester or nylon or down are less able to regulate moisture.  As dust mites aggravate asthma and some other allergies, reducing dust mites may alleviate symptoms for asthma sufferers, and other allergies.  Wool is also anti-bacterial, and naturally flame retardant, as well as renewable, recyclable and biodegradable.

My daughter used to get hot at night and throw her old duvet off.  With wool we have noticed that happens less, and you don’t get all the stuffing getting stuck down one end!


Already convinced of the benefits of wool, we invested in some wool pillows.  I was keen to try out the folding pillow from Devon Duvets as our feather pillows seem to loose their plumpness after about a year.  Wool needs to be regularly aired to maintain its qualities of wicking away moisture, and the design of the folding pillow makes it easier to hang the pillow and air it effectively.  Simple.

We ordered the 3 fold wool pillow (£69) made of 100% Platinum Grade British wool in a 100% cotton casing and handcrafted in the Devon Duvets workshops.   The wool  is not bleached or chemically-treated (chlorine gas is often used to make tumble drying of wool possible).  The pillows can be machine washed, but must be thoroughly spin and line-dried.  The pillows are soft, springy and supportive.  Perfect for my own private slumber party every night of the year!



Be a wild thing

m-5242c3332abbaLast night I went to a screening of Project Wild Thing, a film to prod, prompt and inspire us all to get more kids playing freely outside and reconnecting with the natural world around them.  As someone who used to be Wilde by name, and often in the wild by nature, I was taken aback to reflect how little time I, and so my children, now spend in nature.

The film looked at the pressures that have lured children to swop wild time for screen time,marketing, the increasing health and safety culture of fear, and literally shrinking amounts of green space, particularly in urban environments.  David Bond, the film’s director, and self-appointed marketing director for nature, asks some big thinkers does it matter?  A UNICEF study from 2007 placed the UK at the bottom of the child well-being league table among developed countries.  More recent research by Ipsos MORI for UNICEF UK has shown that children in the UK feel trapped in a “materialistic culture”.  The children in survey reported that things important to their well-being were time and good relationships with family and friends, and a range of activities, particularly outside of the home.  The RSPB published a report last month, Connecting with Nature, that found only 21% of children are said to have achieved a level of connection to nature that is ‘realistic and achievable’ for all children.  So what can you do?

Watch the film, or at least the trailer, and ask yourself, “How is my relationship with nature?”.  You too might be prompted to join the Wild Network, the network of charities and organisations that are working to tackle some of the issues raised in the film.  You might be curious enough to take the RSPB’s Connection Measure to see how connected you are to nature.

If like me, you realise you have been neglecting the call of the wild, download the Wild Time app.  Depending on how long you have, 10 minutes to half a day, the app will give you and, or your kids, some pointers on what you can do in your window outdoors.  For a longer list, check out the National Trust’s outdoor explorer programme, “50 things to do before you are 11 and 3/4”.

Give nature a new home for Christmas with a insect habitat, nest box or tree.  Check out your local garden centre, or look at the online shops of the RSPB, or Woodland Trust for some ready made homes, or advice on how you can make your garden more inviting.


Climb a tree with Monkey Do or Go-Ape

Or as it is National Tree Week, (23rd November-1st December), to mark the start of the winter tree planting season, have a look at the Woodland Trust’s Nature Detectives site for a tree activity pack, including a brilliant tree identification set and conkers advice!


Christmas trees that are greener than meets the eye

logoAt last a seemingly simple alternative to a real, cut Christmas tree.  My Mum has been planting her Christmas trees for years, but then she is in North Wales.  For those of us, in urban areas, our options have not been as green, so I was delighted to come across Lovely Branches.  If you are living in Greater London, you can rent a Christmas tree from Lovely Branches.  They will deliver a tree that has been grown within a 100 miles of the M25, and then collect it and replant it after the festivities are over, to grow for next year.   You can also rent decorations in either a red, silver or pearl theme.  If you are overwhelmed by the whole enterprise, then Lovely Branches premium service includes installation and decoration of your tree.  You could order a decorated tree for an infirm relative or friend, or to brighten up your office.

Of the 8 million real Christmas trees sold in the UK every year to retail customers, about 5 million are imported from abroad, so if you prefer a cut tree, Lovely Branches offer those too, only theirs are grown here in the UK.

I placed our order yesterday, and it was a swift, straightforward process.  Prices start at £38 for a 4-5 ft tree + delivery and collection (from £16 combined).  I can’t wait to see the Norwegian spruce we have rented.  It was sobering to watch my daughter’s face when she saw the enormous pile of discarded, fading trees striped of their magical decorations being marshalled by tractors and fed into the wood chipper in our local park last January.  Returning our tree to be replanted is a much more positive prospect to start the new year.

My day with Mia

gwizI have been driving  a Reva G-Wiz electric car around London for over four years now.  My brother in law lent me his G-Wiz when I was heavily pregnant to get to ante-natal appointments, and I was hooked.  The G-Wiz’s poor safety record is well documented in the press, but I have always felt safe, and our second generation G-Wiz is safe(r) than its predecessor.  The G-Wiz is a tiny completely electric two door car, with two seats in the rear.  It has a driving range of around 40 miles.  The blurb says 48 miles, but I found 40 miles is more likely, and less in cold weather.  It is only 2.6m long, and 1.3m wide, with a 3.5m turning circle.   It is a bit like driving a dodgem, but that is part of the fun. You can whizz through narrow side streets, and dodge rubbish lorries, deliveries and sneak into the tiniest of parking spaces.

The second generation G-Wiz is surprisingly nippy at the traffic lights, and with average traffic speeds in London of 20 m.p.h, we all roll up at the next set of lights together.  At a cost of around 1.35p per mile,  with free road tax, low insurance, free parking (Westminster) and no congestion charging in London, the G-Wiz is cheap to run.  And it puts a smile on your face.  How many cars can you just hop across and get out the passenger side straight onto the pavement.  But our family has grown, and while I have had 4 adults in the G-Wiz (!), two car seats in the rear is not comfortable.  And there are more options on the market now.


Today was the turn of the Mia.  It is a three seat electric city car with sliding doors, built in France, and designed by former VW design boss Murat Gunak.  It is a cut above the G-Wiz.  It has a central driving position, which my husband found novel, with two passenger seats in the rear with lots of leg room due to the arrow configuration.  The seats are snug, but all have great visibility, and the boot is a decent size for urban shopping trips.  All in all, it is a roomy interior.  The longer Mia L family model has three rear passenger seats across a bench with ISOFIX fittings for a child seat.

Measuring 2.87 m in length, the Mia is 20cm longer than the G-Wiz, and that small amount makes a difference.  No more sharing parking spaces, or nose to kerb parking, and the turning circle is 4.3m.   The Mia has a range of 80 miles, so it is still an urban or suburban car.  Though with average trip length of 7 miles (in 2010, National Traffic Survey, Department for Transport), it is probably practical for more us than we realise to drive an electric car.  The modern, digital dashboard clearly displays the charge level, and number of miles remaining, which is a pleasure after the G-Wiz game of guess how far you can go.

The Mia is easy to drive, like most electric cars, turn the key, press a button, and off you go.  It is more sluggish to accelerate than the G-Wiz, but soon comfortably speeds along, all be it with a bit of cabin noise.  Visibility from the rear view mirror is not great with an adult passenger in the rear, and this made parking harder.  It does feel safer than the G-Wiz.  It is a comfortable ride.  And it is cute.  At around £14,000 and with no battery leasing cost, the Mia’s price has been cut from early marketing.

We had great fun in the Mia, and it compares well to the G-Wiz as a city car, but Nissan Leaf is keenly priced at the moment, could be time for a test drive to compare.


Bedside beauties


It was a frosty morning to be outside finishing the latest piece for my interiors project, but the deadline is looming.  There was nothing for it but a large cup of tea, flapjack and a lot of elbow grease (as my grandfather would have said) to finish the waxing and varnishing.  And tah dah, here they are.

I picked up this pair of Uniflex 1960s or 70s bedside tables, along with a similar dressing table at Sunbury Antiques market a few weeks ago.  The bedside tables had been given a heavy coat of dark varnish at some point.  I sanded them down to reveal the chevron veneer.  A light coat of Ronseal quick dry matt varnish, which is low V.O.C. (volatile organic compound) brought out the wood grain beautifully.  I sanded around the top of the bedside table to reveal the layers of plywood, as I like the detail and the honesty of showing the plywood.

The tables were still a dark colour, so I painted the sides with Annie Sloan’s chalk paint in Paris Grey to soften them.  Once dry, I waxed the sides with Annie Sloan clear soft wax.  Finally, I covered the top of the tables in some off-cuts of a linen fabric from Christopher Farr, that was made in England.  The fabric, called Carnival, has a vibrant, bold green and blue print. I used a natural latex universal adhesive from Auro to stick the fabric down before giving it a couple of coats of varnish once dry.  The bedside tables are no longer pure mid-century modern, but with a gentle refresh will sit well in a contemporary bedroom.  If you D.I.Y., you can have just the colour or fabric you want.  And be bold, all of the changes I made be undone, and it’s fun to experiment.

Oh and the Guardian article below has an easy step by step.  Or look out for local furniture restoration and painting classes, with a quick web search.  In London, try the Goodlife Centre (S), Phoenix on Golborne (W), or get a bit of help from Revived London (SE).

Ikea’s secondhand campaign

As part of an eight week advertising campaign Ikea ran a ‘digital flea market’ for secondhand furniture on Sundays.  The Second Hand campaign encouraged people buying new Ikea furniture to sell their old furniture rather than letting it go to landfill.  Ikea’s agency shot ads of some customers’ old furniture which appeared with the seller’s phone number online, on posters, on TV ads, and on Ikea’s Facebook page on Sundays.  All the furniture used in the campaign found its way to a new home, and sales of Ikea’s new furniture increased.

I wonder if we will be seeing the Second Hand campaign running here?  At the very least it may boost awareness and appetite for secondhand furniture generally.  Ikea’s campaign is currently arms length, encouraging a secondary market.  I wonder if we will see other furniture retailers follow suit?  Some furniture retailers will remove furniture they are replacing, for a fee.

Elsewhere, in the clothing industry, Marks & Spencer have partnered with Oxfam to take unwanted M&S clothes, where as Monsoon, and Timberland have in-store recycling programmes in exchange for vouchers or discounts off new purchases.

Re-use is one way to extend a product’s life, but what about the beginning and end of a product’s life?  It would be great to see more furniture and other products whose design considers what happens when the product is no longer wanted, so that it can be readily dissembled, repaired or recycled.

Stocking fillers


It is time to embrace the inevitable march towards seasonal festivities and the hunt for gifts that give that little bit extra! I have my eye on some stocking fillers for the kids from Bigjigs, one of the leading wooden toy designers in the UK.  I like the colourful set of 72 interlocking wooden discs that creative, dextrous kids (and adults), can build into endless shapes (£6.99).  The bright, slightly retro look appeals, and the fact that all of Bigjigs’ wooden toys are made from rubberwood from managed forests.  Rubberwood  is from trees that are only felled after completing the latex producing cycle, generally after 25-30 years.

There will be more festive pointers to follow, this is just a little heads up about Bigjigs as they are currently running a competition, on their Facebook page to win their  Top 10 Stocking Fillers, which runs until Friday 22nd November.

Festive knits

Advent Calendar 260x310Cosy up on your sofa and have a go knitting your own Christmas decorations, either for on the tree or cluster them on a shelf or mantelpiece for a seasonal scene.  There is a whole family of winter animal patterns are available for free from Rowan with their suggestion of Fine Tweed and British Sheep Breeds yarns.  Penguin or polar bear, owl or rabbit, all are cute, and even come with their own accessories.

Or if knitting is not your bag, pictured is an advent calendar designed by Jemma Weston (pattern available for free from Rowan) to crochet and felt.  It makes good use of all those odd bits of yarn you might have left.  The calendar is a crochet and felting pattern.  It can be saved and savoured for many years, and filled with little treats.

Handmade in Britain – the CC edit

ELakelinI first lingered to admire the beautiful wooden vessels created by Eleanor Lakelin from British wood.  Eleanor studied cabinet-making, after a career in teaching, and was the first woman to win the annual Austin’s Prize for Craftsmanship in Wood in 1998.  More recently, Eleanor has focused on turning wood on a lathe to carve decorative pieces and functional objects such as bowls and food boards.

Eleanor’s vessels are sensory pieces that you need to see, feel and smell in order to fully digest their beauty.  The wood is from trees that have fallen or had to be felled, and each different species of tree has distinct characteristics and qualities as a wood.   There are ethereal sculptural forms created from the wood of a 300 year old horse chestnut that was turned, carved, sandblasted and bleached.  Sycamore lends a warm, golden hue to bowls carved with dimples that look almost aquatic.  Bowls made from olive ash have a tonal colour as the wood closer to the centre of the trunk is darker.  Each piece tells the story of its origin, and Eleanor’s sympathetic interventions using only the lathe, sanding, bleaching and scorching.

After training as a painter at The Royal College of Art, London in the early 1960s, Rachel Scott began spinning and weaving in 1976.  Initially a practical response to pressing need for some carpet, Rachel found great satisfaction in this new  medium for her artistic expression.  Her first loom was made from some boards salvaged from a skip, and her brother made her spinning wheel.

RScottRachel undertakes every aspect of product.   The fleeces come from friends who live on the Berkshire Downs and different breeds of British sheep. Rachel cards and combs the fibres before hand-spinning them into wool.  The wool remains undyed and tapestry woven on an upright wooden frame loom.  The rugs are bold, geometric designs in the subtle colours of the natural wool from different breeds. Black Welsh (black with rusty tips), Devon Longwools (cream), Manx Logthans (soft, pale brown), Shetlands (fine,brown, grey,black), Hebrideans (soft,black) and Herdwicks (pale and dark grey).  The rugs are approximately 150 x 75 cm.  They can standalone, or be sewn together to make bigger rugs, or stair carpets.  I love the contrast of the muted shades with the strong patterns.  And, of course, the wool is natural, renewable, hard-wearing, breathable, warm in winter and cool in summer!

I had a short pitstop at Offkut, to admire the sculptural lighting and furniture made from reclaimed industrial salvage.  They had lent a stool to a weary neighbouring exhibitor and she vouched for its comfort.  Their furniture is certainly built to last.  Then a mini-domestic emergency had me pedalling home, pulled away from admiring the marine and floral designs of Justine Munson‘s porcelain.

Rachel’s rugs will next be available at Pullens Yards Winter Open Studios, 6th-8th December.

Eleanor’s work will be available at the Cockpit Arts Open Studios, 29th Nov- 1st Dec.