Sewzine- a new independently published mini-mag

Just before Christmas I was contacted by founder and editor Jillian Bagnall and offered a complimentary copy of her new, independently published sewing-based mini-magazine called Sewzine to review. I didn’t know what to expect, initially I thought it was an online print-at-home publication but I have been very impressed because it is a nicely produced print magazine on quality paper and with high production values. The graphics are clear and appealing and there’s plenty of attractive photography and illustrations for each article, plus, because it’s been independently published, that means there are no adverts to take up space, it is all content.

the cover of the first issue of Sewzine, the leading article about bra-making features on the front

Let’s take a look at a few of the articles inside…

I have to admit that bra-making is something I’ve never been very tempted to try, I’d rather leave that to the experts, but I thought the article was very well written because it gives a balanced view of why it’s worth considering making your own bras, or why it might not be for everyone, I was almost persuaded! I thought the information contained in the piece would be extremely useful if you’re about embark on bra-making, including lists of patterns, materials and findings that you would need, where to source them and a tick list to fill in as you collect them together.

I found the article about wool and woollen fabrics really interesting and very well researched, there was all sorts of information about the various sources of woollen fibres and types of fabrics. Like the bra-making article it was well-illustrated as well.

I had a chuckle at the “Bring it Back?” article because I spent so much of my early career cutting and making puffball, or ‘bubble’, skirts. I enjoyed the exploration of the style from its early days to more recent incarnations, I can see this as a thread of articles revisiting other iconic styles in the future…hot pants anyone?

I also really enjoyed the idea of revisiting patterns from a year or two back to reappraise them. We are constantly bombarded by new new new patterns but I’m always happy to reuse patterns I’ve enjoyed making previously. By chance, the pattern featured in this issue is the Grainline Patterns Farrow dress which I’ve actually made 3 times myself, including one review that featured in Sew Now magazine.

The mini-mag is aimed at intermediate sewers but I think this shouldn’t put off less experienced makers. I enjoyed the chatty yet informative style of writing and a lot of time and effort has gone into the inaugural issue, it’s clearly been a lockdown passion project. There are no free patterns or other inducements as an incentive but that does mean that the editorial is unbiased so if you are intrigued to have a read for yourself then follow the link here to the Sewzine website where you can order a copy of the first issue for yourself (it’s priced at £5.75 per copy) Jillian would also welcome any ideas you might have to contribute articles for future issues, contact her via sewzine@gmail.com While you do that I’m off to have a go at the crossword…

Until next time, happy reading

Sue

testing Eden by Tilly & the Buttons

It’s always nice to be asked isn’t it? Doesn’t especially matter what but anyway, it is. So when I was asked if I would help in the testing process of TATB’s new pattern for a jacket/coat to be released in the spring I was both flattered and happy to help.

I know I have a regular moan about some Indie pattern designers but TATB are one of those who I think do a very good job. The presentation (recently with refreshed new look packaging) and the quality of the drafting and the instructions is, in my opinion, of a very good standard. Tilly doesn’t usually chuck out loads of patterns one after another, they are often in pairs and spaced out through the year.

As is quite often the case with testing there was originally a fairly tight turnaround to return feedback so my first problem was to source the fabric, and quickly. I’m not a great one for buying fabric online unless I’m confident the description and other information is accurate, or I know exactly what it is. This time though I didn’t have time to explore my regular fabric shopping haunts in London and so I had to search t’internet to see what I could find. I’d hoped to get some kind of waterproof or waxed fabric but the ones I found were either very expensive, too boring, too childish (a lot of dinosaurs and unicorns!) or not suitable for the purpose. Next I looked at wool and wool-blends and many of these were also much too expensive as well but in the end I found a really nice felted wool from FabWorksOnline so I ordered that. I was very impressed with the speed it arrived too! It’s a fully lined jacket and I’d got some silky pale pink cloque in the old stash which I didn’t think I’d use for anything else, and I had a cream-coloured open-ended zip which I thought ‘that’ll do’ so I was good to go. One version of Eden is lined with jersey, you might want to consider putting a silky lining in the sleeves, although you could still put jersey just at the cuff ends if you want the contrast roll-up effect.

After a bit of a hold up the pattern arrived but when it did I hit the ground running. In all of Tilly’s other patterns I make myself a size 5 but after checking the finished measurements for the jacket I opted for a 4 this time.

I’m not going to give you a verbatim run through of the pattern here, this time I’ll highlight areas where I used specific techniques which I think work well for this kind of garment.

There are two style variations of the Eden, either a simple longer-length duffle coat style with toggles, or a shorter jacket with ’storm flaps’ and bellows pockets which is the one I opted for. We were asked not to make any drastic pattern hacks during testing but I chose to add 5cms to the overall length of the shorter style, it was shorter than I would wear it but the other was too long.

The next thing I did differently was to use the lining fabric on the underside of the flaps instead of the wool, to reduce the bulk of them when they go into the seams. If you’re using a thinner fabric this step isn’t so necessary but I knew that once all those thicknesses were layered up into the sleeve seams it would because very bulky.

this is the underside of the front ‘storm flap’ with lining instead of double wool.

The next thing I changed (and which hasn’t been altered on the final pattern) is the shaping at the cuff of the sleeve. This is because if you have a deep turn-back but the sleeve continues down straight ie. getting narrower all the way down, when you fold it back it doesn’t lie flat against the inside of the sleeve seam. Look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve shaped the seam outwards, if you look at the next photo you’ll see why.
when you turn the cuff up inside the sleeve it will sit flush inside now.
I also opted to make the lining shorter to the line I’ve marked so that it wasn’t going to droop out of the end of the sleeve. I felt there should have been a notch to mark where the turn up point was. I made a 5cms turn up for mine.

My other suggestion for the cuff is to use a strip of iron-on interfacing to stop it from stretching, being baggy and to give it some body. This is a technique I’ve picked up after doing numerous sleeve-shortening alterations for people because this is what you will commonly find inside RTW coats and jackets to stabilise it.

Iron-on interfacing applied to the lower edge of the cuff so that it’s just over the folding point of the cuff.
it looks like this when it’s folded back.
After sewing up the sleeve seam I use my ‘clapper’ as a mini ironing board to press the seam open.
Then I turned the cuff back into position to give it a good steamy press. Use a pressing cloth so your fabric doesn’t go shiny. If you aren’t familiar with a clapper, as you can see it’s a wooden tool which can be used in a number of ways. It gets its name from when you whack the steam out of woollen fabrics during the tailoring process, so that it doesn’t remain damp.

I’ve also learned from doing alterations that a few hand stitches inside the cuffs, and also the lower coat hem facing will help hold them in position so that they don’t drop down and spoil the look of your finished jacket. It’s tricky to describe what sort of stitch this should be, it’s a kind of slip-stitch a bit like you might find on handmade curtain hems. The sleeves are raglan so they are easy to insert.

The instructions for putting the zip in are good and the photos are a help here too-there will be an online tutorial although at the time of writing this I’m not sure if it’s available yet. Putting the lining in isn’t actually that complex but it does take time and concentration, and a bit of brute force. Don’t make the opening in the sleeve lining too small because it will make it very difficult to pull everything through, especially if you have stiff or thick fabrics. The gap gets sewn up and is then down inside the sleeve eventually any way. If you’re in any doubt about accomplishing this part my suggestion would be to get the lining sewn by machine to the edges around the front (zip) and hem, pull the lining through and then slip hem the lining to the cuffs by hand.

I chickened out of putting snaps on my jacket even though they would look nice. I haven’t used them on anything else and I didn’t want to spoil my Eden so near the finish line! I opted instead for very large silver press studs which I sewed on by hand.

I finished my Eden in December and I’m really pleased to say that I have worn it loads over the winter months. I’m very happy with my size decision too because there is still plenty of room for jumpers to layer up underneath, I think the next size up would have been too big. I also think the grey and pink look really pretty together as well.

I hope you find the techniques I’ve mentioned helpful, although I don’t think they were carried through to the final pattern, TATB obviously felt that their own methods and descriptions were good enough and maybe I’ve over-complicated things but overall I’m happy with the finished garment. It’s categorised as for ‘improvers’ and I think this is a fair analysis, it would be too complex for a novice sewer although with online tutorials and determination anything is possible!

As you can see from my photos my colour palette is a little more ‘mature’ shall we say than the TATB samples but I think that also proves that it’s a nice casual style which will actually work in lots of fabric and colour combinations. I enjoy the process of testing although there are times when it’s frustrating, I assume I’ve been approached because of what my experience can bring to the party and that isn’t always borne out in the end but it can be rewarding and personally I always take a lot of time over it and try to use my skills and experience to help, advise and improve when possible. I probably won’t be asked again now so I hope you find this post helpful…

Until next time,

Sue

Anneka tunic by Simple Sew patterns

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I chose the Anneka tunic as my first proper Simple Sew blogger make because I like the front and back box pleat detail and I do like a nice pinafore! It’s one of those styles that you could make in a warm fabric for winter like tweed or corduroy, or in a summer-weight linen or cotton drill perhaps. I have a not-insubstantial stash of fabric that I’ve accumulated over a long period but there wasn’t quite enough of any of the three pieces I wanted use which was so annoying. What I could have done was leave out the box pleats but then it wouldn’t still be the pattern I chose in the first place so there was nothing for it, I had to buy more fabric.

I took myself up to Walthamstow market where the famous Man Outside Sainsbury’s came up trumps with some lovely cloth. If you’re close enough to London he’s well worth a look [Saturdays he’s outside Sainsbury’s and Tuesday and Thursday he’s outside Lloyds/HSBC] I think a lot of his stock is ex-designer fabrics so you can often find some gems. It was fairly quiet when I arrived-it’s worth getting there early before the market starts to get crowded later on-so I had a good look round. I spotted a few possibles but then he drew my attention to some lovely wool which turned out to be Harris tweed. I bought some of the check, and I fell for a beautiful plain red too.

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It might not be much to look at but he has some great fabrics.

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checked Harris tweed and a lovely silky lining

Once I got home I decided to make the Anneka in the red [laziness really, I wouldn’t need to pattern match anything!] The pattern instructions remind you to launder your fabric but because this is wool I’ll have to dry clean it whenever it needs it.

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the Harris tweed symbol

Because I’m super-stingy on fabric quantities in order to cut both front and back on a fold I had to fold the tweed slightly off the norm and not following the lay plan which is more wasteful, the photo below explains that a bit clearer hopefully.

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Both selvedges are folded into the centre but slightly more than half way each, hence the strange way it looks here. Each selvedge was folded by about 42cms towards the centre which means there’s an area of overlap. The front and the back pieces interlock with one another and the pocket and bias binding fit into other areas.

Because it’s wool I wanted to line the dress so I cut that too but it doesn’t need the pleats. Simply place the front and back pieces onto the fold of the lining but without the whole box pleat, you could keep a little of it if you wish though. I actually made a seam in the centre back by using the selvedge simply to save a bit more fabric. I cut some for the pockets too, the photo below should help. The pocket lining is cut smaller than the tweed, minus the fold at the top.

When it comes to construction the first thing to do is make the pockets. I wanted to line the pockets so I used the lining I’d cut to bag them out instead of pressing the edges under as per the instructions.

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One habit that may not have occurred to you to do is a practice called ‘chaining on’ which basically means instead of taking each part that you sew out from under the presser foot and then inserting the next piece, instead, lift the presser foot and pull the sewn piece out of the way slightly and then put the next piece underneath and continue to sew.  Obviously you still backstitch at the start and finish as normal but this can be a big time, and thread, saver. Making a pair of pockets is a good example of this.

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Stitch the lining to the top of the pocket and press the seam towards the lining.

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Fold in half and stitch leaving a gap at the bottom.

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Trim the corners

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Turn through and press, the gap at the bottom will get stitched up when you sew the pocket onto the dress.

Sew the pockets onto the dress-I moved mine slightly further apart than the tailor tacks because I thought they looked a bit close together (they could possibly move down a bit too, particularly if you’re tall with long arms!). Before I sewed them on though I thought I’d try out one of the fancy stitches my new machine does. I settled on a sort of wave which looks quite nice.

You could choose to embellish the pocket top edge using braid or ribbon for example, or you could fold the top so that it’s on the outside instead, as a wide band, and top stitch it down. Or you could make the pockets in a contrast fabric.

Once the pockets are on you can make the pleats in the front and back. Making the actual pleat is fine but getting it nice and central and even on wool needs a little bit of effort. I made a row of tailor tacks down the CF and CB lines so that I could ‘squash’ the pleat flat and know that I had them central all the way down. If you look at these photos you can see how I pinned through the the tailor tacks to the CF and CB seams underneath. Once I was happy they were accurate I basted the pleats down the edges through all the layers to stop them moving about.

 

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Once I was happy with the pleat positioning I top stitched it down in the centre like this. This isn’t part of the pattern instructions [although stitching across the top of the pleat is] but I think it’s quite an important step as it keeps the pleat permanently in position.
Because I’m using pure wool fabric I can use lots of steam, this really helps the pleats stay in place and can be useful in shrinking out excess and any stretched parts elsewhere too. Make sure you use a pressing cloth though so that you don’t get shiny marks on the fabric.  

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I left the basting in position until I’d completely finished the dress. This is before I’d put the lining in and the binding around the neck.

Sew the shoulders and side seams next, I made the lining up to this point too and, after neatening the seams, stitched it inside the tweed with wrong sides together.

The instructions allow for ready-made bias binding so you could choose a matching colour, or a contrast, or make your own as I did.

This was a slightly risky strategy because the tweed is fairly thick but I decided to give it a try. I made about 1.5m of bias which I pressed under by one centimetre on just one edge using my homemade crease-pressing guide. It’s just a piece of cardboard with centimetres drawn on in 5mm increments.

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Yes I have written ‘hem guide’ on it so that I don’t chuck it away accidentally thinking it’s just a piece of card!

Once the binding was pressed I pinned and stitched it to the inside edge of the neck and armholes. This is because I wanted it to come to the outside and then topstitch it down for a visible and decorative finish.

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Sewing the binding to the inside so that it flips to the outside when it’s finished.

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After stitching the binding on I trimmed the seam down slightly [I ‘graded’ it which means that I trimmed the layers by slightly different amounts which should help prevent there being a bulky lump when you’re dealing with thicker fabrics.] Next I under-stitched the binding close to the seam, which is what you can see here.
Now carefully pin and tack the binding down around the neck and armhole edges, try and do this as evenly as possible because it will be completely visible. It’s worth taking your time. Topstitch it down close to the folded edge

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The binding is visible on the outside instead of being hidden inside as usual so take your time with the preparation and topstitching.

If you’re a bit stuck with the binding there’s tutorial on the Simple Sew website which should help, just click on my link.

Finally, finish your hem. This time I decided to use some grosgrain ribbon over the raw edge to stop any chance of it fraying-as you can see I had just enough!!

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The narrowest of narrow margins!

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First machine the tape or binding on the lower edge then turn the hem up as usual and stitch in position.

The lining should be shorter than the main fabric by a couple of centimetres, I did this at the cutting out stage.

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Yay, a sunny day to take pictures

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Overall I’m happy with my first Anneka, I might cut the next one a bit shorter though. This version is nice and cosy and the lining will help it to keep it’s shape. If you’re using pure wool for skirts, dresses or trousers it’s definitely an idea to line it to prevent it ‘seating’ or going baggy. I’m wearing it with a RTW top but a shirt or blouse would like nice too. In spite of the absence of darts and a zip this one wasn’t particularly quick to make because of all the care I had to take with the fabric and various techniques but a slow-sew can be really satisfying if you’ve got the time.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

I made a coat!! Butterick 6423 to be precise…

Two years ago I did a 10 week tailoring course at Morley College, London but it’s taken me until now to actually make my own coat. I settled on Butterick 6423 partly because it’s a fairly similar silhouette to a RTW coat I already own and wear a lot, and then, ironically, it came free with Love Sewing magazine just before Christmas.

Butterick coat

Added to this I had 3 metres of lovely turquoise-coloured wool in my stash that was gifted to me about a year ago by a friend who was clearing out her mother’s belongings and wanted the fabrics and patterns (LOTS of them) to go to an appreciative home. Not only that, I had just under 2 metres of almost psychedelic lining fabric which came from a different elderly lady ( I had no idea what to do with it at the time but, as is often the way, it goes really well with this wool)

Because I had plenty of fabric, which makes a change for me as I tend to underestimate, I could cut out the coat without having to watch every centimetre. I didn’t have quite enough lining though so I cut all the pieces which would be visible inside the main body and the sleeve linings I cut from plain lining, again from my stash.

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Sleeve lining, with 4cms of the length folded out

Initially, before I cut the fabric, I pinned the tissue together to check it on my dress-stand. I chose to take 3cms out of the overall body length and 4cms out of the sleeves because they seemed terribly long. This proved to be sensible as you’ll see in the finished garment.

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I used loads of good old-fashioned tailor’s tacks on all the balance marks, I’m not always this meticulous but it proved invaluable for this project.

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coming together slowly…

I found the instructions very clear to follow and I don’t think at any time did I get in a muddle although I do think a common problem with the ‘big’ pattern companies is that the diagrams can be very small making it difficult to see exactly what you should be doing, particularly areas like clipping into important corners eg at the collar/shoulder seam.

Because I do a lot of alterations for people I’ve noticed various techniques employed in the construction of RTW garments. Cuffs, for example, are usually stabilised with iron-on interfacing of some kind so that’s what I did here.

By doing this it stops the cuff from stretching (my fabric is fairly loosely woven too) and gives it firmness and stability. I bought my iron-on interfacing in Goldhawk Rd, London so I can’t really give much detail about it except to say I was told it’s suitable for woollens and tailoring with a light jersey backing. I used it on the collar facing too and it seems to be absolutely fine. You could use a firmer one if you wish, that would make the collar firmer than mine.

There are a few places where you’re told to hand sew hand, attaching the sleeve lining to the inside of the cuffs for example, but if you’re not a fan of hand sewing  it is possible to do this by machine, you just need to get them pinned correctly (double-check you’ve got it right first by turning the sleeve right-side out before you sew it)

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I sewed up the sleeve hems inside using herringbone stitch.

It’s also worth attaching a small amount of the sleeve-lining seam to the sleeve seam inside, this stops any chance of the lining sliding out of the end of the sleeve.

You can do this on the machine, or a few running stitches will do the job.

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This is the inside of the back-neck collar seam. I’ve pinned them together and then stitched to keep the seam from shifting about.

Making the back pleat needs a bit of concentration partly because the lining gets stitched together with it-this makes sense because it reduces the bulk if you’d done them each separately. I opted to partly stitch the pleat together for about 10cms down from the top simply so that it didn’t have a chance to be to flappy in wear. IMG_0024

Once the pleat section is sewn on the instructions say to slip-stitch the lining down. Again, it’s possible to do this on the machine, you need to work your way into the right place by going in through the gap at the front between the facing and the coat front. IMG_0023

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I sewed the coat hem up using herringbone stitch because I think it holds a hem nice and firmly. You sew this stitch from left to right, looping each stitch backwards from the previous one, one above then one below.

Throughout the making process I pressed often and used plenty of steam, with a pressing cloth to prevent shine. If you’re using pure wool you can press and re-press because it’s very forgiving although be more careful if you’re using a fabric that isn’t well or is made with mixed fibres. As my tutor on the tailoring course often said, “steam is your friend” A tailor’s ham is a great boon too because it will enable you to press in tricky areas or under curves seams, for example.

The lining hem was just turned and machined. To neaten the bottom of the front facing I applied a little bit of self-made bias binding, it’s looks nice and it doesn’t add the bulk that turning the edge over could do.IMG_0027

I also added 2 small loops of fabric to hold the lining and the coat together at the side seams, again this stops it flapping about in wear.IMG_0028

I added a hanging loop at the neck which I should have sewn on by machine at an earlier stage but I forgot so I had to sew it on by hand at the end.IMG_0029

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I sewed a few stitches through the CB neck seams to secure the collar facing and under-collar to each other.

The last thing to do is the single buttonhole. I had a rummage for a suitable button first and I came up with a single beautiful mother-of-pearl one which I’d bought a couple of years ago, simply because it’s lovely! I paid £1 for it and I’ve actually left the tiny price label on the back, just because…

I created a surround of tacking stitches to hold the area firm and stable before sewing the buttonhole. I did several trial ones first because my Pfaff is so new to me and I didn’t want to mess it up at this late stage. Unfortunately the thread I’d used for the whole garment was clearly too dark in such a prominent position so I had to go and buy a single reel of thread just for the buttonhole! When I sewed the button on I sewed another small button on behind it so that the fabric doesn’t have to take all the strain of a button being done up and undone constantly.

This is a coat with a slightly retro aesthetic, it’s a little bit 50’s, the back is a little bit 20’s. The result though is modern and wearable and I’m really happy with it.IMG_0060

I love the fun lining inside too. The wool fabric isn’t that thick though so I don’t think I’ll be wearing it when it’s very cold although there is room for a jumper underneath.

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You can see where I’ve sewn up the pleat by about 10-12cms.

As you will have noticed it’s a difficult colour to photograph accurately, the outdoor ones are probably the closest to the real shade.

It’s been an enjoyable process, I took my time over it and I’m very happy with the result. It would be a good project to try if you’re becoming a bit more experienced with your sewing, nothing is terribly tricky, buy suitable but not too expensive fabric and take your time! I’m glad I took some of the length out of the body and sleeves as they would have been very long. I made the size medium and it was plenty big enough, I think the sizing is definitely on the generous-side though so don’t be tempted to go up a size, make a toile if you need to or tissue fit if you can. I didn’t bother neatening any of the seams inside because all of them were going to be enclosed but you could choose to leave the coat unlined and then bind all the seams (Hong Kong finish) which is practical and attractive.

…and the coat cost me barely anything at all!

Because it was the free pattern with Love Sewing I expect there will be lots of versions of this coat popping up over the winter so it will be fun to see how they all vary. Have you made this pattern, I’d love to know how you got on?

Happy Sewing

Sue

Visiting fabric shops in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire

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.

Alex sewrendipity

 

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.IMG_4193

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’.IMG_4185

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,

email: escapeandcreateuk@gmail.com

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.IMG_4205

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.IMG_4203

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.IMG_4204

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

Backstitch // Burwash Manor Barns  // New Road // Barton // Cambridge // CB23 7EY // 01223 778118

Normal Opening Hours: 

Mon – Sat: 10am – 5pm, Sun: 11am – 5pm

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

Mobile: 07973 877 028

Shop: 01763 271 991

Email: info@craftyangel.co.uk

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.

IMG_4149
aftermath of a busy day’s free-machine embroidery!

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.IMG_4150

IMG_4151
fabrics and Gutermann threads on offer

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.IMG_4152

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!

The website is https://www.craftyangel.co.uk and you can follow them on Instgram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest too.

Fashion N Fabrics, St Albans

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.

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This was me at the shop meeting fellow sewer and Instagrammer Ruth who lives nearby.

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)

Email: shop@fashion-n-fabrics.com

website: www.fashion-n-fabrics.com

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

In Cambridge there are two other stores, The Cambridge Fabric Company at 7, Peas Hill, Cambridge, CB2 3PP and Sew Creative at King St, Cambridge although they are both quite small.

[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.

Happy Sewing

Sue