Shopping: Check It Out - Chelsea Crafts Fair 1998

WE HAVE no National Gallery of Modern Craft in Britain. Nor has any lottery money been set aside to support such ventures but if you want to track down the best of British designer-makers there's an excellent alternative. Chelsea Crafts Fair is in its 19th year and going from strength to strength as the UK's foremost showcase for traditional and contemporary craft. This year's selection panel of Maureen Doherty, founder of egg, journalist Sarah Howell, woodworker Howard Raybould and jeweller Dorothy Hogg were inundated with applications - 1,033 for 220 places - the confines of Chelsea Town Hall ensuring a high standard of innovative work is displayed. Part of Chelsea's remit from the Crafts Council is to support and encourage new designers and designs.

Over a third of this year's exhibitors are first timers, while more established names often use their week at Chelsea to launch new products. Susie Thomson (week one, stand 65), a Chelsea veteran weaves patterns in baskets using only the natural colours of the willow (see above). She grows her withies in not-so rural Norbury, but also uses Somerset, French and Belgium-grown willow to extend her palette. Rebecca Board (week one, stand 52), also works with the natural colours of willow and hedgerow materials, sometimes contrasted by the deep richness of indigo-dyed white willow.

Alfred Pain (week two, stand 15) creates one-off and batch-produced silver pepper mills, salt cellars, spoons and cavernous silver and steel bowls.

David Colwell and Roy Trannon launched their original chair at the first Chelsea Craft Fair. This year (week one, stand 98) they unveil two new batch-produced designs. A glass-topped table with ash legs and stainless steel tension wires, and a garden bench, snaking like a train with interlinking giant-button seats of solid oak. Roy Trannon declares that they have two overriding principles. "There is no excuse for designing a chair which is less than very, very comfortable," he says. His other aim is to be "green" as possible in sourcing and working their raw materials. Trannon Furniture mainly use young ash trees, thinned from forests so generating an early income for the landowner from a forestry by-product.

Chelsea Crafts Fair (0171-278 7700), Chelsea Old Town Hall, King's Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 10am-8pm, Tuesday to Friday and 10am to 5.30pm Saturday and Sunday (week one 13 Oct to 18 Oct and week two 20 Oct to 25 Oct). Admission costs pounds 6 for a single visit, pounds 8 for one visit each week, or pounds 4 for concessions. Exhibitors' phone numbers: Susie Thomson (0171-223 4806), Rebecca Board (01373 453140), Trannon Furniture (01722 744 577) or www.btinternet.com/trannonfurniture and Alfred Pain (0171- 378 9222)

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