Craftwork is cool again

16:00, Mar 22 2013
craft landscape
Kirsty Hosking opened Make Cafe, a craft shop and cafe on Riccarton Rd, last year.

After a few hundred years spent in the domestic realm, crafts have been teetering on the brink of extinction for the past few decades. But, with sustainability and creativity trendy once again, crafts are back - and they're cool.

Women of previous generations knew how to knit, how to patchwork and how to make lavender drawer fresheners. Such skills were taught at a young age, passed down from the matriarch as a rite of passage for the next generation of capable women.

Somewhere along the way, people got busy outside the home and clothes got mass-produced and cheaper. There was no time for sewing your own clothes, knitting scarves or crocheting hats for your children. Craft skills were lost.
Well, not any more. Once the territory of elderly women with embroidered throw pillows, craft markets are now proving popular across a wide age range.

The popularity of crafts has emerged trends. as shabby chic, retro looks and sustainability are in. Do it yourself attitudes are cool again and giving homemade jam as a gift inspires envy from the more time-poor, not ridicule. The cheaper something is and the more time you spent making it yourself, the better.

Encraftment Market founding member Kirsty Hosking, in her early 30s, is one of the leaders of the Christchurch craft movement. She and a few friends founded the market when earthquakes robbed them of a place to sell crafts. They held the first one in June 2011 with fellow crafters they knew. Now hundreds of hopeful applicants apply for a stall before each market.

The recent Monster March Market organised by the Craft Collective, another Christchurch craft movement, was packed with enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds.

North Canterbury's Melanie Williams is a self-described craft-addict. A young stay-at-home mum, she started getting craftier when her kids were born. With more time on her hands and an urge to have a hobby for herself, she started making fabric toys. She is now the proud founder of Nite Owl Stitching and her fabric craftwork is proving popular, especially her Vampire Bats.

"I can't make enough of them, they're just flying out the door. Maybe because they're so different."
She uses retro-inspired fabrics and her designs are funky, appealing to younger people.
"It's that retro feeling, but without it looking like grandma made it. It's not all lavender bags and crochet booties any more."

She is a self-taught crafter - through internet searches, blogs, online tutorials and trial and error.
"I could not find anyone who could teach me how to crochet. I had to teach myself. So many people say to me they'd love to learn to crochet, but they don't know anyone who does.

"Crafts are getting a lot younger, and they're definitely cool again."
With three little kids to contend with every day, Williams sells her crafts mostly at markets, through Facebook, and using online craft stores such as Etsy (etsy.com) and Felt (felt.co.nz).

"Facebook is awesome for promotion. Etsy, I can end up on there for hours at a time just looking at all these amazing things people are making." It's through these online portals the rise of crafts can be seen.

Felt founder Lucy Arnold is based in Christchurch. She started Felt in 2007 as a way for Kiwi crafters to get their products out to a wider customer base - the younger generation who buy everything online and who are more trusting of online payments systems.

"It does make your product more accessible to people and online shopping has really taken off in New Zealand - albeit a little bit behind the rest of the world. People's attitude to online shopping has changed a lot since we first started."

A committed crafter herself, Arnold bought a sewing machine about six years ago. She started with the basics, making arm warmers for friends and family. Soon, she was struggling with demand and decided to set up shop on Etsy - a worldwide online craft shop. It worked well, but Arnold wanted to target a more local market and there was nothing similar in New Zealand.

She designed the site herself, utilising her own experiences and frustrations from trying to sell her own product online. She started Felt when she was 26. In the past 18 months Felt members have made about $500,000 selling handmade products. Its 40,000 members are craft mad and it's easy to lose track of time looking at retro-inspired cushions and edgy jewellery.

"Crafts are getting cool and there is definitely a market out there. We have people selling on our site making a decent amount of money.

"There is a demand for craft skills and products. I was lucky to have two crafty grandmothers, but with our parents' generation, there wasn't that same need for these skills. It's only now we are realising what we lost."

'I WAS FED UP WITH IMPORTED CRAP'

Jo Blakemore started Random Little Things about three years ago. She was "fed up with imported crap" and wanted to revive the skills so cherished by her grandmother. She makes a small selection of vintage dresses, rimu and silver jewellery, and objects out of resins and enamels.

"I used to meet a group of girlfriends at the pub on a Wednesday night and we decided we were a group of kickass women and we were going to do some crafts in a more formal way."

The group got into everything knitting, sewing and everything in between.Fortunately for Blakemore, she comes from a creative background.

''I've always made stuff and my mum's a seamstress from way back. But despite her attempts to teach me to sew, I only really got into it about six years ago. I was actually banned from her sewing machine after I kept breaking it. I was working for Corrections and it was a dry and soul-destroying job. Crafts was kind of an antithesis to that.''

She now sells her unique and youthful crafts at markets and on Facebook.''Crafting is kind of a compulsion to make things just for the joy of making things. Usually, the sale of them is just to cover costs. You can't charge for time, or the product would just be so expensive. It's an illness almost, a perpetual hamster wheel. But you have to love it.''

In the past few years, both Blakemore and Williams have seen the Christchurch craft scene grow exponentially. What was hard to get off the ground pre-quake, is now booming. Markets devoted to crafts are having to turn prospective stall-holders away.

The crowd is becoming more 20-something than 70-something and a serious need for capable tutors is on the horizon.YouTube has become the medium through which practical skills are being passed along.

Advertisement

Need to know how to make your own baby bibs or fix an over-locker? It's all there. Most video tutorials have step-by-step instructions and you can watch the hard parts again, until you finally master casting off or blanket stitch. However, there's nothing like having a real teacher to show you how to get crafty firsthand. Having seen craft cafes work well in Europe, Kirsty Hosking saw the need for a creative space here. Not a market or a shop, and definitely not a drafty church hall - she was looking for something more welcoming, more creatively inspiring.

''There's a massive gap in what's being passed down from generation to generation, and we wanted to make a space where people feel they can go.''

Last year, she opened Make Cafe on Riccarton Rd. It's part craft shop, part school,  part cafe. Crafters can grab a latte and a scone, and do their quilting. They can pick out fabrics and a few patterns and grab some lunch with a friend. 

''We run as many workshops as we can and we try to stock a wide range of craft products, at a reasonable price. We have a big young clientele and it's exciting to see young people coming in and getting hooked. It's also somewhere like-minded people can socialise and learn from each other.''

Craft addicts agree, it's never too early to learn and many skills are straightforward once the mystique is gone.

Your Weekend