Earlier this month I took a trip to Alexandra Palace (affectionately known to most Londoners as Ally Pally). Situated on high ground in North London, Ally Pally is also called ‘The People’s Palace’ because it was one of the grand Victorian constructions which was intended as a recreational centre for the people of London.
Ally Pally was destroyed by fire just sixteen days after its opening, in 1873. Astonishingly, it was rebuilt within only two years, and in 1935 the eastern part of the building was leased by the BBC, and became the centre for the first public TV transmissions in 1936. The building was again gutted by fire in 1980, but once more it was restored, and it’s now a venue for exhibitions, music and sports events. Set in 7 acres of parkland, it’s also a great place for walking and enjoying the spectacular views. My picture doesn’t do them justice, but from here you can see the Millenium Dome, Docklands, and The Shard, along with most of North, West and central London.
But I wasn’t there to take in the scenery. Every October, Ally Pally is host to The Knitting and Stitching show and the enormous Great Hall, and several other smaller halls are full of colour. Wool, fabric, buttons, beads, needles, embroidery silks, thread… you name it, it’s there. There are also workshops and galleries of artists’ work. And from the number of people who were flooding into the exhibition areas, the gentle art of sewing is still very popular!
For me, sewing’s always been an odd mix of practicality and sentiment. As a child, I loved sorting through my mother’s sewing box, and better still, her button box. I was taught how to knit, crochet and embroider and I started to collect the tools I needed. Threads, hooks, needles, scissors, odd buttons and pieces of fabric and ribbon, a thimble and a tape measure. They’re still in my sewing box today, along with new treasures that I’ve added over the years. And there are some other trinkets which aren’t anything to do with sewing, but somehow don’t seem to belong anywhere else – an old penny, a farthing, a hat pin which belonged to my grandmother and my Girl Guide and Cycling Proficiency badges.
And although I neither knit or sew as much as I used to, I do still find it relaxing. Perhaps because you can’t hope to finish most projects in an evening or two, and so it’s a matter of doing something for the sake of it – for the journey and not the result. Perhaps because it’s got a kind of continuity about it – it’s something I’ve always done, and often shared with friends and family. Or perhaps it’s because the fabrics, yarns and threads, along with the tools to work them, are just so pretty.
Whatever the reason, the contents of my sewing box always make me smile. Do you feel the same? Or do pins, needles and pieces of unravelled thread drive you crazy!