Summing up where sewing has taken me in 2018

I thought in this blog I’d take a look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last twelve months and it’s made me realise what a wonderful varied collection they are. As well as sewing multiple garments from numerous patterns (which I’ll look at in a separate blog) there have been several meet-ups including the Stitchroom Sewcial in June and the now-famous Sewing Weekender in August, plus one I organised myself in November. I’ve visited quite a few exhibitions, some of them more than once, read lots of books and written reviews of several of them in case anyone out there was interested in knowing more if they fancy a visit or a read for themselves. I’ve been back to the Knitting & Stitching show, and The Handmade Fair for the first time too.

In January I made my first coat in decades, the Butterick 6423 and was pretty pleased with the outcome overall.

My first meet-up of the year in February was a return visit to Balenciaga at the V&A organised by Alex (Sewrendipity) where I met a number of lovely fellow dressmakers in the flesh for the first time. It was so nice to go to an exhibition with like-minded people and then we all went for lunch together afterwards-very civilised!

Also in February Gabby Young invited me to become one of the Simple Sew bloggers so I embarked on a year of wrangling their patterns into submission, they are nice designs but aren’t always faultlessly accurate in their drafting or instructions. I took on the role on the understanding that I’d be honest (although never rude) but informative and constructive. I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether I achieved that.

I had the opportunity to visit the Fashion Technology Academy in April which was such an inspiring place. You can study many of the technical aspects of clothing production there and we also had the chance to try out a taster session of TR pattern cutting with the supremely gifted Claudette Joseph while we were there too. If you, or someone you know, wants to go down the technical route into garment manufacture then this place in North London could be a good place to start looking.

Also in April I returned to the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London to attend their fascinating ‘Inside couture’ afternoon. I’ve been once before but it’s so enjoyable, and such a treat to get the your hands on real couture clothes (with white gloves on, natch). I highly recommend a visit if you’re in London but you do need to book for these particular events, the museum itself is open most days.

The first London Stitchers meet-up was held at the beginning of May and although I’m not technically ‘London’, as has become obvious, I go up a lot. These are organised by Ana Cocowawacrafts and Georgia One Stitch Forward and they vary in their locations between north, south and central London. Anyone is welcome and it’s a great way to meet new people and know that you all have at least one shared interest! It’s like speed-dating for dressmakers!!

Me Made May was also happening on Instagram and for the first time in ages I managed to post every single day for a month-long challenge even though I was out of the country for some of it. Lots of garments I shared weren’t new and box-fresh, in fact quite a few of them were old favourites, which is as it should be. We made a trip to Assisi in Italy during this time so that made my backdrops a bit more interesting for a few days!

I tried something a bit different in May by going on a course to learn how to make and print my own etchings. I’d done this once a million years ago when I did my Foundation Course at college and have always found the medium fascinating and beautiful. [Go and check out Rembrandt’s work in particular if you aren’t sure what they are] I’d met a lovely lady called Chrissy Norman on the first Sewing Weekender two years ago and it turns out that not only does she sew and knit, she’s a super-talented printmaker too. She has a separate IG account for her prints and I admired a print she posted on it early in the year. It transpires that she teaches courses a few times a year at Sudbourne Park Printmakers workshops. Long story short, I signed up and joined her in Suffolk in mid-May. It was soooo interesting and fun, plus I made some pretty respectable prints based on a photo I had taken of the Maggi Hambling sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

The summer saw the first of several visits to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum. I also loved the retrospective of the work of Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum, I didn’t write a review though because by the time I went there wasn’t much left of the run sadly. It was spectacular though and I’m very glad I made the effort. That same day we went to see the musical Hamilton which was absolutely stupendous, Mr Y normally doesn’t go for that style of music but even he has raved about it ever since-highly recommended!

In June I was one of the lucky attendees of the first Stitchroom Sewcial event organised by Anne ‘New Vintage Sewing’ and Lucy ‘Sew Essential’ at Anne’s workplace in the University of Loughborough. They had excelled themselves with activities for us all to try including visiting the print and weaving workshops, computerised machine embroidery, an individual photoshoot AND time to sew and use the industrial machines Anne has in her classroom. I really hope I’m lucky enough to go again in 2019…

I took a road trip with my ‘local’ sewing friends Alana and Helen to visit Sewisfaction on their first Big Summer Stitch-up which was great fun, even though it was a steaming hot day.

At the end of July and beginning of August I posted two blogs which seemed to light the blue touch paper that rapidly became Sew Over 50. When I wrote them I thought no one would read them, much less agree with me, so I was stunned by the response to say the least. My now-friend Judith was amongst those who read them and was feeling the same way so she went one step further and created a new Instagram account called @SewOver50 and everything went a bit nuts from there on. As I write this post the account has gained over 5,300 followers since mid-August which is phenomenal. It’s become a place of inspiration and encouragement for thousands of women (and the occasional man) who sew but felt they, we, are being overlooked or dismissed by the burgeoning home-dressmaking market because of our age.

One thing that some people misunderstood about the whole idea wasn’t that we wanted to be separate from any other age group, like some kind of exclusive club, not at all, we just felt that some people-magazines, pattern companies-were overlooking the opportunity to tap into a market and a group who had cash to spend, had styling ideas, skills and experience to share, originality, fun, empathy, quirkiness, style. For a lot of the people who started following the account they had very little experience of using social media to broaden their horizons in sewing terms, and for connecting with like-minded people around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, as well as Europe. Suddenly there was an identifiable hashtag to follow which took you straight to the heart of this community. In fact it isn’t only sewing that members are supportive with, many face health challenges, a changing body with the menopause, dealing with elderly parents or caring for grandchildren so there have already been lots of conversations that have strayed away from sewing completely, and that’s OK too.

It’s been gratifying to see that a number of sources are making a big effort to be more diverse in who they feature in articles or as models. There is still a long way to go though because we’re conscious it might appear that it’s mostly white middle-aged women who sew, but we know this isn’t the case because there are many women of colour who sew too, maybe they don’t engage as much with Instagram or other social media though? I don’t know the answer to this one except to say that all are welcome because that’s the whole point. It makes me very happy when much younger dressmakers comment to me that they also follow us to get inspiration and advice, which is also the reason that follow younger sewers myself!

Onwards, there was another amazing Sewing Weekender in August which was quickly followed by SewPhotoHop on Instagram in September organised by Rachel ‘House of Pinheiro‘. I didn’t keep up with this one so much and dipped in and out a bit [the same happened with Sewvember as well] but it’s a good way to find new people to follow and be inspired by if all this is new to you. I’ve just remembered there was MIYMarch (Make it Yourself) but that passed me by completely this year.

In September I became a Minerva Crafts blogger so I’m provided with fabric by them to make up into my own choice of garment and then write a comprehensive review for their own website. I’m enjoying this and it’s another string to my bow.

October saw me return to Birmingham for the SewBrum event which is magnificently organised by Charlotte ‘English Girl at Home’. It’s a chance for dressmakers from all over the place to come together in Birmingham, shop for fabric, visit Guthrie & Ghani and generally hang out together.

I was really chuffed to be invited by Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine to contribute an article about the Fashioned from Nature exhibition to the magazine in November. It was a really big deal for me to write something specifically to appear in print. I’ve been lucky enough to write pattern reviews for Love Sewing and Sew Now in the past but this was a new departure. I’d love to do more like this in the future. There’s definitely a little something coming up early in the new year but I can’t talk about that yet…..

My name in print!

I organised my own meet-up at Walthamstow Market in east London in mid-November which fortunately was a beautiful day as it was well attended and we nearly all went for lunch afterwards, to continue chatting! It was the first meet-up for quite a number of the attendees but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and were delighted to get the chance to chat together in real life and not just in a comments box!

Loving all the fabrics in Saeed’s, Walthamstow

Hasan, better known as the Man Outside Sainsbury’s!

There was a lovely pre-Christmas sewing day in Cambridge called SewCam organised by Jen Walker ‘The Gingerthread Girl’ which was a delightful antidote to festive fever, and a final London Stitcher’s meet up the following weekend to round everything off nicely!

getting started at SewCam in December

When I look back at everything in this way it makes me so happy to realise the sheer quantity of wonderful opportunities that my love of dressmaking has brought me this year in particular. I continue to teach my lovely group of ladies locally-they think all this Instagram nonsense is ridiculous in a good way! I’ve met so many awesome and inspiring women in real life for the first time and I’ve deepened some of the friendships that started last year, or longer, ago. Many people think that ‘friends’ on Insta aren’t real but that just isn’t true. Of course there are those people you should give a wide berth to and we are continually plagued by nut-jobs who think women who sew will be interested in their guns, or love of God, or whatever but if we all continue to report them then so much the better.

Wherever you are in your sewing ‘journey’ I hope you find it relaxing, fulfilling, inspiring, empowering, distracting, whatever you need it to be. I’ll never stop learning and being creative is so good for us ( we knew this all along but science is finally realising it too!)

I’ve already got some ideas for next year but, to be honest, much of 2018 just unfolded one thing at a time without too much planning in advance. I’d like to expand my own skills in 2019 and not necessarily in dressmaking terms, I have always enjoyed art so perhaps I should get my pencils and paints back out again.

There’s always an element of me hoping you enjoy what I write and find the reviews helpful or informative although, in truth, I’d write them anyway as a record. Thank you for joining me on the journey and Happy New Year, and here’s to lots more sewing adventures, maybe we’ll meet ‘in real life’ in 2019?!

Happy sewing,

Sue

Simple Sew Notch Collar jacket

Usually when I write a Simple Sew blog post it’s a garment for me but this time the finished article is for my friend Janet. We had a shopping trip to London’s Goldhawk Road a little while ago to choose fabric for a dress for Janet’s daughter to wear to a family wedding and while we were in Classic Textiles we got distracted and spotted this lovely pastel tweed. There wasn’t a lot left so she snapped it all up as well as some pretty matching lining, we didn’t have a pattern in mind but I knew I’d have something suitable at home.

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I didn’t realise I even had the Notch Collar jacket, it turned up when I had a recent tidy in my work room.

The jacket got put on the back-burner for a few months because I had the dress for the wedding to make first, and then a last minute dress for Janet herself to wear too so it dropped down the priorities.

With the wedding out of the way in August I could revisit the project. Because there wasn’t a lot of fabric and there could be tricky pattern matching to do I didn’t want a pattern that was too complex with a lot of pieces so when I found the Notch Collar jacket I thought it would be perfect.

If you’re going to make this jacket yourself I would say it’s VITAL to make a toile first. In my opinion it’s quite narrow across the front and shoulders so if you’re fuller-busted you will probably need to do an FBA.  With this in mind I was really pleased, and a bit surprised, when the toile fitted Janet perfectly with no alterations but then she is quite petite build.

 

If you read my pattern reviews regularly you’ll know that I’m not usually a ‘tracer’ but because Janet is so much smaller than me, and I may want to use the pattern again sometime, I opted to trace this one. If you’re short of fabric or if it’s going to be tricky pattern matching it can be really helpful to make pairs of any pieces that require 2 eg. Left front and right front, a pair of sleeves or the whole back rather than just place on a fold. In this case though I folded the fabric carefully in half and pinned in numerous places through the fabric so that I knew the checks were matching on the under layer.

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Pin through the same spot on both layers.

 

Because of the wide width of the fabric I could easily place the front and back side by side so I knew that the check would match down the side seam as far as possible. Because of the dart it wouldn’t match near the underarm seam though, this is inevitable.

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Front and back side by side on the fabric matching from hem level upwards, it will go off slightly because of the dart.

I didn’t cut out the sleeves in tweed at this stage. I cut everything out in lining too with the addition of a pleat of extra fabric in the back to allow for movement. I also cut facings which incidentally I’d made a lot wider than the originals-I think they are too narrow. [later on I discovered that there’s no lower back facing piece and very little hem allowed to turn it up either. I made my own by tracing the lower edge of the back pattern up to the same depth as my front facings-8cms-so that they match when joined at the side seams.]

To stabilise the tweed and give it some extra body I interlined the fronts and back with some calico and basted it to the tweed within the seam allowances around the edges. This is known as ‘mounting’ the fabric and is a very useful technique if you have a fabric that needs stabilising or a little more body for some reason.

I immediately disagreed with the instructions here because, after making the darts, the first thing I would do is make the pockets and sew them on. Because the fabric frays quite a bit I opted to use some lining as well as the facing to ‘bag out’ the pockets. This makes them more stable as well as neater. After matching the checks I top-stitched them on but that pushed everything out of alignment so I ripped that stitching out and hand-sewed them on instead. These aren’t pockets that will need to take a lot of weight so they should be plenty strong enough.

 

 

After joining the shoulders and side seams I pressed the seams open with plenty of steam over my tailor’s ham and gave them a good bashing with my wooden clapper to knock the steam out and flatten the the seams effectively. I used it on the darts too. If you don’t have a clapper you could use a wooden rolling pin if you have one.

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Tailor’s ham and wooden clapper

Things got trickier after this because I had to match the sleeves to the checks of the jacket. Initially I did this by lining up the pattern piece again the jacket on the stand and drew some guide lines onto the pattern. I was reasonably sure this would work so I cut out a pair of sleeves…I was wrong. I’d placed the pattern piece onto the fabric but it was matched to the wrong set of stripes. Damn and blast! Fortunately, I still had enough fabric left for another pair of sleeves and I could cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves instead.

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I cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves

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My pencil markings indicate approximately where the pink stripes are in order to match the facing to the front as much as possible.

I tried a different approach to matching the sleeves. I took the whole piece of remaining fabric and offered it up to the jacket armhole on the stand where I pinned it in position. This seemed to work so I carefully thread traced the crown of the sleeve, removed the fabric again and then laid the pattern piece on top.

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I pinned the whole piece of fabric to the armhole matching the stripes as best I could.

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Thread tracing the sleeve crown

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Then I traced around the whole sleeve slightly outside the pattern ( to allow a margin for error) I could then place the pattern in a corresponding area of check for the second sleeve  so that it, hopefully, matched the jacket too!

Obviously I needed a second sleeve so I had to cut the first one, remove the pattern, place it in the correct position for that sleeve to match and cut it out. If I got this one wrong there was no Plan C…. I’m extremely relieved to say that all was well-phew. One of the benefits of the tweed is that you can make the slightly loose weave work in your favour so I ran the usual two rows of ease stiches around the crown and tacked the sleeves into position.

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I gently pulled up the ease-stitches in the sleeve head before putting each sleeve into the armhole. the red stitches are the markings from where I placed the paper pattern on the fabric.

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Sleeves inset

One fitted perfectly first time and the other I had to reduce the amount of fullness over the crown to make it fit, and still have the checks matching. At this point Janet popped round for a fitting and we were both very relieved that it fitted really well-high fives all round.

One tip I’d give as a result of doing quite a few alterations on coats and jackets is to use a wide strip of iron-on interfacing at the cuff to give it a crisp edge.

 

This is the sort of soft-tailored jacket which will benefit from a small shoulder pad. We aren’t talking ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas’ 80’s shoulders here, just enough to give a little more definition to the shoulder-line. I didn’t have anything suitable so I made a pair with some medium thickness wadding and covered them in fine calico.

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Wadding ‘pad-stitched’ onto calico

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The wadding is attached to one layer of wadding which is in turn stitched to another piece of calico along the shortest edge first of all.

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Snip the curve and flip the calico over to cover the wadding

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Fold the shoulder pad evenly in half and slip stitch it loosely in place along the shoulder seam on it’s underside..

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The shoulder pad extends very slightly over edge of the shoulder in order to support the sleeve head.

To line the jacket next, I interfaced the facings with iron-on Vilene and neatened the edges, then I stitched them wrong sides to right sides on the lining pieces.

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Back neck facing placed on top of the lining and stitched in place, I did the same with the front facings.

I made up the lining as a complete unit-fronts/back/sleeves-which in hindsight wasn’t the right order because after I sewed the jacket and the lining together all the way around the outer edge it meant I couldn’t under-stitch any of it. I should have sewn the lining in without the sleeves attached, under-stitched the neck edge first then attached the sleeve linings afterwards. Instead, I pulled everything through right side out and gave the neck edges a jolly good steam and wallop with the clapper again. Then I ‘stab stitched’ the edges of the front and neck edge by hand, and also a few stitches directly through the lower section of each side seam to keep the two layers fixed together. Finally, I slip-hemmed the sleeve linings in place.

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I stab-stitched through the side seams to hold the lower edge nicely together.

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sleeve lining slip-stitched into position

As I said before this is a ‘soft-tailored’ jacket rather than a very structured one, although I’ve used one or two techniques which I picked up on the tailoring course I did two and a half years ago.

The sparse making up instructions do have a few errors or anomalies which could trip you up. I set the sleeves in rather than on the flat which might not make any difference to the overall finish but the lack of lower back facing or sufficient turn up instead isn’t good, and it says there’s a turn up of 5mm on the cuffs when it’s actually 1.5cms, and in fact 4cms is what I used to give a better finish. I know some of the earlier Simple Sew patterns have a few technical errors and this is one of them but, with this in mind, don’t dismiss it because it’s an attractive little edge-to-edge jacket but make a toile first!

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I relieved to say that Janet is very pleased with her jacket and hopefully will get a lot of wear from it.

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Until next time

Happy sewing,

Sue

Tilly and the Buttons Nora top

I’m very excited to have been offered a copy of one of the new Tilly and the Buttons and I jumped at the chance to try Nora, a drop shoulder jersey top with several variations of sleeve, neckline and length. It’s just the sort of top I like to wear, often layered up in colder weather so I thought you might like to know what I think about the pattern.

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keeping the design under wraps before the launch.

For once I decided I would trace off the pattern first because I’ll probably want to use several of the variations but this time I wanted to start with the long sleeve, uneven hem version.

Initially I checked my measurements against the sizing chart, and then the very useful finished garment measurements chart too. It’s always helpful if patterns have this (‘big 4’ patterns usually have them printed directly on one of the major pattern pieces) because you can make a much better judgement of the size you want. Take a tape measure and hold it around your body using the finished garment measurements to see how you feel about the fit-too loose? too tight? I opted to go down a size from the one indicated by my body measurements because I felt the finished top would be plenty big enough.

I had some lovely loopback sweatshirting in my stash that I’d bought from GuthrieGhani at last year’s one and only Great British Sewing Bee Live in London. It had been destined for a top based on one I’d seen at the Burberry ‘Capes’ show at the beginning of 2017 but never quite got made. When I clapped eyes on the Nora I knew the Burberry top would rise again.

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I love the varied layers and stripes of this look.

In order to match the stripes, take your time laying up the fabric ready to cut. Ensure the stripes on the underneath layer are in line with the top layer by popping a few pins through both layers every so often. Next, I placed the front and back pieces onto matching stripes at the lower edges, double checking that the bottom of the armhole was also the same. I didn’t cut the sleeves out at this time, I waited until I had the front and back sewn together at the shoulders and the neck band attached before doing this. This way you can have your actual garment laying on the fabric next to where you’re intending to place the sleeve pattern, I cut each sleeve separately to make absolutely sure.

Tilly’s instructions and photos are generally very clear and helpful in my experience. I’m not sure if I did the neck band in quite the same way as the instructions but it worked and looks good. Different knits and jerseys have differing amounts of stretch so you may need to adjust the length of the band you use. I made mine shorter in the end as it wasn’t sitting flat at first, the band needed to be more stretched onto the neck edge to sit nice and flat.

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I’ll take that!

The beauty of the sleeve on the Nora is that it’s a ‘shirt sleeve head’ so it’s almost flat across the top. This means it’s very simple to sew on because there’s no tricky setting into an armhole to do, you sew it on flat and then join the underarm and side seams afterwards. Incidentally, I sewed most seams using the tricot stretch stitch (looks like lightening in the symbols if you’re looking for it on your machine) You could also use a zigzag that’s very flattened out by reducing the stitch width. Alternatively, you could sew most of Nora together using an overlocker but don’t forget the seam allowances are 1.5cms and an overlocker will be much narrower which could result in a bigger garment than planned if you don’t trim them down first.

Before I hemmed the sleeves I tried the top on and opted to bring the sleeve width at the cuffs in by a total of 6cms [only as far as the elbow though from where I graded back into the original seam] Although the cuffs were a bit too wide for my liking I loved the extended length which comes some way over your hands.

That just leaves the stepped hem. I used a twin needle to sew straight across the hems and a regular ballpoint needle to turn the side seams.

Before I started Nora I’d already decided that I’d wear a shirt under the stripy version because the front is actually a bit higher than I like so, when I make my next one, I’ll lengthen the front somewhat but still keep a ’step’. I’ve been wearing it with my favourite The Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt underneath and I love how it looks together. I bought some beautiful Liberty fleece-back sweatshirt fabric from Fabrics Galore at the recent Knitting & Stitching show which I’ll use to make the Nora with the high roll collar instead and the long cuffs will roll back to show the contrast colour, it’s going to be so cosy. I reckon you could make it in a drapey woven fabric too BUT  you’d have to make the neckline larger because you wouldn’t get your head through otherwise!!

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No make up selfie in Threadquarters! I really like all the hem interest going on.

Thank you Tilly for the chance to try out Nora, I’m definitely a fan and I think there will certainly be a few versions of her finding their way into my wardrobe over the autumn and winter…and then there will be short-sleeve versions when the spring arrives!

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

 

Making Burda 6914

I’ve recently realised that Burda 6914 has become a bit of a favourite as I’ve just made it for the fourth time so I thought I’d write a quick review of it here. It has 3 variations; sleeveless cocoon dress with hem darts, cocoon dress with a hem band and short sleeves, and a sleeveless top. They all feature the double pleat at the neckline and a visible bias binding neck finish. There’s no zip, it just goes over your head.

I got my copy quite some time ago with Sew Magazine but it’s still available to buy . My first version was the dress with darts at the hem and I added the sleeves. I had some wintery fabric of unknown origin or fibres in a dogtooth check so I didn’t want the short sleeves. The sleeves have 2 external darts which is an interesting feature but I wanted them longer so I increased the pattern to below elbow length simply by continuing the seam lines down to the length I wanted (sorry, it was ages ago and I didn’t take a photo at the time) make sure that the 2 seams are the same length as each other, it will gradually increase the width the longer they get. I then created new darts on the outside to absorb the fullness I had added, 5 in total.

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the finished external pleats

The dress goes together very quickly, make the pleats in the front, join the shoulders, add the binding watch the instructions here as you’re told to trim the neck edge before adding the binding. 

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With a striking design like a dogtooth check the bias binding at the neck will add a nice touch.

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I’ve added pockets (of course) which aren’t part of the pattern. The darts at the hem are quite diddy but they give the skirt a nice shape. It’s been one of my favourite winter dresses.

Following the success of this dress I made another a few months later in a striped poly crepe from somewhere or other.

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I added pockets again but as a single layer that was stitched directly to the front. 

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I cut the sleeves on the cross grain so that the stripes were diagonal.

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I love how the binding looks on this one but it does make your eyes go funny!

I liked this dress but I didn’t like how it looked on me. The sleeves made my arms look chunky and somehow the length didn’t feel right either-odd, because I didn’t do anything different to the pink/black dress. I wore it once and then it languished in the wardrobe for ages. Eventually I unpicked the sleeve darts and re-hemmed them and I cut off some of the skirt to the bottom of the pockets. I thought about unpicking the pockets too but that might have left holes in the front plus it would be quite a bit more work.

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I’m wearing the top with my Megan Nielsen Ash jeans.

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Much happier with this! I made a split hem detail and the sleeves are so much better.

Version 3 was made with 1 metre of viscose fabric which had been donated by Stoff & Stil in the second Sewing Weekender goody bags. Because it was 150cms wide I managed to get a top with short straight sleeves to which I added a short frill.

I hemmed the frill using the rolled hem on my overlocker so that it lost barely any fabric. The neck has a button and loop closure.

The latest version is made in a lovely 100% organic cotton lawn which I bought on impulse at the Sewisfaction Big Summer Stitch Up in July. I’d earmarked it for yet another Camber but changed my mind.

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I tried out the ‘fork’ pleating method on the sleeve hems this time. I made a long strip of fabric gleaned from the leftovers and neatened them first with a rolled hem finish again. It’s a really simple method and I don’t know why I haven’t used it before. I think some people use the fork to create the pleat first and which they pin in place before sewing but I did it directly in the machine, just needing to be very careful that the needle didn’t hit the fork!! In truth the strip I made wasn’t quite long enough and I ought to have added a bit more but I’d already hemmed it and couldn’t be bothered. It just meant I had to juggle the pleats a bit to get them relatively even, it really isn’t that noticeable (I hope) If you’re good at maths you might be able to work out the ratios for this….I’m not and I didn’t… 

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I used two buttons in similar colours to the print, one on top of the other. I always make a hand-sewn loop, it’s usually the last thing and I find it quite a soothing, peaceful way to finish a make.

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There’s an option for a double binding at the neck which I used this time. I think I like it but it doesn’t sit flat like the usual method.

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It has a pretty hand-painted look to the design, the background colour is a little more Eau-de-Nil than it looks here. 

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Knowing me this probably still isn’t the last of Burda 6914. One thing I keep forgetting is that there’s slightly too much ease in the sleeve head and I have to adjust the armhole so just watch out for this.

Have you got a favourite quick pattern that you go back to time and again? This isn’t a taxing make and there are times when I think I should push myself more with more complex makes but this is a satisfying garment to wear which is why I keep returning to it.

Until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue 

Vogue 9251 wrap-over dress

 

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Wedding outfits are always a dilemma and sewing your own is no exception to this! When my elder daughter’s best friend made the happy announcement she was getting married in the summer I started planning (in my head) straight away!

As I mentioned in my previous Simple Sew blog, by about May it was going to be the Lizzie pattern in a particular fabric but then the supplier was no longer going to provide us with said fabric so it was back to the drawing board.

I made a trip to Goldhawk Road in London in early June and Classic Textiles came up trumps with a silky crepe de chine in several lovely botanical prints which necessitated a game of eeny, meeny, miny, mo to choose between them (very scientific!) I settled on a silvery grey background with a variety of flowers on and I bought some very soft slipper satin lining to go under it.IMG_7148

I didn’t want to use the Lizzie after all because it would break up the design into too many pieces so I opted, after quite a bit of research using The Foldline’s pattern database, on Vogue 9251. I chose it over the Eve from Sew Over It because I liked the front and back darts on the bodice instead of gathering and I preferred the flutter sleeves too-I couldn’t quite work out on the SOI one whether the sleeves dipped oddly at the back or not. Anyway, I didn’t want to do it just because everyone else was and Vogue have always been extremely good patterns. By using a very simple wrap over style it would show off the print nicely, not all ‘chopped up’. It has a full-length version too with simple short sleeves.

I chose to make a test version in stash fabric first just to be sure about fit and whether the style suited me. It’s a Vogue “Easy” pattern and it’s very straight forward-cutting out the toile wasn’t too tricky but I did have to spend a long time cutting the crepe de Chine later because it’s soooo slippery and having a one way design meant I wanted to get the flowers matching horizontally on each piece as much as possible. I wouldn’t advise a total novice using this fabric, I had a lot of fun and games with it and I’ve sewn forever!

I chose the size according to my measurements increasing slightly at the waist and I’m really happy with the fit. Obviously a wrap-over is pretty forgiving size-wise but you don’t want it much too big because it will be all gapey at the front which is never flattering. IMG_7169IMG_7162IMG_7161IMG_7159

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Help was at hand as you see!

There’s a lot of hemming to do around the skirt and flutter sleeves so I used my new rolled hem foot for my Pfaff but I really struggled with it. I just couldn’t seem to get the knack of it. I persevered and it’s just about acceptable if you don’t look too closely, I don’t know if it was too much of a curve or not enough but I must practice more! I just wasn’t happy with it on the crepe de Chine so in the end I reverted to making a pin-hem which was long winded and still not as good as I’d like but there’s an element of me being uber-critical as time was running out. [I did a test of the rolled hem finish on my overlocker too but decided it wasn’t smart enough on this particular fabric] As I’ve mentioned, cutting out the slippery fabric probably meant it had shifted a bit on the table in the process-it’s always going to be difficult if you have to use your dining table and not one specifically for the purpose.

You might find the side seams droop down a little so if this bothers you, and you’re not up against the clock like I was, then leave the dress to hang for a day or two and then level the bottom off before hemming it. You could do this on your dress stand (dummy) if you have one, or measure consistently from the waist down using a tape measure.

The pattern calls for the neck edge to be finished with bias-binding, which is what I did on the first version although I made my own from the fabric rather than buy ready made. The crepe de chine is very thin and quite sheer so I’d bought slipper satin to line it with. I cut the bodice exactly the same and bagged it out, then under-stitched the edge-take great care not to stretch this edge because it will go baggy, stay stitch the edge first or use iron-on tape if the fabric is sturdy enough. The skirt was the same except much shorter, about knee length as you can see in the photo. IMG_7659

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This is the finished dress turned inside out so that you can see how I lined it.

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For extra security I used a clear press stud at the wrap-over point and made lingerie straps on the shoulders too, using narrow ribbon and press studs.

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So that the lining didn’t flap about and show I slip-stitched the edge of it to the top layer some of the way down.

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All ready for the off! I got the hat less than a week before the wedding (half price in John Lewis) the shoes and bag I already had.

After all the boiling hot weather we’ve had in the UK over the last few weeks it changed and was a bit cooler and really blustery on the day of the wedding. I was a bit concerned that I’d lose my hat and my skirt would blow up around my neck but that didn’t happen thankfully! A hat pin helps!

I really like this pattern, it’s really comfortable to wear and the wrap-over covers well although a press stud always helps. I think I’ll make more of this style as it’s a fairly quick make and is quite beginner friendly if you don’t use a super-slippy fabric like I did, just something with a bit of drape. The sleeve shape is very pretty, and did I mention it has pockets?

Don’t overlook the ‘big four’ pattern companies when you’re choosing a pattern because Vogue in particular have always offered fashion-forward styles, often by top designers, and you don’t necessarily need to be a very experienced sewer to get a good result. [Even better if they’re on a half-price offer!]

Happy Sewing,

Sue

Ash jeans, a brand new pattern from Megan Nielsen

Last year I pattern-tested the Karri dress by Megan Nielsen (or at least I did but a bit after the event) I enjoyed the process because I just love and am fascinated by garment construction so the chance to be in at the beginning of a pattern coming to market is great. When I got an email last autumn requesting testers for a new jeans pattern from Megan Nielsen I was really keen to give them a go because I haven’t made jeans before and, this time round, the timing worked for me because I’d finished all my major bridal alterations for the summer and could concentrate on my own projects.

Initially there was a slight delay due to some technical issues before the pattern was released to testers so in the interim I’d bought a quantity of black stretch denim from Backstitch near Cambridge which I hoped would be enough-I guesstimated at 2m based on other jeans patterns I’d seen.

When the pattern arrived it had even more options than we were told it would have originally-there were skinny, slim, flared and wide-leg options. The instructions are nice and clear about exactly which pages you need to print off for the options you want so that you don’t print more pages than needed. Also these days I don’t print off the making instructions, I just keep them on the laptop and read them directly off the screen, I actually find that a little easier to ‘comprehend’ them that way too, maybe it’s because the instructions and illustrations are that much larger than in print? If you have difficulty with making sense of instructions why not try this method with PDFs to see if it works for you.

After initially thinking I‘d go for the slim leg I eventually printed off the wide legged ones-I was concerned that they might be too tight on my legs (vanity) more on this later. 

Ok, so I printed off the wide-leg version but they looked way too wide-I’m only average height and dumpier than I’d like to be so I didn’t want to look like Pop Eye in  his matelot trousers! Rather than reprint the slim leg (stingy) I eventually folded out some of the width at hem level, fading it into nothing by the mid-thigh. One of my observations in the feedback was that the lines became quite indistinct between sizes on the waistband-I feel that they would be better ‘nested’ into groups so that there could be bigger gaps between them, it will be interesting to see if this happens. There’s a wide range of waist sizes included in the Ash so most people are quite likely to be able to use it.

The pattern was very straightforward to piece together, either I’m getting better at this process because I’ve done it a few times now or maybe the first PDFs I did were more complex anyway, this one was simple. Cue cutting, sticking and more cutting. Fortunately for me the quantity of fabric I’d bought was just enough, obviously there’s no nap to worry about on denim so the pieces can interlock well although the curved waistband is all in one piece so it just squeaked in {if it hadn’t fitted in one piece I would have cut it into two at the CB like mens trousers have, this enables a better fit and can be useful on women’s trousers too if you’re having difficulty getting a good fit into the small of your back}

Construction starts with the zip fly. Part of the reason I wanted to try jeans is because it’s been absolutely years since I made trousers with a zip fly and I don’t remember them being a huge success!

I found the instructions very clear and meticulous with helpful diagrams, as I said earlier I followed them on the laptop so I could scroll up and down as much as I needed to so that I knew exactly what to do at each step. Ok, so this is going to sound like bragging but it really isn’t….I didn’t make a single error whilst doing this stage and I give full credit to the quality of the instructions. You could argue that’s because I know roughly what I should be doing but I don’t think that’s all it is, credit where it’s due to the writer.

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although it looks like the top of the zip is going up too high because it’s a bit long this isn’t a problem. There are very thorough instructions for the zip insertion, including how to sew over a metal zip-something I would normally never recommend.

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It doesn’t look level but that’s just the camera angle. I’m pretty happy with the two rows of stitching-I deliberately chose matching thread in case my parallel lines wobbled!!

After the zip is in you make the front pockets-I lined mine with a contrast fabric-and that was very straightforward. Much as I love my trusty Elna 7000 it’s getting on a bit now and really doesn’t much like topstitching thread so doing the topstitching proved frustrating and problematic. (I’ve bought a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 since making these and I’m delighted with it) I fiddled with the tension a bit and eventually I got a decent quality stitch but it isn’t perfect on the underside. Incidentally I used a denim/jeans needle throughout (it’s just occurred to me that there are top stitch needles too so maybe I should try that next time)

Next the patch pockets go on the back. I chose not to do any fancy stitching designs or topstitching (partly because my machine was struggling so much with the thread) and just kept it simple.

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certainly not faultless (the top edges peeping out annoy me slightly but they’re at the back so I can’t see them anyway!)

I’ve made a second pair of Ash more recently and I slightly altered the way I did the top of the pocket.

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Instead of rolling the top of over twice as per the instructions I folded it like this so that the first fold is WS together and then the second fold is RS together meaning the raw edge is still showing at this point. I stitched it down just inside the seam allowance to hold the fold in position.

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Next I turned the folded corner out like this so that it’s nice and neat. I then sewed the patch pockets on in the same way as the denim pair but now there’s no annoying sticky-up bits showing.

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the waistband sewn in position, along with the belt loops

After trying the jeans on again I was still not happy with the width of the leg that I’d cut so, because the inner leg seams are double top-stitched, I skimmed in some more from the outer leg seams (this is becoming a habit, see my Love Sewing trouser pattern review here

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Very indecisive!

Eventually I got to a leg-width that I was happy with and after that it was just a case of hemming them. You might look at the finished photos and think “well they don’t fit that well” but frankly I don’t care because I’ve struggled at times in my life to feel comfortable and confident wearing jeans at all because there are so many idealised images out there of what a woman ‘ought’ to look like in them, they should be tighter here, they shouldn’t wrinkle there etc etc blah blah blah….I’m comfortable and happy in these as they are, it’s my body shape that would have to change drastically and it isn’t going to any time soon. Rant over…

Finally the waistband needs a jeans button and a buttonhole. The instructions helpfully pointed out that the buttonhole should be round-ended (not something I’d ever paid much attention to on RTW jeans) and making such a buttonhole on a domestic machine is usually very tricky because of the thickness of fabric involved. Megan suggests doing it ‘freehand’ with a zigzag stitch so I had a few practices at this. Eventually I felt brave enough to do it on the actual waistband and it turned out passably well. My new machine seems much better at buttonholes-it should do, it cost me enough!

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A little bit scruffy but it’s behind a button anyway…

The jeans button is the sort with a rivet or stud behind it so it’s a case of banging them together through the fabric with a hammer! Don’t do it on your best table, put it on the bread board or a towel folded several times.

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Ta dah!

I’d been trying on the jeans periodically as I went along and they felt great. Personally I’m delighted with how well Ash fit me! They are snug and comfortable around my waist and hips and I’m really really happy with them.fullsizeoutput_1f79IMG_0037

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Sorry about the butt-shots but I’m so pleased with how well Ash jeans fit, particularly in the back waist.

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impatient with the photographer face!

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still a bit cheesed off but it’s all about the jeans folks…

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Teamed with my Refashioners 2017 McQueen-inspired jacket

By the time you’re reading this the Ash jeans will have been released into the wild so you’ll be seeing lots of different versions of them all over the place. I’ve since bought some stretch cord and made another pair, I left the legs a bit longer and a bit wider this time. I’ve worn the denim pair constantly because they’re so comfy, the denim has just the right amount of stretch.

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Compare these photos with the previous newly-minted jeans and you’ll see just how much I’ve lived in them!!

I liked the fit of the legs (eventually!) and because the pattern provides 4 leg shapes there’s bound to be one that you’ll like, I like the on-the-waist fit too.

If you’re looking for a new sewing challenge then jeans might be just the ticket, there was a lot of jeans-sewing going on during February and March so there is plenty of inspiration out there. They are definitely a slow-sew which you might need to break down into bite-size chunks, they need concentration at times, and a certain degree of sewing ‘comprehension’ because they aren’t for complete beginners. I felt the quality of the written instructions and diagrams was excellent and there will be online tutorials available eventually too. It’s also worth mentioning that I found 1 reel of topstitching thread isn’t quite sufficient because there’s only 30m on a regular-sized reel of Gutermann, which is what I used.

I was provided with the pattern at no cost but I bought my own fabric and received no payment for testing the Ash jeans, and as such all the opinions expressed are unbiased and entirely my own. I’ve just bought some more blue denim to make a cropped length next!

Happy sewing,

Sue

 

 

a visit to the Fashion Technology Academy, London.

I hadn’t heard of the Fashion Technology Academy before they started following me on Instagram last year but I’m so glad I had the opportunity recently to visit and see first-hand what they can offer. Tree of Stitchless.TV tagged me in post to alert me to the next blogger event they were holding, one quick email later and I had myself an invite.

The premises for Fashion Enter are in Finsbury Park, north London and it was very straightforward to get there by public transport and a short walk. I arrived a bit early and for a while I thought I’d got the wrong day but then 3 fellow-bloggers who I already know Alex (Sewrendipity), Kathy (Sew Dainty) and Emily (Self-assembly Required) burst through the door which was huge relief! Shortly after that two other lovely ladies, Amy and Nicki of Sewalicious arrived too.

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no self-respecting sewer can walk away from fabric when it’s right there in front of them!

Director Jenni Sutton gave us a run-down of everything that’s possible within the 4 elements of Fashion Enter which is a “not for profit social enterprise that strives to be a centre of excellence for sampling, grading, production and for learning and development of skills within the fashion and textiles industry” This is currently the only place of it’s kind in the UK but there are plans for one to open in Leicester in the near future.

Fashion Capital is aimed at fashion students, emerging brands and established designers and offers advice and talk about ethical manufacturing and I found it’s aims very impressive. I’d urge you have a look at their own website for fully correct information as it was a lot for us to take in and I fear I’m confusing things a bit here!

The Fashion Technology Academy is all about training, the courses on offer, student testimonials and success stories.

Finally there is also FCFabric studio which sells fabric!

They have backing from the DWP (Dept of Work & Pensions) as well as industry including ASOS, M&S, and Finery amongst others. The factory, which was first established in 2010, opened in these premises in 2015 and manufactures around 8000 garments per week with capacity for up to 10,000, the staff are all highly trained with excellent working conditions in factory terms. It is clean and safe, everyone has proper breaks or rest periods and no night working, no one is paid cash-in-hand and it’s all fully audited.

What this means is that they are able to use the factory as a benchmark demonstrating to other clothing companies and retailers how ethical manufacture can be in this country as opposed to sweatshops overseas. Many companies come in to see this in action and and take advice how to make it possible with their own operations.

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This may look dauntingly busy but I’m sure we’ve all seen horrific images of sweatshops and this is nothing like them.

As well as large-scale manufacturing there is The Fashion Studio which can create patterns, make toiles, grade and produce small-scale production. This was first set up in 2008 and can produce anything from a single garment up to 300 units. It can work with new business start-ups as well as established high street brands. This can be a real advantage for emerging designers who might have no real clue how to actually get their clothes into production. There are professional and highly trained pattern cutters and graders who use the latest softwear to digitise and grade patterns and make ‘markers’ for the most efficient and cost-effective use of fabric, and highly-skilled machinists with years of experience make the garments.

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These ladies are highly experienced sample machinists, their level of skill is awesome! They can make any garment in (almost) any fabric and do it at a speed the rest of us can only dream of!!

It’s against this background that the Fashion Technology Academy can teach any area within the ‘garment life cycle’ including pattern making, fabric inspection, laying and cutting, quality control, machine maintenance and stitching from accredited Level 1 to Level 5.

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Up-to-date, quality machines

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Alvaform provide all the mannequins. I wasn’t familiar with the brand but I’ve had look at their website and there’s a fascinating short video showing how the forms are made.

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Everyone knows where they stand…

I spotted these signs in a couple of places and I could do with following their advice myself…IMG_5175IMG_5214

There was such a lot to take in but I know we were all so impressed with what we saw.

Personally, when I started out I knew I didn’t want to be a fashion designer but it was incredibly difficult to find out where to learn the technical skills I needed in order to be able to work in the actual making of clothing, the development and construction after the design stage through to going into production. I was fortunate that I eventually got into the London College of Fashion and studied Clothing Technology but the Fashion Technology Academy, which didn’t open until 2016, would have been a real alternative for me. Not everyone wants to be a fashion designer but still has a huge interest in clothing and I think university courses don’t cater so much for the practical element, many designers leave college with little real knowledge of how to make the clothing they visualise and they need the help of expert technicians to bring them to reality. Po-faced academics etc can sniff all they like about ‘inconsequential’ fashion being of no importance but have you ever seen any of them going about their daily lives stark naked!? The fact remains that the fashion and clothing industry in the UK generates a VAST amount of income on which we all depend.

I think the concept of Fashion Enter seems like proper joined-up thinking, it can give students a realistic chance of building themselves a career in the fashion industry without the pressure of getting a degree, it’s practical hands-on training with industry links and excellent job prospects. In addition to accredited courses and apprenticeships they also offer part-time courses in several subject areas including TR [transformational reconstruction] pattern cutting. These are often at weekends and anyone can attend them, subject to meeting the right criteria.

Jenni also told us that they’ve recently had confirmation that they will be moving into the next-door premises soon and will offer tailoring courses and factory production so the operation is continuing to grow all the time.

I’ll tell you more about how we got on with our taster session of TR in the next blog (clue: it was loads of fun) I really think this model could be copied elsewhere in the UK and give thousands of potential students who may not want to do an academic subject the chance to do something more practical and creative instead. If you’re within a reasonable distance of the London area and thinking of studying clothing production, or you have a child who is struggling to know where to go for courses of this type then this could be the place to go, it’s certainly worth investigating more closely. Obviously I’ve only scratched the surface so I urge you to contact them directly for information.

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With our goody bags! Rachel Pinheiro of House of Pinheiro had joined us later, photo credit to Kath (Sew Dainty)

As always all opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own but I’m grateful for the chance to visit the FTA and see it at first-hand. Thank you, I really enjoyed it!

Happy Sewing

Sue

Holiday shirt & top from Maker’s Atelier

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I made two versions of the short-sleeved shirt by The Maker’s Atelier last summer, I love ‘em and wore them constantly. One was plain white and the other was a Liberty print voile which I embellished with fancy stitches.

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I wore it on the second day of The Sewing Weekender 2017, that’s me with the pink fringe on the right!

I wanted to make the hooded version sometime and originally I planned to make it in linen like the photo but on a recent visit to Backstitch near Cambridge I spotted a nice Ponte with an interesting diamond weave that was a little bit brushed on one side which I thought would work well so I bought that instead.

Making it up was pretty straightforward except I wanted to utilise the rows of diamonds and they proved a bit tricky to match up in the cutting out. Eventually I managed to cut it fairly satisfactorily but there’s one or two wonky spots although I think only I will notice them (I hope)

The inside seam of the hood and the back neck are neatened with tape so I used 2 pieces of striped grosgrain ribbon which had come off a gift bag! You never know when these things might come in handy 🙂 

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Gift bag ribbon in situ!

There’s a casing that runs around the waist with elastic cord through it but after scoring the striped ribbon for the part that shows I hadn’t got anything else suitable for the casing! I knew I wouldn’t be able to get what I wanted locally so I ordered some navy cotton twill tape and some navy and some grey cord elastic off t’internet. The tape was a tad wide but that’s fine and the elastic was just right. Before sewing the tape on you need to make two eyelets for the elastic to come out through so I reinforced the fabric behind with iron-on interfacing and then made two small round-ended buttonholes, you could use metal eyelets if you have the gadget for this.  The buttonholes were actually bigger than I needed them to be so I didn’t cut the whole thing open, only enough for the elastic to go through.

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As I’d bought two colours of elastic I put it to a public vote on Instagram because I came over all indecisive. This is with grey threaded through initially although in the end navy won by a narrow margin.

Before you can thread the elastic though it needs something to thread through! I carefully sewed on the tape on the reverse of the fabric following as best I could a row of diamonds as I went. I’d actually pressed a crease along the line before I started in order to have some idea of where I was heading.

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The casing is only narrow so there’s a bit of excess tape, a narrower one would have been better but on one can see it anyway.

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In the end I went with the majority vote and used the navy elastic so after slotting it through the ends are passed through metal toggles. I got these in Backstitch too, I think they are ‘Vogue’ brand. The ends of the elastic frayed badly so I used doubled double thread in a needle and hand-stitched them to stop any further fraying.

So that’s pretty much it, the hem still has the deep notches of the shirt version but the hooded one has long sleeves. I used the twin needle to stitch up the hem and sleeves.IMG_4757IMG_4730IMG_4733IMG_4731

I think this will be a really useful cover-up, the fabric isn’t particularly thick but I’ll either layer things under it or it will be ideal for a warm summer evening (although they feel a very long way off yet!)

The Maker’s Atelier patterns are not cheap, in fact they are rather expensive, but they are the sort of chic, timeless styles that you can remake countless times.

Happy sewing,

Sue

 

A year in sewing 2017

2017 turned out to be a very busy sewing year for me. Not only did I make a loads of projects for myself and occasionally others but I wrote two articles for sewing magazines, and did a multitude of alterations (some very complex and time-consuming) to numerous wedding dresses, along with more mundane hems and sleeve-shortenings too.

This is a quick dash through many of the things I got up to although I’m not sure everything got photographed at the time. I’ve included a lot of links too if I’ve written blogs on some of the things I mention.

January saw a couple of self-drafted sweat shirts, I was particularly pleased with the blue one because I made it from a £3 fleece blanket from Ikea!

There are also 2 Sew Over It Heather dresses, and finally the Grainline Farrow dress, the teal one was the one which featured in the review I wrote for Sew Now magazine.

In February while I was having a week’s holiday in the Lake District I managed to squeeze in a visit to Abakhan fabrics in Manchester and bought fabric by weight for the first time in my life. I also went to a meet up organised by the lovely Emily of Self Assembly Required in a pub at King’s Cross station! I met loads of fellow-sewers there as well as picking up some new patterns and fabrics from the swap including the Holiday Top by The Maker’s Atelier which I’ve made twice over the summer.

Another February highlight was seeing the latest Burberry collection alongside the fabulous capes, each one of which was a stunning one-off! I wonder if there’ll be a similar show this season?

March saw the Moneta party (dress pattern by Colette) so I made my first which I altered to include full-length sleeves, a roll collar and a fake exposed zip (I made a short-sleeved one later in the summer too) I wore it when I went to the spring Knitting and Stitching show where once again I met up with a few fellow-sewers organised by Gabby Young (no relation!) from Gabberdashery vlog.

One of the new people I met was Juliene from Zierstoff Patterns who gave me the opportunity to try out several of their patterns during the course of the rest of the year.

Another new departure was a fundraising initiative with my weekly sewing group. We all spent an afternoon making little ‘pillowcase’ dresses which would eventually be sent off to a girl’s school in Africa.

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our very own Sewing Bee!

Moving rapidly into April I visited the wonderful ‘Five Centuries of House Style’ exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, made another Holiday top utilising a few fancy stitches on my sewing machine, as well as a Sophie bolero by Zierstoff. IMG_1725Also during April I was approached to teach some dressmaking classes at a local craft shop so I made some sample garments for that including a dirndl skirt and a jersey tube skirt.IMG_1803 I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.

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Imogen blouse and Gina by Zierstoff skirt

In May I went on my travels with my good friend Sue when we walked a section of the Camino di Santiago in France which was a fantastic empowering experience.

In June Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic and it happened to be a Strictly Come Dancing cruise! The company that make all the costumes, DSI-London, were on board along with many of the dresses so I was in seventh heaven being able to see them close up. I had to write 2 blogs about that just to be able to include all the pictures! you can read them here and here.

By July I was teaching in Hertford and one of the garments was a ‘no-pattern’ kimono which was popular and also the ‘pillowcase’ dress (nothing to do with pillowcases other than a child’s version could be made from one) It’s basically two rectangles of fabric sewn up each side, hemmed at the bottom and a channel at the top with ribbon through it.

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Also in July I made my first visit to the fabulous Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A in London which was wonderful. I’ve actually been 3 times now, each time taking a different friend, I’ve had excellent value from my V&A membership and I’d urge anyone local enough and interested in the decorative arts to think about joining.

I had hoped to go to the second Sewing Weekender in August but I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket….or so I thought! About 10 days before the event I got an email from Rachel at The Foldline telling me that sadly someone had had to drop out and would I like her ticket? Silly question! So off I went to Cambridge and had a wonderful time amongst so many fabulous sewing people, friends old and new. It was my birthday too! I made a simple top while I was there this time, one I’d made before so it was quick, meaning I’d have plenty of time for chatting…and taking on Elizabeth for a Ninja sewing challenge!

We each got given a copy of the same pattern and some stretch fabric off the swap table and away we went, with one hour to get it done. The results were ‘mixed’ shall we say, Elizabeth left out a section and didn’t notice until it was too late and I only cut one piece where I should have cut two so I had to go back and cut that. It was a lot of fun though, even if we looked like stuffed sofas!

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Sewing Weekender 2017 Alumni, photo by The Foldline.

I spent September making the top and trousers that I’d be modelling in Love Sewing magazine! This was certainly one of my sewing highlights in 2017, although there have been lots really.Love Sewing page 328_09_17_LS_Reader42916I made a third Imogen blouse from fabric I got off The Foldline’s swap table at the first Great British Sewing Bee.

Another favourite top this year was the Merchant & Mills Camber Set which I also got from the King’s Cross meet up in the spring. It’s been a really useful pattern and I love the neat way the binding and the neck yoke finish off the neck edges, it’s a really clever piece of construction.

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neat bias binding on the Camber Set top-my scissors necklace came from the V&A

I also made this top with 1 metre of fabric generously given to us in the Weekender goody bag by Stoff&Stil, it’s Burda 6914 which I’ve used 3 times now although this is the first time as a top. I really like the pleated neckline with a bias binding finish. There was just enough fabric to add slim ruffles to the sleeves which I neatened using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker.

I spent a lot of time during August and September making my entry to The Refashioners 2017, an Alexander McQueen-inspired jacket which I was extremely proud of when I finished it.

Into October and more fabric got purchased at the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally (oops) I made my first pair of jeans this month but I can’t talk about them yet as they were a pattern test which still hasn’t been released-I’m really happy with them though so I’ll publish the blog as soon as it’s released into the wide world. (I think the designer needs to get on with it otherwise the whole world will think that Ginger jeans are the only pattern available!)

After literally months of dithering I finally bought a new mannequin, or ‘Doris’ as she’s known to me. Old Doris was falling to bits and only held together by the t-shirt that covered her, I’d had her for well over 30 years so I reckon I’d had good value out of her. I chose the ‘Catwalk’ model from Adjustoform which I bought from Sew Essential and I’ve been very pleased with it. IMG_4038IMG_4039IMG_4040

Also in October I went up to Birmingham for the SewBrum meet up organised by EnglishGirlatHome, Charlotte where I had a really fun day (apart from the sweary drunk woman on the train coming home!) catching up with chums and visiting Guthrie & Ghani for the first time. I took part in the fantastic raffle while I was there but was unsuccessful….or so I thought (again) About 6 weeks after the event I got a message  from Charlotte asking if anyone had told me I’d won a brand new mannequin in the raffle!!! So now I have New Outdoor Doris who lives in Threadquarters and Indoor Doris who lives…indoors, and I use her to take photos on.

November saw another new departure for me when I volunteered to write some reviews of fabric shops in my area. This was for Alex of Sewrendipity as part of her plan to create an unbiased worldwide database of fabric retailers, available to everyone to use. It meant I visited some new places as well as some old favourites.fullsizeoutput_202f

I made another entry for our annual church Christmas Tree festival. It was a refashion/upcycle of the fabric I used for the previous year and sadly it was Old Doris’s last outing before she heads for the tip! The net petticoat was a tube of fabric with the baubles and lights inside it.

I had also volunteered as a pattern reviewer for Jennifer Lauren Vintage so I made a really nice Mayberry dress and wrote a blog for that very recently. One other new pattern I tried out but haven’t blogged yet was the French dart shift by Maven Patterns. It’s a lovely flattering shift dress with a funnel neck and a variety of sleeve styles and no zip. I made it in a navy fabric of unknown origin and wore it on Christmas Day.IMG_4272IMG_4273

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French dart shift dress by Maven patterns.

The biggest deal of the year in some ways was in December when I finally, finally, decided to buy a new sewing machine! This was such a big deal because I’ve had my beloved Elna 7000 for probably 27 years and it’s still going strong (only the occasional hiccough) and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. Thing is, technology moves on and whilst that really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me there are processes and functions that I would like in order to keep (even after all these years) on top of my sewing. In early November I went to a fun jeans refashioning workshop hosted by Portia Lawrie and Elisalex (By Hand London) and we were provided with gorgeous Pfaff sewing machines to use. IMG_4092

Anyway, I was thinking about it long and hard for a while because it’s an awful lot of money when I came upon a Black Friday (not even a real thing) deal where this model was virtually half-price. Sooooo, after a visit to Sew Essential a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has come home to live with me and we’re getting to know one another…

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she’s a beauty!

So that just about sums up my sewing year. It’s been a lot of fun at times, and hot and frustrating at others (sweltering under mountainous wedding dresses in the height of the summer is no fun) I’ve met some lovely new people and been reacquainted with lovely ‘old’ ones too! I’m looking forward to another busy year of sewing, blogging, teaching, chatting, tea drinking and generally feeling connected to sewers all over the world. It really feels like dressmaking is an activity that is worthwhile again and not just some strange little hobby that old biddies do, besides, it’s surprising what you could learn from an old biddy, she may just have made the same sewing mistakes as you have but 30 or 40 years earlier!

Happy Sewing

Sue

 

Visiting fabric shops in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire

In late 2017 I responded to an invitation/request on Instagram by Sewrendipity for bloggers to contribute to a project she wants to put together to collate information about fabric shops in as many areas or cities of as many countries as people care to add. If you don’t know Alex she was a contestant in Series 3 of the Great British Sewing Bee, and she’s passionate about sewing and dressmaking.

Alex sewrendipity

 

It can be really difficult to know where fabric shops are around your area and even if you do know they’re there, are they worth visiting? I live just north of London so it’s not that difficult to go in to places like Liberty, The Cloth House, MacCullough & Wallis, Walthamstow market, Goldhawk Road and any number of other retailers. Googling doesn’t always shed much light on what you’re looking for so Alex’s idea of creating, over time, a go-to place for this information could be a big leap forward! It’s now live and you can now check it out here.

I don’t always want to go into London so I like to use shops and retailers that are in my own area. This isn’t an exhaustive list for my part of Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire by any means but it’s a few to give you an idea. I’ve been to some of them but not all so I’ll give more details for some than others but I hope overall it’s helpful. If you’ve got any other suggestions do let me know, you could add them in the comments at the end if you like. The list is in no particular order so don’t assume I’m putting them in order of my preference because I’m not. Please bear in mind I wrote this original post in late 2017 so not all the information will still be up to date. Please check the website for each shop for current information.

Escape and Create, St Ives, Cambs

This shop for dressmakers and crafters which had opened just one week before my visit in 2017.

Owner Julie Miles made me very welcome and was more than happy to share her vision for the shop, she has great plans and it will be lovely to see them unfolding over the coming months.IMG_4193

So far she has a small-ish but rapidly growing selection of printed and plain cottons, the Christmas fabrics were just being put out while I was there! There are some nice jerseys, fleece and plush fabrics too, and a selection of fat quarters as well. They don’t currently sell specific soft furnishing fabrics although they probably will eventually, they do offer furnishing-related courses though including lampshade-making, and roman blind and curtain making. The fabrics are beautifully displayed on ‘industrial-style’ metal and wood racking against an exposed brick wall, the effect is very striking and classy (when I saw a photo of it posted on Instagram before my visit I thought it was the newly refurbished Liberty fabric department!) fabrics are priced per metre. They don’t sell yarn or wool though.

The shop stocks a range of Indie patterns including Tilly and the Buttons, Cashmerette, Closet Case, Fancy Tiger Crafts, Sewaholic and Avid Seamstress at present, and the range will probably expand in the future. They carry a few of the major pattern books too including Burda.

You might be interested to know that Escape and Create offers a 10% discount if you have a valid membership card for the W.I. or Quilter’s Guild.

Escape and Create has a small but useful range of equipment and haberdashery, mostly essentials like needles, pins, unpickers, tailor’s chalk and markers etc. the Gutermann thread hadn’t arrived when I visited but I know it has now.

Upstairs there is a large bright room where all the classes will take place. It’s so spacious that it’s possible for 2 classes to go on at once if needs be. I was there on a sunny day but it would be a bright workspace even on a dull day. There is also more fabric up here but if you go in the next few weeks please be understanding because this is area is a ‘work in progress’.IMG_4185

Escape and Create has a good website https://www.escapeandcreate.co.uk (you can’t buy fabric through it yet but that will be coming) although Julie told me it will be having an update and refresh soon. The website carries a full list of all the classes they offer both in St Ives and several other locations in the area. Sewing machines are provided at St Ives if required or you can bring your own if you prefer. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

St Ives is a small attractive Cambridgeshire town and it took me an hour to drive from my home. I came a bit unstuck once I got there because parking was a bit tricky (I missed a sign to the public car park so I ended up in the main shopping area which has quaint and narrow streets and not meant for lost drivers like me!) Anyway, there is a public car park behind the shops so make sure you look out for the P sign shortly before you get to main shops. There’s also on-road parking but don’t rely on that on busy days, I had driven past the shop as I came in so at least I knew where I was heading once I’d parked!

Escape and Create is open Monday to Saturday but not Sunday or Thursday afternoon, which is the local half-day closing. Their address is

40a, The Broadway, St Ives, Cambs, PE27 5BN,

phone: 01480 300092,

email: escapeandcreateuk@gmail.com

In my opinion Escape and Create is a lovely, promising sewing shop in a nice location. It’s ‘bedding in’ at the moment so I would say if you want something specific then give them a ring first to check, it’s better to go at this stage with an open mind and just enjoy looking around. They have some lovely things already with more to come and the new shop has loads of potential to develop and I really hope sewers and crafters in the local, and wider, area support them so that they can flourish.

Backstitch at Burwash Manor.

Backstitch is an independent fabric and wool shop based in the village of Barton just outside Cambridge and as such you’ll need a car to get there. There’s plenty of free parking though and, because it’s based in several converted farm buildings, there are a number of other deli, plants and clothes outlets as well as a nice little tea room serving tea, coffee, cakes and light meals.IMG_4205

The shop itself is modestly sized (although it is now double to the size it was a year ago) and it’s light and bright with the fabrics well displayed. They carry a good range of quality modern printed and plain cottons, linens, jerseys, denims, some boiled wool and coat fabrics as well as interfacings and haberdashery. There’s also a small selection of furnishing fabrics.IMG_4203

They sell a large range of various indie pattern brands which are catalogued in a flip file so it makes it simpler to look through them rather than wade through masses of patterns. They sell an extensive range of haberdashery, sewing and crafting equipment too although not sewing machines. They also sell an expanding range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns and equipment too.

Backstitch offers a variety of classes in dressmaking and crafting which are listed and bookable online via their excellent website http://www.backstitch.co.uk and they also sell their fabric online too.

I like the range of fabric they have on offer because it’s extensive enough without being too sprawling and unfocussed, the designs are well-considered and modern, or traditional with a twist but they have good basics too. One thing I noticed on my recent visit is that they have an impressive range of plain fabrics (not as crazy as that might sound, it can be really hard to find nice quality plain fabric to match a dizzying array of patterned ones!) These come in woven cottons, ponte roma jersey, lovely linens, sweat-shirting and ribbing, and craft felt by the metre.IMG_4204

The downside is that without a car it would be hard to visit….unless you can persuade a friend to drive you! It takes me around 45 minutes to drive there from my home but I generally come away with something nice…

I’ve written a review of them previously when I took a group of my sewing students for a visit last year and you can read about it here

Backstitch // Burwash Manor Barns  // New Road // Barton // Cambridge // CB23 7EY // 01223 778118

Normal Opening Hours: 

Mon – Sat: 10am – 5pm, Sun: 11am – 5pm

You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest too.

Crafty Angel, Buntingford

Craft Angel is primarily an online shop at present but the physical shop is open on Saturdays and Sundays 10am-4pm. This is because the owner, Angela, is still a full-time graphic designer who happens to have an absolute passion for fabrics and crafting!

I went for a visit and was given a lovely warm welcome by Angela, she really appreciates the fact that customers make a choice to visit because it isn’t on a high street. Crafty Angel is based on a working farm outside the village of Buntingford in Hertfordshire. I won’t lie, I went a bit adrift when I tried to find it because instead of trusting the map on their website I put the postcode into my Sat Nav and it took me all over the countryside but nowhere near where I wanted to be!! My advice is to stay on the A10 between Buntingford and Royston as instructed and then follow the turn off for Therfield and Sandon from this direction. There are then pink signs up to direct you towards the shop, it’s probably a mile or so and is a bit further than the map on their website makes it look but keep straight until a sharp right-hand bend in the lane and then you should see another pink sign to go straight on up a farm drive. Go to the right past the farm buildings and park in front of the shop.

Unit 2b
Hyde Hall Farm
Sandon
Buntingford
Hertfordshire
SG9 0RU

Mobile: 07973 877 028

Shop: 01763 271 991

Email: info@craftyangel.co.uk

The premises contains the shop and workroom combined with the tables in the centre, and shelves containing the stock are around the edges. Whilst not a huge space it is very pleasant and welcoming, the windows look out onto the yard. There is a kitchen onsite too so hot and cold food and drinks are possible if you’re there for a whole day course, subject to prior arrangement.

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aftermath of a busy day’s free-machine embroidery!

Crafty Angel has a modest but well-chosen and attractive range of good quality cottons, jerseys, denim and linens all priced by the half-metre. Have a look at their (not surprisingly) well designed website for full details of the brands they sell. They also stock a variety of Indie dress patterns too and a small range of haberdashery and equipment. Although cushion-cover making has been a class previously they only stock a very limited range of specific furnishing fabrics.IMG_4150

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fabrics and Gutermann threads on offer

Crafty Angel also has a modest range of qood quality yarn for knitting and crochet, with patterns available for inspiration, and classes too.

Amongst the workshops on offer are dressmaking, free-machine embroidery, applique and even umbrella-making! [I really like the sound of that!] Ange plans to offer more courses over time, you can always contact her to see if it’s possible to tailor-make (sorry) a class to your needs.IMG_4152

I would say it’s best to ring first if you’re making a visit if you want something specific but otherwise it’s a nice place to drop in at a weekend, and Pixel the dog is bound to be delighted to see you too!

The website is https://www.craftyangel.co.uk and you can follow them on Instgram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest too.

Fashion N Fabrics, St Albans

This shop was first opened 45 years ago but at the moment it’s future is in the balance because the lady who started it recently passed away and so it is up to her family if it will continue as a fabric shop. Efforts are being made to find a buyer so we’ll have to see. Since the summer of 2018 it is under new ownership, still as a fabric shop, although I haven’t had a chance to visit yet.

In truth, the shop had a lot of stock but much of it wouldn’t appeal to a modern dressmaker. It was geared more towards quilting, patchwork and crafting and so there is an abundance of printed cottons better suited for these. They also have jerseys (mixed quality, some reasonable, some less so) and fleece (some quite nice ones for children) There are currently some tweeds and brushed cottons which would be good for autumn/winter projects, they sell lining too. There are plain and printed poly/cottons and a few satin and moire-type fabrics used for bridalwear. There are some printed viscoses in jazzy designs too, along with interfacings and quilting supplies.

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This was me at the shop meeting fellow sewer and Instagrammer Ruth who lives nearby.

There is a varied selection of haberdashery and equipment in the shop including zips, Gutermann thread, ribbons, trims, buttons etc, and they sell big-brand patterns but not Indie ones. They don’t sell sewing machines.

They have quite a large selection of wool and knitting patterns but these tend towards the more ‘traditional’ shall we say.

The thing with Fashion N Fabrics is that it’s got stuck and not moved with the times or the newer generation of sewers so it feels very muddled, cluttered and quite dated which is a real shame because it could be trading on its 45 year history and attracting younger sewers and riding the crest of the ‘Sewing Bee’ wave. All the staff are knowledgable and obviously keen for the shop to continue, and I know they’ve been having a sort-out recently and unearthed long-forgotten gems!

There is a website but it isn’t much use because it’s really only a collection of pictures and some background on the shop, with the address and phone number etc. They’ve only been accepting credit cards in the last year or so too!

I hope this doesn’t sound like a hatchet job because it really isn’t meant to be but in order for me to include it here I need to be truthful about what to expect from it at the moment. Definitely go for a visit if you’re in the area, it’s in a part of St Albans called Marshallswick on Beech Rd, there is free parking on the road and in front of the shop. There’ll be a bus route nearby too although I don’t know what number it would be, sorry.

You can find the shop at 24, Beech Rd, St Albans, AL3 5AS

Telephone: 01727 865038

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm, except Thursday 9am-1pm (although this may not be correct because I don’t think the website has been updated for quite a while, best to ring first)

Email: shop@fashion-n-fabrics.com

website: www.fashion-n-fabrics.com

Finally, my local shop is a branch of John Lewis, Welwyn. It’s a pretty good-sized department with a wide selection of fabrics including the usual printed cottons, viscose, jerseys and linings as well as woollens (suiting, coating etc) evening and bridal fabrics including sequins and lace. They offer a wide range of trims, haberdashery, threads, zips etc and equipment although this does feel reduced from what it used to be, annoyingly you can’t buy ribbon by the metre, just on rolls. Most lace and trims are still by the metre though. They have a range of sewing machines mainly Janome, Brother and their own brand [I think each branch might have different models in stock though so definitely check with the store if you’re making a special visit to view or buy] The regular department staff are very helpful and knowledgeable but because it’s a department store you can’t always guarantee that the sales assistant is a regular who knows what they’re talking about, or being asked about! the range of patterns is very limited now to just Vogue and New Look, they also have a few Tilly and the Buttons but not the full range. They sell Adjust-o-form mannequins too.

There’s some free parking on the street outside or a number of town centre car parks, and there is also a mainline railway station [Welwyn Garden City not Welwyn North] and a number of bus routes come into the town centre too.

Address: Bridge Road, Welwyn G.C. Herts, AL8 6TP

Telephone: 01707 323456

Their opening hours are currently Monday to Saturday 9am-7pm except Thursday 9am-8pm and Sunday 11am-5pm (10.30am for browsing)

The website is www.johnlewisplc.com you can find a map with directions on there. There is also a branch in Cambridge which stocks fabrics.

So that’s my list of fabric retailers that I’ve actually visited in my area. In addition to this there is a stall in Hitchin market who have a range of fabrics including the usual printed cottons and poly/cottons plus furnishing fabrics and oilcloth. He often has a number of bolt-ends or sample lengths which he’s bought from clothing manufacturers and I’ve found a few gems amongst them in the past. He’s definitely there on Saturdays and possibly Tuesday and Thursday but because it’s an outdoor market this might vary. By the way, he can be a bit grumpy but he’s ok if you smile! There are various car parks in the area as well as some street parking. The town has a railway station (10-15 minute walk into town) and is well-served by buses. There is also a good haberdashery stall run by Kim Keeping and from September 7th 2018 she will have a shop premises nearby in 34, Bucklesbury.

There is also a stall in Stevenage Indoor Market but I haven’t visited it personally. It isn’t open every day though [Wed-Sat only] I’m told it stocks a good range of specialist dance, stretch and lycra-type fabrics.

Among other shops in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire that I haven’t visited but have been told about are Needlecraft in Hemel Hempstead. It has a comprehensive website which seems up to date and interactive so I might try and get over there sometime.

In Hertford is the Hertford Craft Centre which has a website but it doesn’t look like the information is very up to date. I know the opening hours are a bit hit-and-miss, supposedly you ring a bell and someone comes to let you in. However a friend tried to visit recently but waited in vain to be let in, disappointing as she’d made a special trip based on website info.

There is a shop in Ely to called Sew Much to Do (great name!) which again I haven’t had a chance to visit. It doesn’t have it’s own website though, the website address directs you to a Facebook page. They are on Instagram though https://www.intagram.com/sewmuchtodoely

In Cambridge there are two other stores, The Cambridge Fabric Company at 7, Peas Hill, Cambridge, CB2 3PP and Sew Creative at King St, Cambridge although they are both quite small.

[Right off territory is Anglian Fashion Fabrics in Norwich which I visited recently-great shop, definitely worth seeking out if you’re in the area!]

You might be aware of other shops or retailers in this area of the country, we aren’t hugely well served for fabric shops without going into London I don’t think. The retailers I’ve talked about are ones I’ve shopped in or know about already, let me know if there’s a good one near you so we can all share the information, or if you think I’ve misrepresented a shop I’ve mentioned above. I’ve tried to be fair and honest but as I’ve not been paid to do these reviews so I want to speak as I find. I know trading is incredibly hard though so I don’t want to be overly harsh, the shop I was working at in Hertford ‘The Creative Sanctuary’ sadly closed at the end of September 2017 so we all need to try and support bricks-and-mortar stores as much as we can. That said, they have to sell what customers want and give excellent customer service otherwise we won’t go back or spread positive vibes about them.

Since September 2019 a new fabric and knitting shop ‘Stitch and Knit’ has opened in Brookmans Park in Hertfordshire. It stocks a range of fabrics suitable for quilting, patchwork, dressmaking and crafting along with haberdashery and Simplicity and Burda patterns. There are also yarns and patterns suitable for knitting and crochet, plus trims and embellishments. There will be classes suitable for children and adults in sewing, crafting, knitting and crochet. There is now a website or their contact details are 91, Station Close, Brookmans Park, Herts, AL9 7QT, telephone 01707 518966   

Plenty there to keep you busy! New places to visit, or ones to revisit maybe. Let me, or Alex, know if there are others you think could be added, I bet there are. You might fancy compiling a list for where you live for others to use too.

Happy Sewing

Sue