Knit one, purl one: how handicrafts are making a comeback in Hong Kong

Many of us have stopped using our hands for much other than typing, say handicrafts advocates teaching macramé, crocheting, embroidery, weaving and more to a new generation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 July, 2015, 6:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 July, 2015, 9:55am

Hen nights can be rather raunchy affairs. If you can't imagine the bride-to-be and her girlfriends sitting around crocheting or embroidering, then head to Sheung Wan on any given Saturday and be prepared for a surprise.

A couple of generations may have skipped the home-making gene their grandmothers had, but craft is coming back into vogue because women don't just want to buy handmade; they want to make it themselves.

Natalie Miller, an Australian architect and textile designer who recently held two sell-out weaving workshops at Mirth Home in Wong Chuk Hang, believes the trend - widespread in her home country, but only just taking off in Hong Kong - has caught on here in the past 12 months. She predicts that the next five to 10 years will be "really big for the craft movement" - a throwback to the technological era.

"People want to use their hands again," she says. "Most of us are sitting at a computer all day and not creating any more - but it's in our DNA to make stuff with our hands."

Craft is good for your mood, and coming to workshops, taking home something you've made yourself, gives a sense of fulfilment
Ingrid Keneally, stylist

Miller had been "dabbling in macramé" for years before she and her architect/builder husband, Darren Miller, embarked on a "tree change", leaving Sydney for a country life in the New South Wales southern highlands. There, she spent a year studying tapestry weaving, which Miller describes as "the oldest form of weaving", dating back to Egypt in 3,000 BC, and still being practised today in the hill tribes of China and Vietnam.

Apart from Hong Kong, where she plans to return for further workshops later in the year, Miller has held workshops in Singapore, and recently flew to Paris for private lessons with a single customer. In November, she will be part of a six-day art-making/health retreat in Koh Samui where weaving and crochet will be part of the activities alongside yoga.

Just like in the '70s, the crafters weave wall hangings, crochet "granny squares" and make macramé pot plant holders, but with a "contemporary approach" that involves using brighter colours and a greater variety of textiles.

The yarn was supplied by KPC Yarn, a Hong Kong-based company with its roots in the Shanghai textiles industry. It runs regular workshops in crochet, knitting (workshops will be held on July 16 and 23), weaving and embroidery (a class is scheduled for October 4) in various locations in Hong Kong.

Last month, KPC opened its own studio in Cheung Sha Wan, complete with spinning machine, dyeing equipment and weaving tools that visitors can use to create their own yarn.

"We are very keen to promote the handcraft culture in Hong Kong, as we think it is a lost core value in modern society," says Max Ng, managing director. In addition to classes and retail sales, KPC is engaged in a number of social initiatives: donating leftover stock for volunteers to knit scarves for the elderly; conducting free craft workshops in schools; and sponsoring local street artist "yarn bombers" in Hong Kong.

Some of the brand's workshops are held at The Crafties in Sheung Wan, a creative co-working space set up in April 2013 by Asa Chiu, a knitting and crochet hobbyist, and Sky Chow, an embroiderer/beader. Recognising that most Hong Kong homes don't have room for craft equipment, they installed sewing machines, workbenches and looms, operating as a drop-in space for DIY-cafters, and venue for workshops in a range of crafts, such as weaving, leatherwork, screen printing, glasswork, sewing, beading, and embroidery.

Many of the partners' patrons are trying to turn their hobby into a business - a pursuit Chiu says is "very hard in Hong Kong" as expensive rentals make shopfront exposure out of the reach of most DIY enthusiasts. At The Crafties, they can use the space as their own studio and a retail outlet as well.

The space has also become a party venue, not only for children's birthdays but for hen nights and baby showers. Even tourists are now looking for something handmade to take home from Hong Kong.

Sarah Coates, a textile designer who is brand ambassador for KPC Yarn, says "craft is cool" among Hong Kong's twenty-somethings who are leading the trend to "make something unique, for yourself, exactly how you want it to be" - a reaction, she believes, to the city's mass consumer mentality. Having more yarn to choose from that's affordable helps, she adds. "The colours are new, but the technique is the same. We've been able to improve on grandma's colour combinations, but not the skill."

Ingrid Keneally, a stylist who consults with KPC, started hosting workshops in pom-pom wreath and dreamcatcher-making in December at Tang Tang Tang Tang in Wan Chai. The five-week series was booked out, and attendees kept saying "we need more of this; no one does this in Hong Kong", says Keneally, who then approached Natalie Miller to come to Hong Kong to teach.

Together with Sarah Coates, Keneally has hosted "granny square workshops" at Inside HK in Ap Lei Chau, "and they've taken off".

Keneally is lining up a host of international crafters to hold workshops in Hong Kong later this year - among them Cath Derksema, an Australian embroidery expert, and Morrison Polkinghorne, an Australian textile artist specialising in 18th century tassels and trims (she will have a workshop in tassel-making on November 18). She is also organising a textile exhibition with Hungarian-born crochet artist Katika Penzia Ekaterina and Danish textile artist Stine Leth, to name a few.

Keneally is convinced the whole crochet and macramé '70s thing is coming back in Hong Kong. "Craft is good for your mood, and coming to workshops, taking home something you've made yourself, gives a sense of fulfilment," she says.

Sarah Coates says the crocheted square and macramé pot holder needn't look daggy. "It's beautiful colours, beautiful design. It's a textile, and it's handmade."