Friday, 25 April 2014

The Emma Bridgewater Factory in Stoke

About an hour's drive from where we live, in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent's famous Potteries, is a place I have loved visiting ever since I was a little girl. From painting my newborn baby sister's feet to stamp onto a plate, to taking friends there on my eleventh birthday, Emma Bridgewater's Factory always has been one of my ideal afternoons out. As a child, I just loved the painting, and would sigh when my mum spent hours perusing the seconds shop, but now an avid collector of the pottery myself, I could stay there all day long and be in my absolute element.

Making the most of having both my boyfriend and best friend off work at the same time as me, we popped up to Bridgewater, as I have always called it, for an afternoon of fun. I was hoping to take them on the Factory Tour, which runs most days, and is an interesting look at how the highly sought-after handmade pieces are created. However, with it being the school holidays they were fully booked, and I hadn't even thought to book a place. It was a little chilly for the walled garden, which they open in Summer, so however much I wanted to see the chickens and flowers, we decided on a spot of lunch and decorating. 

The cafe there is absolutely wonderful, and if you live nearby, I'd recommend popping in for that alone. It is lovely and cosy, with a stunning aga decorated in their signature spot pattern, and plenty of comfy chairs. The menu is small, but there is a wide selection of freshly baked cakes on offer, as well as the daily specials.The food is often made from the vegetables and eggs provided by the on-site garden, so is delicious and fresh. I once had the best quiche of my life there! This time we all fancied the chicken, bacon and mozzarella sandwich with barbecue sauce, which was delicious and not as heavy as it sounds. The cafe always makes me want to buy even more of their pottery, as it all looks so lovely together. They mix and match their own patterns freely, which might look odd if you only had a few bits, but when there are quite a few items it looks quite sweet mismatched. Apologies, by the way, for the lack/quality of pictures - I had forgotten both my camera and my SatNav, so the iPhone was having to be both, and the battery wasn't lasting long!

Next to the cafe is the seconds shop, where many items are sold at a greatly reduced price because they have a fault. The faults are absolutely tiny most of the time, and can actually be hard to find, so they circle them in a pencil that rubs off easily. I like to buy a lot of my pieces from here, as I don't mind the odd wobbly letter or speck of paint in the wrong place. It's nice to come and choose seconds for yourself though, for although they are sold online, I like to pick the most perfect pieces I can find. 

After lunch we popped across to the Decorating Studio. It used to be in the cafe, but it has its own little section now, which allows for a lot more space. They now have a central island where all the paint bottles are stationed, with shelves at the sides of the room with a wide variety of stamps in jars, sorted by category. They really do have a stamp for everything, from tractors to bees, dinosaurs to Daleks! I hadn't painted in ages and was really excited to get started, but we watched a little demo by a member of staff as the people I was with hadn't painted there before. She explained the basics, such as how to get the best out of the stamps, and reminded us to use the colour chart plate on the table, which showed how the different colours look once they have been fired. Some of them change quite a bit in the process, so it is important to use the chart.

It took a while of browsing the shelves before we decided which pieces we wanted to paint. The items aren't cheap, but the prices start at £5, so there is something for every budget. I decided to make a new bowl for our cat, as I had meaning to buy her one from there anyway, but thought a personalised one would be cuter. I wasn't brave enough to go freehand, as I'm out of practise, so stuck to carefully stamping letters, stars and hearts in pastel shades. The boyfriend was considerably braver, and drew the cutest Coraline onto an egg cup for me - I can't wait to see how it comes out! 

We paid £5 for delivery of our items, although there is the option to collect them yourselves, and although it is usually much faster, we were told to expect to wait a couple of weeks for them to arrive as this is a busy time of year for the factory. It's always a treat to get a big Emma Bridgewater box in the post, but with the added excitement of seeing how our creations look glazed, I really can't wait!

Have you ever been to the Emma Bridgewater Factory? Or do you own any of their pottery? I love my collection, and expect to keep adding to it forever!

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