The Ally Pally show is the largest, consumer-facing textile-based show in the UK, if not in Europe. I've been to the l'Aiguille en Fete show in Paris a couple of times and the size is similar, although confined to a single, large room. Since we go to a lot of the smaller shows in and around the UK, it made sense for us to also talk about the biggest.
Depending on who you talk to, Ally Pally is either mecca for the textile-based crafter or represents the wholly commercial side of the business. In reality, it's a little bit of both. I went with our good friend Catherine (special podcast guest on Episode 8), who had actually never been before but who's always good fun to go to a show with!
Walking into the giant event space of Alexandra Palace after getting off the free shuttle from Wood Green tube, we happily entered through the correct door for the hall that contained most of the yarn offerings of the show. This was pure luck on my part! But kudos to the show organisers for recognising that knitters and sewists will each (mostly) want to be able to find the materials for their crafts in one place. But of course there's always a little bit of cross-over to keep things interesting!
I'm not sure if it was the experience of getting to see the yarn vendors first, but I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity on offer. Quite a few new faces from previous years and even the displays were different and engaging. Cocoknits had come over from the US and had amazing knitting notions and accessories like blocking mats, and Isager and Habu yarns were there too.
It was also lovely to see some familiar faces, like Hannah from Hannah Bass Contemporary Tapestry and Daphne and Iain from The Fibre Co., who were vendors with us at the Pop-Up Marketplace. I enabled Catherine into getting one of Hannah's tapestries and she ended up with the same one that I bought at the Pop-Up Marketplace. I hope this means a stitch-a-long is in our future!
We had a quick snack to fortify ourselves before starting on the fabric section. Seriously - this show is huge and you really need to pace yourself, and carry a bottle of water! While Catherine was buying up things to make for her grandkids for Christmas I had a modest list to try and find some fabric for borders to make a quilt (which I did) and backing fabric for the same quilt (which I did not - although I found a few great leads of where to check online!).
Merchant & Mills, the ubiquitous sewing notions providers had a large stand that was mobbed, but it was lovely to see their fabrics and bags in person. I definitely want to do a roadtrip to Rye to their shop. I've heard it's fabulous and I can't think of a better excuse for a day out. Fabrics Galore had a lovely large stand too and it was visit and see their gorgeous fabrics. Fabrics Galore is right in my neighbourhood and I'd snagged a bargain on fabric at the Spring Knitting & Stitching Show that happened at Olympia. I found some amazing Paul Smith fabric on their stand that was too good to pass up. I'm hoping it will be perfect for the Camber Dress pattern I have from Merchant & Mills.
It wasn't only a shopping day though - Catherine and I also attended The Walkaway Dress Celebration and Afternoon Tea, a fundraiser with Butterick and the Knitting & Stitching Show benefiting The Eve Appeal, an organisation here in the UK dedicated to supporting women's cancers. Almost everyone had made and was wearing their own version of the Walkaway Dress - made famous by the latest series of the Great British Sewing Bee.
Afterwards we had just enough time to wander through the smallest hall of the show, which usually features smaller, independent companies and the stands of many of the various guilds. It was here that we made our last purchase, but a wonderful find for the day. Linladan is a tiny company selling rare, Swedish flaxen threads for embroidery. We were told that these were remaining stock from the 1960s and that many of the boxes had not been opened since that time. We were enchanted with how beautifully they were packaged, even the tiny envelopes of needles! But we recognised how special a find this was and each bought a package.
All in all it was a fabulous day and we were starving by the time we made it back across London and to knit night with our packages. Looking them over again, no, I don't think the show is "too commercial". I think like any show, you should have some sense or list of what you're looking for so that you stay focused, and if you keep your eye open for new vendors and offerings, you can find something rare and wonderful, just like at a smaller show.
The Knitting & Stitching Show runs through to this Sunday, 11 October. Are you planning on going? Let us know what you think about the show in the comments!