The rise of the makers’ markets: how craft fairs have become cool and why Norfolk is a great place to create one-of-a-kind products

PUBLISHED: 16:39 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:39 13 November 2019

Sara of Pixels and Purls (C) Ellie Gillard Photography

Sara of Pixels and Purls (C) Ellie Gillard Photography

(C) Ellie Gillard Photography

A nation of makers: how crafts have become Britain’s fastest-growing creative industry and why makers’ markets are now must-visits for anyone who likes to avoid the high street when it comes to buying gifts, homeware and everyday objects.

Ali Cottrell's Norfolk mug one of the makers at Norwich Makers Market (C) Ali CottrellAli Cottrell's Norfolk mug one of the makers at Norwich Makers Market (C) Ali Cottrell

Throughout the land, beautifully-curated makers' markets are on the rise - and in Norfolk, they have been embraced with open arms.

Craft fairs were once often the remit of draughty village halls (to be fair, some still are) where tea in polystyrene cups was served with flat fairy cakes in paper cases and where the products on offer were decidedly amateur.

Today's markets are a totally different animal: carefully-curated collections of products to buy, perfectly-polished social media accounts, vibrant workshop programmes, networking events, support groups and, of course, a devoted fan base, markets are now booming.

With venues chosen for location and atmosphere, shoppers and makers alike are drawn to markets for their sense of community - if you walk down any high street in the UK, it will look similar to any other in terms of shops, but at makers' markets, the items on sale are unique.

Amelia Bowman's work (C) Amelia BowmanAmelia Bowman's work (C) Amelia Bowman

Local, eclectic, authentic, artisan: these are the concepts that tempt shoppers to queue in order to be first in line to see what makers have created at the latest market: and there are many to choose from. According to government statistics, crafts were the fastest-growing component of Britain's heralded creative industries in 2016, up 44 per cent on 2010 and contributing £420 million of gross value to the economy.

Norwich Creative Market, Fresh Artisan Market, Norwich Makers Market, the Fierce Babe Markets, Etsy Made Local…these are just a handful of the makers' markets that run throughout the year, and always at Christmas. There are markets at Holkham Hall, Sandringham, Hunstanton, Great Yarmouth, Creake Abbey, King's Lynn, Holt, Mundesley and Norwich - in almost every town and city, makers are gathering to create markets that celebrate the best handmade products.

Artist Ella Goodwin is the mastermind behind the Norwich Makers Markets which house the best hand-picked designers, maker and illustrators under one roof at markets held at The Assembly House in Norwich.

An illustrator, designer, teacher and maker, Ella started the makers markets in 2014.

Dotty Scotty's felted birds (C) Dotty ScottyDotty Scotty's felted birds (C) Dotty Scotty

She said: "I'd been a trader at quite a few other markets which I felt weren't being run with the stallholders' best interests at heart and really wanted to have a go at making a success of it via good marketing, affordable prices and a solid brand.

"Norwich is a thriving community of diverse makers of all kinds with so many meet-ups and workshops to facilitate collaboration and support."

Ella thinks people are looking to buy products with a story, rather than mass-produced items that could be owned by hundreds or thousands of others.

"Everything you buy that is handmade has a heart and you just don't get that with mass-produced goods," she said. "It's those little imperfections that make them so perfect and bursting with personality - just like us humans!

Norwich Makers MarketNorwich Makers Market

"If you go to a great makers market you know you are likely to find something for everyone as these markets are so diverse and high in quality these days since they are brimming with such skilled and quirky makers exploding with ideas."

Norwich-based embroidery artist Sara Davey started her business in 2017 after years of "hobbyist crafting". She learned to knit in 2013, then mastered crochet, then cross-stitch and then embroidery: she now runs her own workshops, sells embroidery kits and embroidered products online and helps organise the Fiece Babe craft markets.

"I had been attending local makers markets as a customer for as long as I can remember, and one day while visiting, my friends turned to me and said 'you could sell your stuff here'. I didn't really believe them but kept it in mind and then got the courage to apply for a Fierce Babe Market later that year," she said.

"After my first market, I got the bug, applied for more and things grew from there. I felt a real change of pace when I started offering workshops. I convinced myself to give it a go last year - my first workshop was November 21st 2018, and I can honestly say it's one of the best things I have ever done.

Jane Mitchell Finch's embroidery (C) Jane Mitchell FinchJane Mitchell Finch's embroidery (C) Jane Mitchell Finch

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"I now run two to three workshops a month which seem to be really popular, and I can't put in to words the joy I receive from helping others develop a love of crafting and form friendships."

Sara said that the creative process is meditative, calming and great to promote healthy mental health and wellbeing.

"The reason I started knitting and then learnt other crafts was so I would have something to do with my hands and a task to focus on when I felt anxious," she said, "I think that is probably fairly common - handcrafting can be a really rewarding and fulfilling distraction. Also, the satisfaction of creating something tangible is wonderful - using, gifting or admiring something you've hand-made is the best feeling.

Layla Amber's wooden jewellery (C) Layla AmberLayla Amber's wooden jewellery (C) Layla Amber

"Norwich is so full of amazing designers and independent businesses, and I think the number of contemporary, high quality makers in our city has helped revamp the craft market locally - they're no longer a place just for hobbyists, but a craft market can be full of super polished, high quality, cutting edge items."

The Fierce Babe Markets began in 2016 and were inspired by a Facebook group started by Amber Green.

Sara said: "We have a focus on showcasing women, trans, and non-binary makers which makes us unique. We've also learned over time what our visitors really like - political statements, alternative fashion, vegan treats, and products that are outside of the norm. Amber and I both say that we want the market to be made up of stalls that are true to the Fierce Babe ethos and true to our shared styles and it seems to be working! We know our target market, because we are it!

"We always spend such a long time curating each market, ensuring there is a mix of new and returning faces - we really believe in championing new artists who are making their mark in the creative world. We also make sure to focus on quality not quantity - we want to offer customers the chance to buy unique, one of a kind items that are finished to a high level and different to what you find at other markets - although we all have our place! We're so lucky in Norwich to have so much on offer in terms of independent shopping."

Lottie Day's printed serviettes (C) Lottie DayLottie Day's printed serviettes (C) Lottie Day

* The Fierce Babe Markets are on November 29 (Norwich Arts Centre, 6pm to late) and December 15 (Silver Road Community Centre, 11am to 4pm), Norwich Makers Market is on November 24 from 11am to 4pm and Etsy Made Local on December 1 from 11am to 4pm, both at The Assembly House in Norwich. For more craft market listings, see our What's On guide.

Sara of Pixels and Purls (C) Ellie Gillard PhotographySara of Pixels and Purls (C) Ellie Gillard Photography

Rebecca Pymar's Norwich Christmas card (C) Rebecca PymarRebecca Pymar's Norwich Christmas card (C) Rebecca Pymar

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