This was my mum’s advice before we headed off to sunny (well, it was sunny, although sunny in that clear wintry way where it is also absolutely freezing) Harrogate for the Knitting & Stitching Show 2013. The idea is that if you only take one bag, and make a firm resolution not to buy more fabric than you can put in the bag, this puts a natural cap on how much money you can spend at an event where there are delicious crafty things on all sides as far as the eye can see.
My camera’s battery gave out that morning, so I have no photos from the event. Which is a shame, because it was a wonderland of fabric and yarn and gadgets and people. We went on Saturday 23rd, which was probably the busiest day, but not too bad – I’m given to understand that the Harrogate show is a lot less hectic and hellish than the headline one they hold at Alexandra Palace in London.
Shortly before my 18th birthday, I went to Star Wars Celebration Europe, the first of the official Celebration line of SW conventions to be held in Europe and a huge, huge thing. It took over the ExCeL centre in London and was a huge, bewildering, glorious mess of merchandise and famous faces and fans and costumes, the night being rounded off with a metal rendition of the theme tune from Anchorhead.
The bit I remember most vividly, though, isn’t actually from the con itself. It was getting onto the Docklands Light Railway – the branch of the Tube network that goes to ExCeL – at Stratford and getting into a carriage already lightly seeded with costumed, theme T-shirted, convention-pass-wearing or otherwise identifiable other fans. And then seeing more and more of them get on as the train got closer to the ExCeL stop, until by the end we were having the classic rush-hour sardine tin … except the huge hairy bloke whose armpit was disconcertingly near my face was also dressed as Chewbacca, and Darth Vader kept bumping his helmet on the handrails, and pretty nearly everyone in the carriage had at least one item of memorabilia on them somewhere. It was fantastic, and the sense of “These are MY PEOPLE” that washed over my baby geek self remains the enduring image of the day.
Fast-forward six and a half years and I’m sitting on a train in Leeds station with my mum, bag on lap, Starbucks in hand and in animated discussion of my new handmade trousers (of which more later!), and slowly start to realise that the train is filling up almost exclusively with women, with large bags, and with a higher proportion of unusual fabrics and chunky handmade knitwear than is usually seen in the wild.
By the time we got to Harrogate, the train was packed and the station was swarming with people headed purposefully down the hill in the same direction. We didn’t actually bring directions, just followed the signs, and then when the signs ceased to be obvious, followed the tide of women with interesting coats and little wheeled suitcases.
And I got that glorious feeling of belonging all over again. There is something very precious about a space entirely dedicated to one’s own particular obsession, where everyone present is just as dotty as you are and you can have lengthy jargon-ridden conversations with complete strangers.
There was also a distinct commonality with the Star Wars convention and with LARP events in that people had dressed up – fewer elf costumes, yes, but the same sense that people were showcasing their projects to an appreciative audience. I complimented one woman on her bright yellow Dr Seuss dress, and someone else on her bombshell number made out of fabric with a Hammer Horror movie-poster print, and someone else again on a fantastic steampunk waistcoat. And there were dozens more I didn’t get to speak to.
We also went to a workshop run by Celia Banks called “Fine-Tune Your Dressmaking”, which covered a handful of those little techniques that aren’t rocket science but are fiddly to get just so, and make such a difference when you do: understitching, sleeve setting, bulk-free pocket flaps, and bound buttonholes. Celia’s assistant said as we arrived “Are you sisters?” My mum burst out laughing and replied “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all day.”
This is what I ended up coming away with:
Clockwise from top left:
- An undisclosed quantity of shiny purple fabric for which I have PLANS, which are too awesome to spill to the world before they are fulfilled
- A vintage jacket pattern, Burda 5265, with gloriously huge shoulders, which I also have PLANS for
- Two fat quarters, one with angels, one with a detail from a Persian manuscript, bought for me by my mum
- Many buttons (black and silver, silver, black, purple, wooden)
- A half metre of striking red-white-black quilting cotton that called to me
- A fat quarter of Michael Miller quilting cotton that called to me
- Two metres of dark red/red-grey possibly-wool destined to be a pair of Thurlow Trousers.
Not shown: the giant case of sewing machine envy.
I have a portable and practical Brother LS-2125. It’s a step up from an absolute beginner’s machine, with buttonholes and stuff, but passing the big manufacturers’ stalls at the show was like pootling along in a Vauxhall Astra and being casually overtaken by James Bond’s Aston Martin. I stared longingly at a table-sized Pfaff which probably cost more than a Vauxhall Astra and didn’t dare touch it.
I do not need a new sewing machine, and this is my attempt to make myself semi-accountable in saying that I am not going to buy one. See? Down in black and white. Definitely.