Monday, February 07, 2011

Crafty People

A few years back I used to book tables at Craft Fairs in the area. It was a relatively cheap way of getting some of my work in front of people and hopefully make some sales.

It was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Almost the only things I sold were bought by other stall-holders who took pity on me.

Having said that, though, it was a lot of fun and I made some good friends.

Recently I went to a Gallery Talk by Laura Thomas at a woven textile exhibition at Craft In The Bay, Cardiff. It was a fascinating insight into Craftspeople who are working at the boundary of craft and art.

This has coincided with me acquiring a market research report on “Crafts In The UK”.

I’ve picked out some of the main points and added a bit of personal comment.

Market Value
It seems that craft has started to lose its image as hobby and become a large retail industry turning over around £400 million annually. However, in the last few years sales have declined and several craft fairs and exhibitions have been cancelled or are experiencing difficulties. For those that keep going visitor numbers are down but there has been an increase in ‘spend per visitor’. This could be good news in that the price of good quality hand-made crafts could be increased to compensate for the increased cost of hall, stall and table hire.

Business Premises
Another factor holding back the development of craft businesses’ is a lack of workshop and gallery space. This is a problem I’ve discussed numerous times with crafters in Wales. A positive way forward would be to pool skills and resources in an ‘art and craft collective’ such as Dragon Artists & Makers. With regard to premises, in April 2009 the government launched an initiative worth 3 million designed to turn empty shops into arts and crafts galleries and exhibition spaces with provision for temporary leases and special planning application waivers.

The most popular crafts being produced are jewellery, paper crafts and textiles.
• Sales of jewellery remain strong with the market responding well to innovative design.
• Paper crafts are being produced in increasing numbers so there’s a lot of competition. Apparently card-making is the most popular craft hobby in the UK!
• The craft textile industry is interesting. Get this … John Lewis reported that sales of sewing machines have gone up by 34% as people ‘make do and mend’. They also report that sales of clothing have dropped by 2% but sales of buttons have jumped by 42% (I love that statistic!)

The report identifies some emerging trends:
• Online sales are growing through personal websites, eBay (where a quarter of a million craft items are for sale), and sites such as, and
• Crafts made from recycled and eco-friendly crafts are increasingly popular with firms such a supplying eco-friendly craft supplies.
• An interesting trend is for customers to learn crafts and create their own items rather than buy them from retailers and makers. There is an increasing demand for lessons, courses, workshops, training and craft parties. Groups like Craft Guerrillas have been pioneering this trend.

Finally, there’s a very good Government portal that offers arts and crafts people advice and guidance on working in the industry –

If you’re interested in following up on some of this data then here are some organisations and publications you can check out:

Trade associations and Professional Bodies

Publications and References:

That is all encouraging news but I am guessing that one big obstacle to overcome is the value that people put on crafts. People expect to pay so little for something that is handmade and yet are willing to dole out hundreds or thousands on throwaway items made by robots and even more poorly paid folks in the far and distant reaches of our planet.

I think what William Morris in The Beauty of Life (1880) had to say many many years ago still rings true

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

and that was his response all those years ago to the economy hurtling its way to mass production.
There is a much bigger gulf between art and craft than most people realise. It's when the two try to overlap that this whole value issue becomes muddy. (BTW you are a very devoted and capable researcher when things interest you, Peter!)
Wow ... good comments! I love it when feedback makes me think ... and rethink. Thank you Joanna and Andrea.
While crafting may well have become popular in recent years, it's highly debatable wether much of the work produced is saleable, and I would have thought the only people really cashing in on this trend are the craft shopping channels.
But, like the distance between art and craft as already mentioned, the difference between crafting and making decoupage greetings cards from kits is also immense, though the problems promoting and selling (if that's the intention), especially in a time of economic difficulty, are the same regardless of the creative level involved.
So this aspect of your posting was very relevant in this concern.
It seems to me there should be, without encouraging dodginess, some relaxing of business rules to promote fledgling businesses, along with other government strategies (like the planned reintroduction of the enterprise allowance scheme) as a support mechanism. More importantly the focus should be on people (creative or otherwise).
As a 'by the way' - there's a shopping street serving a typical working class inner city suburb near where I live which is fairly depressed, and the only thing the local authority could come up with to revitalise it was to lay some fancy cobblestones, and coax traders to take out grants to tart up their shop fronts. It's all much prettier but still dead - they neglected the folks behind those freshly painted facades! A more interesting plan (along with a lick of paint) would have been to set up a regular street market, preferably a colourful noisy one that would have reflected the diversity of people living in the area, emphasising the homemade and the handmade: food, clothing, crafts, art etc, with a view to attracting visitors from outside the area, but more importantly, not costing the stall holders an arm and a leg!
There seems to be a resurgence of 'people power' sweeping the globe at present, perhaps the creative fraternity should take note.
Some interesting links here. Thanks Peter...Be good to catch up with you sometime!
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