Valerie Taylor has said she was ‘utterly delighted’ to be selected to take part in the 25th Annual Guildhall Craft and Artisan Food Fair.
The Donegal native makes beautiful handwoven bags using materials exclusively sourced from the North West and Ulster.
Valerie’s journey to success has been a fascinating one, beginning in 2000 when she graduated with a BA Hons in Craft Design from Coventry University before taking a break from the creative scene.
After moving back to Donegal, Valerie decided to take up the table loom once more and enrolled in the Letterkenny Institute of Technology’s Fashion with Promotion course.
From there, Valerie joined the Fashion and Texture Design Centre – a not for profit social initiative, set up to support newly graduated designers, established designers and SME’s in the Fashion and Textile industry of Derry and the North West of Ireland, guided by the Inner City Trust and supported by Derry City and Strabane District Council.
“I was in college in England for five years and then I completely parked the idea and went into a management programme. After ten years, we decided to come home but when the recession came in 2009/10, it really hit the country hard.
"I was working in a café and I just felt stuck in a rut,” explained Valerie. “Then I met a lecturer, Sharon Maxwell, and I told her I would do literally anything, so she suggested the degree course in LYIT.
“Because I had five years done previously I was able to come into it in the last year. That was in September two years ago.
“I went and got my sewing machine serviced and I had the buzz back again. I knew a bit about how to weave and sew, but it was a huge learning curve for me, and the lecturers were brilliant.
“I finished the course last May and from there I met Deirdre Harkin and started in the Fashion Hub. Now I’m stocked in Above and Beyond at the Warehouse next to the Guildhall. On December 11th last year they bought six of my bags and, thankfully, I haven’t looked back since.”
Valerie prides herself on using local materials, including McNutt’s tweed from Donegal and Baird McNutt’s linen from Ballymena.
“We’re so lucky in this province to have so many raw materials – I don’t think people really realise it. There’s an idea of fast fashion but if you have the right fabrics, some can take up to 100 years to break down.
“That’s why I would always advise people to invest in local. Even for me, I rarely go on a shopping splurge, I’d rather buy one good bag every couple of years,” Valerie said. “I think we are slowly seeing a change of attitude on a global scale.
“When I’m making bags, nothing goes to waste. I go to the factory and get the end rolls – they have a whole section of end line colours and, say there’s around 50 metres left, I can come in and buy that and make bags that are going to be completely unique because there can only be so many.
“Every time I go to get materials I can come away with a different colour. It’s fantastic to support local businesses who are producing an exceptional product.”
As her bags continue to grow in popularity, Valerie is really looking forward to taking part in the Guildhall Craft Fair later this month, with the chance to reach a new customer base.
“It’s amazing to have an opportunity for people to see who I am, face-to-face. That’s one of the great things about Derry – the community spirit,” said Valerie. “People will come into us in the Made Here shop in Shipquay Street and say that their auntie or their neighbour was telling them about the shop and a bag that they bought.
“That way, people get to see you and get to see your product, and when they know that you’ve made it with your own hands, it changes their outlook.
“The Craft Fair is a perfect opportunity for me to meet more and more people, and to do so in such a fabulous setting as the Guildhall is fantastic. I was utterly delighted when I was selected to take part. It’s like all my dreams coming true!”
This event marks the start of a packed Council Christmas programme that includes Christmas lights switch-ons across the City and District, the Mayor’s Christmas events in Strabane and Derry and the Winterland Markets in the city centre.
The Derry switch on has been scheduled for Sunday November 24th while the Strabane lights will be turned on the day before on Saturday November 23rd.
The full opening hours for the Fair are Friday, November 22nd, 5pm – 8pm, Saturday, November 23rd, 10am – 6pm and Sunday, November 24th, from 10am – 7pm.
Visit derrystrabane.com/craftfair to view the full Guildhall Craft and Artisan Food Fair programme.
To find out more about Valerie Taylor’s handwoven bags, visit https://valerietaylorhandwoveninireland.com/.