Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Making is good for you...Heritage Craft Association Conference 2019

Welcome back good shoe folk far and wide and this week's blog takes us to good ol' Camden Town and the wonderful building that is home to The English Folk Dance and Song Society. 

Now, I have to admit that folk dance isn't really my thing, but if it meant sitting in the wonderful oak panelled dance room at the Society, then I'd certainly be tempted.

A very solid brick building, almost a true square on the outside, inside gives way to a wonderful main hall, as I said oak-panelled, and with the enormous picture windows you can see on the frontage set high up on three sides.

And it was to the Society that over 300 crafters, enthusiasts and makers came last weekend for the annual Heritage Craft Association conference 'Making is good for you'; something we've seen proof of time and time again on our courses and classes.

(If you're not familiar with the HCA, nor a member, then I heartily recommend finding out more and joining). 

It was a packed schedule, so my apologies I don't have photos of everybody, but to be honest I did what I went there to do, which was to listen! 

Here are three of the highlights for me:

The Conference leaped into action with the enigmatic Jay Blades of the BBC's programme Repair Shop and Money for Nothing. As I'm besotted with upcycling and chairs, I've followed him for a while on Instagram where his work with Jay & Co can be seen. (His signature is bold contrast paint and textiles, often just a single colour on the leg of a chair).

Jay told us of his journey into craft from East London ne'r-do-well to traditionally trained furniture restorer and social entrepreneur via the High Wycombe College of Art and Technology. (High Wycombe was once home to 80% of chair production in the UK with Ercol and Parker Knoll both located there). Jay's charity work involves teaching at-risk youngsters how to use their energy and creative skills to restore furniture and to make money from it.

Orange Shoelaces hotmail ufo by Celia PymNorwegian SweaterHope’s Sweater, 1951 by Celia PymSweater made without a pattern, from photograph and in pieces by Celia Pym

Next was a very moving talk by knitwear artist Celia Pym. She explained the emotional connection she feels with knitwear and it's previous owners, how evocative it can be and the responsibility she feels when she repairs it in her signature contrast colour or texture to tell the story of the wearer (see images of Celia's work above). She described the similarities between her work and that of students of anatomy who have a relationship and duty of care for the bodies and to the families of donors.  

We heard about UK Men's Sheds from social entrepreneur Mike Jenn and how this community workshop movement helps people who feel isolated or who have mental health issues offering a routine, place and people to make alongside and to talk to.

HCA Trustee Robin Wood hosted a Q&A between the three morning speakers before the HCA's Daniel Carpenter presented the latest edit of the Red list, which perhaps unsurprisingly has grown in number as more 'endagered' and 'at risk' crafts are discovered.

For me, the highlight of a wonderful afternoon of conversation - which included textile artist Rachael Matthews; William Beharrell of Prince of Wales' charity Turquoise Mountain where making traditional crafts is helping people in mental distress - he spoke particularly of the charity's work in Afghanistan; and woodcarver, EJ Osborne of Hatchet & Bear who hosts 'escape-from-the-rat-race' woodworking courses and workshops - was the film and in-conversation with chair maker Lawrence Neal. 

Lawrence is the fourth generation of ladder-back chair maker after his father, but he had no one to pass his skills on to. Through the HCA, he now is training two apprentices who will continue to make traditional ladder-back chairs and eventually take over his business. It was wonderful to see the three of them in conversation already with shared body language, mannerisms and a certain reticence to being in the limelight. We talked afterwards and I shared with them how lucky I thought they were to find such a good fit with one another. 

That's it for this week. Until next week  may your shoe making make you happy!