Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Hey Ma, look at what HEMA's got

It’s summer in my hemisphere! A string of bright, warm days enticed me to abandon my needle, switch off the computer, and take a stroll into the real world instead of roaming the Web. 
My local market
Fridays, an old-fashioned open-air market pitches up in the modern center of our town.  I headed there to savor the atmosphere and pick up some bits and bobs for my embroidery stash.  An itinerant stall is now my only local source of thread. When it comes to picking fibers, as convenient as shopping on the Web is, you just can’t beat seeing colors in real life in full daylight!

 The walk did me good, but left me peckish. So I ducked into Hema, an iconic Dutch chainstore, with a reasonable café.  But I never made it to the coffee bar.  I got waylaid in one of the aisles by a shocking discovery: embroidery gear.  

Hema sells useful everyday items like socks, housewares,  towels, and food under its own label.

Hema has added embroidery hoops, aida cloth, needles and a limited line of embroidery thread – echoing this season’s must wear colors -- to its merchandise line, which ranges from clothes to cupcakes.  I was gobsmacked.  Why the shock?

Because Hema, the Netherland’s favorite store, is a barometer of what’s hot, modern, and value for money. The store has flair, style and is hip. Its witty stuff–only Hema branded—exudes simplicity and fun for a moderate price.  Because, to the best of my aging memory, Hema banished needlework and knitting supplies from their stores over 25 years ago!  And now they were back.  

Before my very eyes, knitting and embroidery, in particular, were now being mainstreamed into the consciousness of the thirty-something-year-olds-with-kids.  Handwork was vying with digital pastimes like compiling photo albums or 3-printing.  Or is it the other way round? Is Hema, a marketing savvy organization, tapping into a trend already in society beyond their stores?  Whatever.  Chicken and the Egg.  To me this simple collection of embroidery equipment seems a  harbinger of a renaissance in stitching. I did a mental jig and forgot all about coffee. 

Okay, Hema’s interest in needlework might be a one-season miracle, a flash in the pan, a fad.  As is Hema’s way, the marketing touch is light, playful, and not serious. The small colors range reflects this season’s vibrate tones. No embroidery stitching guides or patterns are on offer.  The idea is:  try it; there is no “right” way to use these materials.  I suspect Hema’s marketing gurus know that the younger generation don’t need instruction manuals anyway, given the library of how-to-stitch videos on YouTube.  Starters do need hoops, fabric needles and thread, stuff they maybe have never seen or thought of.  It’s the “ooo-neat”, titillating quality that makes Hema’s goods irresistible! As an embroiderer, I hope it works.

Hema is expanding its quirky, quintessentially Dutch formula into the UK, France, Belgium, Germany and Spain.  I wonder if the embroidery line will make it into these new stores abroad. Each country is, of course, a different market.  We live in hope.  One thing is for sure.  I had better log off the Net  and get out of the house more regularly to stay attune to what is happening in the real world, often just down the road.  

Update:  One of my "foreign correspondents"  informs me that there are embroidery supplies on offer in Hema's Victoria Station branch in London. Well this surely signals an international renaissance.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Upping Needlework's Game

This week’s rummage round the Net dredged up a story about up-cycling furniture with embroidery. Embroidery I know about. But up-cycling? This is new.  Good thing there was a picture to illustrate the concept. 

Needlework Upholstered  Chairs

I smile to myself wryly. When I was furnishing my first apartment -- in the last century mind you -- sprucing up old furniture was called refurbishing.  Later Eco-conscious kids, now in their 40s, came up with “recycling.” Saving the planet while not spending the earth fitted their zeitgeist.  But in her day my grandmother, who reused her mother’s linen chest, knew it as common sense frugality.

So now giving objects a second life is up-cycling.  To me up-cycling sounds like rescuing pieces from a former inferiority, giving them a boost up the aesthetic ladder. After all, who would want to live with “down-cycle” items?  Well actually those up-market folks who buy authentic antiques, real retro, or vibrant vintage. They see “cool” not “inferior” in things from the past.

But I do digress. Refurbishing, recycling, up-cycling.  Never mind what it’s called. It’s good it’s happening! And that needlework is part of it. 

This example of up-cycling I found is quite appealing.  Art deco chairs upholstered in baroque and romantic themed needlepoint is visually interesting.  A recent design school grad would call it a mash up!  An art critic would say the mix of styles created “tension.”  Whatever, I like it. I suspect that price of needle-pointed canvases at rummage sales has just gone up. Maybe psychedelic bargello or the needle point designs by Erica Wilson , whose husband was a famous furniture designer by the way, may be up-cycled into vogue again. 

As seen in the V& A shop

Certainly the combination of hand-embroidery and furniture seems to be in.  On a visited to Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I came across a striking embroidered chair in their shop. With apologies for the photo quality, it is a style combo if I ever saw one. The straight lined stitching, Suzani embroidery from Uzbekistan, in a flamboyant folk motif worked very well on a contemporary chair 
design from the “mid-20th century.  (I have to keep remembering my “contemporary” is my kid’s retro!)  The price certainly made them exclusive! Selling for just ₤1,500 or about $2,500, the piece was hardly up-cycled, although its stylistic elements were.  

Another very clever embroidered piece I came across in a Dutch magazine is less expensive.  It is a table, literally stitched together pieces of pegboard.  Talk up up-cycling lowly materials into something trendy.

Pegboard and ribbon side table
There is not much new understand the sun, is there.  There is a time to come, and a time to go…away for a bit.  Ideas and things do resurface. Take the old, which by now is odd, add a bit of branding and you get pizzazz, engendering acceptance by the trend-setters, and there we go again. 

Embroidery’s reappearance in home decorating is encouraging. Maybe it will rekindle an interest in creating needlework.  Never underestimate the power of trends. You can ride them, but you can’t buck them. Upwards and onwards, needlework!