english girl at home

A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


British Textile History: Birmingham – Leather, Buttons & Thimbles

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.

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.

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.


The Sewing Weekender Launch

sewing weekender banner

I’m very excited to finally announce what Rachel and Kate from The Fold Line, and I, have been up to for the last few weeks. We are hosting a UK sewing holiday, a weekend break which will take place in Cambridge during August 2016.

Full information about the event, including ticket sales, and the schedule is available on the Event Page hosted on The Fold Line. Tickets are on sale now!

Here on my own blog I wanted to say a little about how the event came about.

I’m always really tempted by sewing (and knitting) holidays, but haven’t, so far, been able to attend one. If they are not in the UK there’s inevitably travel costs and time off work required (If I were single I’d totally go for it, but it’s not so easy to justify to Phil when we could instead go on holiday together…!) Those sewing holidays which are in the UK often understandably cost a few hundred pounds due to the costs of tuition, meals and accommodation.

So, The Sewing Weekender is a slightly different sewing holiday. We’re keeping things laid back and informal and as a result are keeping the price as affordable as possible. We’re also very lucky to have sponsorship from some great indie companies (full list here) which has also allowed us to keep ticket prices down.

Happily, Kate, Rachel and I were all thinking about sewing holidays at the same time so were able to team up to organise the Sewing Weekender!

I hope you’ll be as excited about the event as us. We’ve got a lovely venue booked, and are going to have plenty of time for chatting, tea, and sewing, plus great talks from fellow bloggers, and amazing goodie bags!

Full details and tickets available here.


SewBrum 2016: Save the Date!

Sew Brum Meet-Up Logo 2016

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

In the meantime, read my wrap-up posts about the 2015 and 2014 meet-ups.

SewBrum logo by illustrator and sewing blogger Maike of Sew & Illustrate & on Tumblr.


British Fibres and Fabrics – a #1year1outfit Update

Brigantia Mittens by Victoria Magnus in Wendy Ramsdale

My productive knitting stretch continues. I’ve recently cast on the Brigantia mittens by Victoria Magnus, which feature colour work and cables. I’m new to colour work and these mittens are a fairly simple project to start learning, but I’ve still managed to make a few errors. I suspect mitten number two, may be a lot more polished than mitten number one!

Wendy Ramsdale Wool Yarn in Malham and Hawes

I’m knitting them in the new Wendy Ramsdale yarn, supplied by Little Lamb Wool, a family-run yarn shop in North Yorkshire. Ramsdale is a DK weight yarn in ten colours, each named after a Yorkshire market town. I’m using the Malham and Hawes shades, which I think are a great match for the Brigantia pattern.

Brigantia Mittens by Victoria Magnus in Wendy Ramsdale

Ramsdale is a single ply yarn and has a really ‘wooly’ feel, with a slight fuzzy halo. I’m really enjoying knitting with it.

It is spun from 100% pure British wool, which is grown, spun and dyed in Yorkshire, local to Little Lamb Wool, where my skeins came from.

Brigantia Mittens by Victoria Magnus in Wendy Ramsdale

I’ve become a bit obsessed with knitting with British wool, as a result of taking part in Nicki’s One Year One Outfit project, and listening to the KnitBritish podcast. I’ve completed three #1year1outfit projects so far, socks (which I later dyed), gloves and a scarf (as yet unblogged). These mittens will be my fourth project. So far I’ve focused on accessories, but I have plans to knit a cardigan and a jumper, and to sew some clothing soon too.

As a result of #1year1outfit, I’ve spent some time researching British fibres and fabrics and thought it would be useful to share my findings. If you’re aware of any interesting resources I’ve missed please do share.

British Wool

Britain has a long history of woolen fabric production, so the majority of British fabric I have been able to locate is wool.

A brilliant source of information on British wool products (fabric, yarn, and just about everything else) is Woolsack, which was created by Sue Blacker. Woolsack can also be found on Ravelry. The Woolsack list of British wool fabric stockists is located here. The British Wool Marketing Board website also provides a list of British companies producing wool fabrics.


A number of the British companies producing fabric don’t sell direct to consumers and/or online. Some that do are listed below:

London Cloth Company – London-based micro-mill specialising in weaving to order, but with cloth also available via the meterage

Dashing Tweeds – London-based (menswear) company/store with a range of British wool fabrics

Harris Tweed and Knitwear – Family company producing a range of Harris Tweed cloth and products

Harris Tweed Hebrides – Wide selection of tweeds

Hebridean Wool House – Tweeds made with wool from hebridean sheep (listed under ‘tweed products’)

Robert Noble – Established in 1666, and now producing cloth at a Scottish mill

Ardalanish – A range of tweeds woven using 100% pure new Hebridean, Manx and Shetland wool

Shawbost Weavers – Harris Tweed – Catherine weaves single width (75cm) Harris Tweed by traditional methods on a Hattersley loom. She sells via her Facebook page. It’s approximately £17.50 per metre; payment is via paypal.

The following online fabric shops are also good sources of British wool fabrics. You may need to request further information about a specific product to confirm that it is 100% British (e.g. British wool and woven/dyed in the UK).

MacCullock & Wallis – A number of fabrics in the Wool Fabrics section are listed as made in the UK. You’ll need to select individual items to find out, although you’ll definitely be ok with the Harris Tweeds:)

Croft Mill – Croft Mill allow you to view products under a ‘British Fabric‘ heading – yay

Merchant & Mills – A number of fabrics in the Wool & Tweed section are listed as made in the UK. You’ll need to select individual items to find out.

Herts Specialist Fabrics stock a range of British wool fabric, including undyed wool suitable for home dyeing.

Wendy Ramsdale Wool Yarn in Malham and Hawes


There are a wide range of UK companies producing British wool yarns. The online store BritYarn is a  great place to shop for them, since it only sells wool which is 100% British grown. I’d also particularly recommend Blacker YarnsJamieson & SmithJohn Arbon, and local-to-me TOFT. For an extensive list see Woolsack.

I’ve also learned loads about British wool from the KnitBritish blog and podcast.

British Silk

Organic Silks in London produce a range of peace silks. I was tipped off to this by Steely Seamstress, who has already dyed and made a top with some of their silk. To order, you need to email them to confirm a price, and can then pay by card over the phone.

British Linen

Herts Specialist Fabrics stock Irish linen fabric and threads, as well as British wool and damask fabrics.


Cluny Lace have been producing lace in Ilkeston for nine generations. They mainly sell direct to design houses, but you can purchase small quantities of their lace via a number of stockists, who mainly sell lace trims. Magic Round About Vintage clearly list which of their lace trims and fabrics are produced by Cluny in the UK. Little Trimmings and The Ribbon Girl are also stockists, but their website are less clear which laces are made in the UK. You can also buy direct from Blue Riband in Kent or Kleins in London. The lace is made with Egyptian cotton and is finished (washed / dyed) in France, but is woven in the UK on historical Leavers Lace machines.

Haberdashery Supplies

Irish linen thread is availble from Herts Specialist Fabrics.

Pewter Buttons stock a range of historical-inspired buttons made in the UK with English pewter.

John James stock a wide range of needles for sewing and weaving.

Ernest Wright and Son is a family company making scissors and shears in Sheffield since 1902.

Beyond Measure stock a range of British-made haberdashery items, including buttons, wooden items by Hugh Leishman, and leather goods by Awl Co.

Disclaimer: I was provided with two free skeins of yarn by Little Lamb Wool; all opinions expressed are my own.

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Happy craft shopping in Manchester

Manchester is a bit of a haven for craft shopping. The absolute best shop (in my humble opinion) is Fred Aldous, a three story craft shop. It’s a local business and has been in business (in one form or another) since 1886. We made two trips there in two days. They also sell online, so i’ll be able to get my Fred Aldous fix between trips to Manchester. I restricted myself to stocking up on linocut printing supplies, but they have supplies for a wide range of crafts as well as lovely gift items.

Also particularly interesting is Manchester Craft & Design Centre which houses various small studios populated by local artists. There’s a nice mixture of crafts on show, including jewellery, textiles and painting. Pictures below:

Manchester Craft and Design Centre

Manchester Craft and Design Centre

Both shops (as well as numerous others) are located in the Northern Quarter, which also houses a multitude of independent boutiques, vintage shops and cafes.