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,
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.
This one happened because I found a gorgeous double-knit jersey in The Creative Sanctuary in Hertford on a visit to collect a Collette Moneta pattern to take part in the MonetaParty on Instagram at the end of February….one thing leading to another.
Ok, sparkly stars and pink stripes aren’t very mature but I liked it and I wanted a long-sleeved cosy top for our upcoming trip to the Lake District and because this was reversible I knew the roll-back cuffs I’d used before would look good.
I changed the basic neckline on this one by raising it by about 5cms and then making a rectangular collar to fit it, I didn’t want it standing as far away from the neck as the two funnel-neck ones [in truth, I could have raised it a bit more as it still isn’t that close to the neck] By cutting two rectangles and stitching them right side to wrong side I could make the stripes visible. I’d got another heavy metal zip so I thought I’d put that into the collar seam to give it another detail. Continue reading →
When you dabble in social media where sewing and dressmaking is concerned, specifically Instagram in my case, you quickly notice which patterns are new and having a ‘moment’. Currently, for example, the Cleo dungaree pinafore by Tilly and the Buttons, the Linden sweatshirt from Grainline, or the Toaster top from Sewhouse 7 are really booming, they’re everywhere. Along with these is a new PDF from Sew Over It a jersey dress called Heather.
I liked the way the pockets were part of the style lines on the front and when I saw it was reduced to buy in their January sale I decide to snap one up.
I haven’t made a lot of PDFs but I’m slowly building up my collection, this one runs to 36 pages which seems about average. After my last experience where I had a PDF printed at the copy shop and it cost me a FORTUNE I went back to printing it myself and doing the sticking! I think this was probably me misunderstanding the price structure, perhaps someone can tell me if that’s the case?
I must say that the Heather was super-simple to piece together and very quick to stick together-I used a glue-stick this time instead of sticky tape which seems to work well (will I discover it’s all fallen to bits in 6 months time?)
I checked my measurements against the chart and decided to go with a 14, although I wasn’t sure at this stage if the hips would be too big. One thing I didn’t do this time was print off all the instructions, I left them on the laptop and referred to them as I went along (saving the planet one page at a time!)
I found a length of jersey in my beautifully curated collection (yeah right!) which hadn’t really lent itself to a project before because I thought it looked a little old-fashioned but with the right pattern could look more up-to-date. I decide the Heather dress was that project-I hope I’m right. Anyway the fabric had been given to me so it wasn’t an expensive mistake if it didn’t work very well, more of a wearable toile.
On to the sewing-I was really impressed with how well the pieces went together (as you’ll know if you’ve read some of my earlier blogs I’m a stickler for accurate cutting out because that way I know, if something doesn’t go together properly or markings don’t match, it’s more likely to be the pattern than my cutting out and I can make adjustments and a note for next time. It’s another reason I always prefer scissors because with a decent pair and practice they are so accurate)
The main feature of the dress is the in-seam pockets and the instructions for these are very clear and they sew together beautifully, I think a comparative novice could easily manage them without too much difficulty and they are very satisfying when you’ve done them. The only thing I added which isn’t in the instructions was some understitching to help the top edge roll over effectively.
The rest of the dress went together very quickly-there are no fastenings like zips or buttons to worry about or take time fiddling with. I’d chosen the long-sleeved version and these went in well. The only area I had any difficulty with (and this is a recurring theme for me) is the neckband. I can never get them to be flat enough. I mean it isn’t terrible but I think the band was a little too long in this particular fabric so it sticks up very slightly. If it had been worse than it is I would have unpicked but as this is more of a wearable toile I decided it was liveable and left it alone. I’m happy with the length too so I didn’t alter that, I must admit when I saw Lisa in the plain pink version I expected it to be too short so either she’s shortened that one or (quite likely) she has longer legs than me! I’m 5’5″ so totally average…
So that’s Heather. Overall the fit is, as I suspected it might be, a little big for me over the hips so I ought to take a bit out of the side seams (I haven’t yet because I wanted to wear it) and when I make another I’ll make that adjustment in the cutting out. I’m not sure there’s quite enough room over the bust either, it’s a bit ‘flattening’ and I’m certainly not anyone’s idea of full-busted. It is very comfortable however, the day I wore it was freezing so I popped an RTW turtle neck underneath. I like the idea of contrast panels for the sides and sleeves so I think I’ll try that next although I’m trying to use fabric I already have for a while and I’m not sure I have anything else suitable so it might have to wait! I might try adding a collar that rolls over too. Lots of possibilities…
Overall I’m very pleased with the quality of this Sew Over It pattern, and it’s instructions, and I’d be happy to try another based on this one, maybe the Anderson blouse which looks elegant. The sticking together was pretty straightforward, the fit came up close to the finished measurements chart ( I’ll just need to act on them next time) and it has a number of variations. It would suit a confident novice who’s keen to try stable knits and some interesting style details, and pattern-sticking aside it’s pretty quick to make up.