“In the time of swords and periwigs and full-skirted coats with flowered lappets – when gentlemen wore ruffles, and gold-laced waistcoats of paduasoy and taffeta – there lived a tailor in Gloucester.
He sat in the window of a little shop in Westgate Street, cross-legged on a table, from morning till dark.
All day long while the light lasted he sewed and snippeted, piecing out his satin and pompadour, and lutestring; stuffs and strange names, and were very expensive in the days of the Tailor of Gloucester.”
~ Beatrix Potter, 1903
And so Debbie and I sit here on Murray Hill, from morning till dark sipping tea and sewing with our new fabric and tools from Merchant & Mills. We are feeling pretty special and particularly British.
Even the cool, damp weather is cooperating this week as we introduce Cleveland to the wonderful world of Merchant & Mills of Rye, England.
We have obviously carried notions from a variety of vendors like Clover and Dritz for some time now, so just why are we so excited over this brand? Because Merchant & Mills represents more than a brand. Merchant & Mills imbues sewing with intention. And it’s very in keeping with what we strive to do at Bolt & Spool everyday.
Their philosophy in sewing parallels the entire whole foods (lower case) movement: cooking and eating with intention; farmers’ markets; knowing where and how your food is grown; savoring meals with family and friends.
Similarly, Merchant & Mills strives to emancipate sewing from its multi-generation, home-ec status back to a respected craft. They do this by curating and disseminating the highest quality pins and needles, measuring tools, scissors, and other handy gadgets from England, Europe and around the world. They are a joy to work with.
“We have scoured the known Earth to find you the best sewing notions and most useful tools; to free ideas and make them physical, we are all encouraged by having the right equipment,” says a passage on their website.
The humans behind the brand are Carolyn Denham and Roderick Field. Carolyn has a degree in fashion and has lived and worked in Italy and New York. She spent several years in interior design. Roderick is an established photographer and writer with works in the National Portrait Gallery in London. He is responsible for the company’s distinguished visual style.
Merchant & Mills will be comfortable in Cleveland: industrial chic to the core. Even their super cool, black and white utilitarian packaging announces they are not a flammy flowery haberdashery. Their products resonate with Cleveland’s past as one of the largest garment producers in the country, employing thousands of seamstresses – mostly immigrants – at its height in the early and mid-20th century, according to “A History of Cleveland’s Garment Industry” in Belt Magazine (a regional e-zine dedicated to life in the Rust Belt).
Whether or not sewing is art, craft, industry, or a mix of all three is for the creator (also lower case) to decide. Nonetheless it feels good doing it, and Carolyn and Roderick want each of us to “enjoy the fruits of our labor as much as the making process.”
They believe “there is no greater satisfaction than making, it is the essence of creativity.”
We couldn’t agree more. Fortunately, more and more young women and men are discovering this too. Salma Ahmad recently explored the topic of urban sewing in “Sewing in the City” also in Belt Magazine. She discovered that sewing is definitely on the rise, and it’s no wonder why. Again, for reasons akin to the foodie movement: it’s good to know how and where your clothes are made; its easier to meld fabric choices and designs that more closely express who you are; and that “making process” acts as a salve on our increasingly digital lives.
To be sure, sewing cannot always be contemplative. There will still be times when you will need to finish hand-sewing your dress in the car on the way to an event, but it’s good to know that we are supported when we want to slow down and be with ourselves, and make something that is of ourselves, and be connected to a rich tradition beyond ourselves.
Although Rye is several hours by car from Gloucester, we are sure that the Tailor (and all his helper mice) would have loved to sew with Merchant & Mills’ fabrics and notions as much as you will!
So please join us this coming weekend – Friday from 5-7pm and Saturday afternoon from 1-3pm, and allow us to introduce you to this wonderful line of beautiful fabric, unique patterns and very useful notions.
For more information in video and in a radio interview with the BBC, visit this link on the Merchant & Mills website.