Melbourne Craft and Quilt Fair 2014

1 September 2014

A veritable cornucopia of fat quarters and other textiley delights at Melbourne's Craft and Quilt Fair 2014
At last! A few minutes to jot down thoughts and impressions from the Craft and Quilt Fair in Melbourne back in June. This is Australia's impressive answer to Ally Pally's Knitting and Stitching Show so it was only right and just that I pop down to have a look.

Thus I rose early on a Saturday morning. However, the trip almost began and ended in disaster as I  made my way to the World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building. This is one of the only remaining structures from that great binge of Royal Exhibitions during the 19th century, the most famed probably being that of Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Even today Melbournians use the building for which it was designed; as a space for exhibitions and fairs.

It's also a bit similar to Alexandra Palace. Where they hold the Knitting and Stitching Show.

Bally good thing I realised before I reached inner Melbourne that the Craft and Quilt Fair was in fact at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. It's a kinda similar name to the Royal Exhibition Building what with having the word "Exhibition" in there. It also has the same function but is of a much more modern vintage, built in 1997. Funded and supported by Victoria's (as in the state, not the former Queen) Premier of the day, Jeff Kennett, this somewhat utilitarian building is affectionately and laconically known as Jeff's Shed.

Which is fine.

Except the Royal Exhibition Building and Jeff's Shed are on two completely different sides of the CBD, Carlton versus South Bank. So after a minor panic ("what other significant facts might I have missed that would thwart my mission?!") and a quick check on the intermeweb, I found my way and made it to Jeff's Shed...

And once inside, oh my. The Fair was Good. I would suggest to the organisers a minor yet significant change of name from the Craft and Quilt Fair to the Quilt and Craft Fair as there was a lot of quilty-themed stalls. Loads in fact. Oodles.

I'll start with the magnificent exhibition of quilts made by members of Victorian Quilters Inc. What an array of talent, colour and beauty from the hands of young girls starting their patchwork adventures to venerable matriarchs with decades of experience behind them.

No pressure, Willis. No pressure but that is a rather fine patchwork quilt there.
In one corner were some ladies industriously sewing, supporters of the Victorian Quilters' Very Snuggly Quilts programme. After a bit of probing, I found this group of volunteers to be akin to the good people of Free Cakes for Kids. Instead of cakes they make quilts, elaborate, stunning quilts for sick children at the Children's Hospital in Melbourne. As in children who may be terminally ill, suffering some terrible disease or possibly coming to terms with a life-changing disability. From premature babies to young adults, the quilters anonymously make quilts to general themes (say, girl aged 16 or boy aged 10) which are then taken into the hospital. Staff tell the Very Snuggly Quilt organisers which children and families are in need and a quilt is given. For free.

Some members of the Victorian Quilters in action supporting the Very Snuggly Quilts campaign
At one of the most stressful and vulnerable moments in a child's life - or indeed that of a parent - a total stranger creates a beautiful, soft and comforting object and gifts it. It's a precious and generous act that brings some peace and hope to the recipients.

All those examples of beautiful complexity and moral generosity were rather inspiring and I thus sallied forth into the rest of the Fair. I think the first significant point of difference between my experiences at Ally Pally and in Melbourne was how many quilting kits were on offer. One of my small frustrations about the various patchwork vendors in Britain was - for the beginner - their ludicrously tempting and large selection of fat quarters and bolts of fabric was generally intimidating. Staff tended to presume a much higher level of experience than I have so I would often slip away and head back to the yarn stalls.

By contrast a number of the outfits exhibiting in Melbourne had kits and some of those "make-a-quilt-in-a-section-a-month" sort of kits (a bit like Janie Crow's monthly Crochet Club), with the promise of technical support as part of your monthly subscription. The monthly subscription is also a jolly good idea. The thought of forking out several hundred dollars in one fell swoop for a quilt kit that is probably beyond your technical ability and might sit festering away in a craft cupboard for aeons, is eye-watering.

This is all for the beginner, I hasten to emphasise. So hurrah! for the likes of Patchwork Passion and their Block of the Month-A-Longs and the ever-so-charming Crafty Squirrel of Ballarat. In the latter instance I was utterly taken by the retro palette and patterns that defined much of the Squirrel's wares. Bundles of fat quarters, cushion kits and quilt kits were all made from owner's Morgan Will's collection of vintage sheets, blankets and textiles. With the occasional faux terrarium and some Old School habredashery thrown in for good measure.

Retrotastic upcycling possibilities and kits (WHO DOESN'T LOVE A FAUX TERRARIUM WITH MINIATURE DEER?!) courtesy of The Crafty Squirrel

Now, for those more au fait with patchwork and quilting then you were in for a treat with the fabric available from two vendors in particular: Robyn Shapiro of The Strawberry Thief and Leslie Keating of Maze & Vale.

Liberty Tana Lawn aplenty from The Strawberry Thief
The former has many, many Liberty print fabrics to delight and amaze. Actually, those aren't just for the quilters out there but have many, many crafty and fashiony possibilities. Plans are afoot for customers to buy fabric by the metre for projects beyond patchwork. Lucky Robyn has managed to take her love of the Tana Lawn and turn it into a full time job. I am in awe.

Robyn Shapiro of the Strawberry Thief. I know this isn't a fashion blog but do note Tana Lawn headscarf and note how chic it looks.
Leslie Keating is a textile artist originally from Canada whose screen-printed linens and cottons are invoke a muted Scandinavian aesthetic. Again, Maze & Vale's fabrics don't limit you to quilts, but you would make some pretty striking and contemporary ones if you did decide to have a go. Leslie is also running some screen and block printing workshops in Footscray for those keen to dabble in a slightly messier and paintier realm of the craft and textile world.

The delicate and contemporary prints of Maze and Vale, all designed and screen printed by graphic designer Leslie Keating.
Another fascinating aspect of the quilting side of the Craft Fair was the preponderance of sashiko embroidery and Japanese fabrics for patchwork purposes. You see nothing of such stuff in Blighty. It must be pretty niche. Australia's geographical position in the Asia-Pacific might explain this craft's presence in Melbourne, but it is a marvellous surprise considering Australia's international image - thank you Neighbours, Home and Away and Crocodile Dundee - of a bunch of Anglo-Saxons and Celts on the beach. I must admit a worrying preponderance of golliwogs (ARGH. I couldn't bring myself to photograph any) in kit, knitted and quilt form at the Fair suggests that some awkward, un-PC cultural relics of a bygone age still remain in Australia today...

... so let's get back to the sashiko! Much more worthy of note and reflective of contemporary Australian society. My two favourites were Mai Misaki and Bebe Bold. Mai Misaki was interesting as I hadn't come across the idea of so much taupe in Japanese fabrics. The passing knowledge I had of this vastly complex and rich section of textile history tended to reference brightly-coloured kimono material or indigo-dyed linens. But taupe? Lovely. And I suppose it makes sense that some bright spark a long time ago in ancient Japan thought, "why not leave the fabric in its natural colour? It looks better on me than indigo blue." Or some such.

Oodles of taupe Japanese linen on offer at Mai Misaki.
Bebe Bold has more of the classic indigo fabric on offer as well as many other contemporary Japanese textiles. The company's owner, Jane MacDonald, designs an number of the sashiko patterns herself, which are often helpfully printed in blocks on the fabric ready for you to stitch, cut the blocks, arrange yourself and construct into whatever patchwork project you fancy. Oh, and once washed the original white pattern lines vanish. Jolly simple yet effective.

Sashiko patterns and projects from Bebe Bold. Jane MacDonald the owner - who originally hails from Oxford of all places - designs a number of patterns herself.
Bebe Bold also has quilt kits, smaller patchwork kits, sashiko projects, all the associated sashiko tools and embroidery threads you will need as well as oodles of Japanese crochet loveliness. Ooooh, the Tulip crochet hooks! The fine cotton threads! The fringing possibilities for linen handkerchiefs the world over!
Some examples of contemporary Japanese crochet patterns, hooks, yarns and so forth that Bebe Bold had on offer. I am rather taken by the fine edging on the linen hankie...
Yet for all the Japanese crochet loveliness there weren't as many crochetty, knitty stalls as I had anticipated. It was late autumn when the Fair was on so I had presumed a perfect time for spruiking woolly delights. Nonetheless, the leading light of the woolier textile stalls was Prudence Mapstone of KnotJustKnitting and her freeform crochet or fibre art.

Prudence Mapstone of KnotJustKnitting
What a joyful concept Prudence's freeform crochet is. Using scraps of yarn of all weights and fibre types the aim is to crochet whatever patches and patterns come to your mind. These deliciously textured samples and motifs - called scumbles - can become pieces of textile art in their own right or brought together to construct functional yet striking clothing and accessories. Prudence's work has a great vivacity and exhilaration in it, born of such a simple yet terrifyingly liberating idea. She's written a book or two about this freefrom skill if you want to find out a bit more or would like a bit of guidance before you launch out on your own.

Freeform crochet of which there was quite a bit at the KnotJustKnitting stand
So there you have it. My thoughts and ramblings on the Melbourne Craft and Quilt Fair 2014.

But what of my acquisitions? Of course there were such things. What limited will power I have at the best of times is incinerated within microseconds by the nuclear blast of temptation these craft shows provide. It would have been rude not to have bought a quilt kit. So I did. A retro-tastic and simpleish one from the Crafty Squirrel and an accompanying wooden stitch-picker topped by a small doll with which to unpick my almost inevitable stitching balls-ups. Also some Liberty print covered button for the seemingly never-ending Heathered cardigan I am making. Oh, and a divine mohair and merino 2-ply from Touch Yarns - acquired at the Wondoflex stall -  which will one day become a Banana Leaf Shawl.

My acquisitions. Now to find the time to make the blessed things...

So, all in all, the Craft and Quilt Fair was a pretty decent way to spend a Saturday morning. I'm looking forward to next year already...

(Images: Zoë F. Willis)

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