The MS Society comes to Love Handmade.

MS Geraldine

Here at Love Handmade Towers, we love Local.  Whether it’s local shopping, local eating out, or supporting local charities, we’re all for it.  That’s why we offer a free stall at every one of our fairs to a local charity to do with what they will.  They can use it to raise awareness, sell items they’ve made or simply have a snooze underneath the table if that’s where the day takes them! (We’ve yet to have anyone actually fall asleep, but they could if they wanted to!)

At our next fair, we have two local charities with half a stall each.  They’re both worthy causes in their own different ways, and we would like to tell you a little bit about them.

The first charity we have on Saturday 3rd September is The MS Society.  Its full name is The Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the local branch is in Leamington Spa, just down the road.

One of its members, Geraldine Edwards (pictured above with one of our cooperative, Jenn) was diagnosed with MS ten years ago, in 2006.  LHF met with her recently to find out her motivation for raising money for the charity.

One of the first things we noticed when meeting up with Geraldine, was her passion for both the charity, and her knitting.

“I started knitting for this stall last November” she tells us “And I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of my family, friends and knitting groups.  They’ve all given me extra items to sell on the day.”  We can tell from the list she mentions how many lovely hand knitted items there will be on the 3rd September, her stall is going to be full to overflowing with hats, gloves, socks, scarves, blankets, tea cosies, and toys of every colour and description.  As you can see in the photo, the items a of a very high quality, and beautifully made (which is our unofficial motto at LHF).  In fact, we were wishing our head was small enough for the gorgeous little hat Geraldine’s holding in the picture, and no, we didn’t try it on just to check anyway!

“MS affects every sufferer in different ways” Geraldine tells us.  “Everybody’s different, whether it be fatigue, mobility problems or many, many other symptoms.  I knit to sit myself down in the afternoons.  I make sure that I never let it stop me doing anything, but I do need to pace myself, which is where the knitting comes in.”

She certainly doesn’t let it stop her “doing her stuff” as she puts it.  An active member of a weekly knitting group, Geraldine also attends The Townswomen’s Guild once a month, so has many opportunities to get involved in the local knitting scene, which has had a bit of a renaissance over the last years due to programs such as The Great British Sewing Bee, and anything with ‘Kirstie Allsopp’ and ‘Handmade’ in the title!

So, we can hear you asking the all important question:  Where will the money actually go, and will it be used locally?  The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’  Geraldine is emphatic in her assurance that every pound raised will be used right here.  “The aim is to raise as much money as possible so that we can continue our work in the local area.”

And that work can be an absolute life line.  Geraldine considers herself to be “one of the lucky ones”.  Her husband is on hand whenever she needs extra help, but many MS sufferers don’t have such a support base, which is where the work the MS Society does comes in, and is hugely important.

“The social events and outings we put on each year can be a major part of life for someone with MS.  Often, people have little to no transport, so the minibuses and taxis are just as important as the event itself.”

Geraldine goes on to tell me about the coffee mornings, the Sunday lunch clubs, quiz nights and barge trips to name but a few.  “Each trip needs to be carefully managed to check that everything is in place, even down to aspects that you expect to come as standard these days such as wheelchair access and a disabled toilet.”

To put it simply, Geraldine’s aim is “To get as many people out for different social activities during 2107”

It does sound simple, but it’s not so simple as we or you might have it:  Think of the last time you texted everyone with a quick ‘Pub? 7.30 Fri.  Be there!’ and it’s sorted.  A lot more work goes in to enhancing an MS sufferer’s life, and we at LHF are very glad there are fabulous, dedicated people out there doing all they can to help.  Right now, Geraldine wants you to come and buy a hat.  Or one of the world’s most comfy pairs of knitted socks (Don’t knock it til you try it, it’ll be freezing before we know it!)

Share the Love.  Buy Handmade.  Visit our Fair.

 

For more information about the Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth branch of the MS Society, please direct your clicky-mouse type object, or tap your finger here

For more information about Love Handmade Fairs, you should 100% deffo visit our website or our Fantastic Facebook page, do a little squeak of excitement and then visit us in person because we’re awesome and very smiley!  We also have a huuuge amount of gorgeous handmade stuff to sell you, and the odd bit of cake or two, too!

 

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Jane Archer – The origin story

Jane Archer is one of the quieter members of our group.

But don’t let that fool you. Beneath her calm exterior lies a super fast wit and a ready infectious smile that will have you grinning back before you even realise it. She is the first to admit that she’s not hugely comfortable with having the spotlight turned on her (something I can attest to when trying to take her picture – finding one when she’s not in the middle of telling me she hates having her picture taken was slightly challenging!)  Yet this initial reticence slowly melts away when I get her talking about her love of art.

I went to visit her in her temporary ‘home’ in St Gregory’s Church in Offchurch. She’s currently exhibiting her stunning work along with three other artists at the church, adding to hundreds of other local artists dotted around the county-wide event.  It is, of course Warwickshire Open Studios, and this wonderful celebration of local artistic talent is in its 14th year.

Walking in from the bright sunny day outside, I spot her at the top of the church surrounded by her gorgeous display of watercolours and life drawings.  And it is indeed gorgeous.  The range of colours, shapes and depth in her work can be seen from across the church, and one cannot help but be drawn to it.
“In my family, I was the youngest of three girls, and if you wanted something, you made it yourself.”  She goes on to explain how the whole family was creative; from her architect father to her mother who created all the embroidery for the local church, amongst many other accomplishments.

Jane took art A level, then went straight on to art college for four years.
“It was a broad course, but I ended up specialising in textile design. I thought for a long time that my medium would be pottery, but then found a love for printing and textiles”

These early years immersed in all forms of art stood her in good stead for the future, as next came a family and her painting became a more of a hobby as she concentrated on being a mum.  During this time, she worked for the family business which was in fashion retail.  Jane found a happy outlet creating fabulous window displays and organising fashion shows for the independent shop.
It was the early 90s when Jane moved into primary school teaching, and it wasn’t long before she was stretching her creative limbs devising and running amazing sculpture classes for the children.  She recalls spending hours on displaying the children’s work on the walls of the school, even finding these small tasks satisfying.

These days, she’s in full artist mode, as can be seen by her impressive collection of original watercolours, giclée prints, life drawings and greetings cards.  She even has a range of jewellery and in the festive season has a lovely range of ‘tipsy’ angels which go down very well with the locals!
I want to ask her about her process these days.  How does she work and where does she get her inspiration from – a question artists must get tired of answering, yet we as admirers, never tire of hearing their answers.

She’s at her happiest when she’s painting in her house in the south of France. “I put the radio on and sit at the dining room table and take advantage of the light.  It’s hard to explain just how good the light is” she smiles wryly.  She takes lots of photos of many varied aspects of daily life that inspires her, and is always looking to find the beauty in ordinary things.  She goes on to mention her favourite Georgia O’Keeffe quote:

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

Jane then carefully tries to tell me that she doesn’t want to come across as a ‘floaty artist-type always talking about the beauty in a flower’, but that she does believe in really looking at our surroundings and capturing them for us all to enjoy.
Watercolour is her favourite medium.  “It’s a challenge.  It does unexpected things – random effects that you gradually learn to anticipate and play around with.”  Something which I think you can agree she is highly adept at.

Just one of Jane's stunning watercolours

Just one of Jane’s stunning watercolours

Yet watercolour isn’t where it stops. Jane also has a notable collection of life drawings to her name.
“It’s a passion of mine.  For me, it is art in its purest form – nothing compares to it.  The human form is so familiar and yet so complex, that for an artist, it provides a constant challenge.”

She attends a local life drawing group, and mentions how even now, she has to concentrate fully every time.

“It’s completely absorbing.  The first mark on the blank sheet is always the hardest.  And then that lucky moment when the marks you are making begin to flow and your two dimensional drawing starts to take life; it’s an immensely rewarding experience.  I can be feeling tired and stressed when I get there, and then there’s suddenly no room in my head for anything except for light and shade and form.”

An example of Jane Archer's life drawing.

An example of Jane Archer’s life drawing.

Jane mentions how she wouldn’t be brave enough to be selling her work today if it wasn’t for the support and encouragement she received from all of us in the first two years of the Christmas pop up shop (where the friendships we’ve taken through to Love Handmade were first formed).  I personally think she would, because she might have exploded in a big ball of multicoloured paint without being able to have that all-important outlet for her work, but she maintains we gave her the confidence.  This of course might have been something to do with us all oohing and ahhing over her work every day…

“I was terrified to start with. You feel as if you’re putting yourself on show – this is what I do, does anybody like it?”

We like it, Jane. In fact, we love it. I’ve started my Jane Archer collection with an original watercolour.  My mum (another of the cooperative) has two.  I’m already eyeing up my next piece, so I think we can safely assume that there’s one or two fans out there!

Warwickshire Open Studios runs until the 13th of July.  All of the details are on their website, and Jane will be back at our fairs again in September.

I’m off to really look at the flowers in my watercolour painting again. There may be some more appreciative oohing and ahhing going on!

Jane with some of her work in the church

Jane with some of her work in the church

Truly Lovely Candles & Tricia – The origin story

Tricia Davison is a lovely, bubbly lady.

She also happens to be one of our craft collective and performs many important functions behind the scenes at LHF.  Yet she would argue that her greatest skill is communication with the customers and stallholders on our fair days.  There’s nothing she loves more than a good chat with a customer, and if she’s away from her stall you can guarantee that she will be off checking that everyone’s ok, be they the mum of the group, the child or even the slightly bewildered husband!
I got together with Tricia over a cup of coffee in my garden to find out how she came to be at this point in her life with a successful, gorgeously scented business that is well known in the local area for its amazing fragrances, fast and efficient service, all under the Truly Lovely Candles banner.
It all started at a very early age with her love of different smells; some of her earliest memories are of making perfumes with the petals from roses and other flowers by mixing them with water.  I remember doing this at least once as a child, but it sounds as though Tricia found her affinity with fragrances to be a strong one, as she used to visit Selfridges and Liberty in London, and spend all her time in fragrance halls immersed in the many different aromas.
“I’m always smelling things” she says to me with a grin on her face, as if she’s had some funny looks when she’s mentioned this in the past.  Yet I know exactly where she’s coming from.  I think we all have a particular smell we love, whether it’s fresh coffee, newly printed magazines or a just-extinguished match.
Tricia was taught the importance of skin and hair care from an early age by her mother who had a skin condition, so it was always going to be a natural progression into her teens and early adult life to work in the cosmetics and fragrance industries.  She completed her work experience at Fenwick department store, progressing to a Saturday job once the work experience had ended.  A job in Selfridges in Oxford followed.  At 19 she went on to work for Helena Rubenstein as one of their youngest ever consultants, for which Tricia was a brilliant fit at the time.  There followed some other impressive fragrance and cosmetics buying jobs for various companies including a string of independent chemists; Estee Lauder and Clinique, to name but a few.
“I have always loved the luxurious side of things” she tells me.  “I’m also always trying the latest new brands, such as a new mascara, and this helps me keep up with the latest trends”  She goes on to mention how she’s always loved candles and bought many over the years.
I want to find out what it was that made her decide to go for it; that special ‘spark’ that enables us to go from a cracking idea, to the reality of running your own business.
“It was five or six years ago and I was working for another business at the time.  I had been making my own candles for a while; just for me really, and some of my friends and family.  Then one day, I just made the decision to hand my notice in and go for it.  The next week I was making my candles and selling them at local events.”
Her love of fragrances exploded from there, and Truly Lovely Candles was created.
She has some simply stunning scents in her repertoire, including Lime, Basil and Mandarin, English Pear and Freesia, and White Mulberry, to name but a few.  She bridges traditional and modern perfectly and each fragrance has a very pure quality to it.  Nothing smells over-manufactured or fake.

Beautiful packaging adds to the luxury.

Just a few of the many TLC fragrances

Each soya wax candle is hand poured into various different mediums including glass votives, tins and tea lights.  She even does special orders for various customers in tea cups, which she assures me creates their very own set of challenges: The art of candle pouring and the science behind a ‘good wick’ and the diameter of the teacup changes from cup to cup.  “This always keeps me on the ball and concentrating” she laughs.
Recently she’s gone on to produce extremely high quality reed diffusers with her signature scents.  (I can actually attest to this personally-I’m rather obsessed with her White Mulberry reeds, which are still going strong months and months later!)
When asked about her plans for the future, she nods contentedly and grins.  “More of the same, really.  I love creating new scents for special orders, and working closely with people such as brides to create something special for them.”
She’s very happy with her lot.  She loves working from her kitchen with her ‘pots and pans’ as she calls them!  She’s perfected juggling a husband and children with ‘test burns’ and pootling around the county delivering her products to a select few independent shops.  “The most important thing to me is to keep it personal.  I will always want to be interacting with my customers.  I love the whole ‘people’ side of the business.”
So there you have it.  A small insight into the Truly Lovely Candle story.  Tricia is a driven, talented lady with an infectious laugh.  After a few minutes in her company it’s clearly obvious that the TLC acronym wasn’t a fluke.  She really does create her candles with Tender Loving Care.

The Truly Lovely Tricia

One Special Piece Of Perfect.

A perfect description!

The wonderful Kate Creates.

Part of the beauty of our LHF craft cooperative is sharing our many combined years of experience. A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a brand new crafty lady who was looking to hire a stall with us, and she was feeling a little bit down.  She’d done a craft fair in a different area, and hadn’t sold as much as she thought she might.

Well, I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing a version of my reply to her on our blog here.  I found it really interesting because she sounded like me, four years ago.

Here’s the gist of it:

So, you’ve had a great idea, you get cracking on it, produce it to a high standard, take it along to a fair, then wonder why people aren’t snapping your products up?

Yep, that was exactly how I felt when I first started.  It took a good few months to relax into it, choose venues more carefully (eg not doing school Christmas fetes unless you’re a tombola stall!) and try and get into your customer’s heads more.  But above all, it’s the realisation that although you love your products and can’t possibly think of any scenario where someone else wouldn’t, there will be many people out there who have differing views on design, finish and especially price!

As handmade craft stallholders, one of the things we constantly have to battle against is the misconception from the general public that because it’s handmade, it should be cheaper than anything they might buy from a ‘normal’ shop. This is very definitely not the case, yet they don’t see what goes on behind the scenes:  All the hours thinking carefully about colours, textures and design…..all the while fitting it all in between jobs, children, husbands, dogs and the odd bit of sleep!

So one of the main points I would make to you is don’t give up just yet. Think about when you walk into a shop. You might buy something, but leave 99.9% of the products there for someone else to buy. It’s the same for a craft fair.  Some people come in purely to browse, but then another might come in and give you a commission.

My mum comes with me to most of my events, and I constantly have to remind her that we can’t force sales on to people, however much we might wish to!  She still occasionally gets indignant and says things such as ‘well what’s wrong with these people, why are they rejecting us?’

But I’m more laid back.  If at the start I had gone into it thinking it was going to make me the next Alan Sugar, I certainly don’t think of it now!

Yesterday, one of the things I sold was a £25 necklace.  The time before that at a different craft fair, I hardly made any money at all.  So people do spend money, but in reality only a small percentage per number of visitors at each fair.  This is where as large as possible numbers for footfall comes into it.  We are a new venture (being only three months old) but we have had encouraging numbers through the door at all of our events so far. We have roughly 2-20 (ish) people visiting us at any one time, continually throughout the day.  I know this doesn’t sound like a lot, but I have been to some events where it has been horrendous with only 4 visitors the whole day, and two of those were the husbands!

People also respond to just the right amount of friendliness from the stall holder.  Pushy crafters scare the customers away, but conversely, sullen-looking ones always seem to have less interest too!  Now of course I’m not at all suggesting that you’re either of these types, having never met you, just simply that there’s as much of an art to being a stall holder and running a small business, as the art itself!

So there you have it – the first of probably many insights into the minds of the crafters we have with us at Love Handmade Fairs.  Of course this is just my opinion. But one who shares some of my views (and illustrates it in THE most beautiful way possible) is a lady called Kate, who has very graciously let me feature her beautiful work on this blog.  I think you’ll agree with her if you’re a creative person, and if you’re all of the lovely people out there who buy our creations, we hope you agree too!  I hope that when you’re next at a craft fair, you find your own ‘special piece of perfect’

Support independent sellers.  Support handmade!

Thanks Kate!  And thanks for reading,

Jenn, LHF