Scotland's craft makers are creating work that is the antithesis to products in the Black Friday sales – Irene Kernan

If you listen closely enough, you might just hear the steady hum of industry taking place in workshops and studios all across Scotland.

Basketmaker Anna Liebmann gathers willow stars in preparation for and open studio and workshop event at Eastfield, Edinburgh (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Basketmaker Anna Liebmann gathers willow stars in preparation for and open studio and workshop event at Eastfield, Edinburgh (Picture: Neil Hanna)

As the peak time for seasonal shopping approaches, Scotland’s makers are busily creating unique pieces of design-led contemporary craft. The pandemic has hit Scotland’s craft sector hard, as traditional sales outlets shut and access to studios has been restricted; so we are only now beginning to see the first signs of recovery.

Despite lockdown, makers have found new ways to maintain connections with their community, such as pivoting to online and mail-order courses like knitwear designer Flora Collingwood-Norris in the Borders, whose workshops in visible mending have been a hit.

For some, the pause has been an opportunity to try new things or carefully evaluate their work, like Iseabal Hendry whose woven leather textiles collection was launched during the pandemic. Other makers worked on building a new audience online or found new elements to their craft practice.

Following the success of Craft Week Scotland recently, what we have learned is that the appetite for Scottish contemporary craft is greater than ever.

During this campaign in the last week of October, the public had a chance to see inside studios around the country, meet designers and try taster sessions in everything from willow weaving to ceramics to jewellery design.

Pop-up shops appeared around the country as makers looked forward to meeting customers and clients and selling their work in real life. Craft Week Scotland was a hybrid festival with lots of activity online too. Our audience was treated to a range of inspiring events from talks by makers and industry experts to behind-the-scenes studio reveals and special online shopping events.

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The great news is that the week-long festival of craft was really just a warm up for a busy period in the craft calendar. For many reasons, this year is different.

Taking a more considered approach to buying contemporary craft is the antithesis of Black Friday or Cyber Monday and we can see that there is a greater appetite to find items that are locally sourced and hand-made, and which are made to last and be passed on.

For some, the appeal of craft is an appreciation of the hours of work involved. For others, it is the links to place as craft pieces reflect Scotland's beautiful landscape or are inherently connected through the materials used.

For me, whether it is furniture, textiles, ceramics, or jewellery, it is seeing how the incredible technical ability and creative ambition of our makers results in such beautiful objects.

Scottish contemporary craft is in demand worldwide and, while we prepare to showcase the work of 11 makers to audiences at the international craft fair Collect in London next year, I would ask you to make the much shorter journey to discover the craft treasures on your doorstep.

There are over 3,000 makers in Scotland creating incredibly good work. While studios are dotted around the country, finding a maker near you is easy. Wonderful regional initiatives like Orkney Craft Trail, Spring Fling in Dumfries and Galloway, and the Skye and Lochalsh Arts and Crafts Association help showcase local makers.

Shops like Lifestory in Edinburgh, Hatch in Glasgow, Fold at the Barn in Banchory, ÒR on Skye and Modern Croft in Oban are great ways to discover the work of a range of makers.

In cities like Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh, there are many craft studios hosting open weekends in the build up to Christmas.

At Craft Scotland, our team works to share as many of these fairs, open studios and craft stockists on our website as we learn about them. We also host a craft directory for people wanting to learn more about makers near them or to commission one-off pieces. During Craft Week Scotland, the hashtag #CraftWeekScotland on social media collated activity around the country and it is a good place to dive in and learn more.

The past 18 months have not just increased our appreciation of things we surround ourselves with but the value of our experiences. While we can appreciate the skill, ingenuity and technical ability of makers in Scotland, there are also numerous opportunities to try making something on a potter's wheel or in a glass studio, or to understand the complexities of weaving.

As well as increasing our own appreciation of craft, the impact of working with your hands on your mental health and well-being is immeasurable.

Getting hands on is also a great way to appreciate the sustainability at the heart of Scottish contemporary craft. For many makers, this is a core part of their practice – like zero-waste designers Yellow Broom, jewellery designer Stefanie Cheong and textiles designer Jasmine Linington whose exploration of the potential of Scottish seaweed within the textile and fashion industry continues to produce fascinating results. At the core of contemporary craft is a sustainable outlook as makers create pieces to last a lifetime.

I hope COP26 has helped to keep the focus on sustainability and change attitudes to consumption because buying Scottish craft is so much more than investing in beautiful objects.

Skipping Black Friday for a trip to your local craft studio, shop or maker helps us support our local economy, strengthen communities around the country, and build Scotland's reputation of not just a nation of craft makers but craft enthusiasts too.

As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and envision a greener, resilient and more connected Scotland, contemporary craft has a vital role to play.

Irene Kernan is the director of Craft Scotland, the national development agency for craft

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