Monthly Archives: June 2017

  • Fabric Facts: DENIM


    Good news denim lovers, we've recently increased our (already substantial!) stock of denim and chambray. As you can see from the pics above, we love working with denim and we've been busy making up some great wardrobe staples -  dress it up or down, wear in rain or shine, denim will see you through summer and well into autumn too. So, there's TONS of things you can make with denim, but how can you choose which type of denim from all it's many and various guises? To help you with that, for the next two weeks we're offering you our chunky denim and chambray swatch packs FREE! No postage fee, just send your name and address to and we'll send them straight out.

    Read on for some interesting facts about this omnipresent fabric, and don't forget to show us what you make via social media!

    Denim is a timeless classic wardrobe staple; there can't be many people who haven't got a single denim garment! From James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn to Taylor Swift, Helen Mirren, David Beckham and Prince Harry...everybody wears denim. Part of it's fashion appeal is that it is so versatile and can be dressed up or down, and a smart garment made from denim can give it an edgy, everyday look.

    Denim was invented in the 18th century, when fabric makers in Nimes, France attempted to replicate a sturdy Italian fabric called serge. What they created was called "serge de Nimes" or shortened to "denim." Serge is a type of twill fabric which is woven with the weft (horizontal threads) passing under two or more warp (vertical) threads. The off-setting of this weaving process creates the distinctive diagonal pattern to the fabric and makes it very hard-wearing. With indigo denim the warp is dyed blue while the weft is left white, meaning that the inside of the fabric is much paler than the show-face.

    Close-up of the serge weaving process which produces the distinctive twill diagonal pattern.


    Like denim, chambray is made with a coloured warp and a white weft, but it is woven with a plain weave (1 over, 1 under) As such it has a smooth surface and is the same colour on both sides of the fabric. Chambray also comes in different weights according to the thread count and can be woven with a tight weave for a crisp finish, or a looser weave for a more gauzy and casual feel.

    Blue jeans as we know them today were invented by a tailor in Nevada, USA in response to a need for strong and durable work-trousers for labourers and miners in the gold rush. He asked Levi Strauss & Co who had been supplying his denim to help with the manufacture of these original rivet-reinforced jeans as demand was so high. The rest is fashion history!

    The selvedge is the edge of a fabric as it comes from the loom. Selvedges are either woven or knit so that they will not fray, ravel, or curl. Usually the edge of the fabric is cut off when making up garments but with denim the edges are often expressed. Selvedge denim refers to a unique type of selvedge that is made by passing one continuous cross-yarn (the weft) back and forth through the vertical warp. This is traditionally finished at both edges with a contrasting warp, usually red; that is why this type of denim is sometimes referred to as "red selvedge." This method of weaving the selvage is possible only when using a shuttle loom. But shuttle looms weave a narrower fabric, which means that more yardage is needed to produce a garment from selvedge denim. That is why it has become a premium quality fabric and the red edges are on display.

    Denim is strong and durable so it's actually easy to cut and work with, if you have the right equipment. It doesn't roll and is stable to sew but it will fray when cut.

    Tips for sewing with denim:

    • Use a denim needle. These are stronger needles so they will be able to go through multiple layers of strong fabric. 100/16 or 100/18 is recommended for heavy denim.
    • Use a longer stitch length. This will make it easy to sew and help you to get an even finish. We'd recommend 3mm+ for jean-weight denim.
    • Press and steam all seams. Using a high heat and lots of steam will make your seams neat and professional-looking.
    • Reinforce seams with top-stitching. Because of it's stiffness, denim can come under stress at the seams. Top stitch using upholstery thread (often in a mustard colour on jeans) in the top feed and your normal thread in the bobbin.
    • Use appropriate zips, snaps and buttons. Heavy denim will need sturdy fixings to ensure these do not come apart. Chambray will not need anything heavy duty though.
    • Finish your seams. Denim frays a lot over time (which can be a feature of your garment). But if that's not the look you want then you will need to hem the seams, taking care not to add to the bulk. You can use an overlocker, or you could try Flat Felled Seams or even Mock-Flat Felled Seams.
    • Finally, always match the fabric weight to the right pattern. Chambray can be great for dresses, shirts and tops which have a good amount of drape and flow, whereas heavier denim is good for more structured garments such as jackets, trousers and shorts.




  • Happy Sewing Machine Day!


    Did you know that June 13th is the day that celebrates the invention of the sewing machine?

    Several men have been credited with this creation; Walter Hunt invented the first lockstitch machine in 1832, and John Greenough patented the first sewing machine in the States in 1842, this day relates to cabinet-maker and English inventor, Thomas Saint, who received the first patent for a design of a sewing machine in 1790.  Unfortunately, it was never realised and no evidence of it other than his drawings could be found, so it wasn't until 1874, when William Newton Wilson found Saint’s drawings in the London Patent Office, made some adjustments and built a working model that it really took off. This model is currently owned by the London Science Museum!

    Our sewing school just wouldn't be the same without the not-so-humble sewing machine, so we thought it would be a great time to tell you a little bit more about the ones we use and to do that we will introduce one of our very experienced sewing teachers - Penny...

    "I was lucky enough to grow up at a time when sewing was a normal domestic accomplishment and consequently there was lots of sewing going on!  My Mother made all of her clothes and mine to a very high standard, having been taught by her mother who had worked as a seamstress.  My paternal grandmother was a tailoress so sewing was a normal way of life.  Add to that a wonderful needlework teacher at secondary school and I couldn’t avoid sewing. In recent years I have started to earn my living by sewing.  I am a seamstress and have a small business, ‘The Village Seamstress’, in the village where I live, making bespoke garments and carrying out alterations.  I also worked part time as  sewing consultant for Janome at John Lewis for over three years.  My role meant that I had to have working knowledge of the range of Janome machines that John Lewis sold and also give lessons to those people that bought sewing machines.  It was here that I discovered a passion for teaching.

    "I make as many of my clothes as I am able.  I just love the fact that I can put a pattern and fabric together to make a unique garment that nobody else will have.  I have noticed that I get lots of compliments when I wear clothes that I’ve made and this spurs me on to make more!

    "I joined Ray Stitch in January this year and I teach mainly the Introduction to Machine Sewing and Introduction to Dressmaking courses.  I love teaching and find passing on my knowledge very exciting.  I really enjoy watching a beginner gain confidence in their abilities over the six weeks that I teach them and their amazement when they complete their first garment.

    "The sewing machines at the Ray Stitch Sewing school need to cope with a lot - we teach absolute beginners so the machines need to be simple enough for them to get started, but have enough features for our more proficient sewers and their advanced projects. They also get a lot of use through our classes and are available to hire by the hour, so a good solid machine is needed.

    "We use the Janome 5018*.  This Janome machine was chosen for its strength and reliability.  It has a metal body and a solid cover for when the machine is not in use.  It’s ideal for use in the Sewing School because it is simple to use but has good features for more advanced projects.  The machine comes with a good selection of feet which are stored neatly under the lid.  It has a larger than normal throat space (the distance on the right hand side of the needle) making it useful for bulky projects such as coats or patchwork quilts.  It has a ‘one step’ buttonhole system that makes buttonhole sewing simple.  In addition the feed dogs lower at the flick of a switch for free machine embroidery. Beginners find its clear stitch selection, stitch length and width sliders easy to use and master, whilst more advanced students find it perfect to work with fine fabrics and heavy weight coatings and denims.

    "As you can imagine our sewing machines at Ray Stitch work really hard so we keep them regularly cleaned and serviced.  Generally speaking a domestic machine should be cleaned at the beginning of every project and a new, appropriate needle inserted.  Depending on the amount that a machine is used, once its guarantee period is over, it should be serviced every couple of years.  The better that a machine is looked after the longer it will work for you!"

    *This is not a sponsored post, we do not work on behalf of Janome, all views and opinions are our own.

  • Me Made Ray - our talented customers!

    The month of May is THE highlight of the year for everyone who makes their own clothes. Now in it's eighth year and going from strength to strength, the idea of 'Me Made May' is very simple: to wear garments that you have made yourself...and celebrate that! There is no pressure to wear a new outfit every day (and many of us don't have that large a handmade wardrobe anyway) but it is a great way to get inspired and inspire others. There really is no better feeling than wearing something you have made yourself - and after all that time and effort they deserve to be shown off.

    To celebrate Me Made May 2017, we invited our customers to come in to the shop and show us what they had made using Ray Stitch fabric (there was also a 20% discount on offer to say thank you!) All we can say is what a talented bunch you are! It has been a joy to see how the fabric bought in store has been transformed into such original and fabulous garments. Take a look...

    Clockwise from top left:

    Rachel: Merchant & Mills Strand coat in Japanese painted canvas

    Suzy: Merchant & Mills Fielder in 'Manning' Liberty Tana Lawn and Ray Stitch cotton ribbing.

    @margaretstitches: Heron Wrap top from Merchant & Mills Workbook made in Ray Stitch Haberdashery cotton lawn with New Look 6217 trousers in black washed linen.

    @margymeg: customised Simplicity 1328 made in Heather Panama Wool

    Customer: New Look 6217 made in Observer cotton poplin by Art Gallery Fabrics

    @maruzza_s: customised top by Burda Style made in Ros Cherry Liberty Tana Lawn


    Clockwise from top left:

    Sumita: Named Clothing Kielo Dress made in Robert Kaufman Chambray

    Claudia: Deer & Doe Veste Pavot in organic cotton Dunweave canvas

    Jessamy: Grainline Scout Tee in 'Birdseye News' by Nani Iro

    Customer: models own waistcoat pattern made in organic dunweave and a Japanese print.

    James @jimknitsandpurls: Merchant & Mills Tee shirt in Indikon Cotton Shirting

    @brunography: Fielder top in Lustre by Zen Chic Moda


    Clockwise from top left:

    @missria: Papercut Patterns Rigel Bomber made in 'Manning' Liberty Silk Satin

    Vicky: customised Vogue tunic made in Crosses double gauze by Nani Iro

    Janet: Merchant & Milks Camber top in Nani Iro Seersucker, with Merchant & Mills Saltmarsh skirt in Ray Stitch Linen mix Twill

    Pearl: Simplicity girls dress in yarn-dyed Japanese cotton

    Judith: Merchant & Mills Strand coat in Ray Stitch denim

    Caoimhe: Tilly & the Buttons dress made in Firefly Dots by Birch Fabrics


    Clockwise from top left:

    Zoe: Merchant & Mills Trapeze Dress made in organic bamboo silk.

    Lizzie: Merchant & Mills Fielder top in grey laundered linen with Ray Stitch cotton ribbing

    @mythimbleandthreads: Deer & Doe Trenchcoat in Sevenberry Coffee cotton twill

    Antonia: New Look 6217

    Lucy: Colette Patterns Myrtle dress in woven cotton

    Suzi: Simplicity 1369 skirt, and New Look 6217 in Liberty Tana Lawn 'Rachel de Thame'