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A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England


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Fabric Shopping and Sightseeing in Seoul

Dorasan Station, Seoul

In April, Phil and I spent a week on holiday in Seoul.

My latest vlog contains a few clips from the holiday: sightseeing, plus fabric shopping in Dongdaemun and Gwangjang Markets. It also features a few me-made garments which I wore regularly during the trip; my Tilly & the Buttons Cleo dungarees, Named Inari Tee Dress, and By Hand London Victoria Blazer.

You can view the vlog here:

Dongdaemun Market is an enormous building housing a huge number of separate fabric and haberdashery stalls and shops over seven stories. I’d highly recommend Marie’s blog post, and the information Marie links to, if you plan to visit. The stalls in Dongdaemun appeared to have unusual and high quality fabrics, especially knits. However, the vast majority of stalls don’t have bolts of fabric ready to cut from; instead the stalls have samples on display, and fulfill your orders from their warehouses for collection at the market or delivery to your hotel.

I wimped out of buying fabric from Dongdaemun, but did treat myself to a linen fabric from Gwangjang Market. Gwangjang is a maze-like covered market, almost entirely dedicated to fabrics and haberdashery. Gwangjang is more home-sewer friendly than Dongdaemun, with stalls selling fabric from the bolt and pre-cut lengths, although I did find Gwangjang to have much less unusual fabrics than Dongdaemun. I spotted a few sewing-related services on offer in Gwangjang, such as scissor sharpening and seamstresses. Not too far away, in the area surrounding Euljiro 4(sa)-ga Station (exist 3 and 4), we wandered across an area specialising in sewing machine shops.

Finally, we tried Namdaemun Market because I’d read online that fabric was available, however, after a good look around and checking with the tourist information, we found that there was just one stall selling a very basic selection of cottons. Namdaemun is worth visiting for the food stalls, but no good if you’re in the mood to fabric shop.

A few photos of textile and haberdashery items in Seoul palace museums are below.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Ironing boards, sewing box and scissors:

Seoul

Seoul

Seoul

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The Seamworker’s Guide to Fashion Museums

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

I have an article in the August issue of Seamwork, released today.

The article is a guide to some of the best fashion and textile museums around the world. I’ve visited some of these museums in person; others are on my to-see list. I did my best to squeeze in as many museums as I could within the article word count!

You can read the full article here, or download the magazine (for free) from the Seamwork website.

One of the museums included is the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, which is one of my favourites. Below are a few photos of their recent Liberty in Fashion exhibition which I visited back in January. I’m especially looking forward to their upcoming Jazz Age fashion and photography exhibition (23 September 2016 – 15 January 2017).

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum

Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum


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British Textile History: Birmingham – Leather, Buttons & Thimbles

brit-textiles2
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.

Introduction

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.

NOWP&Co have a selection of Leather Goods currently produced in Birmingham. The following video shows these being made:

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.

IMG_4593
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.

IMG_5530

Thimbles

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.


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Fashion & Textile Exhibitions in New York & Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Ancient Egyptian Dress at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

As previously mentioned, while visiting New York and Boston in March, Phil and I managed to visit a number of textile-related exhibitions.

When I visit a new city, I always check for local fashion and textile exhibitions and put them near the top of my to-see list (to Phil’s chagrin).

Photos below from this trip.

American Quilts and Folk Art, at the Met

The Met, NYC

The Met, NYC

The Secret Life of Textiles: Plant Fibers, at the Met

The Met, NYC

The Met, NYC

The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958, at The Museum at FIT

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 027

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 029

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 030

Denim: Fashion’s Frontier, at The Museum at FIT

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 036

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 040

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 045

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 053

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 057

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-15 042

Fairy Tale Fashion, at The Museum at FIT

FIT, NYC

FIT, NYC

FIT, NYC

FIT, NYC

FIT, NYC

FIT, NYC

FIT, NYC

#techstyle, at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

New York Iceland holiday 2016-03-18 021

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Kenneth Paul Block Illustrations, at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


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A Week in Paris

I spent a week in Paris back in September but it’s taken me until now to get around to going through the photos. I recently wrote a blog post for The Foldline about shopping in Paris so won’t talk too much about shops, but I did want to share a couple of favourite purchases and some photos of the trip.

On this holiday I visited Malhia Kent for the first time. It’s located on the Viaduc des Arts near embroidery specialist Bonheur des Dames. Malhia Kent weave fabric for pret-a-porter and couture, but also sell their unique fabrics direct. Cut from the bolt fabrics are approximately €30 per metre, but coupons are a much more reasonable €10 per metre and they have a lot of coupons in the shop (if I hadn’t been on my way to catch a train I would have been in the shop for ages).

Malhia Kent, Paris

Malhia Kent, Paris

I came away with the two larger coupons (I think about half a metre each) below, as well as two smaller pieces I am hoping to piece into garments.

Malhia Kent Fabric from Paris

Malhia Kent Fabric from Paris

I had good company for fabric shopping on the Saturday, when I met up with Lisa, Carmen, Sabine and Olivier. We shopped in the Saint-Pierre area, and had particular luck in Sacrés Coupons.

Sewing Meet-Up, Paris

By chance, I was in Paris for Journées du Patrimoine, an annual event where historical monuments (including some that are normally inaccessible)  are open to the public and museums organise special events. I wouldn’t even have realised it was taking place if Carmen and Sabine hadn’t given me the heads up. Based on their recommendations me and Phil took the opportunity to visit La Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent for free.

The foundation can be visited on a guided tour which takes in a reception room, meeting room, Pierre Bergé’s office and one studio room. The studio space was unsurprisingly my favourite since it contains a rail of toiles and some examples of YSL originals. We attended a tour in French, I started off ok when Yves Saint Laurent’s life and career were being described since I’m already familiar with the details, but then totally failed to understand some of the later sections of the tour. If your French is as poor as mine, they run the tour in English once per month.

La Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent

We also saw Wool War One by artist Delit Maille, which Sabine had participated in the knitting of. The exhibition contains 780 soldiers knitted by hand by over 500 participants internationally, to commemorate soldiers killed in northern France during WWI.

Wool War One, Paris

Wool War One, Paris

Wool War One, Paris

Wool War One, Paris

Wool War One, Paris

Wool War One, Paris

Me and Phil spent quite a bit of the week in various museums and galleries, many of which contained textiles for me to admire. A few photos of these are below.

Palais de la Porte Dorée, which contains Paris’ History of Immigration Museum and a beautiful old aquarium, was exhibiting amazing hats inspired by Paris landmarks (the red one at the front below is inspired by Notre-Dame) and inventors, with hats inspired by their inventions (see below traffic light, saxophone, football boot).

Palais de la Porte Dorée, Paris

Palais de la Porte Dorée, Paris

Palais de la Porte Dorée, Paris

We took a train to visit Château de Fontainebleau, which contains a selection of historical textiles linked to royalty and to Napoleon and his family.

Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau

Centre Pompidou had an exhibition of Palestinian embroidery on display. The pieces, which showcase traditional techniques, are created by Inaash, an NGO.

Centre Pompidou, Paris

Centre Pompidou, Paris

Centre Pompidou, Paris

Also on display at Pompidou, a Mona Hatoum piece woven with hair.

Centre Pompidou, Paris

The permanent collection of the Musée du Quai Branly, one of my favorite galleries in Paris, contains a huge range of textiles from around the world.

Musée du Quai Branly

Musée du Quai Branly

Musée du Quai Branly

And finally, Les Invalides has a huge permanent collection of uniforms and other textiles related to WWI and WWII. I have to admit to being a total sucker for an epaulet, they make me think of toy soldiers and those little plastic epaulets that came with every Lego soldier.

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris

Les Invalides Paris


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Slow Stitch: A Book Review

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

I recently received a copy of Claire Wellesley-Smith’s beautiful new book Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book from outside in, with a suitably tactile cover. Given the synergy of the book with Slotober, I thought it’d post a short review and some pictures before the month is up.

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Claire is a textile artist based in Bradford and the book contains images of her own textile work, the community projects she has been involved in, and her thoughts and reflections on the slow movement and it’s relevance to her work.

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Alongside her own projects, Claire celebrates textile arts and hand stitching by profiling a number of contemporary textile artists whose work is in keeping with the slow textiles movement. Each artist profile includes photos and a description of one work by the artist. A section entitled cross-cultural activity profiles a number of textile traditions, such as boro, kantha and mending, illustrated by beautiful examples of each tradition.

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

The book is not structured in the format of many craft books, where a large section of the book is dedicated to projects. Instead a more thematic structure is adopted, but with project ideas jotted throughout. There are a number of relatively detailed tutorials included in the book, including solar dyeing threads, log cabin piecing, and creating and maintaining a stitch diary. Alongside the detailed tutorials, the book contains lots of suggestions for techniques readers may wish to explore such as allowing textiles to weather outside, reusing textiles from past projects, sun bleaching, and collecting and reusing locally sourced materials to create a record of a time and place.

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Anyone who is interested in slow textiles, natural dyeing and hand sewing will enjoy this book. The book doesn’t contain a large number of tutorials, so don’t buy this book expecting to be taught how to employ all of the techniques it covers, such as mending, boro, hand-stitching, etc. Instead the book aims to inspire readers to engage with the slow textile movement and explore some of the techniques covered for themselves.

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Slow Stitch by Claire Wellesley-Smith

Although I’ve been closely following Slotober, I haven’t actively been participating. I have however been plotting and, inspired by Slow Stitch, I am planning to naturally dye some linen thread which was made in Ireland (pictured above). Once I have a few different colours of thread i’m hoping to attempt some hand stitching, which I plan to incorporate in a #1year1outfit garment. That project will take me well beyond October, but in the short term I’m also planning some mending. I have a lovely British wool jumper, purchased from a vintage kilo sale recently, which is full of holes that I can’t wait to darn!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Slow Stitch in exchange for a review; all opinions expressed are my own.


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Fashion & Fabric at Copenhagen Design Museum

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

While on holiday in Copenhagen, me and Phil visited the Danish Museum of Art & Design. Phil hadn’t realised beforehand that the museum has a permanent fashion and textiles exhibit;p

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

The exhibition includes an interesting mixture of clothing and accessories, from the 18th century to the present day, from the Museum’s permanent collection, with a focus on Danish fashion. I’ll leave you to enjoy some photos from the exhibition.

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark