Monthly Archives: May 2015

  • Sewing Classes at the Sewing School

    It's almost the end of the half term, which means that it's almost 6-week Sewing School time again! In case you're not aware of these schools, we run three types of courses from beginner to advanced dressmakers. Recently we started running an advanced single course and an advanced 6-week course  because you're all learning so quickly! Starting up again next week we have Sewing School A: Introduction to Machine Sewing and Sewing School B: Introduction to Dressmaking, amongst our single sessions.

    Ray Stitch Sewing School

    SSA is an intensive, 6-week course for complete beginners. You will cover a wide range of valuable sewing skills over the duration of the course, including the basic machine stitches with a head start on more technical skills such as zips. Alongside your example technical samples, you'll make a snazzy tote bag with pocket, a zipped lined make up bag or pencil case and finally, a weekend holdall with all the trimmings. We run single courses for the tote bag or cushion, as well as Next Steps, which is a skills-based 3-hour workshop that you cover in SSA. We use our own heavily tried and tested patterns for this course, and of course you can take your own copy home to carry on making.

    Our next SSA courses will commence: Wednesday Mornings 10:30-1pm 3rd June and Thursday Evenings 7-10pm 4th June.

    Ray Stitch Sewing School

    SSB is designed for those who are competent sewers and would like to progress to making their own clothes. Over 6 consecutive weekly sessions you will learn all of the techniques required to make clothes using a commercial pattern. You will make 3 full garments in class: a flattering, sleeveless top in your choice of style, a zipped skirt with waistband, and a shift dress with short sleeves and a full-length back zip - again in your choice of style. Alongside this course, we do run project sessions such as for Merchant and Mills', Named Clothing and Colette patterns and, in fact, the advanced SSB includes Colette trousers and a coat from either Merchant and Mills or Deer and Doe. We use both independent and more commercial patterns in our courses so that you may get a wider overview of different style of instruction, but by having our experienced teachers on hand for this learning part, you'll come to learn in a less stressful environment (we believe) than at home on your own!

    Our next SSB courses will commence: Tuesday Evenings 7-10pm 2nd June, Wednesday Evenings 7-10pm 3rd June and Friday Mornings 10:30-1pm 5th June.

    Ray Stitch Sewing School

    The thing that we find most encouraging when you work in a small group (maximum of 6 in our courses), is that you are able to bounce ideas and techniques off those around you. You're all in the same situation learning something new - as in normal school - and it becomes something to look forward to each week. In fact, our groups end up sticking together for other courses!

    Ray Stitch Sewing School

    If you would like to try out something smaller or specific, then head on over to our classes page to see what else is on offer. In the next couple of weeks alongside the above 6-week courses, we have an Advanced Steps session, Introduction to Machine Sewing: Tote Bag, Next Steps (maybe do both of those in one short day?), Freestyle: bring your own project, Camber or Dress Shirt project day, or for something extravagant, how about learning how to cut your own fitted trouser block...?

    Ray Stitch Sewing School

  • Named Clothing: Bly Overalls & Leotie Skirt

    Words by Steph...

    We have been steadily making up samples for the shop and in the process testing out patterns we haven't previously had the chance to make. We received our first batch of Named Clothing patterns a while ago so it's really about time that we got on with it!

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    The pattern packs are beautiful - clean, white, crisp box envelopes with nicely styled photographs on the front. (We would say however, that minimalism is all very well, though it's a little bit frustrating when browsing that you can't see from the outer pack what the necessary fabric requirements are for each style, an important factor when selecting.)


    The patterns are printed on both sides of a sheet of heavy white paper so tracing off is essential. This takes a bit of extra time and effort but, try to think optimistically: if you change shape, or lose the main copy, or decide to share the cost with a friend, then you have options with a trace-off pattern. Our Danish Minikrea childrenswear patterns are the same, and tracing off is a rather good thing when the little ones grow to big ones so quickly! We should say that you  will also learn how to mark patterns in the process of tracing off, though if the pattern blocks don't have sufficient markings to begin with, then you will probably have to learn by trial and error rather than copying straight off.

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    Becki, one of our Sewing School teachers, had a go at making up the Bly Overalls in one of our Marcia Derse Botanical prints.

    After a few little issues with notches (not matching up or altogether missing) and buttonholes (the instructions indicated vertical button holes, but the technical drawing suggests horizontal button holes) Becki was very satisfied with her finished garment and we've heard from Instagrammers (@marillawalker who made an exceptional hand-printed linen version) that they completely enjoyed the make. Named Clothing styles the overalls in their lookbook in classic white denim for the retro 90s look, but we chose Marcia Derse's Kelp Daylily cotton print from her Botanicals collection, with rimmed wooden buttons for a different sort of playful look.

    Next up was the Leotie. We had in mind to create a window of mannequins in our Temple Outline Japanese lawn collection, and so decided to go with a black Leotie skirt, and white Colette Sencha top. The Leotie comes in a pack that includes a rather unusually shaped dress and the straightforward gathered-with-waistband skirt, so if you're after just the skirt then it's a little pricey, but work your pattern adjusting magic and perhaps create a top from the dress too...?

    However, sticking with the simple skirt, a first little nitpick was that the dress has a contrasting block option, but when you trace off, there isn't a separate block for just a full skirt panel and so consequently you have to slightly awkwardly (especially if you don't have much space) piece the skirt together with the shorter skirt and contrast panel blocks.

    The tracing was quick overall though as it was just a few panels, and so the cutting out was also quick, and then in turn so was the making. My biggest tip is always to read the instructions thrice over so that you understand the upcoming construction method - that way you can always be thinking a step ahead and see if anything vital is missing. I decided to line the skirt with a plain black lawn to give it some weight - if you want to do this, sew the lining to the inside top edge before you attach the waistband so that you make a sandwich.

    leotie skirt

    As all pattern designers have their quirks, we imagine that the more Named patterns we make up, the better we'll become at understanding how their particular construction works. We've already traced off the Keana piped blouse ready to make up in UrbanChiks' Plume Onyx cotton print, and despite the high amount of component pieces, it was a straightforward trace and we look forward to making it. That reminds me, don't forget to add your seam allowance when tracing Named patterns!

    temple x 3

  • Journals at Ray Stitch

    We just wanted to take the opportunity to let you all know that we do in fact stock some journals alongside our beautiful fabrics, necessary haberdashery and fun selection of trims and buttons. The new issues of Selvedge, Uppercase and Oh Comely arrived towards the end of last week. Each journal provides us with inspiration in different ways; they teach us, show us new things we didn't know we wanted to know, and basically just boggle our eyes. They make us want to make, to explore, to excite...

    Journals at Ray Stitch

    I remember coming across oh Comely many many years ago when Borders or something similar existed in our retail park. I picked it up because the cover looked pretty, and in fact, I do that when choosing novels. The same goes for Selvedge and Uppercase - the covers are enticing, with immaculate photography and the nicest of colour combinations. They tantilise really, and consequently are the ultimate treat. Who doesn't love to sit with a coffee and catch up on reading? We stock these three journals in particular because we could spend all day reading them, revelling in what they offer us both visually and mentally.

    What these three journals provide, is each a contrasting outlook (Selvedge for the natural, Uppercase for the contemporary, Oh Comely for the quirky) and yet there are stark similarities. They all champion a slower way of living, the necessity to go out and explore, the desire to try out new things... The articles that they produce make you want to do everything and, even though we know we don't have time (we're sat in a coffee shop reading a magazine after all), it excites us and makes us believe that anything is possible. I don't know what better treat there is than increasing your wellbeing.

    If you have never come across these three journals before, whet your appetite with their blogs: Uppercase, Selvedge, and Oh Comely. And fortunately for you, we do mail order on these lovelies.



    You may have seen us ranting on Facebook and Instagram about how we have been having a clear out in an attempt to make space for new additions to the Ray Stitch family.

    The commercial pattern section in our shop is pretty jam-packed, yet despite this full feeling, we find too often that Simplicity et al will discontinue a pattern and because of their massive (overall similar) repertoire, we end up eith stragglers. This isn't very good for us retailers and, whilst there may still be a similar amount of risk with independent pattern makers, we're keen to test them out moreso than continuing with commercial brands - for the time being. This means that we've cut the prices of the majority of our commercial patterns: Simplicity, New Look, Burda, McCall's, Vogue Vintage to make room, keeping only those styles that we believe are worthwhile for beginners or aren't represented elsewhere from the independents.


    Burda patterns £3 to £3.50 Burda patterns £3 to £3.50


    Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity at Ray Stitch £5 each Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity at Ray Stitch £5 each


    New Look patterns £3.50-£4 each New Look patterns £3.50-£4 each


    Simplicity patterns are £5 each Simplicity patterns are £5 each


    As everyone has such wildly different tastes and different projects in mind, there's more than likely something that would suit what you are after. There are winter through to summer patterns, menswear, childenswear and of course, womenswear patterns, plenty of dress styles through to jackets and trousers... As most commercial patterns give you an average of three styles per package, you're getting a bargain really!

  • By Hand London: Sophia Dress

    You may have spotted our red bombshell of a dress in our window or on Instagram with the sunlight popping off the white print, wondering when Ray Stitch went sexy for a moment...

    By Hand London Sophia: Ray Stitch

    We were testing out By Hand London's Sophia dress, alongside our Holly dress hack and Victoria blazer and think that it's just one showstopper of a dress that we had to use that red lawn. Lightweight lawn works stunni for summer dresses that need a bit of fullness yet shouldn't be too heavy (swishing would be way too tiring if it was heavy). The Temple Outline print was scaled small enough that for the godets it wouldn't seem too weird to be upside down (godets = bias cut triangles, with the pattern piece flipped over to use the least amount of fabric), and it adds a bit of quirk to a standard red dress.

    So the fabric was great to work with and suits the dress shape really nicely. We would recommend to fully line the fitted sheath dress if you were to go for that - perhaps the fabric is slightly too translucent for something close-fitting, and a more substantial weight of fabric would suit the contours of this style. As with the Holly hack, there were some small niggles with the instruction and the pattern markings that made the making up just that little bit harder, but overall it was a straightforward make taking around 9 hours from cutting out to final pressing.

    By Hand London Sophia: Ray Stitch

    Firstly, the suggestion By Hand make of stabilising armhole and neckline edges with a basting stitch always seems a bit of a waste of time, and potentially more problematic if you accidentally stretch the edges as you sew, or the tension makes it gather. When it came to the collar, the instruction gives the tip of interfacing if you're using a lightweight fabric, and I felt with lawn that the collar would sit better with a bit of weight. I fused only the under collar with the thinking that it would sit flatter, whilst the top collar could still roll (the pattern piece size difference allows for this roll), though I realised when constructing that I should have fused the top collar rather than the under collar (or fused both pieces) because the allowance for some reason ended up making the top collar ripple with excess. I had to make the top collar the under collar instead in order to hide the rippling. I also felt like there should have been marked notches for where the collar was supposed to end at the front and back bodice, as opposed to the instruction solely saying, "it is designed to start approximately 15mm from the centre front seam..." - surely a pattern notch would just be more straightforward. As I found with the Holly, the shoulder seams didn't match in length and so I had to cut off the excess seam allowance when bagging out the bodice.

    By Hand London Sophia: Ray Stitch Sewing the lining to the bodice / understitching the lining to the main body seam allowance / mysterious baggy lining on one side


    Just as a tip, if like me you get sick of checking if the bodice piece you're holding has two armhole notches or not, chalk F or B on your piece. The bodice pieces are so similar that I had to triple (maybe quadruple) check what I was doing. The sewing up of the lining and bodice in one fell swoop was genius, and nice diagram in the booklet too! I do believe that By Hand are very good with their technical drawings, though as explanatory as the diagrams can be (perhaps moreso than written text) the lack of clear pattern markings can void any goodness here. When it came to assembling the skirt with godet pieces, it really took a lot of playing around to work out exactly where I should pin the piece up to - the pattern markings weren't clear about what notch was for what, nor were the text instructions for this part helpful ("place a godet panel face down, aligning the notches"). It really is a tricky sewing part and time should be allowed to get it right. When you get one godet in and it looks good, you wonder (or, at least I did) how it was possible to work so well when the wrong side looked so messy. Then you just have another 6 to do... they should be a doddle however - practice makes perfect. A tip here is to be careful to pin accurately and sew slowly so that you're not stretching the godet piece - as it has been cut on the bias, you don't want to make it wonky or stretch.

    By Hand London Sophia: Ray Stitch Sewing the skirt main panels together / successful godet seen from the wrong side / godets seen from the right side


    The invisible zip is an invisible zip... nothing really fancy to talk about here. I would just say to make sure to get the very top of the zip right up in the main/lining so that it's flush when you zip up. I never seem to get the waist seams matched first time (in fact, it took me three attempts with this one) so that's something to watch for if you're also one of those flooky zip-inserters. And then finally, the hem. I did heed By Hand's advice here to baste stitch around the entire hem before double rolling as I always struggle in not adding excess as I'm going round pressing. Annoyingly though, my stitch length gathered the fabric and I had to spend a while de-gathering before I could press. I think overall it did help with the hem rolling though, so if you don't have a roll hem foot, stitching half of your seam allowance in first is quite a good tip.

    By Hand London Sophia: Ray Stitch

    That was a fairly lengthy review... hopefully it will have given you some insight if you haven't yet tackled Sophia or any other By Hand pattern. As the finished result was pretty stunning, and the make was straightforward enough, we decided to put on a class to make either style of Sophia. There were some tricky bits that I think having someone around to aide you would be constructive; someone to give you confidence in order to go at it yourself the next time around. We also just believe in the influence that sitting with likeminded people can have on your sewing spirit, and so quite intense classes like this are likely to boost your confidence and probably knowledge too - it is nice to have some quiet sewing time, but nicer still to have people to bounce ideas off.

    By Hand London Sophia: Ray Stitch

    If you fancy having a go, check out the class details and book online or give us a call. You will need 3 metres for the sheath or 5.2 metres for the full dress (I managed to cut ours in 4.9m for a 10 but I'm pretty stingy and doesn't cover bigger sizes so just be careful not to underestimate how much you'll need), but taking a class with us gives you 10% off in our shop, which we think is rather nice. The class will include the now antique paper pattern and guidance from our talented teachers, as well as maybe some tea or wine to get you through the evening sessions.


    Words by Steph.

  • Book Review: Cloth

    Cloth by Cassandra Ellis is a whopping hardback book, but definitely does not existing solely for coffee table flicking. Featuring 30 oh-so-lovely projects to help you make linen bedsheets, denim aprons, silk curtains, zipped purses... it's honestly just an inspiring book that spurs on the desire to make everything in there that Cassandra has suggested.

    Cassandra Ellis Cloth book at Ray Stitch

    Cassandra Ellis Cloth book at Ray Stitch

    Cassandra is a designer of home furnishings and high-end quilts in her London studio, where she also works on interior design commissions and teaches contemporary craft and interiors workshops (we want to go to them!). She believes that making things ourselves for our home and those that live there is a vital part in speaking out about who we are and what we love. We look on Pinterest and see masses upon masses of imagery that we drool over and say, "yeah, I can make that", but never get around to it, generally because it's not so straightforward to make a pattern from what you see online, or maybe you actually just can't print a PDF off! That's where project books like Cloth really do come in handy, as not only do they look good on your bookshelf, but it's easy to access, especially when it has the paper patterns there ready for you in order to make the things inside.

    Cassandra Ellis Cloth

    What we really like about Cloth, is that it isn't just a project book. It is split into five sections: cotton, wool, silk, linen and hide, with each section including pages of material history and craftsmanship. The projects within each section are purposefully matched to the properties of each material, such as the antibacterial properties of hemp for napkins, the strong hard-wearing twill weave of cotton denim for aprons, and the supple flexibility of leather for bags. There's also a personal section at the beginning where Cassandra explains how important the stories of an object is - whether made, found or purchased, your objects were chosen for a reason, and that reason is usually emotional. And get this, Cassandra even gives you readers a guide as to where to buy antique fabric, some suppliers or organic fabric (i.e. Ray Stitch) and instruction on things like how to hand-dye fabric.

    Cassandra Ellis Cloth

    As has actually happened before when I planned to write a book review, saved a draft and came back to it over the weekend, the last book was sold over the weekend! We're going to be updating our book selection so keep an eye out for our book reviews on the blog so you know what we have. We best get ordering Cloth! (FYI, we have some last-chance books on sale in our shop - check out Instagram for some information).

    Feel inspired and would like some fabrics that would work with the projects? Well we have some things that would be perfect! We have a wide range of plain and printed linen and linen mixes, natural-coloured organics, and what about some buttery soft chambray? Yes please.

    Words by Steph

  • Zen Chic: Reeltime

    We've just welcomed the arrival of Zen Chic's newest collection for Moda. Inspired by old cinemas and film, Reel Time boasts retro geometric shapes in bold block colours. With a background in interior design, Brigitte Heitland (aka Zen Chic) designs her fabric collections aided by the vision of a room: the light, the placement of furniture, the clarity of colour. Her textiles are a good balance of fun and simplicity. She uses clear shapes in a small range of shades, something that makes it easy to utilise the fabric for various uses.

    Reel Time at Ray Stitch

    Reel Time at Ray Stitch

    You may know of Zen Chic as being very much in the quilting limelight (in fact, Brigitte is over at the International Quilt Market in Minneapolis right now). When selecting our fabric collections, whilst we consider all of our customer types e.g. quilter, crafter, dressmaker, at heart we are dressmakers, and so we aim for all of our selections to work across the board.

    We see this collection being used in childrenswear due to the bold fun prints that kids most definitely can get away with, as well as in casual holiday shirt dresses, shirts and full skirts for adults. The funky prints depending on the style of the garment could hark back to the 50s, 60s or 70s - all of the eras where cinema and TV were rapidly developing. It's probably rare that you would find such a playful print in an ordinary clothes shop, so we think it's wonderful to be able to use the opportunity of collections like these to create something exciting and quirky.

    If you're a quilter, look out for the 5" charm pack and our own-made fat quarter bundles. And share with us what you have made! We're on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook (of course).

    There's some quilters out there who have already been experimenting with Reel Time. Check out Diary of a Quilter's classic hourglass quilt, A Quilt Is Nice's monochromal flying geese quilt, and Modern Handcraft's super chic triangle quilt (possibly with some Essex Linen blocks?) How about A Spoonful Of Sugar's handy doorstop or Lucky Lucille's swish quilted knitting bag...

    Diary of a Quilter Reeltime quilt

    A Quilt Is Nice Reeltime quilt

    Modern Handcraft Reeltime quilt



    Words by Steph.

  • Beckoning all button lovers...

    The button was used originally as pure ornament rather than as a fastening. Holes were cut so that thread would keep the button secure to a piece of clothing, but buttons for use with functional buttonholes didn't appear until the 13th century in Germany and then, with widespread usage across Europe due to the increase in close-fitting garments during the 14th and 15th centuries.

    Historic buttons 900BC-43AD copper alloy / 1650-1675AD Spanish metal


    The first buttons were obviously to be made with natural materials such as bone, metal and shell as that's what was available, and they needed to be fairly hefty due to the swathes of fabric that had to be hoisted up. The higher classes throughout the Middle Ages had gone a bit crazy for buttons, fully adorning their clothes with buttons and buttonholes (which led to the introduction of professional dressers) using them to accentuate certain close-fitted parts of the garment. Buttons had shanks so that the button face was completely clear for engraving and embroidery and, it's documented that it was the Elizabethans who introduced cloth covered buttons - we can see that embroidery was pretty key in this age. The variety of materials used to make buttons developed as the aesthetic of the eras developed.

    Historic buttons 18th Century buttons


    With the production of plastic, buttons sadly fell off the scale of preciousness. They had gone from ornament, to functional decoration, to pure function (this includes the naughty smuggler-buttons used to transport drugs and those used for expressing politics).

    7.-Stringing-buttons-in-cro.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large.-Stringing-buttons-in-cro Stringing buttons, Massachussets 1912


    During the Industrial Revolution, buttons were mass-produced in homes by families. Nowadays, buttons are so easy to come by that we can forget they are made by someone - whether via machine or by hand (anyone trying to cover their own buttons knows it isn't so straightforward). The National Button Society was founded in 1938, recognising that people did in fact collect buttons - collecting is part of our human psyche, it's like foraging. So now we find hoards of buttons in house clearances, or we have tubs of our own stuffed in drawers or have jars on shelves full of nice little buttons we've found, but haven't necessarily got a purpose for. Whilst we don't ordinarily on a day-to-day basis recognise the handiwork of small components like buttons, there is something within us that recognises the preciousness of the design and consequently affects us enough to collect. Search for 'buttons' on Pinterest and up pops hundreds of DIY ideas using buttons, because we all collect them and need to use them somehow.

    For dressmaking, we see buttons as needing to be both functional and ornamental. They have to serve a purpose otherwise, why would we go through the trouble of marking the points, sewing them on and making buttonholes? Maybe some of you are masochistic like that and make garments with buttons just for the sake of using a certain design, or maybe you just really hate zips and so buttons are the only option if you want a fitted garment...

    This brings us back to the aesthetic of buttons. Perhaps you're making a dress out of cat print fabric, and so a cloth-covered cat button sewn on like a badge just finishes it off perfectly... We've come full loop to buttons being ornamental; they are used to express personality or, affiliate us with a group or, used to add a splash of colour. Buttons are such transient things, really. You can easily snip them off in order to replace, or they'll come off themselves anyway and so, you can quite undramatically change the look you have just like people did all that time ago (by the push of a button...)


    Ray Stitch button


    With this in mind, we select buttons for our shop that breach the function-ornament divide - we may as well preach to both the collectors and to the functionals amongst you and, if we can, different tastes as well (we do have all those print trays and shelves and jars to fill after all). We would like to share our newest additions with you, and maybe some of our existing selection just because we think they're really nice. (Click on the main image to go through to even more buttons!)


    Fabric Covered Buttons from Ray Stitch

    Wooden Buttons from Ray Stitch

    Shell Buttons from Ray Stitch

    Enjoy your collecting and making!

    Words by Steph.

  • Moda Grunge Basics

    It was raining today - still raining, in fact - which was why it was wonderful to receive our upbeat selection of Moda's Grunge Basics. These fabrics are a quilting-weight smooth cotton in a range of vivid hues that have an overlaid painterly print. A while back we had a selection of Grunge in suitably more autumnal shades, like red, purple and teal. But these were too tasty not to have for the summer as well.

    Moda Grunge at Ray Stitch

    Being that it visually appears to have a texture, they are totally suitable for dressmaking as you don't feel like you're wearing a massive blob of colour. It's almost like you can be bright but not over the top, hiding behind the unusual faux-texture of the fabric. Of course, you don't actually have to hide the colour away when it rains, nor be totally colourful when it's summer, but with the Sonia Delaunay exhibition going on, we see colour as almost necessary - may as well use that inspiration in some way! We're all wearing black and charcoal grey today, but when the weather is miserable, it is seemingly necessary to have a splash of colour to brighten up yours and others' days, so we're very happy to have these on our shelves whilst our colourful clothes are in the wash.

    We've chosen some of our patterns that we think would be very good in Grunge... (Click on the image to go to the pattern, it'll open in the same page, sorry!)

    Moda Grunge and Patterns at Ray Stitch Merchant and Mills Trapeze Dress / Tangerine Grunge
    Moda Grunge and Patterns at Ray Stitch By Hand London Sophia Dress / Raspberry Grunge
    Moda Grunge and Patterns at Ray Stitch Colette Zinnia skirt / Eggplant Grunge
    Moda Grunge and Patterns at Ray Stitch Colette Laurel dress / Yellow Gold Grunge
    Moda Grunge and Patterns at Ray Stitch Colette Albion Duffel Coat / Cobalt Grunge (for lining)
    Moda Grunge and Patterns at Ray Stitch Christine Haynes Emery Dress / Peacock Grunge


    Please share what you make with us on Twitter: @ray_stitch and on Instagram: @raystitch  - and enjoy your joyful summery clothes!

    Words by Steph.


  • Our Makes: Holly Dress Hack

    Being that none of us here at Ray Stitch really like showing off our legs, and that we in fact have new mannequins in the shop window for our samples (but none with legs), we decided that we would make the Holly Jumpsuit from By Hand London as a dress! It was a pretty spur of the moment decision to change it to a dress, and actually quite a problematic and challenging one - it's almost as if you would need to constantly carry around pattern cutting supplies just in case there arose a pattern cutting emergency... On the day that we set up at Rachel's house to sew sew sew, we actually needed to pattern cut in order to hack the jumpsuit into a dress. With no realised idea, and a bit of an anxious need to get something made, I jumped straight in with tracing paper and the Holly pattern packaging as a ruler...


    Holly jumpsuit in prep at Ray Stitch


    Using my pattern cutting knowledge, I started altering the trouser block in order to make a basic fitted skirt block that would have an elongated placket from the bodice. Adding back darts to help the skirt panels fit the bodice panels worked well and I was proud that I had managed to do it spontaneously with limited supplies. By this point I had ditched the skirt placket in favour of the standard side zipper and buttoned bodice that Holly originally came with, purely because the fabric we had chosen had a bold horizontal pattern that down the skirt front didn't need to be messed with.

    The patterned fabric itself was the first headache. It was ever so slightly wonky on the grain on one side of the fold (Tip: refold your fabric yourself rather than relying on the existing one as this way you can check the grain), which threw off the matching and consequently, the bodice had to be recut. This was a good decision however, as the bodice did in the end match on either side of the placket once made up. Other details that needed considering were the waistline and the cuffs, and the ensuing battle with ensuring the pattern pieces were lined up just so was pretty horrific. But again, it was worth it! The skirt though, in hindsight was a sham. It's just a bit too hippy. It clearly is the basic skirt block without alteration, and I didn't even manage to get the skirt and bodice darts to line up despite measuring!

    If I had done my research before just racing ahead, I would have seen that Katie of What Katie Does had successfully managed many Holly dress hacks by plainly gathering up a rectangle to create the skirt, with a full length placket. Oh well. We ended up with a Holly that has a side zipper and a bodice button placket - still easy to get on for wearing, and you have that smooth skirt front that's good for lightweight fabric - and maybe there is actually a size 14 out there with the perfect curvy hips to fill it out...


    whatkatiedoes_holly What Katie sewed...


    Nevertheless, it does show off the Temple lawn very nicely. It's a bold, lightweight summer dress, yet if you wear a slip underneath or some woolly leggings you then have an autumn outfit - because let's face it, blue is trans-seasonal. There were a fair few niggles with the pattern that I have to talk about though...


    Holly dress hack at Ray Stitch


    As previously discussed, I'm a newbie to commercial patterns. I'm coming round the idea of making clothes from ready-made patterns, purely because I don't have the space or the big table to be drafting from scratch. Yet, I can't help feeling that commercial patterns just don't explain well enough. Sometimes it is the case that a step is self-explanatory, but if you're going to explain one bit, then you may as well explain that other bit too. And there's also the matter of quadruple checking that your construction method is the most efficient way to construct the garment, and that you're not expressing to do something that isn't as necessary as something else. Which leads back to the beginning; the draft pattern needs to have all of it's markings and fit perfectly between pieces (accurate cutting is key here so you don't lose or add even one millimetre).

    I really don't want to be harsh, but a couple of things truly got on my nerves. The instructions said that you may need to gather the sleeve head if the fabric had a lot of give, but in fact it needed to be gathered for ease anyway as there was about 5cm needing to fit somewhere. I couldn't figure out if I had gone wrong - it was the correct size and my backs were backs and fronts were fronts. The instructions didn't state that you needed to overlap the front and back shoulder to help the curve, and I ended up with excess fabric there. It didn't say to sandwich the facing in the placket either, presumably because there was a diagram - but really, the diagrams should match what the text is instructing so that all types of learners can learn. I also felt that the instructing of stay stitching of curved seams, such as the armhole should be optional - you could in fact inefficiently stretch the fabric as you do the stay stitching.


    hollymakeup Trying to figure out how the cuff should go using the instructions and diagrams, and the excess fabric at the shoulder.


    When I made up garments for my fashion degrees I had a construction method list that outlined every single detail. I didn't want to have to unpick as I didn't have time, nor the funds to buy the fabric again and, you always have in mind that you'll be critiqued and so will need to know what you did. So perhaps, with commercial patterns, I'm being too finickity due to my extensive lists and detailing. But then, I consider again; if I was a beginner dressmaker and something important was missed out of the instructions in place of something barely necessary, I would feel deflated, and feel that I needed to make a toile for every garment, despite with something like a simple waisted jumpsuit it shouldn't be overtly necessary.

    With my Holly hack, a toile would have been useful for the skirt part - I was distressed by my inability to create a solid skirt block despite my training, though I wouldn't expect to be so confused over how a sleeve cuff should be constructed when there was instruction for it. It keeps going back to this thing of having confidence in your skills, and understanding that in some situations you may need to hack the construction method as well as perhaps the shape, as well as learn to take your time. If I made the dress again, I know how I would approach it differently - and it's for this reason that we are making up garments and truthfully discussing how we felt about it, so that we can share tips and hindsight. Now that I've seen Katie's range of Holly hacks, I'm exceedingly jealous and want to make a proper one. But I've just got to see the good things and respect the understanding that has come from making up my first By Hand London pattern.


    Pinterest Board: By Hand London made up Your Holly jumpsuit and dress makes via Pinterest.


    Truthfully, I've only ever made one garment that I am happy with. It was a smooth process and the finishing was exceptional. So anything less than that gets me down! What I do like about the hacking process is that with a bit of extra time it is possible to take a commercial pattern and make it your own with slight adjustments. It extends the life of a pattern purchase, and the £14 or so can spread itself even more thinly with some creative thinking (and research) to make it an investment. The dress itself has a really nice scoop neckline, but not so low that it's offensive and so works for casual and evening because of this. The cuffs I can imagine in a contrast fabric, and you could even cut the pattern so that the placket is separate for a contrast band too. As a jumpsuit, the Holly looks swish in jersey, flirty in lawn and ever so sexy in silk - so it's a really versatile and well thought out style. Where By Hand may fall short a bit with their instructions (at least with the ones we have tried out so far), they jump right up with their styling, choice of garments and the consequential versatility.


    Holly dress hack at Ray Stitch


    In a nutshell: get a By Hand pattern because of the style of the garment - this is what you want it for anyway surely. And then just take your time with what they have given you, and also consider all the possibilities. Take a look at what others have made, and see if they have any tips for construction or fabric choice.

    Despite my woes, if you fancy having a go at your own Holly jumpsuit or dress for an upcoming wedding, holiday, birthday... or would just like to try it out for it's completely feminine style, take a look at our fabric recommendations:


    Holly recommendations fromRay Stitch


    From first row left to right: Liberty Tana Lawn Tiny Dancer Multi 137cm wide £20/m / Moda Grunge Raspberry cotton 110cm wide £14/m / UrbanChiks Nomad Plume Bone cotton 110cm wide £14/m / Liberty Silk Satin Mayrose 137cm wide £22/m / Kokka Koushi Blue cotton sateen 110cm wide £22/m / Organic Bamboo Silk Black 140cm wide £16/m / Japanese Polka Dot Navy double-gauze cotton 110cm wide £22/m / Nani Iro Shine Many Ways Grey cotton sateen 110cm wide £22/m / Robert Kaufman Pick Stitch cotton 150cm wide £15/m

    Words by Steph.

  • Nancy Nicholson

    We are so excited that Nancy Nicholson is going to be here with us at the end of the month to teach an embroidery workshop!

    Nancy trained in graphic design at Maidstone College of Art, before going on to complete her MA in fine art at the RCA, gradually establishing her distinctive use of bold and playful prints across textiles and paper craft. We have stocked Nancy's embroidery kits in our shop for a while now and love how so easily they can be picked up by someone starting out with the craft, as well as those who would just like a project (a lot have been taken on long haul flights!)

    Nancy Nicholson Teapot Stitch Kit

    Nancy Nicholson Cat Stitch Kit

    Nancy Nicholson Love Bird Stitch Kit


    With two artist residency posts at local schools, Nancy shows that she truly does believe in exploring visual creativity in order to motivate learning. It's all too easy with many crafty things to not know where to start, even with the abundance of social media to give us the inspiration. Nancy's kits are created with transfers so that you can stitch over the lines, exploring techniques as you go along. So whilst you've got a helping hand with where to start, you can play around with the actual art of embroidery as opposed to worrying about whether if what you're doing is correct.

    Nancy Nicholson Love Bird and Pigeon Cushion Kits

    The class here at the Sewing School is aimed at both those who would like to learn the basics, as well as those who want to try something new from someone new. You can learn a fair amount from watching Youtube videos and using reference books, but it's more than likely that you learn better by watching in the flesh, with someone on standby to give you guidance and tips. Spend a leisurely Sunday morning with Nancy creating a booklet sampler of traditional and contemporary embroidery techniques, before spending the afternoon using those new-found skills to create a finished panel. If you feel like it, bring along any treasured pieces, favourite fabric scraps and unusual threads to incorporate into your design.

    Nancy Nicholson machine embroidery

    The workshop is on Sunday 31st May 10am-3pm £85 (price includes lunch, refreshments and materials). You'll also get 10% off in the shop (perhaps get yourself some of Nancy's stitch kits to continue with your work...)

    Nancy Nicholson class

    In the morning you will learn new or expand on existing stitching techniques, creating a sampler for your reference. Following on from this, you will get the opportunity to use your new skills to stitch on one of Nancy's distinctive embroidery transfers. And then, so you get the most out of Nancy, you'll be able to make a really lovely (and very handy) pincushion. This should be a relaxed and playful Sunday - it may well end up sunny outside, but just think about the fact that you have your morning and your late afternoon and can try out something new.

    Nancy Nicholson embroidery sampler

    Nancy Nicholson butterfly sampler

    Nancy Nicholson pincushion

    Nancy is a busy lady, constantly creating things. Check out her blog and Pinterest for some inspiration!

  • Summer Ticking and Canvas

    It may well be raining at this very moment, but we got our deckchairs out yesterday. Yes, one of them did almost blow off down Essex Road, but the thought is there. The imagined warmth on our faces as we sit reading a new book in the garden, the sound of sausages sizzing on the barbeque and the kids playing water fight... that moment will come back soon. And we need to be prepared really; the next Bank Holiday is coming up!

    Ray Stitch May 2015


    Last week we had the arrival of a bundle of ticking from Moda's Fiesta collection. This is a smooth-to-the-touch cotton with a tight twill weave meaning that it's a good strong fabric for all sorts of applications. Historically, ticking was a utility fabric, being used to cover mattresses and pillows as the weave prevented down feathers from poking out. Now, ticking is produced with quirky bright stripes and used for the things we don't necessarily wish to hide such as Regency sofas (apparently) - but how about deckchairs, cushions, throws and clothing too.


    Moda ticking at Ray Stitch


    Our deckchairs have been a welcome sight on Essex Road , even stopping people driving past (of course we mean to brag). The lightweight canvases we stock from Birch Fabrics, Cloud 9 Fabrics and Kokka et al from Japan are the perfect balance of contemporary design and functionality. Backed in a strong lining (we use curtain blackout), you can make deckchair slings that are strong, durable and easily washed - so they look good top and bottom. At the moment we have Smile and Wave from Rashida Coleman-Hale for Cloud 9 on our chairs, but in the past we have enjoyed the bold abstract illustrations of Charley Harper, and this year we reckon we'll be going for our Japanese linen cotton Bars and Stripes á la Sonia Delaunay.


    Ray Stitch

    Ray Stitch


    Along with the vivid prints, it's also nice when the fabric itself has that natural feel, and so, similar to the softness and natural-coloured base of the ticking we also stock a range of classic striped cotton towelling. Made up to the traditional width of deckchair slings with a rolled hem, you barely need to do any work! Of course, you could also use them to make cushions, table runners, placemats...


    Deckchair towelling at Ray Stitch


    Whilst you're on with making stuff for your garden parties and conservatories, you really could use the same fabrics for clothing. Preppy shorts, tailored blazer, fisherman-inspired smock... or, pyjamas! We've already championed our lightweight canvases in clothing, such as our orange-onion print Papercut Sigma dress, Water Window Grey Top 64, Herringbone Nani Iro Camber dress and By Hand London Elisalex dress (all found under 'canvas weight prints' on our site, except that Nani Iro as that's an oldie!). For garments that can handle a bit of stiffness, the canvases help the shape stay how it should be, yet the hand feel is soft enough to be comfortable and the weave open enough to be breathable (they are linen and cotton after all).


    Ray Stitch canvas makes


    Moda 100% cotton ticking 110cm wide £14/m / Deckchair towelling 100% cotton around 40cm wide £8/m / Japanese and Organic canvases 110cm wide £18-22/m

    The oak deckchairs with sling are available for £120 each, or if you would like a bespoke sling, give us a call or pop in and we'll see what we can do!


    Words by Steph.

  • Upcoming classes

    We know that you were getting crafty over the bank holiday weekend and are now buzzing with ideas - but perhaps you can't manage to set a time aside in your busy weeks to make some of those ideas a reality. We know how it is, so taking a class gives you a reason to take some time out for yourself.

    At the Sewing School we have a huge variety of classes coming up that we would like to brag about. Whether you would like to learn something completely new, or spend some time with new (yet likeminded) people, or just fancy adding to your skill base, then check these beauties out...


    Advanced Steps helps you to build on your existing sewing skills to become a proficient and neat (!) dressmaker. Make those garments look really professional with industry-experienced Moyna.

    Thursday 7th May, 7-10pm £48 (all materials included)

    Advanced Steps


    Next Steps is for those who have just learnt to sew and are wanting to expand their skills in order to move towards primarily dressmaking, but perhaps homewares too.

    Saturday 9th May, 2-5pm and Saturday 6th June, 2-5pm £48 (all materials included)

    The Next Step at Ray Stitch


    You'll have seen that we have a bit of a crush on Celia Pym's work. It's just so delectable, so exciting, so necessary... Come and learn the art of mending and darning in this day workshop. Share your holey object's history, explore sashico stitching and make your object become useable again.

    Sunday 10th May, 11am-4pm £75 (price includes lunch and materials)

    Celia Pym sock darning


    Freestyle is a returning class for us. Last year it helped intermediate dressmakers bring along something that they were perhaps stuck on, a pattern they needed help adjusting for size or for beginner dressmakers to come along and get a bit of general advice.

    Thursday 14th May, 7-10pm and Friday 12th June, 7-10pm £40

    Freestyle at Ray Stitch


    Camber Set or Dress Shirt is a frequent class for us. Aimed at beginner dressmakers, or those who just fancy making up something new (perhaps you've never heard of Merchant and Mills and would like to see what the fuss is about), this class shows you just what's possible in a day. You will cut out the pattern to size, lay it out for optimal fabric use (maybe help with matching prints too) and then of course make up the garment.

    Saturday 16th May, 9.30am-5pm £95 (price includes the pattern and your lunch)

    Camber Set at Ray Stitch


    The Kielo Dress is a new one to our repertoire. At the end of last year we started stocking Named Clothing patterns. As with all independents, it takes some practice to understand what they're like and it's always best to share this knowledge. The Kielo is a straightforward pattern that can be made in all sorts of fabric weight, but the pattern does need to be traced. So come along to this class and learn how to trace and mark patterns to industry standard, cut out large pattern pieces to utilise fabric and of course make up this versatile dress.

    Sunday 17th May, 9.30am-5pm £105 (price includes the pattern and your lunch)

    Kielo in Robert Kaufman


    Julie Arkell is one of our favourites. Just spending a day with her stitching is a piece of heaven. She has such a distinct personality that shines through in her work, and you get the opportunity to come and learn from her (and really, just have a nice day). Let your imagination run wild, and come away with some lovely hand-stitched treasured brooches.

    Saturday 23rd May, 12-6pm £95 (price includes materials and lunch)

    Julie Arkell at Ray Stitch


    We have been stocking Nancy Nicholson embroidery kits for some time, so we're very excited to have Nancy come here to do a workshop at the end of the month. Even if you're not aware of Nancy's work, come along to learn some hand-stitching techniques and leisurely explore your creativity.

    Sunday 31st May, 10am-3pm £85 (price includes lunch and materials)

    Nancy Nicholson at Ray Stitch


    Our Introduction to Machine Sewing classes really do the trick in giving newbies to sewing some confidence to get going. We run 6-week courses as well as these individual courses. Learn basic machine stitches, cutting out patterns and then the absolute joy at making a tote bag. We don't think there's anyone who leaves and doesn't want to sew again. You just get the bug don't you? Perhaps stay on for the afternoon's Next Steps class to progress your sewing even further in just a day!

    Saturday 6th June, 10am-1pm £45 (all materials included) Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 11.32.23


    Jane Brocket is massively popular in the quilting world. She comes along with her suitcases of quilts and there isn't a session when we don't see something new. She is bursting with inspiration for colour and shape (just follow her Instagram and you'll get a taster). This class is aimed at those wanting to explore colour theory and experiment with quilting shapes as opposed to the construction of quilts, so expect a day of playing.

    Sunday 7th June, 10.30am-5pm £95 (price includes lunch and refreshments)

    Jane Brocket at Ray Stitch


    Phew. There's more than this going on in the next few weeks, but hopefully this will whet your appetite. Call the shop on 0207 704 1060 for more information and to book, or book directly online. You will receive 10% off any classes and items in the shop purchased within 2 weeks of your class, or towards any supplies for your class.

  • Print. Make. Wear.

    With a surge in digital technology expanding fashion into being consumer-driven, in opposition to the usual case of fashion where we get what we're given, we're able to take control of what we wear with an increased pizazz. It also means that we can get creative and learn something that we may not have realised we wanted to learn.


    The People's Print


    The People's Print was founded by the director of The Slow Textiles Group, Dr Emma Neuberg, and the senior lecturer for Printed Textiles at Chelsea, Melanie Bowles. They aim to engage the consumer/wearer in the design process, with their big picture being to counter the negative effects of fast fashion and monocultures. Being dressmakers, we understand the struggle to find exactly what we want from clothing shops (or even interior design shops), but then we also understand the struggle in trying to work out what garment that lovely fabric we found should be made up in. All dressmakers are designers, but there isn't necessarily the materials available that you envisaged using in order to fulfill your design.


    Print. Make. Wear.


    There are many small businesses now, and indeed home crafters that will print their own fabric using traditional methods i.e. screenprinting, block printing, potato printing... though because of the expanse of digital printing studios, it is becoming ever more popular to create your own small run of fabric in possibly a quicker time frame using design software. The People's Print book publication 'Print. Make. Wear' is a veritable delight for learning how to use Adobe software in order to create patterns for all sorts of base fabrics that will allow you to make those bespoke garments and homewares you wish for.




    Graphic designer Jane Bates presents the book in an easy-to-follow and accessible-for-all-abilities way. Jane is also the packaging designer of our Ray Stitch cross-stitch kits so we already believe in how talented she is, but check out the internal book photos to see for yourself how clear the instructions are and how inspirational the photography is.


    Print. Make. Wear

    Print. Make. Wear

    Print. Make. Wear


    The book offers in-depth tutorials on using basic Photoshop tools, so as you move ahead experimenting with the types of possible patterns you can create, you'll also be taking in the computer skills that are helpful for other things in your creative life e.g. business cards, websites - the book is valuable as a source of inspiration and, invaluable as a reference for professional-level Adobe learning. What is most intriguing, is the fact that you are almost expected to use your innate hand-crafting knowledge as a basis to make up the majority of the digitised prints. For example, you will explore shibori dyeing, collage-making, acrylic painting and photography - so along with the computer skills, you may pick up some new craft skills as well. The balance of digital and traditional is gratifying; the fact that you're not quite stepping out of one way of creating into another way of creating allows you more freedom: you can pull on your strengths whilst still learning and experimenting.


    The People's Print


    The most lovely aspect of this book, I find, is how you take images of traditional needlepoint and cross-stitch to utilise its existing pattern whilst playing with vector graphics. It makes such a bold pattern that feels like avant garde high-end fashion, and yet is steeped in familiar traditional crafts (which, in itself is avant garde and high-end anyway so you're making a mega piece of clothing). Not only do you learn how to produce these extraordinary patterns, but also how to lay them out. If you so wished to have a sleeve in a different fabric to the main body, you could do so by drawing the pattern to spec and be more mindful of fabric waste. Or, even learn how to rotate the pattern so that it is printed the way you would want to cut it so that you don't have to worry about correct grain lines!




    We can't deny that creating our own clothing is satisfying - from the joy in making, to showing off your skills, to being more confident due to the better fit. So, designing your own fabric has got to be the most luxurious aspect of dressmaking. The People's Print definitely give you the ability to do so in a sophisticated manner - not only for home-makers but for creative enterprises too. The book explains how to actual digitally print your fabric (otherwise, what's the point) and at the back of the book, there are a list of resources such as independent pattern designers (check the Colette Laurel below in a graphic needlepoint print from the book) and of course digital print bureaus worldwide. Don't fret if you don't have your own Adobe software as it's very easy to get hold off - if you happen to be a student, you get it at such a good rate, though I pay only £22 per month and have access to all Adobe software.


    Colette Laurel People's Print


    Get the book in-store from us for £19.95 or give us a call and we can do mail order for you. To whet your appetite for the kind of artsy and graphic prints you could create, take inspiration from our Japanese fabric collection and medium-weight cottons or check out our 'pattern and print' board on Pinterest for the things that make us crazy excited.


    Words by Steph.