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.

GillyMac’s Top 10 Patchwork & Quilting Apps

Recently I have been researching the world of applications for patchwork and quilting to see what’s out there. In teaching,  I already regularly use a few, but I was ask to write an article for an online publication so I thought I’d share my top tips. Below you will find a mixture of free and paid for applications all for use in an IOS (Apple) environment. I’ve noted the version and latest development date, as this will also give you an indication of the progressive nature of the app.

10. Doodle Buddy (v1.7 2016)  free – To improve you skills in free motion quilting you need to practice practice practice!! This isn’t always possible at the machine, but using your iPad or iPhone the Doodle Buddy app is like an Etch-a-Sketch (for those of us of a certain age ) allowing you to practice drawing out your quilting designs over coffee, in front of the TV, waiting for kids on the school run or at sport etc… This app is really useful and a must have.image5
9.  Photo Pen HD  – lite version (v1.4 2012) free – having practiced your Free Motion Quilting, (FMQ), now you need to decide how to quilt a real block or quilt. Using this app you import a photo of your block or quilt and use the app to draw your quilting designs on top of the photo. It’s easy and effective. The resulting picture can be saved to your photo stream and printed out to have beside you as you tackle your project on the machine. Brilliant ! We use this application often in my classes.

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8BlockFab (v1 2010) – free.  This is not a quilt design tool but is a library of 70 blocks that you can view in a number of preset colour combinations and as a group of blocks. The app calculates the fabric required for a block, but not for a quilt. The most useful part of this app for me is the preset colour combinations, These are good colour mixes which I have used in other applications and for ideas for my own quilts colour choices.

7.  Quilting Wizard (v1.0.2 2013)- £3.99. This is a low cost quilt design app that allows you to import your own fabric images and incorporate them into over a 100 different preset blocks. Quilts can be made square on or on point, with bindings and sashing options. Fabric requirements are generated, however there is no ability to created your own custom block design.

 6 . ArtRage – ( v2.1 2015) – £3.99.  Built for art drawing with a strong professional development team behind it, this app can be used for patchwork design as taught by Lady Sew & Sew (www.ladysewandsew.co.uk). With this application you are able to import pictures of your fabrics and build bespoke quilt designs (there are no preset blocks). Great for those artists among us who don’t want to be constrained by traditional blocks. ArtRage does not calculate fabric requirements, but you should never rely on apps that do so without calculating fabric requirements yourself anyhow. If you want to use this app for P&Q you will need to go on the course, as currently there is no book or user notes for this use of the application. It is all very useful for free motion design practice as well !

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5 . Craftsy – (v3.3.3 2016)  free – There is nothing like a face-to-face lesson, but coming a close second is the Craftsy platform. This is available on a PC as well, but the Craftsy app is designed for optimum use with Apple devices. Use of the platform is free and you purchase patterns and classes as you want them, however there is a plethora of free stuff available as well. Don’t be the last person to find out about Craftsy – it is great !

4. QuiltingCalc by Robert Kaufmann (v2.3 2014) – free -This is a super useful free app. It calculates the best way to cut shapes from a piece of fabric, how much fabric is needed for backings, borders and bindings, as well as having many different basic measuring features. This is a really useful app to have on an iPhone which can be used in the heat of shopping !

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3. Free Motion Quilting Ideas ( v1.1 2016)  – £2.99 – I bought the book first (Free Motion Quilting Idea Book)which is packed with ideas  and practical applications for quilting basic shapes. The app is just the same, walking you through 16 really useful basic designs and then developing your FMQ by applying those designed to triangles, rectangles, circles etc through the use of embedded videos (so there is no need for WiFi connectivity to use this app).

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2 . Quilting Tutorials by Missouri Star Quilting (v2.3 2015)  – free – I love Jenny from the MSQC she is very entertaining. This application is regularly updated with new classes, as if the 100s of tutorials and quilts already available are not enough. Each tutorial I’ve watched is engaging, and full of useful tips. With this number of tutorials as well as the ability to order fabric via the app you could stay at home for years quilting with Jenny.

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1 . Quiltography –(v1.41  2015 ) £10.99 – yes it is worth it. For the cost of a couple of magazines and a coffee, you will get hours of fun from this application. Use the extensive library of traditional blocks or build  your own custom one on a grid size of your own choice. Photograph and import pictures of your own fabrics and create quilts with borders and sashing with customer or traditional blocks. In addition, for those of us who like pixilated quilts, the app allows you to import a picture, pixilate it using however many colours you wish, and created a pdf pattern for you to follow which includes fabric requirements. There are limitations, I find the fixed nature of the use of borders annoying, but all in all it is easy and enjoyable to use and has all you need to create some great quilts.

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So that it … hours of fun for you with these apps ahead ! Enjoy ! … and in you have questions email me at mail@gillymacdesigns.com.