Guest Post: Is it time we rebranded Craft?


So, today we have the first of our guest posts, something we are doing while Jane is on her sabbatical. It’s from Julia Little, and she’s wondering if its time to rebrand the world of craft. Off you go Julia…

I had two very different experiences last week, both in the name of craft. Firstly I joined a salon supper at The New Craftsmen to talk design, craft and to hear ideas from multi disciplinary designer, Lola Lely.

And the second was a trip to the Knitting and Stitching Fair at Olympia.

While one was focused and forging forward into the 21st century, the other seemed to be stuck in time. I don’t need to spell out which was which. It was such a confusing conflict, as both were championing the same thing – craft skills and creativity.

As I wandered the rows and rows of stands at Olympia selling printed fabric, large knitting needles and coloured threads (amongst the support chairs, shoe orthotics and huge magnifying glasses), I couldn’t help but feel slightly depressed about a subject I’m very fond of. Even the woman on the cat charity stand seemed flat as she shouted “Are you a cat lover?”, I apologised, smiled sweetly and said, “No, sorry I’m not”, to which she shrugged and turned away. I wanted to shout, “I’m not horrible, I just prefer dogs”, but I didn’t have the courage, so moved on quickly.

I understand that the knitting and stitching market is an age-old craft, and we need age-old craft people to pass on their skills and teach the next generation. But the next generation is going to struggle to understand why anyone would want to find fabric or yarn in a place that hasn’t moved on since about 1985.

There were signs of life in some of the demonstrations and workshops. Tree from Stitchless TV was full of energy and encouragement with her group who were making a glitzy zipped evening purse. And the Inspiration Station was showcasing some incredible pieces of work from some talented young embroiderers. More of this please!


Lela Lely at The New Craftsmen gallery

Meanwhile, over at The New Craftsmen, Lola Lely talked of her journey from Vietnam to England as a child, and how she became a skilled designer and maker training and graduating from Central St Martins learning many disciplines along the way. Lola is one of many craftspeople that The New Craftsmen encourage, nurture, mentor and support. As Lola said, “It is very hard to work on designing, sourcing, making and perfecting a product, and to then find a way of moving it on to a commercial platform without help and advice to get it to market”.


Lela Lely at The New Craftsmen Gallery

I think in nurturing craftspeople, The New Craftsmen have recognised that we need to hear the stories of craft, understand better how things are made and respect that old and new can work together, it just needs to be guided and repackaged.


Lela Lely at The New Craftsmen

Could The Knitting and Stitching Show be repackaged for the future generation? I hope so. I’d love to return next year and see even just a few rows of stalls dedicated to future ideas, fresh colours and pattern and some new technology.

I think Julia has tapped into something we saw Selvedge’s editor Polly Leonard mention back here, it’s a conversation I’ve heard my crafting friends having too, do we need a new word to divide professional craft from (extremely important) home-spun hobbies? or is it purely about taste levels? What do you think?

Also, if you have a subject you’d like to write on for our guest post slot, just email us on [email protected]



  • Helen says:

    Very interesting! Thanks for such a thought provoking post… Yes, I think it is partly an issue of taste, but also of language and image – as you also suggest. For example, people use ‘craft’ as a verb nowadays to describe what we would have simply called ‘making stuff’ when we were children. And as with any sphere of activity (e.g. sport, art &c) surely there’s a spectrum from the professional to the amateur – with a similar spectrum of motivations, skills and outputs? Your description of the Knitting and Stitching Fair made me laugh (although as someone with MS, I sometimes wear orthotics (!) – but I don’t want to buy them with my yarn). On the other hand, enterprises such as Ray Stitch and Merchant and Mills have made sewing at home so much more enticing again, reversing the trend of department stores reducing the size and stock of their fabric departments. I’m using my sewing machine much more nowadays – mainly inspired by wonderful fabric design.

  • Julia says:

    Thanks for your comments. I wear orthotics too – changed my life! But I also don’t want to buy them with my yarn.

  • Janet says:

    What an interesting post! I think the difference is between the craft it is lovely to look at, admire and take inspiration from and the craft I do myself. The difference between amateur and professional.
    I am a knitter and an embrioderer (?) particularly cross stitch and needle point. I think the availability of yarn and small designers is excellent, at the moment I particularly like the designs of Jane Ellison and Susan Crawford. There are some wonderful French and Scandinavian embroidery designers around.
    About knitting fairs I feel I must mention Yarndale; a fair in Yorkshire now planning it’s 3rd annual event. It manages to combine all the main manufacturers and suppliers but there is plenty of space for small ,modern designers and yarn suppliers; very much the best of both worlds!

  • Amanda says:

    I had to go and look up orthotics……Ax

  • Jan says:

    Thanks for the artcile. What an interesting debate. I wonder if it isn’t more to do with the perception of ‘soft’ technology being of lesser importance and value rather than a difference between professionalism and hobbies? Sadly many youngsters don’t get the opportunity to learn knitting or sewing skills at school. I’m with the designer Jean Muir who said she felt it was hugely important that designers could sew/knit so that they could understand how their designs might work…or not. I think novices may well also be deterred from having a go at making their own garments etc. by the cost which is significantly more than one would pay on the high street. Of course if you make your own it’s unique and personal. Here’s an interesting video clip about knitting in primary school linked to maths.

    It would be lovely to see more opportunities for children to learn these skills at an early age. It’s such a good way to experience maths in real life.

  • Jan says:

    PS: Apologies for typo /spelling mistake of ‘artcile’ which should read as ‘article’. I fear my brain doesn’t always keep time with my one finger typing!

  • Pamela says:

    I so wish someone would update the Knitting and Stitching show! It is so dowdy and tired. It really needs an overhaul for the 21st Century. Perhaps a better venue that is smaller and is more selective about the stands it has? I don’t want to buy orthotics or jewelry at these shows but I would like to be able to get a decent coffee and something healthy to eat !

  • Wendy says:

    Craft vs hobby- awhile ago craft was an essential part of sustainable living and hobbies were indulged by those who could afford to pay craftspeople for their more essential needs. I know many skilled crafts people who choose or must keep their craft as a hobby as trying to make a living from their skill is not an option. The crafts industry has been hollowed out over decades- don’t alienate fellow crafters, however unfashionable they may appear. If you want respect, honour those who have kept the skills going, they have passion as well. There should be a place for everyone in the workroom.

  • amanda says:

    So agree Wendy, craft is essential to keep alive in all its forms, all those skills need to be handed on, we need to figure out a way of enjoying and appreciating both, while bringing both forward in a useful and beautiful way. A

  • Julia says:

    Wendy, I agree, we don’t want to alienate crafters, I am one myself. But I think the Knitting and Stitching fair could be so much better by taking out some of the unnecessary stands and let crafters, hobbyists and makers communicate their skills better and be able tell their story. Perhaps Pamela is right, using a smaller venue could be a good start. J

  • Michele Jameson says:

    I totally agree with you, Julia – I am a fairly new but obsessed crafter (knitting and crochet) and love the way it is currently riding on the crest of a very cool wave, especially as younger people are getting into it – really important if these skills are to continue. I, too, was a little disheartened by the recent Knitting & Stitching Show. Not sure the venue works but would love to have seen more of a variety of stalls. I also feel that demonstrations of certain crafts could show people who don’t do it themselves (but appreciate the aesthetic) how long it takes to create something and the skill involved – something that I think people don’t realise and forget in our Primark times. The New Craftsmen is really championing this – maybe they could do their own show?!

  • Sue Nicholls says:

    What a timely article, thank you. I made my way to the Knitting & Stitching show a couple of weeks ago, ostensibly to buy supplies – I am a ‘professional’ crafts person. I also wanted to connect with some like minded creative people. I too came away feeling disappointed at the same old offerings of quilting supplies and cross stitch kits that leave no room for someone to develop their own creativity and make anyone who does something new and interesting feel a bit lost and homeless perhaps. I have actually given up calling myself a ‘craft’ person – in my mind the true meaning is someone has a mixture of a high level of technical skill coupled with a good and original imagination – and instead say that I’m an artist because the image of ‘craft’ seems to conjure up for most people is cross stitch and patchwork.

  • mary says:

    Julia you were at the wrong event! Last week was the second Edinburgh Yarn Festival. There was a mix of ages babies up to elderly. Stunning design, concern for origin, fun, feminist. Over 100 stalls and a Ca-barr-et in the evening. The difference is that Olympia is probably a a commercial enterprise whereas EYF was set up by enthusiasts.

  • Julia says:

    I need to get to Edinburgh Yarn Festival, thank you Mary, and to Yarndale Yorkshire, thanks Janet. Good comments too Sue – Crafting should definitely not make anyone feel lost and homeless, quite the opposite, but I felt the same at the Knitting and Stitching fair. And Michele, let’s talk to The New Craftsmen! Julia

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