Hungarian Artisan Christmas Market

My office recently held a Christmas fair, inviting the NGOs and craftspeople we support to sell handmade crafts and food. It was an incredible chance for us to meet groups from across Hungary working on many different issues, and to learn more about what drives them. I had the chance to speak to some of the sellers about their work, and thought I’d share their stories and some photos with you. If you’re looking for traditional crafts from Hungary, made by hand and with care for their communities, look no further!

 

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These candle holders are made out of recycled paper, by workers at Búzavirág Alapítvány (Cornflower Foundation). Búzavirág works with visually-challenged communities in rural Hungary, to enable them to live independently, since they receive little support from the local authorities.

They’ve been working towards self-sufficiency for the visually impaired since 1997, with the goal of providing financial independence and the self-confidence that earning your own money provides, through promoting traditional craftsmanship and teaching self-sustainability to its artisans.

They make pottery, baskets and carpets, and provide the necessary marketing and business skills to their artisans, enabling them to sell these goods at different craft markets. Find out more about the group’s mission, and the beautiful items they sell here.

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (Real Pearl Foundation) has been working towards community development in eastern Hungary since 1999, and provides members of one of the most disadvantaged regions of the country with art education, vocational courses and builds community cohesion through family care. The organisation is split into an art school and a foundation, which works directly with the entire community while the art school is for children from the 12 nearest municipalities.

Children of all ages, from municipalities in Hajdú-Bihar county learn graphic design, handicrafts, enamelwork, painting and dance. All proceeds from sales of art school goods go back into the foundation’s work to provide community development to families, many of whom are also Roma and face multiple layers of discrimination and exclusion, particularly in this region of Hungary.

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Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Zsuzsa Formanek, an artist and founder of Budai Rajziskola, designs and creates unique decorative and practical works of art using recycled glass. Check out more of her work here.

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Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

What do you think? Everything available in the market was beautiful, made with love and gave back to their communities. This is part of the reason I love Christmas – the push for meaningful, ethical presents for loved ones is strongest towards the end of the year, and it’s always great fun to wander around a market!

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Cork-Board Tutorial

I’ve been collecting corks for a few years and have amassed a pretty impressive collection. Wine is nice, I make no apologies.

I use them to make cork-bards. They’re a great way to recycle corks, which have an unusually large carbon footprint owing to their disposal, rather than production. The tree yields a harvest every nine years, and originates in Portugal – that’s an incredible dependence on one natural source.

There are many alternatives around – from plastic to cork substitutes, as well as wine makers now opting for screw-tops. I have to admit to some snobbery here; I do look down on screw-top wine as inferior and plebby. I know that’s shallow and terrible but there it is.

Since cork is quite absorbent, and those in good bottles of wine have labels, pictures and country of origin stamped onto it, making a cork-board is a great way to reuse your old corks as well as make something functional (and pretty!).

Plus, everyone can see exactly how much wine you consume. Which is both good and bad! It’s also a fun souvenir of a trip – or many trips – you’ve taken and all the booze you’ve enjoyed with friends. I always ask restaurants I go to if I could have the cork from the bottles we drink, since they would otherwise end up in the regular bin, and there goes all that energy generated in making it.

All you need is a sharp craft knife, strong glue, a frame you like and enough corks to fit half the frame.

There are plenty of great antique markets here, and my neighbourhood in Budapest has a lot of art galleries. I’ve got a good selection of pretty frames I could use, and I got this ugly drawing of an ugly Hungarian, but with a frame I liked. It’s roughly A4-sized, and I needed about two handfuls of wine corks. I won’t tell you how long it took me to collect these, because you will judge me.

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The hardest part is cutting the corks, so I find that soaking them in a large bowl of water for at least half an hour makes that a lot easier.
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Once that’s done, use an old chopping board or place-mat to carefully cut the corks in half lengthwise. Slow and precise cuts with the craft knife make sure that the cuts are straight, and also keep your fingers safe.

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Arrange the corks on your board, and figure out how you’d like to place them. This was my initial placement, but as you can see there are too many labelled corks next to each other, so I wanted to space those out – and vary the patters of the labels too. In the middle, I’ve got two columns of sparking  wine corks. These were from my Galentine’s Day brunch.

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The corks will need to dry on order for them to stick, so once you’ve got an arrangement you like, just turn them cut side up and leave them to dry on a windowsill for a bit. Once they’re dry, squeeze the glue in a zigzag pattern along the middle and stick in place.

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Since the corks are different sizes, you’ll have a gap at the top of your columns. I just cut a blank cork widthways so that it would fit these gaps, and stuck them to the tops of these columns. If you want to make it look a little neater, you could of course fill the gaps anywhere you like.

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And that’s it! Leave it to dry overnight then hang it up and enjoy 🙂

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The ‘Betty’ Series by Michelle Holmes

Betty breathes in the sea air

Betty breathes in the sea air

I came across this beautiful series of black-thread embroidery by Michelle Holmes, a crafter based in the UK. Michelle has created a character Betty, who lives in the countryside, by the sea, enjoys gardening and crafts, and keeps chickens.

 

I began posting Betty illustrations a couple of years ago now. They are glimpses of Bett’s day to day ponderings to herself, random little or big thoughts in the moments between stuff.

Betty feeds the chickens

Betty feeds the chickens

The small, everyday details of her life are chronicled in individual pieces of embroidery which Michelle sells on Folksy.

There’s been an incredible wave of individuals returning to crafts to unwind, develop a new hobby and stimulate their creativity. I love discovering new ideas and artists like this.

Michelle’s work reminds me of the rural style of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, or Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea (two of the greatest books ever written about enjoying the simple pleasures of life).

Betty is like an imaginary friend. I draw inspiration for her from my grandma Doris, a childhood neighbour named Millicent and a character from a book named Lady Isabella Bird. Themes for Betty seem to be inspired by my week, but can also be quite random.

Betty feeds the chickens

Betty feeds the chickens

The pieces are also vintage-inspired (just take a look at that kitchen!) and there’s a real early 20th century feel about them, which transports you to a different time and place.

 

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Betty contemplates the day ahead whilst making a cup of tea

Betty looks forward to a stove top coffee

Betty looks forward to a stove top coffee

There’s something wonderful and meditative about documenting the simple, everyday activities like making a cup of tea, or gardening, that I really love. I’m completely mesmerised.

A good crop of Rhubarb, enough to make a pie for friends.

A good crop of rhubarb, enough to make a pie for friends

Michelle prepares landscapes and seascapes inspired by her travels to the British coast, and around Europe.

Betty spots something interesting on the horizon

Betty spots something interesting on the horizon

She also works with natural fabrics – jute, hemp, organic cotton – and in monochrome, adding to the elegant simplicity of her pieces. She adds details using hand-stitching, beading and applique.

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From Michelle’s studio

has a quiet moment

Betty has a quiet moment

Her work has been exhibited at various private collections, and the public collections at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax and the Platt Hall Museum of Costume and Textiles, in Manchester. She has exhibited work in the UK, Germany and the USA.

Betty catches up with friends

Betty catches up with friends

In 1994, she won the Best New Exhibitor Prize at the prestigious Chelsea Craft Fair and the Carroll Foundation Award.

Betty sets off on a journey as the clouds pass

Betty sets off on a journey as the clouds pass

Her work is featured in numerous publications and she has designed a range of cards and a magazine cover for Neiman Marcus, together with bed linen for Habitat. She also has a selection of work permanently on show at The Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool and Soma in Bristol.

Betty finds a sheltered spot....and was very pleased to see blue sky today

Betty finds a sheltered spot….and was very pleased to see blue sky today

A new pinafore in the making

A pinafore in the making

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Betty prepares for the arrival of Bees

Betty prepares for the arrival of bees