Monday, 10 October 2011

The Itchy & Scratchy Show

I have just made the important and unfortunate discovery that if you employ the undo button on the Blogger composition page a few too many times in rapid succession [say, in endeavour to restore a deleted sentence that might be rematerialising one letter at a time], you can delete your entire post, and, furthermore, that having done so the redo button, despite its promising name, will not offer you any assistance at all nor even a modicum of sympathy. So my account of the Knitting & Stitching Show will now have to ramble on at length to make up for the absence of several pithy sentences included in the original version which, take my word for it, struck concisely at the very essence of the experience with sparkling wit and profound insight.

Alexandra Palace
Edit: This post has turned out stupidly long. The short version:
- There was a lot of junk.
I   quite   liked   these   stands and this was the best.

Unlike Florence, I have been to the show a number of times before. I was originally drawn there (five or 6 years ago??) to see the Garthenor stall, and then in the two following years I actually helped out slightly on their stand. (Garthenor don't come to the show any more due to the high cost of having even a tiny a stall. I suspect this keeps many small specialist companies away from the event, which is very much the poorer for it.) Knowing what the show is like, I probably wouldn't have gone again this year except for the fact that I now live close enough to Ally Pally to have seen that the lights were on all night on Wednesday while the exhibits were set up, and my mum's insistence that I accompany her and that she buy my ticket (thanks!). Florence is right about the food, by the way, and my mum and I were two of those quaint ladies with packed lunches - we ate ours outside in the quiet of the park while admiring the view.

I also agree with Florence that the impeccably framed fabric designs in the Petal Power display were the highlight of the show. We didn't have time to read the information that accompanied the exhibit (because it was almost closing time when we reached it and we'd only just managed to escape from a man who talked at us at unnecessary length about how to sell Chinese textiles on Ebay) so I'm grateful to Florence for sharing what she found out, including the surprising fact that, despite its recent culling of many good things including its entire history department, my boyfriend's alma mater is responsible for the collection.

Image: Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture
Cloud 9 organic cotton prints
I think my main gripe about the Knitting & Stitching Show is that it's essentially a gigantic exercise in crafting as consumerism. Most of the floor space is taken by people who are there to sell things and most visitors are there to buy. (There are even companies selling things that have nothing to do with knitting or stitching, for example the several large stands purveying very ordinary mass-produced coats, shoes, and handbags. Last year there was a man fervently demonstrating a new kind of mop.) I saw many examples of products that are designed to make you feel creative while completely obviating the need for any creative input or skill at all: the computerised embroidery machines that automatically sew designs directly from a CD at the push of a button are probably the peak of this phenomenon. I also have issues with things like pre-cut patchwork fabrics, because I'm not sure how a craft that developed out of a need to avoid waste (of scraps from making clothes, or fabric from old clothes) has been turned into a large industry selling brand new fabric all cut up into tiny pieces. The other problem is that it's actually a fairly ineffective exercise in consumerism, because the stallholders are mostly unable to offer significant deals or discounts due to the cost of being at the show. Ah no, scratch that: it may well be pretty effective - the stallholders pay to be there, the hordes of visitors pay to be there, and someone at the top of it all presumably makes a lot of money.

More Cloud 9 organic cotton prints
There's a lot of rubbish on parade - if space-dyed fluffy polyester yarn (with or without spangles) is your  drug of choice then I do hope you made it to the show this weekend. And I'm always disappointed by the number of beautiful things for sale which have already been knitted or stitched (or woven) by someone else, but which bear no details of that maker or their whereabouts or working conditions or whether they were fairly remunerated for their skilled work. You'd think that an audience of crafters would be more concerned about this, because we understand how much works goes into producing something lovely. The Selvedge Magazine stall had some stunning crocheted scarves; their website reveals that these are designed in France, but there's no information about where they're actually made. A quick search of the internet suggests that they're produced in Madagascar, but there's still no mention of fair trading - usually a bad sign but, I must add, not conclusive of anything. I should also point out that most of the 'raw' materials on sale at the show fall into this category too - fabrics and threads and yarns and beads of unknown provenance. Environmental degradation associated with the production of all these things is another, closely related problem (closely related because what's bad for the environment is almost always bad for people, and the poorest people in the world tend to be at the sharper end of climate change, pollution [another link], and habitat destruction).


There was a small concession to some of the above-mentioned issues in one corner of the show called the 'Upcycling Academy'. Traid were showing off some very sweet clothes made from salvaged fabrics (a skirt that appeared to have had an earlier life as a Laura Ashley tablecloth or curtain caught our eye), and there were various activities and kits to encourage re-use of old materials. My mum and I had a chat with the very friendly woman on the War On Want (bad name, people) stall, who was there to spread the word about their Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops campaign. She said that although some GCSE and A-level and college fashion students were interested in the ideas, most of them hadn't thought back along the supply chain beyond the final manufacturing stage. I've encountered this too - people think their clothing is 'ethical' if they've sewn it (or knitted it) themselves, regardless of what fabric (or yarn) they've used. She gave me a badge that says 'Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops'; on the way home I decided the badge is incorrect because I quite like clothes and design but I don't particularly like fashion and in fact I think it's a large part of The Problem. But anyway, the badge now graces my sewing machine bag.

One stall selling fairly traded and extremely beautiful hand-crafted products was run by this charity. They had handbags, scarves, little knick-knacks, and various braids and patches for sewing onto things. We visited them last year too, and on both occasions my mum has spent a bit more money than she planned to... If you're going to the K&S Show in Harrogate or Dublin, do look out for them - if they're there, they'll be under A for Aid For Burma on the exhibitor list.

This Cloud 9 organic cotton was available on the Raystitch stall

I spotted three stands that had certified organic cotton fabrics for sale. One of them I didn't visit properly, partly because the fabrics weren't ones I was really interested in, and partly because I only spotted it about ten minutes before kicking out time which is when most stalls have no visitors and the stall-holders are feeling mightily relieved about that and are very tired and give you something vaguely resembling a dirty look if you approach their stall. Another was the Raystitch stand that had some, but not all, of the organic cottons that are available on their website or in the new shop (I believe they do stock all of the Cloud 9 organic cotton prints that I've photographed, although the photos are of my own pieces that I bought elsewhere). They also had a box of the lovely Wallace Sewell ribbons to rummage through. The third stall was Fair Trade Fabric, a shop that I've somehow never come across in all my extensive Googling. The stall holder, Ruth Murray, had a huge range of colours of handwoven, certified organic and fairtrade cottons, and the little fat quarter bundles were all really attractive colour combinations. She also had two shades of dark blue; I've been scouring the web for a navy blue organic cotton to bind my epic quilt, and although neither of these is quite a true navy, one of them may fit the bill. The bill, mind you, was my only complaint about this shop: at £10/m she's charging more than some   other   shops that sell the same fabrics; more shockingly the 'fine finish' sheeting cottons that are £20.43/m on her website are (sometimes - they're often out of stock) sold by Gossypium at £9/m. Still, the colour range on offer is so good that I'm sure I'll use the online shop at some point. I bought a fat quarter of each dark blue cotton, too, and that was my only purchase of the day!

The new binding candidates for my quilt
We briefly joined the oohing and aahing crowd at the Merchant & Mills stall, but walked away without buying anything, concluding that there was more style than substance on display there. Which is to say, they were selling the exact same crummy seam ripper and ordinary glass-headed pins that I bought in MacCulloch & Wallis, but in much nicer packaging (no plastic - hurrah - although I do wonder if they'd removed the plastic from each thing and thrown it away before replacing it with stylish cardboard boxes, in which case that doesn't count). There were a few small aubergine moments* for us around the show too, including some sweet but rather simple patchwork pincushions on the Selvedge stall for £30, and some baby blankets made from a square of printed organic cotton and a square of flannel stitched together (can't remember how much those were but it was an unwarranted amount - and you can find organic cotton flannel here).

If anyone is still reading at this point, firstly please check that you're not burning anything in the kitchen or letting your bath overflow, because you have been here for quite a while, and secondly, I'm afraid I can't really come up with a good ending to this post after all that waffling. I suppose I'll just have to say that it was a fun afternoon out with my mum, but that I don't think either of us would go again if we had to travel very far - which we don't, so perhaps we shall return. The End.

*: Sorry, it seems nobody's uploaded to Youtube any of the sketches where that character adds her classic line, "All I need is a small aubergine" - but look at her shopping basket in the linked clip.