Saturday, 15 November 2008

Country Living Christmas Fair 2008

Firstly, apologies: if anyone other than me and Mr Craft Hacker is reading this, I have been exceedingly slack of late and this half-written post has been languishing in my 'edit' pile for some two months now, along with several other exhibition reviews which I hope to post shortly. For the purposes of not having to rewrite my introduction, let's pretend it's early November...

Purveyors of Cath Kidston knock-off vintage-a-rama needn't lose sleep about the credit crunch if the crowds at last week's Country Living Christmas Fair at the Business Design Centre, Islington, are anything to go by. The place was teaming with hoardes of housewives and reluctant husbands escaping the home counties for the day to pick up some festive faux-rustic farmhouse style, recreated in urban central London (a concept that never fails to seem somewhat macabre). Putting aside the numerous Cath-esque stalls and granny-knit cardigans, there were, however, several rather interesting companies on show. Along with some familiar faces, including Jan Constantine (one of the biggest needlepoint success stories, with her range of gorgeous union jack and 'love' cushions), new brands such as Lasso The Moon (see pic below) stood out for all the right reasons, with their beautifully presented selection of original, handcrafted products and eco credentials.

Unsurprisingly, vintage fabrics featured heavily in the work of many exhibitors. Acorn & Will showed a somewhat whimsical collection crafted from vintage fabrics and buttons used to make adorable hairslides and toiletry bags, whilst the highly innovative Refab touted rather funky little doorstops made from recycled fabric offcuts, which are sold 'flat packed' for the owner to fill with rice. Poppy Treffry pimped up her fabrics via the craft of applique, embellishing cutesy designs along a cupcake vibe onto tea cosies and the like, even using her fabric remnamts to make tiny pin badges.
Personalised goods seemed to be a big theme of the day with many companies championing letters and nameplaques as decorative home gifts, the most prolific of these being Jonny's Sister, whose Love Letters are available in an array of pretty paisley and gingham prints, and even in soap form. Dee Puddy added a level of practicality to the trend with these ceramic porcelain labels, which the OCD labeller in me is quite obsessed with (see picture). Stunning ceramics were also to be found at Luna, where gorgeous votives and lights featured a delicate yet streamlined punched letters design. Spell out the name of your beloved or, for the serious crafty romantic, there's always the specially designed 'marry me' votive set (altogether... ahhhhhhhh.)

Strong crafty touches abounded from Bay Design, namely their lovely range of lampshades customised with vintage tape measures and buttons as decorative trim, or hand-painted with sweet Cath Kidston (who else?) style spots. My personal favourite, however, is the ruched shade (see below), created entirely from the same trim laid flat throughout the body of the shade but gathered to create the bottom trim - fab idea for making the most of a ribbon or fabric trim if you don't have a standard trim to finish a job. Further craft big-ups were to be found at Buttonbag, whose fantastic sewing craft kits should be enough to lure mini-hackers away from Guitar Hero long enough to make their own toys and games. Delightfully old-skool, Craft Hacker loves this retro owl family kit, plus the Victorian classic theatre-in-a-box, repackaged for 21st century craftsters.

Illustration proved ever-popular and looked fresh against all the other vintage offerings. Favourites included work by Made in Hastings, a sweet collaborative hailing from, errr, Hastings, with resident illustrators, ceramicists and print designers producing a range of homewares, clothing and children's gifts with a handspun vibe. Jam Tart also featured retro-style line drawings of campervans and Parisian cafe scenes adorning tea towels, oven gloves and ceramics.

An eco shout-out goes in particular to Handcrafted Wood, with its stylish range of (funnily enough) handcrafted wood decorations and gifts, all created from reclaimed wood local to designer Carol Ridler. Also on an eco tip, Dream Acres combines the worlds of crafting and herbs with its pretty scent-filled sleep sacks and pet scent pouches, alongside decorative gifts such as these fabric flowers (see below) - a great idea for reusing old fabric scraps. Finally, cosy on down for winter with the rather lovely collection from John Arbon Textiles - featuring tea cosies and bedsocks handspun from British farmed alpaca wool spun at the regenerated 200 year old Coldharbour Mill in Devon, a smug snuggle is guaranteed.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Craft Hits the Headlines!

As us craftsters already know, craft has been big news for years now - but what with the dreaded credit crunch hitting full swing, my favourite pasttime has been enjoying rather more media attention than usual of late. And for good reason: according to a Google press release out this week, searches for 'sewing classes' are 60% higher than usual as more and more people are attempting a little make-do-and-mend. In London Town, contemporary craft nights have been slowly growing in popularity for some time - from the long-standing Craft Night at the Notting Hill Arts Club to newer kids on the block such as The Make Lounge, whose roster of established craft professionals tutor in anything from making a retro apron to creating your own candles in vintage teacups. And the latest edition of the Sunday Times Style magazine even features a hand-hacked front cover print, to accompany its headline article The Joy of Thrift, which looks in-depth at the fab-sounding new book by writer India Knight, The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less. Broken down into sections, Knight examines how we can all live fabulously for less in terms of eating, beauty and, of course, crafting, with particular big-ups to and Etsy.

Even the multi-nationals are getting in on the act, notably Sony with their latest venture, Little Big Planet. Far be it from me to even pretend to understand the world of computer games, in layman's terms the planet in question is made up of collage-y, crafty layers to create handcrafted worlds inhabited by the rather charming 'sackboy' (a kind of knitted, customisable doll). As part of their press launch over the past week, they have collaborated with the Shoreditch branch of the Women's Institute to create customised sackboy dolls based on female celebrities, and have even been putting on their own free Creative Arts and Crafts workshops at the Thomas Neal's centre in Covent Garden , open to anyone wishing to go down and get involved in some crafting action. These stills below, taken from the game itself, are (almost) enticing enough to encourage me to wrangle the PS3 control out of Mr Craft Hacker's hands and have a go myself.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Cold War Modern at the V&A Museum

With several bags stuffed full of leaflets and brochures to look through still from the London Design Festival, I've decided to leave them aside for a rainy day and carry on blogging about other design topics - but return to them (sooner or later) I shall! Anyway...

My thoughts on the Cold War Modern exhibition at the V&A Museum: I must confess to having numerous gaping holes in my general history knowledge, the Cold War being one of them. After a slightly muddling start to this uber-exhibition, however, I found many of these gaps slotting into place as a deeper understanding of the era, and how this shaped interior and product design, fell into place. To surmise, without getting too history-lesson about it all, the highly competitive spirit between the East and West pushed designers to be more innovative, forward-thinking and resourceful than arguably at any other time during the 20th Century. Designers such as Alex and Peter Smithson, who created the House of the Future exhibition at the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1956, had many crafty, extreme design ideas even by today’s standard (see pic below for one of their room designs).
The concept of a table that retracts electronically into the floor, whilst somewhat snigger-some an idea, is fundamentally a rather clever concept if adapted to a somewhat lower-tech version – what better idea for our 21st century cramped living conditions than a dining table that we can easily convert into a coffee table or even flatten down completely, to suit our immediate requirements?

As is often the case with design launched ahead of its time, many of the more avant-garde ideas never made it past the prototype stage, though many also went on to become enduring design classics, such as Eames’ plastic armchair, revered at the time for its use of polypropylene Of course, political issues came into play – I won’t even attempt to try and explain any of that, though perhaps the artwork of American Interior No.7 by Erro is a rather lovely, decorative way of highlighting the differences and conflicts between both parties.

The exhibition also introduced me to the work of Jiri Kolar, Czech’s master collage artist and one of the founders of froissage (a form of collage using the lines of crumpled up paper to form drawings). As a massive fan of collage and decoupage, I particularly enjoyed his pieces reworking old maps into futuristic landscapes, which simultaneously manage to look old and comforting yet somewhat disconnected and alien. Having come across a map decoupage table by Bombus on the fantastic craft website All Things Original some months ago, this has inspired me further on ways to craft hack old maps.

One of the elements of the exhibition I found most interesting, however, was the way designers gradually came to consider the impact of the work they produced on the environment – far from being the ‘topical’ issue the press would have us believe, eco concerns were catalogued as far back as the 1960’s. To surmise the blurb, designers became concerned with “how to design new technology for the benefit of humanity without producing inhuman effect…how to imagine modern lives outside conditions set by the marketplace”. If only all designers/town planners/manufacturers would heed this manifesto – in the meantime, there’s always craft hacking to fulfil the brief!

…Perhaps now, more than ever, we need design to respond to the current state of the planet in as big and loud a way as any of the innovations to emerge from the Cold War movement.

Cold War Modern runs from 25th September 2008 – 11th January 2009

Saturday, 20 September 2008

100% Design 2008

Just wanted to jot down my thoughts on today's visit to the 100% Design exhibition in Earl's Court, London, before I visit a whole load more exhibitions tomorrow and the whole thing becomes a whirling design blur in my head. Next week I plan to make some sort of sense of everything I've seen (and file my multitude of leaflets and brochures somewhere other than around my feet by my desk) but that'll have to wait for now.

Despite the event's corporate overtones (think stalls manned by salesmen wearing ill-fitting suits trying to flog light fittings), there was a surprising amount of original and innovative design on show from both bigger brands such as Umbra, and a plethora of new/graduate designers and small design companies. A highlight for me was the Lighten Up exhibit, in association with (Re)Design, showcasing a highly craft-hacker-ey array of lighting made from anything from bottle tops to vintage lace. Favourite pieces included lampshades made from lace remnants fused with plastic milk bottles, by Lizzie Lee (see pic below), and the Beryl and Friends range by design group WEmake, featuring vintage lights shrink-wrapped in plastic to create an ethereal, Miss Haversham-esque vibe.

General trends emerging from the show included an influx of sustainable design (the message seems to be getting stronger and stronger each year) and a hark back to handicrafts reinterpreted for the 21st Century - think delicate lace cut-outs reinterpreted with a stronger silhouette sheet in sheet metal and felt (see Michelle Mason's Stella rug, below). Texture within wall finishes was also big news, with stunning handmade (and often eco-friendly) wallpapers in abundance.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Let's get things started...

I'm going to try and add a few images and links to get things on the road... have no idea how to do this so let's see if I can figure it out...

Anyhoo, I thought I'd begin with a few pictures from my own archives to illustrate some of my own Craft Hacks. As London Design Week 2008 is getting ready to open its doors to a myriad of new design talent, I'm planning to get some images and reviews up here on my favourites, so seems best to add my efforts in now before I'm completely upstaged...

1. Lampshade Jumper : A friend passed on this rather lovely crochet top to me, but it somehow always made me feel a bit 'bulky', and as such spent much of its life languishing at the back of the wardrobe. One evening I was gazing up with annoyance at my previous lampshade, which served no function other than to obscure most of the light in my already rather gloomy bedroom, when inspiration struck. By using the existing framework from my old lampshade, I hand-stitched the top (pre-cut to below the sleeve) to the upper frame, and allowed the original bottom trim of the jumper to form a rather sweet fringing around the bottom framework (also hand-stitched in place). The result is an original lightshade, me no longer leaving the house with blotchy blusher as I can actually see to apply make-up now, and I even have enough remnants left over for a follow-on project. Hurrah!

2. Oriental Fishtank : When Ben, our antipodean housemate, arrived home with a donated tropical aquarium, much excitement was felt around the homestead. However, excitement soon turned into abject distress when I realised that said aquarium was fully integrated into a black ash-effect melamine base unit. A quick rummage through my ever-increasing collection of unused wallpaper samples, however, turned up this little trump card - a stunning, subtle oriental design picked up in trusty B&Q. By simply taking off the door handles, cutting the paper to size and sticking it down with some double-sided tape, the 1980's throwback is transformed into a bijou little home for our aquatic friends.

3. Quaker Oats Tin : A little example of some upcycling - one of my favourite terms and something we should all aspire to do a little more of - in essence, taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value. This mini-project is a fairly simple interpretation of it, inspired by the wonderful tropical gardens seen on a visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall. I love the idea of repurposing items and using them outside of their original intended use. What else could you use as an indoor planter - an old teapot? A milk bottle? Old bean tins, spraypainted or decorated with some fabric offcuts?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Craft Hacker Manifesto

Welcome, one and all, to Craft Hacker: a one-stop blogging shop for your daily(ish) crafty needs. Whether you’re a die-hard craft aficionado or a fair-weather window shopper, Craft Hacker aims to inspire, highlight, educate and entertain on all topics crafty and interiors-related with a big, healthy dollop of eco and vintage thrown in for good measure. So, to get things started, a little background info:

Q: Who is Craft Hacker?

A: It’s me: I’m Joanna Thornhill, and I’m a Craft Addict. Whether I’m repurposing an old table or knocking up a lampshade out of an old jumper, I get a massive kick out of crafting and looking at pretty, crafty things. Just as well really when it comes to my day job – I work freelance within interior styling, set dressing and props for broadcast, stills, events, domestic interiors and any other companies willing to pay me! My work means I often have to think on my feet, customising things to fit the brief at the last minute – from chopping up fabric to create a textured wall panel, to stealing a faux flower from an Easter bonnet to jazz up a cushion cover.

Q: What is Craft Hacker?

A: Craft Hacker is the best term I can think of to describe exactly what it is I love doing, and what I admire so much in the people and products I see around me. To me, the term means to create or repurpose something using skills and ideas taken from traditional crafts, but reworking them to suit the individual’s purpose. I strongly believe that the only thing you need to be a Craft Hacker is a little imagination – specialist skills, pots of money and regimented formulaic design have no place here. With the credit crunch weighing down over us and the volatile state of our planet, it has never been more relevant for us all to look around us at what we already have before hitting the shops: we owe it to both our pockets, and the planet, to adopt a more grassroots, make-do-and-mend mentality. At the same time, however, I also strongly believe this should not, and does not have to be, at the compromise of good design. I’m all for turning old toilet rolls into desk tidies, as long as it doesn’t actually look like I use bog-roll innards to hold my pens. There are ways and means of doing things, and Craft Hacker is here to help guide, both by example and through highlighting the work of other talented crafty folk out there in cyberspace.

Q: Why blog?

A: To inspire and educate other good craft, interiors and design-loving folk out there, and to ‘big up’ the British craft scene in an information superhighway which is currently very US-centric.