Make and mend: The comeback of knitting in London

Knitting and sewing clubs have become the rage in London. Photo credit: Marieke Kuijjer / Flickr

Knitting needles and thread reels have become this season’s must-have accessories. According to recent figures, these traditional hobbies have gripped the UK – classes in dressmaking and crocheting are on the rise, and sales of sewing machines at major retailers are booming. The First Pint went to find out about this surprising new trend.

Every Saturday afternoon in Brixton about a dozen women attend a sewing workshop at Oh Sew, a private school dedicated to teaching the art of needlework. They chat over the whirring noise of machines in a bright, spacious room while putting finishing touches to colourful bits of cloth. Most of them are young professionals who wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch or Kensington – a far cry from the stereotype of grandmothers in rocking chairs.

Fiona Douglas, owner and head teacher, says her students are interested in eco-friendly fashion, especially customising vintage dresses, adding that the biggest push is probably the current economic climate. “It’s kind of make-do-and-mend: saving your money, saving the pennies and saving the environment,” she explains.

The ongoing recession is definitely a factor to consider. Rising inflation, soaring unemployment and uncertainty about the future are forcing people to re-evaluate their spending habits. Cash-strapped shoppers are seeking alternatives without compromising their style. With a few minor alterations or different buttons, an old outfit can be completely transformed. Some even think of it as subtle rebellion against the monotony of high street chains.

Besides the variety of sessions on offer, sewing and knitting enthusiasts have started their own clubs. They arrange weekly meetings at their local pub or coffee shop, sharing balls of wool and slices of cake. Sandra Rhule, a knitting expert, has followed the growing popularity of arts and crafts. She credits this resurgence to Debbie Stoller, an American author who wrote a book entitled Stitch ‘n’ Bitch.

By creating an official online forum, Stoller encouraged people to use the internet to share tips and form neighbourhood groups. Indeed a quick scan of the website shows that there are over twenty groups in London alone. From Chelsea to Whitechapel, hundreds are eager to get together with their kit to make jumpers, socks and scarves. Ravelry and Etsy are other important bookmarks for the tech-inclined.

So whether it is to relax, protect the bank statement or become involved in a social activity, the sew-and-knit-it-yourself culture is back in vogue.

Places to start:
Oh Sew Brixton
9 Brighton Terrace
London SW9 8DJ

I Knit London
106 Lower Marsh
London SE1 7AB