Workshops around Australia are teaching old skills to a new market. Click for more photos

The rise of creative workshops

Workshops around Australia are teaching old skills to a new market.

  • Prints Charming mavens at work.
  • Prints Charming paraphernalia - from raw materials to fruits of labour.
  • Basket weaving at a Harriet Goodall workshop, held at Murobond paints.
  • Basket weaving at a Harriet Goodall workshop, held at Murobond paints.
  • Basket weaving at a Harriet Goodall workshop, held at Murobond paints.
  • Koskela, in Rosebery, is home to crafts courses as well as an interiors shop and Kitchen by Mike eatery.
  • Basket weaving at a Harriet Goodall workshop.
  • Basket weaving at a Harriet Goodall workshop.
  • Basket weaving at a Harriet Goodall workshop.
  • Basket weaving at a Harriet Goodall workshop.
  • Prints Charming wreath made from recycled cardboard and shopping bags.
  • Prints Charming wreath made from recycled cardboard and shopping bags.

"Do you think everyone is creative?” I was asked recently, to which I replied immediately “yes”. Thinking about it, I realise I should have qualified this statement with the comment that I believe everyone is creative to begin with but somehow, along the way, growing up they often lose their creative nerve and stop believing in themselves as creative beings.

As one demi-god of creativity, Picasso, said: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up.”

Never fear, help is at hand and there is a growing number of workshop centres springing up all over the country where adults as well as children can learn such diverse skills as the ancient art of tie-dying and even basket weaving.

Basket Weaving Harriet Goodall

Basket weaving with Harriet Goodall - a modern twist on an old skill.

Be it Megan Morton's 'The School', Koskela, or Julie Patterson's 'Cloth' workshops in Sydney, craft centres with a twist are a burgeoning industry.

In Melbourne, this market is being met by centres such as the Harvest Workroom in East Brunswick and The Establishment in Prahran, where people are lining up to learn a new skill, usually under the guidance of a creative guru who has rediscovered a dying art and is giving it a modern twist.

Take the Random Weaving basketry workshops, run around the country by the talented Harriet Goodall. They book out in days and her waiting list is growing. Goodall says “people everywhere are wanting to do something creative. They can go out and shop but more and more people are wanting to try creating something themselves.”

This is, in part, a reaction to mass production and it seems handcrafts, especially when made by oneself, are de rigueur.

As crochet, knitted and macramé pieces are given the nod from the style aficionados, we all realise that 70s aesthetics have returned, albeit with a bit of 80s fluoro thrown in for good measure. Owl, rabbit and deer imagery is back in abundance, so, of course, is throwing your own pots or making your own mobile (not the hand held phone type). Veggie patches, chickens and beards top off the alternative 70s throwback theme.

It's not only the choice of motifs and crafts but the very act of being creative that this resurgence of the 70s has thankfully brought back into vogue. The belief in the simple life and the act of making and doing, of creating, is in.

Cath Derksema from Prints Charming, who runs various workshops from embroidery classes to up-cycled Christmas wreath making at Rosebery's Koskela, says there is a kind of “urban tribalism” to the workshops where people of all ages come together to create, chat and share. She has seen teens and octogenarians chatting and working together, sharing all sorts of tips whilst cutting, snipping and pasting to create extraordinary pieces.

Workshops usually run from a couple of hours to a weekend. Perfect for trying out a new medium for the first time – or for the time poor. According to Goodall, group bookings are popular and are being organised in church halls, sheds and community centres around the country.

As the popularity of these privately-run workshops grows, it seems strange the NSW government is slashing so many of its arts-based programs at TAFE colleges. Australia is renowned for undervaluing the arts, possibly because their worth is not always directly translatable into cash. But, as so many of us turn towards a simpler, less consumer driven, more creatively fulfilling life, the timing of this regressive step taken by the government seems somehow out of sync.

As Picasso also said: “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.”

So, if you're feeling like your creative urges are not being met in your frantic life, consider booking into any number of private workshops to assuage the craving. Or, if you're simply looking for an antidote to the commercialism of Christmas, what could be better than to give a gift lovingly crafted by yourself – or if you're truly generous, a place for a day at a workshop, and a skill to boost a lifetime of creativity.