I’ve made loads of different clothes over the decades but actual shirts for myself have not tended to be among them. I’m not sure why, possibly because I had to wear boring school shirts for years and years, and for a while I had to wear a uniform when I worked for the John Lewis Partnership so my personal preference has tended to softer blouse shapes. That said, I love to see a crisp white shirt especially when it’s given an inventive twist. It’s a wardrobe staple and yet there’s always room for a new version.
Lucy at Trend Patterns has just released the first 3 patterns of what will become a shirt collection and each is available printed, as a PDF or as a complete kit with pattern, fabric and trims. TPCSH1 is a feminine Pussy bow top with shirt sleeves and a ruffle hem, TPCSH3 has stunning gathered ‘angel’ sleeves which really make a statement whilst the body is kept simple and traditional so that the sleeves do all the talking.
Lucy offered me the kit of TPCSH2 to try out, it is a box-pleated front shirt, deceptively simple to look at but those details take a little time to get right. It’s classified as ‘moderate/hard’ and I would agree, not because the elements in themselves are especially difficult but each of them needs some experience and precision to execute so I wouldn’t recommend this as your first shirt project.
The kit comes with enough good quality plain white cotton poplin to make up to the largest size of a UK 22, along with Trend-branded buttons (a nice touch) and iron-on interfacing. All you need to provide is your own thread!
I started off by taking my measurements and comparing them to the sizing chart, there is also a chart giving you finished garment measurements too which is helpful because it will give you some idea of how oversized the shirt will be when it’s finished. I made a UK 12 and as you will see from the finished photos it’s a very generous fit, to be honest, if you want a close-fitting shirt then this particular pattern won’t be the one for you.
I opted to trace off the pattern, there are two separate fronts, right and left, and a whole back plus sleeves, yoke, cuffs and collar. There is no pattern piece for the bias binding for the sleeve placket, you just need to cut yourself two bias strips approximately 30cms x 4cms. The right and left fronts are the same except for the extra on the centre front which creates the folded fly with concealed buttonholes. I traced off one front then, to save some time and to ensure they were identical, pinned it to more spot and cross paper before cutting them out together so that I had a mirror version with the additional front added. It’s really important to trace the front very carefully because of the three box pleats, if they are each a bit off you risk the pleats not sewing together accurately which will leave you scratching your head. There are a lot of drill holes to mark the stitching which will eventually hold the pleats in place, don’t be tempted to miss any out because they are also really helpful when you’re folding and pressing the pleats in position. You could choose to trace just half the back to save paper if you intend to always cut it on the fold anyway but having a whole piece gives you the option to have the fabric out flat, besides, it’s almost always more economical to cut fabric out as a single layer [this can be especially helpful if you ever need to do some tricky pattern placement or matching]
Because the fabric is plain, placing the pattern pieces and cutting out was a breeze-no pattern matching, yay! I spent quite a while making traditional tailor’s tacks for every single one of the drill holes. You could use a washable or some other kind of disappearing marker pen if you are confident that it definitely won’t come back to haunt you but I wasn’t going to take the risk on plain white fabric!
In the past I’ve occasionally found some of the earlier Trend instructions a bit tricky to follow but the more recent ones have illustrations rather than photos and I found this set very clear. My biggest piece of advice would be to read then re-read the instructions before you start, and to highlight anything that you know you’re going to have to really concentrate on, this isn’t a race after all.
Constructing the fly front and button stand first, including the buttonholes, was satisfying, I often feel like I’ve run out of steam by the end of any project which requires buttonholes and it’s a bit of a chore by then but this gets it out of the way nice and early. [I should add at this point that I started out sewing with a fine size 60 needle so as not to leave too many noticeable puncture holes in the plain fabric if I went wrong or needed to unpick. However, this size needle kept skipping stitches for some reason so I went up to a 70 and had no further problems]
My second piece of advice would be to press your pleats on the ironing board if you possibly can. I only have a small heat-resistant board in Threadquarters which meant I was constantly moving the fabric which was not ideal, it was so much easier on the ironing board because the whole piece fitted on. Do not rush this part, with pure cotton fabric you can have the iron on pretty hot but do be careful of your fingers with hot steam. Pin, tack or Wonder Tape the pleats in position once pressed if you want to.
The instructions are to stitch down each pleat according to the markings using a few stitches. I did quite a lot of testing using a variety of decorative stitches for this before I committed to the bar tack. The next challenge was getting each of those bar tacks (30 in total!) central over the pleat. My machine comes with a number of feet which are used in conjunction with the decorative stitches and one of these has horizontal red lines which proved very helpful in getting lined up for every bar tack. After making a few of these bar tacks I ‘got my eye in’ so I could tell very quickly where to start each stitch, having the needle stopping in the up or down position is an absolute essential feature on my machine for me and it was brilliant during this, being able to lift the foot to check I was sewing in the correct place without the work shifting was so helpful. The photos will hopefully make my method clearer to follow. It’s vital to take your time and be as accurate as possible during this stage because the box-pleats are the USP of this shirt and it will obvious if they are off-kilter. I sewed in white thread but you could use a colour, or even hand embroider to give your shirt a totally original look.
Incidentally, Trend will be creating a series of video tutorials to help so I suggest you check their Instagram account or the website for those. Also, there was a slight problem with pattern markings for the back box pleat which were incorrect. This has been rectified but if you bought a copy very soon after release you might find you have to scratch your head a little, the notches were in the wrong places. Check the website if you’re in any doubt.
I followed the order of construction to complete the shirt (I usually do the first time I make a pattern) but personally I would put the collar on after making the yoke. I like to do it before the side seams are sewn up or the sleeves are inserted, unless there’s a technical reason not to obviously.
Everything came together really well, I’ve always found Trend patterns are accurately drafted so I know the pieces will go together well without major discrepancies-this is why it’s so important to trace off carefully if it’s your preferred method, if seams or notches don’t match up you won’t know where the fault lies [the same applies to accurate cutting out too]
Clearly not everyone will want to make a shirt that is going to take a sizeable amount of time to construct, or to launder afterwards for that matter, but if we only made simple loungewear for ever then the art and skill of making our own clothes will be lost, just at a time when so many people have discovered, or rediscovered, the joy of sewing for themselves. There will always be a place for a classic white shirt and Trend has created a small but growing collection with original twists on the genre. The last year has been so tough for small business owners so I really appreciate being given this kit to try out, I wasn’t under any obligation to review it other than share some photos but personally I have no problem with sewing and writing about it. I will always try to give you a balanced view and if I can support a little business by giving them some positive exposure then I will. Alongside that I’m keen to demonstrate that a design-led style doesn’t have to beyond us ‘ordinary’ sewers either, if you like it then sew it!
I hope I’ve given you some idea of what will be involved in making the TPCSH2, if you’re looking to push your skills on a bit this could be a good project. Maybe you need/want a plain white shirt in your wardrobe [amazingly I didn’t have one in mine, just a couple of short-sleeved ones] I might layer this with a sleeveless tank top over it, or a waistcoat could look interesting. This is a typical cotton poplin shirting but you could use a variety of fabrics, you could have fun with graphic prints or stripes, try something soft like double gauze or a crisp linen? Or what about harvesting the fabric from several well-worn mens shirts to make a more patchwork look. Take your time though and enjoy the process.
I’ve got a long-sleeved T-shirt under it because it was a chilly day and it will be perfect for the day I can return to the V&A. I don’t know about you but I’ve really missed putting an outfit together to go on a nice day out, deciding which of the lovely garments I’ve made that I want to wear and how I’m going to accessorise them. It seems such a small silly thing to miss but I shall be so glad when I can start doing it again.
Most of all, thank you to Trend for giving me the opportunity to try the kit, until next time,
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.