Getting Crafty at the Custard Factory
Categories: Other | Written By Andrew
The creative hub at the heart of Birmingham’s booming crafts resurgence
Nationwide we’re seeing a resurgence in that make-do-and-mend spirit. You can blame it on the recession, you can blame it on Etsy, but whatever’s behind it, retro hobbies and crafts are back with a bang.
From curtainmaking to tailoring, knitting and crochet, DIY groups are popping up up and down the country, some (Stitches & Hos, Stitch ‘n’ Bitch) clearly with tongues firmly in cheek. As a city that played a central role in the creation and development of the original 19th century arts and crafts movement, it seems fitting that the trend’s revival is going strong in Birmingham more than 150 years later.
If you are staying at a hotel near the NEC such as the Crowne Plaza, it is relatively easy to get to the centre of town via bus or taxi. Once in Birmingham proper, stroll down past the Bullring and St. Martin’s church, cross over Park Street, and you’ll find yourself right slap bang in the middle of Birmingham’s new cultural hub. Once called Digbeth, now known as Birmingham’s Eastside, this creative enclave is brimming with artists, crafters and creative types transforming old warehouses and storefronts into shops, studios, cafes and venues. And at the heart of Birmingham’s Eastside, you’ll find the Custard Factory.
A 5-acre sprawl of riverside factories, and at over a century old, it was here that 1,000s of workers helped to churn out the nation’s favourite rhubarb sidekick, Bird’s Custard. Today, the Custard Factory is a new media and arts quarter on a grand scale. Now housing hundreds of thriving businesses: arts studios, vintage and record shops, venues, cafes, bars, galleries and a Saturday fleamarket, it’s also home to some of the city’s leading independent craft stores and spaces.
Seeking to encourage crafts practice, development and learning, Craftspace operate a programme of touring exhibitions, research and participatory projects from their Custard Factory home. Welcomed into the Arts Council England National Portfolio this year and funded by the ACE, Craftspace run courses and exhibitions across the city, including some very crafty workshops that offer up so much more than learning to stitch and purl. Past workshops have included a plastics masterclass, guerrilla gardening, textile production, and ceramics. Pop in or check their website and you’ll find links to almost every craft group in the city, as well as news of their latest collaborations and exhibitions.
If your craftiness lies in the kitchen, head over to Chitty’s Cake Company. Located in the Custard Factory’s Scott House building, this sweet treat of a studio not only serves up delicious, one-off occasion cakes and cupcakes, it runs classes and short courses for all ages and abilities too. You can learn to bake and decorate your own unique cakes and cupcakes in-house, or try out their newly launched online cake decorating courses.
The Custard Factory’s studios are housed in the upper floors of Scott House and Green House, while around the ground floor you’ll find the independent shops where they sell their wares. Neat idea, huh? So from learning the ropes upstairs to stocking up on craft supplies downstairs, an essential stop is the Birmingham Bead Shop. Offering a huge selection of beads, charms, buttons and tools you need to make beautiful, unique jewellery, you’ll also find limited edition ranges and plenty of advice courtesy of their craft-obsessed staff.
If it’s textiles you’re after, whether you’re looking for dress fabric or soft furnishings, check out Fragile Design for an amazing selection of unique vintage textiles that’ll have your arty heart all-a-flutter. Try not to drool on the fabric though, as some of these pieces are really rare (and hence pretty pricey). For a cheaper alternative, check out the Saturday flea market and unearth some bargain textile treasure, and if you’re looking for some design inspiration, the Sara Preisler Gallery’s running a Corinne Phillips textile exhibition right now until 30th July.