Crafting in small communities

Orkney crafts

Carol Capaldi a Folksy shopkeeper got in touch to let me know about her fascinating experiences of building her business, taking inspiration from her time in Orkney, Edinburgh and using these experiences to organise and take part in craft fairs in her new home of Forres. Part of our Craft Local series, this article is about Carol’s personal experiences of crafting in a small community.  She discusses the ups and downs that crafters and makers outside of big cities can face. You can find Carols jewellery work here – www.folksy.com/shops/carolscrafts

Having moved up from the city of Edinburgh to a small village called Forres (in the Moray area, North-east Scotland),  and having had a lot of opportunities to sell my crafts in the more populated places, I started to think about how and where I could continue to make my wee business successful. It got me thinking about how small communities go about maintaining a thriving crafting vibe.

Before moving to Edinburgh, I lived up in the Orkney Islands for 4½ yrs. During my time there, I remember fondly how Carols Crafts really started. The population of Orkney is around 22,000. Although it has now been 10 years since I lived there, at the time I found that there was a thriving crafting community from which I got a lot of creative inspiration.

In the past the Orkney Islands relied heavily on primarily fishing and crofting in order to survive and make a living.  Although these sources still play an important part, the tourism industry along with local traditional crafts are at the heart of helping to support the island and its economy.  At that time, there was a craft fair In Kirkwall every month. Today, Orkney now has gift shops, galleries, workshops and studios that are full of local produce including jewellery, knitwear, art, photography, woodwork and pottery.  It also has its own craft trail with a map so that you can easily find these outlets. They include well known names like, Ola Gorie, Shelia Fleet and Ortak which have flourished to the point that they now have numerous outlets all over Scotland. There is even an Orkney wine company!! They really have their finger on the pulse up there.  I wish we had this kind of thriving crafting community in many more locations! (www.orkneydesignercrafts.com)

Forres high street

After moving from Edinburgh, where they have so many craft fairs and opportunities for crafters to sell their products, I wondered what they would have in a small town like Forres with a population of approximately 10,000 people? When I first arrived, I noticed that there weren’t many craft fairs. So I thought I would organize one myself. How hard could it be? Well, the first step was to book the local town hall in Forres which handily provided tables. Next, in order to promote my event, I then printed out posters and posted them about the town. In addition, I also placed a small advert in the local paper advertising the fair and for local crafters to book a table. And this was only after 8 week of moving to Forres!

Looking back, the one thing that I didn’t fully appreciate was how much local knowledge and word of mouth means in a small village like Forres. At my craft fair, about 10 people booked a table, but interestingly I found that I came across some negativity and suspicion from the locals who obviously were wondering who I was and what I was doing there etc.  They brought to my attention the fact that they do hold their own craft events. I found out that it was a small group that did hold 2 fairs a year in Findhorn (5 miles from Forres). Apart from that, there wasn’t much going on. The day of my craft fair was fine and not bad for the first one that I had organised. On the day of the craft fair, I met some lovely new people and made some good network contacts that have been of a great help since.

Regarding my business Carols Crafts, after 3 years of being in Forres, I can say that things have been building up nicely. And ’building’ up is the right word since it has been a gradual process requiring some patience! I’ve done quite a few demonstrations for local groups which have helped to get my name known out there. Also going round the local villages and towns you find lots of lovely wee gift shops that are looking for people to put local crafts in their shops. It’s usually on a sale or return basis but these wee shops are invaluable for small businesses like us. Plucking up the courage to go in and ask if they would like to stock your items can initially be quite daunting, but if you are confident in your product don’t let nerves get the better of you and just ask. People are always asking if I have my things in shops and they do go in when they have more time. Local events like the Highland and agricultural shows are great and usually have a big craft tent and a good footfall. Also some “Farmers Markets” will allow crafters to have their own stalls which are a great way to gain recognition amongst the local community. They get to see your face and they will come back once they know you. The longer I live here, the more I find out what is going on and there are new things starting all the time. I did a fair in Buckie last November and met a fellow folksier, lovely Kay from Hamespun.  Facebook and the Folksy UK  craft events forums have been really handy for providing information related to what’s going on in the local community.

craft fair display

So all in all, based on my own personal experience, I have found that within the small towns and villages based up here in the North-east of Scotland, there is a flourishing crafting vibe and it’s growing all the time.  There is something to be said for the country-based simple life, however this does not mean that you have to compromise your work. If you plan well and do your research you will find loads of people like yourself. I can only see it getting better!!

If you are looking for advice on attending craft fairs, what to say and how to set up a great display, take a look at our series of Craft Fair Tips . We would love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating article from Carol, please do join the conversation by leaving us a comment below, thank you!

If you want to get in touch with an article about your ‘Craft local’ experiences please email hilary@folksy.co.uk

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9 Comments

  • Reply March 17, 2011

    JDArt

    Love the advice – live in a small village on the west coast of Scotland – find it hard to find places to sell. I’ve got a couple of spring teas coming up. Park Church Helensburgh 26th March and Centre 81 Garelochhead 2nd April.
    Recently joined Folksy and have had a couple of sales so it’s all good.
    JDArt

  • Reply March 17, 2011

    Victoria

    There isn’t much of a crafting community where I live which is a shame, I often find myself having to travel to make it to craft fairs. I don’t think it’d really be possible for me to keep crafting if it wasn’t for the internet!

  • Reply March 20, 2011

    Haze;

    Left a comment somewhere else about this article but just had to add I love the pic of your stall = )

  • Lovely article Carol, I’m not a crafter, but I am a small trader also taking my stuff to local craft/gift shows, highland games and galas in and around Forres where I also live. I love the community aspects and find that other traders are really friendly and willing to help each other out, which makes networking easy. I will look out for you and introduce myself.

  • Reply March 25, 2011

    alisonmooredesigns

    Hi Carol. I really liked this article. I’ve recently moved up here in Orkney and have joined the Orkney Arts & Crafts society which will be holding craft fairs throughout the year. I was surprised to find that there are over 70 active members! Crafts are certainly still thriving here! :)

  • Reply March 25, 2011

    alisonmooredesigns

    Hi Carol. I really liked this article. I’ve recently moved up here in Orkney and have joined the Orkney Arts & Crafts society which will be holding craft fairs throughout the year. I was surprised to find that there are over 70 active members! Crafts are certainly still thriving here! :) .

  • Reply March 26, 2011

    carol capaldi

    Thanks for all the lovely comments! It is a wee bit challangeing when you live in a wee place. @hope to meet you to cheryl @all the best alison. I really love Orkney an I hope it goes well for you:D

  • Reply April 30, 2011

    Debra

    I love the article Carol. And your beautiful work covering the table in the pic, just reminds me that it must be so rewarding to have got that far, and to get my ass in gear! I would love to see me where you are now, arranging fairs! I am so envious. You are an inspiration. x

  • Reply May 8, 2011

    Gytha

    I bow down humbly in the prsencee of such greatness.

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