There's not a knitted doily in sight

Julie Aschkenasy previews the Chelsea Crafts Fair
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If the term "crafts fair" conjures up a picture of home-made jams, sludge-coloured pots and knitted doilies, then it's certainly misleading in this case. The Chelsea Crafts Fair, which starts on Tuesday, is Britain's most prestigious, showing the work of some of our most talented craftspersons, or "makers" as they prefer to be called.

Two hundred and twenty five of them will show at this year's fair, and these have been whittled down from 900 original applicants. The craftspeople are of all ages and backgrounds, and work with almost anything - glass, ceramics, wood, leather, textiles, papier-mache or metal. The unifying factor is that they make the goods they sell.

Morris Latham, head of sales development at the Crafts Council, which organises the fair, says: "The word crafts relates to the production of the work. The fair is different from other design shows in that the exhibitors all make and display their own work, as opposed to having things manufactured."

Professional buyers come from all over the world for the fair. But it is not a trade fair, and last year 20,000 members of the public came, aware that you would be hard pressed to find a better place to buy original and imaginative Christmas presents.

Chelsea Crafts Fair, Chelsea Old Town Hall, King's Road, London SW3. It runs 10-15 Oct and 17-22 Oct, 10am-8pm Tues-Fri, 10am-6pm Sat, Sun. Exhibits are changed after the first week. pounds 7 for one entry each week, pounds 5 a single ticket. Price includes a catalogue. Further information from the Crafts Council on 0171-278 7700.

Claire Underwood Silversmith

Claire Underwood makes silver objects decorated with brightly coloured enamel. Prices start at pounds 34 for small ear studs to pounds 570 for the perfume bottle right. She is exhibiting in the second week

My favourite pieces to make are perfume bottles. I love the shape, the idea of completely free form without having the interruption of a base, lines that ought to be there but disrupt the shape. I also make half spheres that just roll around. I particularly enjoy making larger one-off pieces which are decorative rather than functional as you have less restrictions.

My love for primary colours comes from Africa where my parents lived. I use enamel because it has special qualities, a bit like precious stone; it is also very traditional.

My most successful sellers are egg cups and spoons. People buy them for christening presents. I get a very good reaction from people because they are jolly and fun to look at. The only downside is that sometimes people don't realise the work that is involved. Enamel is very work-intensive. So it's not particularly cheap.

My biggest piece at the show will be a pot, about five inches high, quite fat and rounded, in red enamel with yellow spots.

Nicola Henshaw Woodworker

Nicola Henshaw makes carved wooden animals, each with a function and many with a humorous twist. Prices range from pounds 100 to pounds 1,500. The pine tortoise table, above, costs pounds 900. She will be exhibiting in the first week.

I have made three of these tortoise coffee tables. I kept one for myself. Mine doesn't have eggs, this one is a female. Each is different - I would never have got the same expression twice. The idea came from an African fable, "Why the Tortoise is Taboo", about a sea turtle who wants to become a land animal. He comes out of the sea and a bird hops on his back to give him guidance. He complains so much to the bird that it flies off. It didn't get a chance to learn how to be a land creature properly, which is why it is so slow.

I like to give an element of surprise. A bird might have an egg inside. Geese and ducks turn into tables. Peacocks have outstretched wings that make benches.

My childhood in Africa was a huge influence on my work. For inspiration I also visit the V&A and the British Museum, and I read people like Roald Dahl and Vikram Seth.

I only do animals, I couldn't do humans.

Loretta Braganza Ceramicist

Loretta Braganza makes groups of ceramic pots with iridescent over-painting. Prices from pounds 80. She is exhibiting in the second week

I use my pots as a canvas for paint, building up a pattern using coloured slips. This gives them a very subtle yet warmly coloured iridescent look. The pots look very tactile but it's a trick of the eye - they are actually very smooth.

I work in family groups so that the shapes relate and can be sold as groups or individually. People tell me that my work looks both ancient and futuristic. It looks old because the surface pattern appears as if hewn from rocks, and futuristic because of the tight, controlled, clean shapes and the surreal element of flatness and roundness.

Many of my pots have been influenced by shapes of cooking vessels from my childhood in India. I am also working on a series of round and flat refined pebble shapes for the Craft Fair. They have tiny mouths facing upwards at an angle - pots that would skim water.

I came to ceramics late. I trained as a graphic artist before moving through painting and sculpting. All the disciplines seem fused together in my pots.

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