Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Day in the Life of Backstitch

It's time for another dose of fly-on-the-wall fun as we go behind the scenes of lovely sewing businesses. For this month's A Day in the LifeAlice Synge tells us all about what she gets up to running her gorgeous Cambridge haberdashery Backstitch, as well as how she got started. Guess what time she gets out of bed?


"Hello everyone! First off I’d like to thank Tilly for including me in the Day in a Life series and giving me the ‘Miss September’ spot. My days vary as I work in the shop some days and at home others, but let’s look at a shop day as that’s where the action happens!

I’m a reliably bad sleeper so I usually wake between 5.30 and 6.30am. I creep downstairs in my pyjamas and brew strong coffee as quietly as I can. I have an office at home that I sneak into and will spend an hour or two on business paperwork and emails until the rest of the house wakes. Once my husband and two boys (aged 4 and 7) are stirring I then emerge from the office and get involved in the usual family breakfast dramas of mopping up spilt milk, cutting fruit and answering questions about time and space.

The shop doesn’t open until 10am so during term time I have the privilege of walking my boys to school which I really love – the youngest is starting proper school this September. It’s amazing how much important bonding chat we have in those ten minutes every day, that’s if they are not racing ahead, and I am glad that I can give the kids, and myself, the stability and reassurance of seeing them into their classrooms.

We live in a village 15 miles from Cambridge and after the school run I make my way to the shop which is a twenty minute drive. The shop is located on a gorgeous farm complex of 15 retail units called Burwash Manor Barns just outside Cambridge and just off the M11 and it really is a lovely place to be. We have the benefit of free and ample parking and a great community spirit. I love being on site, all the shops look out for each other and there is a lot of popping in and out of each other’s units. I spend a lot of my time trying not to spend too much money in these other shops!

Backstitch is a bright and airy space with a lovely outlook and I still get a thrill opening up and getting the lights on and music going. If we have a morning class I quickly get absorbed in talking to the students and making tea – the atmosphere when the shop is full of people sewing is the best. Once all is underway then I get stuck into the days tasks.

The daily jobs are varied in the shop and I enjoy my customer-facing days. It is so important that I remain the face of Backstitch and in touch with my customers – and I love to do it! As well as serving in the shop we fulfil internet orders, answer customer enquiries, restock our basic ranges and keep the shop looking fresh and tidy. I also use shop time to have meetings with suppliers and spend time choosing new ranges – our stock is constantly expanding and I’m always looking for new lines that will fit in at Backstitch and make my customers happy.

At about one o’clock I stop for lunch. I always sit down at our big workshop table and if there is more than one of us working we’ll eat together – sometimes I’m lucky enough to have friends join me for lunch in the shop too! I usually have a salad or leftovers (leftover lunches are my favourite) or I may hop over to the deli on site and grab a sandwich or some other delicious lunchy thing from their counter.

Afternoons are often more busy with customers than mornings, but if I have time I will crack on with work on my laptop – I might write a blog post, photograph some new products or work on our class schedule. I always seem to have about a million things going on at once so I have to be quite strict with myself about keeping focused!

I began Backstitch about four and a half years ago. I was working from home at the time and had been searching for ‘The Business Idea’ for a while. I finally decided to start selling fabric online and got going on a limited budget from my home office. I haven’t looked back and eventually gave up my day job a year ago and then 6 months after that, in March, I moved Backstitch out of my home and into the retail premises. The business has changed so rapidly in the last year and I’m really proud of how far it has come but the changes in my daily life have also been huge. I had been working from home, for myself and for others, for the previous seven years and had become a bit of a hermit – I’m still getting used to being back out in the big bad world! I have a number of grand plans for the business and have many pots bubbling away in the back of my mind... All top secret of course!!

I love being self employed, and it has always been something I wanted to do, but it is fantastically difficult. Some of the imagined benefits of working for yourself are not having a boss breathing down your neck and being able to take time off whenever you like, but in reality I am the toughest boss I have ever had – very hard to please and a total slave driver! But it is rewarding work. I love being in the shop and talking to our customers about what they are making, and enthusing them to sew. The most amazing thing is facilitating people’s creativity – the palpable pleasure exuding from someone who has made their first project is priceless.

Backstitch shuts at 5pm, and if I’m going into Cambridge for an exercise class then I hang back and work on, but otherwise I try and get out pretty sharpish. I love to be active but struggle with finding the time to do everything that fulfils me and I’m carrying a couple of injuries at the moment too. Currently I try and regularly involve myself in swimming, running, capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) and yoga.

On the evenings I’m at home I spend a couple of hours with the kids before dunking them in the bath and reading stories. My husband and I eat with the boys when we’re eating family favourites like pasta, but our love of spicy food wins over fairly often and then we will eat our food later – favourites are roast vegetables with hummus (my husband makes a mean hummus), curry or ratatouille with sausages. We are guilty of eating these later meals on the sofa in front of the TV – especially as it’s getting cooler now and we like to light our wood burner in the front room. After dinner I usually get my laptop back out and carry on working. I’m trying to get better at relaxing in the evening, but the work is never done, so it is a bit of a battle!

I tend to get to bed by about 10pm and spend a short while reading my book before my eyes give up on me. I like to read fairly low-brow novels and have the ability to read, and enjoy, book after book without retaining any information such as the book title or author. So I can’t tell you what I’m reading right now, it’s some period drama with peerage tussles and scandal, it’s certainly ticking the escapism box!"


Aw Alice, you've created such a wonderful business... thanks for sharing your day with us! Readers, be sure to check out the lovely things Alice has in stock at Backstitch, and if you enjoyed this post you can read more Day in the Life interviews.

Friday, 29 August 2014

New Look Bow Belt Tutorial

Just a quickie today to let you know that I've updated one of the most popular posts on the blog, How to Make a Bow Belt, with new text and gorgeous images. The pics I took for the original version of the post back in 2010 were pretty shoddy (cringe), but luckily Arielle shot some gorgeous new ones for the tutorial in my book. Yay! (All the other projects in the book are new, in case you're wondering.) Head on over to take a peek, and share the post with everyone you've ever met.

I'm teaching the bow belt to stitching novices at the Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead next Tuesday as it happens, if you know anyone who wants to learn to sew.

In other sewing school news, thanks for the fantastic response to the workshops at Tilly Towers! I know quite a few people were disappointed not to get a place on Copy Your Clothes, as it sold out in just a few hours. We've had so many emails about it that we're most probably going to run it a couple more times, so if you want to be put on the waiting list for a place, please drop us a line on hello {at} tillyandthebuttons.com. There are a few places left on the other classes if you fancy getting down with some new stitching skillz... just one place left for Sewing Knits: Make a Coco at the time of writing though!

What are you sewing this weekend, please? I'm in two minds about whether to finish my playsuit - it's pretty cold here in London now! I'm not one to stack up UFOs*, but I'm dreaming about snuggly knitwear and Autumnal skirts, so I might have to put it on hold until next Summer...

*Un-Finished Objects

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Workshops at Tilly and the Buttons HQ!

 sewing classes london

Wanna learn a new sewing skill? Fancy doing it in my gorgeous new studio? I'm excited to invite you to a sewing workshop at Tilly and the Buttons HQ!

I've been teaching sewing workshops for a while now (and designing courses professionally for ten years - phew!), and when I got my spacious new studio in South London I realised I could start offering them here too - hooray! As well as equipping you with new skills, the workshops are going to be awesome fun. They will have a friendly atmosphere, in a bright and inspiring studio-with-a-view (you can see the Shard, the Gherkin and the London Eye, as well as lots of trees!). If that wasn't enough, at the end of each workshop we will toast your achievements with a celebratory drink and you'll get a goodie bag to take home with you.

And I didn't want to teach them all myself... we've got some super duper special guest tutors lined up too. Are you sitting down? Zoe Edwards of Me-Made-May and So Zo... fame, and - all the way from Nashville, Tennessee - Lauren Taylor from Lladybird! If you read their blogs you'll know that they are wonderfully inspiring sewing teachers, as well as good for a giggle :)

Here's the list of workshops - click through for the full details of each one...

Saturday 4 October 2014 OR Wednesday 12 November 2014
Teacher: Tilly Walnes

This workshop is perfect for anyone who wants to start using a sewing machine for the first time, or who hasn’t sewn in a while and needs a refresher.
  • How to set up and thread a sewing machine
  • Getting to grips with stitching – tips for straight lines, curves and corners
  • Sew a simple scarf to tie around your head, neck or bag 
  • Tips on getting into sewing – easy project ideas, essential tools and how to choose a sewing machine

Sunday 5 October 2014
Teacher: Tilly Walnes

If you want to start making your own clothes, this workshop offers the perfect introduction with an easy-peasy pyjama bottoms project using the Margot sewing pattern. You’ll need to be able to use a sewing machine first – this is a great follow on class from our Make Friends With a Sewing Machine workshop.
  • How to start using sewing patterns and read their markings 
  • Techniques for cutting out fabric accurately 
  • The basics of clothing construction – including pinning, stitching seams and pressing 
  • How to sew pyjama bottoms, including drawstring and hem

Saturday 4 - Sunday 5 October 2014
Teacher: Tilly Walnes

If you want to start sewing or are in need of a refresher, how about taking a crash course? This weekender combines our Learn to Sew 1 and 2 classes to get you off to a strong start. Spend Saturday afternoon getting to grips with the sewing machine and practising your new skills by stitching a simple scarf. Then on Sunday we'll get stuck into making pyjama bottoms from scratch, teaching you how to start using sewing patterns and constructing basic garments. Just think, on the Saturday morning you will have been a sewing novice, on the Sunday night you’ll be wearing your homemade PJs with pride!

Saturday 25 October 2014
Teacher: Tilly Walnes

If you know how to use a sewing machine, have made a couple of simple projects (such as pyjamas, Miette skirt, cushions or bags), this workshop is the perfect next step into the wonderful world of dressmaking. It’s also great for quilters who are confident using a sewing machine but need a bit of help to start making clothes.
  • Take accurate measurements and understand sewing pattern sizing
  • How to make a cute A-line mini skirt using the Delphine pattern in Love at First Stitch 
  • Constructing a waistband with a facing
  • Techniques for inserting an invisible zip 
  • How to finish seams on your sewing machine using zigzag stitch

Sunday 26 October 2014
Teacher: Zoe Edwards of So Zo...

Do you own a favourite dress or perfect fitting jeans that you just wish you’d bought three of? Then this class is for you! Zoe will show you how to clone your favourite clothes and create a pattern that you can use to sew them again and again… and make them immortal!
  • The principles of creating a sewing pattern from your favourite clothing 
  • How to trace basic garment shapes 
  • Transferring darts, seams lines and other forms of shaping 
  • Replicating pockets and design features 
  • Adding grainlines, notches and other pattern markings

Saturday 8 November 2014
Teacher: Zoe Edwards of So Zo...

This workshop is for you if you know how to use a sewing machine, if you’ve sewn a few projects and want a bit of help to start sewing knit fabric. While it may have a reputation for being scary, sewing with knits really isn’t difficult once you’ve learnt a few tips and tricks. And it’s soooo comfy to wear! We'll start you off using low-stretch knit fabric to make the popular Coco top or dress pattern.
  • How to cut out knit fabric without stretching it out of shape 
  • Tips and tricks for stitching knit fabric on a regular sewing machine 
  • Make your choice of Breton top, dress or sixties funnel neck using the Coco pattern 
  • How to stabilise and finish seams on knit garments

Teacher: Lauren Taylor of Lladybird.com

If you have basic machine sewing skills but inserting zips gives you nightmares and stitching buttonholes gets you in a flap, this workshop is the answer to your prayers! We’ll go through techniques, tips and tricks to stitch those fastenings with ease. With one of our favourite sewing bloggers – Lauren of Lladybird.com – leading this workshop, you’re guaranteed to have a fun evening as you learn.
  • How to insert an invisible zip 
  • Creating an impressive lapped zip 
  • Tips and techniques for stitching buttonholes - one-step (automatic) or four-step (manual)

Oh and we now do GIFT VOUCHERS! So you can give the gift of sewing... or drop a hint to your friends and family when your birthday is coming up :)

The studio is near West Dulwich and West Norwood stations, less than 10 minutes’ walk from West Dulwich station (12 minutes to Victoria) and West Norwood station (21 minutes to London Bridge), with good bus connections. It's a bright and inspiring space that I'm having a lot of fun settling in to at the moment - I'll give you the full tour very soon. Shout out to Janome for helping me kit out the studio - thank you!

If you've got any questions, take a look at the workshops FAQ as you'll probably find your question is already answered there. But if it's not, fire away. I hope to see you at a workshop soon!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Your Makes!

We're swooning over here at all the gorgeous things everyone has been making with Tilly and the Buttons sewing patterns! Here are just a few recent creations...

The Megan dress pattern from Love at First Stitch has proven particularly popular lately. I LOVE the colours of these two versions by Elinor and Jenna.

A couple more Megans that I couldn't resist including. Firstly, Twinkle's, because I love the way she's taken advantage of the empire line seam design to showcase two fabrics. And secondly Isabel's dress, because yay kitties!

Ruth made a really pretty sleeveless version of the Mathilde blouse, with a cute variation at the back - check it out. Anne made THREE Mathilde blouses in quick succession (you can see them all in the maker gallery) - I love the contrast buttons down the back of this one.

beginner sewing book

Lots of people have been making short versions of the Margot pyjamas from Love at First Stitch. These ones by Cathie are ridiculously pretty, non? But they're not just for girls, as Daisy's fella is keen to demonstrate!

I squealed out loud when I saw both these photos! How adorable do Christine and Caitlin look in their mother and daughter matching Cocos?! I wanna go round their house! And Heather Lou shows that she's the style queen yet again in her simple-chic outfit... swoon!

 easy skirt sewing pattern

I love how Kath has styled her pretty version of the Miette skirt... makes me wish Summer would never end. Christine made another maxi version of the Miette skirt, and got so many questions about how she made it that she's created a maxi Miette tutorial for you!

Julie looks so pretty in this simple yellow Delphine skirt, similar to the one I wear on the cover of Love at First Stitch. Chloeti made this lovely Mimi blouse... they'd look great together as an ensemble, non?

Next time I've got a wedding to go to, I'm basically gonna copy Nicola's version of the Lilou dress (again from Love at First Stitch). Sooo pretty. Jacq made it in two different fabrics - I love how this looks! And Shauni looks stunning in her classic red version - solid colours are great for showing off the scalloped neckline and pleat design on the skirt. (Be sure to take a peek at Shauni's collared Megan dress too - cuteness!)

A couple of final things to mention. Firstly, do you remember OWOP? One Week, One Pattern? This was a challenge I set myself a few years ago - and then you a couple of years ago - to wear things you've made from one sewing pattern for seven days in a row. It's like a styling challenge for a wearable garment in your handmade wardrobe. Well, Handmade Jane has taken the reins this year, hosting OWOP over on her blog starting on 6th September. Check out the deets and get involved! If you wear one of my patterns for your OWOP challenge (I'm currently trying to decide between Coco, Miette and Delphine for mine this year), be sure to let me know!

And finally I just wanted to say a massive THANK YOU to all the amazing people who have reviewed my book on Amazon. I try not to get hung up on things like that but my publisher alerted me to the fact that more than 100 people have taken the time to write a five star review (whaaaat?!). It's so much more than I could have ever imagined and I really really appreciate the fact that you've taken the time to show your support for the book. You guys are the BEST! :)

Plenty more pictures of things people have made with the patterns on Pinterest. If you want to get your own creation included in the maker gallery, tweet me a pic or leave a comment on the blog with a link. I can't wait to see what you've made!

[Soundtrack: 'Pumped Up Kicks' by Foster the People]