News

  • 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.

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    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.

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    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!)

  • Ray Stitch: Upholstery at Number 99

    Exciting news!

    As the Make it Yourself movement continues to grow we found that many of you were turning your creative hands to more than just garment making. We have seen a rise in the numbers of people attempting upholstery diy and making soft furnishings for their homes, and many more who are tackling coats and bags and looking for heavier weight fabrics - so we've opened a new space catering specifically for those type of projects.

    Number 99 is across from our main shop at 66 Essex Road, and if you've been a regular customer you will be familiar with it already - it used to house our main store until the big move last year! The new/old shop has had a makeover and now is a light and airy space in which to peruse our selection of fabrics ideal for upholstery, soft furnishings, interior homewares, curtains, bag and coat making. We also offer a full upholstery and curtain making service if using our fabric and we can talk you through measuring and calculating fabric quantities. If you want to tackle it yourself we have all the sundries and some helpful advice.

    We have great range of end of roll upholstery fabrics (at very good prices!) and we're very proud to be the exclusive stockists of London Cloth Company fabrics: - produced on their range of carefully and lovingly restored vintage shuttle looms.

    Number 99 is already open for business (Monday to Sunday 11am - 5pm) but we'll be celebrating the opening of the new shop with the launch of something a little bit special: On Friday 4th May we will be holding the first of our after-hours events, 'An Evening with...' Amanda Girling-Budd from The School of Stuff.

    (Read more about this here... a fortnightly programme of talks by designers, creators, innovators, movers and makers)

    Amanda Girling-Budd has been a professional upholsterer for many years, has taught Conservation and Upholstery at the London Metropolitan University as well as having a PhD in the History of Design. She set up the School of Stuff in .... as a studio to teach furniture crafts in Dalston. After 10 years based at Hackney City Farm, specialising in upholstery, the School of Stuff moved and expanded into their current studio in Shacklewell Lane and added classes such as cabinet making, furniture restoration and marquetry. The length of courses range from a two year long one day a week syllabus, to one-off days or weekends with intensive weeks and 12-week classes in-between. Check the timetable on their website here.

    An Evening with The School of Stuff is on Friday the 4th of May, starting at 6.30pm with drinks, nibbles and a chance to look around Number 99. Amanda will be starting her talk at 7pm and there will be a chance for questions and further discussions from the audience before finishing around 8.30pm. We hope these events will be a great way to kickstart your weekend with an inspiring and informal evening and look forward to meeting you after-hours! Tickets are £10 and can be booked here.

    As always, we would love to hear your views and comments, and if you have an idea for a great speaker or panel then please do get in contact and we will do our best!

    *You can join us for An Evening with Daniel Harris from the London Cloth Company on Friday 27 July.

  • Circular Design

    On March 15th Ray Stitch travelled over to Chelsea College of Arts for the ‘There and Back Again’ conference hosted by the Chelsea-based Centre for Circular Design (previously ‘Textile Environment Design’), an event that sought to explore the potential for end-of-life design through multiple perspectives. It was presented by the researchers of the Centre to a wide-ranging audience built from students, fellow researchers, fashion designers, consultants, industry professionals, textile artists and our somewhere-in-between Steph, who has both a fashion and textile background.

     

    Speakers at the There And Back Again conference at Chelsea College of Art

     

    We’ve had some chance to think over all of the circular design projects since then, and in particular, how they and the concept fit with home dressmaking. But let’s start from the beginning.

    Circular design envisages the design of a product from cradle (birth) back to cradle, instead of the linear life of traditional product design that goes from cradle to grave. By designing products to stay in a resource loop, we are reducing the impact of our resource-intensive making and also the amount of waste we generate through both making and disposal. The easiest way to understand this concept is perhaps by working backwards. Instead of throwing a garment in the rubbish bin for landfill/incineration, we could throw it in a textile bin for collection. The garment is then taken for sorting where it goes for recycling or reuse. Imagine then that instead of the downcycling that usually occurs in these processes (because the material is degraded or shipped overseas and loses value), it is taken back by manufacturers to be re-spun, re-woven and re-knitted into new materials. This loop then continues until the material loses its higher quality, at which point it is downgraded for e.g. industrial insulation and starts a new life elsewhere in the product chain.

    Visualising the differences between cradle-to-grave and cradle-to-cradle models of design and production

     

    However, the snag is, for when in a product’s life cycle do you design for it to be put back at the beginning, at raw material stage? Or do you even design it to go back to raw material stage - perhaps you design it for lengthy reuse instead. The Mistra Future Fashion cross-disciplinary UK-Sweden program understands consumer behaviour and applies this to its research aims, considering how fast fashion may not actually be used in a fast manner, and similarly for higher end ‘slow’ fashion items. A well-known example of ‘planned obsolescence’ whereby a product is designed to be disposed of pretty much immediately is the paper dresses of the 1960’s. Fast forward and the modern day equivalent is Tyvek, a high-density polyethylene material used in both construction and medicine, industries that require both material durability and quick disposal - yet can be mechanically recycled into new material and so are closed loop. On the other hand, you have garments passed down through generations because of their hardy materials, finishings and likely some sentimentality so they would generally take a long time to reach their reuse or recycling stage - still potentially closed loop but further down the line.

     

    1960s paper dresses

     

    So there is potential for both fast and slow fashion to fit into the circular design model, it is just a case of designing in a way that minimises environmental (and human) impact or that has a positive effect on consumer behaviour (such as reducing washing, reducing shopping). Mistra is looking holistically at the product design, the supply chain, the user and also the science behind recycling and, having worked for almost 8 years have an incredible amount of available information - you can go here to read up on garment life cycle assessments, or business model innovation for second-hand retailers through to the characterisation of cellulosic fibres in post-consumer cotton... it can definitely be heavy reading and of course overwhelming but a key point to take away from it, in the words of Professor of design Jonathan Chapman, “products are fleeting, only materials can last forever”. Whatever we create can be uncreated, remade, repurposed.

    Example of Cradle to Cradle model that fits circular design of natural and synthetic products

     

    How does circular design work for products designed and made at home, most likely using less-industrial methods of manufacture, with no labels and little to no traceability of material origin? In fact, there’s an opportunity here for communication and transparency with your making that is trickier to acknowledge in a wider supply chain - you are the one making the design decisions, so provided you have as much information as possible on the raw material and components, a label can be made to precisely show what went into the item ready for use by the next wearer, or even by the sorter at the recycling factory. A brand that does this perfectly is Honest by., a Belgian-based high-end fashion label that communicates every element of a garment from raw material to transportation to manufacturing time. As a home dressmaker you will understand and be able to fathom how much goes into the making of a garment, so in one respect you will want to communicate the effort you have made, and in another respect you will (generally) want to ensure your design has a good life. The Berlin-based consultancy Circular.Fashion has designed a woven ID tag that through a cyber platform can relay product information for second- and third- generation wearers, as well as for recyclers. It seems that the most marketable way to transfer this information is through simple technology like QR codes and websites - not the most creative of solutions for us crafty folk, however, this in itself has an infinite life cycle ensuring the information transcends human generations alongside product generations.

     

    An example of the material information from an Honest by. garment

     

    Down to the nitty-gritty now. What is the most effective way to design a garment with circular design principles in mind? Assuming your clothing will be collected at the end of it’s life with you, then sorted, potentially reused through resale and then recycled for fibre (known as fibre-to-fibre recycling), the key design constraints for you would involve the following:

    Raw material.
    a) Blended fibres are harder to recycle. There are innovations in place to recycle by chemical process (breaking the material back down to monomer and polymer stage) allowing a fibre to be as good quality as at conception, but if you can choose non-composite materials, this will help. Where composite materials are necessary (for example spandex to allow shape recovery, polycotton to allow both durability and breathability, viscose-cotton for drape) this is where you can create a label - it may make it quicker for a textile recycler to distinguish the fibres used, or for your garment recipient to ascertain the care instructions.
    b) using white fabrics allows for easier dyeing (natural materials also help this) either at home or by a textile manufacturer.

    Components.
    a) Designing with less components makes it easier and quicker to recycle at the end-of-life. This can also make a garment more durable as components break down and cannot always be replaced.
    b) Consider the composition of your components - if you’re making a 100% cotton item, then use a natural component, either shell or wood buttons for example, or a cotton zip tape with metal teeth. This would ensure the entire garment can quickly be recycled for the natural materials - or even biodegraded. (Experiment with putting a 100% natural garment on your compost heap ensuring good oxygen flow and see how it degrades; it’s a slow process but eventually the entire thing will disappear into the soil as fertiliser. There’s further design constraints here though as you have to ensure non-toxic dyes and heavy metal-free components.)

    Construction.
    a) Similar to the components you use, you should use a natural thread for natural materials and synthetic thread for synthetic materials. Polyester is known to be stronger, but ensuring your machine tension and stitch length is up to scratch will make all the difference when sewing with cotton thread. This also affects your washing instructions, see below.
    b) Do you envisage the item needing to be disassembled quickly either for access to repair or because it has a lot of components? Adjust your construction methods to suit - perhaps you can leave the edges raw or pinked (this could look untidy so take a new pair of scissors and some time). The construction methods back in the day relied a lot on handwork, and you could do the same; if those garments are still enduring today, then there is obviously something good in hand-finishing (Note: we run a couture hand-sewing class!) It adds charm to your piece, you have the mindfulness from stitching and it also means easier access for repairs and alterations.
    c) Perhaps you want the garment to last indefinitely and so you look to more technical construction methods such as binding, felled seams, taped seams and bonding; most suitable for outerwear, jeans and technical sportswear, these methods ensure bulkier fabrics will stay flat, won’t strain with movement and can even add characteristics such as waterproofing.

    Labelling.
    a) Our clothing labels state ‘Made in...’ but this doesn’t relate the full story. You have an opportunity to go into depth stating where the material is from, its composition, the thread, the components, where it was made, how to wash it, what size. The more information, the higher the emotional and physical durability - you could even add a personal signature or garment number.

    Washing.
    The use phase of a garment can be where the environmental impact is highest. It depends on the overall material, production, transportation, use and disposal phases to assess the true life cycle of a garment, and this can only generally be done in hindsight, as an assumption or using data analysis. Making clothes at home probably doesn’t give you access to this mode of assessment, however, we can still produce clothing that doesn’t need to be laundered as much therefore cutting down the energy use and effect on material quality. You can do this by:
    a) using single composition fibres and components as the washing cycle decision is simplified, and can prevent shrinkage from using synthetic thread on natural fabrics (and vice versa).
    b) Considering the material characteristics for example, designing a pair of jeans using stretch denim means the fibres can recover rather than leaving you with saggy knees and a need to wash them out.
    c) Designing looser fit clothing or installing dress shields so that you need only wash the removable pits rather than the full garment.
    d) Using natural materials as they can be refreshed in the shower room or sprayed to release odours; synthetic materials are also known to allow quicker growth of bodily bacteria. However, synthetic materials do dry quicker and tend not to wrinkle as much so consider when and how you’ll use your garment.

    This is, albeit actually a long post, only a short introduction to circular design principles. You as a dressmaker are also a designer - and some of you may actually run independent fashion labels or work within large design companies - so the key design features can differ according to purpose, market level and even culture. The above design elements should be taken as something to open the possibilities rather than constrict them, easing in a new way of thinking about how fashion and clothing can be sustainable from the very small scale right up to the super fast fashion chain.

    One thing that definitely hasn’t been mentioned is the waste that can be created from your cutting out, or even waste from toiles. If you’re going to think about the end-of-life for your finished article then you should do the same for your initial material. Everything is useful and everything that is recycled to a new purpose means less virgin material needs to be produced and processed. That is why we are paying for textile recycling with First Mile so that you our customers can bring in unwanted textile scraps to be collected and recycled at LMB Textiles’ East London-based mechanical recycling factory. Clothes can still be taken to textiles banks or shops, but bring your scraps to us if you cannot donate to a quilter friend! (Or come and shop some darning thread, participate in a boro or darning workshop and replace your zips to lengthen your garment's life cycle first!)

     

    Textile artist Shelley Fox showcases 10 tonnes of white linen cloth at Belsay Hall - all supplied by LMB Textiles' factory.

     

    Waste from raw material production can be left for another day...

    As part of our commitment to open a discussion about sustainable issues within the small-scale fashion and home dressmaker/tailoring worlds, we’ll be updating our blog to highlight various design principles and updating our website with general fabric and sourcing information. Keep an eye out for topics such as zero waste, natural dyeing and even recommended books for further reading. We also hope to showcase such topics as part of our Ray Stitch Events here at 66 Essex Road.

  • Men Who Like To Sew (and those who want to learn!)

     

    At Ray Stitch, our passion is sewing and making, and we want to share that with as many people as possible. Sewing should be accessible to everyone and we hope that message comes across with everything we do. We pride ourselves on having a fairly even split between male and female customers in the shop, so we know that guys are making stuff.

    Despite the recent upsurge in the popularity of sewing, many classes, books and even patterns are aimed at women, and it is often the female voices that are heard across social media. However, there are some great sewing blogs written by men if you know where to look.

    Male Pattern Boldness was started by Peter Lappin way back in 2009, when he first bought an old sewing machine from eBay and taught himself to sew. You will find sew-alongs, tutorials and videos for beginners as well as inspiration for more advanced stitchers.

    Man Sewing with Rob Appell positions itself as 'where creativity meets caffeine' and Rob himself is definitely full of energy! There is a free tutorial every Monday and he covers all aspects of sewing including quilting and garments.

    Image taken from the Thread Theory website. (All rights reserved)

     

    Thread Theory Designs was launched in 2012 by Morgan and Matt Meredith with the aim 'to bring menswear to the forefront of the DIY fashion movement'. They are bold and stylish! Their website incorporates everything you need to get started from tutorials and sew-alongs to a curated shop and a range of very wearable menswear patterns. In fact, we will be using their Jedidiah Jean pattern for our jean making class! (Read on for more details) They are also very popular on Instagram so you can get daily inspiration from their squares too.

    Blogs and the internet in general, are a great resource for learning new skills and techniques, but there is something very different about learning together. At the Sewing School at Ray Stitch we cater for everyone and at every level of experience - and although we do have men who participate in our classes we would love to see more guys signing up.  All our workshops are suitable for anyone, regardless of gender, so please regularly check our site to see what's on but these upcoming classes might be a good place to start?

    Make a Coat or Mens Workwear Jacket
    Begins: Thursday 05 April 2018
    Ends: Thursday 12 April 2018

    Make a Woven Tee Shirt
    Friday 06 April 2018

    Make a Rucksack or Cross-body Bag
    Monday 09 April 2018

    Jeans Workshop - Men's & Women's Fit
    Begins: Tuesday 17 April 2018
    Ends: Tuesday 08 May 2018

    As always, we want to hear from you! Are you a man who sews? What would you like to see more of? Or do you want to learn? What can we do to help? You can leave a comment here, find us on Instagram or Facebook, email us info@raystitch or if you are in London then pop in and tell us in person!

    Because it makes us so happy to see what our customers make, and sharing is such a good source of inspiration for others too we are starting up a hashtag just for the men! Tag your photos of works in progress, finished garments, quilts, cushions, anything you have sewn! with #raystitchmen

    Have a great weekend and happy sewing!

  • Fabric Facts: Essential Tips for Sewing with Wool

    Most of the UK was covered under a blanket of snow this week as 'The Beast from the East' and Storm Emma brought us freezing conditions. As the big thaw begins on the streets, we are still hanging onto our warmest and cosiest clothes just in case! We were really happy that so many of you love the coat patterns in our shop windows (and in the last blog) and have been planning to sew your own winter coats. Wool is a great fabric choice for a coat or jacket because, as a natural fibre, it will keep you warm in the colder months and cooler on the warm spring days we are all dreaming about!

    Ray Stitch Essential Tips for Sewing with Wool

    Wool fabric comes in a huge variety of weights, blends, patterns and weaves and does not always have to be used for outerwear; dresses and even shirts can be made using a lightweight blend. Sewing with wool can seem daunting for even experienced garment makers, especially because of the price, but it is generally a stable fabric to work with and you can get great results as long as you bear a few things in mind.

    SHRINKAGE:

    You can expect wool to shrink, and in some cases by a lot. But pre-washing isn't really as straightforward here as with other fabrics. The general advice is to always pre-treat your uncut material in the same way that you will be treating your finished garment, but often wool says dry-clean or handwash only. Dry cleaning fabric by the meter would be expensive, use lots of unnecessary chemicals and we have yet to find a cleaner that would do it! If you do hand wash, make sure you do not agitate it much, do not wring and dry it flat to ensure it retains it's shape as far as possible. Something to keep in mind is that wool should need much less cleaning than other materials, due to its natural properties so often a freshen up with fabric spray or a steam in a hot bathroom would be enough. Both of these techniques would be good for pre-treating your base cloth before sewing.

    Alternatively, there is a technique called the London Shrink Method which involves basting the selvedges of your fabric together and wrapping (or rolling) it up in very damp bed sheets. Allow this to sit for 24 hours before unwrapping and laying the fabric out to dry. Cut the basting stitches away and if you need to press, make sure you use a low heat and a press cloth.

    BULK:

    The heavier wool fabrics can create a lot of bulk in the seams so make sure you choose a pattern accordingly and use techniques to reduce bulk (The Sapporo Coat is a great one for this due to the dropped sleeves, while The Coat pattern uses princess seams.) A thick wool cloth will not fray much so pinking shears can be used or consider grading your seams. Lining a garment is a great way to hide unfinished seams as well as making the item feel better against your skin (wool can be a bit scratchy to the touch)

    TYPE OF FABRIC:

    Wool cloths can be woven or knitted just the same as other fibres, and each produces a fabric with different qualities. Woven wool cloth tends to be more stable, with little to no stretch which makes it ideal for structural garments and outerwear such as coats. Knitted wool fabrics are generally much softer, finer and behave more like jersey with lots of stretch - ideal for dresses and shirts with more drape. Hand feel is also important to consider as some heavier wool cloth can be quite rough to the touch, however, garments can be lined.

    TYPE OF NEEDLE:

    On the whole, a pointed needle is best when sewing with natural fibres, and a sharp needle will be required when working with heavier wools. However, a ballpoint or jersey needle might be better when sewing with finer knitted wool fabric to allow the needle to slip between the fibres. For best results always make sure you use a new needle when starting a project and you may even need to change needles during the process if you are making a heavy coat.

    PRESSING:

    When pressing your garment during construction you must be very careful - a hot iron will damage your fabric irreparably and too much steam could cause more shrinkage. Always use the 'wool' setting on your iron and use a steam cloth so you are not putting the iron directly onto your fabric. You can also steam instead of pressing, which means the iron never actually touches the cloth. Hold the iron an inch above the fabric and let the steam do the work of getting rid of the wrinkles. Allow the garment to dry naturally and do not pull out of shape whilst it is damp.

    Essential Tips for sewing with wool

    We stock a wide range of wool and wool blend fabric, in a variety of weights and drapes so we are sure to have the right material for your project. Check out our ranges online here. We also provide swatch packs of our wools so that you can see and feel for yourself before committing to purchase. If you are unsure of matching a pattern to the right type of wool then please just ask  - we are happy to chat on the phone or in person to help you make the right decision.

    A garment made from wool feels like an investment not only in cost but time too, however once made it will last you years (as with all woollen garment make sure you store them well to prevent the moths from getting to them.) Happy sewing and if you are embarking on a coat as your next project we would LOVE to see... tag us on Instagram or Facebook using #raystitch.

     

     

  • Ray Stitch: Coats

    The sun may have put its hat on and come out to play, but it's still very much coat weather for the rest of us. Hip hip hip hooray! The coat is the centrepiece of the winter wardrobe; it's the item we end up wearing the most throughout the season and they often have to tick many boxes. We need a coat to be warm and comfortable, big enough to accommodate extra layers underneath, deep pockets to keep your hands warm, flexible enough to be appropriate for many occasions and why not make it as stylish as possible too?

    Our new window display features three of our favourite coat patterns made up in our new stock of fabulous wools, perfect for chilly Winter and crisp Spring days too. Above from left to right: 'The Sapporo Coat' by Papercut patterns made from Panama Wool in Heather, Burda 6802 'Relaxed Fit Coat' made from heavy British Wool in Charcoal Grey, and the brand new pattern from The Avid Seamstress, 'The Coat' made up in Chunky Wool Twill in Peach.

    Papercut Patterns was founded in 2010 by Katie Romagnoli who had noticed a gap in the sewing market for modern patterns with inspirational styling. Using her skills in both fashion and graphic design, she creates patterns that are equally beautiful and functional. The Papercut Collective is a blog full of inspiration and hacks so you can make their patterns in your own style.

    The Sapporo Coat (below) has a bold cocoon silhouette with angled seaming and hidden front pockets, cropped sleeves and tapered cuffs. It is a really stylish and functional shape, allowing for extra jumpers underneath. It is also fully lined which means it is perfect for wool, which can be a little scratchy next to the skin.

    The Avid Seamstress is a London-based pattern company, set up by Lisa Falconer. Taught to sew by her mother, Lisa studied Fashion Design, started a blog about sewing, and then completed the circle by teaching others to sew and inspiring them with her creativity, before launching own her patterns in 2015. We love championing independent designers and particularly admire the minimalist style of The Avid Seamstress. Her patterns are suitable for beginners and intermediate dressmakers, and you can find blog tutorials too for extra support and guidance.

    'The Coat' (below) is inspired by classic tailoring but has been simplified to be an easy make. It features princess seams and in-seam pockets with modern drop sleeves for a relaxed and stylish look. We made it up in a gorgeous pastel colour, because why not? That is the best thing about sewing clothes for yourself!

    We hope these garments will inspire you to push your sewing boundaries and make a coat your next project. Look out for our blog post next weekend which will be all about sewing with wool - tips and advice on choosing the right fabric and how to get professional finishes. Until then, if you want to chat with us about your sewing plans please either pop into 66 Essex Road, or email us on info@raystitch.co.uk. Stay warm!

  • Future Fabrics Expo 2018

    Last week, Ray Stitch went across town to visit the Future Fabrics Expo hosted by The Sustainable Angle. In its 7th year, the FFE is a showcase of textile innovation and most notably materials that have a more sustainable footprint than those coming from conventional fibre manufacture. It was incredibly busy - hosted in a wonderfully light studio space - which just shows how powered up those working in the fashion, textile and interior design sectors are about making concrete positive change.

    Alongside having a very good feel of the 5000 commercially available (and viable) fabrics on show, we attended two seminars to increase our knowledge about what is going on further afield in the textile world. The first was presented by Lauffenmühle, a workwear fabric manufacturer in Germany who explained their decades-long efforts to be Cradle to Cradle certified (1 - see jargon buster at the end) - in basic terms, controlling a product’s life cycle from birth to rebirth - and their research into creating an antimony-free recycled polyester (2). While not hugely relatable to our business, the lowering of antimony in polyester is a huge leap for synthetic fabrics, and in particular for the ability to produce an upgraded recycled material - laundering of clothes is a main contributor to the release of chemicals into our water system (3), and Lauffenmühle’s practical research shows that they needn’t be present in the first place. It left us wondering what we can do better.

    The second seminar we attended was an inspiring one presented by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation who aim to help redesign fashion’s future by using the key principle of a circular economy (4). They’re currently attempting to crack the issue of how to utilise ocean plastic, transfer it to the fibre manufacturing loop and then keep it there, whilst simultaneously inspiring the redesign of products so that they don’t just end up discarded anyway and therefore disrupting the loop. It’s all about making things in the best way possible; as designers and crafters we find it difficult not to make stuff, but how can we make things with a lower impact on our planet’s resources? The Foundation was aimed more towards those in the fashion sector, those who make decisions on thousands of garments, and while we’re responsible for only a tiny margin of that, we’re still responsible: as retailers and as makers ourselves.

    Explaining how all of the elements in a fibre's journey needs to be addressed

     

    Ambitions for The New Circular Economy as posited by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Click here for full reports from the foundation.

     

    Most of the time we make clothes for ourselves because we cannot find what we want in the shops. Of course we get the satisfaction from the process of making, but the end product is what we’re generally working towards. Now that fashion brands have sustainable sourcing teams and are genuinely working towards alternative solutions to the textiles they use and the end-of-life of their garments, it’s up to fabric retailers to take the same approach; you as customers of fabric and haberdashery should have the same - if not higher - amount of choice as if you were purchasing a finished piece, and consequently the ability to decide what the full journey of your product looks like.

    Organic cotton, post-consumer cotton and lyocell jerseys on show

     

    There are so many avenues of ‘sustainability’ to explore that it isn’t fair to take away or focus on one aspect when another aspect may be of more importance to you. For example, we have an ever growing selection of GOTS certified organic cotton fabrics (5), but alongside that we also have conventionally grown cotton fabrics as the organic market still isn’t that big and choice is relatively limited, especially when it comes to printed textiles (printing is another matter unto itself...). The initial origin and finishing has a massive impact on the difference in their sustainability factors, yet the end of life is still pretty much the same whether organic or conventional fibre. We can present both products to you, and it is up to you to create something with it in the best way possible, perhaps ensuring you stitch it with cotton thread so that it is fully biodegradable, or by reusing/recycling the scraps.

    Wool is a tough one: in comparison to cotton it has minimal demand and lower market value yet requires more land. In terms of sustainability though, a wool jumper or coat can last a lifetime, can be constantly repaired and doesn't necessitate much laundering. The wools on show here included yak (!) and organically-fed and treated British wools from Isle of Mull Weavers.

     

    That being said, we were so excited by the possibilities of materials on offer that for the most part there wasn’t a restriction in choice - we could switch from a conventionally grown heavily dyed cotton denim to a post-consumer waste low-impact dyed denim and you would still have plenty of option, yet your footprint would’ve already been reduced. So it works both ways - us presenting you with the option of more sustainable materials, and you as a customer committing to use those materials in as sustainable a manner as possible. We’re very riled up to make changes within our business and would be eager to hear from our customers as to what you believe Ray Stitch can improve upon in terms of our material offering, knowledge exchange and transparency, and resource use.

    At the end of 2017 we started collecting textile waste from our sewing school and our aim is to start offering this textile scrap recycling service to our customers - we’re first looking into where this waste goes and what it becomes so that we’re giving you the full picture. We will be increasing our organic fabric offering and giving you further details into where it comes from and how it is manufactured and processed, alongside where possible the details for our other fabrics and notions, with a handy website guide on textile information for knowledge transfer. We aim to start stocking Tencel (lyocell) fabrics as a lower impact and cyclical alternative to viscose (5), restock organic cotton threads, champion textile manufacturers that are based in the UK, further increase our book and journal offering to include those that explore sustainable issues in textiles and product design and, provide a hire service for certain tools. We’re looking into better alternatives to our packaging for our mail order customers (our shop bags are already paper) and we have already switched our Sewing School sewing machines to be on a hire-and-repair basis so that their lifecycle is closed loop.

    There is so much that needs to be done to slow down resource use, and it honestly feels overwhelming, especially when your business is based on selling... yet we’re eager and willing to make change where we can. It’s been very nearly a year since we moved in to Number 66 and we have expanded considerably, so much so that we probably need another or a bigger shop still! Thank you to all of our customers, physical and cyber. Keep asking questions and we’ll do our best to find out at the answers - if we don’t get there to provide them first.

    Jargon buster:

    1. Cradle to Cradle: this is an approach to the design of products and systems that views materials as 'nutrients' constantly circulating. There are certified products, however, the C2C approach is one that can be applied as an inherent design principle anyway.
    2. Antimony: a naturally found metallic mineral that is toxic in large doses. It is found in the PET that your water bottles are made from, and with the disposal of these plastics comes degradation and leaching of the chemical element into our water systems. Further washing of recycled polyester (rPET) that contains traces of antimony will continue the discharge.
    3. Recommended read: Sustainable Fashion & Textiles: Design Journeys by Dr. Kate Fletcher
    4. Circular Economy: an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life (definition from WRAP).
    5. GOTS Standard Certification: "only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres can become GOTS certified. All chemical inputs such as dyestuffs and auxiliaries used must meet certain environmental and toxicological criteria. The choice of accessories is limited in accordance with ecological aspects as well. A functional waste water treatment plant is mandatory for any wet-processing unit involved and all processors must comply with social criteria. The key criteria of GOTS, its quality assurance system and the principles of the review and revision procedure are summarised in this section." (definition from GOTS).
  • Ray Stitch Focus: Megan Nielsen

    We started the new year at Ray Stitch with a new window display of some of our favourite Megan Nielsen designs - the Axel skirt and three versions of the very versatile Sudley smock blouse/mini dress (from left to right: 'Big Dots Blue' by Kokka, 'Fruit Like Dots' by Kokka, 'Ahoy Me Hearties' by Janet Clare)

    We have had such a great response to these garments we thought we should have a chat with Megan herself and find out what she has planned for 2018, and we ended up talking about the amazing online sewing community. Before we get to the interview, some background information may be useful to those of you who aren't familiar with her: Megan Nielsen is an independent sewing pattern and clothing designer who lives in Australia. As a working parent, she fits her career around her family life and 3 children. She has said that inspiration comes from everywhere (especially the amazing Australian outback), but particularly from her own personal experience and requirements, and often wears many of her own designs, as do her children. We love the practicality of her patterns - they are very wearable but have lovely stylish details and variations to make the garment your own.

     

     

    RS: We first discovered Megan Nielsen Patterns through your maternity range, and that led us to your children's designs. We love the mini versions of your patterns. How important are these ranges to you as a designer, & as a parent?

    MN: As much as I love to sew for myself, I’ve found over the years that I love sewing for my three children even more. That’s really how my mini patterns came about. My kids are always with me while I’m cutting and sewing and my eldest daughter had been going through my patterns and asking if she could have her own versions of the designs. I was so excited to sew her a little capsule wardrobe that was stylish, practical and age appropriate. Releasing mini patterns has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, and I get so excited when I see them running around in something I made for them. Right now I’m working on a few more mini designs for my girls, that I’m hoping to release this year. The response from other parents has been fantastic – I think many mums have the same frustrations I do with ready to wear children's clothing and love being able to sew their children something better than they can buy.

    RS: Can you talk us through what a working day is like for you these days?

    MN: My working days are pretty hectic. I try to work in around my childrens' schedules and needs, so I tend to work in 2-3 hour bursts during their rest times, or after they go to bed. My youngest begins kindergarten a few days a week soon, so after that, I’ll be working full days for the first time which is quite exciting!
    When it comes to how I structure my day, I try to be quite organised. I always
    begin my work time with a cup of tea and my diary, and I make a comprehensive
    to-do list of what needs to be done that day. I use a number of workflow management software tools to keep track of our pattern development progress
    and all the other tasks we have going on. I’m a stickler for setting deadlines and
    sticking to them. Most of my team work remotely, so it’s important that we communicate well, and I try to make sure we are all free to work to our own strengths. Each new design usually takes between 6-12 months from idea to being available for sale. Funnily enough, at least half my time if not more is spent on day to day operations over active design development. But I must admit, I really enjoy that there is a mix. I like that I am able to split my time between different tasks as it keeps things really interesting! When it comes to sewing for myself, I’ve actually struggled with that a lot recently. Sometimes I spend so much time working on new designs and sewing samples, that I don’t get to sew myself anything. Which is a little hilarious! I’m trying to prioritise some personal time, by being better at not working on the weekend, and setting that time aside for sewing for myself. Right now I’ve been working on sewing myself some new pyjamas and some swimwear for my kids!

    RS: You have a large and very engaged community of followers on Instagram - how important is this virtual group to you?

    MN: The online sewing community is incredibly important to me, and I feel really blessed to be able to engage with other sewers like me every day. I feel blessed that we can all share a little of our sewing journey together, and be part of each others' lives in a small but significant way. I began sewing in quite a solitary way as a teenager, and as an adult, I’ve found that sewing with friends is so much more joyful! It’s because of the sewing community that I have a business at all, and I never want to forget that. One of the great things about Instagram is being able to collaborate and share things in real time, especially now with stories, and for me, I’ve found it to be a wonderful and natural way to connect with my customers.

    RS: Recently you shared a personal sewing mishap on IG, and we really identified with how you felt... we have all been there!

    MN: It’s funny you should bring up the Matilda dress I ruined, because I feel like that’s a great example of what a blessing it is to be a part of a sewing community. It was such an upsetting moment for me when I cut tried to cut open the buttonholes on my newly finished dress and sliced right down the placket. I honestly wanted to hide under a table and cry. But I decided to share my mistake on Instagram not only because I know that there is an amazing group of sewers out there who are full of wonderful ideas, but because I think it’s important that no-one feels alone in their mistakes. I always try to share my sewing frustrations and mistakes in the hope that it will encourage other sewers and show them that making mistakes is a normal part of creating. In this case, I received so many thoughtful and creative solutions to my problem that I was able to mend my dress enough to make it wearable. And not only that, but I learnt a number of new techniques and ways to avoid it in the future. The sewing community is incredibly supportive and knowledgeable and it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.

    RS: You have a Megan Nielson Patterns App to enhance the sewing experience for your customers and keep the patterns as up to date as possible. This seems like a great combination of technology and physical making...

    MN: The Megan Nielsen App is really dear to my heart. It’s something I dreamed of for a long time, and I feel like it’s a very important step in sewing instruction in the modern world. We all spend so much time with our phones and tablets next to us when we’re sewing that it just made sense to me that people should be able to access their sewing instructions that way. I feel like it’s a good accompaniment to our printed and PDF patterns, and gives people a great deal of choice in how they want to sew. We’ve received so much positive feedback from our customers about how much they love it, and I’m really thrilled that it’s an added extra we can provide.

    RS: Thank you so much for chatting with us, Megan. We know our readers and customers will be keen to know what's coming next. Is there anything you can share with us for 2018?

    MN: Honestly, 2018 is a very big year for me. I’ve been working for a long time on extending my pattern sizing, and this is the year that I’ll be releasing my first
    expanded size range in a few patterns. I’m really excited! On top of that, I currently have two patterns that are at the printer and just a few short months
    from release, as well as another 6 in the pipeline for later in the year, as well as a
    few mini patterns that we are working on too. It’s going to be busy, but I’m looking forward to it.

    Reef Shorts and Camisole Set

    So you heard it here - 8 new Megan Nielsen Patterns plus mini designs coming in 2018! You can keep up-to-date with Megan on the socials as well her brilliant blog Design Diary. Of course, Ray Stitch stocks many of her designs in store and online here, and even though Megan designs in a much more temperate climate than ours, many of the garments can work in chilly weather by layering or using thicker fabrics - wool or even scuba culottes? Yes, please! If in doubt, please ask us for advice. Happy sewing :)

  • Ray Stitch Sewing School - Learn to Sew or Improve Your Skills

    The Ray Stitch Sewing school has been an integral part of the business since we became a bricks and mortar shop and we are passionate about getting people confident to sew. Whether you are a total beginner, looking for a new hobby for the new year, or have got skills but want to take them to the next level we have a class for you! We pride ourselves on teaching relevant skills in fun, sociable sessions with talented and friendly tutors.

    The start of the new year is a time that many people think about setting goals, finding a new hobby or learning a new skill - and if yours include sewing then we have got you covered - from the total beginners sewing machine classes, to hand sewing techniques, advanced sewing techniques, to making your own tote bag, knickers, shirt, coat or even a pair of jeans!  (Plus we run classes for kids too.) Full listings can be found on our website HERE and we also promote classes on our social channels (Instagram or Facebook) but here are some upcoming classes we are particularly excited to share with you...

    6 Week Courses - with evening or morning sessions offered plus small class sizes for maximum learning

    Our popular Introduction to Machine Sewing course is an intensive six-week programme for complete beginners. It is the ideal way to start your journey to being a competent sewer and will also cover the basic skills needed to start dressmaking. After completing the course you will have the confidence to work on a wide range of different projects at home. We start right from scratch, familiarising you with the sewing machine itself, showing you how to wind a bobbin, thread the machine up and change the tension. Then we start building on your skills; you will cover a wide range of invaluable tips and techniques over the duration of the course

    Our popular Introduction to Dressmaking course is the best starting block to begin making your own clothes, every year we guide and teach over a hundred fledgeling sewers until they are fully equipped with the skills and confidence to progress to more advanced dressmaking and feel they can work through a pattern without assistance. Over six weekly sessions, you will learn and put into practice a variety of skills and techniques that are needed to make up a range of different garments using commercial sewing patterns. Our expert teachers will impart invaluable tips along the way by demonstrating parts of every process involved in making and finishing garments, and you will come away from the course with three wearable garments!

    Boro Workshops - Stitch & Repair

    These single session workshops explore the art of 'Boro'. This term is derived from Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired; it is a process that is perfect for beginners to learn hand stitching by way of experimenting with Sashiko, a simple running stitch that can be as rudimentary or elaborate as you want it to be. The objective of this class is to use hand stitches including Sashiko to repair or strengthen an item piece or fabric or item of clothing. By looking at the history of Boro and learning different stitches you will understand and practice the art of visible mending. These classes are already proving very popular as mindful activities are on the rise too.

    Couture Hand Sewing Techniques

    If you are an experienced dressmaker or enjoy the art and mindfulness of making things by hand then this is the class for you! In these three hour sessions, you will have the opportunity to develop your technical skills even further. You will accomplish several hand sewn techniques that will allow you to finish garments to a couture standard. We are offering 2 different classes with different techniques taught in each. Mastering these skills will change the way you make clothes and give you a better understanding of garment construction. You will have the confidence to produce professional looking formal evening wear and maybe even discover a slower pace of your projects for a mindful experience!

    Traditional Shirt Making Workshop with Henri

    We love to have visiting artists, makers and designers as tutors at the Ray Stitch Sewing School too. Henrietta Adams is a London based clothing designer with a passion for traditional techniques. She is currently in India tracing the origins of her organic cotton back to the seed. Over the course of the weekend, Henrietta will guide you through the intricate garment construction process involved with making a shirt, as well as sharing her wealth of knowledge.

    Sew a Pair of Jeans - Men and Women's styles

    We are so excited about this new course! Practically everyone owns a pair of well-worn jeans but most of us would be daunted by the idea of making a new pair ourselves. During our 5 session workshop, you will be guided through new techniques that are specific to the construction of jeans. You will also learn more about achieving a better fit with sewing patterns and how to alter your pattern. Step-by-step you will create your very own first fitting pair of self-made jeans! Participants can choose from 2 different patterns to make either classic men's cut or a highrise skinny pair. This really is a great challenge for experienced sewers.

    Weekend Workshop - Make a lined Bomber Jacket

    Learn new sewing techniques and make a fully lined bomber jacket in this weekend workshop - 24 & 25 February. This casual jacket can be made unique with your designer input, colour block the sleeves, add patches, badges or embroidery. It's a versatile style that can be worn all year round, and after you've made it once you'll want to try out a variety of different fabrics! During the workshop, you will be taught a skill set that will enhance your sewing to help you get the most professional finish for your garment and make you feel more confident when using other sewing patterns. Special offer - February's workshop is now reduced to £165 for both days tuition plus lunch and refreshments. Click on the link above for more info and to book your place.

    As well as all these advertised classes we also offer 1 to 1 tuition on request and have also run sessions for groups of friends who want to learn together. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss any of our classes or tuition available - and if you have an idea for a class we don't yet offer then let us know. As an added extra, by booking a class you are entitled to 10% of all fabric purchases.

    Sewing is a wonderful social activity as well as being practical, useful, creative, imaginative... we could go on! We hope to see you at a class very soon :)