Crafty customers create new trend for D.I.Y. style

Forget designer labels and cheap, mass-produced goods - Hongkongers are showing an increasing appreciation of handmade goods for the home

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 5:22am

Knit one, purl three - bet you haven't heard that in a while.

The ability to handcraft seems to have skipped a generation or two. But now we want it back, if the trend forecasters are to be believed.

Handmade - a "trend from the heart" - was widely identified as one of the hot interiors trends for this year. According to the tipsters, we will eschew mass-produced, cookie-cutter homewares in favour of edgy indie. Or better yet, make it ourselves.

US architecture and design blog explains: "The desire for self-expression is more and more obvious in the houses of people everywhere.

"We want to have furniture and decorations that mean something, that make us smile and that ultimately make the place feel like home."

Noting that re-purposing various objects and materials "is now both a passion and a form of art", the site observes that the current trend to do-it-ourselves is taking creativity to the next level of personal empowerment.

Embroidery and knitting are a top 10 trend of their own. Says "From colourful carpets with thousands of knots, to various storage baskets and pouffe covers, handmade is back, and [it] appears it will be here for a while."

Further acknowledging this worldwide crafty revival, design blog says that the handmade wares of "etsy (meaning one-of-a-kind) artisans and indie crafters" have now permeated the mainstream.

US retailer West Elm is one that regularly collaborates with artisans to offer hand-crafted creations, including crepe paper flowers and papier-mache animal sculptures. Anthropologie is another. It sells hand-embroidered "etiquette napkins" (so fashionably last century) and one-of-a-kind pots crafted from wool and felt, handmade in Britain, online and through stores in the US, Canada and Britain.

How about surrounding ourselves with our own creations? In Hong Kong? In a city with more shops than you can poke a chopstick at, and so many other fun things competing for our time, are we really sitting at home making our own macramé pot hangers and sticking things on to lamp shades? Apparently, yes.

Crafter Louise Howlett organises regular meet-ups of likeminded souls, who knit, sew, embroider, and make organic candles and jewellery, at various venues around the city. Well over 100 members have registered.

"The idea is that everyone brings a project to share," says Howlett, a teacher, who lives in Central. The group, Hong Kong Craft ( holds monthly get-togethers.

Sewer Melanie Bell turned her passion into a business in Mid-Levels by opening The Sewing Lounge ( a place where people can meet in a social setting. Casual users can book time on the sewing machines, overlockers and cutting table (think of it as an internet cafe, only with sewing machines, she explains).

Having patronised something similar while living in Berlin, Bell saw an opportunity in Hong Kong. In the past year, she has attracted more than 500 visitors.

Expecting that her clientele would be mainly expats, Bell was surprised to find that the majority are Chinese and in the 25 to 35 age group. Some just come in on the odd occasion, but many are regulars. "About half of them have machines at home, but they like to sew in company," says Bell.

"We'll often have sewing parties - it's a nice thing to do on a Saturday afternoon." Skills are exchanged, with Bell and her experienced clientele happy to share their knowledge, and children taught.

Among the homewares, cushion covers are the most popular items made, followed by napkins, placemats and table runners. Says Bell: "They're easy to make - people can come in and, after a two- to three-hour session, go home with something that is beautiful, uniquely theirs, and brings the satisfaction of knowing that you've made it yourself."

And their craft has a legitimate place in contemporary interiors.

Designer Louise Harris, of Louise Harris Interiors ( started a bespoke and handmade service for homeware a few years ago - beginning with just cushions and now covering a range of products including lampshades, picnic mats, baby blankets, hot water bottles and more.

Says Harris: "I love designing and putting together products that are everyday items but that fit a purpose and are beautiful in lovely fabrics. All my products are handmade and can be made to any size - this element gives you a product no one else will have. I love it when clients have a blank sofa and say, 'Be creative and design a range of cushions for me.'"

Encouraging do-it-yourselfers, Harris says the addition of simple, handmade cushions in geometric print or plain linen gives a contemporary sofa a wonderful edge. Handcrafted lampshades, handmade trays or bowls in bright colours, or a simply made, soft fabric throw on a bed or sofa add character to a neutral space.

"Another idea I love is to put framing fabric on a simple wooden board and use it as a piece of art - a simple yet cost-effective idea and easily changed if you get bored," she says.

Hong Kong's pockets of crafty people may still be small, but they're dedicated, and growing.

Jacinta Read, of craft event organiser Handmade Hong Kong, shuffles up to 200 stallholders into her markets at Discovery Bay (six times a year) and Wan Chai (three times).

Not every vendor makes their own wares but many do.

"We believe in the value of handmade goods - the act of creating, and old-fashioned neighbourliness," Read says of the crafters. "We bring our community together to build, sustain, and inspire each other. We believe in creating time for creativity, conversation, silliness and ethical consumerism."

Hongkongers, says Jacinta Read, are embracing the trend towards unique, handmade homewares and show a growing appreciation for the skill and time that goes into making them.

"Participating in the handmade and slow design movement as a maker or buyer is personally rewarding and has positive repercussions for the community as a whole," says Read.

"It's exciting that Hong Kong is showing such an interest, as we are often viewed as a city obsessed with designer labels, and China as the 'go-to' country for cheap mass-production."