english girl at home

A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England


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The Sewing Weekender 2017 Attendee Blog Posts & Vlogs

The Sewing Weekender 2017

I finally blogged a few thoughts on, and photos from, the The Sewing Weekender yesterday, but lots of attendees were much quicker. I really enjoyed reading/watching these and wanted to share. Enjoy!

Blog Posts

♥ Ann at SewWatts.

♥ Beth at The Purple Stitcher.

♥ Elena at Randomly Happy blogged about using mindfulness to blog with more joy, following her talk on the subject at the Weekender.

♥ Elle at Sew Positivity.

♥ Emily at Self Assembly Required.

♥ Emma at Crafty Clyde.

♥ Jen at Ginger Thread Girl.

♥ Kathy at Sew Dainty.

♥ Melissa at Fehr Trade. Melissa also blogged a top made with Stoff and Stil fabric from the Weekender goodie bag.

♥ Sarah at Like Sew Amazing.

♥ Victoria at Sew My Own.

Vlogs

♥  Harriet at Hobbling Handmade:

♥ Jen at Ginger Thread Girl:

♥  Sarah at Like Sew Amazing:

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The Sewing Weekender 2017 Wrap-Up

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The second Sewing Weekender, sewing holiday, took place at the start of August. As is always the way with organising events, when we started planning it seemed ages away, but it was here before we knew it and over in a flash.

The Sewing Weekender 2017

Kate, Rachel & I arrived at our venue, Murray Edwards College in Cambridge, on Friday afternoon and were kept busy until the evening setting up sewing machines, overlockers, and irons, stuffing goodie bags, and inflating balloons!

The Sewing Weekender 2017

We were joined on Saturday morning by fifty-one attendees and six prefects/speakers, for the sewing (tea drinking, fabric stroking, nattering, fabric swapping) to commence.

Over the course of the Weekender we had:

♥ Two embroidery workshops (hand-embroidery with Elisalex de Castro Peake, and machine embroidery with Elle Harris).

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥  More time for sewing, more machines, overlockers and irons than at last year’s event.

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ Even more sponsors & overflowing goodie bags.

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ Embroidered badges for every attendee (thanks to Elle Harris‘ machine embroidery workshop).

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ A mini sewing bee! Elizabeth and Susan both finished a garment during the weekend, so were set a timed challenge by Melissa and Fiona, using supplies from the swap – and completed that too!

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ Inspirational talks from our amazing prefects/speakers.

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ Two lovely golden ticket competition winners, Barbara and Vicky thanks to Sew Now Magazine and Minerva Crafts.

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ Two sewists wearing the same fabric (Rachel and Emily)!

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ A litter of of cat owners – mostly sporting cat prints (Rachel, Sarah, Bianca, Amy, Harriet, Elena, & Melissa).

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ Speedy sewists who managed to complete garments during the weekend, including Elizabeth and Emma.

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ A stroll through Cambridge in the sun (as well as one particular lunch break in torrential rain…).

The Sewing Weekender 2017

♥ And lots of lovely sewists!

The Sewing Weekender 2017

There’s a great atmosphere at the Weekender, and it’s the same atmosphere at sewing meet-ups small and large (as well as online): welcoming, inspiring and full of fun. Assuming people do keep wanting to come, there’s never going to be enough tickets for everyone to attend the Sewing Weekender (this year tickets sold out in less than twenty minutes), but I’d highly recommend getting to a meet-up in person as often as you can.


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SewBrum 2017 – Hold the Date

SewBrum 2017 Logo by Maike Plenzke

Just a quick post to let you know that there will be a #SewBrum meet-up on Saturday 28th October 2017.

As this will be the fourth year running (!) I’m planning a few tweaks, but as in previous years, the meet-up will start in Birmingham City Centre, before moving to Moseley Village to visit Guthrie & Ghani.

Full details to follow. Everyone welcome. Hope you can make it x

In the meantime, read my wrap-up posts about the 20162015, and 2014 meet-ups.

SewBrum logo by illustrator Maike Plenzke.


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Comic Art Sudley Printed with Contrado

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

Contrado are a London-based company who offer fabric printing on demand. I talk about my experience designing and printing a fabric with them in my latest vlog, which you can view here:

As mentioned in the vlog, my design was inspired by a comic-print, black and white Prada skirt, which I eyeballed in a shop window. My design features some personal favourite comic characters / artists.

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

The design was printed on Contrado’s Crepe de France fabric. The fabric is light/medium weight, with lots of drape.  The image print quality is very high, with even small details printed clearly. The colour didn’t run when I washed the fabric, but I did get some colour/image transfer when I ironed this dress on a high heat (following one wash). The fabric is slightly see-through; I lined the bodice and will wear a slip underneath.

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

I used my fabric to make a Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress, with the skirt extended to floor length. I thought Sudley would be a good pattern to show off the fabric, due to the lack of fastenings or darts. As in my previous Sudley, I cinched in the waist of the dress by attaching elastic around the waistband.

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

I’m looking forward to wearing this out – although slightly wary about how dirty the hem may be by the time I get home!

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

Megan Nielsen Sudley Dress in Contrado Comic Print

Disclaimer: I was provided with two metres of fabric in exchange for blogging about it, all opinions expressed are my own.


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British Fabrics Haul Vlog

British Fabrics

For the latest vlog, I’ve filmed a guide to sources of British-made fabrics. It was a perfect excuse to order lots of swatches!

You can view the vlog here:

For more info on British-made fabrics, see my list of British fibres, fabrics & haberdashery supplies.

British Fabrics

British Fabrics

British Fabrics

British Fabrics

British Fabrics

British Fabrics

British Fabrics

British Fabrics

British Fabrics


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A Tour of Birmingham City Centre

Birmingham, England

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, England

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’re interested in keeping up to date with the latest news I’d highly recommend the mailing lists/social media accounts of the following:
Independent Birmingham / I Choose Birmingham / Flatpack

Birmingham, England

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.

Hurst Street

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.

Birmingham, England

Birmingham has a thriving street food scene (focused in Digbeth) and now has a permanent Hawker Yarn, located next to the Arcadian centre.

Birmingham, England

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.

Birmingham, England

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…

Birmingham, England

Fabric Shops

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.

Birmingham, England

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.

Birmingham, England

Digbeth

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).

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Mustard Crepe Lou Lou Dress

The Centre

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).

Birmingham, England

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, England

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

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.

Birmingham, England

Birmingham, England

Canal

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.

Birmingham, England

Snow Hill

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.

Birmingham, England

Moor Street

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.

Birmingham, England

Jewellery Quarter

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.

Birmingham, England


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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.