This year was the first time I attended this show. I booked a package that included a coach ride to and from the venue: £28 all in. These are my reflections on the whole day from start to finish. Let me say up front, that I had a wonderful day. Please don’t lose sight of that in the face of the negative points that I will be making.
The coach journey
Our coach was supplied by Poynters, and left from Victoria Street in Northampton pretty much on time. Our driver was a very pleasant chap called Andy. The coach was half full – perhaps not even that. So if you’re tempted to come along next year, you’re almost sure to get a seat. I highly recommend this approach – no fighting with London traffic, no parking nightmares, no changing trains and tubes and and. Many of us had brought projects to work on during the travel time, of course, and I made pretty good progress on my knitting. There was a toilet on the coach as you might expect, not luxurious, but adequate if you had a pressing need. There was also a box containing the makings for coffee and tea, but the driver made no mention of them, so I don’t even know if there was hot water.
Andy had estimated that the journey down would take a little over 2 hours, but it took less than that. We arrived at 9:45.
The coach picked us up again at the front entrance at 16:45. We left a few minutes after 17:00, once Andy had made sure he was leaving with the same people he’d brought down. The journey back was slower – taking us longer to get out of London, due to the time of day. I’m so glad I didn’t have to battle that traffic. We took a little over 2 hours to get back to Northampton, where the rain was bucketing down.
Arriving early – finding coffee
The venue security wouldn’t let us in before 10am. The show only opened at 10:30am, but in light of the icy weather, arrangements had been made for us to be allowed into the cafe area a half an hour early. I decided to decamp across the road to a coffee shop in search of breakfast. I found a coffee shop, but the nearest thing they had to breakfast was a pretzel or a croissant, both served as is, without jam or butter. Nice coffee, though. It was rammed, as you might expect, with people waiting for the various shows at the Olympia to open.
I have been to more shows at the Olympia than I can count, and my observations remain the same after every one. It is a wonderful venue for shows like this, but… and, as always, there are too many significant buts:
- There are no drinking fountains, and nowhere to refill a reusable water bottle. Your only option is to buy plastic bottles of water from the various catering suppliers dotted around the place.
- The food on offer in the various cafeterias was pretty good, but extremely expensive. Here again, plastic proliferated. Lots of packaging and plastic cutlery to eat it with. There were segregated bins in the cafeteria, but I can’t help feeling that wooden cutlery would be a better option.
- Following on from this point, there are garbage bins dotted around the venue, but they’re not set up for recycling. Apart from in the cafeteria, all the bins are mixed waste. With the volume of people passing through the Olympia every day, I feel quite ill to think of the environmental impact of this lack of provision for responsible trash disposal.
- I attended on the last day (day 4) of the show. Several of the toilet stalls were out of order, as were several hand dryers. In the case of the hand dryers, it seemed that the water reservoirs were full.
At the entrance to the show, tickets were checked and we were offered the opportunity to buy a show programme (£4.00), a carrier bag with a slogan about knitting taking balls (price unknown – I loved it, but I have enough carrier bags), and T-shirts (£10.00). I need to say a word about these T-shirts. What a pleasure to attend a show with T-shirts in ladies’ sizes! Of course, most of the attendees were women – this is the way of it with handcrafts, although we are seeing a growing number of men taking up needles and hooks. Nevertheless, event souvenir T-shirts (any souvenir T-shirts, come to that) are usually shapeless crew necks touted as ‘unisex’. These have a V neck and actual space for actual boobs, without hanging like a sack around the middle!
At one point during the day, I lost my phone. Another visitor kindly offered to call it for me, and it was answered by a member of the security team. I was told it was at the event organisers’ office and I could collect it from there. I made my way to the office. No-one looked up from their desks when I walked in. No-one acknowledged that I was there. I spotted my phone on the desk in front of one person and went and picked it up. “This is mine.” I said. “Oh, okay,” said the guy, and I walked out with it. I’m not sure that level of security would win any awards any time soon. But hey ho. I got my phone back.
The show itself
In spite of adverse weather conditions, I understand that only one exhibitor was unable to make it. The stands were beautifully decorated and appointed, and most vendors were able to accept cards. The only time I had to pay cash was for a workshop I booked myself on (see below). There were hundreds of stalls – an absolute feast for the eye. And so many with a commitment to recycling, environmental impact, re-use, empowerment of developing communities… all the things that make my heart sing. Products on offer included:
- art supplies
- beading supplies
- papercraft and card making materials
- crochet and knitting tools and equipment
- sewing machines
- yarns using a wide range of materials
- cross stitch, tapestry and embroidery supplies
- dressmaking supplies
- felt and felting materials
- lace, ribbons, finishes
- lights and magnifiers
- spinning, weaving, dyeing
- textile art
- storage solutions
- frames and stands
- kits of every sort imaginable, and some you’ve never imagined
There were also some guilds and charities represented. Some finished goods on sale (such as jewellery, bags and so forth).
The downside for me was the presence of stands selling beauty treatments, nail treatments and offering skin analyses. There are going to be loads of women there, and everyone knows women are obsessed with looking beautiful, so let’s throw some beauty products into a show about crafting and making. Ugh. One stand was offering eyebrow products or treatments, and the vendors were quite aggressive: grabbing passersby by arm and telling them they could knock ten years off their age by letting them loose on their brows. Having dragged my sorry butt out of bed at stupid o’clock to make the coach on time, I was happy to have my clothes on the right way around. I hadn’t bothered to put a face on. I hadn’t even had time for breakfast. I wasn’t there to be decorative. I was there to explore what was on offer to me as a professional crafter/maker/artisan. I didn’t need someone telling me I could look younger. One of the women from my coach actually said as much to the pushy type who was clutching her arm. “Why do I need to look younger?” The vendor was floored. Stop telling us that we don’t look good enough or young enough or thin enough. We no longer care. Leave us and our wrinkles and grey hairs the hell alone. Okay?
Other non-knitting and stitching type stands included a few charities – fair enough, visitors clearly have disposable income, and charities must take their opportunities where they can. Although I did wryly wonder whether we weren’t being stereotyped as crazy cat ladies when I spotted Cats Protection among those present. And I fully acknowledge the appropriateness of the stands offering therapies for arthritis, RSI and other frustrating loss-of-dexterity afflictions.
There were five galleries of quilting exhibits, and I wanted to make special mention of these. Quilting is one craft I haven’t been motivated to try, probably because it’s such a slow burner. But I am in awe of the works of art – because they are nothing short of that – that quilters produce. The Quilters’ Guild exhibition was titled Commemorating World War 1, and featured works of poignant beauty.
For an additional fee, ranging from £15-£34 each, attendees could attend workshops for an hour, an hour and a half or two hours, depending on the complexity of the skill being covered. I booked myself onto a 1-hr workshop called Peg Loom with Recycled Materials for £15, and learned a very useful little craft for my tiny bits and bobs of yarn and fabric that are too small to use anywhere else. Since it was last of these workshops for the show, the looms were offered for sale at an excellent price. But I reckon I could knock one up myself.
Of course, I blew the budget completely. But I am excited that my search for a runner across the high traffic area in the dining room is over: I will be knitting one, using extreme knitting yarn and needles. And it will be gorgeous and cheaper than any pure wool rug I might buy.
And, for the sake of scale, here are those (handmade) extreme knitting needles beside a selection of my other needles, including the pair that used to be the largest I owned.
I am also going to make the most beautiful wall hanging in the whole world ever, using a peg loom and recycled saris and silks. And if you’re very lucky, I might offer it for sale in my shop. Watch this space.
I came away with a few names that I am prepared to make a noise about. In no particular order:
Sheep on Mars, a family business selling a range of yarns, sheep locks, feltmaking fabrics, wool fibre, mohair shawls and felted goods.
Rachel John of Megaknitz.com, whose products and tools will go into the making of the carpet runner I mentioned. Not to be confused with the actress of the same name.
Elaine (aka Lala) of Lala with Love, producer of ethically sourced, sustainable yarns and fibres.