Category Archives: Shops

A trip to Merchant & Mills, Rye

Merchant & Mills
Merchant & Mills

I managed to drag Josh out of town last weekend to go on a daytrip to Rye. I promise there were a couple more reasons than just visiting Merchant & Mills, err honest, but it was a hefty reason for the trip I have to admit.

Merchant & Mills

I’ve had a bit of a sea change around fabric this summer: I’m trying to slowly ditch my poly/synthetic habit and get into buying more natural fibres. You really notice the difference in comfort and stickiness when cycling in the heat! So Merchant and Mills is the perfect place to stock up on beautiful cottons and linens, and there are still enough pretty prints to satisfy me thanks to the Rajasthan handblocked cotton collection.

Merchant & Mills
Merchant & Mills
Merchant & Mills

They also have the most gorgeous solids, enough to even tempt this pattern fanatic. Slubby, creamy linens and gorgeous denims running the range from silky chambray to rough and tough selvedge, mostly in my favourite shades of drab and sludge.

Merchant & Mills
Merchant & Mills

Naturally I cooed over all the pretty notions too, all designed in-house.

Merchant & Mills
Merchant & Mills
Merchant & Mills
Merchant & Mills

Yummy shiny hardware to cap it all off, to make your oikskin tote bag.

Merchant & Mills

What came home with me? A bit of handblocked dotted cotton, some ticking striped linen, the most beautiful silky grey and white linen (I snagged the last 90cm!) and a gorgeous khaki trouser-weight Irish linen. Can’t wait to sew ’em up.

Rye

As it happens, there actually are more reasons to visit Rye besides the wonders of Merchant & Mills. It’s so pretty: full of cobbled streets, antique shops, cream teas and fish ‘n’ chips, with the fresh tang of the sea in the air. (You can see more about Rye in general in this post from my last visit a year ago.) All that only an hour from St Pancras! I could also catch up with Michelle, who left London for a more idyllic life living in the countryside and working at M&M itself. I heartily recommend a visit to stock up for your autumn sewing.

Pattern Cutting Summer School at Ray Stitch

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In a delightful case of right place right time (and a great case of karma from a returned favour), last week Rachel from Ray Stitch invited me to a last-minute place on their Pattern Cutting Summer School course. Three days of learning how to build a bodice, skirt and trouser block exactly to my size, and learn how to adapt it to make any pattern I could dream of? SIGN ME UP! I quickly shuffled some work around and found myself at Ray Stitch bright and early last Monday morning with three more students and our fabulous teacher, Alice Prier.

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I’ll give a brief overview of what we covered, but there were so many other hints and tips Alice spoke about that you’d really want to take a class yourself to pick everything up. Day one started with an introduction from Alice to her work and techniques. She’s a self-taught lifelong seamstress who now runs a made to measure business, Alice & Co. She also has a fashion travel blog and is soon to launch some beautiful printed patterns which I got a sneak peek of. From the beginning I was rapt by her vast knowledge, soaking it all in sponge-like and scribbling page after page in my notebook. Each day we tackled a different block, with the morning spent drafting and fitting and the afternoon learning about ways to adapt and add design. We used three different methods: plotting measurements onto a ‘grid’, adapting a standard size block, and fitting a calico toile on the body.

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We did the skirt on day one, probably the most straightforward. After pairing up to take hip and waist measurements, we drew the rough sizing onto a folded piece of calico, with the fold forming the centre front of the skirt and then the back next to it. (Alice explained it’s good to draft like this so you can check the side seams are nicely lined up.) Shaping from waist to hip is made via darts and shaping in the top of the side seam. Edges are smoothed off with a French curve then the calico is sewn up for a first fitting. All of our tweaks were pretty minor: lengthening and adding to the darts generally to create a sleek, well-fitting shape. The calico is then cut out flat along the adjusted lines and traced onto dot-and-cross paper. Ta-da, one basic skirt block from which a million variations can spring.

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In the afternoon, we played around with half-size paper blocks to learn how to manipulate the darts and add in other design elements like pleats, yokes, godets, and flare. This part was so fun – not just because it included scissors, sticky tape and cake making it feel like preschool – because you could really start to visualise how these basic blocks can be transformed in any kind of design you like, while being sure it will always fit perfectly.

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On day two we drafted the bodice by starting with Alice’s standard size blocks. On Alice’s recommendation (after so many years she can read a body size extremely well) I cut a size ten with an FBA – I’ve never done an FBA on a pattern before but apparently I needed one as it solved the issue I always have with bagginess in the upper chest. I had to make a fair few other adjustments, as I knew I’d always needed after making the same adjustments over and over to commercial patterns. As well as the FBA we moved the shoulder forward, took a back neck dart (which got rotated into the waist dart), did a large swayback adjustment and added more ease into the sleeve head.

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Again, we spent the afternoon leaning about how to adapt that bodice and turn our block into princess seams, swingy shapes, blouses, jackets and so on. We also compared the bodice to our skirt from yesterday to see how they could be combined to make dresses. The biggest WOW moment for me is that just because the darts aren’t sewn it doesn’t mean they aren’t there, because just like the skirt they can be pivoted downwards and left open to create fullness while still leaving shaping intact. That explains why tops like the Grainline Scout work so well with no visible darts – they are there, just not sewn up!

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Day three we tackled trousers. I’ve sewn several pairs of pants now that fit pretty well, but actually starting from scratch and learning the theory behind the fitting means the block should be even better. We drafted these using the classic from-scratch technique, inputting our measurements onto a grid of dot and cross paper. Those are then calico’ed, fitted on the body, and the adjustments transferred back to the paper. I eliminated the front darts, lowered the waist (more at the front than back), slimmed the legs and sucked out some excess under the bum. Afterwards we chatted about converting the back darts to a yoke, pockets, waistbands, pleats, adding and removing ease, and so on. I can’t wait to give these a go in real fabric and see how they compare.

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After I got home I did a bit more fine-tuning, and tried attaching the skirt, bodice and sleeve to see how they all worked together. Hopefully you can tell even from the crappy fabric and exposed seams that the fit is pretty great: none of the usual sway-back pooling, gaping shoulders, hip tightness etc, and nice straight perpendicular waist and side seams. The block provides a basic ‘shell’ of your body with minimal ease, so when you alter the block you can calculate how much ease to add (or remove) from this baseline. You do need to alter the bodice pattern a bit depending on if your garment will be sleeved or sleeveless so I think I’ll do another block for when I decide to use sleeves (you can see a bit of pulling around the armsyce so more ease is needed). You can also easily adjust the blocks to use with knit fabrics – one simple tip is to use the back bodice as the front too, with adjustments to the neckline and armsyce. I’m really keen to make my knit blocks as well.

Aside from my blocks, I’ve also been left with a head full of ideas and new techniques to improve my general sewing. I really can’t wait to start using the blocks and Alice’s tips to start designing my own garments. I’ve already started doodling some ideas in Illustrator of some interesting silhouettes to try…

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I can’t recommend Alice’s pattern cutting class highly enough. She was a fantastic teacher, so inspiring and encouraging and happy to share her years of knowledge. Check out upcoming dates here – she also teaches ‘Recreate a favourite garment’ which I’d love to do as well.

If you’ve been thinking of making your own blocks, either in a class or using a tutorial at home, I’d say definitely take the time and DO IT! It will completely change your sewing because you’ll learn even more about your body and how patterns are constructed to turn the 2d fabric into a 3d curve-fitting shape. Even if you’re not interested in designing your own patterns, you can compare the block to commercial patterns to check/adjust the fit before getting started (we covered this in the class as well). So have I sold you?! I’m off to make one more toile of my blocks to check they’re 100% correct, then expect some self-drafts popping up here in the near future.

Ray Stitch offered me a discounted last-minute place on the class; views my own.

Inspired by… A trip to Manchester

I had a lovely weekend just gone visiting my parents in (an unusually) sunny Manchester. We hit one of my favourite fabric shops, checked out the high street then popped to a fashion exhibition at the Art Gallery.

Abakhan, Manchester

Obviously the first port of call was a trip to remnant superstore Abakhan. It looks pretty unassuming from outside, but I think it’d be impossible to come away from here empty handed: a rummage always turns up some goodies. I think surprisingly it’s actually pretty much the only fabric store in central Manchester, so luckily it’s a goodun.

Abakhan, Manchester

In case you haven’t been, one half of the store has racks with fabrics organised by type. It’s especially good for craft cottons (with some especially brilliant/bananas Americana prints), soft spandex jersey prints, viscose dress prints, swim lycra, plain georgettes and coatings. The pieces are generally 1-3 metres, and the staff will usually cut them down for you if you want less. You pay by the weight, which range from £8-12 per kilo. That works out at roughly £2-5 a metre depending on the fabric type.

Abakhan, Manchester
Abakhan, Manchester

The other half has fabrics by the roll – I usually only skim these, they aren’t that exciting – plus there’s an upstairs with notions/haberdashery. AND there are grab bags of zips, elastic and buttons for super cheap (25 zips for 2 quid), great for stash building. Heaven, in other words, and pretty much worth the trip to Mancs alone for the dedicated sewist. They do sell online as well, but not nearly as much range and you miss out on the joy of the rummage.

This time I was pretty focused in my buying (like with Shaukat, it’s good to go in with a plan) and I came away with a very cohesive little set of black/beige/brown prints. These are mostly nice drapey viscose prints with a couple of spandex blend knits. I’m going to have to be careful to not just make a billion camisoles which will only be seasonally appropriate for another month, so perhaps some sleeved tees and dresses are in order. I can’t wait to get sewing. Oh and my bill for this lot, about 8m of fabric – under 25 quid. My mum and my sister also bought fabrics for me to make things for them. Eek!

Afterwards, I was quite inspired by a nose in Urban Outfitters on Market Street. I hardly ever go into high street stores these days (though I still browse for sewspiration online) but it was nice to go and soak up some ideas for how to use my new fabrics. Here are some things that caught my eye.

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I’m still into playsuits in a big way, and the neckline cut outs here remind me of the Deer and Doe Datura. *plots pattern mashup*

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A slightly grungy button up skirt with lace trim. I did actually buy a dress with trim like this recently because I had some store credit, and I want to make a ton of copies. I think little details like buttons and lace trims help to make me-mades look a bit more rtw, and they don’t take long to do.

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A few variations on the cami/babydoll dress. I’m going to self-draft my own dream version – so much scope for fun strap placements and skirt options.

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Oversize roll-back sleeve Scout? Yup please.

Manchester art gallery

Finally, we popped to the Manchester Art Gallery, where coincidentally there was a temporary show called Cotton Couture, displaying a range of 1950s garments commissioned by the Cotton Board to promote the area’s cotton production and show its versatility as a fibre.

Manchester art gallery
Manchester art gallery
Manchester art gallery

The aim was to show that cotton can be used for everything from suits to ballgowns, not just the traditional workwear and undergarments. All these samples have an 18″ waist by the way, to fit the models of the time – JEEZ. All in all a lovely trip with plenty of sewing inspiration fuel.

Minerva meetup & my Tarzan Vogue 1289

Minerva meetup

I’ve held off from blogging more about the big Minerva Crafts meetup weekend – it was two weeks ago now, but it’s my time now to reveal my party dress so I can share my other photos too. As I’m sure you can imagine with so many sewists (and fabric) around, it was a riot of fun.

Minerva meetup

The day event was held at Minerva HQ. It was a treat to browse all their fabrics in person and even more so to catch up with all the bloggers and some local sewists too. Obviously I didn’t come home empty-handed: I picked up some grey slubby viscose jersey (I think it’s this one), a beautiful soft and stretchy mid blue denim, and some amazing PU-coated black jersey which I’m going to use for a skater skirt and maybe some slouchy trousers.

Minerva meetup
Minerva meetup

In the evening we had a fabulous meal at Blackburn Rovers FC(!) followed by dancing away til gone 2. A bunch of sleepy but happy Spoolettes trundled back to London on the train the next day. (Somehow Nicole and I found the energy to make a quick detour to Abakhan in Manchester for MORE fabric. Carrying it home was my penance.)

Minerva meetup

So here’s my dress for the evening do, in the glamorous location of the Premier Inn car park. Gosh, I look really short as well. Really should have gone for height over comfort in my footwear.

Minerva meetup

Trying a Rachel signature pose in her absence – hmm no, doesn’t really help.

Vogue 1289

Meaty construction details ahead… As I mentioned, after the fail of my first project I thought carefully about the kind of dress I’d usually pick to wear to such an event, which led me to Vogue 1289, a Pamella Roland design from 2012. It was a bit risky going into slightly unchartered territory as I’d only made one Vogue pattern before and could only find one other version of this dress on the internet. But I was pretty sure that the style and silhouette would work on me and I picked quite a forgiving fabric to work with, so luckily the gamble paid off.

Vogue 1289

And the fabric, ah, this is what I’d call a hidden Minerva gem. A crepe satin with slight stretch and a slinky abstract print in my favourite sludgy colours. And get this – it’s £2.39 a metre! (I’m slightly tickled that the pattern and thread for this dress cost way more than the fabric itself.) I’m buying up some more before it all goes – it comes in a couple of other great neutral colourways too. I call this my Tarzan dress because in retrospect the dappled green print together with the draped shoulder gave off that vibe – grey might have been a more subdued choice. It was really great to work with, with that typical grippiness that comes with a crepe weave so despite looking slinky it’s not too slippery.

Vogue 1289

The most time consuming part of this pattern is definitely the cutting and marking stage. There are 13 pieces to cut and all those pleat placements to carefully transfer. I cut the lining from self fabric too so made sure to carefully label all my pieces so I didn’t get mixed up. I didn’t have time to toile (risky!) but did a lot of basting and trying on throughout construction to check that the drape and fit were working out ok. It’s not a difficult dress to sew overall and the instructions are excellent.

Vogue 1289

The drafting is pretty amazing as well. The front bodice lining pieces have princess-seamed ‘cups’ over which the bias-cut outer fabric loosely flows. This gives a bit of interior support (meaning I could go braless) while not ruining the fluidity from the outside: a very clever element I have not seen before The skirt – cut in one single wide piece – has deep pleats in the opposite direction to the bodice, giving a lovely flattering drape across the hips. Luckily I didn’t have to make many fitting adjustments as I went along, just 1″ off the bodice length plus taking some length off the skinny strap. The pattern recommends you fully interface all the bodice lining pieces, but I wanted a softer drapier effect so left it off.

Vogue 1289

I did a blind hem on both the skirt and lining – the pattern recommends a baby rolled hem, but I didn’t want to come unstuck at the last hurdle so used a technique I know I can do well! I used a matching green silk thread which completely disappears into the print. I gave the hem an extra spritz of spray starch when pressing it to get a nice crisp edge. I only realised later that I’ve hemmed it inside-out – my brain was obviously shutting down by this point.

Vogue 1289

Because of the fabric’s stretch I was able to leave out the back zip completely – I breathed a big sigh of relief when I realised this because fitting the zip is where this type of project always goes awry for me. As you can see I didn’t try any clever pattern matching or placement at all, which I think is fine in such a random print – except I really wish I’d placed the front bodice with the pattern falling inwards, ie in the same direction as the pleats instead of diagonally across them. That’s driving me a bit crazy, and I didn’t have enough fabric left to re-cut it.

Overall though, I was really happy with how this dress turned out. It was really fun to step up to the challenge of making it and I’m glad I had such a great occasion (with such fun company) to wear it to. Be sure to check out everyone else’s dresses on the Minerva blog.

Fabric shopping in Ecuador

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Do you love my completely random fabric shopping guides? New York, London, Tel Aviv and now Ecuador. I was honestly half-joking about being able to fabric shop on my recent trip: I know the country is renowned for textiles and yarns, but I wasn’t expecting modern fabric shops. And definitely not a five-minute stroll from my Quito hotel! I think I’m developing fabric-whispering powers, which is excellent news.

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First shopping stop was in Quito’s old town, just south of Plaza San Francisco where my hotel was. I spied at least 8-10 fabric and notion stores in the couple of blocks flanked by Venezuela and Bolivar streets. I tried to drag my tour guide into them but he wasn’t having any of it, so luckily I managed to navigate myself back there later in the day.

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Some have higher-end suiting and cashmeres (which are reasonably priced here due to the native alpaca). Some, interestingly, combine a RTW clothing section with fabrics and yarns which I haven’t seen before.

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The stock and prices of most shops are similar, and quite low – $4-8 a metre for most fabrics (the dollar here is the same as $USD so that’s £2.50-4.50). There seemed to be an especially great range of two things I struggle to find at home: interesting cross-woven solids and delicious dress-weight prints.

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Just look at them all! Heart-eye-emoji overboard. Luckily my very poor Spanish at least amounted to ‘how much is this’ and ‘two metres please’ so I was able to make some purchases.

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I’m really pleased with what I brought home:
– two chiffon prints that are dead ringers for the gorgeous fabrics I’ve been drooling over at Anna Ka Bazaar. It’s so hard to find these kinds of subtle graphic prints, and the same shop had a crapload more lovely ones. I was very restrained, especially at only $4.50/m.
– a wine-coloured floral gauzy knit that I bought specifically to recreate a favourite RTW tee (the one I’m wearing here). I’ve made this already!
– two lovely solids for more trousers: a poly crepe with lighter strands woven in so it looks like denim – I’m picturing slouchy boyfriend jean type things; and some grey/brown stretchy denim for another pair of jeans. Both around $8/m.

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My second fabric shop stop was the market in the town of Otavalo, about 50 miles north of Quito where we stopped on my last full day. The market was huuuge: it sprawled over 5 or 6 square blocks, centred around a packed plaza.

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Amongst the spices, fruit and veg, tourist tat and wood and leather goods are tons of Andean textile stalls…

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… piles of beautiful brightly-coloured alpaca yarn…

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…and these plain fabrics edged with pretty border embroidery, which the indigenous women use as a wrap skirt. There were also a couple of fabric stores which spilled their remnant pieces onto the street to rummage through.

Otavalo

From Otavalo I bought:
– a piece of border-embroidered cotton: this was a bit steep at $11 (haggled down from 15) but it feels like a very nice quality heavy cotton twill, so I think it’ll make a great pair of shorts.
– a remnant piece of gauzy printed cotton for $1. This has blocks of lots of patterns giving a quilting-type effect, so I might make a no-effort bed quilt from it.
– two woven Andean blankets/throws, $12 for both. I’d really like some shorts or a skirt from one of these but they’re a little thick and narrow – perhaps combined with another fabric.
– a woven trimming/ribbon: the indigenous women use these to wrap around their hair. I saw the ladies making these in the market with tiny looms, so it’s nice to know it’s a genuine handcraft. It may become an edging for a top.

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I also had to buy this bag to bring all my loot home!

Ecuador

If you’re interested in the non-fabric shop parts of Quito too by the way, you can have a read on my other blog.

Shopping for Liberty at Shaukat

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In the absence of any new garment posts, I thought I’d share some pics of the little fabric-buying excursion I took to Shaukat a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure if you’re a Liberty fabric fan you’ve already seen their website: they offer current and past season Liberty prints at a significant discount to the prices you’d pay in Liberty itself.

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Their range is pretty darn comprehensive, with some more unusual Liberty fabrics like twill and jersey sitting alongside a massive range of the classic Tana Lawns. My finger’s been hovering over the buy button on their site for ages, but last week I made a pilgrimage to the actual store to stroke some fabrics in person. (I was in that part of town seeing the V&A’s wedding dresses show, well worth a visit for sewing geek-outs too.)

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Upstairs are the twills, poplins and craft cottons. There are also quite a lot of non-Liberty fabrics, including dress-weight prints and plain jerseys.

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I was wondering where all the lawns were, until the older man on the till pointed me to the stairs at the back. The first thing you see is a wall full of long bolts of the classic florals. Not really my cuppa though, so I pressed on.

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It was at this point I started having fabric-buying palpitations! Wall after wall covered in shelf after shelf of perfect prints. Shorter bolts near the back have past-season designs, and there are lots of pre-cut pieces of yardage.

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To the front are the crepe de chines and silk cottons. Pettably soft and beautiful. On the left are jerseys, cords and stretch poplins.

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Magical corridors and nooks stuffed full of the stuff dreams are made of. It was literally like being in a fabric cave!

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Remnants, so tempting to dive in and rummage through.

So what came home with me?…

Shaukat

I’d really thought beforehand about what I wanted to buy (the wishlist feature on the Shaukat site was a useful tool to keep me focused on what to look out for) and especially since it’s Me-Made May I wanted some fabrics that I could use to make real everyday clothes, rather than fancy ditsy blouses or occasion dresses. So I bought the horse-print twill to make some trousers, likely my third pair of Burda 7017s. This is a fairly heavy twill with no stretch – they also do a cotton/elastane twill that’s a bit lighter, but not in this print. I just love that this print is kind of surreal but also really subtle – you can’t really see it from a distance. Secondly, a jersey which I can’t seem to find on the site now. I love the mustardy colour and subtle African wax-type print; this’ll make a great day dress. Plus two classic tana lawns: the Graham Coxon-designed ‘A Boy Dreams‘ from the 2011 Liberty Rocks collection, and ‘Shavings and Sharpenings‘, a sweet print of pencils and sharpenings. I love how it looks abstract from a distance and the colours are lovely.

The pricing was basically £17 a metre for everything, even though I had a mix of twill, jersey, and lawn. Seeing as lawns are £22 and jerseys £32 in Liberty itself that represents a significant saving! So I feel okay about spending over 100 quid, ahem. Not bad for four will-be new garments though, not to mention the pleasure I’ll get from sewing them.

So would I recommend a visit to Shaukat? Overall, HELL YES, but here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Do your research first: have a look through their site and try to be focused on what you want to look for, or you might just end up wandering round in a daze
  • Nothing is really labelled with either fabric type or price, so you may have to buy ‘blind’ or risk asking for help – see below
  • Don’t go expecting friendly, helpful service. The staff are hardly the most welcoming bunch I’ve come across, borderline a bit hostile and rude (especially to other lower staff members, in front of customers!). I didn’t really feel comfortable asking for help. Though there are ample people to cut for you so I wasn’t left hanging around.
  • I think it’s especially a worth a visit if you’re interested in seeing how the vast array of prints look in person (the colours are not very accurate on the Shaukat site, fyi) or if you’re interested in any of the more speciality fabric types. If you just have a few specific lawns you’d like I would order online instead, but…
  • …do bear in mind the prices on the website do not include VAT or P&P, so 2m of lawn at £14.25 actually costs £36.60 in total from the site. You’ll see the actual total after you enter your billing address.

Right, better get sewing…