Crochet is cool, backstitch is back, embroidery is en vogue

The stitch revolution gives old fashioned skills a hipster edge pic: Misato

Crochet is cool, backstitch is back and embroidery is en vogue– so you had better get yourself up to speed.

EastLondonLines spoke to Claire-Louise Hardie, aka the Thrifty Stitcher, who for two years has run sewing classes for beginners and upwards from her studio in Shelford Place, Stoke Newington.

“My biggest surprise has been how different all my students are. I’ve had young professionals looking to escape the tedium of a computer based office job, lots of new mums wanting to get into a more sustainable lifestyle, people looking to learn a new hobby and even several men with a new business idea.”

After spending her teenage years crafting her own outfits to fit her petite figure, Hardie’s first job after college was as a freelance costume designer. However, the recession led her to take her passion towards teaching.

“I read some articles on how sewing was no longer taught at schools, and having been asked by many colleagues and friends to help them learn to sew, I realised that there really was a gap in the market.”

And she insists that, with a bit of persistence, there’s really nothing to it: “There’s never been a beginner that has left with an unfinished project. The leap from being scared of the sewing machine to feeling confident is very easily achieved in one session.”

Her classes range from day sessions for complete beginners, where they will make a simple cushion cover, to intermediate classes where the finished product is a skirt or shift dress. She also runs alterations masterclasses, and ‘SOS sewing surgeries’ which allow the student to tackle a specific sewing task that they have been itching to complete.

“It takes a couple of attempts to learn a new habit, but once it’s in there, the sky is the limit. Having to rely on others all the time to do little jobs is not only awkward, but can be time consuming and expensive. It’s liberating being able to have so much freedom with clothes, once something is worn out, you can cut it up and make into another object.”

Barley Massey, who teaches sewing, alterations and ‘textile upcycling’ classes from her studio, ‘Fabrications’, on Broadway Market, agrees: “I think everyone has the capacity to learn to sew. With a patient teacher and willingness to practice, the ability and fun will soon follow!”

“I teach the art of mending and repair, and also alterations and revamping, giving people the skills to revive old favorites or transform new finds from charity shops or vintage items. It is a really valuable life skill.”

But this is more than just make-do and mend: savvy east Londoners are increasingly looking to DIY design as a way to get unique, bespoke items at a fraction of the designer price tag.

Hardie said: “Vintage fashion has had a huge resurgence in the last couple of years, and being able to alter clothes has become a valuable skill. Women are wanting to stand out from the crowd more, and customizing clothes or making your own means never walking into a party wearing the same as someone else. Being able to sew means being able to express yourself in the way you dress.”

With disposable income to spend on clothes dwindling for many, it is no surprise that we are seeking out quality rather than quantity. The Primark boom is well and truly over; and it is not only the questionable quality of low cost, mass-produced garments that is a concern, but also the ethical implications.

“The recession has made us look at how we spend our money. It’s no longer desirable to buy lots of “disposable” fast fashion. Many of us are thinking about how and where our clothes come from, and there is a hidden cost to fast fashion, the labour force is often badly paid, that hidden cost is something that many of us no longer want to pay.”

Something lovingly crafted by hand is also the perfect way to get a unique and personal gift without breaking the bank.

Massey said: “In buying handmade you are getting something really unique, produced with love and craftmanship. Handmade objects create an emotional attachment with the user so are more likely to be kept and treasured. They are conversation starters or future memories.”

It is not only clothes that the people of London are crafting; making your own gifts and trinkets is an increasingly popular way of getting something special without breaking the bank. Rosie Short and Fumie Kamijo run workshops from their Brick Lane studio where children and adults alike come to sew their namesake ‘Bobby Dazzlers’ – brightly coloured, customised soft toys of all descriptions.

“We both started making dolls from our illustration books we made while we were studying at Camberwell college of Arts. We simply wanted to make our 2D characters alive. It was quite fun to see and touch what we made.”

“We set up about 6 years ago selling lots of bits, but then the dolls took over. They are definitely popular with adults as well as children; everyone enjoys it and gets really into making their own Bobby Dazzler. We often receive pictures of things they have made at home after the workshop.”

“You don’t have to be an expert – if you’re patient and don’t worry too much about how neat it is it can be easy. These days, lots of people are looking for unique products. Our dolls are a true original!”

So what are you waiting for? Go forth and stitch.

People are rediscovering how enjoyable and satisfying it is to make your own, feel productive and exploring creativity. It is great to pass on the skills and witness people’s confidence grow in the realisation that they can too! Also I think there is a movement of people who want to step away from the same old same old, mass produced, badly made unethical fast fashion.



For more information, to download free patterns or to book one of Claire-Louise’s classes, see or follow @thriftystitcher.

For details on Bobby Dazzler workshops, or to buy ready-made dolls online, see

For classes at Fabrications visit the calendar at


We asked east Londoners where the best places to stock up your sewing box are, and these were what you recommended:

Our Patterned Hand, Broadway Market, E8

Dalston Mill Fabrics, 69-73 Ridley Road, E8

Miss Libby Rose, 33 Greenwich Market, Turnpin Lane SE10

Lewisham & Deptford Sewing Machines, 181 High Street Deptford SE8


  1. Liz February 10, 2012
  2. Anurag Tagat February 10, 2012

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