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.