For this month's workspace we visited the fabric and haberdashery shop Ray Stitch, owned by Rachel Hart. Situated on Essex Road, in the heart of Islington, it offers everything a keen sewer could need...
Tell us about your shop?
The shop sells beautiful fabric, pretty ribbons, buttons and trims and inspirational books and dressmaking patterns. We also have a sewing school where we hold two or three sewing workshops a day, every day of the week. The place is a mecca for anyone who enjoys any kind of stitching and I’d like to think that our collection of tools and materials encourages people to plan exciting projects. Five of us work in the shop, serving and advising customers, keeping the shelves stocked and sending out our mail orders. The sewing school is run by Rosie and we have several lovely teachers who come in and impart their specialist wisdom to classes of up to six at a time.
What materials do you use?
We sell many different types of fabric, mostly natural fibres - cotton, linen, wool and silk. Amongst our specialities are organic cottons from India, Japanese prints on gauzy double cloth, beautiful linens and designer cotton prints. We have lots of made up garments on display in the shop. It helps people to understand how different fabrics behave, how they drape, how they can be worked, the scale of a pattern and how it looks when crafted into a dress or a shirt for example. We have a large library of dressmaking patterns, may of them from new, independent designers, and it’s a joy to be able to put together fabric and style to create a look.
Where and how did you learn your craft?
I leant to sew with my mother as she made her floral maxi skirts at the kitchen table in the 70s. I’ve always loved making things and 30 years ago I stumbled into my ideal job as a model maker and learnt on the job how to use a whole new set of tools and materials. For a long time I worked with architects making scale models of buildings which was extremely interesting. The workshop environment was heaven, equipped so that I could make just about anything I wanted, and always the best bit was choosing the materials and putting together a palette. It was here that I dreamt up the idea of a well stocked, orderly fabric shop, full of colour and texture and with everything looking beautiful and appealing. So as I grew less enamoured of the dusty, noisy workshop, I started planning Ray Stitch...
Describe your workspace…
The shop upstairs is, as planned, crammed with goodies but neatly set out. Earlier this year we moved from 99 on the other side of Essex Road into number 66 which is twice the size. Now we have much more space for stock and for browsing and a bigger workshop in the basement with a daylight void above. There is usually a class going on in the workroom but when it’s empty I use it, oh my! a huge cutting table, lots of layout space, a choice of sewing machines - what a pleasure it is to sew alone in there - and I’ll never run out of any crucial bits and pieces to delay me!
What inspires you, both in your work and life in general?
The people who come into the shop are an endless source of inspiration. I find their stories and their projects fascinating. Some are completely new to sewing and are looking for a lot of guidance and encouragement. Others have a clear picture of what they want to make and can go straight to it. Some are not sewing at all - stylists, photographers, set designers, students, costume makers, model makers all with interesting uses for fabric I could never have imagined. As we all know, Craft is now cool, and many people have incorporated some kind of making into their lives for various reasons. It’s a privilege and an inspiration to be able to hear and see what everyone’s up to.
How did you come to work with TOAST?
Like TOAST, Ray Stitch advocates sustainable fashion, wearing clothes for life and putting meaning and value into making garments. So, mending and updating garments is just as important as making them from scratch. We teach decorative darning and Boro Stitching (Japanese indigo patchwork) workshops in our shop and TOAST asked us to partner with them to carry out Boro workshops in their stores. We had a brilliant time - helping customers to patch up old coats and create their own small works of Boro-art!