I don’t know about you but this year has been a slow starter for me. Full on with actual work but slow to get sewing, not a lot of space or energy to glean inspiration or motivation. But a trip to The Stitch Festival last week was just the ticket!
Like many others I was a bit confused by the rebrand – Previously named the Spring Knitting and Stitching Show, which was a bit of a mouthful to be honest – apparently it’s been changed to distinguish it from The Knitting and Stitching Shows later on in the year.
This year’s Stitch Festival ran from Thursday 25th until Sunday 28th February and was held at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Just a short tube ride for me but apparently easy enough for everyone I met travelling from further afield.
I went without a plan and especially planned not to buy fabric.
But with minutes of arrival, I found myself fondling some awesome vintage bark cloth fabric at stand H49: Olive Road London.
I didn’t realise it was genuine vintage at first and was about to kick off when I saw exactly the same curtain fabric I’d purchased in Brighton 5 years ago which I made into a Capital Chic Martini dress. For a split second I really thought I had mistakenly bought a modern take on a vintage fabric – that I’d been sold fake vintage! And then the lovely stall holder reassured me it was genuine and we had a good chat about how it must have been as super popular then as it is now! I wanted all her bark cloth, especially a small piece of rose print that caught my eye just as I was moving on.
Soon after I waved to Tilly on her cute little stall. Always so cute. And always so busy. It was delightful to catch up with her at her recent book launch party for Make It Simple , so I didn’t feel quite so cheated of chat!
It was impossible to avert eyes at the fabric stalls. They were many and they were all fabulous. I particularly loved how The Textile Centre displayed their fabrics, deliciously draped on hanging mannequins. And some at just £5 per metre. Such a tease. One of the few things that holds me back from buying is that I must have a plan before I go adding aimlessly to my stash. I loved that black and green wiggle-dress fabric on the corner but I was ridiculously restrained.
In fact I was so proud of my power to refrain until I chanced upon M. Rosenberg & Son‘s stall. Gets me every time. One of my favourite purchases from them was the sparkly dog-tooth I used for my vintage Butterick coat. And their powers of lure was just as strong this year. How on earth was I supposed to walk past this?!:
I didn’t of course. Just as I stopped to take a closer look, I heard my name called across the other side of the stall. I looked up and was so excited to see Dibs Maxwell who I first met very many years ago, online at Dibs and the Machine. She now sells specially selected and stunning fabric at Selvedge and Bolts. Defo worth a browse! She fought her way round to my side and we hugged a big hug! No photo sadly to display we just carried on from where we left off, chatting and laughing (always laughing) And then she made me buy the fabric!!
I wandered a little more in search of an expanding sewing gauge. But I couldn’t find one for looking. What I did want more at this point was a little sit down and a bite to eat. The cafe area looked fab with lots of healthy and delicious options but I tend to bring my own to events like this. Basically so I can skip the queue and guarantee I will get a truly plant-based option, not one that’s had the cheese flipped out of it! I sat on the mezzanine level along with like-minded visitors, looking down on the visitors buzzing around on the various levels and planned my next move.
I noticed that John Scott (John Scott Sewing World) was about to do a talk in the next half hour so I took a seat near the front of the hall and stroked my D&G fabric while I waited. I really didn’t expect the hilarity and the fun that followed. I recognised John but I can’t say I really knew that much about him at that point. Within seconds I was in stitches hearing about his stories in the film and TV industry. He really is an amazing story teller.
I loved hearing how his signature bridal wear included beading as much on the back if not more than on the front of a wedding gown, given that most of the photo opportunities involve the back view of a bride when she is talking to her guests!
I gasped when he told of the ballgown that he made for his mother to wear to a party and that was spotted by Princess Margaret across the room. She asked who the designer was and that’s how John began making couture dresses for the Royals. Hilariously, his parents were still largely unimpressed that he was a dress designer at that point and only started coming round when they saw his name among the credits of a Bond movie. But the acceptance came when after all the big blockbuster films – like Tomb Raider, Love Actually, and Notting Hill and all the TV shows, including the Catherine Cookson epics and Poirot (whereby all the costumes were made authentically to 1920s and 1930s fashions) – he joined Richard and Judy for a slot as the resident fashion expert on This Morning and stayed for 10 years! Now his mum was truly proud and told all her friends!
Seriously I could have listened to John all day. He was so uplifting. I felt like I’d been having a chat with an old friend. Plus I got a cheeky photo with him afterwards!
I left the talk inspired and hanging on to Johns best bit of advice to ‘let the universe guide you’. I generally do that but I loved that he reinforced the mission!
Next stop was a little stall run by Stef at Wear Your Art. She was demonstrating her brilliant dye sublimation crayons. I’ve never seen these before and I was blown away with how vividly they transferred to fabric.
There are two processes: the first is to draw a design on paper, place it face down on the fabric and the iron on the reverse to transfer. The second is to draw directly onto the fabric, place a protective piece of paper on top and then iron to fix design in place. The latter results in a richer colour especially if the fabric is man made. It works on natural fibres too but not quite as vividly.
I can’t wait to use my crayons to create a truly original piece of art to wear! If you fancy some too and didn’t grab a pack at the Stitch Fest you can order a set from Ebay here.
Nearby I spied the entries for the Stitch Festival Dressmaking Competition and I was so impressed with the entries. I picked three faves . . .
This is Weapons of Mass Reconstruction by Debra Wade:
She based the shape on the simple classic Kimono. The theme was inspired by Afghan war rugs, Russian tanks (named after flowers) and the patchwork reflected rebuilding over scars of terrorism.
It incorporated the contrast of delicate fabric and brutal imagery in a way that was both camouflaged and pretty.
No pattern was used and the materials were mostly reclaimed linen and cotton, tablecloths, clothing and curtains. I just loved the concept and the end result.
10.4tog jacket by Gillian Foster:
No pattern was used for Gillian Fosters 10.4 jacket either. She set about combining her love of watercolour painting, freeform stitching and a reclaimed duvet to create her masterpiece. I’m so fired up to be more free with my sewing already – oh the possibilities!
I also loved this outfit by Hannah Gait.
It was part of her graduate collection inspired by the blues of a midnight garden: using wool and silk fabrics with an embroidered vine design of her own. I’m not sure it befitted the evening-wear category but I would certainly wear this outfit at any time of the day.
A little wander on from here led me to a small collection of garments by Swanky Modes I had a quick look and a read before I went in to hear Esme Young talk.
It was lovely to hear Esme talk about her life and work. I knew nothing about Swanky Modes, the 70s Camden boutique she set up with her St. Martins Graduate friends, Judy Dewsbury, Melanie Herberfield and Willie Walters. So fascinating and inspiring to hear how they set about, creating crazy one-off outfits from bedding and shower curtains and practically anything they could get their hands on.
The small selection of costumes on display included
- The Pyjamas from Bridget Jones
- Dale Winton’s luxe suit from Trainspotting 2
- The nurses outfit from Trainspotting 2
- The Padlock dress worn by Grace Jones
- The amorphous dress created by Esme’s fashion brand Swanky Modes
- Daywear from the Swanky Modes label
Just as I was leaving the lecture theatre I spied Susan Young from SusanYoungSewing and ambassador for SewOver50 across the room. Always a treat to bump into your sewing friends but not least of all when they introduce you to two very lovely Sewing Bee contestants: Janet Pool and Juliet Uzor. I bloody love the sewing community!
I’m buzzing at this point. I can’t believe that a single ticket not only gave access to such a massive selection of quality stalls to buy from but also quality talks and demos a-plenty with a familiar face or ten to bump into along the way!
I wasn’t quite finished yet. I hovered around some more cool looking demos – embroidery and crochet – before I was drawn into the marvellous space hosted by King’s Ely Independent School, Cambridge.
The display was an amazing array of A-level textile students’ work. I was literally blown away with the high level of concepts and craftsmanship. The first one that caught my eye was entitled A Sense of Place by Katherine Wood:
I loved the mossy textures and fantasy woodland vibe along with the dripping threads and natural earthy colour tones.
I spoke to one of the school’s retired tutors who was delighted to show me around the exhibits. She was so proud of the student’s work and rightly so.
The passion for their subject was evident in the carefully chosen materials and colours and not least of all, workmanship. I couldn’t take my eyes off this coat of printed and embroidered hessian patchwork pieces. So original and so impressive.
And then this stunning dress … with a ruff no less. I do love a ruff. Such fabulous colour and textures formed with well considered placement of organza and chiffon and the copper metalic threads reflected the light so brilliantly. I really want to make a dress with a ruff now.
Thank you Kings Ely School, for such an awesome and motivating feast for the eyes. You are all very talented artists and designers and I will be waiting patiently for the day I see your names in lights and telling all that I saw your work first at The Stitch Festival 2020!
Believe it or not there was much more to see and do but sadly I have to end here. I’m as exhausted writing this as I was at the end of my day at the festival! I left with a couple of hours to spare, buzzing with new ideas, more motivated than ever and clutching my bag of stunning D&G fabric.
Thank you Stitch Festival 2020. I had a blast!