Today marks the second to last day of Sewing Indie Month! It has been a great month featuring all sorts of newly forged connections and creative projects. Thanks again, Mari, for organizing this for all of us indie pattern companies!
As the last scheduled event of the month (aside from the sew-along contests of course – you still have time to enter before they close on June 4th!), I have interviewed the talented women behind the indie sewing pattern company, By Hand London.
If you haven’t heard of them before (I am fairly certain most of you have!), they are the creative masterminds behind the dress pattern that went viral not too long ago…yes, they produced the Anna dress pattern!
As far as indie pattern companies go, the By Hand London team and patterns are certainly one of our biggest inspirations here at Thread Theory. I am an avid reader of your blog and most of all love the enthusiasm and humour the three of you put into everything you do. Can you introduce yourselves to our readers and discuss the essence of BHL?
Well, hello! And thank you for such kind words – the highest kind of compliment coming from you!
I’m Elisalex, and I make up one third of BHL – Charlotte and Victoria being my partners in crime. We design sewing patterns for women like us who take creative control over their own style. To further our mission of self sufficient style, we are also on the brink of launching a print-on-demand fabric service! (Head to their “About Us” page to read more!)
By Hand London is quickly becoming so much more than a sewing pattern company. Where do you see your company going in the next few years and what do you wish to add to and encourage within the sewing community?
We’ve always been big dreamers that’s for sure! Even in the early days of BHL we had keep reminding ourselves that we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do all at once, so we started with sewing patterns, and within a year had already begun planning our next move into the world of print-on-demand fabric… While world domination is very high on our to-do list, we want to expand organically, and most of all in a way that immediately responds to the demands of the making community. Over the next few years we’d like to find ourselves in our dream studio (club tropicana themed of course, and open to one and all to come and hang out and sew), efficiently juggling the fabric printing and the patterns, with more fabrics available, an ever growing library of sewing patterns and hopefully with a few more humans to bulk up the BHL team! We’re all full of ideas and potential plans for the future of By Hand London, but we’ll just have to see which ones end up materialising…
A huge challenge when sewing menswear is attempting to source interesting textiles with the correct fibre content and right weight to suit a pattern. Due to this, we are VERY excited about your new move in the direction of printing textiles. Can you outline some of your plans for this area of your business?
It’s great to know you’re as excited as we are about the fabrics! The print-on-demand fabric printing is going to be SUCH a thrill for us – not least of all because we’ll get to design our own fabrics and champion our favourite artists! The fabric printing will really open up a whole new world of making for BHL as we won’t be limited to providing a service for female sewists only. The fabric printing will be open to one and all – be it men, women, children, dressmakers, fashion designers, quilters, crafters, homemakers, students, party planners… The list is endless!
(Watch the BHL Kickstarter campaign video for more info on their fabric printing venture!)
To begin with, we will have two types of cotton available to print on – the cotton poplin (which is already available in the form of our delicious Eloise print , and a soft and floaty cotton lawn – both wide width. Customers will be able to upload and edit their very own designs or choose from our gallery of existing designs, which will champion the work of artists, illustrators, designers and students who’s work we love. We’ll also be holding regular competitions open to one and all – our first of which resulted in over 200 entries and three wining designs, which are currently being test printed ready for production!
Do you plan to offer a range of textiles that can be custom printed? For instance, will your textile printer be able to print on knits or twills in the future (we hope so because it would be soooo amazing to have access to custom printed knits that are better suited to menswear garments!)?
To begin with we’ll have just the two types of cotton – the lawn and the poplin – but we absolutely plan on adding more! Rather than ordering in thousands of metres of every type of fabric under the sun, we plan on adding new fabrics as per customer demand. If we see that everyone is screaming and shouting for knits, we’ll be sure to provide.
Can you explain the printing process for your fabric? You mention on your blog that the fabric is printed digitally and uses eco-friendly inks. Can you explain how this is similar or different to the fabrics commonly found in fabric stores?
If you imagine a very big, very long inkjet printer, that’s essentially what we’re dealing with! The fabric is fed through and simply printed on just like paper in your printer at home. It’s that satisfying! One of the popular traditional fabric printing methods is also digital, but using reactive dyes, which although very vibrant and colourfast, need to be thoroughly washed, steamed and dried after the dyeing process. This uses up a lot of water in the process, which is not eco friendly at all! With pigment inks, all you need to do after printing is pass it through a (very hot) oven for a minute or two to effectively ‘bake’ on the dye – no water wasted and lots of extra steps needed! And best of all, the inks are safe for even the most sensitive skin.
Do you plan to offer your curated gallery of fabrics for sale through stockists worldwide or will your fabrics be available online only?
Given the nature of print-on-demand, our curated gallery of fabrics will be available only through us, as it will be printed and packed as each individual order comes in. But as with everything we do, if we find that we’ve got all the haberdasheries asking to stock our gallery, then I’m sure we’ll reconsider 😉
Can you describe the By Hand London studio? Do all three of you work in the same space? (I hope your studio is large – a textile printer would certainly not fit in ours :)!)
Ummm… Well right now our studio looks something like a shipping crate crossed with a prison cell. Throw in some rickety old shelving over-flowing with fabric and notions, and crockery that may as well be alive, and you start to get the picture! This has been our very first official studio, and most definitely a stepping stone until we find the next big thing. We’re searching high and low as I type for a bigger, brighter and more inspiring workspace that will house our printer, our growing collection of patterns and the three of us!
What does a day at the studio involve for the three of you? Who does what task and why?
A day at BHL HQ usually starts with getting the menial tasks and adminny stuff out of the way – packing orders, replying to comments and emails, going through numbers and the odd spreadsheet and such. As we do this we’re almost always catching up on each other’s love lives, weekend shenanigans and fighting over who’s turn it is to choose the playlist (which will invariably be sleazy RnB as Victoria’s choice, 80s grooves for Charlotte and Southern blues and country for me!). When we’re done with that, we’ll point blank ignore the amount of tidying up we should be doing and get to the fun stuff – this is changeable depending on what we’ve got going on any given day – we might be designing, blogging, planning a sewalong, heading out to do some fabric shopping, and always always always hustling and master-planning!
Your connection with the online sewing community seems very strong and always active. What are the key steps you take to ensure this? What methods lead to the most successful connections?
As I’m sure you’re aware, the online sewing community is absolutely the core of what we do. It’s all the wild and wonderful bloggers/Instagrammers/tweeters that not only help to spread the word to sewists the world over, but who also help to shape our patterns with their feedback and suggestions.
We really enjoy being a part of the constant flow of online communication, and I’d say, being visual creatives, that our favourite portal is Instagram for sharing and keeping up with day to day goings on. Twitter is great for quick fitting advice and general chit chat, but above all, and we’re very lucky here in the UK, we have a really active community of UK based sewists who go above and beyond to forge friendships in real life. Almost on a monthly basis there are sewing meet-ups, some huge: last year saw a 50 sewist strong meet-up organised by Rachel Pinheiro in honour of Sew Busy Lizzy s visit to London, and some more intimate – last month Clare Szabo organised a surprise bachelorette party for Roisin Muldoon! Needless to say, we all had very sore heads the next day…
What areas of BHL do you find the most rewarding? Does this answer differ for each of you?
While we all have different roles within the company and find different tasks more rewarding than others – I for one am happiest sat at the sewing machine or dreaming up and creating blog content – I think I can speak for Charlotte and Victoria when I say that seeing our little “company” grow from nothing is what rewards us all the most and spurs us on. We feel like we’ve achieved a lot in a very short space of time! Reading all the wonderful reviews of our patterns, hearing from happy customers and seeing the ball drop when we teach classes are all top on the Rewards List.
I can’t help but notice that you love cats…seeing as we have a very spoiled cat here at the Thread Theory studio who loves nothing more than lying on tissue patterns and batting pins around, do you have any stories or photos to share of your cat’s sewing related shenanigans?
We certainly do love our kitties! At my house (which started out as our studio, before we found the cell) I have two cats – one of which right now happens to be grooming her nether region whilst snuggled up in the quilt I’m still working on…
We love them, but man do they get in the way!! The amount of pattern tissue they’ve torn, fabrics they’ve embedded with their fur and bobbins lost to their playfulness… But we get them back pretty good – there was the time when we turned a white paw blue with felt tips… And that April Fool’s when we “released” our first sewing pattern for cats!
Thank you, Elisalex, for and inside look at your quickly growing company! I am so impressed with how far you’ve come in such a short amount of time and I eagerly anticipate where your next adventure in fabric printing will take you! I hope that Thread Theory readers – who I know are constantly looking for new sources of menswear fabrics – will take your hint to scream and shout for you to expand into knits eventually ;).
What types of fabrics and prints do you most look forward to ordering from the BHL ladies? They’ve started with such an interesting selection of florals: I love how subtle their monster themed Eloise print is and I think one of their next prints, Charlie, is absolutely stunning!