Calligraphy adventures at Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Fair 2014

Oh my goodness… when I first got the call asking me to give a calligraphy skills workshop for Kirstie back in May I said yes without even thinking about it. The excitement grew until all of a sudden it was the 18th of September and time to catch a train from the Lake District all the way down through London and Hampton Court Palace for The Handmade Fair. Over three days I helped almost 300 craft lovers make their first steps with quirky calligraphy – and you know what? It was a fabulous experience and one I can’t wait to repeat!

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The three calligraphy skills workshops were fantastic: everyone tried really hard, I saw some really exciting lettering and charming characters both in person and on paper! We took some photos over the weekend to tell our story, from around the fair, inside the workshops and backstage – I hope you like them!

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Arriving at The Handmade Fair on Friday morning was a little overwhelming! Even stepping out of Hampton Court station there was a line of people heading for the fair, and it felt very real all of a sudden! We landed on site around 11am to find the place already buzzing, there were thousands of people exploring the exhibitor tents, in the workshops and food areas. We found our lovely papercraft tent manager Emma who helped us settle in and showed us where to find all of our supplies ready for the first workshop at 2.

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The first thing to do was collect our Expert badges – and customise them. I felt a little pretentious walking around with a badge proclaiming I was an Expert, so I crossed it out and changed it to Wizard. (Later that day, someone asked me what a wizard was and I had to explain about spells…) My partner in crime, super roadie and better half Steve was more subtle, simply asking for an S at the front of his badge.

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We got lost twice in the first hour, and I couldn’t find the papercraft tent or any of the skills workshops on the map! My puzzled expression is one I wear often, and it doesn’t take much to confuse me…

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All too soon it was time to welcome people into the calligraphy skills workshop. I really wanted to give the workshops a personal touch so I handed out pens at the door – it was lovely to meet everyone on that first day and helped calm my nerves! We sold over 84 tickets to the first workshop…

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Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair 2014 (7)

The beautifully decorated papercraft tent, with me up at the front being teacher! The ‘stage’ was quite high up! I felt like I was King of the Tent – not a comfortable place to be! – and as soon as I could I jumped down to come and see what my students were doing… and they were doing so well. A wonderful start to the weekend.

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It really helped to see how students were holding the pens and what they found easy or struggled with. Writing thin hairlines was the easiest part; moving the pen upwards on the paper always proves difficult though, and it simply takes practice to develop that light, smooth touch with the calligraphy pen. The next step is to apply pressure on a downwards stroke of the pen, and this is a brave step. With the nibs we were using (Gillott 303 nibs from Blots Pens) the trick was to be brave and apply plenty of pressure, bending the nib enough for the tines (the two points at the end of the nib) to part, spreading the ink between them.

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Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair 2014 (11)


After our first successful workshop we tidied up and headed straight for the Prosecco van! Thank you organisers for putting it right outside the papercraft tent!

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The Wizard badge was removed and we relaxed and enjoyed the fair for the rest of the afternoon. We made a few changes to the format of the workshops for day 2: rather than relying on the screen, which was too small to demonstrate how the calligraphy pen would flex and bend to make nice letter shapes, we decided I should give a very quick demo and spend the rest of the workshops amongst the students.

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On day 2 we put our plan in place – and it worked a treat. I loved seeing what everyone was doing, and how people were really experimenting with the pens to get the best out of them. It makes me smile to remember the man who drew a bunny, and I’m pleased we had such a fantastic group of students… because that was the day the guy with a camera turned up! Talk about surprised… but I think we coped (basically: I jumped down from my throne and ran around the tent trying to hide from the camera while he filmed my students… it worked. I’m only kidding, he was great really!)

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The papercraft tent beginning to fill up for day 2, and two of my class stars are here: Kate has been learning calligraphy for a year and she writes about her experiences on her blog at Olive and Reid. She’s really inspiring and I’ve learned a lot from her blog. Have a read: Then there is Jamie’s friend who asked some great questions about calligraphy – I wish I’d had more of a chance to talk to both of you two!

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How exciting to have lovely Poppy Chancellor in the calligraphy skills workshop for the afternoon! Poppy’s writing was already full of character, and her enthusiasm is infectious. I do think I look like an elf in this photo…

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Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair 2014 (18)

Err… hello, camera guy!

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This is me running away…

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It really was good to see everyone’s writing and to be able to demonstrate the way the pen moves as well as correcting a few of the most common beginners’ mistakes: it’s ever so easy to tilt the pen to one side when it should be fairly flat on the page – and I enjoyed being able to help people and see their writing take shape!

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We were writing names on little paper gift boxes, and I suggested people write either a short name or even initials on the lid of the box. In this corner of the tent the lady in blue had written such beautiful initials, they were fabulous.

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One of my favourite photos: I can’t remember the conversation, but this lady was wonderful – and what a brilliant picture!

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Introducing my “who-are-you-what’s-that-thing-and-I-can’t-remember-how-to-use-words-this-is-embarrassing” face. Pretty, isn’t it… we have more of these photos and they only get worse – but they make me giggle. A crazy highlight of the weekend!

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Boy, did we need an alcoholic iced tea from Harry Brompton’s after that! Cheers! Sadly we couldn’t stay for the staff party as we’d arranged to go to a concert in Camden that night – a little rock music to bring us well and truly back down to earth 🙂

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… and on to day 3, our final calligraphy skills workshop and a chance for some last minute shopping! This is me outside our little home from home…

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Inside, another packed out workshop and a fantastic bunch of calligraphy students.

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Asking everyone to gather around to watch as I demonstrated the movements of the pen was really helpful. I can’t remember if it was day 3 when we had a dozen or so left-handed students, and I was a little stuck – it was fascinating to see how left-handers write, and in theory it shouldn’t be hard to write with a calligraphy pen – but the difficulty comes from normal handwriting: left-handers have a way of curling their hands around and above their day-to-day writing and are used to forming letters differently. This is what makes calligraphy tricky to learn, unfortunately. I mentioned the left handed calligrapher, whose website is here – for inspiration. There’s an interesting video here too: – although the writer is holding the pen way too close to the nib!

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I wish I knew what I was explaining here… or why I pull faces when I talk! In the background you can see our favourite person Emma in the pink vest – she was the manager of the papercraft tent and we couldn’t have done it without her! She’s talking to Nigel the tech guy in charge of the microphone – who I was secretly calling Mike (with the mic…) – he even had a go at calligraphy, what a star!

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Backstage at the papercraft tent and this is where we assembled all of our little boxes, sorted pens and papers and for one terrifying half hour on Saturday lost all of our nibs! (My fault – I left them on the teacher’s desk!). Steve was the best helper I could have had – my boyfriend, roadie, manager, counsellor and tactician. What a star.

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Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair 2014 (34)

After the third calligraphy skills workshop we were done! Time to tidy up, buy a bit of ribbon and head back into Camden for our last gig of the weekend. Before that though… a final few photos as we left the Handmade Fair…

The pompoms were multiplying so fast! Impressive…

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We didn’t manage to sneak into the super theatre to see any of Kirstie’s interviews – we’ll put that on the list for next year instead!

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(I should explain my hand and the bandage – I’d been running and fallen pretty badly a couple of days before the fair, and I was lucky not to break any bones. I landed on my hand and grazed it quite badly so I just had to cover it to write.)

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What a shame we weren’t allowed into the VIP tent, even with our Wizard and Sexpert badges – but the nice security man let us have photos taken with his puppy.

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Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Fair 2014 (41)

A successful weekend, an amazing experience, and an exhausting one… time for a little snooze amongst the pompoms!

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claire gould calligrapher signature Thanks to:

  • Kirstie Allsopp, Jamie Stimpson, Lisa McCann at
  • Papercraft tent manager extraordinaire the lovely Emma and everyone at Brand Events
  • John at Blots Pens for supplying us with penholders and nibs – I buy nearly all my calligraphy supplies from John and can’t recommend him highly enough
  • Hobbycraft for supplying our ribbons and ink (even though it was cheap fountain pen ink… it did the job)
  • Most of all my boyfriend Steve for coming along and helping with absolutely everything. I love you!

Here’s a closer look at the handwritten box project:

and here you can see the movement of the calligraphy nib as I write:



One Comment

  1. Love seeing what you got up to… it looks like you had a superb few days at the fair. That iced tea was rather delicious wasn’t it ! 🙂 xx