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!

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Is knitting really booming?

knitting_parlour_closingI was dismayed to learn this week that my local yarn shop is closing down.

There are other places you can buy yarn in Malvern – there’s The Wool Shack, and several other local shops do sell bits and pieces of wool. But The Knitting Parlour‘s my favourite.

I only started knitting a year ago, and I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent there browsing through pattern books and investigating all the different yarns. There’s something special about squidging yarn in your hands, isn’t there?

Sadly, the shop isn’t closing because the owner is retiring, but because she isn’t making enough money to sustain her business. I’m not exactly a prolific knitter so I don’t buy a lot, but I prefer to knit with real wool and I’ll willingly spend £5 on 50g of soft merino wool. So when you account for rent, rates, staff costs, taxes at a rough guess, the shop probably needs something like 1,000 customers like me to sustain a livelihood for its owner, Jackie.

For beginners, local brick-and-mortar shops are vital: you can see and touch the wool; you can buy just a little to get started; you can get advice from experienced staff; and there are often classes and social sessions to help you improve. If you keep visiting, they can become a place to meet other people who share your interests and, especially if they’re independent, they can help to revitalise a whole high street.

So while I love the way that online knit kit retailers like Wool and the Gang, and Stitch and Story have shaken up knitting to appeal to a younger, hipper set, I would hate for them to squeeze out local yarn shops altogether. Is knitting really booming, or is it just that the same people are knitting different things?

It’s Sew Saturday this weekend (15 October), so let’s pledge to visit our local fabric shops, yarn shops and haberdasheries this week and ensure that they’ll still be there when we need them.

If you’ve got a fantastic fabric shop or wonderful wool shop near you, I’d love to know what you like best about it, and how you go about supporting them.

 

 

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.

Indie pattern companies v the Big 4

Six sewing patterns from different companies.
Six sewing patterns from different companies.
Big 4 on the left, indies on the right.

September has been sewing indie month – to encourage people to discover and buy from independent sewing pattern designers. But which pattern companies are indie and what’s the difference between them and ‘The Big 4’?

The Big 4  – comprises Simplicity (including New Look and Burda), plus Vogue, Butterick and McCalls, all of whom are part of the same group along with Kwik-Sew. So maybe they should really be called The Big 7? Or 2?

In the other camp are the independents (i.e. all the rest) – you’ll find a pretty comprehensive list on Sew Independent.

I’ve used several patterns from Simplicity*, New Look*, McCalls*, Vogue and Kwik-Sew* in the past. This month, I’ve tackled a pattern from Sewaholic. And I’ve previously used patterns by Megan Nielsen*, Colette and Oliver & S.

So what’s the difference?

Buying the pattern

Big 4 patterns are sold by high street retailers and by online retailers like Jaycotts. Indie patterns are available direct from the designer’s website, and many are sold through smaller sewing retailers like Guthrie & Ghani or Backstitch. Most indie patterns are available as .pdfs but some are also available on paper. Most Big 4 patterns are only sold on paper.

Price-wise, the retail price for a Big 4 pattern is usually a bit less, at least in the UK, and when they’re on sale the discounts are bigger.

What are the patterns like to work with?

Indie patterns tend to come with more stylish packaging and more inspiring illustrations – some of the Big 4 photography can be really dated with frumpy photos.

Some indie patterns are printed on tissue, and some on more substantial pattern paper.

Sizing varies, too. While Big 4 Misses patterns all use very similar body measurements on the envelope (although it’s widely thought that Simplicity patterns include a heck of a lot of wearing ease – a sneaky form of vanity sizing, perhaps?), each indie pattern company has its own system. A small selection of Big 4 patterns also come in different cup sizes (usually A, B, C and D like my 50s sundress)

I’d say that the Big 4 patterns I’ve used have been marked up more thoroughly to help with fitting than the indies. They’re more likely to include markings such as lengthen/shorten lines, hiplines and bust points, and to indicate the measurements like the distance from the hip to the natural waistline. This makes them easier to alter to fit you without a toile, I think.

I’ve found that the level of detail and clarity of the pictures in the instructions can be hit and miss with all the companies I’ve tried so far, which brings me onto far and away the best thing about indie pattern companies – the sewalongs!

What’s a sewalong?

Exactly what it sounds like. The pattern company provides a step-by-step online guide to sewing the pattern to supplement the instructions. This usually gives extra tips on choosing fabric, making the garment and includes photos to supplement the line drawings in the pattern instructions. Tilly and the Buttons has taken this one step further, creating an online class you can buy to help you make the Agnes jersey top.

Sewalongs are rare for Big 4 patterns, although an honourable mention must go to the McCalls peacoat #1467sewalong, hosted by House of Pinheiro.

I’m not sure I’d have ended up with a pair of (almost) finished Thurlow shorts without the sewalong from Lladybird.

So… Big 4 or indie?

I’m on the fence here. Indie patterns have a lot going for them, and I love the sewalongs. But I wouldn’t write off the Big 4 because there’s so much choice and I do find them easier to fit.

Which do you prefer? And can you recommend a great indie pattern I haven’t tried yet, or a hidden gem among the latest Big 4 collections?

 

 

*I tried these patterns before I started this blog, so you won’t find these among my makes on the site.