There’s a lot going on in this post because I’m offering you my thoughts on not one product but three!
So, a bit of background first…I used to be a keen runner but various injuries forced me to stop and then I never quite got started again. Fast forward at least 3 years and I’d gained weight which I wasn’t happy about, I felt sluggish and lacking in energy, I wanted to lose the weight for the good of my health and mental wellbeing. So, coming up to date, the return to running is going well (if cautiously…) and I’m losing some weight which in turn has inspired me to try making some of my own activewear. Fortunately for me Melissa Fehr of Fehrtrade has become a sewing friend of mine since first meeting her at the Sewing Weekender a few years ago and she generously offered me a copy of her Tesselate Tee pattern to try. I’d helped test her Rouleur leggings last year so I already had that pattern. Part of the beauty of Melissa’s patterns is that she gives you really comprehensive instructions to be able to sew activewear using just a regular sewing machine if you don’t own an overlocker. I’m in the fortunate position at the moment to be a Pfaff Brand Ambassador and I have their air-threading Admire Air 5000 on loan, along with a Coverlock 3.0 as well so this all seemed like the perfect opportunity to make some new running kit.
Suitable activewear fabric is not something I have in my stash other than the scraps left from testing the Rouleur leggings so I had a little online search and came across Frumble fabrics. They have a good range of activewear fabrics at competitive prices as well as an impressive selection of suitable elastics and other trims or haberdashery you might need for this sort of project. I bought a metre of plain navy fabric and a metre of navy camouflage print, along with navy soft waistband elastic, some navy fold-over elastic and, finally, silicone grip elastic. [One point I should add here is that I decided not to pre-wash the fabric, this was based on my own knowledge and belief that synthetic fabrics are usually more colour-fast than natural fibres. I was wrong. The navy came off on my hands as I was making it up so as soon as I finished both garments they have been through the wash after all. I have alerted Frumble so I’m not saying anything here that I haven’t already fed back to them. Overall I’m pleased with the fabric quality and I learned my lesson-prewash even if you think it doesn’t need it!]
I opted to go for a medium size Tesselate top, Melissa has recently layered the pattern so now you only need to print off the size or sizes that you want, I wavered between small and medium according to my measurements. The small probably would have been fine but the medium gives me a little more room without the constant thought that I should be sucking in my wobbly bits! One of Melissa’s USP’s with her patterns is interesting seam lines which means, as well as striking designs, you can often use up small pieces or remnants of suitable fabrics. The Tesselate has a variety of options including short or long sleeves, thumb cuffs, a hood (with ponytail hole!) and back zipped pocket.
I cut the leggings a mixture between small and medium and I’m happy with the fit of the end result. I had enough fabric for long sleeves on my Tesselate and, although there’s a pattern for the back pocket, rather than print it off I made my own.
I played around with the fabrics until I was happy with their placement, I had enough of the blue spotty fabric for the back and front side panels, everything else I divided between the two navy fabrics.
I’ve made another little video to demonstrate how the air threading works on the Pfaff, you’ll need to bear in mind that it might seem like it takes a while to thread and so where is the advantage in air threading but that’s because I’m trying to explain as I go and I was sitting at a funny angle behind the camera whilst I did it.
After two years of owning the Quilt Ambition 2.0 (now discontinued) I’m used to the quality of Pfaff machines so it doesn’t surprise me that the Air Admire is sturdy (no shifting about on the table while you sew) and very speedy, with a superb quality of stitch. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with the air threading and, as I mention in the video, there’s an automatic threader for both needles too! I couldn’t get the hang of that at all to start with but it’s amazing what a difference it makes if you read the instructions and follow them! Of course, this is an expensive machine and I understand that not everyone will have that kind of budget but if you are considering an air threading overlocker (there are now a lot more models on the market than just market-leader Babylock with prices gradually coming down) then this one is most definitely worth thinking about.
I inserted the invisible zip on the sewing machine, then attached the pocket bag that way too. The T-shirt goes together pretty quickly considering the number of pieces-most pieces are cut singly because they are asymmetric-if you’re using the same fabric throughout it would be an idea to label your pieces in some way so you don’t get them mixed up.
I find it very useful having a variety of stitches to choose from especially when sewing with stretch fabrics, the 3-step zig zag was ideal when I was sewing the elastic into the waistband, I also have an ‘elastic’ stitch which is useful. A lot of machines, even quite simple ones, will probably have a stitch option which will enable you to sew activewear so why not try out a few of them to see exactly what they are, the instruction book should be helpful, or there’s so much information on the internet too.
To neaten the hems and around the neck I swapped over to the Coverlock 3.0 which I had on the coverstitch setting. Again, this is a very sturdy piece of kit with excellent stitch quality, I am finding there is a certain knack to using it and I’m by no means an expert yet but it certainly gives a very professional finish to knit, jersey or stretch garments.
As always, I hope you’ve found this helpful, I always try to be honest about how I get on with a product whether or not I’ve been gifted, loaned or purchased it-all three in this case. If you’re tempted to have a go at activewear then Melissa is a good place to start-she’s even written a book on the subject so you’re in good hands!
I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.
I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs.
I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.
When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.
I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears.
The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.
The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well.
I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.
My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.
Melissa Fehr has been well-known in home sewing terms for a few years now because she specialises in clever and well thought out activewear. She worked as a technical advisor on the fourth series of the Great British Sewing Bee too. You can hear her talking about this and other parts of her life on an episode of the Stitchers Brew podcast. Early last year she published her first book “Sew Your Own Activewear” which features a whole range of sports garments which can be adapted and mixed up to suit your own taste and requirements. As if that it isn’t enough, in the autumn she released this pattern, the Kinetic Tee, in November. It’s a roomy top with interesting asymmetric seam and shoulder details and it’s a PDF so available any time you choose.
Whilst the Kinetic is intended as a workout top and sport fabrics are suggested, I’d got some lovely stable wool jersey in my stash which I knew would look great too.
Because it’s a simple (ish) top the PDF doesn’t have a horrendous number of pages so it’s fairly quick to stick together. I cut a size Medium which has just the right amount amount of roominess (I’m a UK 12-14 usually) I decided on the twisted sleeve version too because it looked interesting.
Part of the beauty of this pattern is, because of all the seams, it could be a great scrap-busting top, or you could create unique effects with patterned fabrics.
My fabric was plain so it didn’t take long to cut out, be very aware that you need to cut the two upper neck sections on single layers from spaces left between other pieces because the front and back are different. The instructions and illustrations do show this and draw your attention to it but double check before you cut anything-“measure twice, cut once!”
Melissa gives full instructions for sewing the Kinetic with either an overlocker or a regular sewing machine so don’t be put off if you don’t have an overlocker, or a cover-stitch machine either. A ballpoint needle and possibly a twin needle to finish the hem and sleeves would be sufficient.
I sewed the Kinetic with a mixture of overlocker and regular machine and it went together very well, notches and seams match and the illustrations are very clear.
The only area I had any difficulty with was adding the binding to the edges of the slit openings on the shoulders. The method is good (because Melissa has been doing these patterns longer than me so she knows what works well for her!) but I think maybe the jersey I used was a bit too firm so hadn’t got as much stretch which meant I had trouble getting the strips to fit and sit nicely on the inside, it’s quite fiddly so give yourself time. They actually look perfectly acceptable from the right side which is what matters more, I just like things to be nice on the inside too.
This aside the rest of the pattern went together pretty quickly given the number of seams and I’m really happy with the result. I’m going to rummage to see what I can do in the way of scraps-busting, if fact I’ve made one of Melissa’s VNA workout tops using 3 corporate T-shirts in technical fabric that my daughter had no further use for. It had additional seams which weren’t part of the already seam-y design but it was a good test garment before I use my ‘good’ fabric to make a ‘proper’ one (which I still haven’t as Christmas overtook everything)
The length on the Kinetic is probably at about your high hip which is fine for workout wear although you might feel it’s a little short for regular clothing, it’s a personal thing probably. It would be easy enough to add some length to the hem, that might alter the proportions a little but that isn’t much of an issue. You could sew up the shoulder openings if you don’t want them, or wear a top underneath-I’ve discovered that one bra strap shows which isn’t an issue if you’re exercising and might be considered coquettish if you’ve got a nice bra on, not so much if it’s a tatty old thing!
Melissa writes a comprehensive blog about each of her patterns, plus her running exploits so head on over to find out more about the woman herself.
Ok, I’m off for a run around the block now so until next time,
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!
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.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
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.
Hyde Hall Farm
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. The website is under construction and the 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.
Back in March I made a flying visit to see the Burberry 2017 A/W collection which was being displayed to the public in Soho at the Makers House. It was a wonderful collaboration between the long-established design house and the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire which resulted in some beautiful, wearable and covetable clothes. You can read that blog here
I’d visited the Foundation at Perry Green about 4 years ago with a GCSE Art group from the school I worked in at the time and really enjoyed it so, having been reminded of it in March, I thought another visit on a sunny day was a must.
My friend Janet and I had originally planned to go to the Tate at the end of May for the David Hockney and then whizz on to the newly opened Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A but, in the end, the day promised to be too darn hot to travel into London so we came up with plan B, and I’m so glad we did.
The Foundation is set in beautiful quintessentially English countryside and it comprises of the home that Moore lived in from 1940 until his death in 1986 and surrounding it are acres of gardens and fields where his monumental work is displayed exactly as he’d intended. He had numerous studios and workrooms scattered about the site in which large quantities of the maquettes, tools and preliminary works are on show, much as he left them in most cases. Since I last went they’ve now built a fabulous new visitor centre with a classy shop and a seriously gorgeous cafe overlooking the gardens which, on a glorious sunny day, was idyllic.
In all honesty I’m very far from knowing anything much about sculpture so I’ll just share some of my photos that I took on the day. You could easily spend most of a day here because the grounds are extensive and you’re free to roam around them, you can take a guided tour of Hoglands, the house Moore and his wife Irina lived in which is still filled with his personal belongings of books, ethnic artefacts, paintings and other objects, and it’s where he ran his business from too (he never had an agent so if you wanted to buy a Henry Moore you dealt directly with him) Many influential world figures visited him here. Moore was never knighted, he was the son of a Yorkshire miner and one of eight children so he was a Socialist all his life but he did receive an Order of Merit (OM) of which he was very proud.
There is a large modern exhibition space which features a new show every year, as well as an ancient barn which he had dismantled from elsewhere and reassembled on the site, it now contains some fabulous tapestry versions of several of his paintings.
Many of the objects in the workshops were the springboard to the garments within the Burberry collection, especially his blue and white striped aprons which cropped up as ultra-longsleeved T-shirts which I loved.
It’s lovely to wander in the fields alongside the sheep which are so integral to the overall effect of his work-they’ve rubbed the bronze with their fleeces over the decades so that it’s very shiny at sheep-height! Moore loved to watch the sheep from his window and sketched them over and over again. You’re free to touch any of the external sculptures too which makes a refreshing change from “don’t touch!” Incidentally the sheep were a direct inspiration for the Burberry collection in the form of beautifully sculptural Aran-influenced knitwear.
So that’s a few photos of a lovely day out, and I urge you to go if you’re at a loose end in the area although you’ll definitely need a car as it’s very rural. There’s a pub next door too if a cafe doesn’t quite cut it for you. If you’re a really serious art buff then the archive is on site too although I guess you need to make an appointment for that.
I’m so glad I’ve been because it’s created the link between the show I saw all those months ago and also it’s made a real change from being indoors looking at art!
I haven’t written a blog in ages but there are a couple in the pipeline, I know this isn’t directly about my sewing exploits but I wanted to share my thoughts on this visit because it brings together two of my greatest interests-sewing and art.
As ever, all views expressed are my own and most photos are my own too, the rest were collected from Google images.
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.
I haven’t made anything by Colette patterns before but I’ve heard about the Moneta and when I saw friends Elle (@sewpositivity) Abi (@sewabigail) and Rach (@rach_wain) on Instagram had got together and were organising a ‘Moneta party’, with enticing prizes, I thought I’d enter.
It’s a pattern that’s available as a PDF or in paper form and to be honest, even though it was cheaper, I didn’t really want all the cutting and sticking of a PDF this time. Luckily for me my (almost) local fabric and pattern emporium The Creative Sanctuary in Hertford had one in stock. I popped over to collect it-and ended up buying the pink sparkly star sweat-shirting I used for the top I blogged about previously here at the same time!
I already had 2 metres of a really nice geometric design Ponte from Backstitch near Cambridge which I thought would be perfect for the dress. In theory, as ever, the pattern instructions stated more fabric than I had but that’s rarely stopped me before!
I wasn’t keen on the elbow length sleeves because I prefer below the elbow if they’re not long OR short, I wanted full-length as it was going to be a wintery dress. The idea of the ‘party’ was, I thought, to put a new spin on the style but I wanted it to be a dress I’d be comfortable and happy in so I opted to put my favourite roll collar on. I thought that in itself wouldn’t be original enough so I decided I’d put a fake exposed zip on the back too.
I made a quick toile of the bodice before cutting the fabric because even though it’s a stretchy style I didn’t want it too tight. I cut it slightly between two sizes and this was absolutely fine so I went ahead and cut the dress out of my ‘good’ fabric!
Because of the scarcity of my fabric after I’d cut the rest of the dress with long sleeves I ended up having to cut the collar in two parts and making a join in the centre front.
There was enough fabric to make 2 rectangles, each 14cms x 35cms which would just fit around the neckline.
The pattern wasn’t going to quite match at the CF but I decided, unusually for me, that it wasn’t going to matter too much!
I interfaced the two pieces to give them a bit more stability and then joined them to form one long rectangle. Incidentally, I’d raised the back neckline on the bodice because it was lower than I wanted for a winter dress and the collar wouldn’t be long enough to fit either.
Before I sewed the collar on I’d added the zip (taken out of something else previously) which I bound first with bias binding and then sewed directly onto the CB of the dress. It didn’t need to be a functioning zip because the fabric is stretchy and the dress just goes over your head.
Next I sewed the collar on to the neck edge.
I flipped the binding down towards the inside of the dress to enclose the edges and sewed it in place. The stitching won’t show on the right side because the collar would roll down and cover it.
Next it’s the skirt. The pattern calls for clear elastic to gather it but a) I hadn’t got any and b) I discovered it was pretty expensive so I used regular stuff! I cut a length to my waist size plus about 4cms to overlap the ends. This gets evenly divided into quarters around the waist of the skirt. [The skirt has been sewn up the side seams, with pockets inserted already] I used the 3-step zigzag stitch on my machine to sew on the elastic, gently stretching it to fit the skirt as I went. That was surprisingly straightforward! It isn’t a massively gathered skirt so there isn’t loads of fullness to deal with. After this the skirt gets attached to the bodice, simples!
The sleeves fitted in beautifully and everything gets hemmed as required. All that remained was to finish off the back of the collar so I dug out two small metal buttons and stitched them down on each corner to give a buttoned down effect.
So that’s it! One Moneta dress. It would be a pretty quick make if I didn’t keep complicating things! I’ll make a nice simple one next time. As it turned out my original take on the dress wasn’t interesting enough because it came a big fat nowhere in the competition but I’ve had LOADS of lovely comments from people about it and it’s really nice and comfy to wear so it’s not about the winning, it’s the taking part…isn’t it?
As I said earlier, this a quick-ish make especially if you have an overlocker but that’s by no means essential. Make sure you use a ballpoint or jersey/stretch needle in your machine (jersey is a ‘knit’ and so can ladder like tights if you use a sharp needle) and if you have a stretch stitch setting or can make a very shallow zigzag you should be fine. Jersey doesn’t usually fray either so it isn’t even essential to neaten the edges every time-use your own judgment on this though.
I wore my Moneta to the Knitting & Stitching show last week and I had loads of people comment on it and ask me for the details-I hope sales of the pattern have gone up as a result!!