Del Martin smoothed his hand along the side of a clay teapot he was displaying at the Frederick, Md., crafts fair as if it could somehow sense the affection in his touch - the affection of an artist for his work.

He picked it up gingerly, explaining how he had designed the spout to send an arched dribble of tea into a cup and how the top would never fall off the pot while it was tipped for pouring.

Martin, like many of the crafts people who brought their goods to the third annual Frederick fair, generally sells most of the earthware mugs, dishes, bowls and goblets to firms that then sell the items to the public.

The fair, he says, is his one chance to "deal directly with people" who buy his goods and to get the precious feedback and personal satisfaction that comes from seeing people admire his work.

The Frederick fair began three years ago as the brainchild of Noel Clark, a potter himself an a pottery teacher. The idea was actually born out of frustration he felt when he couldn't get the Northeast Assembly of the American Craft Council - of which he was a Maryland representative - to sponsor a fair in Frederick.

Today, the fair, held each year on grounds used traditionally for live stock an agricultural fairs in a part of Frederick dominated by farms, is one of the largest in the nation and one of the best, according to crafts-people.

Clark said sales at the fair grossed $1 million last year. As promoter and organizer, Clark said he takes his profit from ticket sales (admission is $2.50 for adults, and free for children under 12). Some 10,000 persons showed up this year, although Clark said it marked a slight decline in attendance.

In the past, the majority of fairgoers have come from nearby parts of Maryland and the Baltimore-Washington corridor, Clark said.

Artisans displaying at the fair must send Clark five slides of their finished work before they are permitted to participate in the fair. "What I'm looking for is detail in the craftsmanship, then good design," said Clark, whose firm, National Crafts, Ltd., also organizes crafts fairs in Gaithersburg, Denver, Atlanta, and Houston.

Since more and more stores are beginning to sell handmade articles, it is becoming rarer for craftspeople to have to depend on sales they make at fairs or in their won shops for a living. Martin, for example, reaped $2,500 in wholesale accounts while at the Frederick fair. Fulfilling that work order could keep him busy in his Sharpsburg, Md., shop (which is part of his home), until next year's fair.

Besides an array of pottery, leather goods and glasswares, among the crafts offered to sale at this year's fair were toothbrush holders in the form of naked men, batik-dyed shirts, orchids made from cloth, hanging earthware fishbowls, silk screen prints, wood-burning stoves, bamboo flutes, penny gumball machines, and marijuana pipes made from antler's horns.

The backgrounds of the artisans are as varied as their works: some hold master's degrees in their craft while others started working in crafts by chance.

Graham and Barbara Howard of Corning, N.Y., two of the crafts persons at the fair, became involved in woodwork after they and some friends decided to creat a marijuana pipe that wouldn't burn fingers and tip over. With a loan from the Morgan Love paraphenalia company, they were able to open a shop in Corning. They now sell 20 different pipe models, ranging in price from $2 to $100.

It was the second year for the Howards at the Frederick festival. "Some people thought we were selling whistles," Barbara Howard said. "The crowd seems to be less sophisticated than last year."

"The crafts are good, but I really just like watching the people walk around," said Jim Kohlmoos, of Washington, who had just bought an $8 "quillow dancer" (a wooden doll on a stick which can be made to "dance" by tapping it, as a gift.