Visit to Beckford Silk, Gloucestershire

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I managed to wangle a day off work yesterday, so to get over missing out on the Sewing Bee Live event this weekend, I took a trip to a local fabric producer up the road near Tewkesbury. I thought I’d share a few pictures and some info in case you’re curious.

Beckford Silk is a family-run silk printing and dyeing business that’s been going for around 40 years. From their workshop in Gloucestershire, they use screen and digital printing to create some beautiful designs on around a dozen different silk fabrics. Lots of their fabric is turned into scarves for museum and heritage clients (think National Trust gift shops), but they also sell plenty of solid-coloured and printed silks by the metre for dressmaking.

If you visit, as well as the shop and a cafe (with sublime fresh scones!), there’s also a small visitors’ centre room. Here you can watch a film about the printing process and the history of the business. There are large swatches of the different fabrics to examine and a fantastic display of old printing blocks on one wall.

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A scarf-sized swatch of each fabric is available to handle so you can examine the different weight, drape and feel of each one.

There’s a range of different printed silks available to buy in the shop – my favourites included this, and this. Plus there’s a even larger range of solid colours. If it were payday, I think I’d have succumbed to this oxblood silk velvet, and a metre or so of this deep red heavy crepe de chine – perfect for a slinky-but-office-appropriate woven t-shirt.

After my first experience of working with slippery silk fabrics earlier this year, I’m now definitely inspired to try something else in silk soon. The new Liesl + Co Chai Tee pattern stood out as a potential silk make for me this week. Or a dressing gown, perhaps?

Have you sewn with silk, and which substrate would you recommend as the easiest to begin with?

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If you’ve got a bit longer to spend in the area, there are two awesome things to do nearby:

  1. On a clear day, take a walk up Bredon Hill for fantastic views of the Cotswold ridge, May Hill, the Malvern Hills and beyond to the Brecon Beacons.
  2. On a cold, wet day, head over to Tewkesbury High Street and seek out Cafe au Chocolat. The speciality hot chocolate is to die for…

J x

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Fabric shopping my way round Britain

 

I don’t like to think of myself as shallow, but I do love a bit of shopping. Not the buying – that’s always painful – so much as the looking, and contemplating the possibilities.

As the parent of a four-year old, I haven’t spent much of the last four years pondering, browsing, or pottering about. Much like the dog, my son has a three-shop limit. So a trip to a fabric store without anyone whining “Muhhh-meee, can we go now?”, is a rare treat to be savoured, relished and positively luxuriated in.

Thanks to DH, one time that I get to do this is on holiday. He has no interest in shopping either, but he does willingly look after both boy and dog while I browse. I’ve really enjoyed visiting different sewing shops in some off-the-beaten-track locations (like Bentham in North Yorkshire), and getting a little snapshot of the sewing habits of each town.

And because I also really, really love maps, I decided to keep a record – a sewing shop map, plotting the sewing shops I’ve visited in Britain.

Sewing shops don’t always have flashy websites, or even social media accounts, so it can be a bit of a mission tracking them down online and working out what they do and don’t sell. In case it’s useful for anyone else, I’ve made my map available to access on Google maps, and included a short description of each one with a date, so you know whether it’s up-to-date or not.

I’m heading to the Isle of Wight in October, so let me know if there’s anywhere you’d recommend I visit there!

Wedding planner

One of my sisters is getting married this year – hurrah! And she’s asked me to be a bridesmaid. Eeek. After getting over the initial wobbles (I definitely feel too old to be a bridesmaid), I said yes.

I get to pick my own dress, and the wedding won’t be all that formal or traditional, so I can probably choose something that I’ll be able to wear again as a guest at future weddings. My other sister is going to be a bridesmaid too, along with a friend of my sister’s partner – and we don’t all have to wear the same dress, just fit with the colour scheme.

Basically I think that means I can wear whatever I want as long as it’s bridesmaid-appropriate, weather-appropriate for August in England, and blue. So I’m  very tempted to sew my outfit – although a bit worried that I might leave it too late and end up stitching the hem while walking down the aisle.

I’ve started a Pinterest board with some initial ideas for patterns and fabrics:

Is swallow print ‘appropriate’? Would silk crepe de chine be too much of a challenge? Would cotton look too casual?

Pattern-wise, it’s almost certain to be a fit-and-flare dress on the grain, in a woven fabric. I’m open to a maxi length, but realistically I’ll probably get more wear from a knee-length dress.

All ideas and suggestions welcome… have you sewn a great bridesmaid’s dress pattern for yourself or someone else? Which fabrics would look smart, stylish but also stand up to wearing and resist creases – I’m likely to spend a fair amount of the wedding with a four-year old sitting on my lap.

The end of my stash diet

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Back in September, I decided my fabric stash was beginning to get out of control, and that it was time to take action. I was accumulating fabric faster than I was sewing it up and it was making a very definite hole in my wallet.

So I began a stash diet, and I made myself a promise:

  • I wouldn’t buy any more fashion fabric in 2016
  • I would sew the garments for which I already had both the fabric and the pattern.

The first thing that happened after that was that I went to #sewbrum – a sewing meet up of over 100 fabric-hungry sewists, complete with a tour of Birmimgham’s best fabric shops. Nightmare. But I stood firm and (possibly for the first time ever) didn’t succumb to the delights of Guthrie & Ghani’s shelves.

What’s surprised me is that I’ve actually enjoyed it.

Working through my stash and completing some of the projects I’d had planned for a long time (Fifi pyjamas, Fairfield shirt, Christmas pudding pyjama bottoms) has been really satisfying. And because it’s so long since I bought some of these fabrics it feels a bit like getting free clothes.

It’s forced me to confront the stuff at the bottom of my stash and assess whether or not I’m ever going to use it. One or two pieces have made their way to charity shops, and I’ve spent time thinking about how I’m going to use the rest.

There’s been a psychological change too. It felt liberating to just delete all those emails that tried to tempt me with 20% off Liberty prints or 15% off wool coating. Once I’d said I wasn’t buying any more fabric , I no longer had an excuse to browse for it online. My fear of missing out began to lessen, and I stopped trying to examine and assess all the possibilities.

And this week I came across (courtesy of the Oliver + S blog) something else that struck a chord. Deep in an article about ways to save money painlessly, was the following advice:

When you’re passionate about a particular hobby, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accumulating stuff related to that hobby rather than actually doing things within that hobby.

That hit home. I often say I’d like more time to sew. So why am I spending all this time buying fabric and browsing fabric rather than actually sewing?

So my 2017 stash resolutions are:

  1. Not to buy fabric faster than I can use it – for me, that’s one piece a month.
  2. To start thinking about my pattern purchases in the same way. Half price patterns, or the latest indie sensation is definitely not a bargain if I never get around to sewing it. Unless it’s a rare vintage pattern, it WILL be there in six months when I actually have time to sew it.
  3. To spend less time browsing fabrics online and use that time to actually sew things!

Have you resolved to sew your stash this year? What’s the best approach for you?

How to choose fabric for your first handmade garment

[This post is part of a series on learning to sew, Starting to Sew.]

Some of things I’ve made with cotton – definitely the most straightforward fabric to sew with.

I love this bit. I really do. There’s such a world of possibilities out there and it’s the moment when you get to steer your project away from frumpy pattern envelope photos (yes, Simplicity, I’m looking at you) and towards the fabrics and colours you love.

If you’ve never sewn a garment before (no, cushions don’t count), then there’s only one fibre you should use for your first project: cotton.

Why 100% cotton?

Cotton is strong, stable, washable and comes in a huge range of prints and colours. It has a clear lengthwise grain, it presses easily and it’s not stretchy. And it’s not usually particularly expensive. All these factors make it one of the simplest fabrics to cut and sew garments with: you won’t need any special equipment for cotton – unlike silk or wool.

Cotton can also be blended with other fibres like polyester, to create fabrics that don’t crease and are easier to wash and dry. Although these are definitely useful benefits, and polycotton is often very cheap, it does mean it’ll be harder to press your fabric. That means you’ll struggle to get neat seam finishes, casings and hems. So unless you really, really loathe ironing, I’d suggest you start on something that’s 100% cotton, and move on to a polycotton for version two if you want to.

Which type of cotton?

Cotton fibres can be woven (or knitted) into a multitude of different fabrics, so you’ll need to choose one that’s easy to work with and suitable for the garment you’re making. If you’re not sure what to make as your first garment, you might like to read this post first. The first thing you should do is check out the fabrics recommended by the pattern designer – they’ll be listed on the back of the envelope, or early on in the instructions if you’re using a pdf pattern. Very thin and very thick fabrics present their own challenges, so you’ll probably want to avoid these to begin with. Similarly, you should avoid anything with a nap (a one-way weave) like corduroy.

If you’ve chosen to make a skirt, you’ll probably want use either cotton lawn, cotton poplin, cotton chambray or cotton twill (including mid-lightweight denim). If you’re making pyjama bottoms, you might opt for cotton flannel for winter, or cotton lawn for summer.

What about quilting cotton?

Quilting cotton is just that – cotton designed for quilting. So although it comes in thousands of colours and prints, and it’s more widely available than other fabrics, it’s not always suitable for garments. (I once made some PJ shorts in a quilting cotton and they’re really uncomfortable next to the skin.) If you’re making a flared skirt, it might be suitable, but it wouldn’t have enough drape for a blouse, for example. For more info on sewing garments with quilting cotton, read this post from Tilly and the Buttons.

So much choice!

If you can, try to choose your fabric at a shop rather than online. Staff in fabric shops are usually really knowledgable and can direct you to the right materials faster than you find them yourself. Take your pattern with you and ask for advice. Or get them to help you unroll the fabric from the bolt so you can hold it up against your face in the mirror/drape it round you. This will help you decide whether it suits you, and see how it’ll behave as a garment.

If you do buy online, you can always contact the seller with questions. Read the description of the fabric carefully, and if you’re spending what seems like a lot of money, then always ask for/buy a fabric sample first. Cut lengths of fabric can’t be returned unless they’re faulty.

Pick out something you love and buy 0.5m more than the pattern says you need so you can play around with it and practise your stitches.

Prints v solids

There are two schools of thought on this:

  1. You should stick with solids because then you don’t have to worry about matching the pattern up at the seamlines, or pattern placement (making sure you don’t end up with circles around your nipples, for example)
  2. You should choose a print because it’ll distract the eye from any wonky stitching or fitting issues.

So I’m not going to tell you what to do here. Go with your favourite.

Before you cut

The fabric shop should tell you the washing instructions for your material. Even if they don’t, always plonk your cotton fabric in the washing machine (on its own, in case the colour runs) and give it at least one wash and dry before you cut into it – using the same programme as you plan to use for the finished garment.

The stash diet: progress update

p1130982After it dawned on me that my stash was gradually expanding I decided in late September to sew up some of the £200 or so of fabric that’s languishing in my sewing space. Critically, I also pledged not to buy any more fabric until at least January 2017.

So how’s it working out at the halfway point?

So far, so good. I think. I’ve completed the Fifi pyjama set for which I’ve had both fabric and pattern since July. Next, I’m going to tackle a Fairfield shirt for Mr Wardrobe using the gorgeous dark grey/blue chambray pictured above that I bought from Eme in Ilkley back in August.

The hardest part has been not snapping up new fabric. To grow my sewing shop map, I try to visit a fabric shop each time I go to anther town. So since September I’ve visited Guthrie & Ghani, Barry’s and Birmingham Rag Market at #sewbrum; and the luxe-denim fest that is Cloth House in Soho, London. My inbox is also regularly deluged with new stock from online stores and, most tempting of all, info on sales and discount codes.

The news this week that the cost of imported goods, including fabric, is likely to rise in the UK next year almost tipped me over the edge into some impulse purchases. But for now at least, I’m staying strong, and well away from the remnants bin.

How about you? Are you trying to reduce your stash, or does it keep on growing?

The stash diet: use it or lose it

At #sewbrum this weekend, I didn’t buy a single piece of fabric. I know. It was painful.

We visited the Rag Market, Fancy Silk Store, Barry’s and Guthrie & Ghani, plus there was a fabric swap, so it wasn’t because I wasn’t tempted.

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I very nearly came home with some of this gorgeous textured wool – perfect for a new coat, don’t you think?

It’s that over the past year I’ve slowly amassed more fabric than I’ve sewn. Some of it was on sale; some was perfect for a pattern I already had; some was too beautiful to leave on the shelf. But whatever the reason for the purchase, most of it is still on the shelf. So I’ve set myself a challenge.

I won’t buy any more fashion fabric this year. (Interfacings, linings, trims and calico are all permitted if I need them for a current project.)

I will sew up all the fabric I bought to go with a specific pattern before buying any more. That means tackling the following projects: Fifi by Tilly and the Buttons, The Ginger jeans by Closet Case Files (eek), some Christmas PJ bottoms for my son, and the final version of the Fairfield shirt from Thread Theory.

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This one is all ready to cut out.

If that doesn’t take me up to Christmas, then I’ll sew some of the rest of my stash too. I have cuts of border-print denim, flecked sweatshirting, striped single jersey and red wool crepe that are all crying out to make it into my wardrobe.

Denim border stitch and white jersey drying on the washing line
The border print denim has been languishing unused for over a year now.

Let’s see how it goes.

Is your stash growing or shrinking? And how do you make sure your house doesn’t gradually fill up with enough fabric to bury your partner, children and pets underneath it all?

How to survive a sewing meet-up

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I’m spending this coming Saturday at #sewbrum, organised by supersewist Charlotte from English Girl at Home.

I’m looking forward to it, but as someone who’s never found it easy to walk into a room full of strangers, here’s what I’m worrying about right now…

What to wear

You think your clothes get scrutinised at work/on the school run/down the pub? Well, now I’m meeting a group of closet perfectionists who’ll potentially be trying to guess which pattern I used and where I bought the fabric. What if their sharp eyes spot a scruffy hem or an ill-fitting sleeve?

I think I’ve deduced that dresses are de rigeur, and turning up in RTW is frowned on. I suspect extra points are awarded for quirky sewing-themed accessories like scarves, brooches and earrings. I own none of these.

Whatever I do, I musn’t admit to…

Having no interest in bra-making

Being content without a dedicated, Insta-perfect sewing studio

Preferring dogs to cats.

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Are you going? I’ll see you there – please come and say hi!

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Update – 26 September, two days after the event

So I went, and everyone I met was very friendly. Yes, it was a bit intimidating walking into a whole room full of virtual strangers but there were lots of other people who’d come on their own too.

It was great to meet some of the people whose creations, blogs and skills I’ve been admiring online, and it never hurts to check out some new fabric shops either!

 

 

Updated sewing shop map

Even though I usually shop online these days, fabric is my exception. I prefer to buy it in person, where I can touch and manipulate potential purchases to see how they drape, how they feel and how they handle.

Because unlike a pair of shoes you buy online, once your fabric’s been cut you can’t return it.

To help sewists find the materials they need, I’d like to build up a sewing shop map, listing as many tried and tested UK brick and mortar fabric shops as possible, complete with info on the kinds of things they stock. So I’ve made a start.

So you know what it’s like to actually visit each shop, I’ve decided only to list shops I’ve visited. To be listed, the shop must sell items or services that dressmakers would use such as fabric, patterns, notions, tools, workshops or sewing machine repair.

I always enjoy visiting new fabric shops, but I’m unlikely to be able to cover the whole country. (I do have a job, after all.) So if you’d like to contribute a shop or two that you love to visit, let me know in the comments and I can elevate you to contributor status!

Ultimately, I’d like this map to connect people to a great sewing shop near where they live, or in an unfamiliar town they’re going to visit.

Wardrobe ethics: is handmade better?

Denim border stitch and white jersey drying on the washing line

Clothing can seem like an ethical minefield sometimes. This week’s Fashion Revolution campaign is doing great work highlighting what most people forget – that clothes are made by actual people sitting at sewing machines. And that many of those people work in far-flung places, in very poor conditions.

Sewing gives you control over the manufacture of the garment – you know exactly who made your clothes. But sewing, or refashioning, teaches you something else too. You learn exactly what it takes to make a garment – that even a simple T-shirt requires cutting, stitching, pressing and finishing to get a wearable result. And when you do that, you start to realise that cheap clothing just doesn’t add up.

If I browse H&M’s website, I can see jersey tops priced at £3.99. How can £3.99 possibly cover the fabric (cotton) and thread, a fair rate for the labour, shipping to the UK from the factory and a profit for the retailer? Even accounting for economies of scale and the lower cost of living in the country of production (Bangladesh? China? Cambodia? – the item details don’t say), I think I can still smell a rat. Someone somewhere isn’t making a fair wage for their work.

I’m not convinced that expensive designer clothing is any better –  a high price doesn’t tell you what the producer receives, or whether something is good quality – although you’re more justified in being disappointed if it’s shoddily made. Good value clothing is about quality, not just price.

Sewists value clothing differently. We began to sew because ready-to-wear clothing didn’t fit, or because we couldn’t find what we wanted in the shops, so we’re picky by nature. But the slow pace of sewing teaches you to value quality over quantity. Sewists obsess over fabric, fit and finishes. It’s that thought process, and the fixation with quality that produces a more sustainable wardrobe. Handmade garments have been chosen and altered to suit and fit the wearer, they’re made carefully, and they last longer and get more wear than a knock-off of the latest fad. And that’s why you won’t usually find us in fast-fashion stores loading up with armfuls of the latest trends.

It’s not a perfect world. I’d like to see a better selection of sustainable fabrics available for sewers. And I’ll confess that until this week I hadn’t even considered who makes the thread, zips and trims I use. So perhaps instead of smugly proclaiming #imademyclothes, we should be asking ‘Who made my fabric?’

I’m not suggesting that everyone should make every garment they wear, or that we can travel back in time to an age when there were talented local seamstresses in every town. But the next time you find yourself in a clothes shop, look carefully at what you’re holding as you make for the till. Does it really fit you? How well is it constructed? Will you wear it out?

Don’t settle for mediocre. If it doesn’t fit properly, could you get it altered? If the buttons are falling off, could you replace them? Over time, would you swap a large, poor-quality wardrobe for a smaller, better-quality one? The only way to step off the fast-fashion treadmill is to buy less, but buy better – better for you, and better for the garment workers.

If you want to get involved, you can:

Visit fashionrevolution.org to tackle your favourite clothing retailer on their supply chain

Read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline, the subject of last month’s Colette book club

Check out fashion blogger Man Repeller’s thoughts on slow fashion

Follow US Style and sewing blogger Birds of a Thread, who writes about ethical and socially responsible fashion

Gen up with English Girl at Home who’s been researching where different companies make and print their fabric.