Let me start by saying that I have been a visitor to the Knitting and Stitching show for over 15 years, but always at Alexandra Palace in the autumn. So I’m writing this review not as a total newbie, but as someone who has attended this and other shows for a long time – sometimes as a knitter, sometimes as a dressmaker.
The Knitting and Stitching show always runs over four days, Thursday-Sunday, with one day tickets usually in the region of £13 for an adult. They are held twice a year in London – in the Spring at Olympia, and in the Autumn at Alexandra Palace. Usually I will visit on a Saturday, so I don’t have to take time off work.
I always book my tickets online, and if you search the internet you can usually find a discount code for a couple of pounds off. When booking your ticket, you get the choice of buying a one day VIP ticket for use on any of the four days (you don’t have to specify which day you will be visiting), which costs £28. For this extra £15 on top of the normal ticket price, you get a free gift, a show guide, and the use of the VIP seating area and cloakroom plus priority entrance into the show. Additionally you get £1 off the cost of any workshops that you book. I’ve never done this personally, as I don’t think the extra £15 is worth it. The VIP seating area does look nice, but I’m perfectly happy to find a corner of the floor to sit on for fifteen minutes and eat my lunch. I would rather spend that extra £15 on fabric!
Olympia is well served by buses and trains, being on the London overground line as well as the District line. However, on the day I visited, the District line was closed for maintenance so I had to get a (free) rail replacement bus from Earls Court. Otherwise though you should be able to reach Olympia pretty easily no matter where you are coming from. I will say that the toilets in Olympia are much more numerous than in Alexandra Palace, and – SHOCK HORROR – I didn’t even need to queue. There was a cafe in Olympia too, but it was so rammed over lunchtime that your chances of getting a seat would be slim to none. However we always take a packed lunch, so this wasn’t a problem for us.
As hinted at by the title of the show, the stalls cover a wide range of crafts – knitting, quilting, embroidery, beading, papercraft, and dressmaking to name a few. I think this is the main downside – it’s a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ situation. For someone that’s going with a focus on just one of these (ie a dressmaker), the number of stalls relevant to you can be a little disappointing. It is quite obvious too that the craft of focus is definitely quilting – the majority of the stands are quilting fabric. As they get their own show in the UK, The Festival Of Quilts, I’d really like to see a show that isn’t so focused on quilting. There were however a couple of dedicated dressmaking stalls, the most standout of them all for me was Till The Sun Goes Down, M. Rosenberg & Son (Stitch Fabrics), and Fabrics Galore (who I always visit at the shows) for their amazing collection of Alexander Henry fabrics!
Till The Sun Goes down had a wonderful selection of vintage sewing patterns, along with some pieces of genuine vintage fabrics alongside newer fabric printed with a vintage design. I got two pre-cut 2-metre pieces of printed viscose from this stand, one with turquoise cats on it and another with a purple geometric pattern on it.
M Rosenberg & Son was a monster of a stand, and you couldn’t fail to miss it. Rolls and rolls of dressmaking fabrics stacked up high, attracting the crowds. They had everything from furs, to silks, to sequins, cottons and denims. This was definitely the best stand at the show for me, though I was attending the show as a dressmaker and looking for suitable fabrics. I came away with an end-of-roll four metres of faux fur for a coat, some hand painted burnout silk and two metres of black and gold sequins for an evening dress.
Whist the show is great for a day out, and to see stock from stores that you might not otherwise be able to get to, I feel that over the years, the number of non-craft stalls has increased to an unacceptable level – ready to wear clothes, handbags, charities such as Dogs Trust, sweets, and medical massages. I personally don’t feel that these stalls should be present, as it is a craft show, and the addition of these makes it feel a bit more like a market bazaar.
There is no discernible layout to the stalls – walking round you encounter a different selection of materials at each stall. They are not grouped by craft, so if you only wanted to see the knitting stalls you would need to walk round the whole venue to find them all. This doesn’t bother me particularly, but it might some people who just want to get in, shop and get out.
As well as the stalls there are also displays of work and exhibitions to look around, if you would like to. Personally I always bypass this bit, as I am there to shop, but there were a fair few people wandering round.
We spent about three and a half hours at the show, including sitting down for twenty minutes to eat lunch, and although overall it was a bit of a disappointment because of the lack of dressmaking stalls (I couldn’t even find a stand selling invisible zips), I am very pleased with what I bought and I like to browse fabrics in the flesh. Also, I think it’s worth the ticket price and the journey just to have all of the main stores come to you all in one place, rather than have to travel to them individually.
As I live in London, the journey time for me isn’t too bad, but I probably wouldn’t travel for two or more hours to get here especially to visit the show. . If you can make the journey in a reasonable time, I would recommend going to the show – I mean, who doesn’t like to shop for fabric?! I will still be making my annual trip to Alexandra Palace in the autumn, and will probably return to Olympia next year, but would really love to see a show that focuses on dressmaking. Perhaps the popularity of the Sewing Bee will help to encourage this… you never know.