10 February 2016

Sewing Space Tours... Katie's Den of Zen!

In the second instalment of our new feature, Sewing Space Tours, we're nosing around a room that's a breath of fresh air to those of us trying to strike a balance between clear, calm, and uncluttered on the one hand, and stylish, inspiring, and cosy on the other. Katie has hit the spot with her spare room in North London! Let's hear more from the lady herself...

Hello, I’m Katie, I’m a digital product designer at a startup by day and a sewist by any other time I can find. I’ve been sewing on and off since I was a teenager but in the last three years I’ve really made it a mission to sew nearly everything I wear. I really like making super-wearable everyday clothing: jeans, tops, dresses and the odd coat are my usual projects.

I live in North London with my boyfriend and two cats, in a flat which we bought five years ago. I’m extremely lucky to have a dedicated sewing room - something I’ve never taken for granted! My boyfriend is a homebrewer himself so neither of us can complain about hobbies taking over the flat as we’re as bad as each other.

My room used to be really tiny but a year ago we knocked down a wall that separated it from a bit of corridor leading to our back door. The extra 12 or so square feet made a world of difference, and while having the back door lead right into a room isn’t ideal, it did have the benefit of adding another natural light source to the space. It means I have frequent sewing room visits from the cats coming and going too!

When it came to renovating the room after the building work, I was determined to get in as much storage as possible to house all those bits and pieces that the hobby makes you accumulate: fabric, notions, tools etc. I did a lot of shopping in Ikea and Muji and had a custom desk and shelving unit made by a local carpenter. He built a long desk to my specifications, so that I can have both my machines out together – before I would be lifting one out of the way to work with the other, all on a much smaller desk.

He put in matching shelves above the desk which use up some awkward alcove space and hold my main fabric stash. All my fabric is wrapped onto mini ‘bolts’ made from cardboard comic book backing boards. I’m fastidious about pre-washing and folding my fabric and seeing it all tidy and unwrinkled when I want to use it is a big motivator to keep things ship-shape. I don’t consider my stash huge and only keep what I plan to use fairly soon - having regular clear-outs is one of my tips for a happy sewing space.

The room’s style reflects my personal taste for interiors, which is generally quite clean and bright with dashes of vintage and a bit of Scandi influence too in the white and pale wood. I harbour minimalist ideals and don’t really like a lot of clutter, but I do like to have just enough going on to feel at home.

I’ve got some vintage spools that I found at a market in New York which are great for wrapping trims around. My friend gave me the contents of her grandmother’s old sewing box and I framed up some of the packaging as wall art as it’s so pretty and colourful. I save old spools to store bias binding on and use foam toe separators to store full bobbins!

One of my other top tips for a functional space is to try to keep your main sewing surface as clear as possible. I find that stuff has a habit of flying off the sides as you’re moving fabric around and losing your unpicker all the time is really not fun.

So I use a lot of wall shelving instead plus my trusty sewer’s friend, the Ikea Raskog trolley. I love my pegboard too for hanging up scissors and tape measures. My favourite bit of storage are the Muji vertical files to hold frequently used PDF patterns, sorted by garment type. It works so well for bulky paper pieces!

Since everything has its own home I find it quite easy to tidy up and keep everything organised. I hate the stressful feeling of leaving my room in a mess, so always tidy up between sessions.

The room actually does double as on occasional guest room, so there’s a daybed which, as well as trundling out to a double size, also has very handy large drawers underneath. They’re stuffed full of bulky stuff like quilt wadding, plus those boring alterations projects I keep putting off.

One of my favourite items in the room is the window blind, which my mum made from Nani Iro fabric. I like to sneak into bed in here early in the morning sometimes to read a sewing mag while surrounded by my fabrics to get some inspiration. It’s a nice feeling to know that when I do find time to sew, that everything is always here waiting for me.

It’s definitely my happy place.

Thank you Katie for sharing your lovely space with us, you have reached Sewing Space Nirvana, and for this we salute you.

Did you catch the first in our series of Sewing Space tours? Check out Lisa's sewing wonderland (#yurtlife).

Fancy having your sewing space featured on our blog? Find out how to submit. Can't wait to see it!

3 February 2016

Dates for Your Diary!

Do you fancy improving your sewing skills in 2016? How about coming and saying "hey!" at an event? You're in luck! Further workshop dates have just been announced (including an exciting new Bettine Dress workshop!), and Team Tilly are going to be out and about over the next few months at various events. We'd love to meet you!


Saturday 13 February 2016, from 2.30pm 
Liberty, Regent Street - 3rd floor haberdashery 

Fancy sewing your own boudoir set this Valentine's? Our very own Vanessa will be making up the Fifi sewing pattern at Liberty of London on the afternoon of Saturday 13 Feb. Come say hi, browse our sewing patterns and gain inspiration from Liberty's dreamy haberdashery. 

 Can't make it? SEW FIFI AT HOME

3 - 6 March 2016 
Olympia, London 

For the first time, we'll be exhibiting at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London! Come and meet us at stand E80, where you'll be able to see our full range of sewing patterns (including a new one!) and chat all things sewing. Already made one of our patterns? Please wear it on the day, we'd love to see! 

21 - 23 February 2016 
NEC, Birmingham 

Do you work in the creative or craft industry? We'll be exhibiting at the trade show CHSI Stitches this year, at stand L25. Whether you're already a Tilly and the Buttons stockist or would like to find out more, we'd love to meet you! 


All our workshops take place at our sunny studio in South London, near West Norwood and West Dulwich stations. Apart from Learn to Sew Jersey Tops, which is taught chez vous! :)

Sunday 22 May 2016

New for the Spring - start making your own dresses with help from this beginner-friendly workshop, at our London studio. If you can use a sewing machine and have made a couple of simple projects, this is a great next step into dressmaking. You'll learn how to start using sewing patterns, take accurate measurements, and construct a cute dress with elasticated waistband and turn-up cuffs. The bestselling Bettine dress sewing pattern is yours to keep after the class.


By popular demand, we've scheduled two more classes with Sophia Palmer of Jessali Handmade. Use your sewing machine like never before, learning techniques to mix free-motion thread 'drawing' with appliqué. A fun and expressive way to create custom art pieces or to embellish your sewing projects! 


Learn tips and tricks to cut, stabilise and sew low-stretch knit fabrics on your regular sewing machine, while making the popular Coco top or dress pattern. Once you've sewn your first of these comfy garments, you'll never look back! 

Want to start sewing or in need of a refresher? This novice-friendly class will help you get to grips with threading a sewing machine and essential stitching techniques. You'll also learn to make a simple scarf to tie around your head, neck or bag. 


 If you can use a sewing machine for basic stitching and want to start making your own clothes, this workshop offers the perfect introduction. You'll learn how to make the easy-peasy pyjama bottoms project using the Margot sewing pattern, and get a copy of our award-winning book, Love at First Stitch, to take away with you. 

Saturday 28 & Sunday 29 May 2016

Save £15 by booking both Make Friends with a Sewing Machine and Make Pyjamas workshops on the same weekend. This is a great way of plunging head first into the wonderful world of sewing. Come along on Saturday with no experience, and by Sunday night you'll be wearing pyjamas that you've made yourself!

Online video workshop 

 Nowhere near London, can't make these dates, or just can't be bothered to leave the house? No problemo! Take our online workshop from the comfort of your own home at a time that suits you. Watch the video lessons to follow along with Tilly's stress-free approach to sewing stretchy jersey fabric on a regular sewing machine (no overlocker or serger needed!). The class includes a free PDF download of the versatile Agnes sewing pattern - destined to become your new favourite top. Once you've got to grips with sewing jersey, you'll never look back! 

We hope to see you at an event or workshop soon!

27 January 2016

Fabric Shopping in Japan

I just got back from Japan! It's been my dream trip for as long as I can remember and, after a rough ride towards the end of last year, I needed something to look forward to, so blew the budget and booked it. And I'm so glad I did! From soothing bowls of steaming soba to the excitement of watching a sumo tournament, from the bright lights of Tokyo to the peace of the ryokans, it was just the trip I needed.

Oh yes, and the fabric shopping is pretty good too. I've been a fan of Japanese prints and textiles ever since I started sewing, and I'd read a few things online about how great the fabric shops are over there, so I was excited to check it out. And yes - I fulfilled the cliché of having to buy an extra suitcase to bring it back in :)

If you're thinking of visiting some day, today I'm sharing the places I visited. This isn't a comprehensive guide - primarily this was a holiday with my lovely guy, so I didn't visit absolutely every fabric shop. I found blog posts by Cashmerette, Thewallina and the Tokyo Craft Guide really helpful, so check those out too...

Fabric shopping in Tokyo 

My favourite fabric shop in Japan that I visited was Tomato in the Nippori Fabric District, near Nippori station - a veritable textile wonderland. If you only get a couple of hours to fulfil your fabric buying needs while over there, this would be where I'd advise you to go for a sure-fire fix.

Tomato has various buildings all close together, the largest of which has five floors (I think? I lost count). Five MASSIVE floors of goodness. A couple of tips to avoid the faux pas I made - you need to pay for fabric on the floor that you found it on (I got told off). And if you see a beautiful Nani Iro double gauze bolt lying lonely in a trolley, don't feel it up lest you bring evil looks upon yourself from other customers - the trolleys are for customers to carry the fabric they plan to purchase ;)

There are looooads of other fabric shops in the same area as Tomato which are worth a look if you have any energy left - here's a map.

The other place I went in Tokyo was Okadaya in Shinjuku (here's a map). There are two shops - the more visible one has cosmetics on the ground floor, with notions and other crafty bits on higher levels. The other shop is down the alley next to it - between the other Okadaya and AttaGirl - with five floors of fabric. There's loads of gems in here - the most magical thing I spotted was these Liberty prints with blink-and-you-miss-them Hello Kitties!

Fabric shopping in Kyoto

In Kyoto, the first place I visited was Nomura Tailor. There are two branches - a smaller one in a covered shopping arcade on Teramachi St, and a larger one on Shijo street around the corner. While the smaller one was a calmer shopping experience (ie. I was the only frenzied customer in there), as far as I could tell (but I could be wrong) the larger one stocks the same stuff and then some. Lots of double gauze, cotton prints, amazing quality knit, printed fleece and Japanese drapey fabrics on the ground floor, fake furs, silks, wools upstairs, and notions, accessories, knitting bits and sewing patterns on the top floor. Basically, a wealth of sewing eye candy!

Another shop I was keen to check out in Kyoto was Misuyabari needle shop, which isn't far from Nomura Tailor. The address system in Japan can be tricky to navigate - particularly if your Japanese is limited to "Delicious", "Thank you for the lovely meal" and "Where is the toilet?" (ahem) - but I found this post really helpful in finding the shop. Their speciality is needles and pins - the friendly owner gave me a booklet all about the history of the shop, alas it's all in Japanese so I can't tell you too much about it! But what I can tell you is that if you go, you will be in awe of the teeny tiny hand-crafted pinheads. Look at the little doggie and kitty pins I got - eep!

So what else did I get? These three fabrics above are all snuggly soft double gauzes which I plan to make into pyjamas, and possibly a baby dress for a friend in the polar bear print. Double gauze was what I was most excited about as it's usually very expensive in the UK - these were all around £5 per metre.

As you can see, there's a bit of a theme evident in my purchases! I did my best to avoid buying too much of the "kawaii" (cute) stuff that is everywhere. As much as it makes me happy, I know I'd rather wear geometric prints when it comes down to it. But how could I resist these kitties?? They're on a lovely lightweight cotton lawn - the B&W one will definitely be a shirt, and I might make a Fifi camisole and shorts set with the yellow one. The geometric print on the left is a linen mix with a nice drape (and not creasy - YES) - I'm planning to make a plain shift dress with it to wear with a brightly coloured necklace. The third fabric along is a drapey viscose which I'm thinking of making into a boxy blouse or tee for the Summer - I left so inspired by the loose-fitting clothes in Japan, everyone looked sooo stylish.

The pencils print is a lovely canvas from a designer/shop called Sou Sou - it's destined to become cushions for my sofa. I'm not sure if the navy fabric in the middle counts as "kasuri" but it's certainly a Japanese aesthetic. Another shift dress with this one, I reckon. The one on the right is a textured mystery fabric, which I'm planning to make into a Megan dress.

When you find a gorgeous quality stripe double knit, hold onto it for dear life. Even if that means buying another suitcase! The fabric on the left feels so lovely I'm almost melting into my keyboard right now (it will become a Coco dress, bien sûr). The pale blue stripe is a beautiful sweatshirt knit that I couldn't resist either. The other two fabrics in the pic above look like denim (win) but are actually double gauze (double win). Bettine dresses for those, I think.

I also picked up a few other bits and bobs - some handbag handles, marking pencils and pen, turquoise fabric scissors, flat-head pins and little embroidered motifs (kitty and nautical, natch). Can't wait to start using them!

If you go fabric shopping in Japan, I hope you have a wonderful time. Remember to pack extremely lightly, otherwise budget for an extra suitcase :)