Interview with Clair Heal


This week we finally get around to having a little chat with lovely, lovely Clair, the woman in charge of all the crafty deliciousness that is the Emporia shop and market. Here she tells us just how the two came into being, how she got into crafting in a big way, and just what exactly is going on in her life at the moment.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Clair Heal and I own and run Emporia Fabric & Crafts and also organise the Emporia Craft & Vintage Market, which usually takes place once a month in one of Ashford’s town centre units.


How did you get into crafting?
I have been sewing for as long as I can remember. My Nanny taught me how to sew, embroider and do tapestry when I was small. When I left school I studied Clothing Technology at Rochester after which became a costume designer until my first son was born in 2002. I didn’t start making crafts to sell until my kids were a few years old after making a few felt Christmas decorations.

Who and what inspires you?
My family inspire me to keep going with what I believe in. I’m also massively inspired by the creative people around me and all the talented local crafters and artisans that I’ve met on my way.

Which crafters/artists/designers do you most admire?
I really admire anyone who just goes for it, there are so many creative people in Ashford. I especially admire female entrepreneurs who have family life to juggle with, alongside the setting up and running of a business. In terms of fabric designers, I am loving Beth Studley’s collections for Makower – we stock her first collection Henna and her second collection has just arrived in the shop, which is called Meadow.

When did you decide to make the leap from making for friends and family to creating your own business?
It kind of evolved by itself; I did my first craft fair at my son’s school where I made a few felt Christmas decorations which went down really well. This gave me the buzz to carry on, so I did a few more craft fairs – some good some bad. It was after doing a particularly badly organised/advertised one in December 2012 that I, along with three friends, decided to hold an open house to sell our crafts to the local community. This went so well I decided to organise a craft fair in our local village hall; I advertised as much as I could and on opening the doors there was a queue of people waiting to come in!


Next thing I knew, I was phoning around to get a shop space in Ashford town centre to put on my first craft market, and luckily a lovely lady at Park Mall said yes, so on the 10th & 11th May 2013 Emporia Craft & Vintage market was born. So far there have been seven markets in various empty units around town. Unfortunately, it became increasingly difficult to find somewhere to hold it so I then decided to open a permanent outlet selling both crafts made by local people as well as beautiful fabrics, as I was frustrated at being unable to buy fabric for my crafts locally – buying online is just not the same, as it’s so much nicer to see and feel it.

If you weren’t running a fabric and craft shop, what would you be doing with your time?
Sitting at home watching daytime telly!

How do you manage the day to day running of the shop, alongside looking after your kids? Who helps you run the business?
I wanted to be able to take my littlest to school every day, that’s why the shop isn’t open till 10am. My lovely husband Neil is home a lot and is a massive help, and I’m very lucky to have such lovely friends who help out with childcare when needed.

Speaking of kids, there’s a rumour going around that you might be about to have another one …
Yes, it’s true! Our third Bubba is due at the beginning of July, so from the next week onwards I’ll be taking a break from the shop.

What’s going to happen to the shop while you are away on maternity leave?
Don’t worry, it will be business as usual and all will be left in the capable hands of a few lovely ladies whilst I’m away.


Any news on the Emporia market for the summer? We miss it!
I miss it too, and all the lovely stallholders! At the moment it’s a victim of its own success and I can’t find a shop big enough to fit us all in. I am working on it though and also have plans for something else special – so watch this space!

What are your plans for the rest of the year – when are you coming back? And will the baby be joining you in the shop?
I’m sure I won’t be able to keep away, but I’ll officially be back at the end of September. And yes, the baby will be with me because of course he’ll be a perfectly behaved baby and sit beside my desk!

So there you have it – one more week of Clair and then the shop will be under the care of various crafty ladies (myself included – eek!) for a three month summer special. Now don’t go all stroppy on us, like teenagers with a supply teacher – we promise to have everything running just as normal and there will more info coming soon on classes, special offers and of course, all the usual lovely new fabrics and stock coming into the shop. All that’s left to say for now is: We wish you all the best with the impending arrival – just make sure you spend as much time sleeping and sewing between now and the baby arriving as you possibly can, as there probably won’t be much opportunity once he comes. Good luck!





Easter Opening Hours


Easter weekend is just around the corner, so we thought you should know that the shop will be closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday, but open as normal on Saturday 19th April 2014. So if you are in need of last minute Easter gifts or fancy a bit of fabric shopping to see you through the bank holiday, pop in, say hello and have a browse of all our lovely stuff.

As next week is all about bunnies, chocolate and having a four day weekend, the blog is taking a little break and attempting to enjoy some spring sunshine and maybe a spot of sewing. We will of course be back in the saddle and ready and eager to go the following week, so don’t go missing us too much. Maybe re-watch the entirety of the Great British Sewing Bee on iPlayer instead – we are sorry to see the end of the series, and can’t believe we have a whole year to wait before Claudia, Patrick, May and another round of crafty sewing enthusiasts are back on are screens. But don’t fret – we have Sewing Bee inspiration for you coming very soon!

Enjoy your Easter break and don’t eat too much chocolate. Alright, do eat too much chocolate, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.


Funky Fabrics and Beautiful Buttons


Well, put on your sunglasses and wheel your sewing machine into the garden – it seems that spring is here at last! (Or it was yesterday at least.) It’s only just over a month until Easter and the clocks go forward in just three weeks’ time, so we at Emporia are starting to get a quite excited by the prospect of longer days, sunny afternoons and more opportunity to sew in natural daylight – it’s time to put away your headtorches and angle lamps, ladies and gents, and get all the brightness you need from our latest arrivals in the store.


We’ve had some fantastic new stock come into the shop over the past week or so, and it’s all simply perfect for brightening up these early spring days and putting a bit of sunshine in your sewing. First up, this simply amazing Riley Blake neon bright cassette tape print just screams summer with its good old fashioned 90s retro theme; it’s also spot on for anyone who actually remembers using these old school recording devices – taping the Top 40 on the radio, whilst trying to edit out the DJs anyone? No? Just us then.


Speaking of old school, fans of funky prints can also get excited about these Michael Miller printed spectacles in yet more brights called 20/20, while the elephants (Romp, also by Michael Miller) are feeling the zingy colours of spring in turquoise, purple, lime and orange.


Kids’ prints are always useful around Easter if you fancy a spot of chick themed sewing, or some delightful jungle themed line drawn animals in bright, bright blue.


Asides from all our delicious new fabrics, the newly stocked button table is full to bursting with loads of lovely colours, designs and pictures all waiting to be oohed and ahhed over by you. Giant red anchors, tiny green flower shapes, dinky trains and boats, yellow and orange polka dots, and wooden butterflies are just some of the beautiful buttons we’ve got on sale to accompany yet more ribbons and trimmings in a rainbow of colours and themes.


What more excuse do you need to come in and have a good old butchers at all our lovely new things? None! we hear you cry, so roll on springtime!

Emporia Market this Weekend!


The Emporia Vintage and Craft market makes its first appearance of the year this weekend, bringing you all the loveliness you can always expect from our fabulous designers and makers. Taking place on both Friday and Saturday, you can expect to see a variety of different crafts and vintage pieces from lots of regular makers, plus some new ones too.


Regulars Aye Aye will be on hand with their vintage fabric inspired accessories and kids’ clothing, and Richardson and Richardson are sure to catch your eye with their laser cut wooden cards and funky perspex jewellery, and there will be more vintage style cards from Sandys Cards 4 All Occasions; Nasty Batsy will be bringing along her delightful rag dolls, and Shell’s Driftwood hanging hearts and chalkboards are certain to be one of the biggest hits with lovers of seaside themed designs.


There’s more nature-inspired crafts by Steve Beaney and his wood turning art, plus chunky knitted scarves and hats from Baa Baa Designs, plus lots more new designer makers bringing their wares to the market for the very first time, so you can be sure there will be plenty of lovely craft to get your mitts on and be inspired by. And for anyone in need of sustenance at the market, there will of course be plenty of tea and cakes on sale, and a selection of delightfully iced cupcakes to take home from Everyone Loves Cupcakes.

This week’s Emporia Vintage and Craft market is open from 10am -5pm on Friday 28th February and Saturday 1st March 2014 in Park Mall, Ashford town centre. Hope to see you there – whatever the weather!

The Great British Sewing Bee is Back!


Hold onto your sewing kits, people, and halt your hemming – tonight The Great British Sewing Bee, featuring the delightfully strict Patrick Grant, the headmistressy but knowledgeable May Martin, and the eternally bonkers Claudia Winkleman, is back! BBC 2 kicks off the second series of the sewing show at 8pm this evening, bringing sewing to mainstream TV once more after the success of last year’s series, which was won by the grande dame of amateur sewing, 81 year old Ann.


For those that missed out the first time round, Claudia hosts this insightful programme that looks into the wonders of tailoring, fabric choices and all those complicated terms for when you sew something in what seems like a really obvious sort of way to get what you want, but has a frighteningly posh sounding French name. Contestants are set tasks each week to measure the cut of their cloth and see what kind of creative skills they have with a sewing machine. Various talents are put to the test, and different garments are cut, sewn, fitted and completed against the clock, before they are judged by Saville Row tailor Patrick and WI legend May, who spend a lot of the programme walking around in the background and occassionally putting the wind up people who think they know what they’re doing, but as it turns out, don’t. It is truly thrilling stuff, even if you have never so much as put needle to thread. This is Bake Off for crafters and it’s even more addictive!

There are the same amount of contestants taking part this year, but the programme has a longer run in the schedules (eight episodes compared to last year’s four), which should promise more exciting makes and bigger challenges for the sewers and the viewers to get their teeth into. There are a couple of clips on the BBC site which give you a taste for what’s coming up – our personal fave involves Claudia and some dungarees – but whatever floats your sewing boat, there is bound to be plenty of sewing action to get your fingers itching to get stuck into a project or two over the next few weeks. And of course there will be a big old tie-in book to accompany the show, crammed full with more makes, and this year it comes with five full patterns sheets, meaning you don’t have to print out endless A4 pieces and tape them altogether before you get started.


So if you’re feeling like you need a little Sewing Bee buzz in real life, why not join our Sewing Club on Thursday mornings, from 10am to 1pm, for £10.00 per session. And of course there are always plenty of delicious fabric in store at Emporia, alongside a whole host of other sewing related loveliness just waiting to help you get started.

Interview with Cakes and Catwalks


This week we have another sneak peak into the life and craft of one of our regular contributors, today it’s Emma Jane Faulkner of Cakes and Catwalks. She gives us the low down on her long lived passion for baking, why she loves the history of crafting, and her secret desire to become a swing dancer.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Emma Jane Faulkner, I’m a baker and crafter, I teach crochet workshops in Ashford and bake bespoke cakes to order for weddings, celebrations and commercial events.


How did you get into crafting?
I’ve always been creative artistically and in the kitchen, and it’s something my family nurtured in me from a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are of baking home-made apple pies with my mum. My grandmother was a talented seamstress and knitter – when I was six years old she taught me how to knit. I reconnected with knitting 10 years ago when I embarked on a degree in fashion-textile design, specialising in knitwear design. An 86 year-old lady taught me how to crochet while I was on a design internship; she had endless patience and I’ve been hooked ever since (no pun intended!).

Who and what inspires you to create?
My belief is that when you make something yourself (whether baking or crafting), you can often make a better version than you can buy. In an increasingly digital world, I find working with hand-crafts particularly rewarding.  I love having skills like knitting, crochet and embroidery which would be recognisable to people who lived hundreds of years ago; there’s something very humble about being able to make useful or beautiful things from a little hook and some yarn.


Which crafters/artists/designers do you most admire?
There are so many, the Internet is a wonderful source of inspiration and a great place to discover and connect with crafters around the world. I’m a big fan of blogs such as design sponge and oh happy day which are filled with creative ideas.

When did you decide to make the leap from making for friends and family to creating your own business?
I decided early 2013 that I wanted to start my own business and chose to make the most of my creative skills. It’s a tough transition and very hard work, but working every day doing things you love is incredibly rewarding, I especially enjoy the journey of teaching, and I wish I’d made the leap sooner.

What five things would you say were essential when you set up your craft business?
Good business acumen – If you don’t know how to manage your finances and stock control as well as market yourself and identify opportunities, you’ll struggle.
Know your prices  – It’s tough surviving in a throwaway market where customers are used to buying mass-produced products from cheaper shops. Stand your ground, understand that you need to pay yourself an hourly wage and respect the skill that goes into the craft you produce.
Find your USP (unique selling point)  – You need to make sure your product fills a gap in the market: find the unique element (the materials, your skills, the purpose of the product) and market it.
Learn to be strong – At some point, someone might be rude or negative about your business. You may even have ideas or designs stolen by others. Starting your own business is an emotional journey, so it’s hard not to take this kind of behaviour personally. You need to learn not to and rise above the situation.

Get onlineLearn how to use social networking sites that apply to your business. Follow the brands you love and see what they do well (and what they don’t), so you can build your brand through your social presence and connect with others.
Understand copyright – Never copy or ‘borrow’ from another person’s designs, or profit commercially from something you haven’t designed or created yourself. Have faith in your own creativity and run with it. Make sure you add copyright to images of all of your work; you can’t stop other people ripping you off, but you can add a deterrent.

Name three of your most popular designs.
My most popular cake are my three-tiered Christmas cake, a classical guitar cake I made for a commission last year and my Halloween cupcakes.

If you weren’t a crafter/baker, what would you be doing with your time?
I do actually have an alternative career plan, but it’s quite boring. So I’m going to go with something fun, and say I’d train to be a professional swing dancer.


Do you run any workshops or take part in any groups?
I am currently running beginners’ crochet workshops at Emporia at the Centre for Creativity and Enterprise in Ashford.

What’s new with your craft for 2014? Tell us about some of the exciting things we can expect to see from you in the shop or at the Emporia market this year.
I have big plans for 2014, but unfortunately they’re all under wraps at the moment! I’ll be running more crochet workshops in Ashford, introducing new themes and projects.

If you’re inspired to take up crochet, click here for more info on Emma Jane’s classes run in our very own shop. And you can visit her blog for some delicious looking pictures of funky cake designs and recipes for making your very own baked treats.

More Classes at Emporia


Brrrr, it’s cold out there at the moment, so we are battoning down the hatches and thinking about what lovely new crafts we can learn to keep our hands busy and our minds off the chill. Due to the amazing success of the first round of the beginner’s crochet classes, we are kicking off another session with Emma Jane in March, so if you missed out on the January ones, here’s your chance to sign up for the next batch.

It’s exactly the same as before, so if you don’t know one end of a crochet hook from another but are keen to get cracking with making up your Granny Squares so that you can turn them into blanket, a cushion cover or even a scarf to keep out the wintry winds, this is the class for you. It costs £60.00 per person for four weeks, and includes plenty of one-to-one time with Emma Jane so that you can learn at your own pace and feel confident in your new found skills. For more information, click on the Classes page at the top of the blog, or pop into the shop for a chat.

We are also keen to see what other classes people might be interested in at the moment, as we have had a couple of people asking if we might run a complete beginners knitting class, so if you have any preference for a particular skill you would like to learn, we would love to hear about it. You can either leave a comment on the blog or the Facebook page, or come and talk to Clair in the shop.