The future looks bright for
Leitrim craft

Leitrim craft makers bedazzled traders and shoppers with their stunning designs at the Craft Showcase 2011 in the RDS, Dublin last week. After a tough year in the industry, local designers told the Leitrim Observer that they finally see light at the end of the tunnel for small Irish companies.

Leitrim craft makers bedazzled traders and shoppers with their stunning designs at the Craft Showcase 2011 in the RDS, Dublin last week. After a tough year in the industry, local designers told the Leitrim Observer that they finally see light at the end of the tunnel for small Irish companies.

An array of unique crafts and gifts of glorious colours, smells and textures enticed customers at ‘Showcase’ Ireland’s largest international trade fair and the most important annual event for the Irish craft & gift sector in the RDS from January 23-26.

Amongst strange and wonderful creations, ideas and designs three Leitrim based craft makers were busy soaking up the positive atmosphere and promoting Co Leitrim as a craft haven. After a horrific 2010, which almost annihilated the crafts industry, this Showcase was a complete turn around with huge media publicity, a large number of international buyers and a new spring in the customers step. Small craft companies said this year was one of the best to be present at the Showcase exhibition as the appetite for Irish quality craft finally started to bite.

Angela Hope who creates Hope & Benson handbags in Manorhamilton told this reporter she was “pleasantly surprised” by how well this year’s show went. The company offer a collection of bags - overnight bags, handbags and purses made from heritage Irish tweeds embellished with flowers and ribbons. Every bag is hand cut at her River cottage premises in Manorhamilton, constructed using traditional methods and contains a sprinkling of lavender, grown in the Burren to add a subtle fragrance. The retro style has also branched out into leather bags and Angela was showing off her new Summer beach bag styles. Angela said she was delighted to get back some contracts she lost last year, securing business in Finland, America, Paris as well as around Ireland.

“Last year was a tough time for business” she commented. Angela had to let go of an employee and source slightly cheaper material to keep afloat, but finally things are looking up. She said 2011 is looking “more positive” and even since Christmas she said things have been improving. “It is like something is about to happen, we may have just turned the corner and everyone seems to be much happier,” she smiled from her colourful exhibition. She said Irish people seem to be more understanding of the crafts industry and about spending money on quality items instead of “throw away fashions.” Angela explained she also uses the showcase to try out new designs and ideas and get feedback.

Almost opposite Angela in the RDS was Mohill designer Eileen Abbott. Eileen was showing off her vintage inspired bridal designs as well as gorgeous occasion wear. Eileen is a self taught designer, the bespoke pieces feature her trademark flourishes of colour using floral corsages or beading to punctuate the look and feel of design. Eileen has built a career on customer word of mouth, but following the large amount of publicity she received at the Showcase she will be looking to make ready-to wear pieces. “It has been a great show, I have been getting great attention and publicity,” she said before explaining that her dresses were used in pre-show publicity shots, she featured on the Six One News and her designs appeared in the national press.

“So many people are stopping and looking and asking about my designs, it is a great place for networking,” she gushed. Eileen attended last year’s show and said everyone was looking around asking “what are we doing?” But this year, “There is a buzz here this year that was missing last year.” 2010 was quiet for the designer, but that hasn’t stopped her coming up with fabulous new designs, mostly vintage inspired using silk, cottons, and muslin. Eileen has opted for much lighter materials for wedding dresses to cater for those getting wed in hot destinations and has had great feedback on them. She said her prices have not changed much because her designs are still much cheaper than any designer in Dublin. She said years ago she was competing with a number of bridal shops, “but as they have fallen away I have noticed a return of brides looking for unique pieces.” She added she had already booked in a number of brides for consultations from the show.

Eileen shares a studio with milliner Wendy Louise in Newtownforbes and at Showcase 2011 their exhibitions stalls were side by side. Wendy Louise Designs presented some beautiful hats many vintage inspired, and a new funky mens’ collection. Wendy Louise exclusively told the Leitrim Observer that she is joining up with Angela Hope from Hope & Benson bags to create beach style hats to go along with Hope & Benson new beach wear bags. The pair came up with the idea over the weekend of the Showcase!

Zero Degrees, a group of artists working in North Leitrim, had a very eye catching exhibition stall at the RDS. It was jam packed with beautiful creations including bog oak sculptures, bronze, stone, glass structures and decorations to enhance your home. The unique group headed by Chris Killalea from Manorhamilton were only formed last year by Leitrim Development Company after they completed an eight week course in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Manorhamilton. Ten people work for the company which was grant aided last year and they held a very successful exhibition in the Sculpture Centre.

Ann O’Reilly was the exhibitor on Sunday last and she showed the paper around the items on show. The sculptures were magnificent and would make a beautiful addition to any home or garden. The group took their sculptures to the Showcase to see if they could secure any contracts for locals gift shops so they could continue their business. Many of the artists work from home and they can create designs to suit any theme or location. Ann said “It was probably not the best year to set up a business” and mentioned that they had not picked up as much contracts as they had wished for, but they hope that their talented work can continue.

Alongside Leitrim craft companies were local businesses such as Callery Cermaics from Knocknahur, Co Sligo, Lynda Gault Ceramics from Sligo, Green Angel Cosmetics, and Willow Design from Cootehall, Co Roscommon who all sell their products around Co Leitrim.

Over 350 of Ireland’ s leading designers and crafts people showcased ideas from selling plots of land in Roscommon to photography, furniture, candles, food, jewellery ... and much more. The Showcase expected to generate up to €22 million in sales orders wooing more than 5,000 buyers from the domestic and overseas markets, including North America, continental Europe and Japan.

President McAleese hosted a reception Sunday evening at Áras an Uachtaráin to celebrate the designation of 2011 as Year of Craft. Speaking to 175 guests including Leitrim crafts people, the President highlighted the important role of Irish crafts on the international and economic stages.

“At this time when we need jobs to keep our talented young people at home, we look to the crafts among others to keep pushing out the boundaries of achievement and to keep encouraging and supporting entrepreneurism among our crafts people,” McAleese stated.