Thursday 19 October 2017

What's it like? Going to the The Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally

I've been trying a few new sewing related experiences this year.  I joined a quilt guild (South West Modern Quilt Guild) which I've loved.  I've also aimed to attend more sewing shows so since September, I've been to West Country Quilt show, the 'Stitching, Sewing and Hobby Craft and last Sunday I went to the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace, London.  This is the biggest show that I've been to and it coincided with a weekend when I was already in London so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Alexandra Palace is an amazing venue. Sited at the top of an enormous hill, the building is magnificent with spectacular views across London all around.  I opted for Sunday as it's the quietest of the show days - it ran Wed-Sun with Saturday being the busiest. I arrived at 10am and there was a steady stream of people going in.  Although it sells a range of tickets- VIP, with workshops/talks, as well as standard and concessions really it's  about the shopping, all those specialist retailers for quilting, dressmaking, general sewing, knitting, crochet, cross-stitch and more under one roof.  There's one massive hall with the largest stalls and two smaller stalls which tended to house the smaller independent businesses and textile galleries.   There were various discounts for buying online, I got mine from being on the Fashion and Textile Museum mailing list, there is a booking fee though, the total cost is around £12-14 for a basic one day ticket.

It is a money-making machine. If you want to find a specific stand, you'd have to pay £4 for a 'guide', or return to the entry point and study the wall diagram. I made sure I covered every path of carpet and aimed to find a list of people who I knew were there who I've worked with in some way over the years. I saw lots of familiar names from previous shows, like Fabrics Galore with their two stalls covering quilting craft and dressmaking, and The Quilted Bear with a plethora of fabric and quilting/sewing tools. I also saw newer names- Higgs & Higgs had a wonderful selection of jersey, sweatshirt, linen, cotton and more.  Stof & Sill had a well-arranged stall, quite limited variety but interesting, well displayed and staff were helpful.

Girl Charlee had a busy stall with a mix of their familiar and new jersey fabrics. I've worked with Girl Charlee several times since they started their UK journey and it's always been a very positive experience.  Mark and Ben are both focused on a great customer experience and it really showed when I saw them helping newer sewers match their patterns to the right fabric.

I've worked with The Eternal Maker for many years now and Anna is an experienced stall arranger; there's always so much packed into her displays with a buzz of people around the fabrics, pattern and sample garments.

The Cool Crafting stand looked very inviting and they had obviously sold a lot of fabric, kits and patterns - the wrap dress and its fabric had sold out. I've seen their stall at previous events but toy kits, craft fabrics and trims have been their focus. This time, dressmaking was centre stage and they had beautiful cotton, linen and wool selection.

In one of the side halls, there were some interesting indie style stalls including Frances Tobin from The Maker's Atelier.  I wrote about her business early last year for Sewing World mag and she has expanded so much since then with so many more patterns and a successful book. Her stall was beautiful, a palette of caramels and gorgeous patterns. She likes to use an interesting range of tactile substrates like stretch metallics, silk crepes, leather etc.

Grace from Beyond Measure had a lovely stall, packed full of handcrafted sewing gadgets, rolls of wool tweed and an excess of sewing related gifts. It looked very inviting. She had her sister helping her on Sunday, it is a big time commitment running a stall for 5 days plus the set-up and take down, whilst also being away from your family.

Andree of Til the Sun Goes Down  sells a dazzling range of original design silks and wool crepes as well as her own pattern range, 'Now and Then' and tempting kits which combine the two. She had vintage patterns and fabrics too and all her patterns were made up in a multitude of samples. 

For a huge array of the best known names in sewing, it was excellent. I'm no longer a knitter and I can't crochet but both are well served. I didn't buy much, it was more about meeting some people after a long time emailing and enjoying the experience plus my budget is limited and I was carrying my luggage on the train the next day.  I did get some irresistible Homestead Life Cabin Bolt fabric from Girl Charlee which is destined to become jogger style pyjamas. Love the print and it's a slightly drapey cotton/spandex jersey, perfect for lounging and evening quilt snuggling.  I also picked up a short Japanese zip and a mini magnetic seam guide from a couple of sewing stalls.

There were a few odd stalls selling sweets or hair clips- the sort of thing that I see a frustrating amount of at smaller shows and are in no way related to sewing or knitting. It's a long week for the stall holders too and I did feel for them although there is a comradery amongst the stalls and it is great for catching up on news about the business. Some traders reported fewer sales or a lower spend by customers than previous years because of the recent Great British Sewing Bee Live event in September, whilst others said they weren't affected.  The exhibitions were wide-ranging and interesting as well as a break from the busier areas. I felt like I missed some though with the lack of having a map to hand but from the ones I did visit, standouts included Rachael Howard's Red Work, Diana Harrison's Traces in Cloth which I found rather dramatic to look at, and Amy Twigger Holroyd's reknitting gallery.  It was fun, I spent a very happy four hours there and I did get to see all the shops in person that I only ever usually visit online.  

Are there any shows that you would recommend?


  1. I went to the Sewing and Knitting show in Dublin a few years back. Just by coincidence, my daughter was doing a study abroad semester in It was super fun but jam packed with much smaller stalls than you see in the USA. Narrower aisle ways that you would be hard-pressed to get a wheelchair down. I really liked seeing a sewing show in another country. Normally, I'm chasing sewing shops that may or may not have a brick & mortar presence - sometimes the online reference isn't clear. Sounds like you had fun.

    1. I’m guessing that USA shows are huge in comparison! The walkways are tight in these UK shows and on the busy days it can be packed and a struggle for mobility scooters, wheel chairs, pushchairs and anyone with walking aids. Festival of Quilts is the biggest and busiest I think. I haven’t been yet but I know it does get hectic!

  2. I very much like your description of this show. It seems you had a lot of fun! So far, I have only been to quilting shows. They are fun and packed full of wonderful shops and fabrics. I've found it quite inspiring.
    I've been browsing the Cool crafting website for the pattern or fabric of the wrap dress but couldn't find it. Do you have any idea of the pattern or the fabric? Thanks!
    cottonpaperflowers at gmail dot com

    1. The dress was described at the show as 'The Wrap Dress' and the patterns and linen fabric were out of stock there. There's very little dressmaking on their website, I recommend you email them direct to find out more, it was a beautiful looking dress!

  3. I've only been to one K&S show and I have to admit...I wasn't keen. What really put me off was the entrance price (and the cloakroom price, although we combined bags so we put in one between two) as it felt like I was essentially being charged to go shopping, a bit like the Metrocentre suddenly charging an entrance fee, and a high one at that. And it was exceptionally busy and a lot of the attendees were quite rude and would barge past/into you without so much as a by your leave - to the point where one lady (from Belfast, I think) I was chatting with on a stall asked if all English people were this rude. I was mortified. Apart from that (and the high number of cheap handbag/kitchen knives/fake hair extension stalls) it was quite nice ;o)

    1. I didn’t think of the cloakroom! I only had a bag with purse and some food. All the shows are being charged to shop though and I I have my limit for that, hence the occasional visits. Other attendees do tend to be a little rude, and I did note with this one, less chatty or lighthearted about it. No knives at this one but I’ve seen those weird stalls at local fairs- ginger graters, old fashioned sweets and I do wish they would book some related businesses, maybe newer ones at cheaper rates to fill the gaps. You made me laugh Helen!

  4. I think weekdays are usually less busy than weekends, though I haven't been to Ally Pally for a few years, but I still go to plenty of other shows.
    My other tip is to take a photo on your phone of the map right by the entrance - that way you have it with you without having to buy a guide :P

    1. I saw a lady doing that as I went in so I copied her, but it was too small to read any shop names. Good for a general plan of pathways though and marking where food and loos were!


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