Cool Creatives to make your home special
Craft Groups and Evening Classes are really cool

DESIGNER PENNY ALLEN SHOWS YOU HOW TO FALL UNDER THE SPELL OF ‘FAIT MAIN’ – HAND-CRAFTED ITEMS THAT MAKE YOUR HOME SPECIALSome of us avidly watched Blue Peter as a child, enjoying hours of all of the delights that sticky backed plastic could bring. There are those of us who progressed to glue guns and then went on to creating patchwork quilts out of thousands of remnants from schoolgirl dresses. Unfortunately for me at this point, my interest in boys started to get in the way of my progression to ‘fait main’ and my creativity took early retirement!Interestingly, I found boys rather too dull to consume all my leisure time and when I entered my twenties, I found I had a real need to come out of retirement and use my hands to craft something useful. I moved into my own place and could ill afford to buy everything new, and when I looked through lifestyle magazines all the styles seemed a little bit predictable. I wanted more for my home, not in a gluttonous way but I felt the need to create uniqueness. I want what I have to be different from anybody else and to create everyday beauty in my home.

It was this need that prompted me, as a designer, to contemplate how this ethos might be something I could share, how I could equip and encourage those who are seeking to put their own stamp on things.

COOL CRAFT  Craft groups and evening classes abound, but many tend to be a bit dry and ‘fuddy duddy’. However, there is a new and vibrant trend among those who share my view that handmade doesn’t have to be boring but can be exhilarating, trendy and design-led.

You could even use social networking sites and ‘tweet’ about what you have made this week or video the making of your creation and post it on You Tube. My, what a long way we’ve come since the Women’s Institute Craft events; even they are now posing naked with knitted coasters strategically placed – can you believe it?

Craft really is cool. Hands up those of you wh have recently viewed Kirsty Allsop’s Homemade Home series on television. For those of you who missed this creative feast, it was Kirsty’s foray into handmaking things that we would ordinarily just buy as a matter of course. The programme really encouraged us to look into learning a new skill – at our studio we call it ‘The Kirsty Effect’.

GET CREATIVE There are so many delightful things that you can make for your home, everything from lampshades to stained glass panels, from sunshades and bunting through to exquisite tassels and passementerie. Some skills require a degree of commitment to master thoroughly and others offer instant gratification – the latter tends to suit me as my attention span can be quite short, but I have a friend who makes tassels for royal palaces, some of which take days to create.

My mother, who has always been very adept at learning new skills, attended a tassel making course that we recently ran; somehow it got the better of her, and she has become redder in the face, the tassel became the enemy, something to be vilified and preferably thrown as far out of the window as possible!

However, after retrieving the said enemy from the gutter, a truce was called and master this skill she did, and very beautifully indeed. The wonderfully ornate silk strands of aubergine and ochre topped with intricate moulded forms of silk thread take pride of place in the living room and everyone who enters is treated to the ‘history’ of how the tassel came to be and it’s interesting journey up and down a high street in Surrey!

LEARN NEW SKILLS  It’s encouraging to see the emergence of new groups and gatherings celebrating a common interest in crafts. Across the country there are numerous craft groups, knitting circles, demonstrations and a cornucopia of workshops and courses designed to get you started. In an attempt to create something unique, we try to encourage acquiring skills that could lead to commercial endeavour. Having said that, a couple of glasses of wine over lunch do tend to loosen the inhibitions – it’s amazing how much creativity flows during the afternoon session! We really don’t feel that we can teach a French painted furniture course, for instance, without a glass in one hand – when in Rome!

Some of you will love the idea of decorating your homes with handmade and bespoke items but won’t necessarily want to be involved in the making. It really is worth seeking out craftspeople who are keen to sell their work and don’t always have a platform from which to retail. A useful source of information is from New Designers Online (, a comprehensive online directory showcasing the work of emerging talent with a range of disciplines.

For those of you living in or visiting Paris, a little gem of a book that is worth acquiring is: Paris: Made by Hand by Pia Jane Bijkerk (published by The Little Book Room, It takes you on a delightful journey through the arrondissements of Paris, calling in at various enticing little shops that house artisans and craftspeople who make their wares entirely by hand. It also touches on vintage and recycling to resurrect bygone crafts and skills; definitely worth a browse.

So if you have a desire to be unique and to surround yourself with beautifully handcrafted decoration, spend some time taking a journey to seek out the wares if artisans and craftspeople in France. If you’re looking for a challenge, or just an enjoyable new pastime, then get creative and learn a new skill, you never know where it will lead!




French Property News
Issue 228

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