Thursday 18 October 2012

The Greatest Shawl on Earth: The Knitting and Stitching Show

Spending a whole weekend eye-ball deep in every kind of craft imaginable: heaven or hell?! I found it to be a bit of both. The Knitting and Stitching Show, held at Alexandra Palace in London, is enormous, hot and rammed with zombie-women with no sense of spacial awareness. On the other hand, it is filled with wonderful treasures for whatever crafty activity you wish to indulge in as well as lots of practical classes and workshops to learn new skills. 

I'm not a native to these sort of events, I went to something similar years ago at Olympia (or maybe it was Earls Court) in London with my old sewing group, but the whole thing was pretty off-putting in it's focus on cross-stitch and embroidery with a very traditional approach to it all. So what they hell was I doing at this Knitting and Stitching show? Well, in short, I was paid to be there!

I was freelancing for my former employers, TRAID, helping out with their 'Upcycling Academy' which aimed to spread the word about refashioning and reworking unwanted garments. The education branch of TRAID, which are responsible for going round schools and colleges and talking about the life cycle of clothing, realities of the textile industry and encouraging garment re-use, were running the space along with Fabrications (a crafty shop/workshop space in East London) and the charity War on Want who were promoting their 'Love Fashion, Hate Sweatshops' campaign

There were two large banks of donated clothing that the public could plunder for a small donation, and take their T-shirt or other garment over to the sewing area to customise and upcycle to their hearts' content. My role was to assist the budding upcyclers (all teenagers and children) by providing them with ideas on what they could do to the garments and helping them with techniques, the sewing machines and other equipment. At my busiest point, I was simultaneously trying to inspire and help ten reluctant fifteen and sixteen year old textiles students to rework their T-shirts (see some of them above). It was an exhausting two days, and pretty much all my time was spent here: 

When I did manage to escape for a break and wander about, there were indeed some great sewing related things to experience. My favourite part was bumping into some familiar faces. There was the ever-awesome Karen (proof below) who I bumped into at the Ray-Stitch stand moments before we saw the very lovely Joanne from Stitch and Witter. Seeing them was such a joy, and I was really sad we couldn't all just go for a coffee and chat for an hour or two!

The third friendly face I came across at the show belonged to Sussex-based seller Maggie (pictured below) who was manning her stall and selling her wares. Maggie runs a phenomenal buttons and notions business called Textile Garden, which has such an eye-watering array of products that I could only get to see her at the very beginning and end of the day, she was barricaded in by swarms of button-high shoppers the rest of the time. 

She really does have awesome stock, and every time I see her stall (she sometimes sells at the craft market I organise, Brighton Craftaganza) there are always some new fantastic items that I've never seen for sale elsewhere. I promise you I'm not biased, but in the interest of full disclosure, whenever I see her, Maggie always give me some free buttons and then I buy some more. She's like a pusher: the first hit's for free then you come running back for more!

From a sewing perspective (is there any other?!), what other treats were there to behold? Fabric-wise, aside from Ray-Stitch there were three or four other great stalls. One of the best was The Village Haberdashery (some stock pictured below and the patchwork packs pictured at the top of the post) whose selection of quality fabric was second to none AND displayed in a very appealing colour-story kind of way.

The village haberdashery was also the only stand selling independent sewing pattern company products. The selection included Sewaholic, Colette Patterns, Jamie Christina, Megan Nielsen and more for adults, and some amazing ranges for childrens wear including some companies I'd never seen before. 

I'm pretty out of touch with prices of fabric these days, so I have no idea if all the fabric stalls present were offering value as well as selection, but if I was a sewer who bought new fabric, my goodness I would have bought a whole lot of it. Aside from Textile Garden, there were other button stands worth a rummage and I spied some very cool trims and braids here and there.   

Magazines and books were also in ready supply, many offering discounts on the cover prices or subscriptions. 

If knitting or crochet are your bag, there seemed a lot on offer too including some really specialised yarns you probably wouldn't find down your local wool shop or market stall, although once again I can't judge if things were reasonably priced. I feel pretty hard for this cardigan pictured below. I'd prefer it in black, imagine how those sequinned cherries would pop out!

As I mentioned, there were also a wide range of classes, workshops and taster sessions on all sorts of topics you could book yourself onto either before the event on on the day to attend. Some of the major players in London crafting and sewing were there teaching classes, like Lisa Comfort from Sew Over It. But aside from the classes, one of the most fun non-buying parts of the show was the Unfinishable Tent. 

Part of a wider art project (oh you can google it yourself!), the outside of this tent and the curtains are formed of creative projects people have started (often decades ago) and for various reasons abandoned. It was so fascinating to see these altogether in this context. The inside of the tent contained transcriptions of interviews of the creators of these pieces, where they shared the back story about why they begun the projects and how they came to leave them unfinished. It made for fascinating and often very touching reading. Many of these projects were started to while away some hours during lengthy hospital stays, and despite vowing to complete them after they returned home, the crafters never could bring themselves to pick up the projects again. Other projects were started for an expectant infant, often remaining unfinished after that infant had grown up and had had infants of their own! 

So, the verdict?: I would definitely go again, but only if I was paid to be there or were given a free ticket. The crowds, difficult and lengthly journeys to and from, the heat and stuffiness of the venue; all would be difficult to overlook if you are someone like me who has vowed not to buy new stuff (aside from a few buttons here and there) but you had paid to be there. But it is nice to take a peek into the passions and interests of others and I was grateful to be given the opportunity to do so.


Merche Martinez said...

What a great post,Zoe. I feel biased by this kind of events. I would be one of the "zombie-women with no sense of spacial awareness" (spot-on definitions by the way :D ) The kind of place where I should never take my credit card to!

didyoumakethat said...

A very even-handed assessment. Oh, I wish I'd spotted some of the stalls you've highlighted! I clearly need to make my approach much more scientific. I love that photo of us laughing!

Joanne said...

Great round up Zoe - you must have been exhausted after it! So lovely to finally meet you and yes we must have a proper catch up at some point in the future!

Beka&Yel said...


Anonymous said...

I am so jealous! I have been to a few shows but they are usually dominated by scrap booking and quilting and otehr "traditional" crafts like you said. I wish we had a big local show like that with fashion fabrics etc!

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