Two years ago I wrote a review of the Sewing Revival Heron dress which you can still read here. I liked the pattern so much that since then I’ve made another knee-length version in a viscose/linen mix fabric from Ditto in Brighton and a blouse variation too in a beautiful soft Italian cotton voile, also from Ditto. I wore it often although not so much lately…
While I was at Sew Brum in October 2019 I bought some lovely soft brushed printed viscose twill from Barry’s Fabrics with the express intention of making another Heron but this time making it longer and more cold weather-friendly. There had been a lot of Wilder Gowns by the Friday Pattern Company popping up everywhere at the time, I liked the tiered style a lot but I knew I could create my own take on it by using a pattern I already had. A multiple-layered skirt like this isn’t difficult, it’s really a case of working out the number and sizes of rectangles you want to use. If you take a look at this post I wrote about recreating a sun dress for a client in 2019 you’ll get the gist. Because I like the top section of the Heron so much I decided this was a good pattern to use and it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt it to what I wanted.
All the quantities and proportions I have used for this dress were completely arbitrary and had to be based primarily on the quantity of fabric I’d purchased [which I can’t actually remember as it’s well over a year ago, probably 3m of 150cm wide fabric I’d guess] and my own height of 5’5” so bear this in mind if you decide to have a go yourself. I wanted the dress to be nice and long so eventually I settled on approximately hip length for the bodice, the finished length of the side seam is now 40cms. I folded the front and back dress pattern sections up out of the way when I pinned them to the fabric (obviously you could trace or print off a new copy of the PDF if you wish) Once both bodices, sleeve and pocket pieces are on the fabric [pockets could be cut from something else if you’re a bit short of fabric] I could see exactly how much I had left to create the skirt from. I kept it very simple and divided the remaining fabric into two equal rectangles across the full width, each one measured approximately 56cms long but that had to include the seam allowance at the top and a hem at the bottom.
Initially the construction of the dress followed the normal method up as far as putting the pockets into the side seams of the bodice as per the pattern.
Making the skirt was very straightforward, I joined the short selvedges to one another [if it’s a one-way design make sure the print is running the same way on both pieces] to form a large cylinder of fabric with two side seams. Press the side seams open, if you’ve been able to use the original selvedges they might not need finishing. I made the hem at this point too, it seemed easier than wrestling with a complete dress at the end, although this could have backfired on me if I hadn’t been happy with the length but I was pretty certain it would be OK.
I ran two rows of gathering stitches within the seam allowance of the top edge, I pinned them in position matching the side seams, centre front and centre back, plus the quarter seam positions too. Gather up carefully so as not to break the threads, small pleats would also work here especially if the fabric would be bulky otherwise, it depends a bit on the weight of the fabric to some extent. Once I was happy with the gathering distribution I sewed the skirt on and overlocked the seam.
And that was it. Now, I have to say that because I was taking a risk with proportions and limited by the quantity of fabric I’d bought that if I were to repeat this I would definitely make the bodice quite a lot shorter and make the skirt from more than one gathered tier instead. I’m happy with the overall finished length but I think the seam at the hip isn’t quite right. But, by wearing it with a narrow leather belt (there wasn’t any fabric left for a self-belt anyway) and bringing it in at the waist I’ve saved it, the belt gives it a lot more definition.
I added a tie at the neck this time using a bit of grosgrain ribbon which I had knocking about.
The dress was finished around a year ago and these photos were shot in the autumn but it’s taken until now to write up. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it can be to make your own version of popular patterns using one you already have-there’s a certain risk involved because it might not be completely successful but that’s always the risk anyway when making our own clothes-a style might turn out not to suit us after all, or we make a wrong fabric choice, or it could be a triumph so why not revisit what you already own before buying another pattern?
Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…
I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.
Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…
These have been very strange times of late and many of our regular activities have been curtailed or stopped completely. I’ve carried on sewing because it’s my creative outlet but a few weeks ago I started to feel like I had no clue what particular projects to settle on. Lots of vague ideas would float into my mind but then just as easily float back out again before I got underway with any of them. I had a couple of things which I had to sew for blog posts but beyond those I didn’t have a plan, or a clue!
My friend Melissa @fehrtrade happened to comment in our WhatsApp chat that she had sketched out her summer sewing plans, complete with their fabric needs. Most fabrics were from her stash and a couple of other items needed to be purchased.
This got me thinking, if I actually wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to make then it might give me the impetus to move forwards in a positive direction. So that’s exactly what I did. Some items on the list are patterns I’ve made previously, and love, whilst others were new ones I’ve been wanting to try. Once I’d created a reasonable list I ‘shopped’ from my stash which was good fun, I have some lovely fabrics just waiting for the right project. Whilst I can be something of an impulse purchaser of fabric I’m pretty good at sticking to my own fabric purchasing rules which I listed in the recent @SewOver50 post about fabric-buying which are as follows:
Do I really love this fabric?
Is it suitable for my intended purpose?
Do I really need it?
Price is obviously an important factor too but, for me, it’s loosely covered by these criteria anyway.
I knew with some canny cutting I could get more than one garment out of some of the fabric so eventually I settled on about 8 things from the list. In some cases I had two patterns for one piece of fabric because I couldn’t decide between them.
Once I was ready to cut, initially I picked the patterns I had made before, several times in a couple of cases. Primarily this meant the pattern was already cut out but also I would have things which were reliable because I knew they would fit, I enjoy wearing the style and there’s always room for another version in my wardrobe. Once I’d started cutting I couldn’t stop! I ploughed on for about a day and half until I had a pile of half a dozen items cut out, four of the six were remakes and two were new patterns. I felt very satisfied with this.
So why exactly am I telling you how accomplished I felt!? Because @SewOver50 right-hand woman Sandy messaged me to draw my attention to Lis @ThreadTaylors who had recently posted something similar on her feed whereby she had cut two shirts at the same time for her son and then made them both up too. Now, even though I’ve just told you that I’ve cut lots of things this isn’t my usual practice, I’m normally a ‘one thing at a time’ sewer. When I’m sewing for myself I like to complete the process from cutting to wearing before I move on to the next project, unless something goes disastrously wrong! (it might go on the naughty step for a bit while I sulk!) If I’m making for someone else there are the inevitable delays if there are fittings to schedule but otherwise the same would apply to that as well. Sandy had spotted a topic for discussion here so she invited me to manage a post on @SewOver50 asking if others cut/made in batches, made one thing at a time, or were somewhere in between?
Well the followers of @SewOver50 did not disappoint! Like the recent discussion about ‘cheap’ fabric, this was a topic where lots of you shared your thoughts so I was kept very busy reading, and responding, over the course of the next couple of days.
This is a distillation of your comments and we all seem to have a similar practices at one time or another. Many said they were like me in that they prefer to have one project on the go at a time and this was most often because they want to really enjoy the process. We take time to select the pattern, choose the fabric, match the thread and source the trims or haberdashery. Then very often it’s time to make a toile, finesse the fitting of that toile, maybe even make another toile or two before they are completely happy and ready to cut the fashion fabric, interfacings and linings! It’s all part of what makes dressmaking and sewing an enjoyable pastime for many and it’s not something to be rushed. Personally I wouldn’t say I rush but I don’t always take as much time as possibly I should. Many felt this made them more focussed, or if plenty of time wasn’t an option then they could break it down into 10-20 minute chunks which felt manageable and was still making progress.
To list or not to list? Or sketch for that matter? Melissa likes to create a page of sketches which is great because you can see a style to remind yourself what it looks like, especially if you’re likely to forget which style the pattern number or name refers to, or from a magazine like Burdastyle or Knipmode for example. I’ve made a long written list, selected a few items from it and ticked them off as I cut them. I also have a large whiteboard on the wall of my workroom on which I write different lists for the various things I’m up to and in normal times that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Some people suggested this kept them more focussed and I think I agree with them, I can still slot other items in as required. Personally I’d never want any list to be completely regimented with no flexibility because that would suck all the joy out of sewing for me. There are times when I do have to sew things which I don’t really want to but it’s a necessity and so the pleasurable makes are the ones which I ‘reward’ myself with.
A few people said they didn’t like the idea of lists or batches because they felt it took too much organisation, I probably feel less like that because I have lots of haberdashery, trims, interfacing etc so I don’t need to think too much about “have I got so-and-so” in order to make a start.
If you’re a serial non-finisher then there’s every chance you’ll end up with quite a large UFO pile. I think lockdown and Me Made May (which has just finished) has forced/encouraged quite a lot of people to revisit these projects on the naughty step and to reassess them. There is a distinct feeling of achievement when working through them to either finish a garment, repurpose it, recycle it or take it apart and start again!
The space we need for cutting out was one of the biggest factors for concentrating the cutting to a certain amount of time. If you use the dining table or the floor then there’s every chance you’ll need to move your things for practical reasons, family life/mealtimes for example, the floor is very hard on the knees, pets interrupting are a recurring theme too! All of these may mean you can only use the space in small bursts which limits how much can be cut. For many dressmakers cutting out is a necessary evil which they don’t enjoy so want it over with as quickly as possible. As a former sample cutter I always make sure I cut as accurately and efficiently as possible to ensure the best results. You can read a few of my top tips in this blog. If you really hate cutting out then batching could be a good thing because it gets it out of the way for a while!
In order to be efficient many told me that they will cut several of the same pattern at the same time if they have a favourite. Tops and T-shirts were probably the most popular of these but dresses and trousers/jeans also cropped up too. This can work well when you know a garment fits and you aren’t tweaking and fitting as you go along. Whilst making several versions of a single pattern one follower told me she writes notes onto the pattern each time in a different colour so that she knows what she’s done, and to see its development during the process. If you’re making a number of the same thing it’s efficient to keep the threads the same but personally I like to use a reasonably-matching thread to overlock as often as possible. Others are less precious and will use the same colour for everything because repeatedly changing threads takes time and keeping a range of colours can be costly.
Many of us have spent at least some of lockdown cutting and sewing scrubs, bags and face coverings, some sewed lots of them, others just one or two sets. I’ve no doubt at all though that they were well received but there’s no getting away from the fact that they became very tedious after a while. The repetition was pretty boring, although it could also have the positive byproduct of making us become more efficient sewers, and we all agreed it gave us a new-found respect and admiration for those who had no choice but to sew in factories, often with very little pleasure or decent wages involved. Some of us developed ‘production’ techniques whereby we would complete each operation the same on every garment before moving on, for example, join all the shoulder seams, attach all the neck facings, insert all the sleeves etc etc. This undoubtedly saved a lot of time but it does make you a bit boggle-eyed after a few days! @alexjudgesews did admit though that making scrubs nearly put her off sewing for life! I’ve no intention of getting into the discussion of whether or not any of us should have been sewing scrubs but I do know that I’m really really proud of how the home sewing community rose to the challenge and did it any way.
Many of us gather each prepared project together in some way, ready to begin. I like to use large ziplock-type bags which I can reuse over and over, I’ll put the pattern and cut fabric in although I don’t tend to include inter, threads or trims (many do) I’ll grab those as I go along usually from what I have. One suggested idea I liked was to use baskets to contain everything, that’s certainly more attractive than plastic bags!
A few comments made me chuckle, someone said she batch cuts but then forgets about them, where they are or even what they are! My friend Corrie @ceramic67 told me “I often cut 2 or 3 at the same time, I’m still slow but it makes me feel faster!”
A recurring comment was to spend separate days doing each part of their own creative routine so, a day printing and sticking PDFs then a day tracing them off, a day or more cutting the fabric and then the enjoyment of the sewing uninterrupted. We all have our own version of what works for us and it will vary depending on the types of pattern we like to use.
For lots of us it’s more pleasurable to be free to decide what to make and when to make it, pre-planning is no fun!
Amongst the ‘planners’ some use mood boards with sketches, photos and swatches, others will often create mini-capsules to accompany clothes they already have, or make a new, related, group of clothing. I keep swatches of the fabrics I have in a little book, it’s very low-tech but it’s good to leaf through and reminds me what I have without getting everything out.
So as you’ll see there’s no firm consensus and ultimately we do what works for us and our situation. Maybe you just batch cut small projects like Xmas gifts of pencil cases or wash bags for example, or maybe you only ever one thing at a time and nothing will persuade you to do otherwise! Having more than one item on the go could give you the option to move sideways onto something else if you realise you’ve got to wait for a delivery, or head out for some buttons or something, has anything you read here made you think you’ll try a different method next time?
Whatever works for you, until next time, happy sewing!
At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?
So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.
Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…
So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds.
[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ]
Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.
In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!
For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print.
Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters.
But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.
So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes.
I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?
@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics.
Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.
At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.
Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes.
As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing.
After a couple of months in the planning I can hardly believe that the first ‘official’ Sew Over 50 meet-up is over! This isn’t really a blog as such, it’s more of a photo album so that those who were there can look out for themselves and to prove that it did happen and a great time was had, new friendships were made, information and tips were shared, fabric was stroked and support and encouragement was offered.
Judith and I were simply overwhelmed by the feeling that was in the room for those 3 hours. The Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead, London proved to be the perfect venue to hold the meet-up with it’s mix of light-filled studio space and retail opportunities! Whilst quite a few of us already knew one another, and had met in the past, there were many others for whom this was the very first time they had gone to such an event. The distances some people travelled was extraordinary too, south Wales, Cumbria, Cheshire and north west England, Scotland, East Anglia, the south coast and Cologne, Germany were just some of the places people had come from. This represented a really big deal for some because it took them a long way outside their personal comfort zone to go on a long train journey to London and meet lots of strangers who they only ‘knew’ through the medium of little Instagram squares. So far as we can tell all of them thought it had been worth the effort and anxiety because within minutes of arriving they were chatting with fellow sewers and crafters as though they had known each other for years. That’s what the Sew Over 50 community seeks to encourage, to nurture and expand each others skills and talents, we try to make it a positive and supportive place to share our makes whether they are completely successful, or a dismal failure!
I would personally like to thank every single one of the companies and individuals who gave me prizes for the charity raffle in response to my requests, and several others who offered without me even asking.
Have a browse through the photos (please ask permission and credit me if you would like to use them elsewhere though, thank you) these are just a few of the hundreds that my daughter Bryony took for us but without them I don’t think there would be much record of the event having taken place…hardly anyone else took photos because they were too busy chatting!
I had opted to raise funds for The Samaritans, a UK-based charity who offer support at the end of the telephone to those at risk of suicide and the raffle made over £550 which is magnificent.
Thank you so much to everyone who came along and made it so enjoyable, thanks especially to Judith for having the courage to start the account in the first place. We’re approaching 18K followers and there have been almost 52K uses of the hashtag #sewover50 That’s a LOT of work which Judith and Sandy put in every day to ensure it’s such an enjoyable, interactive and mutually supportive community. I for one hope it continues this way. I’m sorry to those of you who couldn’t get a ticket, or are simply too far away, we want to actively encourage you to create your own meet-ups like this, there was no sewing at this one but you just need a venue where you can chat, a friendly cafe? your local sewing shop? Now we’ve started the ball rolling don’t forget to use the hashtag #so50meetup so we know what you’re up to.
At the beginning of the year Charlotte (@englishgirlathome) and Carmen (@carmencitablog) announced there was to be another Paris Sewcial in May. It was a free-to-attend event, you just needed to get yourself there and book your own accommodation. The previous one was four years ago and at the time I was just getting started on IG and barely knew anyone, although I do remember seeing pictures pop up on my feed. This time a group of us were keen to go together and the super-efficient Claire Sews got us all organised with trains and hotels so we were soon good to go!
Six of us met at London St Pancras early on Friday morning and took the Eurostar direct to Gare du Nord, it was a short 15 minute walk to our hotel near Sacre Coeur and Montmartre from there. Although our rooms were definitely compact and bijoux I was delighted to discover mine had a modest view of the Eiffel Tower! [it was better in reality than it appears in my photo incidentally] I was soundly mocked by my companions but I think they were just jealous of my room with a glimpse.
I was keen not to spend my whole time in Paris inside shops no matter how appealing the fabric was, and it was a first visit for Kara, so we took the opportunity along with Salva to get the hop-on hop-off bus which visited all the major sites in the city. Cue a few photos of Parisian landmarks…
In the evening we were joined by two more companions so the eight of us went to supper at a restaurant nearby and had a very jolly evening.
The grand meet-up commenced at approximately 11am the next day so after a delightful breakfast at a little cafe we arrived to find a huge group of our fellow sewers at the foot of the steps in front of Sacre Coeur. It was SO lovely to see so many people there, Charlotte’s patient partner Phil took a group shot of us all together before we eventually and gradually dispersed to the fabric shops which are very close by.
There are lots of fabrics shops grouped close together in the area and many of them specialise in a method of selling which I hadn’t encountered before. The fabric is grouped in fibre type so linen, silks, woollens, viscoses etc plus cottons were sub-divided into fabric type like denim or double-gauze but everything is cut into 3 metre lengths and folded on end. It sounds complex but it isn’t, you have to not be a neat-freak. It’s called ‘coupons’ and I thought it was a very good way of selling because 3 metres is plenty to make many items of clothing like a dress or a coat perhaps, although admittedly too much for some, you could always share with someone else provided you were agreed on the colour! It means you don’t have to find a member of staff to cut your fabric, they don’t need tables to cut on either. It needs to be kept tidy but I found it an enjoyable and novel way to fabric shop. I bought fabric in Les Coupons de St Pierre, Sacres Coupons and Tissus Molines but there are quite a few others close by too. There are still traditional shops too where the fabric is on the roll and staff will cut your chosen quantity, plus some stores selling haberdashery, trims and buttons etc.
Eventually we were pretty much shopped out and in need of sustenance so the groups dispersed to various restaurants for lunch.
In the afternoon many of us carried on to a pop-up shop where DP studio patterns were selling off ex-sample fabrics and dead stock at very low prices, as well as their own patterns. A few carried on still further to Make my Lemonade and a few other shops but some of us were pretty pooped by now so we headed back to the hotel with our swag.
Later in the evening many of us travelled across town to a restaurant where a meal and entertainment had been laid on for us. Unfortunately the Parisian liking for late eating didn’t suit everyone after such a long and tiring day and we were all quite keen to head to our beds in the end.
After brunch on Sunday morning a fairly large group went to visit the Yves St Laurent museum at 5, avenue Marceau. As you know I love a good fashion exhibition and this was no exception, the entrance fee is €10 which I thought was pretty reasonable. It isn’t that large but there are quite a number of gowns and outfits on show, as well the studio in which YSL used to work for around 30 years. It was also an opportunity to actually chat with fellow Sewcialists without it being too noisy or fabric purchasing being our primary occupation.
The first salon was dedicated to the famous Mondrian dress with many of its iterations including Barbie and Marge Simpson, and unwearable suggestions for eye makeup.
In the other salons were various YSL outfits from past collections.
The studio in which St Laurent created for over 30 years was a beautiful bright, light-filled space with many artefacts which made it feel as though he had merely stepped out of the room for a moment.
There is, of course, a modest and tasteful book and gift shop at the exit although I resisted the urge to buy anything else.
After leaving the museum we all headed in various directions, avenue Marceau is very near the river with its wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower. We indulged in crepes from a vendor after which we set off for the Musee D’Orsay with a very pleasant stroll along the Left Bank of the Seine-fortunately the very threatening sky never did come to anything.
There was quite a long queue at the D’Orsay but we Brits are good at that and the time passed while we chatted. Inside was crowded so we went straight to the top floor where the Impressionist artists are housed. Amongst the painting we spotted these sewing/crocheting beauties which seem particularly appropriate, plus two favourites of mine.
We finished the day with supper back in the Montmartre area, plus the most beautiful ice cream I have ever eaten. We worked them off by climbing right up the hill to Sacre Coeur!
What did I buy did you say?? I was super-restrained and chose several plains and a classic stripe, plus an unusual print lining and a remnant with a fish design. I spent less than €100 in total which I’m happy with for the quality of fabrics that I bought.
And then it was time to come home again…Carmen joined us for breakfast on our last morning which gave us a chance to thank her (again) for instigating/organising the whole event.
Even on the Eurostar home we still had lots to talk, and laugh, about and we all agreed that there had to be another Paris Sewcial in the future. Thank you again Charlotte and Carmen for having the idea in the first place-it was brilliant and such a delight to meet so many diverse yet like-minded people.
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!
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.