Monthly Archives: April 2015

  • More Hearty Good Wishes

    Last week we welcomed Janet Clare's third print collection for Moda, 'More Hearty Good Wishes'. An extension of her 'Hearty Good Wishes' range from last year, the collection offers such a delightful take on a seaside walk. The hues are deep indigo and natural, with a painterly whitewashed-beach hut background. They depict such imagery as tall ships, seagulls, marram grasses and waves (or perhaps, tiny fish scales) that immediately whisk you away to a fresh Spring day where you're walking along your favourite beach and up the dunes.

    Janet Clare More Hearty Good Wishes for Moda


    Janet originally trained as a textile and fashion designer, but now enjoys creating masses of quilts, embroideries and some clothing after having kids - anything creative with her hands it seems, as she's an avid gardener too! The inspiration from nature and delicate things made by hand comes through in her print collections for Moda, and indeed in everything else she creates. Her personality shines through, and in the process makes us aspire to be just as present in what we make.


    Janet Clare


    We love the subtlety of Janet's prints in 'More Hearty Good Wishes'. We see them as sweet tea dresses, jacket linings, full circle skirts and shirts. Of course, being that Janet is a quilter, you can most definitely take inspiration from her patterns to create your own quilts and homewares. Combine them with 'A Field Guide', her second collection to lift the blues, and add more characteristic natural textures. Think of the Norfolk Broads where the air is fresh and the grasses plentiful, or of Cornwall where the azure seas juxtapose the light sands... The mini charm pack for the collection is actually called Ambleside, so if you're not inclined towards the sea but more to lakes, think of an leisurely amble by the lake shore with the breeze blowing the reeds.


    Janet Clare mood board


    Especially here in the city, time in the outdoors and being out in the fresh air is precious to us, so anything that allows us to step outside of the everyday gives us joy. The familiarity that clothes give us - whether a comfy cardigan we've had for 10 years, an embroidered trim that reminds us of our grandparents' stitching, or just a colour that sends us back to a place in our memory - affects our wellbeing and consequently, it's comprehensible that the things we wear everyday should hold some sort of sensory affectation. The sky is grey and perhaps we're doing the same thing we did yesterday, but the top we have on exports us to something simpler and happier...

    Truthfully, we're quite select with our print collections, rarely stocking a full range, but with Janet Clare we just can't resist. The classic tones, the inky drawings and the printed textures are just so versatile working across dressmaking, quilting and homewares, but alongside other prints and plains too. (Stay tuned in the coming months for something else from Janet in-store...)

    Here are some suggestions of fabric to coordinate with your selection of 'More Hearty Good wishes'...

    Fabrics from Ray Stitch

    From top left clockwise: Cotton Needlecord Navy £14/m 140cm wide / Robert Kaufman Indigo Twill £15/m 150cm wide / Organic Heavyweight Loomstate Linen £16/m 142cm wide / Merchant and Mills Laundered Linen Rodeo Blue £19/m 143cm wide / 3 Sisters Paris Map Old £14/m 110cm wide / Essex Linen Denim £15/m 110cm wide


    Words by Steph.

  • Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay

    What a lovely and inspiring way to end April! It was quite a grey Saturday when we went off to the Tate, but the colours inside were nothing more than spectacularly vivid. The rooms were well thought out, with each one offering a differing aspect of Delaunay's progression, and full - but not too full - of things to gawp at and go "I need that in my life".




    Sonia's young adulthood amongst the Russian bourgeoisie allowed her to explore Europe, and through this take in all of the current art movements. Early works are clearly affected by German expressionism and Fauvism, both movements in development around the time that she studied in Germany and Paris. The definition of outlines with strongly-coloured painterly insides were the beginnings of her abstract work, though once she met Robert they set off on a joint venture of a completely new and singular art movement: Simultané. There are obvious connections from artists hailing after her that interpreted the style into their own, but around the time that Robert and Sonia were developing simultanism, there seems to be a void. Perhaps walking around the exhibition just made it feel like there is nothing else quite like Delaunay art, but then that's the point isn't it - to get lost in the colours and the shapes.




    Her ethos of 'everything by hand' meant that a coat for Gloria Swanson was entirely hand-embroidered with tapestry wool, patchwork garments and coverlets composed with slip-stitching, and fabrics screen or block printed. This was a time when machinery was actually quite at the fore, and you later see in the exhibition how Delaunay merged aeronautics with art for the 1937 Paris Exhibition. It's said that her use of embroidery and hand-stitching was to bring the techniques used by Russian peasant women together with modernist abstraction - the seamless fusion of past and future.


    Coat for Gloria Swanson, 1925 Hand-embroidered coat for Gloria Swanson, 1925


    Inspired by city life, Sonia was all about exploring the colours and shapes created by movement. Further travels to Portugal, Spain and Sweden developed her interest in light and colour, with works becoming slightly more distinct in their lines. But the Revolution meant that she could no longer be sustained by her family's wealth, and so her development of pure fine art had to stop for the time being. Sonia opened Casa Sonia in Madrid in 1918, selling 'simultaneous' accessories, furniture and fabrics with commissions for clothing, this leading to Diaghilev approaching her for costume design. The boundaries between art and everything else was now blurred, with Sonia achieving that wonderful and ever sought-after balance of experimentation and business.




    Now, this is where anyone with crafty bones would get palpitations. You walk into this room that has printed fabrics hanging up, the previously mentioned hand-embroidered coat in a glass case and walls of photos of Sonia's simultaneous fashions in black-and-white, whereby they evolve a chiaroscuro edge (there's the German Expressionism back). Cabinets along the walls are full of even more printed fabric samples, next to them sketches and line sheets so that you may see both the imagined and the real (something you don't often come across, especially with something ninety years old). A screen plays a fashion film, again obviously in black and white, but with all of the physical items around you in colour, you transport yourself to that time - perhaps you even imagine yourself draped in the silk, leisurely seated in an opulent room...


    Sonia Delaunay printed textiles

    Sonia Delaunay Design 945, 1930

    Sonia Delaunay printed textiles


    Surely this affects all makers; the fact that you can't touch anything is infuriating. These are objects that were made to be held, and yet they're behind glass. With the dimmed lights, it's even difficult to fully conceive what the true colours should be. It is very much about imagination, and whilst every effort is made to help the viewers see the truth in an object through line sheets and descriptions, touch is a sense so completely prohibited in a gallery setting that our affect from a piece can be dulled. It is likely that all of you reading this will play with textiles in some way, and so on visiting this exhibition, you'll probably be left inspired but also hindered; it's as if, once placed in a case, the textiles are a secret. How can we fully comprehend how the printed shapes are affected by the light, or how movement can distort them when they're on silk or cotton jersey - and therefore, how are we to place ourselves in Sonia's mind? Maybe that's the point - that the textiles are now pieces of art to be looked at, rather than something functional and that was her point wasn't it - to blur the lines of fashion and art.


    Delaunay Textile Designs


    Despite the heartache of not being able to touch anything, you become visually stimulated and that is still something quite magnificent. Perhaps now there will be a surge in print designers inspired by Delaunay who will create fabrics for us to make our own simulatenous outfits up in. Or, maybe take Sonia's 'everything by hand' philosophy to heart and create your own wearable art... There are books available, such as the new 'Print. Make. Wear' by Melanie Bowles, aimed at digital printing yet, nonetheless inspirational for hands-on approaches. There's Lena Corwin's 'Made By Hand' that covers all sorts of crafty projects, but includes instruction and beautiful imagery to help in the creation of your own batik-dyed and screenprinted textiles (both books are available to buy in-store at Ray Stitch). And then, you could also just get some pens and some fabric and have a play at your own wearable art...


    Lena Corwin's 'Made By Hand' Lena Corwin's 'Made By Hand'


    'Print. Make. Wear' by Melanie Bowles 'Print. Make. Wear' by Melanie Bowles


    Get on down to the Tate!


    Words by Steph.

  • Introducing: Advanced Steps Class

    Meet the new addition to our Ray Stitch Sewing School repertoire - 'Dressmaking Techniques for the Proficient Seamstress'! Aimed at those who have already taken our Next Steps class or have similar beginner dressmaking skills, this class hopes to give you a step up in confidence and proficiency so that you can tackle any commercial pattern (or indeed your own).


    Advanced Steps


    The techniques covered in the three-hour class are: blind hemming (using the machine), pin hem (for delicate fabrics), French seam, flat felled seam, invisible zip, lapped zip and one-step buttonhole. Our teacher Moyna really knows her stuff - having trained at the London College of Fashion and consequently worked in the fashion industry for 18 years in various roles including as a pattern cutter, she knows just what is necessary to make your homemade garments look like they've been bought from the very top brands. By taking the time with your finishes, you can add finesse and extended life to your garments - after spending so long laying out the pattern, cutting out your fabric and pinning everything, you would want it to stand the test of time!


    Sewing classes at Ray Stitch


    If you're not quite confident enough yet to get started with the above techniques, we run a 'Next Steps' class aimed at beginner sewers who would like to advance eventually to dressmaking, or at least pick up some additional skills that would come in handy for making homewares. In this three-hour class you will: learn how to lay and cut out a pattern, mark notches, mark the grainline and mark the seam allowance (probably the most necessary skills for dressmaking!), create darts, insert a channel zip, baste/tack, finish edges (zig zag and turning under), learn how to pipe and create gathers. There's a lot there to take in, but from here you will be able to get started on any beginner sewing pattern - our Advanced Steps class will just give you a bit of an edge in terms of details.


    Insert a zip

    If these sound like your kind of thing, head on over to our classes page to book, or give the shop a call. For these two classes all you need to bring is yourself and perhaps a notebook and pen. You'll even get 10% off everything in the shop for 2 weeks after your class, as well as 10% off any further class bookings made in that time. The classes are a maximum of 6 people so it will always be a friendly and intimate setting, with plenty of interaction with our talented and patient teachers. In the meantime, check out our Pinterest board for some tutorials on often necessary intricate techniques.

    Our next Advanced Steps classes will be on: Thursday 7th May 7-10pm, followed by Thursday 21st May 7-10pm and Friday 5th June 7-10pm. Next Steps will run on: Saturday 9th May 2-5pm and Saturday 6th June 2-5pm.


    Words by Steph.

  • Kids Clothes Week: Oliver + S

    It seems we haven't been too on top of what's going on over the pond and have missed out on Kids Clothes Week - an online community gathering of people dedicating just one hour a day making or altering children's clothing. Even though we haven't been sewing along, the posts about makes will forever be online for us to gain inspiration (even for our own adult clothing).

    We have just had a delivery of a couple new and favoured Oliver + S patterns and decided to head on over to their blog to see what they have made up as examples for their styles. We found some glorious posts on ways to inject the patterns with necessary fun - the styles are classic and so versatile in all sorts of fabric, but if you can appliqué, embroider or add trims, then why not go for it? We particularly like the additions below...

    Playtime Tunic with tassles / Playtime Leggings with knee patches / plain t-shirt with 'kid art' Playtime Tunic with tassles / Playtime Leggings with knee patches / plain t-shirt with 'kid art'


    Along with their patterns, Liesl + Co., the company behind Oliver + S have a book, 'Little things to sew'. It includes a paper sheet with instruction for 20 classic yet whimsical accessories and toys for children, such as the playtime apron, bento box carrier, penguin backpack, explorer vest and travel quilt. Being small projects, they can be relatively quick to make up - maybe even involve your kids by letting them choose fabric and trims, or giving them fabric pens. Liesl Gibson writes with a personal touch, explaining how she developed the projects after needing something similar in her home or for her kids. The skills necessary go from basic machine sewing, to things like binding, installing zips and hand-embroidery all of them with the option and inspiration to add embellishment or your own personal touches.


    Projects from Little Things To Sew Projects from Little Things To Sew


    At the Sewing School we run a children's clothes making class. Both Lisa and Rachel are mums and so understand that doing things for yourself as well as your kids is a precious balance. Making their clothes yourself allows you the enjoyment of making itself, and the pride in creating something from scratch for them. Liesl has created fun projects that help you develop your making skills through clear instructions and diagrams, along with images of the playful fabrics and aspirational embellishments.


    Little Things to Sew instructions are clear and well laid out Little Things to Sew instructions are clear and well laid out


    Please do share with us what you make via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest! Happy making!


    Words by Steph.

  • Fashion Revolution Day

    Two years ago, on the 24th April 2013, 1133 people were killed and over 2500 injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They were working there to make the clothes that we all buy on the High Street. We don't know who these makers are, and yet we wear their handiwork everyday. The Fashion Revolution movement poses the question, 'Who made your clothes?'


    Fashion Revolution


    The tag 'eco-fashion' is bandied about so much that it can lose its meaning. What does 'eco-fashion' entail, and what's the point in it? There are so many necessary avenues to explore when it comes to sustainability and ethical conduct that it is immensely difficult to control all aspects. With the incredible heirarchy of the fashion industry, not one person controls everything and so consequently, there's a major lack in transparency.




    So, #whomadeyourclothes? Check the label on the garments that you're wearing now. They'll have an overall, 'Made in Bangladesh', 'Made in Vietnam', 'Made in China' label - but these are large countries, and aren't they forgetting everything else that goes into making a garment? Where did the virgin materials come from, where was the metal for the zip made, what thread is used and where was it spun... so many hands touch each item of clothing, that an overall label doesn't do all of that hard work justice. When questioning who made your clothes, look holistically.


    Children at St. Mary's Catholic Primary School in Chiswick take a look at their labels Children at St. Mary's Catholic Primary School in Chiswick take a look at their labels


    Of course, you may be a dressmaker and think, 'Well, I made my clothes'. It's incredibly important to look at the full picture. Where did the virgin fibres come from to make the fabric, the thread, the buttons and, if you're so inclined to look further, the electricity that allowed you to make your clothes. Just because we as homemakers shop less from chain brands doesn't mean that we should be any less involved in understanding the impact we're also having on resources and on humanity. There are so many possibilities for lowering your impact. Many of you will already buy organic food produce, you may cycle or have a hybrid car, and you'll probably recycle too. Yet, "the direct value of the UK fashion industry to the UK economy is £26 billion; up from £21 billion in 2009" (British Fashion Council). This is great news for the economy, but it means that more of us are buying fashion - whether from the High Street or from small businesses so, at what cost is this increase on the economy to ethical conduct and our environment?

    As a maker then, what can you do to lower your own impact? If every person makes one small change, it can have a ripple effect - as is evident with lowering plastic bag usage. The biggest change you could make is to lower your amount of High Street shopping - buy staples, but buy them well. Truly consider each piece of clothing you pick up before you buy, assessing firstly whether you could make it yourself (and consequently imbue the garment with your own personality), whether it is constructed well (and so stand the test of time), what the fabric composition is (look at the properties of synthetic and natural fibres) and if you will be able to care for it correctly. Here at Ray Stitch we are admittedly all suckers for COS, yet we look at the garments and think, 'I can make that' - it just ends up being a question of whether we can find a fabric to suit the style, and also, if it's actually practical (neoprene isn't exactly suitable for day-to-day wear...)


    Honest by. is the world's first transparent clothing brand - they document every component that goes into making each garment, along with the full cost breakdown and transparent pricing Honest by. is the world's first transparent clothing brand - they document every component that goes into making each garment, along with the full cost breakdown and transparent pricing


    It's not enough though, to just attempt to recreate what we find in shops. We have the skills and the imagination to create something with real clout. By making something yourself, you gain satisfaction when the piece is completed (once you've gotten over the hassle of that tricky zip) and so your wellbeing is increased. By choosing each individual aspect of your make, you have full control (perhaps then, full blame if it goes wrong too); full control over the personality of the garment, the composition and maybe most importantly, the life cycle. If we buy something cheap, it's likely not to last through copious washing and wear, and because it was cheap, we're less likely to be emotionally attached to it as we could just buy it again or buy something similar. The same could happen with more costly purchases, however - it's all about the balance and the awareness of what you're buying and what you're making.

    We see our customers and Sewing School students being so much more satisfied with their makes than with their shop buys, as you can choose the fabric, alter the sizing and adapt patterns (or create from scratch) for your own style and shape and, brag about them - making becomes an extension of our being and we become so involved in it that rather than being a hobby, making things adds importance to our life. We are by no means preaching that you should stop buying clothing from shops - buying fabric and supplies to make clothing is still adding to the effect on the environment, but we just hope to raise awareness and invoke understanding on Fashion Revolution Day (and beyond) that by questioning the effect making and shopping has on our self and on others is pretty much obligatory if we are to witness a change in standards.

    For some further reading, check out Lucy Siegle's informative (and honestly quite horrific) book 'To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World' as well as Kate Fletcher's two highly detailed and inspirationally written books, 'Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys' and 'Fashion and Sustainability: Design for Change'. For something a little bit heavier but all-round sustainable design practice book, look at Michael Braungart and William McDonough's 'Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things'.

    Sustainable Fashion reading

    So, who made your clothes?

    If you're based in London, there are so many events going on today and tomorrow to get involved with. If you're outside of the capital, you can still share your photos of your labels, your thread, your zips and your fabric on Twitter with #whomademyclothes #FashRev and #insideout


    Words by Steph.

  • By Hand London: Victoria Blazer

    It's the perfect time of year to be sporting a lightweight blazer. So very spontaneously I decided to take home one of the very many new prints we've recently had in to the shop, and knock up a trusty Victoria Blazer. Much has already been said about this simple, classy pattern from ByHand London (Handmade Jane, Makers Market, Stitch and Witter......) so I'll only add that I would thoroughly recommend it. The blazer works perfectly in a medium weight cotton print (shown here in Nomad by UrbanChiks with a polycotton lining).

    And sadly, as we all know, the excellent ByHand London patterns are no longer in print so if you've any gaps in your collection - grab one while you still can!















    Words by Ray.

  • Book Review: Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing

    There's the ladies who love vintage style clothing, and then the ladies who just don't. Vintage-style is so very much about your personal preference in terms of garment fit and detailing, and consequently not everyone gets on with high waists, full-skirts and bust-popping bodices. Whilst Gertie's 'New Book for Better Sewing: A Modern Guide to Couture Style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques' has the look of being only suitable for those with a taste of the vintage-esque, it's actually wonderful as a stepping off point for all dressmakers, no matter what their style.


    Gertie front

    Gertie's book back


    Gretchen Hirsch developed this book after her blog 'Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing' was a hit - she had posted her progress of the 14 styles in Vogue's 'New Book for Better Sewing' along with tutorials and solid photography. Gertie's book includes her own 14 wardrobe essentials, inspired by the Vogue book, and with examples of how to adapt each style you actually get 25 possible variations. Along with the patterns, you have everything you could need in order to make your clothing that little bit more refined.

    She shows you various hand-stitching and (proper) tailoring techniques, a vintage-to-modern dictionary for those of you using or planning to use vintage patterns, pattern adjustments with personal tips and, examples and explanations of fabrics. It's a thoroughly extensive book and convertible for those who just want to pick up some new skills to give those home-sews some oomph, and for those who are starting dressmaking from scratch.


    Gertie fit

    Gertie finishes


    Using personal experience, Gertie guides you through her adapted sizing. Women no longer have the figures that the women of the 40's had - perhaps a consequence for less people attempting vintage patterns is the sizing. Her patterns are altered from vintage shapes so that the sizing fits bigger through the hip than the waist and, with personal tips and clear instruction, you should be able to alter the provided patterns as well as actual vintage styles to suit your figure. It's a glorious read and very well thought out in terms of structure, contents and language, and it's spiral bound making it perfect for when you need to follow along as you sew.


    Gertie sheath

    Gertie blouse


    The patterns span from a basic full circle skirt through to pencil with variations (such as the delicious scalloped waist), a number of fitted dresses and tailored coats. There are plenty of new techniques to pick up with all of these, and many a style to adapt to suit your own - once you have mastered the basic styles, you should have the confidence to be experimental. Gertie's pattern variations help with this by showing you what's possible with just a small number of 'essentials'. So for those dressmakers wanting to start afresh with their wardrobe, those needing some additional essentials, or for those who just want to have a go, Gertie's book is a wonderful go-to reference book (and a bargain for the amount of patterns and dressmaking fun you can have).


    Gertie skirt

    Gerties skirt2

    (Thank you to those photographers who posted these photos on Flickr and such - typically, the photos we took ourselves didn't upload, we deleted them without realising and then the book being so popular was sold out in-store! Check back very shortly for topped up stock and, maybe even Gertie's new book 'Gertie Sews Vintage Casual'...)

    'Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing is a hardback, spiral-bound glorious book including patterns and is available for £21.99 in-store, or give us a call and we can do mail order!


    Words by Steph.

  • Slow Stitching and Mindfulness

    Mindfulness is defined as:

    the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; being fully aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and your surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance, meaning that you pay attention without judging, for instance, without believing that there's a "right" or "wrong" way in a given moment.

    Despite the fact that slowly constructed textiles and other slow crafts offer its maker the time to consider the act of what they're doing and consequently how to progress, creating something that may require a repetitive motion can induce a state of mindfulness, where the act of doing increases skill and therefore the disassociation between your mind and body - quite the juxtaposition.

    There are countless reasons why slow craft and slow stitching have come to the forefront of knit and stitch groups; it is ancestral to sit in a group and make or mend. For exchange of knowledge, for the upkeep of spirit when something is monotonous, for the sharing of resources including electricity... With the act of darning and mending, it is the need to recycle, the need to preserve your everyday heirlooms and, the excitement and satisfaction that comes with making things better again.

    Boro Exhibition - Somerset House


    We all understand the necessity for patching up clothing that has been so loved and is now so moth eaten, whilst the history of Japanese Boro shows the joy in creating something from others' scraps in a patchwork manner. These two approaches to upcycling are mindful on resources and also mindful of resources - they see the beauty in the material itself and hope to preserve what it represents. For instance, taking your grandparent's linen apart to create a quilt, or patching it up again so that it can be continued to be used, can be a way of respecting the item itself and of respecting your grandparent's lives.


    Linen repair


    Along with stitching for preservation and functionality, there is also stitching for the sake of it. There is a physiological need humans have to feel satisfied - it's comforting, it increases our well-being, it shows that we're skilled... There isn't a time when we don't find ourselves whetting our appetite on Pinterest for inspirational stitches and crafting, and as much as we would like to recreate it, we know that handwork involves personality as much as skill.

    There is a project going on at the moment called Needless Post - the chain letters of the 21st Century. At the culmination of the project, there will be 25 pieces of embroidery that 3 people will have each worked on, each piece of cloth injected with the chain person's own aesthetic, resources and personality. We find the collaborative spirit enticing and enjoy the fact that each stitch adds to the cloth's story, in a similar vein to mending and Boro.


    Needless Post Steph's Round 2 of the Needless Post, almost ready to be posted to it's third chain


    Richard McVetis, a teacher here at our Sewing School, is a meticulous hand-stitcher. His art pieces are nothing more than awe-inspiring. He lays out before each class the new pieces of stitching that he's working on and it is as if we're having a private exhibition, for nothing matters but the piece itself and the fact that Richard is telling us the amount of time it took to create. For Richard, it's probably a little bit of a respite from his day job - "same for me", we hear you cry.


    Richard McVetis Richard McVetis - '5 o'clock shadow'


    Frances Burden, another teacher of ours, again does her blackwork embroidery on the side. Both Fran and Richard use simple stitches in their work and so the act of repetition could be monotonous (especially when working on a large-scale as they often do), yet it offers delight upon finishing a segment or whole of the piece, and consequently, the process could even be regarded as having a function, being that it takes them away from the possible monotony of day work into something that is reflexive - an inherent movement. In fact, Fran's first solo show 'Against Idleness' investigated usefulness and functionality within the convergence of fine art and craft practices.


    Fran Burden blackwork Fran Burden's blackwork sampler


    Then on the other hand, when it comes to actual functionality within craft practice, we go to Celia Pym who runs workshops in mending and darning after the exploratory projects conceived during her MA at the RCA. The act of mending is purposeful, more so than stitching for the sake of stitching, and yet, say you mended a hand-me-down tea towel, would the function of the object become more imbued with emotion and so transcend the fine art-functionality debate anyway... Is it only craft when it has a physical and functional purpose, or is it craft when the function of the object is emotional too?


    Celia Pym Norwegian Sweater - in progress Celia's Norwegian Sweater in the process of darning


    Celia Pym Norwegian Sweater - completed Celia's completed darned wool Norwegian sweater


    We make because we can, or we make because we need to. Slow stitching offers a way to explore the possibilities of what our hands can do with moments for pause and reflection. It offers the viewer a chance to see the progress and ability to conceive the amount of human effort that went into it. There is no doubt that stitching is good for the soul - whether it is for function or purely for fun, it has its purpose.


    Tom of Holland mending article in Uppercase 24 Tom of Holland mending article in Uppercase 24


    If you're new to hand-stitching, or even if you possess handwork skills already, we have courses here at Ray Stitch that will open you up in body and soul. They offer you the chance to learn something new, spend some time with like-minded people sharing stories, and ultimately be inspired to inject your personality onto cloth.

    Check out our upcoming hand-embroidery classes on our website. Currently, we have dates set for:

    Celia Pym all-day darning on Sunday 10th May, / Richard McVetis two-session workshop starting Friday 15th May / Julie Arkell brooch-making workshop on Saturday 23rd May and Sunday 27th September / Nancy Nicholson all-day hand-stitch and embroidery on Sunday 31st May


    Words by Steph.

  • Pattern review: Merchant and Mills Top 64

    It's been a long time coming making up the Top 64 from Merchant and Mills here at Ray Stitch, and it's honestly because despite being a haberdashery with sewing school, there isn't much time for us to play. But we said, no, it's been far too long. We had also taken a trip to the Whitechapel Gallery for the 'Adventures of the Black Square' exhibition before it closed and so perhaps we were feeling suitably adventurous with squares and consequently needed to express ourselves abstractly...

    Nani Iro is a label designed by Naomi Ito for her arty textile print collections, primarily using cotton double gauze and linen cotton canvases. If you have been a customer with Ray Stitch before, then it's more than likely that you have been seduced by the pop colours, expressionistic designs and soft hand feel of Nani Iro textiles, whether you know what you want to do with the fabrics or not - just like us. We originally had the Water Window canvas made up as a roman blind for our shop, enjoying how the sun would shine through the lighter blocks creating a textile painting of sorts that had a life of it's own. Yet, we weren't quite sure how to translate the unorthodox graduating print with it's 110cm width to clothing... Eventually, we just went for it with the Top 64.

    Bea in Top 64 with blind at Ray Stitch, both fabrics Water Window by Nani Iro

    Carolyn Denham, founder and designer of Merchant and Mills, does seemingly loose-fitting styles really well. Whilst they appear smocky, they always fit to the bust and glide over the hips giving a really flattering shape, we would say for all figures. Merchant and Mills are without a doubt, incredibly popular. The fact that few of their garments need fastenings of any sort make them perfect for beginner dressmakers, and yet they still manage to be perfect for advanced makers too - purely because the shapes adapt well for work and play in a number of fabrics.

    The block shape of the Top 64 - with a seam line for the pockets, two-piece raglan sleeve and centre back seam - offers up a multitude of headaches for matching patterns, but also a plethora of options when it comes to using those bold graphic prints we love so much though don't know how to utilise. Being that Top 64 is a straight-forward style, a lot of the make time was taken up with making sure the colour blocks of the fabric would appear as wanted when made up. {Unfortunately, despite any care with the placing of each pattern piece, the top ended up more abstract than expected in certain places. Tip: if a fabric is so playful, just go with it and lose your restraint. The garment may be better off for it.} The set up was quite harrowing so to balance it out, the make was lovely. In just two hours, we had a top (minus invisible hemming) ready to wear.

    Top 64 front

    Top 64 side

    Whilst following the instructions, there was never really a moment where it felt like a maker could be confused. The explanation of each step was clear, with a diagram to assist. Perhaps there could have been an indication that the front and back sleeves would leave 1cm at the neck when joined, because if sewing unawares without knowing that this helps the curve of the neck, you could be led into believing you had 1cm too much on one sleeve. There is a slightly tricky sewing bit with the sandwiching of the neck binding and back yoke of the Camber Set too, so it is maybe a case that you should double-read M&M instructions before setting off on any sewing. What could also be tricky is if you would like to try French seams, in which case, you would be able to do so for every seam except the neck facing and the pockets. For this, it would be a better approach to bias bind these, trimming away bulk before doing so.

    Making the Top 64

    If you had the luxury of a day solely for dressmaking, you could run up a few trans-seasonal Top 64's to wear with chinos, jeans and shorts and still have time for tea breaks. Due to the undeniably slow manner in which we have created our Top 64, we have had chance to take a look at what you have all made, gaining inspiration for this make and ones to come. We have seen versions in burnt orange viscose/linen twill, drapey chambray, our Essex Linen, Carolyn's own in Merchant and Mills oilcloth cotton, their European laundered linen and even striped jersey. Take a look at our Patterns Made Up: Merchant and Mills Pinterest board for some inspiration, and get started! Next step: do what so many have already done, and make some Franken-Mills patterns such as the Trapeze 64...

    Carolyn Denham


    Words by Steph.

  • Block quilting mania!

    In the recent issue of Uppercase, there were many articles about quilters and each of their unique approaches to the craft. There have been a number of incidences where we have spotted quilters making their quilts piece by piece, either because they're using scraps, or they're making blocks that they'll later put together as a whole, or even solely due to time restraints.

    Sew Mama Sew ran one of the most recent BOM sewalongs with magnificently modern designs as the basis for each of the 12 blocks. The ability to take a simple-to-follow block and recreate that in different colours and prints 12 times over, or indeed create 12 completely juxtaposing blocks allows a quilt to take on its own personality, even though your friend may be using the same blocks.


    scmodernbomsa1 Sew Mama Sew's Block of the Month


    For many a month, we have been running our own Block of the Month workshop here at Ray Stitch with quilting extraordinaire Michael Caputo as teacher. As a graphic designer and paper engineer, Michael has the vision to design these sorts of things and in fact, does it so well that he regularly designs quilts for magazines and even a book.


    michael Michael hard at work on one of his many projects


    Our attendees have enjoyed their once-a-month quilting sessions with Michael and are now ready to assemble their 12 blocks into a quilt. However, not every avid quilter can go at this leisurely pace - maybe you have too many ideas and need to get them out into the physical world, or even have a present to make...


    Blocks Ray Stitch Blocks of the Month designed by Michael and Rachel


    BOM quilt in progress Our finished BOM top using mainly Leah Duncan's Meadow collection for Art Gallery Fabrics


    For this reason, we decided to put on a BOM crash course here at the Sewing School. Set over two Saturday afternoons you have the joy of trying something different, as well as the excitement at quickly having a finished quilt. The results from our first BOM sessions are exquisite; the blocks sit seamlessly together (literally seamlessly, for they haven't been assembled yet) in both pattern and colour combinations. One of our regular dressmaking Sewing School attendees had never attempted quilting until taking the class here, and we're so impressed and proud of her achievements. It is testament to the fact that it is possible to create something piece by piece, considering as you go, rather than designing something massive that may take (as we have seen) years to complete - and still call yourself a quilter.


    Finished BOM quilt Learn them all or choose your favourites to repeat


    If you're interested in making your own block quilt, the class is running on Saturday 18th May and Saturday 25th May, 2-6.30pm £110. In the first sesson you will learn how to create unique and individual blocks by building patchwork sections with different fabric shapes. You will then have one week to build on these blocks at home. The number of blocks you build, determines the size of your quilt! The second session involves piecing your blocks together to create your 'top', quilt your quilt, and neatly bind/finish the edges. This is one absolute crash course in quilting, one in which you will go away feeling accomplished with a bulging brain and quite possibly an addiction.

    For some drooling time, here is one of Michael's own BOM quilts with perfect concentric circles:

    Michael Caputo BOM quilt

    And another with repeat for the book 'Quilting' by DK:

    Michael Caputo for Quilting by DK


    We hope to see you and your work soon.


    Words by Steph.

  • Book review: The Colette Sewing Handbook

    Home dressmakers will know Colette patterns for their clear packaging, approachable easy-to-follow instruction and classic styles that work in all sorts of fabric for all sorts of shapes. The Sewing Handbook is no exception to their repertoire.


    Based on five 'fundamentals', the Colette book aims to show you how to make the 'wardrobe of your dreams' - and we think it probably exceeds expectation. Offering very detailed instruction on dressmaking techniques - and we're talking proper stuff; all those techniques used in high fashion to create long-lasting exquisite clothing - as well as good clear photos, it is a pleasure to look through and confidently learn from.

    They offer industry-standard technical drawings so that you can see where you should stitch, what you should fold, which side of the fabric you should be working on... Every diagram has a purpose, making it a thorough book.


    Though, it's by no means a handbook in the respect that it is rather large. It is, however, with its spiral binding easy to flick through to find your required page, and most importantly keep open whilst you sew. We find that these little details make a grand difference and, in fact, gives it the authority to be a 'handbook' as you'll want to keep it with you for any sudden making opportunities.

    It first covers the basics of sewing, from inserting zips, constructing darts and hand finishes. It talks about developing a plan in order to create your perfect wardrobe, how to prepare your fabric and explains with diagrams the anatomy of patterns, including laying out, transferring markings and cutting. Really everything you would need to know in order to get started with dressmaking.

    Fabric explanations

    Seam finishes

    The 'fundamentals' that the book covers are: a thoughtful plan, a precise pattern, a fantastic fit, a beautiful fabric, and a fine finish. The five exclusive patterns that come with the book most definitely help you to explore new techniques to improve your skills and hopefully consequently your confidence too. Within each project, there are chapters dedicated to such necessities as making alterations to the pattern and toile, explanation of fabric types and seam finishings depending on the fabric and garment choice. They are, as the book says it covers, fundamentals.

    Sewing Handbook internals

    The Meringue skirt offers a scalloped-hem, which is no easy feat, whilst the Pastille dress has an interesting sleeve shape and so teaches some magical pattern cutting along with the necessity for cutting and sewing accurately. The Truffle dress and Taffy blouse give you the opportunity to (nervously) work with silk and sheer fabrics, and construct darts with precision.

    Sewing Handbook Patterns

    The final project, the Licorice dress, is a culmination of all the skills you will have learned throughout the book, giving you the chance to go for it with your newly acquired knowledge in altering patterns for the perfect fit, couture finishes, the correct tools and equipment to use and with what fabric, and the act of choosing a suitable fabric in itself.


    Sarai Mitnick has signed certain copies, some of which are available from us at Ray Stitch in-store for £23.95 or give us a call and we can send via mail order! Considering the information gained from this handbook, how lovely it is presented and the fact that you get five exclusive paper patterns (as well as Sarai's autograph), this is a mega-value purchase and we're more than pleased to be a retailer for it, recommending it to beginners and skilled dressmakers alike.


    Words by Steph.

  • Pattern review: Papercut Patterns Sigma

    This has been a long time coming – you know what it’s like when you start doing something else…  Never mind. Here is a review for Steph’s version of Papercut’s Sigma dress that you may have seen in-store or online in our delightful Japanese orange linen. We consequently sold out of the fabric but as Steph tries to explain, Sigma is a good all-rounder for many other fabrics.

    The Constellation Collection from Papercut Patterns


    As a trained pattern cutter, commercial patterns and I generally don’t go together; I find that I can create a bespoke pattern for whatever style of garment it is that I want. Yet, that’s of course not always the case; perhaps you find commercial patterns more straightforward than creating your own, or you’re new to dressmaking and are eager to try anything. For the reason that I have only ever made three garments using commercial patterns (one of those occasions being a task set to convert the traditional pattern pieces into something avant garde anyway), I wanted a challenge. Effectually, I wanted to learn something new, in the hope that my trained and untrained knowledge would merge to give you a better insight into what a particular pattern actually involves.

    Papercut Patterns have found a niche with their contemporary sportswear pieces and stylish packaging, yet, not all of us are sporty or glam outfit wearers. For this reason I decided to start my journey into creating commercial pattern garments for Ray Stitch by attempting to subvert the boundary of what a pattern block can become.

    We like dresses here at Ray Stitch – they’re pretty good for everything. We also like our bold graphic prints, and there’s no hiding the fact that we do well for you with our special Japanese fabrics. Combining these two factors, I took a moment to mull over what would work best with Papercut’s Sigma. Their model is seen wearing a jazzy out-on-the-town sort of fabric, and whilst we like to party as much as the next woman, we also like having a great dress to wear over tights, or perhaps with sandals and a linen blazer in summer. So we quickly chose the quirky orange onion linen-cotton.


    Selecting the fabric - nothing short of bold though...


    The Sigma has variations to allow the choice of a gathered or straight skirt, and the choice of two lengths of sleeve. (As I progressed with the making, I actually realised that the dress would even be suitable as a two-piece cocktail outfit due to the high-waisted skirt and nicely fitted cropped bodice).  We decided on a long-sleeved-gathered-skirt Sigma for the versatility of creating outfits.

    My first thought on commercial patterns is that the tissue is too flimsy and delicate, so I was surprised to find that Papercut use heavy brown paper – they even include little ‘gifts’ like a hang tag so that your cut out pattern can hang like a block in a studio. The cost of independent patterns go up when they’re produced in this way, but I personally feel that this added touch is worth the extra cash when they’re likely to last longer (and can be traced, consequently allowing for sharing between friends). The instructions are printed on the same sheet and give you cut-and-fold lines in order to make your own instruction booklet (I’m easy to please, it seems). Due to this, the pattern is clear for cutting out, and the instructions being laid out in such a way are therefore easy to follow.


    Clear instructions, heavy-duty paper, nice diagrams - that's what we like!


    So far, so good. The fabric layout and fabric amount seemed to correlate - which is always a good start – and so cutting out was simple. Take a moment to check the size measurements however, as Papercut work with XS-XL (I cut a small thinking it would be a 10, but on fitting seems to be more like a size 8). I wish I had been slightly more conscientious with my pattern layout so that the onions weren’t consequently half-and-half at the waist, though that could easily have made a headache for other areas. Tip: if you’re using bold prints, it's best to play around before you cut out.

    I’m one of those French seam lovers, especially when using a linen-cotton as I can’t deal with fraying. If you can go the extra mile to do couture finishes, your garment is more likely to last the years as well as copious washing. This does make inserting sleeves trickier as you have to be careful with right sides and wrong sides, and also that you’re not just creating extra bulk in places. With Sigma, however, you flat-insert your sleeve – something that I had never encountered before, and it made a nice change! I thoroughly enjoyed making Sigma, up until I had to do the neck facing. Nowhere in the instructions or diagrams did it state to sandwich the invisible zip into the facing, and as the facing was 1cm too short on each side, I ended up with quite a messy finishing. I had decided to bind the facing, cuffs and hem with satin bias tape to take the dress up a notch, and ended up being disappointed due to that small issue with the facing.

    2014-11-06 11.25.52 Laying out ready for my first flat-insert sleeve with French seam


    2014-11-07 17.12.22 Satin bias for the pocket rather than zig-zag stitch


    2014-11-12 17.30.58 The end of the facing doesn't sandwich the zip - a disappointing end to a lovely make


    This taught me that it is utterly necessary to read the instructions and diagrams through fully - maybe even twice - before starting to sew, just in case you have some other knowledge that could improve the make, both in end product and for your enjoyment level.


    Ray Stitch Sigma The finished piece! Lisa's doing that quirky sporty thing well.


    I’m keen to make up Papercut’s other styles now, and after seeing some examples of their sportswear, I’m excited to create something else out of the ordinary. Whilst I am not yet a commercial pattern convert, I understand the ease that these emerging independent pattern-makers are bringing to the dressmaking world. I’ve heard tales of annoyance at confusing instructions from ‘chain’ pattern brands and can admit that upon looking at some of them, even with years of knowledge and experience under my belt, they infuriate me. Where they fail in adequately explaining the steps to make a simple dress, independent brands like Papercut excel in igniting excitement for making with their clear and fun instruction, delightful packaging and interesting styling. I would rather recommend independent patterns to beginners, despite the higher price, for the fact that they are better-suited and therefore better value. Then, recommend the chain brands to those with more sewing knowledge and confidence who should be better equipped to choose fabrics in order to make those ordinary styles sing out.


    Rigel Hannah's Liberty Tana Lawn Rigel Bomber


    Anima and Undercover Undercover hoodie and Anima pant in merino wool knit


    Whether you’re just starting out, or have been dressmaking for years, I can vouch for Sigma suiting every skill level. Additionally, it’s a good staple dress with some fun variations, and the physical pattern is a pleasure to use as well. What will yours look like? Take a look on Pinterest for some more examples - this is probably the best way to inspire fabric choices and colours. Enjoy!


    Classic blue Sigma
    From Pinterest - Sigma Variation 1 and 2 (from Pinterest)
    Screen shot 2015-04-10 at 18.04.07 Nani Iro double gauze Mountain Views


    Words by Steph.

  • Meet the 'Kielo' Dress by Named Clothing

    If you haven't already heard about 'Named Clothing' then let us introduce you to this exciting sibling duo from Finland.

    Named Clothing - founded by sisters Saara and Laura Huhta - effortlessly combine clean lines with interesting details to create stylish and contemporary patterns that are a joy to make.

    The Kielo dress is no exception to Named Clothing's repertoire. Part of their 'All Things Nice' collection, Kielo is a simple yet elegant wrap dress. Easy to wear and easy to make, with just a few pattern pieces, it is a straightforward style to whip up.

    Kuvassa: Heini Salonen

    Now it's April and we're starting to contemplate wedding season, our summer holiday wardrobe, and our friends-are-having-a-barbeque outfits... it's a lot to think about! Most of us have a go-to style or shape - either for comfort or practicality. Named Clothing's look-book shows the Kielo in a flesh-coloured chiffon, yet we have seen it made up in everything from classic navy cotton, red crepe, an adapted long-sleeved jersey version, our very own Robert Kaufman lightweight chambray and even tweedy wool.


    When you have an uncomplicated shape, you can play around with the possibilities of fabric and print without having to concentrate on all the other details. However don't be fooled into thinking that Kielo is a straight up-and-down shape with a wrap tie. It's back darts help the dress fit smoothly whilst the straightforward hem opening allows movement (and shows a bit of leg!!). The wrap tie ordinarily goes to the front, but play around with how it sits if you tie it in the back, or make the tie longer to allow the dress to sit more loosely.

    Our fabric picks: Robert Kaufman indigo chambray, £15/m 142cm wide / Liberty Tana Lawn Josephine's Garden B and Growing Fonder Green, both £20/m 137cm wide / Sevenberry Linen Mix polka dot blue, £16/m 110cm wide

    Keilo 1_2

    Fancy learning how to make the Kielo in a group of like-minded people in a fun environment with a talented teacher? Of course you do! We are running an all-day workshop on 17th May, just in time for you to make a full wardrobe of Kielo's for those parties and gatherings you have in the calendar. As Kielo does have some fairly tricky dressmaking techniques such as darts and top-stitching, we advise that you only book if you already possess a good amount of sewing machine experience. And even if you're an advanced dressmaker, it doesn't mean that you can't get in on the excitement of creating something from scratch!

    Remember, you get 10% off in our shop for attending a class (plus 2 weeks after), and lunch and refreshments are taken care of.


    Words by Lisa and Steph.

  • Happy Easter!



    Screen shot 2015-04-03 at 09.23.43