I don’t know whether this will be a review or a bit of a general happy ramble, probably the latter. It all started when I contacted Hilary at Tigerpig Creations about having some Sling Studio Punk Viv and Buzz Elixir made into a clutch and weekend pouch. Hilary is generally an all-round fabulous woman and it turns out, has the patience of a saint when it comes to dithering customers. I took far too long flip-flopping over details but when the order came I was floored by her attention to detail and use the bags everyday. The clutch sits in my workbag for bits and bobs and the pouch I use at weekends.
Anyway, this isn’t the point of the post but it leads up to the day I had a bit of time during the crazy madness of Sling It to chat with Hilary about slingy stuff in general. Well, I say chat but again her patience became apparent as she managed a conversation whilst my eldest hung off my arm and Smallest was either raging on my back (it was hot in there) or once set free, legging it, whilst whooping, for the exit.
During the conversation I kept eyeing the scraps and wraps she was selling on behalf of Alicia at Sling Studio in aid of the charity Tommy’s. In particular I was drawn to a fat, unctuous, piece of neatly folded cloth sitting at the base of the display. It said, ‘touch me’. I did, and went a little weak and wobbly mid conversation.
I returned to Hilary’s stall as we were leaving because, quite frankly, I wanted to cop a feel of the fabric again. ‘What’s this?’ I asked? ‘This?’ This was the largest bit of scrap in an unreleased pattern Hilary had. The pattern was a plain herringbone and as I unravelled it I wibbled inside at the drape of the fabric. It was heavy, masculine; the tightness of the herringbone stripes a little dazzling. It reminded me of Withnail and I, gentleman’s suits, tailoring and countrified urban Britishness. It was classic. It was heaven and it made my heart beat a little faster.
This was possibly (messaging instigated between Hilary and Alicia) a blend of wool and silk. ‘Silk you say?’ (Geekery radar activated). We both examined the fabric and I tootled off to a window to photograph it. Nubby. Nubbly-nubbiness. We looked a bit more and marvelled at all of the different flecks of colour nestled into the heather tone. ‘How much fabric do you think there is?’ Hilary guesstimated with practiced arm movements to measure about 5m. ‘5m you say…you don’t suppose…perhaps…is there a chance that…would you possibly consider…whether you….might hem some tails into it?’
Hilary’s eyes sparkled a bit and took up the challenge. I left Sling It a little dazed and nervously chuffed. It was heavy fabric but I have dealt with beasts before (Black Pearl) but a size 7 beast?
I casually (read very excitedly) put up some photos of the fabric onto the Sling Studio Squad group. It garnered immediate responses of ‘I never thought I’d see this again!’ and ‘Hackney Herringbone!’ Another member kindly filled in the blanks and we guessed the blend. I later took a flame to a loose strand that had come away when I was playing with it earlier and had carefully brought home. The test seemed to confirm wool and silk. Oh!
Over the short weeks that passed Hilary and I messaged back and forth and I read, consumed, as much as I could about Hackney Herringbone and its weaver, the London Cloth Company. It was a design that had gotten as far as testers and swatches in a variety of different blends and colourways but had somehow never made it to market. The purple that I had bought was the only silk/wool blend piece, it seemed. Hilary knows my slightly obsessive researcher tendencies and kept me up to date all the way through the process, picking out threads for the tails, showing me the beautiful middle markers she was sewing until one day, suddenly, it was ready. It would be arriving the next day. I felt nervous.
In the midst of all of this the member of the group who had gotten most excited about the Hackney find had been speaking to Hilary too as she already had a small case made from one particular colourway. This was a beautiful, subtle, blend of grey/green moss wool. Hilary had enough to make her a size 6 and she was timing our sister wraps to be received on the same day. Hilary has reflected on making the Hackney’s and I love her insightful comments.
I spend a lot of time working with woven wraps, and there’s a bit of a knack. The closest thing I can compare it to is if some thick jersey* had a baby with a piece of loose flannel** (what a couple!) By which I mean to say, because of the diagonal stretch in a woven wrap, it does have a habit of moving about a little when you measure, cut and sew.
Some weaves are worse than others – as a general rule the looser the weave the more the propensity to stretch, and the more the designs vary in texture (especially diagonal designs) the more the propensity to wriggle. Let’s call this combination the squwerble factor. The highest squwerble factor I’ve worked with was a Didymos Lisca, which ran away from my sewing machine needle (even using a walking foot***) like a cat theatened with bathtime. It’s also not easy to fold on the diagonal. The challenge with this when hemming is it’s easy to end up with a wavy hem, or one when you get lots of ridges and creases in the fabric that’s been turned over on itself.
As far as the flannel reference is concerned, woven wraps fray. They fray, fray, fray. So it always makes sense to overlock the raw edge to stop things from getting silly. I had a horrible feeling the herringbones would be super squerbly, but in actual fact they were quite forgiving. I put this down to the texture arising from the blend – unlike weaves where the fibres slip against each other, there were just grippy enough to keep themselves in place when sewing.
When it came to adding the middle markers, I wanted something which was simple, reflected the colours and feeling of the herringbone and which were unobtrusive enough to be able to overlook, but enough to catch your eye if you were looking for them. I also wanted them to have an embossed feel so you could feel for them by running your fingers along the rail without having to look for them. I hand embroidered these using a satin stitch (photos below).
When I first received the herringbones they had absorbed the slightly dank smell of fabric that’s been in storage for a long time. Despite airing out at my studio, the musty odour lingered when they were sent to their new homes!
I echo Ellie’s observations about the surprising array of colours in both Moss and Heather. I’ve included some little photos of the more surprising shades in Heather below.
*jersey is the stretchy fabric your average t-shirt is made from. There are lots of different types, but the common factor is the stretch.
**flannel is a woven fabric which is prone to fraying
***walking foot is used on your sewing machine to hold fabric in place when sewing to minimize squwerbliness
The next day, my mother was up visiting and we spent a rare morning together, just the two of us, having brunch and long chats. I had left a note on the front door begging the post lady to NOT TAKE MY PACKAGE AWAY. We arrived back into town at about delivery time and as we drove up the street I noticed her red van and squeaked to my mother to ‘chase her down’. My mother swerved to a stop, I leapt out and gently rugbytackled the post lady. I danced a happy dance as she handed the box over and she smiled at me knowing me to be a wrap lunatic.
I shan’t go into the details of opening except to say it was done in synchronisation with my wrap sister over furtive messages as she had stolen away from her desk to the cafeteria. Hilary had of course packaged it beautifully and had made us both delicate friendship bracelets from frayed threads of the wraps. When I opened the final layer of ribbon and tissue paper my breath caught in my throat. I stroked the fabric. I marvelled. I grabbed it out of the box and gently brushed my cheek against the wrap’s nubby surface. Heavenly heaven of wrap heavens. I unfolded the wrap and gawked at the length and width of it. It was a monster, but a beautiful one, and a pretty stinky one. Musty from the mill and long storage, it had the whiff of forgotten fabric and dust. I didn’t mind as washing, the reveal of the fabric, is a pleasure to me. Draping to dry 5.2m of fabric was a challenge and I willed my dehumidifier to work its magic.
So this was how Hackney Herringbone Heather, as I call it, came to live here. I am still learning about it, playing with it and it will shortly go on holiday to be tamed by other Sling Studio Squad members. I shall attempt a review, of sorts, soon.