Liz Rose is a part-time fish knitter. Times were hard four or five years ago, she said, but things are picking up now. “It’s pocket money stuff I do, and if the pocket money isn’t there, people don’t buy.”
At Saturday’s Sheffield Maker’s Fair at St Mary’s Church, there were nearly 50 ‘designer/makers’ selling their wares to Christmas shoppers.
Liz, a deputy head during the week, knits fish, caterpillars and slightly more practical daffodil encrusted tea cosies, and has been working craft fairs for eight years. Her knitted goldfish in jam jars are ‘a hit’ for 2014, she declared.
“We want to celebrate the creativity, imagination and inventiveness of our local designers and makers on national Small Business Saturday,” said the Reverend Canon Julian Sullivan, vicar of St Mary’s.
“Churches should be places where that kind of quality of life should be celebrated. In medieval times churches were a place for community festivals and celebrations, and being a community hub is what St Mary’s is all about.”
Fair organiser Sue Green said interest in creative businesses is booming: she now has 700 small traders on her books for fairs and markets held at St Mary’s, with 95 per cent of Saturday’s sellers from the Sheffeld area.
“There’s so much talent around here,” said Sue. “And I think Sheffield fosters a spirit to empower people to take that first step into business because the city will support its own, people do want to buy from local makers.”
Sophie Cooke left her job as a police intelligence analyst a year ago to focus on her ‘Imogen’s Imagination’ millinery business.
“It’s going well. People are getting it,” she said.
“There has been a shift from the buying cheap mentality, and people do appreciate hand crafted locally designed things, but there are budgetary constraints. Makers do want to pay themselves a living wage, just as we want to pay a fair price to our stockists and suppliers. People go on marches about the living wage, but I’d say what about self employed craftspeople, we are skilful and often can’t get the minimum wage.”
Giles Grover of ‘Small Machines’ seemed a little surprised as customers bought twelve of his laser cut hydraulic powered fibre board machine kits in the first few hours.
“I sold 80 last weekend, but it is Christmas,” he observed.
“There is no user interface, no app, you build it with your hands. These are non-essential items, but I think I’ve tapped into a vein.”
Elodie Ginsbourg grew up in Paris and has been drawing in Sheffield for 12 years. “There are more people making things, and I think the quality is getting better every year,” she said. “Craft fairs used to be full of ladies making blankets, but there are more people making contemporary things now.”
Her cartoon-like illustrations tap the thriving homespun vignette market, and depict Socialist Worker sellers on Fargate, passengers of the Number 10 bus, and the ‘iconic’ - she says - Grand Potato shop on Abbeydale Road.
“Sheffield has a big scene of designers and makers so it is a really good town to come and buy, but Sheffield has not got the architecture of Paris, so the beauty of Sheffield is not really easy to see. You have to get to know the people to see its beauty,” she said.
The growth of Sheffield Antiques Quarter, along with other craft and vintage hubs in places like Shalesmoor and now the new Yorkshire Artspace Exchange Place Studios near the Castle developments mean the city’s artists, hydraulic fibre-board designers and fish-knitters have plenty of fellow creatives to offer advice.
“It means you can bounce ideas of people,” said Sophie Cooke.
“You can get business advice easily enough, but a creative business is different I think, because you make and design everything and the work is just what you do.”
And since mid-December is the season to be on the look out for last minute fripperies, why not buy local?
“Nobody needs a knitted goldfish in a jar,” conceded Liz Rose, “but it’s something to make you smile on Christmas morning.”