This post is brought to you from the cosiness of my sofa at around 4.30am. It always feels like a treat to have the house to myself when it's especially silent. Although this silence is now broken slightly by my loud key slapping, which is necessary after having removed all the keys recently for cleaning and breaking the space bar, meaning that to get it to respond to your wish for a space in between each word you must wallop it heartily. I am getting such pronounced thumb muscles as a result that I believe there may now be a market for a small business creating specialist winter woolen gloves with oversized thumbs. Anyway, I thought I'd take my early waking as an opportunity to tell you all about the Knitting & Stitching show that I went along to yesterday at Alexandra Palace with Kate and Amy.
I've never been to a show like this before and so was unsure of quite what to expect. But it was essentially a market that filled three rooms from edge to edge with fabric, wool, crochet and needle crafts. So really very lovely indeed.
As well as stands selling craft supplies there were a huge number of wonderful exhibits of completed work on display at the show, but then we came across one that completely stopped me in my tracks and was the highlight of my entire day (yes, even more wonderful than any of the fabric). The stand featured the work of female fabric designers taking their first steps into a previously male dominated world at the Silver Studio during the interwar years (the Silver Studio was one of the most influential textile design studios in Britain during the mid twentieth century) and produced designs for Liberty, amongst others.
While women and their work became a newly valued part of the studio's output at this time, their delicate floral paintings being perfect for many of the dress fabrics that were popular at the time, they were asked to work from home rather than being permitted to join the men in the studio and so the exhibition included not only samples of the women's work in the form of paintings and the final fabrics, but also the correspondence between the women and the studio as their work was sent in for approval and returned with any changes requested. Despite the obvious inequality in this situation, can you imagine the delight these women must have found in having their artistic work appreciated and perhaps even spotting their fabric designs being worn by someone they passed in the street? As empowering as it was disempowering.
The small paintings were stunning and they'd been framed to maximum effect - I yearned to take one home with me and have it displayed on my wall (obviously they weren't for sale). Happily, the ladies on the stand told me that Middlesex university (who are responsible for the exhibition through their Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture ) will soon be publishing a book on the collection.
You can find further information relating to their Silver Studio collection on their blog. Thank you so much to the women at the stand for allowing me to take a few photos to share with you here - unfortunately, the glare of the overhead lights detracts from quite how lovely they looked in reality.
Onto the fabric: I must admit that I didn't actually look at very much fabric. I'm an easily overwhelmed shopper and I tend to just switch off when there's so much to see and wander around feeling slightly glazed by the sweet shop effect (although in reality, sweet shopping is probably the one area when I can be quite effective even when faced with an abundance of choice). My main mission for the day was to source some fabric for a quilt I'm hoping to make my mother for Christmas, which I found in the first five minutes of being there (I'd previously been pondering how I might go about buying the slightly obscure things that I needed for this quilt and this stand appeared like an oasis after internet searches that had revealed only desert) and after that there was no real purpose to my wanderings, which is a much more enjoyable way to experience a day.
However, a few stands did stand out for me. Firstly, when Amy and Kate ended up being delayed on a tube, I took it as an opportunity to winkle out Ray-Stitch so that I could finally meet Rachel - her stand looked beautiful, her friend who modelled a dress made of Rachel's silk matka as she worked looked stunning, the fabrics were dreamy and I found that Rachel has a whole range of beautiful Nani Iro that isn't currently available on her website, which makes going over to Islington to visit her shop even more of a necessity (I think they will be teaching a class using some of this to make up a Colette pattern soon). Shamefully, I forgot to take any photos as we were too busy talking.
Then there was Fabrics Galore (the non-internet based shop with cult status amongst many sewers - again, I forgot to take any photographs). They had two stands this year and the second was entirely devoted to their wide and wonderfully priced range of Liberty fabrics (£12 per metre). The owner's husband cheerfully stood locked in the middle of his stall (Kate wondered if they'd built the stand around him as there was no obvious way out for him) literally not taking a moment in between the constant stream of fabrics that were cut, all while wearing a beautiful Liberty print shirt (although he did confess guiltily to me that it was actually made by Paul Smith, rather than himself). The wait meant that all sorts of interesting people were met and people's fabric selections were communally admired and commented on as they were cut - I met one woman who was buying some beautiful Liberty silk cotton for her daughter-in-law's underwear company. She did tell me the name of it, but I'm now left unable to remember (which is so frustrating as I would have loved to have looked at her website...it was a day for being absent minded).
Finally, on fabric stalls that leapt out at me, there was Sunflower Fabrics. The quilts on display were absolutely stunning and for the first time in my entire life I was very tempted to buy a quilt kit as the desire for free-styling or individuality left me in the face of seeing her quilting perfection in the flesh (that's so wrong...it should be 'in the cotton' as her quilts were distinctly unfleshy). The piecing in was so incredibly small that it took my breath away with its loveliness - it had a similar effect to looking at the tiny plates of food you find in doll's houses - so miniature and yet so full of detail that you can't quite tear your eyes from it. The quilt's maker very kindly allowed me to take a few photos of it, one of which you can see above. You can find the pattern and fabric to make it here. This may be one for my Christmas list.
Points that surprised and amused me about my first fair shall be bullet pointed below:
- Unfortunately the food available at Alexandra Palace was so dire that it seemed preferable not to eat at all. I did wonder at why so many women had rather quaintly arrived with a packed lunch box, but it all became clear. (With only a small bottle of orange juice consumed all day this meant that I quickly became sparkling company for Amy and Kate when, suffering from fabric fatigue, we later took ourselves off for a few glasses of wine at Chez Gerard in Covent Garden. Lucky, lucky them!).
- Many women arrived with suitcases. I soon realised that they were actually empty and brought along in anticipation of buying large quantities of fabric and wool. This made me feel rather small fry when it comes to fabric purchase. Purchasing anything in large quantities normally comes to me as an unplanned and guilt-ridden accident. The idea of going out with the intent to do such wilful credit card damage is entirely new to me and I think that evidence of this would have been met with disbelief by my husband and I may have found that me and my suitcase were locked in our bedroom for the day and only let out when the fair had closed. I have to say that if he were ever to take an empty suitcase off to a mountain climbing convention (were he to attend one) he would receive similar treatment.
- There are no men at the Knitting and Stitching show (apart from the aforementioned Liberty shirt wearing fabric cutter). Evidence of this came to me in two parts. Firstly, as the bus from the station drove up the hill to the palace, two men walked downhill against the tide, amongst a sea of women swarming up the hill. I realised that they looked like a rare and endangered species. They themselves looked self-consciously aware of this and as the bus went past they looked at its entirely female inhabitants and smirked at one another, not entirely kindly. Secondly, when talking to a security guard, he cheerfully told me that the men's toilets were also for female use that day, as there was no one other than himself (and the Liberty shirt wearing fabric cutter) there to actually use them. Although I did witness a third rogue male later being ushered into the mens' toilets by a guard, who was firmly ordering the women out of the room, so that the man could safely use the lavatory unwatched. It does feel an entirely different environment to every day life and one that, never having attended an all-girl's school, I found disconcerting
* I was initially dubious about whether this book was suitable as it leaves little room for editing as it's read to him, when the pages are strewn with so many unsuitable names (Snotlout, Gobber, Dogsbreath the Duhrbrain and Speedifist to name a few). However, the story line is captivating and the vocabulary (unsuitable names aside) is incredibly rich and, so far, the story looks as though it will follow an admirable moral path about a small, rather weedy, non-violent viking child's journey to becoming a hero. I'm so pleased that I put my initial doubts to one side and carried on reading. If you're interested you can find it on Amazon here.