I think this is a fairly comprehensive album of my makes in 2018, most of them have been worn a good number of times although not all were for me.
When I look back like this I realise what a busy sewing year 2018 was ( and a bit of knitting too!). Also, there seem to be a LOT of dresses and tops but very few skirts and trousers! I think this is definitely as a result of me gaining weight in the last two years and feeling self-conscious so, with the exception of my Megan Nielsen Ash jeans from autumn 2017, I really haven’t wanted to make close-fitting clothes.
I’m addressing this now, with some success so far, but the other truth is that I like wearing looser-fitting clothes anyway, although hopefully I can go down a size or two when I make them in future…time will tell.
Some of the garments you see here have been worn loads since I made them whilst others were less successful. Sometimes this was bad fabric choices, sometimes they didn’t suit me after all, also the weather became so hot that I didn’t wear the heavier items as much as I expected at the time.
I tend not to set myself up for ‘sewnine’ or other year-long initiatives because I’d rather see what takes my fancy as time passes, or whatever gap I feel needs filling. I’ve really enjoyed making a few jackets and coats this year and they have all had a good amount of wear, they aren’t something I’d done much previously. I’ll be making a couple of posh frocks soon because we’re going on a cruise in March which will need a few fancy threads in the evenings, I’ll be taking old favourites like the Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt and New Look 6351 trousers, and Papercut Moana to keep cool in during the day though.
Have you got sewing plans already for 2019 or are you more like me and just see what takes your fancy? We’ve got the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee to look forward to very soon and I’m sure that will inspire even more people to take up this brilliant activity with us! Dressmaking is an activity anyone can try fairly easily these days and there is so much inspiration, help and encouragement out there too, in a way it never was when I was first sewing.
I can’t wait to see the two blockbuster exhibitions at the V&A next year, Dior: Designer of Dreams opens in February and Mary Quant in April so there’s lots to look forward to there. It’s well worth considering membership this year I’d say, I’ve had excellent value-for-money from mine these past four years. [alternatively, Art Fund is also worth considering if you don’t live near London because that gives you reductions to lots of galleries and museums all over the UK, including the V&A)
I’m also looking forward to seeing a lot more SewOver50 activity from all over the world too, have you joined yet?
Maybe our paths will cross in 2019 and we can talk sewing together in real life?
My latest Minerva blog post is on their website from today and it’s a bit different from the others. This time I used a soft and fluid jersey to make a dress for my younger daughter Katie, not me.
In the post I explain how I wanted to use a single pattern [Simplicity 8602] which, ultimately, I’ll adapt for 3 of us in my family-24 year old Katie, my 84 year old Mum, and me. The first two are done, the version for me probably won’t happen for a while yet though.
Katie made life a bit difficult for me by wanting the blouse lengthened into a dress, plus altering the sleeves AND the neckline. I’ve written up all the details in the post if you’re interested in finding out how I did it.
I hope you find the post helpful and you can read it here.
My latest Simple Sew blog make is the fairly recently released Utility Dress, an easy-fitting style with elasticated back waist, drawstring front waist and kimono-shape sleeves. I would say that it’s suitable for softer woven fabrics like chambray, cotton lawn, washed linen or fluid viscose-types, or soft woollens for winter. Having said all of that I chose to make mine in a medium-weight jersey in a tan/black dogtooth check design from Doughty’s Online fabric store. It still works well but you just need to take care not to accidentally stretch some areas such as the neckline in particular and the shoulders. Because of the busy design on this fabric I left out the CF seam and cut the front on a fold instead, thus avoiding any difficult pattern matching down the seam.
I reinforced the neckline using narrow strips of iron-on interfacing I cut myself but you could use the readymade type, I did the same on the front shoulder seams too. You could even use up short lengths of ribbon here for a pretty effect inside.
As always I deviated from the method of construction a couple of times. After joining the front and back at the shoulders, instead of using ready made bias binding to neaten the neck edge I cut two narrow strips of the jersey which were slightly shorter than the neck edge [the amount will vary depending on how stretchy your fabric is. It’s usually about 85% of the neckline measurement]
Fold them in half lengthwise to form two narrow strips and then place one over the other at a right angle with the folded edges on the ‘inside’ of the V.
Then reinforce the V on the dress with a row of stitches just within the seam allowance, turning at the V, then carefully snip into the V up to the stitching line.
With right sides together pin the binding to the V section only initially [see the photo to clarify this] and stitch this V section in place by about 5cms either side of the V. Pivot and open the snip as you sew to allow the binding to sit neatly and flat on top of the neck edge. If you’re in any doubt then tack this section first to prevent it moving.
I pinned on the rest of the neck binding double-checking the length was short enough before sewing the join at the CB. Now you can stitch on the remainder of the band knowing that the V is already sewn accurately. [Thank you Melissa Fehr for this new technique, she uses it in her activewear patterns and I’ve found it gives a nice neat result] Trim and neaten the seam on the inside if required and then you can topstitch it down to prevent the binding rolling.
Next I ignored the method for putting the sleeves on. Instead of sewing the side seams up leave them open so that you can open the garment out flat and pin and sew the sleeve strips on more easily.
Now sew up the side seams including the sleeve bands. Fold the bands up towards the sleeves and either neaten/overlock the raw edge before stitching it down though the stitching line or turn the raw edge under and slip stitch in position.
Moving on to the skirt and putting in the hip pockets. I used scraps of matching fabric for the pocket lining as I was concerned that the pattern might show through skirt front. This can reduce bulk too if you’re using a heavier-weight fabric.
After the pocket bags are complete comes the waistband. I followed the instructions although I think there might be an easier way, I just haven’t worked it out on this version. Although it says there’s a chart to tell you what length to cut the elastic for the back waistband I couldn’t find it anywhere! In the end I decided to cut it half my waist measurement minus about another 6cms, to allow for the stretching and gathering up. I used a length of grosgrain ribbon to go in the front casing.
I used a zip foot when sewing the waistband to the top of the skirt because I felt it made it less likely that I’d sew accidentally through the ribbon and elastic.
After joining the top and skirt together all that remains is to hem the skirt. I used a twin needle to do this but you could just turn it up twice and stitch. If you do use jersey fabric for this dress it’s best to sew it with a ballpoint/stretch/jersey needle so that you don’t ladder the fabric as you sew.
This is a nice comfortable style which I’ll enjoy wearing. Disappointingly there are silly errors again in the instructions which is always so annoying, I hope this won’t be enough to put you off trying this Simple Sew style though which is a bit of a departure from their more usual vintage-style dresses.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!
I first made the original of this top two years ago copying a Jigsaw top which I wrote about here (the words are still there if you want to read it but something has corrupted the photos unfortunately) but this is what it looked like, the grey one is the original.
When I made the first version I started by making a plan of all the measurements and dimensions of the original top.
I wanted to experiment with a couple of changes to this pattern so I used some plain jersey from the stash which wasn’t earmarked for a specific project. It wasn’t as fluid as the striped version so I decided to make it a slightly more structured shape with a curved and faced hem, I brought the neckline in a bit and changed the collar, and finally made the cuffs more ruched.
In order to make the cuffs ruch and stay like that, rather than collapse into random folds, I stitched a piece of narrow elastic onto the seam allowance using a 3-step zigzag stitch and which I stretched as I sewed. Once I’d done that I turned the hem up with a twin-needle.
I wanted a different collar to the stripes so I brought the neckline in much closer and cut a deep straight band to fit it exactly. This is sewn on folded over and can be worn standing straight up or folded down as a roll collar, a bit like a fisherman’s smock.
I think this version has turned out a bit more tunic-like than I’d intended but that’s fine, it’s still wearable.
I might make it again in something softer and drapier, and possibly not even jersey because there are details like the faced hem and gathered cuff that I like, although I might use them on a different garment altogether. I’m not wld about the colour in the end even though I chose it myself!! This one is more like a slightly upscale sweatshirt I think with it’s slouchy shape.
What do you think? Have you ever tried copying a favourite pattern?
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
This could very well be the perfect dress for the imperfect figure. It sits nicely on the shoulders with smooth set-in sleeves that blouse slightly at the cuff (if you’re going full-length) the French darts give it shape and the slight A-line flare of the skirt skims the body, it has pockets and finally there’s a funnel-neck collar to draw attention up towards the face if that’s your best feature! Oh, and there’s no zip, just pop it over your head!
I bought my pattern from the lovely Mike (son in law of Mrs Maven) who was manning the stand at the autumn Knitting & Stitching show for Mrs Maven who’d had to dash off for a family emergency. He must have done a grand job because I bought a pattern, as did many others while I was there, the samples on display were very enticing.
The French Dart Shift appealed to me because I liked it’s relaxed but stylish aesthetic, there are lots of possibilities. It has 3 sleeve options (plus sleeveless) and you could make it in a whole variety of fabrics from winter-weights like worsted wool or denim, through cotton poplins to softer fabrics like crepe or lace with suitable linings.
The patterns aren’t cheap at £18.50 but they are beautifully produced in a folding wallet, printed on quality paper with a comprehensive instruction booklet. I decided to trace off the pattern onto Swedish tracing paper rather than cut it out-I don’t always do this as I’m not an habitual tracer! I checked my body measurements and then using the measurements chart provided so I went for a UK 14.
I had a rummage in my stash and found some navy fabric with tiny dots which I bought ages ago in Hitchin market and there was just enough. I didn’t follow the cutting plan as I hadn’t got the suggested quantity but by careful refolding and some single-layer cutting I got everything out.
One detail you need to watch out for is that the seam allowance is just 1cmrather than the more usual 1.5cms. The instructions are comprehensive and thorough although if you struggle with following written instructions this might be a challenge for you. There are illustrations too which are very detailed but they could do with being just a bit larger for those of us who are a bit sight-challenged, I managed but that’s partly because I had an inkling of how it was likely to go together.
The instructions encourage quality details such as taping the neck and pocket edges to prevent stretching (I actually used iron-on tape which fulfils the same job) and reinforcing the joins between the pocket bags and the side seams.
I failed to take any photos during the making, sorry about that, but it all went together as intended. The band on the cuffs is quite narrow and a bit fiddly but it’s worth persevering because the end result looks nice. You could leave the cuff off i suppose and make a channel with elastic through it if you wanted, or you could shorten the sleeve to between wrist and elbow length too.
I finished the navy dress before Christmas-I wore it on Christmas Day in fact, but I’ve only just made a second version recently [a 2 week bout of flu put paid to any creative sewing for a while]
I’ve made this second version in a lovely Ponte Roma I bought from Fabrics Galore at the Knitting & Stitching Show 18 months ago (I don’t like to rush these things) Although Ponte isn’t one of the suggested fabrics it’s worked well but you need to make sure that the wide neck edge is taped to prevent it being stretched before you put the collar on.
I think I can safely say this dress is my ‘secret pyjamas’, it’s sooo comfy!
All in all I’m delighted with this dress and I can see me making several more for the summer. Take a look at the Maven website for more inspiration with fabrics, you could even leave the collar off, and I know Portia Lawrie has produced a colour-block version too which looks fab. I think I’ll investigate some of Maven’s other patterns now too as they look really appealing!
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.
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.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
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.
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. Also 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. I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.
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.
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!
I spent Septembermaking 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.I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
After the success of my first Zierstoff PDF pattern (the Sue which you can read about here) I was keen, as soon as time allowed, to try another style. I opted for an intriguing-looking bolero called Sophie which has a lovely slouchy shape.
This time I didn’t have any trouble printing the pattern either, I simply checked I had it in the correct rotation by printing the first page off, it was right so I printed the rest of the pages. The Sophie pattern only needs 7 sheets of A4 too which is amazing! At £4.80 it’s very good value too.
As I described in the previous blog Zierstoff uses a system of rows and columns which is extremely simple to piece together. You might notice that a few of the lines aren’t quite in alignment but that’s more about my printer than their system I think. There are only TWO pieces to this pattern! The whole jacket and two sleeves (OK that’s three but it’s only 2 pattern pieces!)
I didn’t have any suitable fabric in the ol’ stash so, as I had a Saturday that didn’t feature any specific plans, I went up to Walthamstow to see if the fabled ‘Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ had anything suitable. I actually combined it with a visit to the William Morris Gallery which is a 10 minute walk from Walthamstow station and well worth the effort. It’s the house he lived in as a teenager, it’s surrounded, now, by a lovely public park and has some modest but very interesting and informative galleries about him and his life’s work.
Once I’d spent an hour or so absorbing culture I headed back up the road to the by now busy and vibrant market. Walthamstow has, over the years, become a very diverse and multi-ethnic area which means there are a wealth of varied and fascinating shops and stalls selling all manner of things. My primary interest though is the fabric and haberdashery shops and stalls, of which there are several. Karen at Did You Make That? blog has produced a downloadable map here which is helpful. Even though it isn’t that recent I believe most if not all the shops and stalls are still there.
I was quite restrained this time and only bought things I ‘needed’ including plain cotton lawn for lining at £2 per metre from TMOS and a patterned lightweight denim from him too. I got the double-knit jersey for the Sophie bolero from Saeed’s fabrics, and finally I got 5yds of teal polyester with a fan print on it from Classic Textiles for £1 per yard!! [they price in yards and metres, metres is dearer and I wanted a straightforward £5-worth…simple as that!]
I got the last 2 metres of the jersey which was more than enough because the main body and sleeves of the bolero fit in a little over a metre (smaller sizes would take even less)
Because the fabric is double-faced I thought it might be a good idea to use a flat-fell seam which would mean that the bolero could be reversible.
You can only really use flat-felled seams in applications where you’ve got complete and easy access to where you’re positioning it because of the method of construction [if you look at the legs of a pair of jeans the flat-fell seam will be either on both outside legs OR both inside legs, not both]
Sewing the bolero together is a doddle because there are only 4 seams, 2 sleeves and 2 side seams so (even quicker if you’re not using flat-felled seams!) it goes together in no time. I chose to neaten the edges by turning the striped side over to the patterned side to give it a contrast.
I also added a little marker to the CB neck so that I know which way up to wear it! It’s a bit tricky to tell the difference otherwise…
So I’ve finished up with a super-quick, reversible bolero which will be really handy on holiday because it will roll up small and come out largely unscathed.
Have a look at the Zierstoff website if you’re a fan of sewing jersey because they have a variety of patterns as styles specifically for knits. I’ve been generously given this pattern to test but the opinions I’ve expressed are entirely my own-I always try to be honest about the patterns I try out because I think it’s not in anyone’s interests to make statements which I don’t believe in, aren’t instructive or could be misleading.