Do you remember craft shows? Those events like the Knitting and Stitching show where large groups would gather to pet and squish yarn, coo approvingly at each other’s Fair Isle jumpers and leave with enough fabric samples to make ten king sized quilts? Well, it seems they are back and almost at normal speed – so how was the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace 2021?
This is the first time I have been to the Alexandra Palace version of the show, though I have been to Harrogate many times. I had heard great things about ‘Ally Pally’ as it is often known and the scale of the show there but what everyone had neglected to tell me was quite how breath-taking the building was. I know the clue is in the name but it is a really impressive piece of construction. I hadn’t realised that this was supposed to almost be a twin venue to the fabled Crystal Palace, with the intention of holding grand exhibitions and having a similarly airy, domed glass structure to it. Sod what you’re supposed to be there to see, just go around enjoying all the amazing open space. The parks around are also very nice.
But when I wasn’t busy wandering around gawping at the building, how was the show? Well, we didn’t get off to the smoothest start because we couldn’t actually get in at first… It turned out you needed a Covid pass to prove vaccination status or a recent negative test result. Now, regardless of what you think about the politics of all of this, these passes are not in common use in the UK as there is no government requirement for venues to use them and this is the first time I’ve been asked anywhere (other than for international travel) for one…
I should have checked more carefully before going – but we weren’t the only people who were caught out by this requirement, which was very well-hidden on both the event and venue websites and never mentioned in the ticket emails. One of the security guards had said that there had been a lot of confusion that week concerning the need for the Covid pass as while the event didn’t require testing the venue did and there had been very poor communication between everyone and everything. Apparently another organisational gem that week had been that the event was telling people to get there at 8:30 but the venue didn’t open until 9:00. What a mess! Thankfully, they had testing on site and we’d arrived early for the timed entry slot requirement (another fun Covid addition.) We did get there in the end but it seemed really stupid not to be more upfront about advertising this – particularly as the implementation of the passes is so patchy in the UK.
However, once inside, when I was done gazing up at the gorgeous trees in the entrance hall, it was lovely to be back. Sadly I’d been sufficiently disorganised to miss booking any workshops but not enough to have not come with a big bag ready to stuff with goodies.
Overall, I did have an excellent time at the show, largely thanks to some delightful company and the fact it is hard not to just enjoy being around any amount of fabric. However, there were a few aspects I was a little disappointed with – in the interest of avoiding too much whinging, I will start with the good and finish with the bad, so you can easily skip that part of the post if you only want to read about shiny things (and the utterly gorgeous venue! What a venue!)
I love any excuse to go to Harrogate, in particular, to go to Betty’s in Harrogate for a pre-show lunch but Ally Pally does beat the venue hands down. Make sure you check out the beautifully painted walls as you walk around and enjoy the spaciousness of those vast ceiling and the domed glass. Check out the stained glass rose window too and the old organ – just keep your eyes peeled as you walk around as it is just full of architectural delights.
Alexandra Palace works really well as an exhibition venue simply because it is so spacious and you don’t feel as hemmed in as you can in other places. I suspect this year was not particularly crowded but it was nice to not feel penned in at particular stalls and like you were trapped in a constant moving river of people. Browsing at some of the more ‘shop-like’ stalls was still challenging when they were busy but it was overall a much less frenetic experience than Harrogate in part due to the airiness of the place. There are also a lot more toilet facilities available as an added bonus and the building is a treat to be in itself.
You do see a lot of familiar faces at the Knitting and Stitching Show of exhibitors that come every year, perhaps more than ever this year. Particularly welcome faces are always the ever-wonderful Golden Hinde who can persuade me to part with my money with a disgusting level of ease and Midori Matashushima with her flat silks and Japanese embroidery supplies. I guess The Makerss seem to be doing well as they had a huge stall with loads of cool needlefelting – I discovered them at the show a few years ago and you can see one of the projects I did with their coloured tops here. TOFT also did not disappointed with their customary giant amigurumi either.
Where I think this year’s show really excelled for me was the gallery exhibitions. I have not included many photos in this post as most of the artists request pictures are for personal use only, but you can find a lot of fantastic photographs on the website here.
The Embroiders’ Guild had a gorgeous exhibition of historical bags from many different techniques and countries as well as their own students’ work. (I always love Embroiders’ Guild shows – such a fantastic blend of artistic freedom and technical skill). The quilt competition was one to see this year too – I sadly can’t find any of the ‘My Ladies’ quilt which was my absolute favourite but as always, such a beautiful display of people at the top of their game.
My absolute favourite art though was the exhibition by Kate Wells. Now… I am something of a magpie for shiny things, which will come to no surprise of long-time readers of this blog, but there was something about these glorious displays of gold that captured my eyes, heart and imagination. Kate Wells is lovely too and was very open about her artistic process which is always a fascinating discussion. Go check out her website and work – it is incredible. Isn’t it amazing what you can construct from thousands of simple straight stitches? This definitely made me just want to run to the sewing machine and create!
I’m always a bit surprised by how boring some of the sewing machine manufacturer stalls are at these events, though it was excellent to see the new Crystal Edition 790 in the flesh and realise that it looks horribly tacky rather than actually cool. However, what do tend to be fun are the people that sell various bits of expensive sewing machine tech and add ons – though there were disappointingly few this year!
One that did catch my eye was the Cutie from J&B Sewing machines. They were demoing it with a Bernina 790, which is why it caught my eye, and it’s an easy way to turn a standard (well… large) home machine into something closer to a long-arm quilter. It was heavy in comparison to the other long-arm they had and didn’t feel so smooth but it was a very interesting experience and an interesting bit of kit to make the most of a multi-purpose machine. While I’d love 5 dedicated machines I barely have space for the one beast!
There were some free motion quilting rule combos and feet that looked very interesting but did make me want to go and get a bit more practice freehand!
Organisation and Price
Now onto the less good… As I mentioned before, overall it was a great day and it’s nice to see a move back to live events but I can’t help feel that for the ticket price (which was up to £20 if you booked relatively last minute) was a huge amount for not a lot. It’s hard to compare exactly the number of stalls to previous year’s events without going through and counting but it definitely felt sparse and a lot of it felt very samey. A few things did catch my eye – Rowandean Embroidery’s charming mini-kits for one – but it was a very cheap show for me, bar a few lace making books.
Maybe I am just over uninspiring indie dyed yarns with eyewatering price tags for uninspiring fibres and seeing endless clothing patterns for some variation on a sack to be made from limp, lifeless natural fibres but a lot of what was on sale did not feel very ‘special’. Even a lot of the fabrics were ‘meh’ and there wasn’t really an exciting range of materials on offer either. Bargain bins of offcuts seemed to be in short supply too. I still think that entry fee for no show guide or anything else was rubbish and it was a shame this year to see little catering outside of the venues own – which was, as you might imagine, priced and quality pitched for a captive audience.
There were a few noticeable absences from the usual suspects at the event and maybe the density of exhibitors was not as high due to remaining Covid restrictions but still, other than the galleries, it felt like a steep entry fee for paying to shop. Maybe I have just been to one too many Knitting and Stitching shows that the novelty has worn off and so I’m being grumpy about the whole thing but it would be nice to see some attempt to inject more variety and more specialist exhibitors in there so it didn’t feel like I could have done all of this at home online shopping.
Still, I am glad I went, at the very least for the company and also to discover Kate Wells’ art and it is very nice to see a sea of crafters again and just the start of many inspirational gatherings.