Monthly Archives: August 2018

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

    “Weavers don’t retire, they die.”

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

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

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

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

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

    Image Copyright: London Cloth Company

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

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

    Indigo Union Cloth Image: London Cloth Company

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

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

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

    Image Copyright: London Cloth Company

     

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

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

    Image Copyright: London Cloth Company

     

     

  • Spotlight: Indie Pattern Designers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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