The crafty approach

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CHRISTMAS is coming and out comes all the tat. Novelty underpants, silly desk toys, kitchen gadgets, or a bread maker anyone? Cheap chocolate in ever-more bizarre shapes? Come January you wouldn't dream of actually shelling out hard cash for such items.

In the run-up to 25 December, on the other hand, time and inspiration are short, and relatives and friends have to have something to open under the tree. However, if the thought of pounding the high street in search of the latest piece of mass-produced plastic wizardry is already bringing you out in a cold sweat, there is a solution.

Over the coming weeks in the city, there's practically a blizzard of fairs and exhibitions, all offering handmade, sometimes even one-off gifts, lovingly designed and created by the skilled fingers of Scotland's craftsmen and women.

One of the biggest opens this weekend at National Museum of Scotland.

Gifted brings together more than 20 of Scotland's most talented craft makers, many of them from Edinburgh.

On display are the delicate silver and gold flower-like creations of city jewellery maker Donna Barry, the handwoven baskets of Edinburgh's Anna King, creations out of reused plastics by Jaimie Macdonald, individual bags and accessories by Katie Brown – and the ceramics of the Capital's Lara Scobie, one of the few exhibitors to be invited to show, rather than have to apply.

But then Lara's track record speaks for itself. She won The Fletcher Challenge Ceramics Award, a now-defunct international prize, for some of her first professional pieces, which brought her early renown. But the prize did have a flipside. "It left me typecast for years," she explains.

"I felt that because I had been recognised for a certain type of ceramics I had to stick with it.

"I was creating intricate boat shapes, and the Fletcher judges were particularly impressed with my use of Chinese printing blocks that press designs into the clay before it goes in the kiln.

"I did that for a very long time – right up to the point that my children were born nine years ago, in fact. Having children has a big impact on your life so I basically had to re-evaluate my art and now my work is a lot more diverse."

Twin boys would certainly make a change in anyone's life, although so far it doesn't look as though Lara's pair will be following in her footsteps. "They really don't have any artistic inclinations at all," says the 42-year-old. "They're very enthusiastic and they come down to my workshop at the Adam Pottery, in Stockbridge, to mess around with the clay, but the enthusiasm only lasts about 20 minutes."

It's all a far cry from Lara's early years, where she would spend hours drawing and messing with clay. Her parents encouraged her creativity by sending her to the Rudolph Steiner School in Spylaw Road, which emphasises the use of "soft skills" like arts and music as a pathway to learning.

"The school had a little pottery which was such a fantastic place to be," adds Lara. "I had a wonderful teacher called Pat Charles. I loved it, and it never really felt like school. I have always been attracted to ceramics. It's such an amazing thing to take a material that's soft and without form and make it into a shape. The most fantastic part about it is putting it into the kiln and then taking out this fully-formed structure, but even then you're not finished.

"It still has to be glazed and painted, and fired again so the whole process can take several hours, but it's all worth it."

It has to be – in her early years she worked in cafes in the evenings to supplement her income, and after her children were born she became a lecturer in art and design at Dundee University. She still lives in Edinburgh, based in Canonmills.

Recent years have also seen specialist ceramics schools closing around Scotland amid tightening budgets. "It's a shame because ceramics can be very rewarding, but because of the level of devotion involved it attracts a certain type of personality, but children can only discover it if they are introduced to it at a young age."

It's a view that Emma Walker, chief executive of craftscotland, agrees with. She says the closure of ceramics courses across Scotland has been "incredibly sad", but adds: "However, the overall shape of the craft sector is extremely healthy, and the demand for handmade quality craft is on the increase."

It certainly seems that way in Edinburgh over the next few weeks. Coburg House Art Studios in Leith is holding its own Christmas event on 5-6 December showcasing an array of work. The studio has recently grown to encompass more artists and an in-house gallery, and is home to a combination of award-winning local and international professionals in both fine and applied arts. This hub of creativity houses upwards of 70 artists producing original work.

Also on 6 December is a new Christmas market by fledgling city art, craft and design talent hunters Magpie.

The one-day festive market will be housed in The Lot, a converted church in the centre of the Grassmarket, and Magpie is currently looking for artists to fill the stalls. For an application pack, e-mail emily.chandler@gmail.com

December also features ethical media company Hand Up Media's Ethical Christmas Fair on Castle Street, featuring an array of unique ethically-sourced gifts not available on the High Street.

Following the success of last year's fair, which saw more than 20,000 visitors, Hand Up Media is bringing 25 stalls.

The organisers have invited three women producers from Kenya to the fair to exhibit their handcrafted gifts and discuss their products. Green Santa will also be making guest appearances with some special surprises.

Last but not least, there is the Edinburgh Art Fair at the Corn Exchange from 20- 22 November, with original pieces on offer, often at affordable prices.

All of which should make Christmas shopping a far more enjoyable – and original – experience.