It’s London Craft Week. Which isn’t anything to do with beer. I want to make that very clear right now. I didn’t think I would need to, but after some confusion it seems important to make that definition.
I feel like I have been preparing for London Craft Week over the last few months. The craft bug suddenly hit me. Despite my previous declarations that I was no good at it, I am not a neat and orderly person, but I wanted to be creative. I wanted to make things. And not just anything, but useful things. I can already draw but that didn’t seem to be scratching the itch. For all that everyone loves a good sketch, and they look pretty enough on your walls, they aren’t actually useful.
No. I suddenly found myself with the urge to do something productive that could actually be of use if the world were to come crashing down. And, short of taking up midwifery as a hobby, I figured I would start learning how to embroider. The obvious next step.
But, not one to begin with basics, I am an impatient millennial after all, I bought a pattern, a hoop and some thread from Etsy and began. Four days later, and I had an almost finished rose garden, that really looked quite pretty. A month later and it’s still almost finished, French knots are very hard…
I bought myself a pair of knitting needles and some speckled-white, grey wool last week. I suddenly decided I wanted to know how to knit. The lady at the counter asked what I was making. I asked for a suggestion and, laughing at my naivety, she suggested a scarf. My Grandma tells me everyone starts with a scarf, rectangles being the easiest thing to make, and so that’s where it began. One week later and I have the world’s lumpiest, curviest, shortest scarf. And… I still have just as many stitches as I did when I started. I have not dropped a stitch yet, so that’s an achievement.
The events for London craft week are as wide and far reaching as craft itself; from pottery classes to sewing, to jewellery making. Going along with my current interest I decided to attend a knitting demonstration. I booked myself into an event called ‘A Celebration of Scottish Craftmanship’; a demonstration of hand intarsia, a form of knitting that employs the use of a mill, it is a craft native to the borderlands of Scotland.
The event was run by Pringle of Scotland, a luxury knitwear brand with its London store located in London’s famously expensive Mayfair. (Did I harbour some hope that there would be Pringles at this event? No, of course not.)
And so, on a blustery and wet rainy May Thursday I made my way past Hyde Park to the large and fashionable store. Despite the announced 2pm start the event seemed to already be underway. An informal sort of gathering, mainly of posh older women surrounding a rather normal looking Scot standing in the window display.
He is a craftsman from the borderlands of Scotland and has practised the craft for 39 years. One lady asks why he began? “I was told to get a job.” He tells us with a laugh. He goes between chatting and trying to focus on the small piece of jersey he has been asked to embroider, he is not used to doing this with an audience. “All my family are farmers and I hated it, so I found a job doing this instead.”
39 years later, he is one of the few remaining hand intarsia craftsmen. He no longer works in for a factory. They have all closed down now. Instead, he runs his own business with a mill in his garden shed. He is one of the few remaining craftsmen in Scotland. The art, he tells us, is dying out. Someone else asks if his family has taken it up too? No, he tells us, just him.
However, it’s not all bad news for the world of craft. We are currently seeing a boom in interest in the world of craft. The millennial generation, who pretty soon will be settling into their thirties and be of little interest to anyone, (bring on gen Z and a new wave of stereotypes) have found a quirky and sarcastic home in the world of crafting.
Colourfully embroidered cacti are matched with slogans equally colourful in their language, while beanies for new-borns are knitted to resemble a breast, just in case anyone takes unreasonable offense to public breastfeeding.
The excitement isn’t going unnoticed by the world. Last year, even Forbes wrote on the topic questioning whether the $36 billion industry was prepared for the boom in millennial interest?
Well, London seems to be prepared; malt whisky and mini scones at the ready. (No Pringles, not even plain ones.)