It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally vlogged a few clips of the day, plus what I bought! You can view the vlog here:
The 2016 SewBrum meet-up took place on Saturday 24th September.
I’m not planning to publish a weekly vlog, but I am planning to publish one every so often when I have something to share. I filmed a little bit of footage during SewBrum which you can view below:
As in previous years, the day whizzed by! We started the day by taking over the Edwardian Tearooms at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – and I do mean taking over. From there, we wandered across town to the Rag Market, and nearby Barry’s Fabrics and Fancy Silk Store. Rhiannon introduced me to a stall in the Indoor Market which specialises in wax print, which I hadn’t spotted before, and Charlotte recommended a nearby stall which has a huge selection of cotton and novelty prints.
Over 100 of us traveled into Moseley Village in the afternoon to visit Guthrie & Ghani for shopping, chatting, a pattern and fabric swap, and charity raffle. The raffle, plus donations given for tea and cake, raised £465 for the The Eve Appeal gynaecological cancer charity.
Huge thanks to everyone who came along, I hope you had a good time & managed to meet some new-to-you sewists. It was lovely to meet people I haven’t chatted to before, as well as to catch-up with friends, including some I’ve never met in person before.
There have been some great blog posts, plus a lovely vlog about the day by The Fold Line. Links below!
Steely Seamstress: https://steelyseamstress.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/sew-brum-2016/
Almond Rock: http://almondrock.co.uk/sewbrum-2016/
The Ruined Mother: http://ruinedmother.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/sew-brum.html
The Sewing Directory: https://thesewingdirectory.blogspot.co.uk/2016_09_01_archive.html
Sew Essential: https://www.sewessential.co.uk/blog/sew-brum-2016/
As in previous years, we’ll be holding a raffle at the SewBrum meet-up this Saturday! Raffle tickets are only on sale to attendees on the day of the meet-up and the raffle will be drawn in the afternoon at Guthrie & Ghani.
Lots of lovely companies have generously donated raffle prizes. I’m demoing a lot of the prizes in this video, or see the full list and photos below. (P.S. I mispronounced a couple of things in the video, but only had a limited window of sunlight yesterday evening after getting home from work, so no retakes!).
The full list of prizes:
♥ Minerva Crafts have donated a big fabric bundle worth £100.
♥ The Sewing Directory have donated two beautiful FQ packs: Lewis & Irene Under the Sea and Heather Ross Mendocino.
♥ Prym have donated sewing boxes filled with a range of sewing supplies.
♥ Pavilion are donating five of their recent sewing books: Merchant & Mills Workbook, Freehand Fashion by Chinelo Bally, Cutting & Draping Party and Eveningwear by Dawn Cloake, Ultimate Sewing Bible by Marie Clayton, and The Gentle Art of Quilt-Making by Jane Brocket.
♥ Crafty Sew & So have donated a £25 voucher for their online or bricks & mortar shop, based in Leicester.
♥ Remnant Kings have donated a tote bag containing a selection of haberdashery goodies.
♥ Fabric Godmother have donated a beautiful £100 fabric bundle, with a mix of knits and wovens.
♥ Plush Addict have donated an 11 reels selection of Gutermann sew-all thread, and a 9 FQ pack from the Tilda Spring Diaries Collection.
♥ FabricHQ have donated a £20 gift voucher.
♥ Abakhan have donated two Liberty fabric bundles.
♥ Fabrics Galore have donated a £20 gift voucher.
♥ Bloomsbury Square have donated a fabric bundle, containing 2 metres of crepe, and 1.5 metres of cotton.
♥ Village Haberdashery have donated a voucher for their online and bricks-and-mortar store.
♥ Girl Charlee have donated a fabric bundle worth £100 in one of their tote bags. Two metres of each of the following fabrics ar included: Quatrefoil Oxford Blue Cotton Jersey Blend Knit Fabric, Coral Blue & Red Diamond Floral Geo Jersey Rayon Spandex Knit, Plum Grey Rose Floral on Taupe Cotton Jersey Knit Fabric, Heather Burnt Orange Solid Baby Cotton Jersey Knit Fabric, Fawn Silhouette on Rose Cotton Jersey Blend Knit Fabric.
♥ Adam Ross Fabrics have donated a £35 voucher for their (Birmingham-based) online store.
Plus, Simplicity have donated pattern which I’ll be giving away in the morning at the Edwardian Tea Rooms (first come first served), and Crafty Sew & So have given me some flyers for a very exciting event they are planning…
With SewBrum coming up next week, I thought I’d share a personal guide to Birmingham city centre, taking in my favourite places to eat/shop/meander.
I’m deeply biased; not only have I lived in the suburbs of Birmingham for my whole life, I have also visited the city centre every week or so since I was a kid. I love to travel, but arriving back in Birmingham always feels like being home.
Birmingham’s weakness for many years was that it lacked independent businesses in the city centre, but in the last few years Birmingham has developed a really exciting community of independents. Currently, it feels like there are always new businesses opening, and events taking place.
If you visit Birmingham and stick to the shopping centres you’ll miss what makes it special. Below is my personal tour around the city.
The area around Hurst Street contains Birmingham’s Chinese and gay quarters, and a lot of good restaurants. I love to eat at MinMin (Hong Kong noodle cafe), Toppoki (Korean), Jacky’s Kitchen (Northern Chinese), and Cafe Soya (there are two branches but stick to the little one inside the Arcadian). There are three Chinese bakeries in this area, two inside the Arcadian (Wah Kee & Cafe Chino), and one inside the entrance to China Court restaurant; I highly recommend the walnut cookies and sponge at Wah Kee. I struggle to walk past without getting an ice tea at Happy Lemon.
The (National Trust owned) Back-to-Backs are located on Hurst Street (the last surviving court of back-to-back houses in Birmingham) – if you don’t fancy taking the tour you can always visit the sweet shop situated in one of the houses. The UK’s oldest working cinema, The Electric is nearby.
The shop where I have spent more money than any other (by a looong way), Nostalgia and Comics, is located close by. I have a comic standing order there – although my comics are often to be found in the debtors box, because I haven’t been in to collect them for a few weeks…
From Hurst Street, it’s approximately a five minute walk to Birmingham Indoor and Rag markets which are the best place to shop for cheaper fabrics, trims and haberdashery supplies. In the markets, fabric typically costs between £1-£8 per metre. On your way there you might spot Annatomix’s Bowie graffiti.
Directly opposite the market is Fancy Silk Store, which is spread over four floors. Barry’s Fabric Superstore, which is my personal favourite, is a 5-10 minute walk away (and just around the corner from Barry’s is EU Fabrics, but I haven’t had chance to visit yet to see what it’s like). House of Fraser and John Lewis also have haberdashery sections.
From the market it’s a short walk to Digbeth, which hosts the ever excellent Digbeth Dining Club on Friday nights. Seasonal Markets, which take place quarterly at The Bond, are also always worth attending. The Custard Factory is most fun when there is an event on (antique fair, etc.) as the shop occupants change quite regularly (so clearly struggle), but Clink bottle shop is worth visiting and Cow Vintage is located nearby. One of the most fun things in Digbeth is the frequently excellent graffiti (particular following the City of Colours festival).
Tilt bar serves a great range of indie beers and loose leaf teas, and has a large and regularly changing selection of pinball machines (I love the Adams Family & Medieval Madness). They have good cake too, and lovely signage by local sign painter Seven 9 Signs (I’m looking for an excuse to commission something from him).
Right by New Street Station, 4023 serves super cheap and delicious Mediterranean food and is next door to All Greek delicatessen, and a few steps down from York’s Bakery Cafe. Opposite, the Piccadilly Arcade contains a number of indie businesses and is rather lovely to look at.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is close by in Victorian Square and always worth a visit, including their Birmingham History Gallery and Edwardian Tea Room. While in Victorian Square, also check out Pure Bar for food and drinks.
From Victoria Square, you’ll pass the Library of Birmingham and Birmingham Rep (who are very affordable & put on some great productions) on your way to the canal. It’s worth seeing what is on at the (free to visit) Ikon Gallery, and popping into their shop and/or restaurant. The walk along the canal path between Brindley Place and the Mailbox is lovely on a sunny day, and Gas Street Social in the Mailbox does a popular all-day brunch. The Craven Arms must be one of Birmingham’s most attractive pubs (The Pig and Tail in the Jewellery Quarter is another) and has a good beer selection.
St Philip’s Cathedral (set in a park known locally as Pigeon Park) contains stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones, is one of the smallest cathedrals in the UK, and occasionally hosts movie screenings as part of Flatpack Festival. Neighbouring Great Western Arcade is beautiful and home to a number of indie businesses. The Coffin Works (factory museum who produced accessories for coffins) is nearby.
Probably the best burger in Birmingham is available from Original Patty Men’s restaurant located in an arch under Moor Street Station. Nearby you’ll find veggie restaurant The Warehouse Cafe and Polish restaurant The Karczma. Eastside City Park, the first park built in the city in 130 years is close by.
I was really excited by the extension of the tram line into the city centre as it’s now extremely easy to pop to the Jewellery Quarter (catch the tram from outside New Street Station, a ticket to the JQ is £1 one-way). The Jewellery Quarter is a lovely place to walk around as it’s peaceful and the architecture is really interesting. It also contains two well regarded museums, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and the Pen Museum. More places to eat and drink are popping up in the Jewellery Quarter, the Pig and Tail and 1000 Trades are my favourites, and The Button Factory – as the name suggests – is located in a former button factory building.
If you’re interested in Birmingham’s textile-related history see my post here.
This is the first in a blog series I’m planning exploring the history of textile and related industries in British cities. It’s something I enjoy researching, and I hope you’ll enjoy the blog series. For this first post, I’m writing about my home city, Birmingham. If you can add anything to the info below, do get in touch.
Birmingham has been a market town since 1166, when the local Lord, Peter de Birmingham, was granted a royal charter by Henry II to hold a weekly market. By the 14th century, Birmingham appears to have had an establish trade in wool, textiles, and leather working.
Key industries explored in more detail below are leather, button-making, and thimbles. However, Birmingham has had a wider impact on textile industries not explored in detail, such as the 1732 invention, by Lewis Paul and John Wyatt of Birmingham, of roller spinning (a process of spinning cotton into yarn or thread using machinery), and their opening in 1741 of the world’s first cotton mill in Birmingham’s Upper Priory.
Tanning & Leather
Tanning was one of Birmingham’s first industries in the 14th century. By the 16th century there were at least a dozen tanners operating in Birmingham, and a dedicated leather hall where business was transacted. Evidence of the tanning industry has been found during excavations, with clay and timber lined pits discovered in the city centre at Edgbaston Street, Park Street and Floodgate Street. The pits would have stored lime used to remove hair and fat from hide, or water and tannin for preservation. The Birmingham tanning industry was in decline by the early 19th century, with the leather hall removed and trade restricted to the making of bellows and harnesses.
Buckles and Buttons
Birmingham specialised in the production of small items (hinges, buttons, buckles, hooks, etc.) in a range of materials including metal and glass, which were collectively known in the 18th century as “toys”.
Matthew Boulton, an entrepreneur in the toy industry, described the Birmingham buckle trade to a House of Commons select committee in 1760, estimating that it employed at least 8,000, and generated £300,000 worth of business, with the majority of stock destined for export to Europe.
The buckle trade collapsed in the 18th century as a result of people starting to wear slippers or shoes fastened with strings. In 1791, bucklemakers petitioned the Prince of Wales on behalf of the 20,000 bucklemakers in distress, and the Prince of Wales and Duke of York responded by ordering their own entourage to wear buckles. Further petitions were submitted in 1792 and 1800, and bucklemakers are rumoured to have paraded a donkey, its hooves adorned with laces, to insult wearers of the new fashion.
Although the market for buckles didn’t revive, the button trade flourished in Birmingham in its place. “It would be no easy task”, William Hutton wrote in 1780, “to enumerate the infinite diversity of buttons manufactured here”. In the 1800s there were over one hundred button makers based in the Midlands.
Originally, the button was a by-product of the slaughter-house, with buttons produced from animal hoof and horn. The raw hoof and horn had to be heated and moulded, and then turned and polished by hand. However, the Birmingham button trade was diverse including pearl, shell, metal, cloth-covered, and later plastic, buttons. Shell and pearl were imported for the production of buttons, with so much waste shell produced by the process that pits were dug in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter to bury it. Many buildings today are said to have their foundations built on mother of pearl.
The button trade is one in which the development of assembly line processes and division of labour developed. In the 18th century, it was calculated that each button would pass through fifty pairs of hands, with each individual worker handling up to 1,000 buttons per day. By 1865 machines began to be introduced into the button trade, with the number of workers employed reducing to around 6,000 compared with about 17,000 in 1830, with a large number of women employed. Even after mechanisation was introduced, it took around 14 workers to put together a single button.
Buttons were attached to a piece of card, fourteen buttons on each card, with one worker capable of sewing 3,600 buttons onto cards in one day. Pearl buttons, because of their frailty, continued to be made entirely by hand.
Birmingham led innovation in the button trade; between 1770 – 1800, 21 patents were granted for improvements in the fastening of clothes, with 19 originating in Birmingham, including flexible shanks, and fancy silk, and porcelain buttons.
James Grove & Sons Horn Buttons
Perhaps the most famous button company in Birmingham, and the longest running, James Grove & Sons was established in 1857 by James Grove, previously apprentice to another leading button maker Thomas Harris. James Grove specialised in uniform buttons, supplying the Ministry of Defence, Post Office, police, railways and both the Confederates and Yankees during the American Civil War (although neither side ever paid). At its height, when every button was made by hand, the firm employed around 600 people, but sadly went into receivership in 2012.
A new Birmingham-based company, Grove Pattern Buttons, was founded in the Jewellery Quarter by an entrepreneur who spotted James Grove & Sons pattern books and dies being sold online following their closure. Unfortunately Grove Pattern Buttons also appears to have closed down.
A number of writers wrote contemporary accounts of the Birmingham button industry, including Charles Dickens, and The Penny Magazine (including illustrations). The Coat Route by Meg Luken Noonan includes a chapter profiling James Grove and Sons. A large number of children were employed in the buttons trade; this website contains records of inspection of their working conditions carried out in the 1800s.
NOW: I don’t believe there are currently any Birmingham-based buttons manufacturers, although vintage buttons are widely available on ebay. A Jewellery Quarter building, dating from 1824, which originally housed William Elliott’s button factory (which specialised in a silk-covered button William Elliott patented) has just reopened as a restaurant and bar called The Button Factory.
UPDATED: Rachel updated me that George Hook, based in Smethwick, whose family have been involved in the trade since 1824, produces pearl buttons and gives talks about pearl button making.
Another item produced by Birmingham’s “toy” and jewellery industries were thimbles. Initially produced in brass, silver thimbles began to be widely produced in Birmingham following the founding of the Birmingham Assay Office in 1773; founded with the support of industrialist Matthew Boulton, to prevent silver items having to be sent to London for taxing.
In 1769 Richard Ford of Birmingham patented a process known as ‘deep drawing’, which was taken up by thimble manufacturers. Instead of casting in a mould, the process forms the thimble shape from a sheet-metal disc. The process needed less skilled labour, was faster and used less metal.
NOW: I believe thimbles are still being produced in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, and vintage thimbles are widely available on ebay.
P.S. I maintain a list of current British fabric and haberdashery manufacturers, here.
Each month, the gardeners at Winterbourne provided plant material (flower heads, bark, leaves, etc.) which the guild tested for their natural dye properties.
To explore the varied colours that can be achieved through the use of mordants and modifiers, eights small skeins of wool were treated with each dye (the first seven of which were pre-mordanted with alum):
- basic colour;
- light fastness test (kept by a window after dyeing);
- acid modifier (vinegar);
- alkaline modifier (diluted washing soda);
- iron modifier (created by soaking rusty nails in water & distilled vinegar);
- Over-dyed with madder;
- Over-dyed with woad;
- copper mordant (in place of alum).
The results of the project are on display in the Coach House Gallery at Winterbourne until 25th April.
Alongside skeins showcasing the colours achieved from each plant material, the exhibition contains a selection of projects created by talented members of my Guild. These projects showcase weaving, spinning, dyeing, knitting and felting – and the wool and silk used in the projects was also largely dyed with plants from Winterbourne garden.
I took part in a couple of the monthly dyeing sessions during 2015, and made a small contribution to the exhibition – a handful of knitted chamomile flowers included in the display below.
Winterbourne houses the national collection of anthemis (a genus which includes dyers chamomile). Yarn dyed with chamomile from the garden was used by Guild members to knit and crochet the flower heads below. The knitting and crochet patterns used were also designed by Guild members.
The exhibition is only small, but well worth a look if you’re local, and could be followed up with a visit to Winterbourne or to the neighboring Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which is a favourite of mine.
Carolyn, who led the project, blogged the results achieved each month on a dedicated blog.
P.S. If you live in the UK and are interested in trying weaving, spinning or dyeing, you can check if there’s a guild local to you using this online search.
Just a quick post to let you know that there will be a #SewBrum meet-up on Saturday 24th September 2016. This will be the third year running!
Like last year, the meet-up will start in Birmingham City Centre, before moving to Moseley Village to visit Guthrie & Ghani.
I’ll post details nearer the date, but I’m aiming for us to spread out a bit this year given that there were around 100 of us last time.
Everyone will be welcome. Hope you can make it x