FreeSpirit & What This Means For Us

The announcement this week from Coats (owners of FreeSpirit Fabrics) was shocking in its swiftness, but the writing has been on the wall for some time, had we chosen to look at it. Coats business is dominated by its ‘Industrial’ business (around 70%) – which sells clothing footwear, threads and materials to industry. A much smaller part of the business is the Global ‘Crafts’ business – which makes and sells things to crafters, just like us.

Last Summer Coats closed it’s UK Coats Crafts business. This restructuring was an early indication that their business model was not working.  In July last year Coats posted its Half Year Results and these showed how the Craft business was performing.  It shows the Craft business was surviving on margins of ~3% in 2016 and ~6% in 2017, whereas the rest of the business was running on margins double and triple this. Then late last year, in November,  Coats posted a Trading Update which shows a decline in Coats Craft sales by 10% year on year. So in summary, Coasts had a small part of its business which was underperforming the dominant part and which was now in decline. In this light, shutting the business down maybe wasn’t such a hard decision to make.

In the trading results, there is mention of a large customer of Coats who has now started its own brand of wool and the effect that this has had on the Coats Craft business. There is also mention of the poorly performing US market. These seem a little unbelievable as the key reasons for the business failure. However, when a business fails, you will often find that the reason for the failure is something to do with the external market and never how it was it was set up, the contractual terms it had previously agreed or the way it was run.

I feel qualified to talk about business failure, having worked in telecoms for 20 years. There was a business for which the writing was on the wall, but when the wall fell on us all it was shocking and painful. With the Coats Craft business, we maybe won’t know for a while why the business really failed. The contracts with the designers would not have been inexpensive. I understand that almost all fabric is printed in South Korea so were the base products, colours and dyes really significantly different from other manufacturers? I can’t see that they were. Maybe the contractual commitments made to designers and manufacturers were so out of whack with the market that the only option was to shut down the business.

Like in telecoms, it is sad for the Coats Crafts employees, designers and the manufacturers affected, but I wonder if there will be knock-on problems for some fabric stores here in the UK.  These stores will have created there business plans for this year and next on the basis of a number of drops of new fabric collections from Coats that we would intern buy. This will not happen now, as even if the designers sign quickly for other companies, there will be a delay in production and supply of at least 6 months. So actually, our indignation at not being able to buy a fabric collection when it was planned should really be a concern for our local market, as the more fabric shops there are, the more competitive the prices will be and the more frequent and lucrative the deals will be. Now is the time to support our stores and not rely on our stash if we want our piece of the market to flourish.

 

Dressmaking Basics : Part 1 – The Pattern & Cutting

With so much dressmaking in full flow at GillyMac Designs, I thought it would be an ideal time to share with you some tips on how to work your way around a dressmaking pattern.

  1. UNDERSTANDING THE PATTERN: Unless you are using a modern pattern, you will find that patterns are often written in a strange form of English. We all struggle with this (it’s not just you), but getting to grips with your pattern, and all the information it contains, is critical to making your perfect garment. Take time to understand it. Read it carefully and not quickly. This is all part of the process of dressmaking that you will come to love.

  2. THE PATTERN SLEEVE -The pattern sleeve contains a huge amount of information. Before you buy a pattern read the sleeve carefully. It will tell you about the sizes the pattern caters for, the size of the garments produced (there is a difference between the body size, for a size 10 and the eventual garment size for a size 10, so check out both). It will tell you about the amount of material needed for the garment as well as any other haberdashery (often called ‘notions’) needed. It will often also tell you about the complexity of the pattern and the required skill level needed to make it. If that isn’t included, the number of pieces is often an indication of sewing easiness! Finally, and very importantly, it will also tell you the type of fabric the pattern is suitable for.

  3. PATTERN TRACING: Most commercial patterns are printed on dressmaking tissue paper and have cutting marks for more than one size, and often the pieces for different versions of the garment as well. This tissue paper is very thin and will tear easily. Use Swedish Tracing Paper to trace off the size and pattern pieces that you want to use. Make sure you transfer all the marking and labelling to your traced pieces. your traced copy will be much more hard wearing and you will be able to alter it to record the adjustments you make to the basic pattern as you develop the fit for your body one you start sewing. Note: Modern patterns are often more expensive, however, they are printed on higher quality paper which will last much longer and is more durable to repeated tracing. Furthermore, the instructions in modern patterns are infinitely better than in the older style of patterns.. so although more expensive, it is money well spent.

  4. FABRIC PREPARATION: Wash, dry and press your fabric before you start cutting it. This minimises the risk of fabric shrinkage when the garment is complete. Don’t miss out this step.

  5. PATTERN PREPARATION: If your pattern is creased from folding and storing, then iron your pattern before using it for cutting. A crinkle in a pattern can make the sizing completely different. Ironing a pattern is easy, just use a pressing cloth and a cool iron setting.

  6. CUTTING AREA READINESS: When laying fabric out for cutting, make sure that you have a big enough space to work in. This can be tricky at home. The floor is fine if you dont have a big enough table. If using the floor is not an option, but space is limited, then use a cleared table and work only on the fabric that is on the table, then roll the piece up and work on the next part and so on.

  7. CUTTING DIAGRAMS: Patterns come with a cutting or layout diagrams. This would normally show where the fold is and where the selvedges are. The selvedges are the slightly bound edges of the fabric that run top and bottom along its length. The fold required for cutting is typically along the length of the fabric with the selvedges running parallel to it. Take time to look at your cutting diagram to make sure you are folding your fabric correctly. All the information you need will be there, just in pictorial form, so a long hard look is all that is normally required to get this step right. THere may be different cutting diagrams depending on the size you have selected to make, the width of your fabric or if you have directional fabric or your fabric has a nap (eg. like velvet or velour, it looks different when rubbed one way rather than the other).  Note: Read the guidelines in your instructions, some patterns call for the fabric to be folded right sides together before cutting, and others for it to be folded wrong sides together.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  8. GRAIN: A piece of fabric has three grainlines, one that runs along the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvedges. This is called the lengthwise grain. The second runs across the fabric, from selvedge to selvedge and is called the crosswise grain. The third is called the bias grain and it runs diagonally across the fabric at 45′ to the selvedge. Your pattern pieces will come with a grainline marked on them. Unless it states otherwise, this will be the line of the lengthwise grain. That is the grain that runs along the fabric parallel to the selvedges. It is important to get your pattern piece arrows exactly on the lengthwise grain. A good tip is to measure the distance the pattern grainline from the selvedges at one end of the grainline and then again at the other end of the lin to make sure they are exactly the same distance … hence your piece will be running correctly along the lengthwise grain.

  9. CUTTING: Place your pattern pieces right side up on the fabric. You may be required to place some pattern pieces wrong side facing up, just check the cutting diagram key – this is normally shown as a shaded pattern piece. Some pieces may be required to be cut on the fold, other pieces not. Check your pieces and cutting diagrams carefully to get this right. Remember to align your piece on the grainline, then pin and cut. You may be required to fold the fabric again to cut different pieces. Use only sharp dressmaking scissors to cut fabric successfully.

  10. INTERFACING & FACINGS: Interfacing is a separate material, which is either sewn or ironed onto fabric to make it stiffer. In dressmaking, this will often be for collars and waistbands. Facings are made from the same material as your garment and are set just inside the neck or armband or in places you may get flashes of the inside of your garment and you wish the right side of the fabric to be displayed even if it is on the inside.


Voila! I hope you have found this helpful. In coming weeks I will cover pattern marking, common sewing techniques and fabric types…. :-). Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news and classes from the Studio, as well as tip and tricks to make your sewing go smoothly. If you want to join a class and it is full or you don’t see exactly what you need, call Gill on 07818 551232.

Understanding Your Overlocker

With the Singer Overlockers on sale in Lidl this week and with the use of overlockers on the TV series, The Great British Sewing Bee, more and more of the sewing community has access to an overlocker.

Overlockers are sadly often misunderstood tools. They can do so much more than just sew stretch fabrics. Overlockers are designed for

  • encasing seams on all fabrics to neaten and prevent fraying
  • sewing seams without puckering, stretching or gathering on more troublesome fabrics such as knits (stretchy fabrics) and fine wovens (for example, voile)
  • creating specialist stitches such as flatlock seams, rolled hems and others
  • making decorative edges by using decorative threads in the machine loopers

Although I have had an overlocker for a couple of years, it is only in the past six months that I have used it regularly and it is a brilliant extension to my sewing machine work. It had been threaded and ready for use for some while and from time to time I did get it down to use, but with hindsight, it was a poor attempt to use it.

The machine is different from a sewing machine in a variety of ways. It has no bobbin but instead uses loopers to create stitches. It has the ability to cut fabric as it sews. Most newer overlockers have two feed-dog systems, one of which can be altered to move quicker or slower than the other, creating the differential feed which is so useful when dealing with difficult fabrics.  To add to this, each thread, and overlockers sew with two, three or four threads has it’s own tension settings. All this combines to make a machine with lots of variables, so it is important to find your basic stitch (I call this an anchor stitch) and see what happens when you vary one thing from this point.

The basic stitch or anchor point for each overlocker will need slightly different initial settings for each machine. For my own Juki overlocker, I get a great basic 4 thread overlock stitch on woven fabric, using a stitch length 2.5, no differential feed (set to N or 1), a cutting length of 2 and all thread tensions set 4. Once you have found your own basic stitch with woven fabrics, like me, you can create a book of stitches by first changing the length to 1 and checking the stitch, then to 2, then to 3 and so on up to the maximum setting. Then set the length back to 2.5 and varying the cutting length in the same way. Doing this, and recording your findings in a book of stitches, will be invaluable in understanding how your overlocker works and what it is capable of.

My next overlocker class with spaces available is over two nights on Mondays January 22nd and 29th. Email mail@gillmacdesigns.com for more details or to book a place.

 

The GillyMac Club is Launched !

Now that there quite a few people coming along to classes and so many brilliant things are being created, it has been on my mind to find a way to share more of what we do just between ourselves.  I already post some of the work in my gallery page on this website,  and of course there is the very active facebook page I run for GillyMac Designs, however many of you are often doing similar projects but are in different classes, and it would be great if you were able to share your work directly without it being in an open forum.

GillyMac Club Image 1

Earlier in the year Tracy and I were discussing how to create such a group and  luckily for me she has come up with just the thing ! We haven’t solved the problem if you are not on facebook, but the majority of you are and I will continue to think about how we can include everyone. Now, if you have been to a GillyMac Class, you can apply to access the GillyMac Club, where you will find (currently) 26 photo albums from each of the various classes I teach, full of class samples made by me, or items others have made in classes. There are over 700 photos uploaded. I know I am missing some of your lovely work and so if you have made something in a class and you cant find it … don’t despair, you are able to upload photos to albums yourself and I would encourage you to do so.

GillyMac Club Image 2

To find the group – simply search for it in the top search bar on your facebook book page. I have invited a number of you to join it already. When I am sending you the invite you will automatically get access. Alternatively, you can proactively look for the group and ask to join. It may take Tracy or I 24 hours to approve you, so just hang in there we will do it as quickly as we can. Everyone who has been on one of my classes at home, at Liberty, at Juberry, Lady Sew and Sew or at the various quilt groups I’ve spoken and taught at can join. The group is accessible from whatever device you use to view facebook – however for the best access to the photos and the albums I have found it ideal to use my laptop.

I have written a few words about the protocol of the group. This is just about not reusing photos that are not your own. Please would you scan over it. I’m sure there will be no issues.

GillyMac Club Image 3

So that’s it. I hope we can make it a useful forum to share information and pictures… Gill

A Perfect Fit …

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Bias Flare Skirt

This week is the final lesson of my first “Skirt Sloper and More” class.  A skirt sloper is a garment which is built to mould to the shape your own body using a single dart for each quarter pattern and with no design features added. It is a revelation to many of us that by taking some basic measurements of our own body, often helped by someone else taking the measurements and then going back and double checking them, it is possible to make your own sloper pattern. There are a couple of industry standards that we adhere to. For example, the size and position of the dart, the length of the dart and the seam allowance variations within the garment. However as these are simply read off a table, even applying these standards is easy. 

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Skirt Sloper Finished

Once a sloper is drafted, it is made up in calico or some other cheap woven material. At this point we can ruthlessly adjust the garment to get the perfect fit. In this month’s class, three of the slopers were perfect first time based on measurements alone and three needed adjustment along the low hip. Once there is a successful fit, the sloper pattern is recreated in card as it will be used over and over again and needs to be robust 

With the perfect mould of the body, it is a super simple exercise to add in a small amount of flare for an A-Line skirt. A greater amount of flare and cut on the bias for a bias cut flare skirt, a circle skirt, a pencil skirt with a pleat, a box pleated skirt …and the brilliant thing is that each of the skirts is built from the sloper. There are no great fit considerations for you as these were all covered with the sloper fitting. Now you are creating patterns for skirt designs that you can use multiple times

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Bias Flare Skirt Pattern

Once the pattern is created it takes less than 20 minutes to create and sew a skirt  … How brilliant is that. Now I can really enjoy finding fabric, as I don’t have the worry about fit ! 

The next set of Sloper classes starts on 5th May for 4 weeks for £85 inc. dressmaking paper, card and calico for the sloper. To book, email mail@gillymacdesigns.com to book.

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A-Line Skirt