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  • Christine Leech

10 things I learnt at the Handmade Festival


I'm not really ignoring my workshop guests here! They had it all under control (photo courtesy of the Handmade Festival)

Remember September? There was one perfect late summer weekend when the skies were so blue, the sun warm and we were all quietly chuffed we could wear our sandals for a little while longer (though they were teamed with a cardi as the mornings had a slight chill to them).


That weekend I successfully pulled off my first ever big event - my very own Sewyeah Social Club tent at The Handmade Festival in London's Hampton Court. It was exhausting yet exhilarating and I lived on a diet of fudge, gin, ginger tea and bites of sandwich snatched between workshops.


I've been part of the Handmade Festival family for the past four years running workshops for brands such as Swarovski, Velcro and Mollie Makes but this year I decided to Go Big and rent a tent all to myself. Since the beginning of the year, I've been wanting to turn my crafting side hustle into something more, building on the joy I get from making, creating projects, teaching and meeting people. I've been gradually shaping these thoughts into something more tangible and I felt having a tent at the pinnacle event of the crafting calendar would be a great place to launch the Sewyeah Social Club and see if people liked my particular brand of multidiscipline crafting as much as I do.


Though it's now November I have finally unpacked the last box and have had a chance to properly look through all the photos I took. It went by in such a blur that the photos were a great reminder of what actually happened.


Here are some things I learnt from the experience...




Neon sandwich board and pompom arrows made sure my tent was easily found, Below clockwise: Empty tent, pompom garlands, banner, Kirstie Allsopp checking out the gallery wall

1.BE BRIGHT, BE BOLD, BE SEEN

It was a bit of a family affair on set up day, mum was on pompom and confetti duty and dad built things. My good friend Lottie kept my creative vision on track and we gradually transformed the basic white cube of a tent into a colourful creative haven easy to spot thanks to the giant pompom garland outside.




I had spent a fair few weeks (well, months) planning the look and feel of the tent. I made three giant banners using fabric from my overflowing stash to hang on the back wall and working out the best way to decorate the others. I wanted something that was eyecatching and Instagram worthy. On one side I created a gallery wall filled with pieces of my own work and pieces by other creative friends - I wanted a wall that looked amazing, inspired people and promoted small businesses and makers. Judging by the number of photos taken, questions asked and the good 20 minutes Kirstie Allsopp took to look at everything I think my plan worked!


The perfect temporary selfie wall

On the other wall, I wanted something simpler that broke up the big expanse of white canvas, something that would make a good photographic background for crafty selfies. I needed a solution that wouldn't leave a mark as there were fines for damage to the tent which I was keen to avoid! Having used the wonder product Haru Tape in a project earlier in the year I realised it was the ideal thing to use to create a giant wall of confetti. The whole point of Haru Tape is that it leaves no marks. It's a type of oversize translucent washi tape that comes in a multitude of colours and patterns, you can use it to create amazing temporary murals and designs so it was the ideal thing to jazz up my tent.


The final thing I knew was essential to the look of the tent were decent tablecloths! Having run workshops at the festival before I've always struggled to get good flatlay photographs of my works in progress, there's always a reflection or the design is not to my taste. I spent ages looking for the perfect wipe clean stylish cloth and about 3 days before the festival the wonderful team at Minerva Crafts came to my rescue with metres and metres of a black and white spotted oilcloth from Rico Designs.



Helen & Alice from Hand + Eye crafting up a storm. Clockwise below: Teachers Miesje, Emily, Emma & Shikira



2. YOU CAN'T DO IT ALONE

The focus of my tent was to run workshops and inspire people so I had planned 5 workshops a day. Early on when I was thinking about the festival I decided I wanted to be able to offer a range of crafts and I wanted to have other makers run classes too. This was partly so I could have a rest and partly because I had a list of people from around the country whose work I admired. Basically I just wanted to attend one of their workshops. I figured this festival was the perfect excuse to bring them all to me. (Cunning huh!)


I had the lovely Rosa (@rosapietsch) and Helen and Alice (@hand.and.eye) from Bristol, Rosa ran a beautiful acrylic brooch workshop and Helen and Alice ran a sell-out Wall Charm workshop but also acted as my right-hand women for most of the weekend. Shikira (Kre8ive Shack) popped over from South London to teach embroidered self-portraits, Miesje (@miesjechafer) bought her vintage sewing machines on a day trip from Southampton to make paper garlands whilst Emma (@steelandstitch) and Emily (@make.e) came up from the south coast to upcycle t-shirts and make Fimo Jewellery. Finally Rachel (@therachelhendersonstudio) flew down from Scotland to make wall hangings and demonstrate how to make yarn from t-shirts. All these wonderful women added to the constant creative buzz in and around my tent and I really couldn’t have done it without them. Big thanks to all.


Which leads me on to ...


From left: Emma, Me and my chins, Uber-knitter Katie Jones, Mollie Makes Editor Yvette and Emily. Below from left: Team Sewyeah Helpers Extraordinaire - Holly and Me, Laura & Hannah,



3. FRIENDS ARE AMAZING

I don’t think my Handmade Festival adventure would have been possible if it wasn’t for all my lovely friends, family, and the wonderful crafting community I am part of. I had friends who … drove me and All My Stuff across town in their minivan, fed me fudge to keep the blood sugar levels up, let me hide out the back of the tent when I needed 5 minutes Me Time, helped keep the tent tidy (those of you who watch my instastories on Instagram know I am not the tidiest of people so this was a Big One) and shared their skills to make the tent look fantastic. I hate asking for help but you know what, if you ask people pretty much always say yes! (Hannah, Laura, Lottie, Holly, Mum and Dad I'm looking at you)


It was also brilliant to spend the weekend saying hi to so many people I chat to on Instagram but have never met In Real Life when they came to visit the tent. That was very special.



Freestyle weaving and pompoms a-go-go. Below clockwise: Rachel minding all my friend's children, Lovely Katie Jones, the perfect spot for a group selfie, a little bit of mummy and me craft time,


4. KEEP THE KIDS ENTERTAINED

Alongside everything else I had planned I wanted to have something that people could participate in even if they couldn't book onto a workshop. I had bought my large egg chair from my garden (getting that into the van was the first challenge of the weekend!) and with oodles of wool from LoveCrafts I let people go wild decorating it - weaving, pompoming and tasseling to their heart's content. Every time I walked past the chair there was either someone sitting inside having their photo taken, someone teaching or being taught how to make a pompom, someone doing a bit of weaving or someone randomly wrapping themselves up in wool (to be fair these people were mostly under the age of 5).


By the end of the weekend, my plain black chair was a crazy rainbow of colours and textures and that’s how it looks now sitting back in my garden.



Mindful doodle embroidery, it was so nice to see all the different designs people created.


5. EMBROIDERY IS WHERE IT’S AT

Every day we had a sold-out embroidery workshop. Embroidery is having a real crafty moment right now, I think it’s a combination of it being a totally calming practice and it being quick and easy for people new to craft to pick up. I think I could have run embroidery workshops all day!


Alongside Shikira's Portrait Embroidery class on Sunday I ran a mindful embroidery session at the end of each day which was loosely based on a game I used to play with my mum when I was small. To keep me entertained she would draw odd shapes on a piece of paper and then by adding my own doodles I would have to turn each shape into an object or part of a pattern. I updated this game into something that would work for embroidery by supplying lots of random iron-on vinyl shapes (thanks Happy Fabric!) and colourful threads. Workshop guests chose a selection of shapes and fixed them to their fabric base using my Cricut Easy Press - oh, how we all love a bit of crafty tech! They then embroidered over the shapes turning them into amazing patterns and designs. The workshop started at 4pm and I let people stay as long as they wanted, we all sat in quiet contemplation and stitchery till security threw us out when the gates closed. It was the perfect antidote to the hecticness of the day.



Kirstie Allsopp, the 43rd member of the of the Sewyeah Social Club

6. KIRSTIE ALLSOPP CAN POMPOM

A highlight of the weekend was at the end of Day One when I had the Family Allsopp (mum, dad and two boys) chilling out in my tent making pompoms - totally unexpected but it was great to chat all things craft with Kirstie and I am proud to say she is now an honorary member of the Sewyeah Social Club.


Crafting in silence... It's a positive thing, apparently

7. SILENCE IS GOOD

Apparently, when a tent full of workshops guest falls silent it’s not because they are bored or hating what they are doing, it is, in fact, quite the opposite and they are in their Happy Place. (Me constantly trying to make ‘fun’ conversation isn’t necessary and I should just relax, have a cup of tea and let everyone get on with their thing)


Self portrait embroidery with DMC threads. Below from left: Swarovski crystal decorations, Fimo jewellery, Lovecraft yarns & Posca pens



8. WORK WITH THE BEST

You know when you pack for your holidays and you think “oh, I’m not going to have that much stuff’ and then you get to the airport check-in and you’re praying the scales don’t tip over into excess baggage territory? Well, packing for the Festival was a bit like that … I kept thinking that as most craft materials aren’t that big I wouldn’t be taking much … I mean, how much room do needles for 30 people really take up?


With the variety of workshops on offer, I ended up pretty much taking all of my studio and then some! Especially because I had some products and materials kindly donated by brands. There was yarn galore from Lovecrafts, Wooly Mahoosive and Hoooked. Embroidery threads from DMC. All the sparkle one could ever want from Swarovski Crystal. A beautiful palette of polymer clays from Fimo. Pens from Posca. Iron-on vinyl from Happy Fabric and heat presses from Cricut. Fabric from Minerva Crafts and decorations from Sass & Belle, Haru Tapes and Hobbycraft. This meant I was able to offer top quality resources for the workshops so a huge Thank You goes to all of them.



9. SEWYEAH SOCIAL CLUB IS GO!

Part of the reason I did the Handmade Festival was to see if there was interest in an online craft club, somewhere for people to gain inspiration, have access to unique projects and become involved in events and workshops. From all the wonderful comments and conversations I had with people over the weekend I certainly think this idea is a goer. I’m still working on the logistics of the whole thing but something is coming very soon and this weekend was the start of it!


Packed up and ready for home ... 'til next year?


10. THERE'S ONLY 320 DAYS TILL THE NEXT ONE

Will I be there? I hope so