London’s streets are lined with souvenir shops hawking mass-produced Big Ben statues, royal wedding mugs, and Queen Elizabeth paperweights. You can mark your trip with a more meaningful memento by purchasing something designed or even handmade locally. On a recent jaunt, I discovered a bounty of London boutiques and markets that specialize in unique wares made with love by regional artists and crafters.
Smug is the jewel of a quaint, pedestrian-only side street in the Angel district. Its three narrow stories, styled like a chalet in a birch forest, overflow with stamped handbags, plush toys, art prints, and ceramic owls. Like its name suggests, the boutique favors goods that make you laugh or give you a wink. The knitted fox scarves by Donna Wilson embody the Smug spirit: special and handmade in the UK, but poking fun at luxury. Find the shop at 13 Camden Passage, two blocks from the Angel station.
You could plan an entire weekend around touring the East End’s Brick Lane, where you’ll find graffiti by famous street artists, vintage clothing shops, London’s best curry, and, of course, handmade treasures. @Work Contemporary Jewellery gallery represents more than 50 artists working in a wide variety of media, and with a price range to suit any traveler’s budget. My favorite find was the lacy acrylic collection by Glitter & Twisted. Walk to @Work’s 156 Brick Lane location from the Shoreditch overground station. (There’s a second location at 35 Ponsonby Terrace near the Pimlico tube.)
@Work Contemporary Jewellery showcases more than 50 artists in its casual gallery.
Oak Studio in the Hampstead district is an ideal stop for crafty travelers looking for community. In addition to its cozy store selling housewares, children’s items, jewelry, and stationery, Oak hosts frequent workshops and craft parties. Buy some handmade booties, or learn to crochet your own! A new skill may be the ultimate keepsake. Make your way to 8 Perrins Court, a charming stone street, from the Hampstead station.
Shopping for the right keepsake can be exhausting, so luckily Drink, Shop & Do is a restaurant and boutique combo. The young owners (best friends since secondary school) turned a formal bathhouse into a hipster’s tea parlor decorated with mismatched vintage furniture and stocked with board games. Everything is for sale, including the chair under your tush and the 1950s jukebox. After finger sandwiches and pie, peruse suitcase-friendly finds such as jigsaw puzzle jewelry or a screenprinted journal. DSD is at 9 Caledonian Road, around the corner from Kings Cross station.
At Drink, Shop & Do, tea and crafts go hand in hand.
When Of Cabbages and Kings took over an old candy shop, one thing didn’t change: the sunny store still packs in treats that make your inner child squeal. Pastel ’50s furniture displays vibrant tea towels, limited edition art prints, letterpress coasters, floral shoulder bags, and so much more. My most delectable find was a Biscuit Boutique custard cookie necklace that’s good enough to eat. You can shop online if you’re an ocean away from 34B Kersley Road, near the Stoke Newington station.
Just south of touristy Oxford Street, where international chain stores are the rule, lies an independent fashion lover’s dream. Leave the West End bustle for Beyond the Valley, which prides itself on finding the hippest emerging talent in clothing and accessories, plus a healthy dose of housewares and art in the back room. My highlight was discovering Good One’s modish patchwork shift dresses and cropped jackets, which combine reclaimed sweaters (or “jumpers,” as the Brits say) and factory surplus cloth. From the Oxford Circus station, head to 2 Newburgh Street in the famous Carnaby shopping strip.
Beyond the Valley leads with indie fashion and stocks its back room with art and crafts.
London has many arts and crafts organizations that host regular markets and seasonal pop-up shops. Try Of Cabbages and Kings Market Day at Abney Hall if you’re in town the first Saturday of any month (73A Church Street via Stoke Newington station). The Designers Makers Market is the third Saturday of every month at Old Spitalfields Market, a Victorian relic of East London (16 Horner Square). For the six weeks before Christmas, Curve Gallery at the Barbican Centre hosts Design Den, featuring emerging craftspeople from London and beyond (Silk Street). The annual Thames Festival, which in 2012 will coincide with the closing of the Olympic Games (Sept. 8–9), features a river-hugging “craft trail” where visitors can shop for unique goods and take free workshops.
Do these sneak peeks have London calling you? To help plan your own craft crawl, pack the guide Independent London, which reviews more than 200 boutiques and restaurants by neighborhood. Happy handmade hunting!
Jeanée Ledoux blogs on finelycrafted.net. She designed the projects for the book Abode à la Mode: 44 Projects for Hip Home Décor and the DVD Re-Construct: Eco-Friendly Crafts Made Easy. She writes, edits, and crafts in Decatur, Ga.
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