Peckham Craft Weekend opened its doors for the first time in May this year after four hectic weeks of non-stop planning for the two Peckham-based founders, Rachael Pilston and Chloé Phelps. “We went to the Copeland Gallery hoping that they would give us the space for next year, but they were so keen for this to happen that we decided to do it now,” Rachael says about the tight planning schedule.
The event aimed at putting Peckham’s craft community on the map along with inviting everyone interested to come and learn about what is happening around the hand-making industry today.
A weekend long celebration of the handmade was created starting with an exhibition showcasing the work of thirty different artists specialising in everything from pottery, textile, jewellery and print. This was followed by two days of various workshops and talks open for anyone interested.
The hope for the two founders is that the event will continue annually. “We hope for it to become a yearly event where people are excited to show their new work and see what everyone else has been up to through the year,” says Chloé.
But the organisation will be about more than the annual weekend. The two women are already planning to set up workshops as a part of the upcoming Peckham Festival this September and for smaller monthly happenings to continue the conversation around craft and hopefully start new ones as well. “We really enjoy the workshop element. They were such a success and definitely something we will continue to work on in the future,” says Rachael. With Chloé adding: “This has given us so many ideas and the responses have been so positive, so we want to keep doing little things every month like workshops, talks and things like that.”
“There is a shift in people wanting to create things in their free time at the moment. People want to spend their time learning a new skill, and craft is an accessible way of doing that. I think that is what the improved interest in workshops is about,” says Rachael.
And workshops are increasingly in demand when it comes to craft. “Craft is a very accessible and lovely thing, and we do see a lot of people from outside the craft community coming in and wanting to learn. If they do not want to learn how to make it they want to know how it was made or who made it,” says Chloé.
“People have no idea where things come from but now they are looking to learn which is so lovely. If you understand where things come from then you value them more so that is a big part of what we want to do, simply chat to people and tell them how it is made,” she adds.
Shirley Morgan-Knott was one of the participants in the patchwork workshop during Peckham Craft Weekend. She learned to sew from her dad and has since then developed her interest in making. “I signed up for the workshop because this particular skill was new to me, and because it is exciting to see craft being taken in a contemporary direction by young women,” she says.
“I have always loved making things since I was a child. It was actually my dad who taught me to sew on a hand Singer sewing machine. He was a child of the 1920s so the focus was very much about repairing things, being self-sufficient and finding creative solutions rather than buying new stuff,” she adds.
The reshaping of how the public both consume and interpret the handmade has made way for a movement of DIY-artists and makers. Shirley is one maker who hopes to establish herself within the craft industry without an expert degree behind. “I worked in the corporate sector for a long time but am now hoping to develop a career in creative practice, so making things is currently both my work and my hobby,” she says.
In fact craft has never been an exclusive industry. The rise of amateur makers started as far back as the Industrial Revolution, when supplies and tools began to be produced in a commercial manner, which made it possible for anyone to buy and use. This resulted in an increased number of middle-class workers in the nineteenth century wanting to fill their spare time with creating.
“Craft used to be passed on through generations and it is kind of crazy that it has just been taking out of the home,” says Chloé. She encounters many people who have not learned the skills of hand-making from home, but now hopes to learn and be able to pass it on to their children.
Rachael also meets many people eager to learn. “I have recently done a workshop at an adult learning centre and it was really amazing to meet so many people interested in craft all based here in Peckham. I think it is a big part of what makes Peckham great at the moment,” she says. She believes the interest has to do with the therapeutic aspect of craft, and people needing to spend time making something to escape from their busy everyday lives.
But while the two artist plan to expand their organisation in the future to continue welcoming everyone interested in learning craft, they are determined to do it their own way. “We are not a craft fair. We are more about learning and sharing,” says Chloé.
Their aspiration is not to create a place for makers to sell their work but a place for people to further learn about the skills of craft.
“We would like to create a workshop space or a pop-up which would then appear in lots of spaces to continue all the conversations. Peckham Craft Weekend would not only be based in Peckham. It would be popping up all over the country to make links outside of this community as well. That is the dream,” says Rachael.
“But of course bringing it all back to Peckham,” they both agree.