The first week of May 2017 sees London Craft Week take over the capital with its annual showcase of exceptional craft from new names to established makers; and a very fitting celebration it is too of something that is so intrinsically British. And yet ‘craft’ has routinely suffered from a bit of an image problem with many mistakenly associating the word only with wobbly pots and fiddly bits’n’pieces aka unnecessary dust-collectors. In other words a presumption that it’s just not real design. This would be a grave error.
Interior design tends to be dominated by the visual. This is to be expected when it is a world largely driven by trends in colour and style. But for me, such moods and moments, which inevitably float in and out of fashion, are moot. The most important thing, certainly in my own home, is tactility. By which I mean, the creation of spaces with furniture and finishes that thrill the fingertips, using fabrics that caress and cosset the skin, and floor-coverings underfoot that treat the toes. Of course the visual is still crucial. One’s home has to be pleasing to the eye, but how it makes you feel, and what you literally feel as you inhabit it, is what elevates the subjectively beautiful to the intrinsically nurturing. Additionally, in an age where speed and screens are increasingly the dominant forces in our lives, designs and interiors created with tactility at their core become an essential reprieve from this frantic nullity, somewhere it is possible to be grounded in the present and re-connect with all your senses through the hand of the maker. Or to put it another way, when something has been sculpted, knotted or woven by hand, within it by default lies a sense of love and care, and to be surrounded by such things, can only be beneficial to the soul. And this is my interpretation of ‘craft’. And it is something the British are particularly good at.
But what is it that invests the crafting of British goods with such emotional resonance? If cashmere always comes from Mongolian goats, or Merino wool from Australian sheep, can the resultant wares really be so different to things made using the same materials but with the supreme dedication to excellence of the Italians, the flamboyance of the French or the vivacity of Indians? I think Johnstons of Elgin would say yes. As they put it, “Our expert craftsmen and women take pride in every thread, every twist, every yarn and every stitch, from raw fibre in the wool store to perfected garment on the showroom floor. From dyeing to blending, carding to spinning, warping to weaving, knitting to tea selling and cutting to folding, it all happens in our own mills in the heart of Scotland.”
Indeed, it is an enduring theme, craftsmanship built upon traditional values combined with passion to lend an allure of sophisticated excellence, whether it’s the silky-soft leather wallets of Ettinger, lovingly hand-crafted in Walsall, to the iconic trenches of Burberry, splendid in their patented gabardine, and still made in Yorkshire. But it is also the British eye for the twist, the unexpected combination or the dynamic collaboration that consistently lifts them above and beyond, whatever the context. Consider Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, established in 1912 as an offshoot of William Morris’ workshops, and working for almost three years with Turner prize winning artist Chris Offilli on a tapestry that will be shown at the National Gallery in 2017 (26 April – 28 August 2017; and then on permanent display at The Clothworkers’ Hall). As the 130-year old Jaeger proudly puts it on its website, “we understand the importance of innovation and creativity. We nod to trends, but are not beholden to them. We reflect, but are not stuck in the past (no matter how illustrious).” Let’s hope this belief will see them through their current difficulties.
4 Names to know from London Craft week 2017
London Craft Week is an extraordinary showcase of craft excellence. See their website calendar of events for a full listing of what’s on until it closes on 7 May 2017 (think everything from exhibitions at Heal’s and David Mellor, to how to upholster a stool, do dry stone walling, or the gentle Japanese art of Kitsugi), plus a comprehensive directory of all of its exhibiting makers, but in case you can’t get to see anything in person, here’s four names to know for your future classics...
1 Billy Lloyd Having graduated from Camberwell College of Arts, followed by a four year apprenticeship with acclaimed potter Julian Stair, Billy has developed an innovative & ambitious style of working, marking him out as an emerging star in the pottery sector. Billy Lloyd See him during London Craft Week 2017 at Daylesford Pimlico Road.
2 Arjan Van Dal His functional ware is inspired by 12th to 17th Century Jingdezhen porcelain and modernist design as well as the vibrant colours of ancient Chinese monochrome porcelain used at the emperor’s court. In is work they’re given a contemporary hue, and every piece is thrown on the potter’s wheel. Subtle details uncover the maker’s marks, making each piece unique. See his work during London Craft Week 2017 at an open house at his London studio. Arjan Van Dal
3 Jennifer Gray A designer/maker of jewellery and objects, this silversmithing and jewellery graduate (Glasgow School of Art, 2006) sells her work through London based galleries and design shops, as well as working to commission and lecturing. Her interest is in mixing historical and modern themes and working with a range materials and techniques, in particular traditional hand-carving methods, alongside emerging digital technologies. In short, she makes objects that have the integrity of the hand made using the most efficient and up to date technology and materials. Jennifer Gray See more at London Craft Week 2017
4 Nest Design Soft furnishings and curtain makers extraordinaire with a signature approach that combines antique fabrics in a thoroughly modern way to create unique hand-made pieces that are so much more than the sum of their parts. Nest Design See more at London Craft Week 2017