Sussex Guild Craft Show

The Linguistics of a County Craft Fair

Heather Park

I love making things. Baking is my one true love, but I’m also a decent artist, and I’m currently trying to learn how to sew, knit and crochet – I’m terrible at all three, but the intention is there. Being able to turn raw materials into remarkable products is something I find utterly mesmerising, and that’s why I adore Craft Fairs so much. Each item for sale is the product of hours spent nurturing a skill, and it’s a pleasure to own something that so much time has gone into perfecting. Thus, when I set off for what I thought was the Sussex Guild Craft Fair, I was rather excited.

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I was looking forward to the whole homemade-jam-stacks-of-cupcakes-knitted-scarves-hand-pressed-apple-juice affair, you know, classic country stalls. It wasn’t until I walked up to the first stall that I realised it was slightly more intense than that.

The first thing I saw was a glass vase, red and long-necked, precariously balanced on a plinth.

Blimey, I thought, want to be careful, having that there. It’s worth- MOTHER OF BUGGERY- FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY OF MY ENGLISH POUNDS!?

Once I’d recovered from how ridiculously British my reaction was (why can I never swear like a normal person?) and processed the fact that the vase cost more than a month’s rent, I swiftly backed away. Perhaps the next stall was a little more… approachable.

One hundred pound bowls.

THAT WOULD FEED ME FOR A MONTH. And I’m talking quality – Waitrose, minimum. 

Next stall it was two hundred pound necklaces.

Way to kick a bank account when it’s down, Sussex.

One more stall this way, please.

Five hundred pound quilts.

Only when I reached the six thousand pound jewellery did I truly accept that I was out of my depth.

2

Now, don’t get me wrong, these products have a huge amount of time and skill going into them, and I’m sure they are well worth their price tag. It’s just that someone stepping out of student life who still can’t get a job (undistinguishable growl) needs time to mentally prepare for those sorts of numbers.

But I didn’t understand – these weren’t Craft Fair figures.

Ah.

It was at this point that I clocked a sign. A sign that displayed a single word, a word which changed everything. Show. A Craft Show. A tiny linguistic misunderstanding that meant all the difference between me being able to afford things and, well, not.

I made the executive decision to (carefully) walk away and visit the café, where I cobbled together enough pennies to indulge in a slice of millionaire’s shortbread – if nothing else, it made me feel a little wealthier.

3

As I sipped my tea, I pulled a Fagin and reviewed the situation; there I was, wearing my heels and lipstick and favourite jewellery (obviously – this is me we’re talking about.) No one knew how skint I was, and with my deceptive wardrobe, they had no reason to think it either. So I took a final sip from my lipstick-stained teacup and returned to the stalls with a newfound confidence, ready to bluff, grin and politely nod my way around.

4

And I’m jolly glad I did. There were beautiful carved wooden bowls, stained with striking shades of cobalt, crimson and vermillion; necklaces strung with glass beads moulded into lemons and leaves, lampshades embroidered with thick, coloured threads, and elegantly curved clay jugs. Each and every product looked and felt of a quality that seemed almost unfamiliar in this time of cheap chain stores.

Outside, master craftsmen demonstrated the fine art of raku, heating pots to over eight hundred degrees and then ‘painting’ the scorching clay with feathers and leaves, which burnt away to leave dappled markings.

5

By another stall, a potter shaped a ball of clay. It spun as he coaxed it upwards, curving it into a voluptuous vase, his hands knowing and steady.

It was here that I made a wonderful discovery; a basket full of little letter tiles, priced at four pounds each. On top sat an H, painted blue on white. It was mine.

6

The potter sold it to me, the clay that was splattered up his arms transferring onto the paper bag he popped my tile into. He was kind, the sort of kind that made me want to buy more from him – but at this point, tiny whispered curses could be heard creeping out of the metal clasp of my purse.

 – But of course, I had just enough money left for my lighter, its crisscrossed pattern like country fences and wicker baskets.

7

I relished my time with these beautiful things, but eventually, I had to summon the will to leave. My piece of wonderful Sussex Craft made it a little easier, and I knew the memories of colour swirling through glass and the feeling of smooth wood on my palms would last until I could see such beauty again.

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Edited by: Malin Lillevold

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