A stitch in time saves stress down the line

12 Jan A stitch in time saves stress down the line

With his bald head and tattooed triceps, Jamie Chalmers is an unlikely advocate for the delicate art of cross-stitch, but the 42-year-old is a self-styled kingpin of contemporary embroidery.

Mr X Stitch – as he is known to his many social media followers and those who attend his workshops in London’s East End – is leading a march of young, hip men and women embracing textile crafts. Across Britain, an army of needle-wielding folk are joining sewing and knitting groups, signing up to classes and enjoying the rewards of stitching, knitting and crochet in a renaissance of traditional needle skills.
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Market research firm Mintel reports a 12% rise in women doing some sort of needlecraft as a hobby in the last two years. A fifth of women under 45 are interested in taking up knitting and sewing, while 17% of men aged 16 to 24 are keen to try one of these pastimes. Julie Hassan, senior buyer at London store Liberty, says there has been double-digit growth in the fabric and haberdashery departments this season and the store is increasing its range by 25%. “To inspire shoppers, we’ll be showcasing the work of renowned crafters and textile artists alongside materials to make things with themselves,” she says.

Blue Gem, the private equity firm that owns Liberty, has sewn up a £68m investment in a trio of businesses, and is looking for new acquisitions in the sector, having seen a burgeoning appetite for needlecrafts among the younger generation of design-conscious consumers.

In August, it acquired Wool & The Gang, the London-based purveyor of trend-led patterns, yarns and kits created in collaboration with catwalk designers including Giles Deacon and Vivienne Westwood. Sirdar, the hand-knitting yarn business that has been spinning wool in Yorkshire since the late 19th century, has now been added to the portfolio alongside DMC, which has produced premium embroidery threads in France since 1746.

Mr X Stitch, who has a new book coming out, The Mr X Stitch Guide to Cross Stitch, recently designed a collection of kits for DMC using glow-in-the-dark thread to create his “Dark-itecture” collection of urban skylines that change appearance in different lights.

“The growing trend of craft DIY to monogram and customise clothing and accessories has led to a resurgence of embroidery and needlework,” says Massimo Saracchi, executive chairman of the new DMC Group. “These are global trends happening right across the world: it is a huge and growing market. People are intoxicated by their phones and computers these days and want to take a break and do something with their hands. These are activities which tap seamlessly into the normalised behaviour for people to share their creations on social media.”

According to Google Trends, searches for knitting have increased in the UK by 53% over the past year, while the emergence of platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube has created vast virtual communities of crafters sharing tutorials, ideas and inspiration.

A decade ago the demise of craft skills was widely predicted, but now there has been an explosion of boutique fabric and haberdashery retailers on the high street and online to cater for this new generation of stylish, contemporary makers. Names such as Merchant & Mills, Purl Soho and Loop are hallowed by modern stitchers, while “sweary cross-stitch”, “feminist embroidery” and “subversive stitching” are all popular search terms online for those who want more than traditional designs.

Rachel Hart founded the Ray Stitch webshop in 2009 and opened a small shop in Islington, north London, two years later.

“We are definitely reaching a younger, more design-conscious customer, and a generation of teens through to thirtysomethings who were never really taught to sew,” she says.

Hart expanded into larger premises earlier this month, where she hosts sellout classes in the modern basement studio. “We run three or four beginners classes a week and they are always full. We get lots of high-powered people with stressful jobs in the City, who want to do something to release the professional pressure with something calm and creative.”

In a bid to move away from corporate life and regain her own work-life balance, Sonia Bownes launched the London Craft Club three years ago and runs a series of classes around London and the south-east, teaching patchwork, arm knitting (using your arms instead of needles to create giant stitches), beginners sewing, quilting and more. “Craft has really taken off in a big way,” says Bownes, whose roster of workshops is growing exponentially and will see a corporate arm added this year to host wellbeing craft classes in the workplace.

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While our grandmothers may have sewn out of necessity, and had skills passed down through the generations, the industrial revolution of the 20th century has meant making is no longer the life skill it once was. The new wave of stitchers are benefiting from a form of crafty mindfulness in an increasingly pressurised, yet passive world, where, according to media regulator Ofcom, British adults spend an average of nine hours a day online.

“At times of economic stress and social upheaval, we often turn to craft, as creating something with our hands makes us feel good,” says Polly Leonard, founder of Selvedge magazine, which is hosting the Selvedge Wellbeing Spa next week as part of London craft week.

“Making is part of being human, yet as a society we are suffering from the effect of increased screen time and the lack of real fulfilment that often accompanies that. Most needlecrafts are fairly accessible and require only basic skills and minimal outlay to achieve very rewarding results.

“The rhythmic, repetitive moments necessary to knit, sew or crochet are proven to have therapeutic benefits and improve mental health and emotional wellbeing, increasing serotonin production and inducing a natural state of mindfuness.”

Source – The Guardian

A stitch in tea-time!

Sewing cafés are opening across the country fuelled by a growing trend for people to “make do and mend”. The opening last spring of Sweat Shop, near Paris’s trendy Canal St Martin area, caused a buzz among sewers on both sides of the Channel and the concept is, increasingly, being translated into businesses here.

Sewing cafés operate in a similar way to internet cafés by offering customers the chance to hire sewing machines – instead of computers – by the hour while they tuck into coffee and cake, as well as providing craft workshops. Kiri Lewin, who has run Café Crema with her partner Chris Boddington in London’s New Cross since 2004, decided the Parisian concept sounded “really romantic”. She introduced two free-to-use sewing machines to her cafe in January after receiving £3,000 funding from the Capital Community Foundation charity to cover the costs of equipment and workshops. “The tills haven’t been ringing wildly since we have got the sewing machines,” Ms Lewin admitted. “It’s more it’s a nice thing to do and to see people in the window making something.”

However, Nicola Barron claimed the sewing café she runs three times a week at her craft salon Homemade London, which opened in the city’s West End in September, was “a great marketing tool” as people often subsequently book on to workshops. Customers pay £10 an hour, including tea and cake, to use one of 12 sewing machines or six overlockers.

The majority are women in their 20s and 30s.”People who haven’t met before, you hear them talking about office affairs and giving each other life advice,” Mrs Barron said.

While sewing cafés benefit people who cannot afford to buy a machine and give novices the chance to try it out, it is the social aspect that most appeals to Nadia Kamil. The 26-year-old comedy writer and performer started using Homemade London because she did not own a machine, but still visits even though she now has her own.

Kate Smith hopes to launch her second sewing café in her shop, the Makery Emporium, Bath, which opened three months ago. Customers of her first drop-in sewing café, which has run once a week in the city at her craft business since December 2009, share ideas and inspiration.

“It’s just a really fun, friendly, positive thing to do,” she explained. “A lot of people have made proper friends from coming because we are all quite similarly-minded people.”

The business is thriving despite the economic downturn, which has helped to fuel a “make do and mend” culture. “January was the busiest month we have ever had, which is a really good sign for this year,” Mrs Smith said.

Other sewing cafés are run at the Cornwall Yarn Shop in Launceston and the Make Lounge in London’s Islington. Since Ashley Holdsworth opened Make It Glasgow in September in the city, which is also home to the Yarn Cake knitting café, she has received inquiries from all over the world.

Golnaz Alibagi, news and features editor at Craft Business magazine, said sewing cafés are a growing trend. She added: “Before, if you did a workshop it made you stand out; now it doesn’t, so I think it’s about doing something a bit different and it appeals to the younger market as well.”

Source – The Independant

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