Linda Barker’s thrifty tips for chic junk

Cashmere jumpers and vintage sherry glasses get an overhaul at this weekend’s Ideal Home Show, says Annie Deakin

‘Remember the press reports that Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow were into knitting?’ Linda Barker asked me earlier this week. ‘It seemed a bit of a joke at the time, didn't it? Hollywood A-listers crafting in their downtime! But lo and behold, the crafting movement is getting stronger and stronger. Madonna was right all along.’

As the former presenter of Changing Rooms and a Champion of the Crafts Council, Barker has long been a fan of customising household objects. Tomorrow, she will be giving talks about recycling furniture and home accessories at the Ideal Home Show at Earls Court. ‘I’m encouraging people to do a lot more crafting and to relearn the old skills that we've forgotten. I want to inspire people to have a go. It’s quite remarkable how crafting has taken off.’

She is using her Custom Chic presentations at the Ideal Home Show to recycle old household lamps, jars and fabrics. Barker will show how to turn six cashmere jumpers (found in charity shops) into a patchwork cashmere throw for your sofa or bed. ‘I will show people how to make a bookshelf birdhouse as an alternative to a bedside table,’ she says. In Barker’s world, a basic birdhouse becomes a voice for creativity. ‘I make a very basic birdhouse from scratch and cover it with wallpaper.’ An opened book acts as the roof; the idea being that the box acts as storage and also as somewhere to perch your book when you go to sleep. ‘It sounds a bit mad, doesn’t it?’ she laughs.

Last week, Barker paid £10 for an old garden wind-chime at Kempton market; it forms part of the garden chandelier she will make at the Ideal Home Show. ‘I use whatever I can get hold of. I will wire necklaces and glass droplets from old chandeliers to jam jars and a piece of wood. Then I string it up in a tree and it looks very pretty for the summer.’ Blue Peter, eat your heart out. ‘To turn a basic, fuddy duddy lamp into something quite beautiful and bohemian, I cover it with fabric trim wallpaper, old corsages and paper butterflies.’

‘Most people have chipped china or glassware at the back of their cupboards,’ says Barker. ‘Why not put it to good use?’ She will demonstrate how to whip up an eclectic cake stand using up odd bits and pieces. ‘I stack old side plates on top of vintage sherry glasses to create a ceramic and glass tower.’ She glues a candle stand to the top tier making it a birthday centrepiece. ‘It is part of that make do and mend mentality that we have found a new passion for. We are just coming out of a recession. People, for the last couple of years, have really engaged in craft.’

Barker passionately wants people to get crafting. ‘We have to rekindle skills. People should make more cushions. They should upcycle old furniture. Knitting and sewing should be revived. These skills allow people more involvement in their homes and give them a creative outlet.’ Madonna was right. The world's gone craft crazy.

See Linda's top tips for craft:

1. Join a craft group - I enjoy the involvement of a group like Craft Guerillas who meet in pubs and get their knitting needles out. It’s new, it’s now; it’s the zeitgeist for it all. It’s exciting to use an old skill in the modern way.

2. Take a course - Learn a new skill. I’ve done a cake-decorating course at Little Venice Cake Company with Mich Turner and Jessica Palmer’s paper-cutting course at the V&A.

3. Learn online - Get inspired by the websites Folksy and Etsy, online places to buy, sell and learn a craft. I love the freshness of the interior pictures in decor8blog.net.

4. Go to art and craft shows - The holy grail of UK craft markets is Origin at Spitalfields by The Craft Council. There are jewelers, weavers, wood turners and knitters.

5. Discover Open Studios - Find out when local artists open their studio doors to the general public. I love the Cockpit Art Cooperative, York Open studios and Northern Potters.

6. Go to Kempton market - I’ve just been for the first time. Get there at the crack of dawn; it opens at 6.30am every second Tuesday. It’s amazing. Don’t go with a specific project in mind; let your salvage finds be your inspiration.

7. Rediscover second hand and charity shops - I’m a big charity shop trawler, especially Sue Ryder Care and Cancer Research shops on the high street. It’s the ultimate recycling method.

8. Learn basic painting skills - Secondhand furniture can be repainted or even covered in wallpaper.

9. Exchange your furniture -You might want to swap old furniture with friends.

10. Be brave - Take real pride in what you make. Have the courage to put your own art and/or craft on walls - it can look stunning.

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website mydeco.com.





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