This year's Showcase expo at the RDS was full of top-quality design-led Irish crafts, says Lucinda O'Sullivan
NOT for the first time on visiting Showcase – Ireland's creative expo, held annually in January at the RDS – have I felt a great pride in our amazing crafts people and entrepreneurs.
Showcase attracts buyers from all over the world, but it's a great shame that the general public isn't given the opportunity to see all the wonderful crafts – from magnificent silk scarves, pottery, jewellery and woodturning to contemporary furniture and lighting.
But all in all, a spectacular Showcase 2013.
Colm de Ris is one of our most successful potters, creating exquisite pots, bowls and vases, in a high-lustre reflective blue glaze, shot with splashes of copper. His pots are thrown or built by hand and are very distinctive with strong colours, sweeping shapes and a seductive neo-Celtic feel.
Colm's love of pottery started when he was 10 years old and did a course at Pine Forest Art Centre in Glencullen, in the Dublin Mountains.
"I put my hands on the clay there and I've just loved it ever since. I did a professional pottery course and in 1996 I started my own business, but in 2002 we lost everything in a fire. We got going again and are in business 16 years, supplying the world.
"We do huge business in the States – I supply 30 retail outlets in the States and I also do QVC, and we absolutely sell out. Every single piece is different, individually made. Totally special."
Jamie Lewis, originally from England, now lives in Stoneybatter and works at The Malt House Design Centre on Dublin's North Circular Road. Along with business partner, Ben Harris, Jamie designed Ovis ("half table, half sheep") – a circular sidetable made from industrial felt, which looks like a drum, with a removable wooden top so you can also use it for storage.
Also at The Malt House stand is Donna Bates from Co Down, who was showing her Parlour Lighting. I really loved her large pendant lights inspired by jars from milking parlours. These are spectacular, as was a Swirl drinks cabinet made by furniture designer Tricia Harris and interior design architect Anne Kirby.
Moving into the fashion world I met Galway girl Heather Finn, who creates the most beautiful knitwear in glorious colours and yarns. She has an outlet at Atelier Studio in Drury Street, which she opened six months ago.
Dun Laoghaire-based print designer Susannagh Grogan produces the most amazing limited edition heavy silk scarves with hand-finished edges. Susannagh trained at Chelsea College of Art & Design and subsequently worked in America doing prints for Tommy Hilfiger, Macy's and Victoria's Secrets.
Natasha Nosenko, originally from Latvia, is based in Portlaoise. She has a very pretty range of handcrafted wool and silk felted neckpiece accessories, perfect for jazzing up any outfit.
Remarking to Natasha that they reminded me of Regency dandy ruffles, she said her inspiration came from history and that she had named some of her pieces after historical characters such as Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett.
Brendan Lawless from Bray, Co Wicklow, has the most beautiful range of boat builder's chairs. He started recreating these two years ago from an 1830s design which originated on the shores of Lough Neagh in a boat builder's yard.
If you want a statement piece for your house, one of these could be it. In various finishes, with names, from Achill to Inis Oirr, they are fab. What is really clever is his 'baidin' creation which interlocks two chairs facing one another to hold a Moses basket securely. When baby gets bigger, you dismantle the baidin and have your two chairs back.
Eric Byrne and Janine Hennessy are creating lovely cheeseboards in Dunboyne, Co Meath, using Kilkenny and Connemara marbles, and granite and limestone. All very striking for your table, with a lovely clean finish.
If your fancy is for wooden boards, we spotted Caulfield Country Boards from Kells, Co Meath, which has an ingenious and attractive bread bin topped with a crumb catcher breadboard lid.
Greg and Mary Whelan started the Irish Linen House two years ago, making beautiful embroidered table settings.
"We started on the Enterprise Section, up on the balcony, and it has grown from strength to strength. After that Showcase, we got into Kilkenny Design in Nassau Street, and it has been a huge success. Over the past year our business has grown 300 per cent.
"We have also gone out to the US a few times doing shows out there. We did the New York International Gift Fair in August and we got great orders. It was a huge success for us and we are going back now to do the January show."
Who could resist a tea cosy created by the most famous priest's housekeeper ever? I speak of course of Pauline McLynn, who has started the Go On Tea Company, creating fabulous and fun traditional knitted tea cosies with a twist. Pauline says she intends the tea cosies to work hard and look great, and also to make people smile.
"I am just six months in business now. I mostly started because I had big birthday last July, when I became 38 again! I had started knitting again, and I think a lot when I am sitting around.
"I had written the second of the teen novels which I now write, it is coming out in June. It is about a 13-year-old who knits with her friends. I made up some patterns when I was doing the book and that is how I got back into knitting.
"They are very, very Irish. They made me smile.
"I have knitters in Lucan who make them, and I also knit my own 'one offs' which I sell through my website."
So, Go On, get a Pauline McLynn tea cosy made from the best of Irish yarn.
"We make tech accessories from natural materials – appletree wood, bog oak, 100 per cent wool felt, and vegetable tan leather," explained Alan and Gary McCormack of their year-old business, Carve On, based in Sallins, Co Kildare.
"I had an interest in making them for myself and we were tinkering with them as a hobby for iPhones, iPads et al," says Alan.
The brothers come from a background of finance and chartered accountancy, and had always talked about going into business together. This was their first Showcase. There is a lovely architectural natural feel about their products.
They also work with Irish artists including Maser, the popular graffiti artist, and illustrator Nicola Colton.
"The Crafts Council has been amazing, we couldn't say enough about it," say the boys.
Tracey Ryan graduated from Cork Institute of Technology two years ago with a degree in herbal science and set up Bia Beauty Natural Handmade Cosmetics.
"I really wanted to set up a business to use the skills that I had learned on the course. It's going fantastically well. I have 30 stockists around the country, from pharmacies to health stores.
"I have had a fantastic year in business," she says.
Matt Jones is a woodturner working in Riverstown, Co Sligo. He, along with his wife Imelda, was exhibiting wonderful keepsake rattles and sophisticated bottle stoppers, which were so silky and smooth you didn't want to let go of them. It was their second year at Showcase.
"I am Welsh, Imelda is from Sligo. I studied fine art many years ago in London and then I became a musician for many years and travelled around the place. When we settled here I wanted to get back into some creative making. I developed an interest in wood turning and it went from there."
He also creates bowls, stools, and wooden plates.
Kiyoni silk scarves are the brainchild of James McKeon, artist. "My son and daughter convinced me to start making scarves last year. I hand draw them first and then I convert them."
The designs are amazing. "They are all based on fairytales and folklore," says James's daughter Lisa. Look out for the Arabian Night square – beautiful.
Si + Lu is a children's wear label founded by musicians Lucy Clarke and Simon O'Connor. Using such materials as handwoven Donegal tweed and linen, their designs are a contemporary take on traditional designs.
"We have about 45 craftspeople who freelance for us all around the country – seamstresses in Dublin and knitters in Wexford. At the moment we are selling on line, so we came to Showcase."
Patricia Howard is a potter from Wexford producing lovely designs with elephants, the 'Jumbo' range, which caught my eye. She hadn't been at Showcase for 15 years.
"The Dubliners don't come down looking for stuff anymore, the whole footprint has changed. The Enterprise Board offered me a space here so I am back."
Locker 13 Design Studio also caught my eye. Childhood friends Shane Wilson and Karl Medcalf set up Locker 13, having both studied industrial design at NCAD, and have brilliantly creative designs.
I loved a little blackboard which looks just like an iPad but so useful for kids. Loved too their Comfort bottle vases and Comfort lampshades. Cool. They also sell out of the Malt House Design Centre.