Like any major Northern City, Leeds has been hit hard by the recession, the city centre has quite a few empty boutiques, inner city developments were put on hold for its duration, and all in all independent retail has very much shrunk, but in it’s place a lot of creative endeavours have begun to blossom.
Smaller businesses such as craft fairs, pop up restaurants and vintage fairs have been thriving – Leeds loves a bargain, and loves something different, and these events not only offer great value for money but unique products whilst they also have a social aspect which makes them fun! Added to this, craft is still enjoying something of a renaissance; the public is once again seeing in handmade that they can bypass the high street, and buy things that are one of a kind, for themselves or their home, direct from the buyer.
If you’re thinking of swinging by to take a look around Leeds and see it from a craft enthusiasts perspective, there are a number of places you should stop by;
Firstly, Headingley – the student suburb mecca, has also become a bit of a craft haven – you’ll find nestled next to a rather lovely milkshake shop Michelle Duxbury’s shop Rocket 59, which opened in October last year. Sitting at 13B North Lane, they stock a vast array of goodies with a twist of burlesque, fifties and rockabilly styling including a range of homewares made by Michelle herself.
Michelle, here pictured (centre) at Shaky Jakes Milkshake bar, is the founder and editor of craftsville, a website dedicated to showcasing and promoting the very best independent art, craft, design and creativity in the UK and beyond, and has been a very key player in the Leeds craft scene for a long time. She currently writes about craft and other lovely stuff for a variety of websites and publications including Domestic Sluttery, Dork Adore, Indie Fixx and Nude magazine. Michelle is something of a craft goddess and has been since her childhood days, has been involved in promoting and supporting indie craft in the UK for almost a decade now. Michelle was the founder of the first UK based Craft Mafia group and established the first of it’s kind monthly indie craft market, ‘prettycraftythings’.
Her shop, Rocket 59 stocks work from a range of local designers and makers including Em Brulée Designs, Voodoo Kitten 13, Memo, Bubblegum Vegas, Finest Imaginary and Biscuit Boutique as well as some pretty awesome embroidery patterns from Sublime Stitching. Michelle has also begun a crafty meet up once a month at Headingley’s new community centre Heart and you can find out more details on craftsville’s website and meet up with other like minded craft enthusiasts!
Just round the corner from Rocket 59 you will also find ‘Baa ram ewe’ at 87 Otley Road, the best supplies shop for knitting for many many miles they have one of the world’s biggest ranges of British Wool and British Sheep Breeds, plus a well renowned knitting school! They were voted Best Local Yarn Store by Let’s Knit magazine readers and Best Specialist Retailer at the Retail Therapy Awards 2010, they have a great website, which also includes an online shop so you need never run out of yarn again!
Just across the road from Baa Ram Ewe, ‘The Bowery’ has also become a major meeting place for artists and crafters in Leeds. It is part café, part gallery, part craft school. The Bowery are leaders in Leeds for providing high quality craft tuition classes at affordable prices, they have new courses running all the time and the café sells the best coffee in Leeds, and the most delicious sarnies. Check out their website for more information at www.thebowery.org
Away from the hustle and bustle of Headingley there is also plenty to look out for in Hyde Park, The Brudenell Social Club is one of Leeds’ finest music venues, often booking up and coming acts from around the globe before they hit the big time, and they are also the venue for ‘HANDMADE’ which is the brainchild of Amy McDonald.
‘Handmade’ is a small indie craft event which is roughly scheduled every 3 months, Amy handpicks the best locals to show their works including prints by Matt Saunders aka Rabbitportal, Foxbunting, plus many more. Here you’ll find amazing pieces at incredible value, from as little as £2 for badges and smaller prints, plus Amy always provides tea and cake for just £1, this is craft at it’s best homemade self!
Amy McDonald , 24, came to Leeds as a student and graduated in History almost 4 years ago now, she has mainly been working as a library assistant and a bookseller since graduating, but spend a large percentage of her spare time crafting. Amy began to sell her own work eventually and is on etsy as “amypanda”
“Handmade” began before Christmas 2009 as an antidote to bigger fairs, which as a young crafter Amy didn’t feel she fit into.
“ I’m happy to say that I think I’ve managed to cobble together an event which is student friendly and takes advantage of the huge amount of young creative types in Leeds who’re itching for an opportunity for somewhere to sell their work. The Christmas handmade’s have definetely been the most successful, and because it’s held in the Brudenell Social Club it’s a great laid back event where people can come eat cake, drink tea (or beer) and sit around as well as a nice shopping experience.”
If you take a stroll down into Leeds city centre and know where to look you will also find some more great craft experiences.
Down in the refurbished Corn Exchange (a huge stunning old shopping centre that was once where farmers went to trade corn) ‘Reetsweet’ is a regular weekend craft event that I myself run as an alternative to the high street. Focusing on promoting modern, fashionable crafts we handpick for ‘Reetsweet’ the best local crafters, featuring homewares, prints, accessories and jewellery. We bill it as ‘No ordinary craft fair’ as we are trying to shake off the traditional, old fashioned image that craft is often unfairly given. You’ll find over 20 stalls, and can preview each event on the blog at http://reetsweet.blogspot.com . We also host mini fairs for up and coming crafters, our next is at the lovely indie bar ‘Nation of shopkeepers’ on Saturday 28th May from 12-5pm, featuring many talented crafters exhibiting and selling, plus tea and cake and mellow music – whatever the weather!
I started ‘Reetsweet’ because when I was student there was a huge diy scene of independent businesses and crafters, we are trying to bring this back in our own small way to the city centre.
Just round the corner from ‘Reetsweet’ at the Corn Exchange is also Bird’s Yard – reminiscent of ‘Affleck’s Palace’ in Manchester it is a large beautiful old building, filled with tiny boutiques with homewares, vintage fashions and crafts – well worth a bit of an exploration onto Kirkgate road for which is just past the corn exchange. For more info see http://www.birdsyard.co.uk.
….This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list of what’s going on at the moment in Leeds in the craft scene. Things are always changing and we are seeing new events and shops springing up all the time – but what’s important and what’s comforting is seeing that there is a definite movement spreading through the city again of ‘diy’ culture. In term of what I like doing (learning new crafts and meeting others crafters) and the things I enjoy buying (beautiful handmade!) things are definitely looking up – and looking crafty in Leeds, I hope you can swing by!
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