Lately: Renegade Craft Fair

Our jaunt to London last month not only included a trip to knitting heaven, but also lots of other fun things. So fun in fact, that I thought they deserved their own blog posts. Today it’s my visit to the Renegade Craft Fair, which took place in the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. You may well have heard of Renegade Craft Fair, who are the bees knees at organising fairs showcasing the very best in beautiful handmade goods. The team behind RCF held their very first fair back in 2003 in Chicago, with only 75 stallholders. Since then they have gone from strength to strength, adding Austin, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco to their regular locations. And then, in 2011, they made their debut over here, holding their first ever UK fair in London.

I have known of RCF for a while, and enjoyed following their craft fairs via flickr. The fairs tend to be huge, featuring hundreds of stallholders at a time, and encompassing a wide range of handmade goods including housewares, ceramics, jewellery, paper goods, clothing, artwork, wool, comics…phew! So imagine my delight when I found out that the next London fair would be taking place the same weekend I was going to be there! Now that, I thought, is crafting fate.

And I wasn’t disappointed. It was a lovely sunny day, and the fair was bustling – held in a huge hall above the famous food hall on Brick Lane, it was an ideal spot. At times, it felt a bit like being in a greenhouse, with the sun streaming in through the glass roof, but being a bit warm wasn’t going to stop me enjoying the lovely crafts. And lovely they were! I came away with beautiful jewellery from Lovely Pigeon and Oh, Hello Friend, a whole stack of business cards and, as usual, many a photograph – some of which you can see below. You can find the rest over on flickr. And if you happen to find a Renegade fair happening in your next of the woods anytime soon, you know the drill: GO!

Beach biscuits

Like me, you may have spent the last ten weeks enjoying the emotional ups and downs of the summer’s best TV programme, The Great British Bake Off. And you may well have seen the lovely section a few weeks ago on Anglesey’s Aberffraw biscuits. Traditional shortbread biscuits with a beach-y twist, I immediately decided that I wanted to make some for our weekly knitting group meeting. The most important ingredient in this recipe, however, is not food, but instead the shell used to make the distinctive markings on the biscuit. You can watch the clip on how the biscuits are still traditionally made on Anglesey here.

As it happened, last weekend we took a trip to Anglesey. After visiting an antiques fair and having a picnic in the sun, we went to the beach at Benllech, on the north coast of the island, to go shell-hunting. I was excited about making Aberffraw biscuits with a shell from Anglesey!

It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, very sunny but cold, and the beach was busy with children exploring rockpools and dogs chasing each other across the sand. We clambered about on the rocks and gathered an admirable selection of shells. Although we didn’t find any of the flat scallop shells that are traditionally used, we did find a few large biscuit-worthy cockle shells.

Once home, I washed the shells and set about with the recipe. On the Bake Off they mentioned that the Aberffraw recipe includes wholemeal flour to add a grainy quality, giving the biscuits a sandy texture evoking the beaches where the scallop shells were first discovered. I also decided to use demerara as well as caster sugar in my bisuits, as it is slightly coarser and would add to the “beachy” feel of the biscuits. I adapted a basic shortbread recipe accordingly, and when it came to making the biscuits, selected the biggest of our shells (about 5.5cm across) and used it as a cutter to stamp out the shell shapes. I then rolled the convex top of the shell (with the most detail on it) across the top of the biscuit, and voilà! I am really pleased with how my Aberffraw biscuits turned out, and especially pleased that my knitting friends recognised them from the Bake Off. They all went back for seconds, and some for thirds – and as we all know, this is the mark of an especially good biscuit.

So enjoy my recipe for Aberffraw biscuits, and if you possibly can, make a trip to Anglesey for your own traditional shell. And if that’s a bit too far for you to trek for your shell, I’m sure any will do. I won’t tell if you don’t…

Aberffraw biscuits

170g (6oz) plain flour
170g (6oz) wholemeal flour
225g (8oz) butter, softened
60g (2oz) caster sugar
60g (2oz) light brown demerara sugar

vanilla sugar, for sprinkling

Makes about 30 biscuits with a 5.5cm shell

– Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/Fan 140°/Gas mark 3.

– Mix together the flours and sugars in a large bowl. Cut the butter into squares and add to the bowl. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture is just beginning to bind together.

– Knead lightly until the mixture forms a smooth dough, adding a little milk if needed.

– Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to about 1cm thickness. Using your shell, stamp out a piece of dough. Turn the shell over and, using a butter knife, gently prise the dough away from the underside of the shell. Then roll the back of the shell across the surface of the biscuit, making a raised shell pattern on the surface.

– Repeat with the rest of the dough and place the biscuits onto baking trays. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar and bake in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until a very pale golden brown. Leave to cool on the baking trays for a few minutes, and if you have any left, store in an airtight tin.

In the loop

A few weeks ago, I accompanied the boys behind Salle Pierre Lamy on a short trip to London. In between going on the radio, eating large quantities of food and lots of giddy running around in Liberty’s (just me, really, that one), Jim and Ian succumbed to being dragged into the Loop knitting shop, in Islington.

If you have never heard of Loop, it is a knitting mecca. You may well have seen their adverts in knitting and crochet magazines, and they have a strong online presence with a lovely, but positively evil, shop and a great blog, packed full of knitting and crochet-related news, patterns and events. I have visited the Loop shop on previous trips to London, but this time I was armed with a camera.

The shop is a lovely little haven in Camden Passage, bright and colourful and stuffed full with glorious things to look at: countless shelves and jars of buttons, washi tape, skeins of thread arranged in rainbow colours, knitted oddments and various crafty magazines and brochures. There is an actual WALL OF WOOL that greets you as you walk in, where you stop and realise with a tingly feeling that you will be spending a lot of money today. Delightful handmade paper decorations adorn the windows, and upstairs, there is an alphabetised bookcase of craft books, along with a basket full of wool, crocheted blankets and the most amazing rug I have ever seen.

The women in the shop were happy for me to take photos, and they didn’t even seem to mind when I didn’t actually buy anything. To be honest, I was too overwhelmed by it all! It’s difficult to find just one thing to buy in Loop, so when you go, remember two things:

1) That week, you will probably be eating only beans on toast
2) You should definitely not blame me when this happens

Enjoy the photos!