Just before Christmas I was contacted by founder and editor Jillian Bagnall and offered a complimentary copy of her new, independently published sewing-based mini-magazine called Sewzine to review. I didn’t know what to expect, initially I thought it was an online print-at-home publication but I have been very impressed because it is a nicely produced print magazine on quality paper and with high production values. The graphics are clear and appealing and there’s plenty of attractive photography and illustrations for each article, plus, because it’s been independently published, that means there are no adverts to take up space, it is all content.
Let’s take a look at a few of the articles inside…
I have to admit that bra-making is something I’ve never been very tempted to try, I’d rather leave that to the experts, but I thought the article was very well written because it gives a balanced view of why it’s worth considering making your own bras, or why it might not be for everyone, I was almost persuaded! I thought the information contained in the piece would be extremely useful if you’re about embark on bra-making, including lists of patterns, materials and findings that you would need, where to source them and a tick list to fill in as you collect them together.
I found the article about wool and woollen fabrics really interesting and very well researched, there was all sorts of information about the various sources of woollen fibres and types of fabrics. Like the bra-making article it was well-illustrated as well.
I had a chuckle at the “Bring it Back?” article because I spent so much of my early career cutting and making puffball, or ‘bubble’, skirts. I enjoyed the exploration of the style from its early days to more recent incarnations, I can see this as a thread of articles revisiting other iconic styles in the future…hot pants anyone?
I also really enjoyed the idea of revisiting patterns from a year or two back to reappraise them. We are constantly bombarded by new new new patterns but I’m always happy to reuse patterns I’ve enjoyed making previously. By chance, the pattern featured in this issue is the Grainline Patterns Farrow dress which I’ve actually made 3 times myself, including one review that featured in Sew Now magazine.
The mini-mag is aimed at intermediate sewers but I think this shouldn’t put off less experienced makers. I enjoyed the chatty yet informative style of writing and a lot of time and effort has gone into the inaugural issue, it’s clearly been a lockdown passion project. There are no free patterns or other inducements as an incentive but that does mean that the editorial is unbiased so if you are intrigued to have a read for yourself then follow the link here to the Sewzine website where you can order a copy of the first issue for yourself (it’s priced at £5.75 per copy) Jillian would also welcome any ideas you might have to contribute articles for future issues, contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org While you do that I’m off to have a go at the crossword…
Over on the @SewOver50 account recently I shared a few of my favourite ways to finish hems or raw edges, although course it is absolutely NOT a definitive list by any means. I thought I would expand a little here on the blog using more photos of projects I’ve made in recent years. They are in no particular order either and if I wrote a blog post about the whole garment then I’ve linked it so you can read more if you want to.
Obviously there are the usual hand-finished hems using slip hemming stitch or herringbone stitch for example, which I use a lot too, but I thought I’d share a few alternatives which you might not know, or haven’t used for a while.
I’m beginning here with a faced hem…
The next one is an interesting hem finish which is very useful especially if you want a quality finish on evening or bridal wear. It uses something called ‘crin’, crinoline or horsehair braid (it doesn’t involve actual horsehair any longer though!) I’ve used it here on an organza skirt for the Dior New Look-inspired evening dress I made 4 years ago. As well as a crisp finish I wanted the hem to have distinct body and wave to it so this was the ideal technique. Crin comes in various widths, this was 5cms, lots of colours too because it’s more commonly used these days to trim hats and fascinators.
If you’re making a wedding dress for example and mounting all the skirt pieces onto another fabric, when you use crin on the hem (or bias binding for that matter) by hand-sewing the hem all your stitches will be invisible because you can catch them just through the mounting fabric. This is a couture technique so if you look at red carpet dresses with no visible stitching at the hem this will be how they achieved it. You can apply it as appropriate to any garment that you’ve mounted to another fabric though.
The next couple of photos are where I’ve used bias binding to neaten a hem. I find this a really useful technique if you need the maximum amount of hem because you can sew a very small seam allowance. It’s good if you’re letting down hems to gain length too, on trousers or children’s clothing for example.
If you have fine fabric why not consider using your overlocker if you have one on the rolled hem setting? Refer to your manual for specific instructions how to adjust your machine and make samples first to ensure it’s going to be satisfactory for your particular fabric. You’ll frequently see it used on chiffon or georgette but I’ve used it successfully here on fine cotton lawn, jersey and a stretch velour. If you don’t have an overlocker you can probably achieve a similar finish on your sewing using a rolled hem foot ideally and a small zigzag stitch-as always I would urge you to experiment to see what is possible. Some of the simplest machines can still give you an interesting variety of finishes.
I find the next couture/tailoring technique very useful on sleeves as well as coat, jacket or dress hems. I’ve used it here on my Tilly and the Buttons tester-made Eden. I wasn’t taught this method as such, I discovered it for myself whilst doing alterations taking up sleeves for people. I haven’t ever encountered it in pattern making instructions but I think it’s an excellent way of stabilising the cuffs of coats and jackets.
For this next finish I’ve used a triple straight stitch to create the effect of top stitching on the hem, and several seams, of this Simple Sew Zoe hack I made last summer.
If you have the foot attachment and stitch capability for your sewing machine you can always try blind-hemming. I must admit I don’t use it that often, and only then on completely straight hems. There is a bit of a knack to it and I tend to only use it on a busy print which will disguise any botched bits (yes really!) or if I’m tight for time compared with any other method. It’s not quite the same quality of finish you will see on RTW clothes though which uses a specific machine to blind stitch the hem.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I like to use bias binding to neaten necklines (and armholes) too. I particularly like this as a way of avoiding using a neck or armhole facing which can be notorious for constantly rolling into view or flapping about annoyingly. The version you can see in the following two applications is a strip which I’ve folded in half lengthways first, the raw edges are matched and sewn. The seam is trimmed slightly and snipped if necessary, then turned so that the edge is enclosed and finally topstitched close to the folded edge to secure. In both the following examples I have sewn the binding on the wrong side of the fabric so that the binding turns to the outside to be visible and decorative but you could just as easily sew it to the right side so that it turns to the inside of the finished garment.
I’ve have included another variation of binding on a hem to show you how it can be combined with other techniques to achieve a quality finish. I used it here on a sheer organza which was mounted onto a backing fabric of slipper satin. This meant that when I turned the hem up the hand-stitching was invisible from the outside because the stitches only went through the mounting fabric.
The next technique is more usually the choice of the pattern designer than the dressmaker, although if you know a little about pattern cutting you might be able to do it for yourself. This is an example of a deep grown-on faced hem on the Trend Patterns Square dress which I’ve made twice. It works brilliantly on this dress because the hem edges are straight (square!) plus it gives real weight to the hem which is another satisfying detail.
Pin hemming is a technique I’ve used for decades on fine fabrics. You can replicate it using a rolled hem foot attachment on your machine although it can be trial and error which size works best for you with variable results. I have two different sizes of foot, 2mm and 4mm and I can’t get on with either, I’ve since been told that 3mm is the optimum size for most fabrics but I’m not prepared to risk another mistake when I know I can achieve a good quality result this way instead.
Simply put, I turn over the raw edge by approximately 5mm and stitch very close to the folded edge. Carefully trim the excess close to the stitching line and give it a light press. Then turn again and stitch a second time on top of the first row of stitching. This particular example is from the Trend Bias T-shirt dress I made a few months ago.
If you read about my pattern hack of the Simple Sew Cocoon dress you will see how this variation of hemming came about. I added a large chunk of fabric to give extra length to a dress that would have been too short without it. This method is probably best on a straight hem, you could use it on sleeves too.
This next one is a very much trial and error. I used an edging stitch on my Pfaff sewing machine to hem this Broderie Anglaise blouse which I made recently.
I’ve used a variation of a faced hem recently when, instead of bias binding, I used straight strips of fabric to turn up a straight hem on a dirndl skirt. There will be a blog of this particular garment coming soon…
To finish with is a very simple method of rolling a fairly narrow hem. Overlock the edge first using three (or even two) threads then carefully turn it once and then again so that the overlocking is enclosed inside. If the fabric is quite ‘bouncy’ and won’t stay in position you could press the edge over once first and then roll it the second time. Whilst the result is wider than pin hemming it is narrower, and possibly quicker and more accurate, than a simple turned hem.
This last suggestion is from a project which will be blogged very soon. I cut 6cms wide bias strips which I used to create a self-neatening hem on a pair of pyjama shorts.
I hope you’ve found my suggestions useful or thought provoking, is there something here which you’ve never encountered before, or that’s made you think how you could use a technique you already know in a different way? The idea is to show you a few ways of finishing hems, or raw edges, in new and interesting ways. I’ve not included the usual hand stitching methods because there’s nothing new to think about, although please let me know if you use these methods in a more unusual application. Just because the pattern instructions tell you to finish the hem a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way…although think it through carefully just in case the really is a reason!
I thought I would share with you the video I made specifically for the recent Sewing Weekender here in the UK for anyone who wasn’t able to, or wasn’t interested in attending. Unlike previous years, when the event takes place over two days in Cambridge, this one was entirely online and so the organisers, Kate and Rachel at The Fold Line and Charlotte @englishgirlathome asked an impressive selection of contributors to make short videos on a variety of topics. I’ve never made a film before so it was a pretty steep learning curve!
The first challenge was going to be filming it, and then it would have to be edited in some way too. I worked out that if I balanced my phone on top of my sewing machine in my workroom it was at the right sort of height with good light. Then I decided I needed a script of sorts to keep me on track and that is what I’ve reproduced here, along with the video itself. I printed it out and stuck the sheets to the window and to the sewing machine like a kind of ramshackle autocue! It turned out the window was too far away though and I looked like I was gazing to the heavens for divine inspiration…how to vloggers do this all the time? Maybe they do just waffle on and nobody minds? hey ho, I knew the things I wanted to say and without some kind of prompt I might forget some of them. Anyway, I managed to film it in bursts although I did have to pause one time to shoo the pigeons off the roof because they were audibly clumping about and I didn’t need that distraction too! I found my laptop has iMovies so I managed to splice the whole thing together using that, the next Jane Campion I am not!! The script below is not word-for-word what I said because I managed to freestyle it a couple of times in an attempt to sound natural but for anyone with hearing difficulties it’s close enough, I’m afraid subtitles were absolutely beyond my rudimentary film-making abilities.
I hope you’ve all been enjoying the Online Sewing Weekender and I want to begin by thanking Kate and Rachel of The Fold line and Charlotte from English Girl at Home for taking the very brave and audacious step of carrying on with the event in spite of the strangeness of the times. It’s so great to imagine all of us sewing away at the same time wherever we are in the world.
As well as my own Instagram account I’ve also been involved with the SewOver50 account since the very beginning and whilst Judith and Sandy manage the account on a day-to-day basis I write the blogs which accompany particular discussions or any challenges which have been running.
When Kate, Rachel and Charlotte invited me to be involved I thought I’d chat a bit about the #so50visible challenge involving indie patterns in particular. It first ran in February last year and then again this March.
The reason SO50 began in the first place was because we felt that our slightly older age group was being overlooked by the burgeoning home sewing industry and we really didn’t want it to become as age-centric as the mainstream fashion industry has always been. Plus many of us bring a wealth of knowledge and experience which we’re only too happy to share with anyone new or maybe returning to dressmaking at home.
Many of you will know that the dress pattern market has been dominated for many decades by the so-called Big 4 but in the last 10 years or so there’s been a boom in independent designers putting out their own patterns.
Followers of SO50 have embraced these indie designers with gusto but we also felt a little bit side-lined by them too. We didn’t often see ourselves being reflected back on the packaging or marketing.
The #so50visible challenge was created to draw some attention to ourselves, to highlight that very few older sewers were featured, and to politely encourage a change of thinking.
We came up with the idea to ask people to only sew a pattern which featured an older model in it’s advertising and promotion.
Judith and I spent an absolute age trawling through the Fold Line database and eventually came up with quite a modest list considering how many patterns are listed! We found a few books with older models too.
Throughout the month long challenge followers were asked to share their makes, it meant many people found new brands of pattern maker which we might not have heard of before. Very often the most popular patterns were stylish, fashion-forward and wearable but the model looked more like us. Many of SewOver50’s followers are still very interested in fashion and style and we still want to look good whilst making our own clothes.
Many of us in our 50s and 60s have more time to sew for pleasure and we might have more cash to spend on patterns and fabric too so it always strikes me that it’s a missed opportunity for indie pattern makers to disregard this huge potential market.
While the first challenge was running we also introduced the #so50thanks hashtag because if anyone’s make was reposted by the designer we thought it was important to appreciate that they had first of all noticed and acknowledged the maker and that they were then happy to share it on their own feed.
It’s a virtuous circle isn’t it? Feature an older model on the pattern and it gets our attention, we buy your product, we share our makes, SewOver50 probably reposts to it’s 20K followers, you get free advertising to an audience with money to spend, and more people will buy the pattern because they can imagine themselves wearing those clothes-simple!
There are a few other companies like Maven and Alice & Co who don’t use models at all, just illustrations or mannequins but they are super-supportive and involved in our community and constantly share and repost. Let’s be honest here, most of us are pleased to get a like or a repost because it gives us a little boost that the designer noticed us, we can all gain ideas and inspiration from others, and we want to see the garments being worn by people who are similar to ourselves in some way. The pattern companies which do notice us have then tended to become very popular with SO50 followers, it’s that virtuous circle again.
We think there’s a small element of change happening but there’s a long way to go, though there are more companies than just the ones I’ve had time to mention here and there’s always room for more.
I’m always happy to share the knowledge and experience I have from many years of sewing, and I know of many others who are too. It’s fantastic to be a part of this worldwide sewing community and it’s diversity is vital so if we can encourage a few more indie brands to look beyond the young, slim, white stereotype then that can only be a positive thing right?
Enticing us to spend our grey pounds (or dollars) is a good reason to check out what the followers of SewOver50 are up to especially as there are now almost 20,000 of us! And I will often write honest reviews of patterns or fabric over on my blog which you might find interesting too, I like to think I’m a critical friend. I would encourage anyone to look at the #sewover50 hashtag because there are now tens of thousands of images to inspire you.
Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the Sewing Weekender wherever you are, and I hope whatever you’re sewing is going well, with any luck we will have opportunities to meet again in real life before too long, I do hope so. I love going to meet-ups and being able to chat with fellow sewers, and filming myself like this is a first for me so I hope it’s made a bit of sense!
Thank you again to Kate, Rachel and Charlotte,
Bye bye etc etc…
I spent both days of the Weekender on a video call with two of my sewing buddies Melissa Fehr and Elizabeth Connolly, I met them both originally at the first Weekender and we’ve all been fortunate enough to go to every one since, we weren’t going to let a pandemic stop us this time! I made another Camber which was one of the projects I cut out on my recent batch cutting splurge and I added a machine embroidery stitch from my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0.
If you’ve ever read any of my previous blog posts you’ll know I really enjoy going to meet-ups so not being able to do this for the last few months has been sad to say the least, with luck it won’t be too much longer though. To my mind, this year Charlotte, Kate and Rachel have successfully created the next best thing because everyone could sew whenever and wherever they were in the world. Some did as I did and had group chats going on, two sewers I know set up their machines on trestle tables in the garden (suitably distanced of course!) others were solo but had all the video content to keep them company or by using the #sewingweekender hashtag, some didn’t/couldn’t really join in with sewing on the day for one reason or another but took part in the giant Zoom at the end of Saturday, or early afternoon on Sunday. The Zoom was fantastic because it made me realise just how many people from all over the world had been participating including the US, Canada, Germany, Norway, Israel and Australia, and hearing so many shout-outs for SewOver50 from them was even better! Everyone, whatever their situation or circumstances, had the opportunity to buy a ticket-which was essentially a charitable donation anyway-it will be interesting to see if this is a format that could be repeated in the future to make the event inclusive worldwide. Were you ‘there’? what did you make of the concept, and was it preferable in some way to the real life event for you, or not as good? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts
It’s back! After the success of the first #so50visible challenge in 2019 we thought you might like to do it again, especially the thousands of you who have discovered @sewover50 since last year and who might have missed joining in.
In early 2019 we set you a challenge to find a pattern which featured an older model (at least 45+) and make it. If you thought this would be easy then you would have been mistaken, because once we had started looking more closely we realised that this was going to be much harder than it sounded.
Rather than me reinvent the wheel again here I suggest you take a read through the extensive post I wrote at the time, and its follow-up, so that you have some understanding of the challenge we set and how the whole idea came about. There is also a VERY extensive list of as many patterns as we could source at that time.
Since last year I’m cautiously optimistic that the situation seems to have improved somewhat. Sandy and Judith have been diligently saving in Highlights over on the Instagram account many of the new patterns that have been released in the the last twelve months which feature older models-male as well as female. Some of these patterns are by companies which have been consistently good at using a variety of models of all ages whilst for others this is a first toe in the water, which is great to see.
It seems that a lot more companies are actively using older women amongst their choice of models now (although a few still think we all want to wear the frumpier selection of what’s on offer-very wrong!) For the most part though, of the pattern companies who are choosing older models, they realise that we can be stylish, creative, outspoken individuals who do not have a shampoo and set once a week, don’t want to be stereotyped and who have money to spend on quality products.
I’ll list as many of the new patterns as I can but, if you’re tempted to join in with the challenge, I would strongly urge you to take a look at those I’ve already listed because each website will include that brand’s new patterns anyway.
Among the new ones we know of are, in no particular order:
Cashmerette-Washington dress and Rivermont Top and Dress
The Maker’s Atelier-there is wide range of patterns to pick from including several new designs Shawl Collar Dress, Shawl Collar Coat, Over-sized shirt dress, Blazer and Wrap Dress
Style Arc-Sheryl stretch or woven pants, among others.
That Wendy Ward-brand new book ‘Sewing Basics for Every Body’, the Kim jumpsuit and the Dylan Peacoat particularly
Simplicity and Butterick have improved considerably since last year and we have been told that they are actively including more mature models in their catalogues now, let’s hope this is the case. There are now a reasonable number of patterns to choose from (too many to list here individually) so browse their website or catalogues to see if there’s something that appeals.
I’m going to leave it there because I’ll never quite know where the end of this list should be! I would urge you to look through pattern company websites, books and catalogues for your inspiration if you’re keen to participate. I would also add that there are quite a number of small pattern companies who are hugely supportive and involved in our community but they either don’t use older models, or they use illustrations, so we can’t include them for this challenge. That said, we are very appreciative of every repost, share and use of the #sewover50 hashtag that any pattern company gives to a SewOver50er, they are always welcome and it helps to keep our little, occasionally slightly wrinkled, faces in the public eye to prove that we’re still here, and have no intention of keeping quiet.
We’ve got prizes again too so thank you to our list of sponsors (so far) who are offering a selection of patterns, and Wendy Ward is offering a copy of her new book too. Winners will be chosen at random after the challenge closes. You’re welcome to share works-in-progress but only completed garments shared with a photo of the original pattern after the closing date will be eligible to win a prize.
Stay in touch with the Instagram account while the challenge is on because that’s where you will find any new information as it crops up. Make sure you use the new #so50visible20 hashtag although the original #so50visible is OK too. If a pattern company reposts your outfit (which obviously we really hope they will!) use the #so50thanks hashtag too. Keep an eye on their Stories feed too because sometimes they forget to tag us, or the tag doesn’t work for some reason.
The #so50visible20 challenge begins on March 1st and runs for the whole of the month so what are you waiting for? Share a photo of your garment along with the source pattern, have a look in saved highlights on the IG account for various ideas how to do this, it doesn’t have to be a brand new garment this year but it should be a new photo of it, not one you’ve shared before. You could even use a flatlay this time, particularly if you don’t like putting yourself in the frame. Have a look at #so50flatlay for ideas on this. There is no limit to the number of entries you can put in either.
We can’t wait to see how SewOver50ers rise to the challenge, the more we keep this in the public eye then the more chance we have of seeing older faces featuring on pattern covers, in magazines, in sewing books. And part of the worldwide fun of this challenge is seeing makes for the opposite seasons to the one we might be living in because, let’s remember, we’re a global account, and that’s a really big deal!
We asked you another question on @SewOver50 in October-which were your favourite go-to, never-fail, T-N-T T-shirt (tee shirt?) patterns and naturally you came up with a veeeeerrrry long list. I’ve trawled through them all and simply listed them here with a link (if I found one) for each so you can check them out for yourselves. As blogs go, it’s a bit of a dull one but you might it useful and maybe find your next new favourite pattern amongst these. Needless to say there are probably another one or two hundred more patterns which you think ought to be on this list!
I’m not recommending or endorsing any of these patterns personally, they have all been suggested by you, the enthusiastic followers.
Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!
The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!
Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.
The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.
The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!
Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.
This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.
The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.
This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.
Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…
And so to the last outfit of the month…
The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.
So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)
Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?
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.
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.
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’.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
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
[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.
I can finally publish a blog all about the making of this dress so I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful or insightful…
I was very excited when Sew Now magazine asked me to review a pattern for them. What an opportunity! Editor Sam asked me to suggest 3 patterns that I’d like to make which were ‘me’ so I thought about the various patterns that were around at the moment and which ones I wouldn’t mind having a go at.
It’s funny but when you’re given the opportunity to push something to the top of your ‘make’ pile it really concentrates the mind. I thought the best way of seeing lots of patterns together was to go to The Fold Line where there’s a brilliant online database of virtually any pattern brand you can think of. I spent a happy hour (or two) browsing until I eventually settled on 4 patterns to submit. They were the Farrow dress from Grainline, the Talvikki sweatshirt by Named Clothing, Ivy pinafore by Jennifer Lauren Handmade and the Landgate jacket by Merchant and Mills. I spent quite a while sourcing suitable fabrics for each of the garments too so that, once Sam had made her final pattern choice, I could tell her the fabrics I thought would work well for it.
Because I really liked all the patterns, and they were quite diverse, I didn’t mind which one Sam chose. I’ve made a dress a little like the Farrow already and it’s actually one of my favourites. What made the Farrow different is the diagonal seams which bisect the front and back, and there are pockets set into the front seams. It has sleeveless and long sleeve variations too. I was stupidly excited when it arrived speedily in the post courtesy of The Draper’s Daughter
There was a slight hiccup with the first fabric I chose because the supplier hadn’t got quite enough so we had to go with my second choice, a lovely turquoise squared design viscose crepe at £12.99 per metre kindly supplied by Ditto Fabrics in Brighton.
And so to begin….
Because Grainline are an American brand it’s important to remember that their sizing bands are different to UK and European sizing so I took my measurements and then chose accordingly. I’m usually a cutter not a tracer with patterns (always have been because it was never suggested to me there was an alternative, patterns are there to be cut up and used)
The Farrow doesn’t have loads of pieces and, apart from a curiously-shaped front piece for the pocket which needs a bit of space, I do think the lay plan is a bit over generous although the largest sizes will inevitably need more fabric overall. On a wide width fabric-especially if it is plain-you could easily reduce the quantity needed although I would urge you to double-check before buying if you’re not sure.
Luckily for me the Ditto fabric doesn’t have a distinct one-way design so I could interlock the pieces successfully and get the dress out of 2m60 instead of the suggested 3m20 (incidentally another factor of being a US pattern is that the fabric widths and quantities are in Imperial not metric so you’ll need to convert these)
Once cut out it’s a very straightforward sew. The instructions are clear although the diagrams could perhaps be a little bit bigger and also the right and wrong sides of the fabric are coloured the opposite way around to most other patterns I’ve ever used. This could lead to confusion and mixing up which side you’re supposed to be sewing so you’ll need to concentrate!
Stitching the lower edge of the pocket, the crossed pins higher up mark the pivot points for the seams creating the upper edge.
Since first making the dress it’s been through the wash once and I’ve noticed the top edges of the pockets have stretched slightly because they are on a bias grain. I would suggest for future makes that you use a strip of iron-on interfacing approx 3cms x the top width of the pocket to reinforce the edge and stop it from stretching and bagging out of shape.
Once both fronts have their pockets sewn it’s a case of matching the centre front seams and stitching.
So far, sew good. Everything from now on was pretty simple. The neck is faced, as are the cuffs-this gives them a really nice crisp finish to the edge. I’d made another Farrow when the pattern first arrived and I used a contrast fabric for this, so that it has one of those little secret details that only you know about-that’s one of the things I love about making my own clothes, their uniqueness.
One final thing that I changed was the hem. I decided I wanted to use contrast bias binding to give it a nice finish, the hi-lo hem means whatever finish you choose it will be partly visible at the back.
Obviously you can machine the hem up if you wish but the point is I wanted the stitching to be barely visible and hand-stitching is by far the best way to achieve this.
The final detail was to use a button and hand-sewn loop at the back neck closure (the pattern calls for a hook and eye but I don’t think they stay done up very well and a button looks much nicer anyway)
So there it is, the Farrow dress is a satisfying, moderately quick sew. I’ll definitely be making a sleeveless one for the summer in something a bit lighter, a chambray or soft linen would look nice, or a cotton shirting in a check or stripe could look really interesting if you’re up for the challenge of matching on the those pockets and diagonal seams! Broderie Anglais fabric would look gorgeous too!
I really enjoyed writing the article for Sew Now and was dead chuffed to be asked. I spent a long time considering which patterns I’d like to make and which fabrics would be suitable for any of them. I was more than happy with editor Sam’s selections in the end. Funnily enough, getting everything into 300 words was the hardest part! There were so many things I felt it was important to talk about (it’s a review after all and there are facts that I’d want to know about if I’m considering spending £15 on a pattern and I thought they were important to include) and I still wanted it to sound like ‘me’ too. With strict editing I got it all in there and I’ve gone into greater detail here on the blog.
I was so thrilled when my copy of the magazine came through the post! I’ve had photos of garments I’ve made featured before in a few publications but this is the first article I’ve been asked to write, I’d love it to be the first of many (hint hint)
Thank you for all the feedback I received when it first appeared and I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about my writing experience in more detail.