News

  • Full Time Staff Vacancy....

     

    Full Time Sewing School Coordinator

    A fantastic opportunity for an exceptionally organised and caring person with creative flair, attention to detail and a love of fabric and everything related to it!

    We are looking for somebody who enjoys a busy environment and has great customer service skills. A good knowledge of sewing is essential and experience in hospitality would be an advantage. The applicant for this role must enjoy being the host - taking care of the students, the teachers and the workshop environment.

    You will be working in our Essex Road shop in Islington, London. It has a vibrant atmosphere and accommodates a busy, creative community of colleagues, customers and followers.

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    Your Role:

    Managing class bookings, teaching schedules and school databases.

    Maintaining the workshop environment to a high standard.

    Responsibility for in-shop school promotion and sample displays.

    Managing stock of patterns and equipment in the workshop.

    Taking care of the students and the teachers during class times.

    Creating social media content related to the sewing school.

    Collaborating and helping to run a regular monthly evening event.

    Jointly assisting with all duties related to the running of the business.

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    SALARY COMMENSURATE WITH EXPERIENCE

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    If you think you could be our person, please apply with a cover letter and CV to info@raystitch.co.uk

     

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  • Ray-Stitch: An evening with...

    Join us for a fascinating evening of discussion to celebrate London Craft Week 2019.

     


     

    To celebrate London Craft week, Ray-Stitch will be joining our partners Crabtree & Evelyn to host a unique panel event celebrating the skilled work of four esteemed textile artists and curators. This event will take place at the Crabtree & Evelyn special flagship townhouse venue – located on Upper Street, in the heart of bustling Islington, not far from our shop. This bespoke space is a hub for cultural programs curated for and by the local community

    London gallery curator Gregory Parsons will chair this talk to spark a captivating dialogue between four highly skilled and talented textile artists, bringing them together in a one-off discussion.  Gregory’s exciting and varied portfolio career spanning design, development, creative consultation and curation will bring a unique point of view to the event. Through his work in both fashion and interiors he has developed a strong and diverse relationship with craft to enable him to curate a fascinating and insightful conversation that will definitely be worth joining us to hear.

    Our panel consists of four esteemed textile artists. Richard Mcvetis MA RVA, a textile embroidery artist known for his contemporary and minimalist approach. Using labour-intensive processes he explores the subtle nuances between ritualistic and habitual making.  Abigail Booth, co-founder of Forest + Found and Quilter, who works with artist Max Bainbridge to produce installations and displays using natural and raw materials to navigate the changing concept of the maker. Julie Arkell is a leading UK Folk Artist, using paper-machie and mixed media combined with traditional techniques, she creates distinctly personal creatures. Finally Hand Embroidery Artist Stuart Easton creates intricate pieces, drawing upon folk song, story and social history to tell a narrative.

    This two-hour event begins with a 30 minute reception with free drinks and snacks followed by an hour's talk and then a 30 minute Q and A at the end. In addition attendees will receive 10% off at Ray-Stitch and also receive a special discount to use in the Crabtree & Evelyn store on the night.

  • Me Made May 2019

    The months are flying by and we are very nearly into May already! Not only does that mean warmer weather (maybe) and less layers (hopefully) but it means that it is time for ME MADE MAY (definitely!) If you haven't heard of MMM before, we have all the information you need, plus details of how we will be encouraging you to take part too.

    Created in 2010 by Zoe Edwards, who wanted to push herself in her endeavours to create a handmade wardrobe. "I wanted to test myself and see how far I could rely on the items I had made, plus it gave me a push to try different types of garments that I’d never tackled before, like undies and a coat." Initially, it was a personal challenge but when she mentioned it in her blog So, Zo, What Do You Know? she had a fairly good response from others who wanted to try it too. Over the years it has grown from the first 80 keen sewers to 1000s last year and is one of the most popular sewing hashtags on Instagram in May.

    But there is something that makes this 'challenge' very different from most social media campaigns. When we spoke to her she was very quick to emphasise that it's neither a competition nor a photo challenge, but a personal experience to help you appreciate your me-mades more, and improve your own personal relationship with your handmade wardrobe.

    If you are thinking that you'd like to take part but are worried you don't have enough handmade garments then Zoe has the answer for that: "You can sign up to the challenge whether you have one solitary self-made garment or an entire wardrobe. You just have to think up a challenge that will be useful but do-able for YOU, no matter what you see other participants pledging to do."

    We love this aspect of Me Made May as it celebrates the more advanced sewers but still encourages the newbies and inspires everyone who takes part (or even just watches from the sidelines). Obviously, handmade clothes are something we want everyone to have a go at and there really is no better feeling for us to see a customer proudly wearing something that they have made themselves. So for the last few years, we have run a promotion alongside Me Made May to encourage you to show us the things you have made from Ray Stitch fabric!

    This year there are two ways to take part in our promotion: come into our store wearing a garment you have made using Ray Stitch fabric and we will give you a 10% discount on purchases (excluding classes), or if you aren't local then you can use social media to join in! Simply send us a photo* of you wearing a garment made from our fabric and we will send you an exclusive discount code to use online.

    *Send us your photo via a Direct Message on Instagram or Facebook so that we don't miss any.

    And don't forget to sign up for ME MADE MAY and make your personal pledge for the month. Zoe has written all the 'rules' and answered all the most frequently asked questions so pop over to her blog and have a read. We can't wait to be inspired by the 10th #memademay !

  • London Craft Week 2019

    London Craft Week returns to the capital for its fifth year from 8-12 May 2019. This festival, held in venues all over London, celebrates outstanding British and international creativity, and although this year's programme has not been announced yet if past years are anything to go by there is lots to be excited about! We are promised over 200 craft-focused events on the programme from workshops, talks, demonstrations and exhibitions, all from a diverse line-up of both established and emerging creative makers from the UK and beyond. You can look back at last year's programme of events to get a taste of what could be on offer this year and keep an eye on the London Craft Week website for 2019 programme updates.

    "Whether your intention is to consume or simply converse if you appreciate beauty and the value of craftsmanship, then London Craft Week is one of the month’s must-visit events." Charlotte Abrahams FT How To Spend It

    London Craft Week began in 2015 when founder Guy Salter realised that there was a huge creative area that wasn't being celebrated in the same way as fashion, art, film or design. Grayson Perry opened the inaugural, star-studded event held at the V&A Museum, but throughout, the activity of craft and making was (and still is) the main focus.

    "This is a great moment acknowledging that craft is woven into many parts of our lives. It is the place where we connect with the materials all around us. Craftsman working with their hands are relevant to modern life and encompass so many businesses from tailors and jewellers to car manufacturers and joiners, ensuring that Craft isn’t some sort of nostalgic thing." Grayson Perry

    Obviously, these are all values that we hold at Ray Stitch too, and although we celebrate craft every day, we couldn't let London Craft Week pass by without getting involved so we have put together some very special events.

    We will be running our hugely popular 'Boro' stitch and repair workshops and a class for beginners to learn the art of Shibori (think Japanese tie-dye). We are also pleased to welcome back textile artists Richard McVetis and Fran Burden who will be leading classes in hand embroidery in their own distinct styles.

    A finalist of the 2018 Loewe Craft Prize, Richard McVetis is one of the leading contemporary hand embroidery artists in the UK today. His minimalist work is an endless exploration, not just of form but also of the reclamation and potential of process and repetition within stitch. Fran Burden's work explores how process and making can be both adaptable and purposeful: she explores pattern-making by using cross-stitch on heavy unbleached canvas to great effect.

    If you would prefer to try your hand at some more free-form stitching then you could make your own improvised patchwork quilt with Forest + Found, or let your imagination run wild as you design and make a creature with folk-artist Julie Arkell.

    Forest + Found is a sustainable craft and design partnership set up by Max Bainbridge and Abigail Booth in late 2014. Both having a background in Fine Art, their practice has an emphasis on material and process. Working with traditional methods of craft they produce contemporary wooden objects and hand stitched textiles. Julie Arkell is one of the UK’s best recognised contemporary folk artists. Working in papier-maché and mixed media, Julie combines craft and fine art techniques to create distinctly personal creatures. She uses a mix of vintage fabrics, scraps of poems and words she loves, as well as hand knitted textiles and stitching to make her dolls.

    On the Friday night we will be hosting a discussion panel with the talented textile artists mentioned above. There will be a Chair to lead the conversation, but the 4 artists will talk freely about the connection between their work and traditional crafting processes and there will be a chance to ask your own questions at the end of the evening.

    Booking for these events is open now so have a look on our website for more details and to book your place. We can't wait for Craft to take over London in May and we will be sure to keep you up to date with any news as we get it!

  • Hot Under The Collar - Sewing a Shirt

    Pattern: Deer & Doe Méliot Shirt

    Chances are you own at least one shirt, whether it is a formal cotton one or a more relaxed denim or linen shirt, but have you ever made your own? Initially, a shirt can seem a daunting project: buttonholes, plackets, fitting a collar, sewing cuffs... There's a lot to consider but if you are familiar with your sewing machine and used to following patterns, a shirt could be the next challenge you are looking for to learn new sewing skills or perfect existing ones.

    Shirts have been part of our wardrobes for centuries - in fact, the earliest record of such a garment dates back to the Ancient Egyptians! Shirts were a necessity due to the lack of modern stretchy fabrics, so variations on the theme were worn by everyone, regardless of status and gender. Hemlines went up and down - in fact, long shirt tails were popular in the early 18th century as they doubled up as underwear when tucked in! Collars became removable in 1827, which meant that they could be washed separately as required. Ever wondered why the buttons are on opposite sides for many men and women's shirts? Women of status were often dressed by their servants, which was easier to do if the buttons close to the left (apparently!) There is a wonderful animated timeline from shirtmakers Gant, which details the full history of the shirt - click here to see it.

    Although the form of a shirt has changed very little in the last century, there are so many design variations that you can experiment with and make your shirt your own. We have a wide range of patterns to choose from, including 'mens' shirts and shirtdresses too.

    Top from l-r: Colette Penny Dress, Closet Case Kalle Shirt, Cashmerette Harrison Fitted Shirt    Bottom l-r: Green Bee Frances Shirtdress, Cashmerette Lenox Shirtdress, Sewaholic Granville Shirt

     

     

    But first, the basics... once you've chosen your pattern, you need to think about the fabric: light to medium weight woven fabrics are what you should be aiming for. Cotton, poplin, chambray, light denim, oxford cotton or cotton shirting will give you a crisp tailored look, while linen, rayon, fine needlecord, flannel, or barkcloth will give a more casual feel. To help you decide on the perfect fabric for your project we have a whole section online and in-store specifically for Shirting Weight Wovens, but if you need more help then pop in for a chat or contact us. These tips will help you tackle your shirt project confidently and make sure you have professional results:

    • Pre-washing your woven fabric is a must when making a shirt, as any shrinkage on the first wash would be frustrating after you'd spent all that time making it!

    • You will also need to make sure your cutting tools are sharp - whether you prefer scissors or a rotary blade, sharp will mean more accurate and neater results. Woven fabrics do fray so snip off any threads as you work, so you don't get tangled in the machine.

    • You will need to consider how to treat your seams so that the fabric doesn't fray over time. Your pattern will tell you the best way to do this, but overlocking, french seams, or flat-felled seams are all commonly used for shirts.

    • Match the interfacing to the fabric you are using - too thick and your collar won't sit right. Look for professional garment grade interfacing, and be guided by the pattern.

    • Take your time to mark the pattern carefully, and transfer all the details you need on to the fabric. Be especially accurate with the buttonholes as you want these match up perfectly. You can use either chalk or erasable pens on most woven fabric.

    • Press, press, press! Making sure your seams are pressed correctly during construction will give you a crisper finish, so make sure you don't skip this at every stage. If you want to get really professional, you can invest in a tailors ham or a sleeve board.

    Garment details from Left:
    Mens shirt: Liesl and Co All Day Shirt, made in Irish Linen/Wool. Ladies shirt: Grainline Archer Shirt, made in Patch Weave Javanese Cotton, Skirt: New Look Basic Skirt, made in Dark Denim

    We asked one of our sewing teachers about her love of sewing shirts: "I got into it for the challenge and because I wanted to make something for men for a change. There is something special about giving a handmade, made-to-measure shirt as a present. I also love the variety of skills you need to use. There's never a dull moment!"

    • Don't be put off by the perceived complexity. Do a little sample for each part (preferably using the same fabric) e.g. a flat fell seam a small buttonhole or a curved hem.

    • Hand baste the trickier parts like the collar, cuffs and plackets. It's so much easier to sew accurately without pins getting in the way.

    • Spend lots of time on the detail; cutting down the collar, pressing and topstitching.

    • Use a blind hem foot for single topstitching. It has a little gauge which will make sure all your rows are the same distance from the seam.

    • Make sure your buttonholes are evenly spaced, mark them carefully and don't cut any of them until they are all done and you're happy with the placing.

      The bottom buttonhole in a man's shirt is often horizontal rather than vertical. It looks really professional to do this. You could even do the bottom buttonhole in a contrasting colour for a little twist.

    • Keep an example of a shirt with you while you're sewing. It helps to have a reminder of how a placket should sit or which direction the seams go.

    If you would like a bit more tuition, or just want to sew in a friendly supportive environment, we are running a Shirt Making Weekend on 13 and 14 April. Over the weekend, you will learn how to make a classic shirt with all the details such as cuffs, collar, yoke and placket. You can choose either the Archer Shirt pattern (above) designed by Grainline Studios or All Day Shirt (below) by Liesl & Co. With a maximum of 6 in the group, and our experienced tutor you will leave with new skills, full of inspiration (and refreshments!) and a finished shirt!

    Or you could spend the day making the Closet Case 'Kalle' Blouse or Shirtdress in our class on 15 March. As usual, lunch & refreshments are included and booking a class at Ray Stitch entitles you to 10% off everything in-store where our team are happy to help and advise on fabric choice.

    We hope this has inspired you to tackle making a shirt, and if so then please share it with us on Instagram using #raystitch. We love seeing your projects and so do our followers. (And if you are looking for more online inspiration, check out @indie_sew who have designated February as #shirtmonth!)

    Happy sewing :)

  • Papercut Patterns: New Range In!

    We are lucky enough to stock so many amazing and creative pattern designers, but because of this, it's hard to pick a favourite but New-Zealand based Papercut Patterns are definitely high up on our list. Everything about them is a joy - from the beautiful but very practical packaging (the patterns are printed on recycled brown trace and designed to hang up for storage, just like a real fashion studio) to the original and highly wearable garments. Plus, owner Katie Brown has always had a passion to make the brand as sustainable as possible and to reduce her/our impact on resources. The Sapporo Coat and the Anima Sweatpants have been staples in-store, in our classes and in our own wardrobes too!

     

    The latest range is called GEO and features inspiration from both geometry and geology - designs are called, Ravine, Pinnacle and Fjord, and there are really interesting triangle design features and plunging necks/backs. We will be stocking four patterns from the new range which cover all the essentials: trousers, top/sweater, dress and jumpsuit as well as having options for 'Rookie' and 'Skilled' sewers.

     

    Top Row: Sierra Jumpsuit, Palisade Pants, Ravine Dress

    Bottom Row: Palisade Pants, Ravine Dress, Pinnacle Top/Sweater

    There are some great photos being shared on social media which show the versatility of these patterns and just how different each garment can look depending on the fabric used. You can follow Papercut on Instagram for inspiration, or of course, share with us @raystitch. And if you need any advice on choosing the best fabric for your project then we would love to help - pop in if you're local or email/phone for a chat!

     

    But as we welcome these fab four designs to our pattern room, we also are saying goodbye to some favourites to make room. This is your chance to snap up these patterns on sale, now only £15 before they are all gone!

     

    From left to right: Pneuma Tank, Flutter Sleeve Dress/Top and Guise Pants, Milano Cape.

    We are thinking of the Pneuma for keeping up our new year's resolution to be more active, getting prepared for spring with the Flutter top and trousers while the Milano Cape is just perfect for this chilly weather!

    Whichever range you choose from we hope that you will enjoy making and wearing your Papercut project :)

  • New Year, New Makes!

    So that's all out of the way then, and the new year commences with enthusiasm and a keen desire to get stuck in to a few of the patterns we've been wanting to make up for a while. That new year feeling of renewed energy combined with the arrival of some tempting new fabrics and we're all set! Just thought we'd share what's in the pipeline....

    A practical make to start with, the Maven Patterns Maria Apron .This studio apron is so cool, and just the thing for rolling up your sleeves and getting down to it. Paired with this Nani Iro Herringbone Canvas it's going to look the business....

     

    Astonishingly, we haven't made up The Archer Shirt yet, although we've seen some fabulous versions of it in the shop and online. So this one is definitely at the top of the to-do list, and when this gorgeous Japanese Patchweave Cotton arrived this week we thought it's gentle crispness would be perfect for a neat little button up shirt...

     

    This Lisette pattern is an old favourite, and sadly it's about to be discontinued :-( The front pleat skirt we've made many times but there's so much lovely wool around that we're going to make it again in The London Cloth Co - Kentish and wear it with a pair of high heeled leather boots!

     

    Dying to make these! Let's pretend it's summer and slink about in a pair of bright pink flowery City Trousers, sure to cheer everyone up... (Dahlia Print Stretch Cotton Sateen)

     

    This lovely new Japanese print has been VERY popular since it came in this week. Liesl and Co's gathered Shorts and Skirt pattern will be perfect to show off the fabric's gorgeous drape, but shorts or skirt?? Dilemma time...

     

    And finally, a simple but beautifully detailed little top to go with [shorts or skirt??] Using the Japanese Patchweave again because it's so pretty, this Chai Tee going to be NICE...

    So watch this space, we'll be sure to share when they're all made up. Hope you're enjoying your own new year makes... xx

  • And relax... Simple ideas to fill your festive break with extra Hygge!

    We will be closing our door and shutting up shop on the 23rd December so that from Christmas Eve our staff can enjoy a well-earned break with their nearest and dearest.

    We love the meaning of the Danish word 'Hygge' (pronounced 'hoo-ga') which encompasses the feelings of cosy contentment and well-being from enjoying the simpler things in life, and we will all be aiming to add as much hygge as possible to our festivities! Think snuggling under quilts on the sofa, with candles burning (or even better a log fire) and some tasty food and drink.

    We asked each member of the Ray Stitch team what they were most looking forward to doing this Christmas...

    RACHEL:

    I love entertaining and have a big extended family who will all be popping by at various times. Food and drink are very important....

    Mulled Apple Juice Recipe:

    1 litre of good quality apple juice

    Peel from 1 orange cut into strips

    1 cinnamon stick and 3 cloves

    Simmer all the ingredients together for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse, and the gorgeous smell to spread around your home.

    ZOE:

    As well as spending time with my family and eating ALL the food, I am really looking forward to having the time to curl up on the sofa with a good book. There really isn't a better way to spend a dark chilly evening. Top of my list is The Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair - a fascinating social history which uses the different fabric and its' uses to look at human creativity and civilisation throughout the centuries.

    ANA:

    For me, Christmas is all about coming together and celebrating with delicious food, and although the main meal is great, I love the meals using the 'leftovers'. Bubble and Squeak is a firm favourite on Boxing Day, with cold meats and pickles - yum! And I always end up making a variation of Turkey Noodle Soup in the days after Christmas: this can be tweaked with whatever you have in your fridge and it makes me feel warm inside, especially if I'm a little under-the-weather.

    Basic Turkey Noodle Soup Recipe:

    1 litre of chicken stock
    4 small carrots peeled and chopped
    140g medium egg noodles
    200g ish shredded, cooked turkey
    200g frozen peas
    1 bunch spring onions

    Bring the stock to the boil and add the carrots. Boil for a few minutes and then add the noodles. Simmer for 2 more minutes. Add the turkey and the white parts of the spring onions, simmer for 1-2 minutes making sure the turkey is hot. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the green parts of the spring onions.

    Things to add if you have them: coriander, ginger, a squeeze of lime, or any other veg you fancy.

    ROSIE:

    I have spent the last few weeks making gifts for my friends, so I am looking forward to doing some selfish sewing and knitting over the Christmas break!

    TESSA:

    I will be doing a lot of travelling over the festive period so I will be using the time to catch up on some of my favourite podcasts. My recommendations would be Fearne Cotton's Happy Place, in which she talks to guests about ways to find joy in the everyday and Thread Cult, which although hasn't released a new episode for some time has such great previous podcasts that it's worth catching up on.

    *****

    We would like to thank everyone who has shopped online or in person with us - we appreciate every purchase, especially in a world with so much choice available. We are very grateful to our customers, our talented tutors and makers, and all the fantastic and inspiring speakers who helped to make this year so wonderful. Thank you all!

    We have lots of plans and ideas buzzing in our heads for the new year, but for now, we would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a new year full of creativity and positivity x

  • Christmas at Ray Stitch

    We aren't here to panic anyone - yes, there are just 2 weeks before Christmas Day but don't worry, we have got ideas for gorgeous gifts and special stocking fillers perfect for the sewists and makers in your life - with no last minute rush to complete everything yourself. Plus read on for inspiration on how to wrap all your presents in the most beautiful and thoughtful ways (and not add to landfill.)

    We have a huge range of Fat Quarter Bundles in stock - the possibilities of FQB are endless and because of their size, most of these projects are super quick to run up. Perfect for those with a tight deadline. Try a search on google or Pinterest for hundreds of ideas! But these also make great gifts in themselves for anyone who loves to covet fabric (we've got our hands up!) because you get the whole collection to work with.

    Another option are charm packs or mini charm packs - precut squares of either 5" x 5" or 2.5" x 2.5" - that are perfect for quilters. Used alone they can be made into a cushion cover or in multiples to make a small quilt.

    Or how about choosing some fabric from our print collections along with a pattern and giving them together to a lucky recipient? Sewing a new project whilst eating all the festive food sounds like heaven to us!

    It's not all about fabric, we know! And it's the little details that can make a project, or start someone off on their journey of making. Clockwise from top left: Wooden Buttons, Iron-on Patches, Ray Stitch Gift Vouchers for use in the shop or take a class in our Sewing School, Goodie Jars filled with all sorts of loveliness for adults and children, Ray Stitch Cross Stitch kits including letters and motifs, and multi-coloured Felt Rolls.

    Books are a traditional choice at Christmas and we have a whole library to choose from! So whether you are after an instructional workbook, an inspirational coffee table book, a book of patterns or even a fictional story to get lost in, we are sure we can find the right one for you your giftee!

    We love scissors! And good tools make a job a joy to work on. We have all sorts of scissors, snips, shears (& even rotary cutters) but woe-betide anyone who uses the fabric scissors on anything else. We aren't sure goodwill to all stretches that far!

    We have got some seriously luxurious fabric in stock, including sequin tulle, organza, chiffon and crushed taffeta - perfect for party season, or why not bring the bling into your home furnishings? Sumptuous velvet cushions or sequinned table runners anyone?

    And for the more challenging person to buy for - how about a Maker's Journal? This beautiful concertina sketchbook can be filled with ideas, notes, drawings, pattern references or even swatches of fabric, and can either be used as a conventional book with pages that turn, or pulled out to reveal a linear thought process or narrative.

    ***

    So once you've found the perfect present you will want to make sure that it's wrapped accordingly. At Ray Stitch we are passionate about sustainability and using materials as conscientiously as possible - and that goes for wrapping paper too. Christmas wrapping paper is often dyed, laminated or contains non-paper additives such as gold and silver coloured shapes, glitter and plastics which mean it can't be recycled. A lot of wrapping paper has sticky tape attached to it which also makes it very difficult to recycle. 5 million tonnes of paper gets sent to landfill every year in the UK alone! To help combat this problem, you can use recyclable wrapping such as brown craft paper, or why not try fabric wraps this year? These can then be reused and made into something else, or kept for the next gifts.

    Ditch the sellotape in favour of fancy ribbons, sequinned trim, ric rac, bakers twine, metallic cord or even embroidery thread in contrasting colours. Decorate with dried flowers, bells, pompoms, fabric covered buttons or stamp sets for maximum originality. We have collected all the ribbons and crafting bits and pieces here so click for the most stylish (& eco) wrapped gifts under the tree.

    ***

    Finally, we will be closed on Christmas Eve, 24th December and opening again in the New Year on Wednesday 2nd January. Last online orders will be posted on Thursday 20th December so make sure you get in before then to avoid disappointment. We will also be shouting this on our social media channels so you will get warned! Until then, happy sewing and good luck with all your festive prep :)

  • Fabric Facts: Essential Tips for Sewing with Silk

    ...and other slippery fabrics!

    Silk was first developed in Ancient China and the earliest forms date back 8500 years. Made from the fibres spun by moth caterpillars (most famously the mulberry silkworm) for their cocoons. Because of its texture and lustre, silk rapidly became a sought-after luxury fabric in the many areas accessible to Chinese merchants. Silk was in great demand, and became a staple of international trade. The process of making silk starts with cultivating the silkworms. Once they start pupating in their cocoons the larvae are killed, usually in boiling water, as this ensures the long individual fibres are not broken. To produce 1 kg of silk, 104 kg of mulberry leaves must be eaten by 3000 silkworms, and as a guide, it takes about 5000 silkworms to make a pure silk kimono!

    However, today there are lots of alternatives to raw silk that you can consider: wild silk is made from cocoons after the caterpillar has metamorphasised. This fabric is produced on a much smaller scale, and is much less uniform in it's appearance as it is usually made from a variety of insects and the threads are broken on exit. Or there are man-made alternatives...

    We have been so excited about our brand new fabric range: 100% Oeko-Tex certified bamboo ‘vegan silk’ is available at Ray Stitch and comes in a beautiful range of exclusive in-house colours. We love this fabric for it's closely woven  fibres which make it lightweight and flowing but also gives a heavy, silky drape and a beautiful satin finish. Fabulously versatile - you can use it for blouses, party dresses, night wear, day wear, scarves, pillowcases, gorgeous linings….. the possibilities are endless (and luxurious!) Our silk-like fabric has a lustrous sheen to one side and matte on the other, which can be used to create interesting contrasts in your garments.

    We launched this fabric about a month ago after much testing by us - we really enjoyed making up some of our favourite patterns in silk. We have had such great feedback from our customers and we are loving seeing your finished slinky garments: you can use #raystitch to tag us on Instagram. Plus it is the perfect fabric for sewing 'Frosting' projects... see this post on the Closet Case Patterns  blog for more details on this, plus you could win some Ray Stitch silk along the way.

    But working with silk and other slippery fabrics can be daunting, so we have put together some of our top tips to get you confident to tackle your next lush project. There are lots of things to remember, and working with silk is more time-consuming, so be patient and don't rush, but the results will speak for themselves!

    Pre-wash: to avoid any shrinking when you first wash your finished garment. It will also help to remove any last traces of dye, and importantly, avoid any watermarks being left by the iron when you are constructing. Most silks these days will be fine in a gentle cycle in the washing machine, although you can always hand wash with a gentle detergent if you are at all concerned. Check with the retailer to make sure it is not dry clean only, and if it is then we would suggest using a pressing cloth to avoid any watermarks.

    Test Your Fabric: because silk can behave so differently to other fabrics, it is wise to test everything first. Fabric pens and tailors chalk can bleed or leave permanent marks behind, so test these on an off-cut first. If in any doubt, use tailors tacks instead. Also, test out your stitches and tension on a small piece of the silk before you dive in with your machine. You will need 'Sharps' needles which are very fine and pointed to slip between the threads easily without snagging. If you will be hand-sewing make sure these needles are suitable for silk as well.

    Cutting: use a spray starch to stabilise the fabric before cutting (test a small area first to make sure that you don't get any marks.) Use a rotary cutter, with a very sharp new wheel blade: scissors will lift the fabric and allow the material to slide. Make sure you cut onto a cutting mat and not your dining room table or kitchen floor!

    One of the downsides to silk is that it frays. A lot! Snip off any threads on your cut edges before you lay out your pattern pieces to ensure that they don't get caught and distort your working.

    Pins vs Pattern Weights: we choose to use weights as you do not need to move the fabric at all, however, if you prefer to use pins, make sure they are Silk Pins (super fine and sharp to prevent any snagging of the threads or creating holes.) Also, pinning parallel to the edge and within the seam allowance will make sure if you do get any snags they will be hidden.

    Mirror your pattern pieces and cut from extra paper so that you do not have to cut any pieces on the fold. The two layers of silk will slip all over the place so cutting one layer of fabric at a time will ensure more accurate results.

    Cut each pattern piece out separately, ie don't lay all your pieces out initially. Cutting individually will mean that you have more manageable sized pieces to work on.

    Silky fabrics also have a tendency to warp and stretch across the grainline. To help prevent this you could tape the selvedges down against something straight (a meter ruler, the edge of your cutting matt etc)

    Preparing to sew: If your fabric is very slippery it would be a good idea to consider basting all your seams in place before you sew - this is more consuming of course, but it will hold the pieces of fabric together so much better than pins will.

    Sewing: Before you begin to sew you will need to choose the correct machine foot and needle for your fabric. As a general rule, silk and other lightweight fabrics will require a smaller needle such as a 60/8, 70/10 (fine silk, georgette, chiffon) or you could go up to a 80/12 for slightly heavier fabric (medium weight silk). A walking foot will help to keep the two layers of material together as you sew. These are not particularly expensive but so useful for trickier fabric or even quilting.

    We would recommend using a short stitch (1.5-2mm) on silk, but make sure you test out both the stitch and the tension on a scrap before you start. Lightweight fabrics do not like backstitching (they get caught up in the machine and will cause snags) so you will need to tie off your end with a knot to secure them.

    Although you can get silk thread we would not recommend using this for sewing garments (it is usually used for decorative purposes). Cotton or polyester thread will work just fine for all silky fabric.

    Because silk can distort across the grainline, handle your project lightly as you work on it. Some patterns may require 'stay stitching' to stop the fabric from stretching, particularly on necklines or arm holes. Simply sew each piece of fabric individually in the seam allowance using a 1.5mm stitch length to stabilise.

    As you will know by now, silk does fray! Which means that you will need to use French seams (where the unsightly cut edge is enclosed within the seam.) Not only will this make sure your garment looks good but French seams also provide more strength to weaker fabric, so it will last longer too!

    Pressing: Use a low setting on your iron to be on the safe side. Water will mark your silk, and so will any dreaded limescale splurts, so always use a pressing cloth and whenever possible, press on the wrong side of the fabric. Silk organza is a great pressing cloth because it's see-through (you can check you are not pressing creases into the fabric) and being a natural fibre it can take a lot of heat.

    Left: The Kalle Shirt by Closet Case, Right: the Bridgetown Backless Dress by Sew House Seven

     

    We hope that these tips will give you the confidence to tackle sewing with silky fabrics, but we are always keen to hear of any other tricks and tips that you might have so please leave a comment here or on our social media channels. We have put together a sample swatch pack of our Bamboo Silk in all the colours so you can check drape and feel for yourself before committing to a bigger purchase, plus we are always happy to give advice and help for any project at any level, so pop in or give us a shout!

  • The Weekend Bag Blog

    We love bags as much as we love pockets on garments, and that's quite a lot! Bag-making is often overlooked when people start out on their sewing adventures because beyond a tote bag, it can seem a bit daunting. There can be buckles, rivets, clasps and straps to consider which involve some basic skills other than sewing, but we promise that these are easier to fit than they look, and the overall satisfaction of using a handmade bag every day (or for weekends away) is worth the little extra time spent.

    We carry a range of bag patterns, from the big companies to the new indie designers, as well as a large selection of medium to heavyweight fabrics and of course, all the extra hardware and tools you may need to complete your project. We also run classes to teach you the skills and walk you through the patterns so you can come away with your own bag made by you!

    The beauty of making your own items is that they can be entirely unique - so if you want to go bright and bold with rainbow webbing straps, then why not? Bags can add an unexpected pop of colour to an outfit, or keep it simple with black or a neutral. In the round-up below, we have suggested some suitable fabrics for each bag but as long as you match the weight to the pattern then you can be creative. Top tip: make sure that you use a new upholstery or denim needle in your machine (90-110) to get the most professional results.

     

    Pattern: Jack Tar Bucket Bag  - Suggested Fabric: 10oz Denim in Sage Black

    Pattern: Merchant and Mills RTR Rucksack - Suggested Fabric: Organic Cotton Canvas

    We are running a two-part evening class to make the RTR bag starting this Tuesday 16th October.

     

    Pattern: Machine stars Children’s pattern to make a Book Bag or a Sleepover Bag Suggested Fabric: Charley Harper Western Birds Canvas

     

    Pattern: Simplicity 1153 Tote / market bag and smaller bags - Suggested Fabric: Kokka Lightweight Canvas

    Pattern: Simplicity 4391 lap top and tablet cases - Suggested Fabric: Organic Laminated Cotton

    Pattern: Simplicity 8037 back pack and over arm bags - Suggested Fabric: Ellen Luckett Baker Canvas

     

    Pattern: Grainline Studio Stowe Bag - Suggested Fabric: Essex Linen Mix Chambray

     

    Pattern: Papercut Himeji bag - Suggested Fabric: Linen Plains Rose

    Handmade bags also make a great gift, with no worries about getting the fit right. (If we were being really organised we would start making a few for Christmas presents already!)

    If you have any queries or would like advice on your sewing projects then please pop in, or email us on info@raystitch.co.uk , we'd be happy to help! And if you are on Instagram then follow us @raystitch and use the hashtag #raystitch so we can see what a talented bunch you all are :)

  • In Depth: An Evening with Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

    Last week we hosted Annie and Han from Blackhorse Lane Ateliers (BLA) at one of our evening events at Ray Stitch. There’s currently a big buzz around BLA and their role in the Great British denim revival and we were delighted to meet them and hear their story.

    BLA set up their factory in Walthamstow only a couple of years ago but despite being very new on the block, they claim to make the best jeans in the world. It’s a big claim but Han is confident that their approach to sourcing, manufacturing and the customer experience all set them apart from the crowd. Han has worked in the textile industry for 25 years, he knows his subject and studied ‘the jean’ extensively before coming up with the selection of composite, ready-to-wear designs they now offer in the Walthamstow atelier and the concept store in Shoreditch. Examples of BLA jeans, a traditional high street favourite and a high-end American Jean were handed round and fully inspected. There was a marked difference between BLA construction methods and the others, and as sewers, we could fully appreciate the detail, complexity and the amount of work that goes into these garments.

     

    The other huge appeal of these jeans is the knowledge that every step of the production process has been ethically considered.  'We can’t claim to be thoroughly sustainable’ says Annie; ‘We put things in the wrong bin sometimes! - but we are thoughtful and responsible about all the choices we make.’ Han told us that their denim comes from a small number of audited suppliers (meaning they meet high standards of production in terms of energy and water usage, the kinds of chemicals used, recycling and reuse of waste products) but the whole business of sourcing is a minefield of contradictions. The highest quality denim, for instance, comes from Japan where the production methods have changed little since the 1940’s, but to ship the cloth 6,000 miles to London gives it an enormous carbon footprint. Similarly, cotton produced in Africa is unique because the cotton is hand picked allowing the fibres not to break - but Africa is a long way from Walthamstow.

    When asked about the importance of organically produced cotton, Han admitted to being sometimes uncomfortable with it. He suspected that poor communities striving to achieve organic certification might be forced to forego other basic standards of employment. But as demand for organic goods increases, conditions will presumably be brought into line across all production processes. He explained that the washing process is the most costly, both financially and environmentally. Jeans made with raw denim are sent away to Europe to be washed or ‘distressed’, a process which uses masses of water and toxic chemicals. Han is keen to see other cleaner methods developed and employed in the future, possibly using lasers to cut the ‘rips’ in fashion jeans - interesting!

    So, should we be changing our definition of ‘luxury’ goods? Burberry? Really? Shouldn’t the term ‘luxury' be associated with transparent production processes and customers having a thoroughly enjoyable shopping experience and going away with a clear conscience knowing their garments have been produced under a rigorous process of accountability?  That could make it sound a bit worthy but Han is very passionate about the idea that an enhanced customer experience is the future of shopping. Being able to stand face to face with the maker of your jeans is a fairly unique experience.

    The very fact that a pair of BLA jeans can cost between £155 and £300 is sustainable in itself. Cheap, unethical production practices have clearly not been employed and those jeans are going to be cherished and they’re going to last! And if they’ve been loved to death and start to show signs of wear (crotch blow-outs were discussed) BLA will mend them for free so they’ll just keep on going…

    And what is the next challenge for BLA? Definitely not to be a global brand producing thousands of garments and shipping them all over the world, says Han, but to produce more garments locally and to continue forging connections with the UK’s growing network of like-minded makers and designers. Here’s to that!

    (We are planning a group visit to the BLA factory in Walthamstow, please get in touch if you would like more details)

  • in Depth: An Evening with Daniel Harris of the London Cloth Company

    “Weavers don’t retire, they die.”

    This was one of the many nuggets that Daniel Harris of the London Cloth Company imparted to us when we hosted him at one of our series of ‘An Evening With….’ talks. Daniel’s passion for the British Weaving Industry in which he has become fully immersed is huge - as is his personality!

    Daniel entertained us with the London Cloth Company story - how it all started in 2011 with the mission to rescue a 19th Century rusting loom in Wales and where they are now, with 8 working looms ranging in age and sophistication. He described much dismantling and reassembling of machinery over the years, the difficulties of expanding a mill within a city that didn't historically engage in weaving (think tiny alleyways), the tribulations of growing a small business (using ping pong tables as cutting tables) and the many trials and mishaps encountered through sheer naïvety.

    But creativity sprouted from these struggles. As crafters and makers we know that development comes from just having a go and, however uncertain he was on the territory of setting up a business, Daniel confidently exuded a total mastery of the subject of weaving and it’s history.

    Daniel regaled us with intriguing trivia like where the word “shoddy” comes from. Did you know it has roots in ripped up garments being recycled into something else? Or that “mungo” is the fluff that comes from under the loom and is added into spinning. Or the fact that tartan is woven on its side so that when sewn up as kilts the selvedge is at the bottom. Or that we have single-width looms purely because that was a general arm-width until flying shuttle looms came along….

    Daniel was very candid about the cost of producing his cloth (a transparency we’d like to see more in the fashion and textile industry). He explained the true cost of raw materials and the complex processes the fibres have to go through to become yarn, and then finished cloth.

    Image Copyright: London Cloth Company

    “It looked like garbage” was Daniel’s term of endearment for the first cloth they produced. Standards have improved obviously but he modestly says that what they now produce is incredibly standard. Yet London Cloth Co. fabric has been seen gracing Nike trainers, Ally Capellino bags and Boy George’s hat. Commissions from the likes of Tiger of Sweden and Denham offers them fantastic exposure and creates what Daniel refers to as ‘weaving tokens’ - the funds that allow them to pay for the “silly stuff”. By this he means experimentation - collaborating for example with a Hackney pub to create a hand painted wet weave that covered their ceiling, or cling filming cloth and dipping into an indigo vat producing an ikat style finish.

    In keeping with this trial and error development of cloth they have also brought traditional rope dyeing techniques to the UK, establishing themselves as the only mill using this method. Rope dyeing is primarily used in denim manufacture as it means that the indigo doesn’t fully penetrate the fibres resulting in yarn that fades over time - giving denim cloth a beautiful patina as you wear it. LCC then take the extra individual step of weaving indigo-dyed cotton yarn with Shetland wool, making their unique Union Cloth.

    Indigo Union Cloth Image: London Cloth Company

    What is most striking and unusual is that all of the wool used in London Cloth Company’s fabric comes from British sheep, and all of the production happens in Britain too. For example, they take wool from sheep on Sayers Farm in Sussex, have it spun in Halifax up in Yorkshire, weave it down here in London and then have it finished in Scotland. Another example shows alpaca fibre coming from Epping in Essex, and spun into yarn down in Dorset. Or the most magical one (at least to us Londoners) is a little bit of wool from sheep at each London City farm offering up pure traceability. Daniel points out that sourcing can be a little unreliable but it shows the possibilities of wholly British production - if only there was the demand for it. Shockingly, livestock farmers are breeding sheep with wonderful wool but their fleeces are burnt instead of utilised because none wants them!

    Daniel gets excited as he talks about the origins of his cloth - Portland is the gingery coloured fleece, Black Welsh is the hardy coarse charcoal grey and Manx produce dark brown. Smaller-scale farms are cropping up that are breeding unusual and native sheep, making a point of sustainability and animal welfare - a perfect example of this is Izzy Lane who rescued a flock of sheep to save them from slaughter or Lesley Prior down in Devon with her 300-strong flock of Bowmont - the UK’s answer to Merino - who supplies Finisterre.

    What the London Cloth Company do and do well, is to take standard natural undyed wool yarn and weave it into ordinary patterns. But the interesting part is the whole story. When you take into account the fact that Daniel was untrained in weaving or mechanical engineering when he began this endeavour, the finished product is pretty astounding. From replica 1920’s German stripes to heritage tweeds to the highly surprising indigo denims, London Cloth Company really do offer up something unique - and for the first time, you can come into a shop (our shop!) to buy it by the metre for your own project. Make a blanket, make a giant comfy cushion, make a coat, make a dog bed… whether simple or complicated, you’ve got a story already there in your fabric; a story that harks back to the first sheep bred for wool, and one that embraces the skills passed on through human ancestry.

    Image Copyright: London Cloth Company

     

    Ray Stitch is proud to be the only stockists of London Cloth Co. fabric - you can browse our range online or in-store at 66 Essex Road.

    Our late night program of events starts up again in September. We have invited designers, innovators and creators from all over the country to come and talk informally about their practice to you! Join us for a drink and an evening of insight, inspiration and discussion - the perfect way to start your weekend. Check out future listings here.

    Image Copyright: London Cloth Company

     

     

  • Spotlight: Indie Pattern Designers

    We have had such a wonderful response to our new-look pattern room, and have enjoyed welcoming many of you who have come in to browse our selection of new independent designers alongside the more traditional houses. We are definitely not turning our backs on the likes of Burda or New Look; they have such a wide selection of wardrobe staples that appeal to so many. However, we love the new emerging designers who are keen to freshen up the choice available to modern sewers (and we can't deny that we are suckers for cool packaging too. But we are surely not alone in this??)

    Our current window display celebrates our picks from some of our favourite smaller designers - see photo above, from left: the Fiona Sundress by Closet Case, the Chloe Dress by Victory Patterns and the Moss Skirt by Grainline (teamed up with the classic New Look 6217 top)

    But for the blog, we wanted to spotlight some perhaps lesser-known designers. It was a hard choice to feature only three of our current favourites, so we hope you approve!

    TRUE BIAS was created by sewer, blogger and designer Kelli Ward after enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Having met her community online through blogging she had the skills and the inspiration to produce her own range of patterns, starting off with one of our favourites, the Hudson Pants. These versatile casual sweatpants are typical of Kelli's style - classic but with an urban edge. A quick Google or search on Pinterest will bring up loads of great True Bias pattern hacks (the sewing community is such a great place to find extra inspiration) but as a blogger herself, Kelli is often leading many of these extra twists. Included as part of each paper and pdf pattern launch, she has online tutorials, blog posts and garment sew-alongs so you can feel confident making and adapting her patterns for your perfect garment. Ray Stitch currently stocks seven of the most popular True Bias patterns, including from left to right: the Yari Jumpsuit, Hudson Pants, Roscoe Blouse/Dress and the Ogden Cami.

    CLOSET CASE PATTERNS began in 2014 after founder Heather Lou set herself a year-long challenge to make all her new clothes herself, rather than buying them off the shelf. Frustrated by consumerism and fast-fashion, she began to value and enjoy the creation of the clothes, rather than impulsive, often disposable (and expensive) purchases. Another blogger, Heather featured her makes on her site, but released a pattern for the Bombshell swimsuit after high demand from her readers! She saw a gap in the market for modern patterns with clear and simple instructions for the new sewers. In Heather's words, "Using my love of technical design and talent for drafting, I also create timeless, fashionable patterns that can be customized, personalized, and hacked with your own vision and unique touch." The Fiona Dress is a perfect example of this freedom within a pattern - it can be made with a high or low back, straight or crossing straps, and 2 lengths of skirt, all of which can be interchangeable to make your ideal sundress.

    The distinctive watercolour illustrations for all the Closet Case patterns are painted by artist and fellow sewer Sallie Oh, and started as a way for Heather to avoid being the face of the designs (she was a one-woman band which included designer, maker and garment model!) But now the paintings are synonymous with the brand, and even sought after in their own right!

    We love Closet Case garments for their versatility and ease to make, in fact, we use the patterns in some of our popular classes. You can join us to make the Kalle shirt/dress or even the Ginger Jeans if you are feeling more adventurous.

    We spoke to Heather recently, who told us the exciting news that we can expect the next launch of a new design in only a few weeks time. Keep an eye on our social media channels as we will be shouting about it as soon as it lands!

    Finally, we would like to introduce you to Nina Lee Patterns. These are brand new to us, and in fact, we are the only stockists in London carrying these patterns at the moment so would love to hear your feedback on them. (So new we have not even got them online yet!) Nina Lee Patterns is a London-based pattern company that has been up and running since March 2017. Currently, there are 7 designs available and each design comes with a full-colour, fully-illustrated instruction booklet to make sure the process is as easy as possible. Nina is very clear about positioning herself in the slow-fashion camp and wants to encourage women to start a more rewarding way of dressing. Her garments are wardrobe staples such as the Southbank Sweater, the Portabello Trousers and even a pair of Pyjamas, but as with the other two designers we have featured, she allows for personal creativity with various options and promoted customers hacks. Check out Nina's latest blog post rounding up all the twists and adaptations on the popular Kew Dress.

    As ever, we want to know your thoughts: who are your favourite pattern designers at the moment? and if you have used any of the patterns mentioned then please show us. There is nothing better than seeing our fabric brought to life by our customers. You can contact us by email, or find us on Instagram and Facebook. Tag your makes with #raystitch to brighten our day!

  • Schools Out! Summer Sewing for Kids

    For most of us, the Summer Holidays have just begun and for the few that still have a couple of more random days to endure, we feel you! But with six weeks stretching ahead of you, we understand it can be a juggle to keep everyone happy and occupied. Whether you want to make some new summer clothes for your little ones or get them sewing themselves we have the patterns, the fabrics and the classes for you...

    We have a large range of patterns for children's clothes (and for teenagers too) which can be found online or come and browse our new pattern room for inspiration and advice. As well as Burda and New Look we stock Oliver & S, Minikrea and Green Bee, plus Merchant & Mills, Megan Neilson and The Avid Seamstress all have a spin-off children's range of some of their popular adult patterns. Perfect for making matching mini-me garments - especially when we can guarantee you will have outfit-envy!

     

    The Avid Seamstress' Girl's Gathered Dress would be lovely made in Nani Iro Double Gauze for a breezy summer garment.

    Try Megan Nielson's Mini Tania Culottes in a summery printed lawn or a drapey twill chambray.

    Or how about pairing the Merchant & Mills Trapezette Dress with Merchant and Mills Laundered Linen for a supersoft dress with lots of movement, or needlecord in a bold colour for an autumnal garment.

    We love to bring independent pattern makers to the attention of our customers and we are really happy to be stockists of new, Chichester-based designers 'Two Stitches'. Established in 2015 by Eternal Maker owner Anna Hodgson, pattern designer/dressmaker Dhurata Davies and graphic designer, Sarah Bonnar, the brand have released eight classic children's garments with distinctive modern twists, suitable for beginners through to advanced sewers.

    We stock all the Two Stitches patterns both online and in store, and love the attention to details such as the wide age-range they cover (6 months- 9 years in one pattern!), the easy to follow diagrams and instructions, and the lovely craft paper packaging. We spoke to founder Anna who told us that following the very successful release of the Zoe Dress in March this year, they are already in the testing stages of another new pattern! We will be sure to let you know when this one drops, so stay tuned.

    Talking of the Zoe dress, the design lends itself to many variations for a really original and fun garment. You can see that we made ours up in two different fabrics for a busy pattern-clash effect which really showcases the concealed in-seam pockets. Another cute twist can be found on the Two Stitches website: download a free pattern for a pocket puppy applique based on Anna's own dog Athos (who incidentally has his own Instagram account @the_lone_musketeer!)

    Sewing is becoming a popular hobby for children too, and happily, we have seen a rise in budding junior sewers (sewists?!) and customers. We stock the wonderful Machine Stars Patterns which are aimed at younger makers - they can choose from useful items such as a book bag, a wraparound skirt, a bedroom tidy or an apron (which we use in the class below!)

    During the Summer Holidays we are running children's sewing classes for kids of 8 years and older: our workshops encourage creativity, as well as improving self-confidence, patience and fine motor skills! The two different sessions can lead on from each other or be taken in isolation depending on skill.

    The Children's Introduction to Machine Sewing Part 1 is for kids who have never used a sewing machine before or have had a go at using one briefly but would like more practice. In a small class of just 4 maximum, we will familiarise your child with the machine itself and teach them all the basic skills of machine sewing to give to the confidence to start simple projects on your own. By the end of this 3-hour session, they will have cut and made an apron in their size from Ray Stitch fabric, ready to wear home! The first of these sessions is already sold out but we still have some space for the class on the 9th August, and could look to run more classes if demand is there so please get in touch if you are interested in another date.

    In the Children's Intro to Machine Sewing Part 2, more experienced children can take the next step to further their skills. During this 3 hour workshop, they will accomplish some essential techniques that will help them advance to more complicated projects. By the end of the class, they will have made a fully lined, zip-up backpack with pocket using Ray Stitch fabric, perfect for carrying books & other bits and bobs! Booking now for the 1st and 15th August.

    Whether your little one is taking a class, sewing at home or you are making for the kids in your life, we have a wide range of fun printed fabrics to appeal to them or even the inner child in you! Check out the selection that can be found here, including vintage cars and planes, cute fluffy clouds, forest animals and birds.

    Enjoy the school summer holidays, and your summer sewing!

     

     

  • No Sweatshop, No Photoshop

    Join us for an evening of female empowerment and general good-natured conversation on the topic of social enterprise and slow fashion in the face of adversity. As part of our events series, on Friday 13th July we welcome two East London-based brands that are pushing the boundaries of what fashion is and can be. Birdsong clothing and Juta shoes have both set out to revolutionise the way we dress in a number of ways, but namely by ensuring fair and comfortable working practice for the female producers.

    Sophie and Sarah founded Birdsong back in 2014 because they were "inspired by the great skill and creativity found in women’s community groups, but frustrated by their financial insecurity in the context of budget cuts and rising rents." By vocalising who is making the clothes that they sell, they are offering a transparent view of fashion that is notoriously difficult to come by, and at the same time they are putting funds back into women's community groups and charities. With designer Susanna on board, Birdsong have been able to create capsule collections that are fun and sustainable - organic cotton, reclaimed fabrics, hand knits, hand-painted prints and hand embroidery... In terms of the ladies who make the clothing, Birdsong know them personally and so develop long-lasting relationships. The Bradbury Centre (Kingston) knitting group donate the revenue from their hand knits back into their day centre providing them with little luxuries and a welcoming space, while the Knit and Natter (Enfield) knitting group choose a charity every month for revenue to be donated to. Mohila are a group of low income migrant mothers based in Tower Hamlets who practice their fine painting on organic cotton sweatshirts and t-shirts while their children attend the local school. Lastly, Heba who produce the majority of Birdsong's garments, is a 25-year old established workshop on Brick Lane that provides migrant and refugee women with a safe space and a well-paid place of work.

    Similarly, Juta Shoes' mission "is to combat financial and social isolation by providing well-paid, flexible employment, opportunities to build confidence and gain new skills, and a strong supportive community." Their shoes and slippers are produced by hand in their Shoreditch studio, from environmentally-friendly jute soles and reclaimed leather or fabrics from local factories - this means that the shoes are very nearly 100% biodegradable. Set up by Joanna and Sabeha at St.Hilda's East Community Centre, they took on board mothers Hafiza and Ruhela who enjoy the fact that their employment can be flexible around family-life. They've since set up workshops where you can learn for yourself what goes in to the making of their shoes.

    Both businesses have come together with a little bit of grant money, experience from a Year Here fellowship - a programme that gives fellows a year to test and build solutions to some of society's toughest problems - and drive to make change. They're now both featured in high fashion magazines, which just shows how great their products are (if that's how you assess your clothing).

    Whether you are interested in applying for a Year Here fellowship, setting up your own fashion business or are just interested in how these women have started something massive from the seed of an idea - come along to No.66 on Friday 13th July for an hour long conversation and a half hour Q&A. There'll of course be refreshments too - perhaps you'll be coming back from the Trump march... Tickets are available here, and we do have limited space in the shop so book online to avoid disappointment. You can see more from Birdsong on Instagram and of course Juta on their Instagram as well.

  • The Reveal! Our New-Look Pattern Room

    We are thrilled to be able to finally show you all the long-awaited refurbished pattern room. As with many projects, there were a few hold-ups along the way but we are so pleased with the final results, and it appears that our customers love it too. We posted a couple of photos on our social media channels but read on to get the full story and a have a good (virtual) nosey around!

    The pattern room was in need of reorganising and some creative solutions to the amount of stock we have. Rachel's main concern was to be able to still hold as wide a range as possible but to have many of the patterns on display, so walls of open shelves with stylish brass brackets were installed. Not only does this add to the visual feast as you step into this area, but it is also the best way to make the patterns accessible, and to inspire our customers. We have had many positive reactions so far: "So sophisticated, I love it!", "I’ve never seen so many independent brands before!", "your range is fantastic, this area is so inviting", and even, "Looks gorgeous..I'm moving in!"

    Rachel's love of architecture and interior design means that despite the busy shelves, the space feels open and calm; there is our large sofa to sit on and relax, whilst exploring the independent pattern ranges that are now showcased. We have taken the decision to have all of the indie brands on display (women's, men’s and children’s), with each pattern displayed on the shelves, which makes it is easy to find the design and also see the range available for each brand. This has made such a difference for Papercut and new to us, True Bias, which were in a cramped display before. We love being able to bring new independent designers to our customers, and we will be highlighting some of our current favourites in a new blog coming soon.

    But fear not, we still have a comprehensive range of Burda, Lisette, McCalls, New Look and Simplicity patterns available - they are in the drawers in the pattern room and if you would like to see some of these, we can happily find them for you. The full range as seen on the website is also available in store so just ask if you need assistance. There is now a computer in the pattern room so we can search for specific patterns or show you the full range on the screen, taking advantage of the extra images online to see what the different styles look like, check the suitable fabrics as well as the quantity of material needed. We hope that this will mean that we can provide excellent advice and inspiration for our customers.

     

    Another important feature that has remained is our bookcase, with carefully curated magazines and publications, instructional technique books, and gorgeous coffee table hardbacks. You can find loads of sewing books, of course, but there are also complimentary interests, lifestyle magazines and journals too. The new space can be used for perusing patterns or books, taking your time to plan future projects, or even just to escape the heat in London for a little while! We hope that you like our improvements and would love to welcome you in the shop soon. If you have any comments we would love to hear them - contact us via Instagram, Facebook or email and please tag us (#raystitch) in your photos. Until next time, happy sewing :)

  • Alice Prier - Pattern Cutting, Travel Wardrobes and Sewing on the Hop!

    Alice Prier is our Ray Stitch Sewing School expert pattern cutter and as such, has shared her vast knowledge with many of our students and taught them how to draft a pattern from scratch or to recreate their favourite garment. Self-taught, Alice teaches pattern-cutting using the Telestia method: an innovative system using a clever template and some unusual measurements which produce perfectly fitting blocks without mind-numbing mathematics.

    Alice grew up with a wardrobe of handmade clothes, sewn by her mother who often upcycled her own mothers' outfits to re-use the exquisite fabrics. Alice began her career in theatre and costume design before setting up Alice & Co, creating Made-to-Measure designs for her clients. After over 20 years, Alice has now joined forces with her daughter to launch a series of PDF patterns for modern garments that reflect their attitude to dressmaking: Fun, simple, quick and chic.

    However, she also has the most incredible tales from her extensive travels combined with her love of sewing, that quite frankly, we want her to share them too! Alice has recently returned from a 3-month trip which encompassed the freezing Antarctic, the steamy Amazon, volunteering to help clear a forest trail in hurricane hit Dominica and hobnobbing with the jet set on Mustique - and all out of a medium-sized suitcase! As you can imagine, packing a travel wardrobe that would be suitable for such varied climates takes some careful planning, but for Alice, it also included sewing new outfits as she went (she took a piece of Antartic Plaid fabric with her, which became a stylish sundress in Jamaica!)

    Starting in the Falkland Islands, Alice made a beeline for the most southerly and only haberdashery in the tiny capital of Stanley - open just on Saturday afternoons because the owner also has a full-time job! After spotting rockhopper penguins and keeping the chill off with her Merino wool jumper it was onto much chillier climes by sailing South to the Antartic Circle.

    A ten-day voyage on a ship around Antartica in sub-zero temperatures required a specialist wardrobe, however, Alice still found the right occasion to wear the self-drafted Iceberg dress that she made from 2 merino wool scarves! (And the 'Iceberg Dress' is one of the patterns that you can now buy from Alice & Co. Patterns.)

    From there she travelled up through South America taking in Chile and Bolivia amongst other countries. As the countries she visited became warmer and warmer, Alice gave away much of her cold-weather clothes to save carrying them around. A high-functioning capsule travel wardrobe is what Alice does best, and surprisingly, a silk twill jumpsuit is one of the hardest working and practical items she made - "It’s light, folds up small, dries quickly and is much tougher than you think...plus it acts as both head-to-toe sunscreen and a useful mosquito net!"

    Alice stays in all sorts of accommodation during her travels, from guest houses to ships, beach huts to fancy hotels. And in fact, it was in an AirBNB in Jamaica that she decided to make herself a dress using the Antartic Plaid fabric given to her by her daughter. With limited space, Red Stripe beer for weights and no sewing machine Alice used the Subtraction Pattern Cutting method to create a stunning and easy-to-wear sundress, for that evening, as you do!

    Throughout her travels, Alice has kept a blog detailing her adventures. You can read all about her trips, past and recent at www.where2wearit.com and for us, it's a great blend of travel journalism, innovative and practical sewing and great fashion tips for on the go. You can count on Alice to enthral and inspire, and even if you are more of an armchair traveller or a novice sewer, we are sure you will feel uplifted!

    So now we have given you a little taster of the many talents of Alice Prier, why not find out more for yourself? We are so excited to be hosting her this Friday night, 29th June for our 'Evening with...' series of after-hours talks. As well as the conversations about sewing and travelling, Alice will be cutting whilst talking! Join us for a live pattern cutting experience: In just two hours she will give a capsule class in drafting a clever pattern out of one piece of cloth! To book tickets to this special event, follow the link here.

    If you can't make it along on Friday night, you can still catch Alice teaching classes at the Ray Stitch Sewing School,

    or at a one-off event on 6 September at the V&A Museum leading a workshop to Make a Mexican Huipil top to tie in with the new Frida Kahlo exhibition,

    or you could even use her book on pattern cutting to get busy creating at home (or in a far-flung b & b!) ...

    We can't wait for Friday and hope to see many of you there for what proves to be a very fun evening! Until next time, happy sewing :)

  • Fabric Facts: Essential Tips for Sewing with Linen

    With the Bank Holiday weekend upon us, and the start of June next week, we think it is safe to say that we are all ready to welcome the summer months. A perfect fabric for warmer weather is Linen - as a natural fibre it is breathable and has wicking properties, it also is stronger than cotton, naturally repels stains and is quick drying. Yes, it does crease but the wrinkles are part of the charm of this relaxed fabric, honest!

     

    Linen is an ancient fabric, older than cotton and silk, made from flax plants which have been grown for many thousands of years. It is a laborious manufacture process* but actually uses less water and energy than most other crops, so is more ecologically friendly. Flax only takes 100 days to grow to maturity, needs no fertiliser and actually does improves the soil as it grows. The whole plant is used, roots as well, so there is little waste and the fabric is biodegradable once the garment has come to the end of its usable life.

    Generally, it is a very stable fabric so is easy to work with as long as you keep some things in mind:

    SHRINKAGE:

    Linen does shrink - a lot! Most of the linen we sell is pre-washed so won't shrink and will just get softer each time it is washed. However, if your fabric hasn't been treated before purchase then prewashing is a must. As always, the advice is to treat the uncut cloth as you intend to treat the garment once it's finished. We recommend a cool gentle wash, and to press whilst still slightly damp using a press cloth to prevent scorching. Some people suggest prewashing up to 3 times to make the fabric really supple, however, the first wash alone will deal with the shrinkage.

     

    TYPE OF LINEN:

    Like many fabrics, linen comes in a whole array of weights and textures, each suitable for different projects. As a rough guide, lightweight linen (often called Handkerchief weight) is ideal for summer dresses, tops and children's clothes. Mediumweight linen can be used for trousers, skirts and shirts, while heavier weight is great for more tailored items such as suits and jackets, or for home furnishings. Linen can also be blended with cotton, or sometimes silk to produce a mixed fabric, with the properties of both. Linen-cotton mixes usually are less prone to creasing and can have more drape.  We also stock a gorgeous range of laundered linens (from Merchant & Mills) which have been enzyme washed to create a wonderfully soft fabric.

    FRAYING:

    Linen does have a tendency to fray - a lot! Pinking shears, or even a pinking wheel on your rotary cutter, are the easiest way to deal with fraying hems while you work. Hems will need to be treated in order for your garment to last and look it's best and although you can use a zig zag stitch, or a serger to keep seams from fraying, Flat Felled or French seams will give you a very professional and secure finish. You could also use the Hong Kong finish for more tailored items such as jackets.

    NEEDLES & THREAD:

    Linen doesn't need a specific needle so a universal one will work well. Good practice is to always start any new project with a new sharp needle. Linen will sew equally well with any thread.

     

    We stock a wide range of linens, suitable for a whole variety of projects. You can browse our full range online here, order a linen swatch pack before you buy or pop into the shop to have a chat and a feel for yourself.

     

     

    *To watch an informative video detailing the process of making Linen, click here.

  • Who Made Your Clothes? : Fashion Revolution Week

    This week is Fashion Revolution Week (23-29th April 2018) and consumers are being encouraged to ask "Who Made My Clothes?" to demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Five years to the day of the devastating and horrific Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the real cost of keeping the population 'fashionably' dressed is being called into question.

    Photo by Rijans on Flikr

     

    The huge scale of the problem may be one of the reasons that consumers have been reluctant to stop and think about the high cost of cheap clothes - there are the terrible working conditions and low pay for sweatshop workers (the majority of whom are women), but the scale of the waste and the throwaway nature of fashion has created an industry which creates greenhouse emissions of 1.2bn tonnes a year – larger than that of international flights and shipping combined! Added to this is the huge problem of what to do with the sheer amount of clothes that are being thrown away (a truckload is wasted every second across the world, according to a report by the EllenMacArthur Foundation).

    Who made your clothes? We can check the labels of our clothes right now to see where a garment was made and what the fabric composition is, but this barely scratches the surface of the number of hands that work on a single piece of clothing. According to Fashion Revolution sources, “approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes. 80% of them are women between the ages of 18 and 35.” This includes the farmers, spinners/synthetic manufacturers, weavers, dyers and of course, the sewers. As part of Fashion Revolution week, brands and producers are encouraged to share the stories of their workers who contribute to the production of a garment by saying #imadeyourclothes. By doing this there is an increase in the maker-user engagement, and also understanding of the human lives behind fashion - a side that just isn't apparent in the shops.

    As people who make our own clothes, we understand the precious time it takes to create something and yet the ever-increasing speed of fashion business is causing the need for quicker manufacture of both fabric and garments - how is it possible to make a t-shirt in 15 minutes? Most of us will likely sew for fun or for relaxation, and those of us producing clothing and accessories for small-scale businesses will communicate the slower course of production as an advantage, as a unique selling point. Yet in the big fashion world, slow isn’t good and so the demand increases for ever faster production, more workers, long hours and stressful environments, along with lack of (or not good enough) safety procedures causing disasters like the Rana Plaza factory collapse. That is why Fashion Revolution calls upon brands to open up their supply chain and be transparent about where everything comes from and show the consumer #whomadeyourclothes.

    As makers, we are often the ones making the clothes. Perhaps some of you only wear homemade clothing and of course, we’re right to be proud of what we produce. However, the consideration during Fashion Revolution week, or any other week, in fact, isn’t necessarily about sharing who made the garment, but rather thinking about who made the components for the garment. While this campaign calls in to question every step on the supply chain, it does revolve heavily around those in the CMT (cut-make-trim) areas of clothing production. As a fabric retailer, we at Ray Stitch call in to question where our fabric comes from - who farmed or produced the yarn, who spun it, who wove it, who dyed and finished it. Trims, fastenings and thread should also be considered for their origin; the hands hard at work to produce these items forgotten about on the care labels of our shop-bought garments.

    This is Genesh, he is part of the community weaving our GOTS-certified woven organic fabrics, seen here weaving the Dunweave in Kerala, India.

     

    At Ray Stitch, we’re working towards providing as much information as possible about the origin of our fabric selection, from the fibre right through to the dyeing or printing processes used. We’ll probably never see the faces of those that work on the production side, but working with our suppliers, we want to be able to show you as much as we can so that your buying and making decisions are well informed. We have made a start and now have production information for all of our plain organic fabrics, which you can find within each individual product page on our website. As the organic fabrics come from small-scale producers it can be easier to trace than with larger manufacturers, but we’ll do our best!

    As daunting as all of this seems the main thing that we can all do is become more conscientious consumers. Recognising that we have great power in how we choose to consume and thinking about the impact that our purchase will have is a great place to start. Say no to fast fashion, consider how you dispose of any clothes you no longer wish to keep but ideally think about long-term investments when you buy, or repurposing and mending. There is a good article in The Guardian today listing 7 Ways to Get Involved with Fashion Revolution Week, and if you would like to do some further reading around the topic then this selection of 18 books from the Fashion Revolution blog is a great place to start.

    You can keep up with the Fashion Revolution campaign on Instagram and Twitter plus there’s a very interesting Fanzine that you can purchase (or read online to save paper!) with the current issue discussing ‘Loved Clothes Last’, which includes a section on mending and darning (which you know we love!)