The Rise Of Craft

In our current issue, Amelia Thorpe turns to the rising interest in craft retreats. As many of us will be picking up new skills as part of our New Year's resolutions, we follow Amelia on her investigation into the demand for craft in our contemporary world...

‘I couldn’t fill two dressmaking courses when I started here in 2011,’ says Jane Dixon, head of Denman, the WI’s centre for learning, ‘and now I have seven on “Learn To Use Your Sewing Machine” alone.’ And it seems Dixon is not alone in seeing an increase in the popularity of craft and textiles – consider, for example, last September’s launch of The Great British Sewing Bee Live event, or Liberty’s smart revamp of its haberdashery department as The Makery in June, and sell-out classes at a host of venues, from Chateau Dumas in France to Hand & Lock embroidery specialists in London. So what is behind the growth in their popularity?

‘My personal view is that my grandmother’s generation did a lot of hand sewing and embroidery, because it wasn’t so easy to go out and buy things,’ says Dixon. ‘As clothes became mass produced and more affordable, we have lost the skills. Now there is a new generation interested in learning those crafts, in skill acquisition and in appreciating the quality of beautiful textiles.’ Of course, there is no doubt that The Great British Sewing Bee did much to put dressmaking back on the map, with viewing figures reaching 3.5 million. Clearly, the series didn’t create the phenomenon, but it tapped into something. Did it legitimise a bubbling-under interest? Allow dressmaking to move from ‘homespun’ to ‘stylish’? Less classroom home economics, more Merchant & Mills?

And it’s not just sewing that’s enjoying a renaissance: there are fresh faces bringing their own contemporary aesthetic to other crafts, such as Katie Jones on crochet and knitting, Richard McVetis on embroidery and Forest + Found on quilting. ‘The traditional crafts, such as quilting, knitting and millinery are always popular,’ says Lizzie Hulme of creative retreat Chateau Dumas, ‘but we always try to add a contemporary twist. Participants are encouraged to push their boundaries and experiment.’

In an age of Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, artists can develop significant followings, sharing images of their work, offering online tutorials and inspiration. ‘The artists are a huge draw,’ continues Hulme. And why? Regular participant, piano teacher Bella Woodmansterne, explains. ‘I admire artists such as Janet Bolton and Julie Arkell, and like to feel I’m getting the best of their knowledge on their courses – somehow getting to the core of what they do, rather than hearing it from someone else.’ Woodmansterne is also clear that she enjoys attending courses for several reasons. ‘Although there is often a varied skill level in a class, we all share a common interest, so the atmosphere is very friendly and supportive,’ she says. ‘It makes for an uplifting day and a warming experience – from being inspired by the teacher to meeting an interesting group of people. You see a fascinating side to some people as you watch them being creative.’...

You can read this article in full in the current Craft issue of Selvedge.

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