Victorian King’s Cross

When I first moved to London, King’s Cross was a huge, echoing shed of a building. It was always freezing cold and full of people with huge suitcases huddling in front of the departures board. There were about 5 seats in the whole station, and nowhere to get a nice sandwich.

I remember arriving there from Edinburgh on the day we moved, and thinking I would never really be at home in London. It was just too big and impersonal and full of people.

Luckily things have changed since then. I’ve lived here for more than five years. London no longer feels scary and unwelcoming. And King’s Cross looks pretty different too. They’ve finally knocked down the 70s green shed out the front, and built a whole new side entrance with an awesome twisty roof. There are many places to get a tasty sandwich, and even a huge pub in the old sorting office, possibly the only nice railway station pub in the whole of the UK.

A couple of weeks ago, they had a Victorian themed opening weekend to celebrate. I went down with Alex to have a look, as I am a big fan of fake Victorianism (although I draw the line at steampunk).

victorian ladies

The main event was in Granary Square, where the new Central St Martins campus is, just behind the station. It was all dressed up with Victorian-esque stalls:

vegetables

crockery smashing

cheese stand

There were many out-of-work actors running around in bustles and tophats, having a fine old time shouting to each other in their best faux-Cockney accents, and accosting passers-by with hearty Dickensian banter.

The lady in the photo below was selling chilli jam from her cart, which doesn’t seem particularly 19th century to me, although I could be wrong (I usually am).

Behind her you can see a big fake chimney they set up, which small children could go and pretend to sweep.

wheelbarrow

We even won a coconut on the coconut shy (okay, Alex won a coconut. I failed miserably).

coconut shy

You could also have a go on a penny farthing. Those things are ridiculously hard to cycle, even at half-size.

half size penny farthing

penny farthing

I don’t know who paid for all this, but it was completely free, including the best bit – ye old Victorian Photoshoppe.

photoshoppe

This was a tent containing a selection of costumes (all from Angels) and a man taking photos with a Nikon cunningly disguised as an old-skool camera. You could go into the tent, get dressed up, have your picture taken, and end up with a print of your Victorian self to take home.

authentic victorian macbook
This man was using ye olde Victorian Macbook to edit the photos there and then

Obviously we queued up for this. The man told us to ‘look deadpan’ and then made me hold an egg, and Alex hold a tiny taxidermied mouse. Why? Not sure. But here’s the resulting photo.

victorian photo

I think it’s one for the album. I also have a sudden urge to make myself a corset and bonnet.

Where I buy fabric: in London and online

This week I wrote a guest post for the lovely ladies at Tatty Devine! It’s all about getting started with sewing, and you can read it here. (While you’re there, you should also see this awesome post about the clothes Tatty staff have made).

Watching the Great British Sewing Bee has started me thinking. Specifically, about what the most challenging part of dressmaking is.

My conclusion? I think it’s matching the right pattern to the right fabric. Everything else is a skill you can learn, but this is more like a dark art.

Fabric selection for quilt - greens, purples, yellows

I still struggle with it, but it’s even harder when you’re just starting out and have no idea how to tell good fabric from bad, and where to buy it.

So I’ve been having a think about where I usually buy fabric and haberdashery, and this is what I came up with. I’d love to know where you get yours!

Where I buy Haberdashery

My first port of call for zips, thread, and elastic is always Ultimate Craft. It’s 5 minutes from my house and next to a newsagent that sells Burda magazines, what’s not to like?

Ultimate-Crafts-149-Stoke-Newington-High-Street-London-N16-0NY-Image-by-Homegirl-London

Their haberdashery selection is immense, but I steer clear of the fabric after some bad experiences, although the jersey ribbing is okay (I still haven’t found out what the hell American D-Kripp is).

If Ultimate Craft don’t have it, or I can’t get there in time, I order online from Jaycotts. They have everything and the delivery is super-fast.

Where I Buy Fabric

I am terrible shopper. I’m a cheapskate and bad at making buying decisions (seriously never go shopping with me, it’s horrible). This applies to fabric too. So I mainly stock up when I spy a bargain on the horizon, like the Peter Jensen Sample sale or the semi-mythical Tottenham knit warehouse.

Otherwise, I would head to Dalston Mill Fabrics. Again, the ‘near my house’ factor is key, but they do have a big selection of fabrics, and a haberdashery cave at the back which has LOADS of buttons. Seriously, this is an A+++ button destination.

Dalston-Mills

The people who run the shop are a little eccentric, and lots of the bolts are stored up on high shelves – they literally pull the fabric down on top of you with a massive stick. So it’s an interesting shopping experience. You don’t get that online.

For vintage fabric, I can’t resist The Shop on Cheshire Street.

the shop at cheshire street

It’s a vintage clothes shop that just happens to sell lots of  textiles. This photo is misleading – these shelves are normally full to bursting with amazing fabric. Not just little scraps either, I’ve bought 3 metres there before in one piece. And it’s cheap – about £5-£20 for each length. There’s also an old cabinet chock-full of vintage ribbons, lace and trims.  It’s tiny though, so don’t all head there at once.

Online fabric shopping destinations

You may think I’m crazy for saying this, but Fabricland has become one of my favourite online fabric websites. Yes, it’s a hell-hole of animated gifs, but it’s updated all the time, and they have SO MUCH STUFF.

I’ve regularly found the exact same fabric cheaper here than in other online and off-line shops. You just need patience and a strong stomach. Ordering is done over the phone but they’re very helpful.

fabric land copy
The Fabricland website. Not suitable for epileptics or UX designers.

Tissu Fabrics This is the motherlode of stretch fabrics. Delivery is fast, it’s cheap, and the quality is good. My Elisalex skater dress is made from ponte knit I got from here.

Honourable mentions

Goldhawk Road is objectively the best place to buy fabric in London, but I find it overwhelming. There’s too much choice! I hardly bought anything at the recent sewing meet-up for this reason. It’s also really far from Hackney, so I only make it out there about once a year.

Raystitch is lovely and sells gorgeous, organic fabric (I reviewed it here), I pop in whenever I’m in Islington.

Our Patterned Hand (review here) has beautiful fabrics you won’t find anywhere else, but it’s pricey.

Fabrics Galore I believe this is where a lot of the Great British Sewing Bee fabric came from. It’s a lovely shop, but again a huge pain to get to from Hackney so it’s a once a year sort of thing.

Have I missed anywhere out? Where do you buy fabric?

Screenprinting an Anthony Burrill t-shirt with Levi’s

Flags on Regent Street – I recognise about 3 of these. That Geography GCSE was a long time ago.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email asking if I’d like to come and screenprint an Anthony Burrill designed t-shirt at the Levi’s print workshop on Regent Street. Awesome designer + screenprinting? I had to say yes! Especially as my boyfriend is a huge Anthony Burrill fan and it would make him v jealous (mission accomplished, by the way).

We’ve got a couple of Burrill prints in our house – here’s a double-sided one that hangs in our living room, reminding me to be more of a ‘glass half-full’ type of person.

And here’s lots of his prints hanging in the Levi’s store, where the print workshop was.

So anyway, this was a really fun experience. Here was the most awesome thing about it, this fantastic t-shirt printing carousel, which is from wickedprintingstuff.com. I want one of these SO badly. Don’t ask me where it would go in our flat. I just need it, okay?

You lay your t-shirt out on the bed, then you swing round the right screen, pull it down and drag the squeegee across to print. As the screen comes down, the arms fit into a special slot so the print is lined up perfectly every time.

Here’s a montage of my t-shirt being printed – the empty bed on the left, then the t-shirt half done, then the last layer being dried. They were using oil based inks which have to be heat-set, the water-based ones dried out too quickly as the colour had to be left on the screen all day.

Levi’s had hired Marcroy and Jim of People of Print (check out their website! it is great) to help everyone with their screen-printing, which thankfully meant that my t-shirt looked perfect and not a massive smudged mess. You have to press down really hard on these screens! I’m more used to printing a large expanse of fabric and not a single motif, so it was brilliant to get a bit of help.

I also had a pic of me and my t-shirt taken in a digital photobooth, which spat out four different shots just like the old-skool variety. They gave me a copy of the prints which I lost on the way home (of course), but here are some other people’s together with their suggested slogans.

And here’s my in my new t-shirt! Thanks guys! (sorry this photo is so blurry – you just can’t get the staff these days).

I’d love to do more printing but never seem to get round to it – it’s so messy to do at home, you really need to go somewhere with all the equipment. But there’s nothing more fun than seeing your design emerge after all the work to expose the screen and set everything up. Thanks to Levi’s for giving me a taster of printing again! (by the way if you’d like to try it and you’re in London, I highly recommend the screen-printing classes at Morley College)

St Pancras cake

As it’s the coldest week of the year, of course the boiler has spent three days making scary rattling noises before expiring completely. Until it gets fixed, it seems practical to spend a lot of time out of the house in warmer places.

On Saturday we went to the St Pancras Renaissance hotel. I’ve been dying to see inside since it opened.

The outside is this insane gothic wedding cake of a building. Inside it’s a huge hotel and apartments – apparently if you live in one of the top flats, you can order cocktails from the bar and have them sent up to you.

We just went to the lobby and had some tea and cake, and we probably could have bought a new boiler for what it cost (4.50 for a tea, although they forgot to serve it in a golden cup).

It’s a huge space with a glass roof and pale blue girders. It’s nice, but feels a bit too much like a hotel lobby to be super-glamorous. The bar is more buzzy, it’s in the old ticket booking office and a door leads directly out onto St Pancras.

I did enjoy the rather odd uniforms the female staff wear. Didn’t get a photo but they’re a cross between a 1950s wiggle dress and something a lady alien ambassador would wear on Star Trek.

The lemon meringue pie was pretty good

I also popped into the British Library bookshop and bought a Herb Lester map of London. I love the idea behind these. For three quid you get a well designed, fold-out guide to a city, a nice object to hold rather than a boring old i-phone app.

This is the first one they issued, called ‘You Are Here‘, which is a guide to cafes, bars and tea-rooms in Central London that are ‘quiet spots to think’. Somewhere you can always find a seat to settle down and get some work done. Or just read a book.

I especially enjoyed their recommendation of the Garden Cafe at Regent’s Park- apparently the staff are so rude and the service so bad that hardly anyone goes there, and you can sit in peace for hours without being disturbed. Will have to try it out.

Anyway I recommend a trip to the Renaissance Hotel, overpriced tea and all.

V and A Glass Galleries

I like the Glass Galleries at the V&A. They’re always quiet, even on weekends when the most popular rooms are full to bursting.

It’s probably because they’re all the way up on the 4th floor, a long walk via this marble staircase which totally makes me think of Stilton.

Tell me you don't look at this and wish for a giant box of cream crackers

The glass exhibits are jammed together in the old-fashioned ‘pile em high’ style of curation, also used in local history museums (and charity shops). Some of the objects are rather astoundingly tacky, which is always fun to see.

I get the feeling that the staff at the V&A have forgotten about this gallery, as well as most of the visitors. Check out Exhibit A below:

That date at the bottom? Oh, that’s just the 18th Nov, 2011. This case has been ‘in course of arrangement’ for about 6 years. Nothing major.

It’s not just one display case either. Whoever RL, HY and JC are, they clearly had one hell of a long lunch.

Yellow slips are scattered around the gallery with careless abandon. Many gaudy Victorian beetroot dishes (or whatever  – frankly I have no idea) are ‘yet to be labelled’. Have any senior V&A staff ventured up here in the last 5 years? Where are RL, HY, and JC now? It’s a mystery.

They did get around to labelling this small object before they left.

 It looks pretty ordinary and small from a distance, even though it’s on a pedestal. It’s actually an Egyptian perfume flagon, and has managed to stay intact for 4,000 years, which is quite mind-boggling.

The other reason people visit these galleries is for the members room, which is hidden behind a mirror at the end. They’ve put a sign on it now and spoiled all the fun of opening an invisible doorway, but it’s a nice space inside for tea and a biscuit. Strictly for members only though (actually they never check, but don’t tell the V&A I told you).

Worth a look next time you’re in South Kensington.

Roses in December (nearly)

The visibility outside today is about 10 feet. It’s misty and grey, Winter’s arrived very suddenly, and I just found these photos I took at the Geffrye Museum garden in July. They remind me of sunshine, flowers, and the best garden in London to eat your lunch.

White rose

White and pink roses

Geffrye museum garden with Hoxton station behind

Orchid
The petals look exactly like beautiful silk fabric

Plants on display

Fruit tree

Orchid close up

Rose heart

Geffrye museum

The garden doesn’t open again until April (it shuts in October) but as soon as it does, I’ll be down there looking for the first signs of spring.

But don’t wait until then to visit the museum, which has 11 rooms showing furniture and objects from different historical eras. At Christmas they deck out each room with the appropriate period decorations and it’s lovely. One of my favourite places in London.

Bloomsbury wanders

I think Bloomsbury must be the best place in London for wandering. I was there last week for a quiet amble around.

There are so many good places to people-watch in the area between King’s Cross and the British Museum – Russell Square, the new St Pancras station, the British Library. Not to mention the magnificent London Review Cake Shop, where I went in for a cup of tea and some eavesdropping (two incredibly posh music students systematically slagging off everyone in their department, it was riveting).

Tiled floor

pink windowsill flowers

Pipes

Leaves

Railings
Yellow/orange berriesThis is definitely my new favourite colour

There’s something interesting around every corner. Do you have anywhere favourite for people-watching? I have to admit it’s my favourite thing to do  (second to sitting on buses listening in to other people’s conversations – I am incurably nosey)

Fabric shop review: Ultimate Craft

This used to be a bog-standard Stoke Newington pound shop, selling plastic bowls and huge packs of multi-coloured toilet roll, when one day an enticing sign appeared in the window “Craft Shop: coming soon”. Obviously this was a cause for much excitement.

Ultimate Craft shop front

Well, it definitely met my expectations when it opened. It’s a treasure-trove. The best bit about the whole shop is this:

Just LOOK at that huge haberdashery department. They have everything, much more than John Lewis or any of the other big department stores. They also have the full selection of Gutermann thread – silk, metallic, cotton, topstitching, the lot:

I didn’t get a photo of it (I took all of these somewhat sneakily) but on the other side of the store they have an aisle with elastic on rolls that you can buy by the metre, piping cords and home furnishing trims, and professional looking double-sided interfacing in about 4 different widths.

This isn’t a shop that has loads of bargains, like Walthamstow market, but what’s great about it is the massive selection, which is invaluable if you live nearby. I used to hate having to stall a project because I needed to go all the way into town to get a zip or some matching thread.

They also sell lots of fabric:

Fabric department

It’s mostly cheap and cheerful stuff under £5 a metre. They have pre-cut lengths of African wax-print, and they seem to specialise in jerseys:

Jersey fabric
They do sell some posher stuff, like these really lovely silks which were £15 a metre:

Silk fabric

They also sell fabrics with the strangest names I’ve ever seen – see below:

strangely named fabric

Don’t ask me what they do to the chiffon to make it so upset. They also had a roll of ‘Techno Twill’. I have googled extensively to try and find out what ‘American D-Kripp’ is (they also sell boring old ‘Polyester D-Kripp’) without success. It feels like a soft cotton-like polyester fabric, possibly for lining, but who knows?

I’ve only approached the staff for advice once – they never used to sell concealed zippers, so one day I asked the man behind the counter if they were going to get any invisible zips in. He looked at me blankly and said ‘Yes madam, all our zips are divisible’. I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed with the conversation. I could have pressed my point, but I suddenly realised how insane I might look clarifying that I wanted ‘invisible’ zips (‘sorry madam, but all our zips are visible’), so I left it there.

Of course, this shop could hardly be the ULTIMATE craft shop if all they sold was haberdashery and fabric, and they do indeed have a large amount of paints, papers, card, jewellery supplies, knitting needles, wool, and strange craft projects. They even have what seems like a whole aisle of Airfix models if that’s your thing:

Airfix

Every time I go in they are selling something new – last time they’d got in a stock of Olfa rotary cutters and cutting mats, plus some leather skins (!). I’m not actually sure how they fit everything into the store. It has Tardis-like properties. Definitely worth a visit if you live in the area.

Hercule Poirot’s house

Florin Court on Charterhouse Square

Yes, this is where Hercule Poirot lives – Whitehaven Mansions (otherwise known as Florin Court, on Charterhouse Square in Clerkenwell). Look at the amazing curved glass windows.

Florin Court windows

I’d love to own a flat here (or alternatively in the Barbican, peeking over in the back right of the top photo). I’d come and have little holidays in a fictional 1930s timeline.

I would sweep out of the building wearing this huge fur trimmed coat:

Plus this dress:

Possibly on my way to Selfridges to buy some new outfits

(this is a fascinating book about Mr Selfridge and his department store – did you know he invented the bargain basement? And January sales? And putting cosmetics departments on the ground floor?)

Of course the problem with living in the 30s is that it all started to get a little bit complicated towards the end of the decade – that’s why it would be a strictly fictional reality I could just pop into. Also, I’d wouldn’t like to get too involved with one of Hercule’s professional adventures, although it might be fun to be a cigarette smoking, silk dressing gown wearing lady murder suspect.

Brighten the corners

I love taking photos of corners of buildings going up into the sky, or nice triangular roof shapes. I think I’m just fascinated by perspective, probably due to being entirely unable to draw it convincingly. Here are some photos I’ve taken of different roof angles (wow, could that be the dullest sentence ever? Imagine sitting next to someone on a plane and that’s their opening gambit. You’d have to feign sleep)

This is a building near London Fields.

This is the roof of the Strand Building in Clapton.

Somewhere in Italy.

Spitalfields/Liverpool Street.

Stoke Newington houses.

Various unidentifiable roofs I have known and loved.

I’ve made a flickr group of all of my building corner photos so you can enthrall yourself further. There’s an enlightening wikipedia article about perspective drawing here. I like this quote:

“European Medieval artists were aware of the general principle of varying the relative size of elements according to distance, but even more than classical art was perfectly ready to override it for other reasons. “

I side with the European Medieval artists on this.