I cuddled my hot cup of tea outside the famous York Hall in Bethnal Green questioning why I had deserted my warm bed so early on a Sunday morning. I surveyed the other people in the queue; There was a group of twenty something boys sporting cropped 1980s wedge hair cuts enthusing about nineties sportswear they might discover inside. The doors swing open and I expect Willie Wonker to be standing there instead of a burly faced security guard. I flash my ticket in front of his face and dash down the corridor into the wooden floored hall famous for its boxing matches watched by the who’s who of the East End of London. Hopefully there would be no fighting today for this vintage kilo sale. Rows and rows of bright printed fabrics clustered into skirts, jeans, dresses and that all important sportswear my fellow queuers had been keen to get their hands on. Clothing piled high meant there was no time to contemplate, grab now or regret it later! I quickly scanned the rails and picked up anything that looked vaguely interesting. When I could carry no more, I huddled into a corner to check the items packed into my arms were worth their weight in vintage. It wasn’t until I got home I realised my checking had been in vain, a few of the delicate dresses I had collected had small tears in them or were missing buttons.

One of the reasons I love selling vintage fashion is to preserve interesting, well made clothes and rescue them from the bin. I wasn’t ready to give up on this stash of vintage clothing yet. I’ve been sewing since I was a child but I wanted to make sure any clothes I mend have a professional finish. That evening I signed up for Garment Repairs and Alterations Workshop and a few weeks later, I found myself in a light airy basement in Broadway Market in East London. As my eyes stumbled to the row of curtains made from old ties, I knew I was going to feel right at home. The owner of this wonderful place, Barley, made me feel welcome and checked that I had used a sewing machine before as the early arrivals were already stitching away.

Rachael and David (photo above) had come along so they could alter their clothes to stop them from being thrown away. David had brought with him a pair of boot cut jeans he wanted to turn into a straight leg pair and Rachael a T-shirt she planned to make baggier. They were going to spend the afternoon working on these alterations and breathe new life into their clothes. I made a mental list of all the clothes in my own wardrobe waiting to be altered in some way.

Barley shows us a display of clothing she has altered and what can be achieved with a nifty cotton and thread and starts the workshop by demonstrating how to unpick stitches and re-stitch from an awkward position such as through the lining of a coat. Barley opened Fabrications on Broadway market nearly 18 years ago. The shop was in a distressed state but she worked in a cooperative way to build a basement workshop and swapped skills with an architect and using recycled materials. Now known as a ‘Supercrafter’, Barley has worked in the film and TV industry costume departments for over 15 years and continued to work whilst she built her shop and school.

I learnt many new skills in a short space of time such as channeling panels (photo above) to thread through elastic to bring in a waist rather than using a dart or pleat. I know how to reinforce the inside leg of my jeans to protect them before they need patching rather than having to wait until they are unfixable. Barley encourages customers to stop and think before they buy something new and consider if it can it be bought second hand, pre-loved or vintage. Which ever term you use buying second hand is a small measure against the fast fashion market that we live in. Learning alteration skills such as these preserves clothes and textiles helping the campaign against fast fashion and saves cash.

Barley’s Top Mending Tips

  • Use safety pins when pinning alterations on the body so they don’t lose their place and don’t stick in when taking the garment off. Get a friend to help if it is your own garment.
  • Once pinned, take off the garment and measure it to make sure the alterations are balanced. E.g darts are the same distance from the side seam.
  • Tack where the pins are then take out the pins before stitching on the sewing machine. It is best not to cut off the excess fabric so the outfit can be altered again. However you might have to cut the fabric if it is too bulky.
  • Mirror  the seams so they are the same structure as the rest of the garment. e.g. pressed opened or zigzag / overlocked edge
  • Darts should follow the grain of the cloth. Iron darts towards the side seams.
  • Velvet and delicate fabrics should be steamed with a piece of fabric over the top and the iron lightly hovered over.
  • Use different sewing needles for different textiles e.g. a jersey needle.

In a short time my existing sewing skills were perfected and I came away with a few new techniques in my pocket in order to preserve my own clothes and those that I sell on my Etsy store. Keep your eye on Fabrications Facebook page for another Garment repairs and alterations workshop. If you are new to sewing, Fabrications also offer complete beginners classes.

Top photo is of Barley and one of her altered garments