In the midst of all of the digital start-ups that East London is home to, a new creative scene is emerging. Dialling the modernity back to basics, these makers are stripping away the tech and snazzy offices and instead focusing on handmade goods in their simplified workshops. With the area becoming increasingly expensive, the studios and spaces of these craftsmen and women seem to soon be of the past, forced out to a Zone outside 1 and 2. But for now, the focus lies on the wooden spoons, ballet shoes and globes.
From violin makers to ceramicists, from bike builders to creators of pom pom art – Makers of East London celebrates the unique creative hub of England's capital city. Published by Hoxton Mini Press, the book takes a tour through these craftpeople's workplaces. Take a step away from the tech of our everyday lives, and immerse yourself in an excerpt of the Makers of East London.
Frederick Freed revolutionised pointe shoes in 1929 by tailoring them to each ballet dancer’s feet and specific needs. His approach attracted international clients and eventually worldwide fame when Moira Shearer wore a pair in the 1948 film The Red Shoes. Production moved from the basement of Freed’s Covent Garden shop to East London in 1971. The area surrounding the Well Street factory in Hackney had been home to 17 shoe and boot makers in 1921, and nearby Cordwainers College trained students in shoemaking skills. Freed is now the only shoe factory that remains, handcrafting 175,000 pairs of pointe shoes every year, and exporting 90% of them. Every maker ‘signs’ their shoes with a unique makers’ stamp, by which they become known. Ray Rawlings is the crown maker.
Andreas Hudelmayer makes violins, violas and cellos for professional musicians all over the world. His modest workshop in Craft Central studios overlooks the rooftops of Clerkenwell, an area with a rich musical heritage. In the early 19th century, skilled craftsmen from northern Italy colonised the area, then known as Little Italy, many of them working as instrument makers. Hudelmayer’s quiet dedication to his craft ensures this tradition lives on.
Peter Bellerby has been making bespoke globes since he set about creating one for his father’s 80th birthday – a project he expected to take a few months, but which turned into an obsession, a career, and his life’s work. At the top of an improvised rabbit-warren of makers’ spaces carved out of a former stable block, his Stoke Newington studio is in an area that has inspired wanderlust for centuries. In 1811 James Sadler, the first English hot air balloonist, took off from Hackney watched by an audience that “exceeded calculation.” Characterised by the attention to detail that goes into every one, Bellerby’s globes are sought after by television prop departments and discerning customers from all over the world.
On graffiti-lined Sclater Street, with no exterior signage, the Pom Pom Factory is discernible only by the monkey that adorns its door, created by street artist Hin. But once inside, there’s no mistaking where you are. Karen Hsu makes paper pom-poms – her shelves are filled with colour-coded tissue paper and a huge pom-pom installation fills one corner. Born in Hong Kong and educated at Central Saint Martins, Hsu discovered her penchant for paper pom-poms while creating window displays for fashion and design store Mercantile London. Before long she was working for the likes of Selfridges, Naf Naf and Nicole Farhi.
Fighting the often feminine and frivolous perception of textiles, Katherine May aims to demonstrate the role that cloth has played throughout history, from clothing our bodies to dressing our wounds. She’s deeply aware of the importance of the textile industry to the East End – even in medieval times Homerton was involved in leather tanning and ‘fulling’ – the use of urine to clean felt cloth. At her Homerton studio she is involved in everything from growing plants for dye to sourcing fabric from textile recycling centres.
Kennedy City Bicycles are made to order in De Beauvoir Town. Once a thriving industrial area, its warehouses are now largely studio conversions, attracting artists and makers like Kennedy, who, with his model looks and fashion-forward apparel, might be written off as a hipster if it wasn’t for his passion for his craft. Bicycle building started as a cottage industry in 1880s London, with wheelwrights and carriage-makers experimenting in sheds and workshops. Inspired by a frustrating trip to buy his wife’s first bike in London, James Kennedy’s mission is “to make the ultimate city bicycle using the right balance of reliability, beauty, practicality and value for money.”