The Joy of Fabric Shopping

The internet is a wonderful place, granting us access to a miriad of wonderful things. Whatever you’re looking for, you can usually find it online, this also applies to fabric. Green satin with pink polka dots, or crepe fabric in a million different weights and finishes or in 50 shades of beige.

But for shopping for fabric you cannot beat shopping in real life shops.

There is nothing quite like the tactile element of fabric and there is nothing that the internet can do to make that a part of the experience of fabric shopping online.

When looking for the perfect fabric for a dress or skirt you need to feel the fabric, to see how it handles, how it drapes and how it will look against your skin. Seeing the colour through the distortion of your screen resolution doesn’t compare to seeing the colour with your own eyes and having the opportunity to view it in naural daylight.

If you’re really lucky, your local independent fabric shop will have really talented staff, who can be an invaluable source of tips and information. I was lucky enough to do just that at my favourite local fabric shop; Thread Mill on Chruch Street in Swinton (S64 8QA)

thread mill 2

Thread Mill is owned and run by a really talented lady, Cheryl Barnes, who has become my friend and mentor. With Cheryl, dressmaking is truly in her blood, her parents were professional dressmakers and her Great Aunt, who trained in Paris, was a Gownmaker to Queen Mary in the Royal Court.

thread mill 1

Cheryl has a wealth of fantastic bridal & occassion wear fabrics in her Aladdin’s Cave of a shop and regardless of how many times I pop in, there is always something new for me to discover.

Cheryl has a really creative mind and such a good eye for matching colours and fabrics that everything I have made from fabrics purchased at Thread Mill have been a roaring success.

The majority of the garments I create are from self drafted patterns, however if you are looking to purchase patterns Thread Mill stocks McCalls and New Look Patterns and has Vogue, Butterick & Simplicity to order.

Cheryl has will take the time to ensure that you leave with the most suitable patterns and fabrics to make what you have described to her and is so knowledgable, that she will impart hints and tips that will make your task so much easier.

Click here to check out Thread Mill’s Facebook Page.

Independent shops of all types are a dying breed as our high streets are increasingly derelict and the big faceless chain stores move to out of town retail parks. I urge you to take the time to explore your local area and find these little gems of independent retail, and shout about them far and wide. It is only with good paying customers that these shops will stay viable and mean that you actually have the option to shop in a real life fabric shop and not online.

What is your favourite Fabric Shop? Tell us about it here on on my Facebook page: BagLadyBird – Learn To Sew.

I am a dressmaker with 20+ years of creative dressmaking experience, having graduated in Fashion Design from the Surrey Institute of Art & Design in 1999. I now offer monthly Learn to Sew Workshops, one to one dresmaking courses and bespoke made to measure dressmaking.

For further info, please go to my Facebook Page: BagLadyBird – Learn to Sew or call me on 07957 437001.

Alison xx

8 Essential Tools of the Trade


Everyone has essential tools that they use everyday in their job that make the work better or easier or even make it possible. Here’s a list of my essentials. (In no particular order.)

  1. Measuring Tape
  2. Pins & Pincushion
  3. Unpicker / Seam ripper
  4. Metre Ruler / Metre Stick
  5. Patternmaster
  6. Fabric Shears / Fabric Scissors
  7. Little Scissors / Snips
  8. Iron & Ironing Board

Measuring Tape


These little beauties I think were once upon a time prizes from a Christmas cracker. Regardless of whoever wins a measuring tape at Christmas dinner, it always ends up being gifted to me, ensuring that I have never had to purchase a tape measure in my life!

A favourite as just hanging it around my neck makes me feel like a seamstress extraordinaire!!

Used to measure the body I’m making clothes for or around curves on the pattern and for measuring seam allowances or hems. So versatile it not only looks good hanging around my neck it truly is a really usefull peice of kit.

Pins & Pincushion

I am a traditionalist when it comes to cutting my patterns in fabric, I prefer to pin the paper pattern to the fabric and cut with shears; Rather that using pattern weights and a cutting mat & rotary cutter.


Pinny the Pin Dog

I became a little obsessed with the big pin cushion dog one of the contestants had on the 2nd Series of the Great British Sewing Bee, and for my first Birthday after we met, my wonderful boyfriend Gary & I, trawled the shops of York looking for a suitable Pin Dog. And that’s where we found Pinny. She was a heavy tweed doorstop with a lot of weight in her bottom, which seems to hold the pins far better than any other pin cushion I have had. Her head is occasionally used for pins, but mainly only when I have small people helping me. I tend to use her bum. Her ears also come in useful for storing needles and I sometimes also use her as a weight to stop things flying away in a breeze. I would highly recommend that you find yourself a Pin Dog!

Having said all that I am rather particular on the type of pins I use and I bought myself a giant 500g box of them. I like my pins long & fine and these are perfect for me, they are nickle plated steel and are 34mm long. They hold the fabric in place and are fine enough not to leave a mark in the fabric. I often pin at right angles to the seam line and sew straight over the pins with my machine. It very rarely breaks or blunts the needle, or breaks the pin, and I find it by far the quickest and easiest way to sew a seam.


Unpicker / Seam Ripper

Nobody’s perfect and these handy little things are a lifesaver. Easily undo your mistakes, whether that be a couple of stitches in error or a whole seam.


One point to note, make sure yours is sharp. A blunt seam ripper does nobody any favours and will just snag and damage your fabric. For unpicking a whole seam place the end with the ball into your seam and then glide along your seam, this should be effortless, like a hot knife through butter, if it is not then invest in a new seam ripper. They are less that a couple of quid delivered from ebay.

Metre Ruler / Metre Stick

It is no coincidence that there are 3 different measuring devices on my essential tools list. As the old adage goes: Measure twice & cut once.


A metre stick is brilliant for ensuring long lines on your pattern are straight and makes it easier to measure lengths of fabric or to work out your fabric requirements. I sometimes use it as a weight too.

This is one of the newest additions to my tool kit, but I wouldn’t be without it now.


On the flip side, this was one of the items on my list when I first started Fashion college aged 16, but my Patternmaster has been in contant use since then particularly as I draft my own patterns. Available from Morplan for £21.95 (in either metric or imperial measurements, whichever you prefer) this fancy ruler is invaluable.


It makes adding seam allowance even on curved seams a piece of cake. It has all the features of a graders set square and has loads of clever additions that make drafting your own patterns easy. I can’t praise this fancy pants ruler highly enough!

Fabric Shears / Fabric Scissors

My boyfriend & family all know that it’s more than their life is worth that to touch my fabric scissors. My favourites have a little piece of fabric tied to the handle to make them easily indentifiable.


They are a pair of Fiskars Dressmaking Shears and the blades are lovely and long and sharp and they have a good weight to them. I was recently given the other pair as a gift and although intially reluctant to try something other than my beloved Fiskars they are actually very nice when cutting certain fabrics.

Stop anybody from using your fabric scissors with a simple padlock.

If you have invested in a lovely pair of fabric shears, even the most mild mannered of readers should be prepared to totally loose it with anyone who dares to use them for anything other than fabric. Eg. Paper, plastic, tape, getting into sealed boxes etc.

Little Scissors / Snips

They sit just beside my machine with in easy reach and are used for cutting ff those untidy threads and the beginning of end of seams. Cutting off loose and straggly threads as you go along makes it easy to produce a well finished garment that looks a good on the inside as it does on the outside.


I prefer my little scissors, but I know plenty of dressmakers who like their snips. I personally find them a little awkward to use, but I guess like anything it comes down to personal taste.

Iron & Ironing Board

In day to day life I am one of the laziest ironers you could ever meet. Gary irons all his own shirts and I (Gary!*) always try to fold my clean clothes in such a way as to minimise ironing requirements. However all this changes when I am dressmaking…


My (Gary’s!*) iron is crucial, every seam is pressed after sewing, ensuring a more professional finish. The iron can be used to smooth and manipulate fabrics in a way that can’t be done with a sewing machine alone. Steam can ease out bumps in your stitching and set hems and pleats in place.

Do you agree that these are the most essential tools for dressmaking? Is there anything I missed? What is your number 1 sewing tool?

Check out upcoming Learn to Sew Workshops on Facebook or give me a call to discuss booking your one to one sewing lessons.

Alison Xx

*edited by Gary

A Gallery of Past Creations

You might be wondering what qualifies me to teach you how to sew?

I took my BTEC National Diploma at Doncaster College and then went on to graduate from the Surrey Institute of Art & Design in Epsom (formerly Epsom School or Art & Design and currently The University for the Creative Arts, Epsom) with an Honours Degree in Fashion Design.

I have over 20 years creative pattern drafting and dressmaking experience. Take a look at this gallery for photos of past creations.

Dresses for Weddings – Wedding dress, Bridesmaids dresses, Mother of the Bride & Wedding Guest

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Dresses for the Races

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Prom dresses

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Dresses for other occassions

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Would you like me to help make your dress dreams a reality? Call me on 07957 437001 to book a free consultation.

I work in collaboration with you to create the vision in your head.

Or check out my facebook page for more information.

Learn to Sew – Aprons – Workshop – 27th Feb 2016

Learn to Sew Aprons Workshop

The next workshop will be at St Nicholas Church Hall in Bawtry on Saturday 27th February 2016. 2-4pm.

At Learn to Sew – Aprons you will walk away with a fabulous vintage style apron made just for you by you or to gift to someone you love! (It is Mother’s Day the following weekend!) Alternatively bring your mum along, wouldn’t it would be lovely to learn a new skill together?

£25 per person, all materials included.

Call me on 07957 437001 to book your place or for more info or check out my facebook page for more info on this or future Learn to Sew Workshops.


Learn to Sew – Cushions – Workshop

Saturday 30th January 2016 saw the first Learn to Sew workshop of the new year, held at Austerfield Study Centre where we Learnt to Sew Cushions.

We had a variety of fabrics for you to choose; from ethnic Cambodian silks, plaid fabric to basic calico and all manner of notions for you to embellish your design.


Austerfield Study Centre set up and ready to go. It’s a lovely bright airy space.


An array of fabrics available for you to choose to create the cushion of your choice.


Pinning the pattern to the fabric.


The back of the cushion cut in half.


Pressed 1cm seam allowance.


Pinning the zip in place along the pressed seam allowance.


Stitching the zip with a zipper foot.


Sewing along the other side of the zip to give a lovely lapped zip finish.


Basting the zip to hold in place before sewing the front to the back of the cushion.


Sewing the cushion together.


Decorating a calico cushion with fabric paints.




The cushion front is decorated with dinosaur silhouettes.


One very happy little boy with his dinosaur cushion.


The finished cushion in traditional Cambodian fabric


Other cushions made at the workshop.

A lovely afternoon was had by all.

The next Learn to Sew Workshop will be Learn to Sew – Aprons – Workshop on Saturday 27th February 2016 at St Nicholas Church Hall in Bawtry 2-4pm.

For more info or to book a place contact me through Facebook or call me on 07957 437001.

Alison Xx