It started out as a group of like-minded people getting together over a cup of coffee to swap ideas. Now it is a network of more than 500 Yorkshire crafters. Craft Soup member Lorain Behrens reports.
“We’re an eclectic bunch of artists and crafters, from weavers to woodworkers, silversmiths to soap makers, and everything in between.”
So says Paula Perrins, a founder member of Craft Soup, which boasts more than 500 designer makers from across Yorkshire. Set up in January 2011, Craft Soup grew from a meeting of eight friends who met for coffee and cake at Salts Mill, Saltaire.
Paula, the brains behind Wychbury Designs, explains: “It all started on Twitter then we moved onto Facebook, where it just sort of exploded.”
Karen Belarouci was at that coffee and cake meet up. “It’s just mushroomed! We have gone from a small group of crafty ladies who met to eat cake, have an informal chat and swap ideas, to a huge and talented group which now has admins, sub groups, documents of information and much more.”
Karen creates upcycled jewellery using shrink art which she sells at craft fairs and through local stockists. “It’s amazing, I’ve made so many new friends, and learnt a lot. It’s a supportive network full of information about fairs, events. Although some of us do go off on tangents and get a bit naughty sometimes...”
It was Tracy Connell who thought of the name. “I’m just an old hippy so when we all met up and wanted to start a group, I said, ‘Well, we all bring something to the table, like an ingredient for soup’.” Tracy recently registered as self-employed with her jewellery business Ruby Spirit Designs. With her two sons now at school, she devotes her time to creating her individual designs from a fairytale shed in her garden. “The group is like a huge comfort blanket,” she says. “It’s wonderful to be part of it.”
Paula makes vintage-inspired items, such as wearable pin cushions, from her home in Bingley. “There is a growing appetite for crafts. People are more careful about buying, they no longer want mass produced. They want to know where has it come from; they want to hear the story behind what they are buying.”
A large number of members create their products out of the love of crafting. Very few manage to make a living from what they do.
Susie Martin of Eldwick recently took redundancy from her job as a secretary with the NHS. Although she had previously trained as a teacher in fine arts, she hadn’t found the courage to pursue her love of crafting. Now, after free support from the Bradford Chamber of Commerce who provided her with a mentor and fast-track training in issues such as book-keeping, she has launched her business, Susie’s Stitching, and describes her work as “extreme embellishing”.
Joining Craft Soup has been a huge boost for Susie, who is approaching her first year as an independent designer maker. “I needed courage to change direction, and this gang of ladies has helped so much. I’m on the bottom rung of the ladder, just starting out, but everyone is so supportive. Joining Craft Soup has changed my life!
“I was member 97. I remember thinking – ooh, we’re nearly at 100!”
Susie’s enthusiasm is shared among all members, whether they too are just starting out or have established their craft business over the years. It is apparent that the vast majority are married or have a partner who earns an income; very few manage to make a living from what they create.
“I expect a lot of people have the idea that we’re all rich housewives but we’re not,” says Paula. “If we were all single without kids we’d do it anyway, but it would be from a flat or on a boat!”
Kirsten Miller is one such rarity. Based in Bramley, she works completely for herself, and makes a living with her business, Quernus Crafts. A lawyer for 15 years, and originally from Ayr, she makes individual polymer clay creatures. “I’m self-employed now and do make a living from my craft. Yes, I have a mortgage, and yes, I have a car. But no children. I work 60 to 80 hours a week – it’s all I do. I love doing it, it is a way of being, it is a life. I do need a better work-life balance but a lot of it is fun!”
Along with Paula, Kirsten is a lynchpin for the group. “We take care to ensure that it is a nice, safe environment. I’m really happy with the way it has grown. It is what social media is all about. It’s a brilliant way of bringing us together. We’re not just reinventing the wheel – we’re adding to the wheel, with our skills and talents!”
The group is only open to designer makers who live or work in Yorkshire. Although most networking is done online via the Facebook group, members occasionally meet up for social get-togethers as well as outings. Many sell their wares at independent fairs such as the Shipley Alternative and Heart in Headingley, along with bigger events such as the Saltaire Makers’ Fair and even Country Living at Harrogate.
Naomi Southon sells her biologically-inspired crafts (pendants made from Scrabble tiles, felt scarves and cards) through Nimanoma. “It’s true that two heads are better than one, and in Craft Soup there are more than 500 to offer advice and give support,” she says.
Although Lynsey Searle lives in Burnley, she sells her “cheeky chicken” paperweights, doorstops and pin cushions all over Yorkshire. “Craft Soup is amazing for exchanging information,” explained Lynsey, who had a stall this year at the British Craft Trade Fair held in Harrogate.
The latest move is to create a Craft Soup website with a directory of members with links direct to websites, all under one umbrella.
“We’re out to conquer the world,” jokes Kirsten.
Allsopp helped to ‘open up market’
Crafting recently entered the public domain on television, thanks to the likes of Kirstie Allsopp.
Not all soupers are fans of the exuberant homely presenter, but “she did help to broaden public perception,” ventures Kirsten. “Crafting is a rapidly growing business, so Kirstie has helped to open up the market.”
Among the 514 members of Craft Soup are a mere half a dozen men. Andrew Clark, who is based in central Leeds, makes military metalwear and has supplied tailors in Savile Row, as well as creating a headdress for a Star Wars film.
As Craft Soup passed the 514 member mark, did Paula ever think it would get so big?
“No. I just thought we’d meet up and have some coffee and cake once a month, and skill swap. I never imagined it would get this big. It’s fantastic, and demonstrates how much Yorkshire has to offer in the art and craft world.”
• To find out more visit www.facebook.com/groups/craftsoup/