These days it is not enough to walk into a big box store and leave with a gift-certificate for that perfect someone – it’s hardly the perfect gift. Instead, we want something handmade, one-of-a-kind, that tells a story as unique as the person it is for. Luckily, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of artisans across Ontario with amazing creations just waiting to be taken home by gifters like you and me. But, where do we find them? I have your answer – we find them at the HandMade Market.
I first learned about the HandMade Market in 2011 around October when I saw an ad for the Christmas event at The Good Earth Winery in Beamsville. I did not end up attending but a couple girlfriends went and left with most of their Christmas shopping done. If there is one thing I can appreciate it is getting Christmas shopping wrapped up one fabulous swoop!
This go-round, the Autumn 2012 HandMade Market was at 13th Street Winery in St. Catharines. The winery is located on a country road outside the city and when I pulled into the driveway there was no question about where to park. Despite the directions showing people exactly where (and where not) to walk, I could not help but duck under a rope and sneek a peek at the vines. The grapes were a spectacular blue/purple and, had they not been netted to keep the birds away, I would have popped one into my mouth. Yumm! Thankfully, before I could start pulling at the ropes, my girlfriend, the amazing Melanie, arrived and I was whisked into the colourful market.
Most artisans, if not all, were split into 3 or 4 large white tents situated together on the winery grounds. I liked the setup because you never knew what was going to be within each tent until you got there. My first stop was at Keri Eric’s Wicked Shortbread. Of her three varieties the toffee is my favourite, then the original and chocolate are tied for second. I first met Keri earlier in the year at another market and, no joke, ate a whole box of her shortbread before leaving the event (my husband might have gotten his hand in the box once or twice when I was not looking) and I have been hooked ever since. Thankfully she frequents the HandMade Market and also has a new store in Orangeville (near where my parents live) so I have multiple avenues to feed my addiction.
One of my favourite new finds, owned by Leisha Vandermey and Karren Berry, is Big Village Beads. This growing company partners with TK Beads in Ghana, West Africa who make beads by hand from recycled glass. Leisha and Karren receive the beads, design colourful jewellery like bracelets and necklaces and then bring those designs to life. Having just purchased the business in early 2012 the ladies are loving the company more with each passing day. In February they traveled together to West Africa to meet the owners of TK Beads and see how the beads are made, first hand. I was intrigued to learn that the kilns used to fire the beads are made of “termite poop”, as Karren calls it. Turns out that the “poop” can withstand the very high temperatures required to fire these beads without cracking. In any case, the beads are gorgeous and I would be happy to wear any one of their pieces. I even took a picture of a necklace I want to show my husband — * HINT HINT HONEY! * If you ever see these ladies at a market I would encourage you to stop and chat with them and definitely take a look at their scrapbook showing the bead-making process, it is very interesting and the pictures are beautiful. Since writing this blog Big Village has linked to this blog from their site.
Next my eye was drawn to the bright and happy flowing lines of artist Kym Brundritt. Currently living in London, Ontario and originally from Leamington (Tomato Capital of Canada), Kym’s art enticed me to walk right into her exhibit. I love her trees and “sweet cheeks” paintings that most people like putting into their bathrooms, Kym explained. Her colours are bright and stunning – it’s not surprising that she uses up to 9 layers of acrylic on some of her canvases. After leaving the show I wanted to relive her artwork so I visited her website where I found a quote which reminded me of Kym’s whimsical and artisan personality:
For years I have been meaning to take up pottery, so maybe I will call it fate that I met Monique Mulder-Wallace, a potter from Fonthill. She spends her days creating masterpieces and teaching others how to do the same through classes. Each of her sessions run for 6 weeks, 2 hours per week and there is a maximum of 4 people per class. Monique has been working with pottery since she was 8 years old and it is obvious she is passionate about giving people both the technical tools and confidence needed to feel comfortable creating on their own. And yes, I plan on partaking in the new year * HINT HINT HONEY! *.
After that first tent (yes, that was the first tent) we were envious of people carrying around wine glasses and went to get our fix. On the way to wine we passed live music on the patio and walked through the private functions room with a sunset view of the vineyard. Finally, we found the tastings bar and were delighted at the $5 for 4 tastings; I tried the following:
- 2011 Viognier (White – 270 cases produced) – peach, apricot, spice & fruit
- 2010 Cabernet Rose (Rose – 500 cases produced) – full with a hint of sweetness, cherry, strawberry and spice
- 2009 Pinot Noir Essence (Red – 300 cases produced) – sweet baking spices, cranberry and blood orange
- 13 Below Zero Riesling (Dessert White – 230 cases produced) – nose of golden raisin, honey, candied citrus and ripe tree fruits
Eva, our server, was delightful! She was bubbly, warm, friendly and fun, not to mention knowledgeable about the wines and obviously loves her job. [Sidebar: I very much appreciate talking with people that love their job, it’s so refreshing in a time where I feel that so many people are just looking for the next best opportunity]
Now, I should know better than to have 4 tastings before dinner, but I guess sometimes we have to learn the same lesson twice. So, after the wine it was time for me to grab some nosh and thankfully the winery was serving homemade chili. It was warm enough to cut through the chill of the night air and was topped with sour cream, cheese and corn chips (the way a good chili should be if you ask me). In my chilly chili moment I found myself remembering how much I enjoy the autumn, it is my favourite season.
Next we met Lisa, owner of Oscar and Sophia and she was showing off her new spinning machine – the Mach 2. Lisa takes colourful bats of wool and hand-spins them into yarn for avid crocheters and knitters. If you are not a crocheter or knitter she will do the hard work for you and you can walk away with a hat, scarf or other colourful and warm creation. My mom loves to crochet and I have many blankets and scarves to prove it, but she is really hard to find gifts for. Thanks to Lisa, I have a new option for Christmas’s and birthdays to come.
My last stop was JC Fresh. Each time I see Janine at an event , I buy a bar of her cold-pressed soap. This time around I left with a “Warm Biscotti and Apricot” bar – it is fantastic but I think my favourite is still the Lemongrass. Each of the ones I have bought have been long lasting, moisturizing, delicious smelling, and have great “sudsing qualities” (the quality and quantity of suds very much matters to me and my loofah).
No matter where I turned at this market there wonderful trinkets, pillows, jewellery, pottery, artwork, knitted creations, clothing, artisan soaps and baked delights. What a market it was! Unfortunately, the time that I scheduled to be there was not enough to get everywhere I wanted to, but it leaves me excited to attend the next one.
So, this November 24th & 25th, leave the hassle of crowded malls and parking lots behind and head to The Good Earth or Fielding Estates Winery, where the next market – the Christmas HandMade Market – is happening. Better yet, check out all the websites above and connect with these great artisans today — after all, there are less than 3 more months until Christmas!