From November 22nd to 25th, Harrogate Convention Centre was transformed to a den of fibre and fluff for the annual Knitting and Stitching Show. For those of you not familiar with the Knitting and Stitching Show, it’s a convention hosted at several sites in the UK, with the biggest being at Alexandrea Palace in London, features teams of suppliers, workshops and demonstrations for all things knitting and stitching.
I first went to the show at Harrogate friend a few years ago, which was a lovely experience for discovering some outstanding UK-based suppliers, including Oliver Twists, Spellbound Bead, and the Golden Hinde. I left with far, far too many kits, ideas and, apart from being beaten black and blue with old ladies and their oversized bags, had a great day out and left with some bargains. After this, I had high hopes for this year’s show, particularly as I was on a mission to get some inspiration and supplies for my recently started goldwork piece.
Entering the hall, I was greeted by a ‘make your own decoration’ Christmas tree competition (my favourite is pictured above, and a wall-sized menagerie from TOFT, who make a humongous collection of amigurumi kits. As if that wasn’t cool enough, they also had a giant lobster (probably about 2m long) at their stall, and the ‘zoo wall’ had been carefully curated so there was a colour gradient running along it as well.
The convention centre consisted of five halls, one of which was predominantly dedicated to textile art exhibitions, the guilds and workshops. It was a lot less densely packed than I remember the previous show, which was a welcome relief, and there were plenty of cafes sprinkled through for when the burdens of your new stash-additions were too much to bear. I liked the inclusion of a gin and tonic bar from the local Harrogate Gin! Prices were what you might expect for a venue with a somewhat captive audience, so I’d instead recommend a trip to the local Betty’s which is less than a ten minute walk away, for one of their famed afternoon teas.
I started with a quick bit of scouting through most of the halls to see what was likely to merit further investigation but I was rapidly struck with a sense of ‘meh’. Given the tickets were £14.50 just for entrance (which of course doesn’t include even a show guide…), there wasn’t really that much to see. You can see the exhibitor list here, but the website’s claim of 150+ exhibitors, starts to feel like a stretch when you consider this includes charities, such as Cat’s Protection, and even some medical devices retailers…
When someone says ‘knitting and stitching’ to me, I think yarn, yarn, yarn, needles and either hand embroidery, dressmaking, machine sewing or even quilting. When someone says yarn at a specialists event, I think of something like what Indie Untangled usually promotes, with crazy colourways, unusual bases and maybe even handspun. There were only a few stalls, lovely as they were, that seemed to have much in the way of hand dyed knitting yarns, including Qing Fibre, Debonnaire and Sheep on Mars. There were some other stalls that had small selections but I guess for the exhibitors the prices were probably such that it wasn’t really feasible for smaller dyers to have a stand. I would have loved a way to see a collective exhibition though of some of the great dyeing talent around if something like that would have made it possible as shows like this are a great way to find new things.
There were a few specialist fibre places, like UK Alpaca Yarns, Wenslysdale Longwool Sheep Shop, Jameison and Smith Shetland Wool Brokers, who always have great Shetland fibre for spinning, but generally, it was a bit meh on the knitting front, but were things any better for sewing? In terms of hand embroidery, the Royal School of Needlework had a stand, as did the Embroiderer’s Guild. Nicola Jarvis had a very impressive display with many of her kits that, while beautiful, aren’t really my thing. The new discovery in hand embroidery highlight for me was Sue Hawkin’s stand, which had the most amazing density of goodies ever. I was immediately drawn to her interesting pincushions, when I happened upon the scissor keep featured below – which turned out to be the very same design that had made me buy the copy of Inspirations magazine it was featured on the cover of! What a stroke of good luck! Check out her gorgeous mixed canvaswork and stumpwork paperweights, they’re delightful.
Golden Hinde were there with their colossal range of stock, beautiful leather and impeccable customer service. Their kits are great and I’ve always had such a good experience ordering with them, even when Royal Mail did their best to make everyone’s lives as difficult as possible. They have a new book out too, which is a feast for the eyes. I love the style – it’s not completely outlandish creative metalwork meets modern art but it’s way less stuffy, formal and well-behaved with liberal splashes of colour. For silks, Mulberry Silks had some very nice thread packs that would make any embroiderer very happy and have a great range online. Paint-Box Threads is a good stop for some lovely hand-dyed cottons and silks.
Apart from those though, and places stocking the usual DMC/Anchor collections, embroidery was a little thin on the ground. A few of the cross-stitch places also had some blackwork designs but I’m not sure I can remember seeing any significant amount of whitework or stumpwork. For Japanese embroidery, Midori Matsushima was present with a small collection of silks and very nice quality embroidery tools and flat silks. The Nutmeg Company have some very interesting 3D cross stitch kits and there were a lot of places with extensive cross-stich kit collections but I was definitely hoping for more outlandish and creative threads on offer.
If you wanted felting kits, the show seemed to be a veritable goldmine and I also discovered The Makerss and their great space dyed merino. Don’t be put off by the questionable website, the merino is nice quality and the colours are vibrant, strong and everything you’d want for a bit of handspinning. The work of Diane Jones/Barbara Cassell was another unexpected highlight with their sumptuous mixed silk/velvet scarves done in the most beautiful colours. The Silk Route has some very affordably priced silk dupioni in a range of colours that meant I had to spend a significant amount of time investigating!
A large portion of the show was dedicated to various exhibitions from individual or collective artists. I have to admit, the only pieces that really caught my eye were ‘The Needles Excellency’ by Ornamental Embroidery, which was a collection of stump work caskets inspired by seventeenth century English embroidery. You can see more of Ornamental Embroidery’s work and activities here as, not only do they produce beautiful work, but it’s a wealth of information who are interested in the historical side of the craft. There was one powerful modern quilt piece in the workshop hall too on human trafficking and slavery that I’d wish I’d taken a note of the artists name…
All in all, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the quality of the show this year. There were some good old favourites, Empress Mills, Spellbound Bead, that had a beautiful stalls and everyone I spoke with was very friendly, but for the ticket price I felt like there was a lot of empty space and a few too many exhibitors just selling the same collection of the usual crafting basics you can find anywhere or pre-made tat. Most of the exhibitions left me a bit cold, and the extras like the ‘Mindfulness Corner’, while I think it was great to be able to bring along knitting for troubleshooting, and the sewing machine/overlocker demonstrations, again felt just a bit ‘meh’.
What definitely wasn’t at all meh though, was a lucet cording workshop I paid for on the Saturday afternoon. Run by Ziggy Rytka of The Lucet Co., this was honestly worth every penny and the chance to try something I’ve always wanted to have a go at after seeing Chris and Shana’s blog. Thanks for the recommendation by the way! An hour class at £15 for 6 people felt like very good value and was sufficient time to get the very basic motions down. Ziggy is an awesome teacher and, if you can’t make it for a class, his beginner’s instructions are so well-photographed and clear that it would be possible to pick it up from that alone. While I’m not sure I yet see all the endless possibilities for braid structures (though his Advanced Lucetting book has some interesting ideas!) what I am very excited about is how easy it looks to make cording with different materials that could be used for this knotwork that I still need to get around to doing…
Overall, I had mixed feelings about the Knitting and Stitching show 2018. There are plenty of great individual suppliers there and nothing beats the chance to see fabrics and threads in person to decide what you want. I had a wonderful chat about all things lace with the Lacemaker’s Guild, which is to me what these in-person events are all about too. The workshop was amazing and the spaces were quiet and well-designed. I think next year though, unless I can book a long series of workshops, it might be one to give a miss. For anyone who went to the London version, I would be very curious to hear if the bigger version of the show was a lot better.