Written by Helena Moss & Francine Schokker of C.O.W Studio
Think of Birmingham, and you might think of, for example, the iconic Selfridges building at the transformed Bullring shopping centre, an expansive industrial city, or Gluhwein at Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market. But do you think of an eclectic and animated craft scene?
Most recently the City raised its craft profile by bringing the stunning ‘Lost in Lace’ exhibition to the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. It featured large-scale, theatrical and visually spectacular work, this exhibition challenges perceptions of what lace can be, involving the visitor in an environment where spaces become fluid and thread creates entirely new boundaries.
Made in the Middle is the Midland’s principal exhibition of contemporary craft, which opened on 11th February and takes place every three years. It promotes the best of recent craft from makers with a regional connection and it is popular with audiences, galleries and collectors. It runs until the 15th March at mac in cannon hill park.
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity that supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of inclusive activities: exhibitions, workshops and demonstrations. The Society owns and runs its own exhibition venue, the RBSA Gallery, located just off St Paul’s Square, near Birmingham’s historic jewellery quarter and a short walk from the city centre. Their craft exhibition ‘History Makers’ shows a delightful collection of items inspired by lost and forgotten possessions.
If this makes you feel like creating some new work yourself, then Creative Open Workshops (C.O.W Studio) is based a few streets away and works with craft artists from the heart of England for their diverse programme of workshops to share the artist’s creative techniques in a gorgeously decorated and relaxed first floor studio. Private workshops can be arranged for special events; hen-dos, birthdays, works outings, with a pick and mix of what to make. The whole C.O.W experience is inspirational and fun, all helped along by lashings of pink lemonade, tea served in china cups and saucers, and truly delicious cakes! And now you can peruse the newly launched Folksy shop, COWstudio, where granny squares, lino prints, beautiful totes and photographic prints are available.
Francine Schokker, the owner and creator of C.O.W Studio is a fine artist and enthusiastic ambassador of what she terms ‘social craftiness’. She not only runs C.O.W Studio, but also contributes regularly to publications such as Handmade Living and Sew Hip. You can find a few of her crafty creations in her Folksy shop.
The studio was previously based at the Custard Factory’s creative & media quarter, under the wing of Dynamics Community Arts, where Francine also ran the Handmade Market on a monthly basis. They continued to work together last year when they moved the market to the City Centre and launched Handmade Birmingham. The event was on its way to anchor itself into Birmingham shoppers’ consciousness when Bullring started their Spiceal Street construction in March 2011. This meant a temporary break in events. However, C.O.W Studio continues to be involved in local craft events and is currently looking for a new venue for a summer fair.
Erin Power, a freelance artist and photographer, works alongside Francine to give C.O.W a distinct artist-studio feel, and is also one of the friends and founders of The Crafty Muthas in Bearwood. Heading west from the city centre, Bearwood is a community minded suburb of Birmingham, and is where six friends started to meet regularly to share a love of crafty pursuits. The Crafty Muthas are Ceri Saunders, Jennie Sandford, Nat Bardsley, Rachel Gandolfi, Jayne McDowall and Erin, and their laid-back and friendly take on craft is belied in their blog; “I thought applique was a ballet movement!”
This social event soon blossomed into ‘The Tapestry’, a craft evening held upstairs at The Bear Tavern, which now has a gate of over thirty every third Thursday of the month. Equally, they have now run five highly successful craft events at Christmas and Spring time, and plan to another Spring “Bearwood Handmade” at St Mary’s Church, Bearwood, B66 4BX, on Saturday 10th March 2012. Diary dates for sure with Mother’s Day shimmying up to us before you know it!
Erin documents ‘The Tapestry’ and C.O.W Studio evenings and events, and describes starting to use photography in 2003 as a sort of anchor in her life, “thumb tacking moments in my memory”. Most recently, Erin has been running Pinhole Camera workshops at C.O.W Studio, and also has established Close Knit, for anyone who wants to learn or develop their knitting skills, which is held at the fabulous Brewsmiths Coffee & Tea on Livery Street in Birmingham. She also sells her own wonderful knitted wares under the name of ‘Eep!’.
Also a Crafty Mutha, Jennie Sandford has an undeniable talent for upcycling, re-using and re-purposing. Her love for stitch and textiles has manifested in a sumptuously tactile array of cushions, owls, and embroidered hoop art, such as inspired Lyric Hoops, and are available in her Folksy shop.
Upcycling is core to Mr Wick’s wonderful work, and produces quirky candles in vintage tins and containers. Katie shares her love of unusual items to decorate the home by running workshops at C.O.W Studio. Conjure up bubblegum, candyfloss and orange sorbet, and you’ll be transported to the world of Mr Wick!
The Aston University Students Guild plays host to a Birmingham Vintage, Crafts & Pre-Loved Extravaganza fair on Saturday the 3rd March, putting Vintage on the map in the City Centre. Space Hopper Events have held many vintage fairs for those passionate about pre-loved, and let’s face it, who isn’t?
Hopping over to Kings Heath, south of the city, you’ll find a ‘little knitting hootenanny’, started by Sara Fowles, Pip McKnight, Juliet Rayment and Bobbie Dubber, called Stitches and Hos who run a monthly knitting night hosted at The Hare and Hounds pub (last Tuesday of every month). Continuing the theme of a sense of humour associated with such craft groups, in August 2011 they met after night fall and covered 48 safety bollards surrounding a roundabout in a rainbow of knitting as well as donning the iconic Bronze Bull statue a knitted grey jumper over the Christmas holidays!
Take a trip to Poplar Road in Kings Heath, and you’ll find All Fired Arts nestled in a row of shops, near to the delicious Maison Mayci. Annie Laughrin is the owner of the ‘paint your own pottery’ shop, where you can create keepsakes and browse a fabulous selection of local art. It has a designated party room, and you can’t help but be charmed by the colourful surroundings and warm welcome.
Just a mile away is the creative melting pot of Moseley, which has a deserved reputation for being bohemian. Home to the renowned Moseley Folk Festival, it hosts the vibrant monthly Moseley Arts Market. It makes a point that everything sold at the market must be produced by the stallholder, no bought or imported crafts allowed, so keeping this local market a showcase for local artistic talent.
One such talent is Gosia Weber. If you love bags, you cannot but love Gosia’s beautifully handmade leather and fabric bags, purses and cuffs. Gosia is a self- confessed fabric junkie, and has a signature design feature of ‘elongated people’ on some of her wares. Gosia says that everything started thanks to her sister when, with no textile talents at the time, she tried to make clothes for her dolls! In 2009, Gosia teamed up with Dee Molloy, and together their workshop is based in Wolverhampton. Gosia is a regular at the Moseley Arts Market, and also runs workshops for C.O.W Studio, which sell out fast!
Designer-maker Rachel D Warren just represented the Polymer Clay Guild at the Hobbycraft show at the NEC in Birmingham. Rachel’s jewellery combines wirework, silversmithing, glass fusing and polymer clay beads and canes which she sells through numerous galleries, local craft fairs and the Birmingham Bead Shop located at the Custard Factory.
Fibre Flurry is an independant yarn shop based in Hall Green, Birmingham. They specialize in natural fibres and independant producers. They also have regular events at the shop with speakers, trunk shows, workshops, competitions, and a weekly Knit Night too!
Other regular craft get-togethers are hosted by A Crafty Beer in the Sun at the Hill in Birmingham City Centre, and new on the scene The Crafty Cocktail over in Harborne at The Proverbial Pub on the High Street. It’s another bite at the crafty cherry each month in Birmingham!
This is only a taster of what riches can be found in Birmingham’s craft scene, and is by no means exhaustive… But we hope it’s given you the incentive to search out the craft gems hidden in Birmingham… Finders keepers!