Creative sparks fly at festival

Creative needlework – particularly knitting – is enjoying a renaissance. But this isn’t your grandmother’s tatting! This month over 40,000 participants from around the globe will converge on Toronto’s creativFestival to teach, learn, and celebrate new twists on old handicrafts, needle-related and otherwise.

For exhibitors and designers it’s a chance to have their products and talents showcased. For participants it’s a chance to revel in the crafting bug.

“It’s dangerous,” says Alison Howard, 54, of Oshawa, Ontario who has attended the festival for the last three years. “Every year I seem to add more obsessions to the hobbies I already do. You know the saying ‘she who dies with the most fabric wins?’ Well, at my house it’s not just fabric – it’s yarn, beads, and now stamping. Every year I get into something else. I always come away with a head full of new ideas.”

Women quilting together or men trading woodworking tips is nothing new, but the creativFestival takes it to a whole new level. Expert instructors come from as far away as New Zealand, spreading new takes on old techniques. It’s easy enough to nderstand why high-level craftspeople would come together, but why the broad appeal?

A sea of creators
Rita Gramsch, 53, should know. In 1988, she created the then called the Creative Sewing and Needlework Festival. Originally, she planned for a group of 10,000, but 18,000 people showed up. Since then she has been witness to the popularity of handicrafting. When asked why the creative arts attract so many people, she has the answer.

“It’s the chance to create something personal and unique.” Advances in materials, tools, and new fabrics and products engage the imagination in new ways.

As technology has advanced, it’s also become much, much easier to be your own designer. “Now you can use your computer to create a design, and even have your sewing machine embroider it automatically,” Ms. Gramsch explains in a phone interview.

“You’re seeing a lot of environmental awareness as well… for example, recycling favourite family clothing into quilts; you can take old cloth and use it for squares to create an heirloom piece.”

There’s also the portability of hand-worked crafts. Knitting, for example, has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity over the past few years. Part of its appeal is how easy it is to knit while commuting on transit, or while traveling – or at a friend’s house or meeting place. And new designs and patterns have kept the final products trendy.

Another reason people get into needle arts and other crafts is the chance to keep their minds active and their creativity fresh by learning something new. The festival certainly offers that. There are demonstrations and free-with-admission workshops on the floor, and classes at all levels from beginner to expert. This year, scrapbooking is still immensely popular. But an old craft made new again is also coming onto the scene: felting.

New crafts, new people
Why attend a festival, when one can easily create at home? Not only do festivals provide an opportunity to try something new, but there’s an energy and a joie-de-vivre that comes from attending classes and wandering the exhibitors’ area with thousands of like-minded souls. Crafting has always been a way to connect with a community – trading patterns and techniques; working together on joint projects.

Alison Howard muses, “Sometimes it seems like people are getting more rushed and ruder. But when you go to a class or the festival, you meet people who are slowing down and taking the time to create something beautiful. It seems like those are the people who also take the time to be nice to each other.”

Rita offers tips for first-time attendees: plan your visit ahead, consider spending more than one day, and above all – get involved and try out some of the workshops.

For many crafters and designers, the creativFestival becomes a way to give back to the community as well. Some workshops ask for a donation from participants. But the big event this year is the “Jeans and Jewels” auction. 24 celebrities have given a pair of their jeans, and designers have leant their talents to decorate them. These will be previewed at the creativFestival and then anyone will have the chance to view and bid on them through eBay auctions.

One hundred per cent of the fundraising proceeds will be donated to the Sick Kids Foundation, which benefits the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

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