9 February 1996

LIFES STITCH TAPESTRY

Knitting and needlecrafts still have a strong following, writes Tessa Gates who joined the crowds at a recent exhibition.

THE exhibition centre at Sandown Park, Surrey was packed with women, and just a few men, looking for a bargain, new equipment, money making craft ideas or just inspiration, at the 11th Knitting, Needlecraft and Design Exhibition.

Machine knitters struggled with great cones of yarn at knockdown prices and tapestry and cross-stitch workers were spoilt for choice with printed designs. For anyone keen to personalise ready-made clothes with glitter, writing, photographic prints or any number of extra and often gaudy adornments, this was the place to find out about techniques and materials.

Most useful were the demonstrations and workshops which offered the chance to see new models of sewing and knitting machines put through their paces and an insight into making such things as blinds and curtains to a professional standard.

Many of the exhibitors will also be attending a similar show at the Royal Bath and West Show Ground, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, Apr 25-28.

Pippins Little People are easily made on standard gauge knitting machines from small amounts of yarn, says James Cox. Five pattern books (£2.50 & £3.50 each) are available covering characters such as firemen, family wedding groups, sports players and cubs and brownies, all 17cms tall. The Teddy Bear family are twice that size and the pattern book for this well-dressed group costs £2.50 (01582-605808).

Getting the proportions right is essential if Roman blinds are to fold properly and Jacquie Spall from Ockley, Surrey, demonstrated how to calculate the measurements. Jacquie runs courses in soft furnishings and can supply by mail all the essentials from blind cords and connectors, to curtain tracks and fabrics (01306-621567).

All close work calls for a good light – without heat. Margot Collins and her husband designed the Enhancerlight themselves and it is based on the principle of a car headlight with an energy efficient 20W halogen bulb producing almost 60W of pure white light. A moveable bifocal magnifier is fitted as standard and the light is available in three models: Clip (£49.95), clamp (£49.95) or floor standing (£69.95) plus £5 postage. Discount Lighting (01502-587598).

Appliqué without sewing is possible with Appli-Glue and Vee Wilson claims the results have been good enough for the patchwork quilt behind her and colleague Carol Carter, to win a prize against sewn work. Workshops and group demonstrations are available and the non-toxic water-based glue (£2.50/bottle) is available in 50 colours (01932-872358).

Mohair skeins (£25/450-500g) and goods filled Jacky Webbs stand and visitors to the Mohair Centre at Chiddingly, Sussex can learn how it is produced. At half term and Easter workshops for children aged six to 13 promise fun and crafts with time to meet the goats. (01825-872457).

Look – no hands! Fully-computerised embroidery appears like magic from the Brother PE-100 Personal Embroidery System (£1100). It has built in motifs, lettering and stitch styles and the option to extend the range by using embroidery memory cards from the Brother Embroidery Card Library. (0161-330 6531) for stockists.

Hand-made bone china buttons in a variety of flower and other motifs will add charm to the plainest garment. They cost from 50p to 90p each from Joan Pollen of Shorne, Kent. (01474-822960).

Brian Paul and Annabel Spencer run the only Falkland Islands shop in the world – in Wells, Somerset. The pair lived in the Falklands for six years and Brian drove an ambulance during the Falklands war. They import soft Merino wool from the Falkland Mill in Fox Bay, and fleece to spin here. Hand-knitted sweaters are also available (01749-677902).

Its amazing what you can do with florists ribbon – if you have a special work tool (£8.95) and the Oh Yes You Can instruction book (£12.95). Christine Johnson made it look easy as she produced bows and flowers and even a curly wig but warned the book was a must to make the most of ribbon art. Atlantis International (0181-886 9213).