Guide to London Sewing

A Sewing-Geek’s Guide To London. Part 1: Exhibitions and Museums

I’ve recently been on a long weekend to London. I go there relatively often – about 3-4 times a year. It’s a great place to gather inspiration, meet international sewing friends (it seems like it’s easy enough to go to London, no matter where you’re from, but rather hard to go find the way to Copenhagen ;-)) and to find great fabric.

This time around I was busy going to fabric stores, sewing class stores (yep! It’s a thing!,) meet-ups, pubs and museums. And then of course there was also the usual miscellaneous shopping and quite a bit of tea-drinking.

As I’ve been in London as a sewing tourist quite a lot of times now, I realized that I must be qualified to write a guide for other sewing geeks going there. As a disclaimer I just want to say that this is by no means a complete list of all the sewing related stuff you can do in London. There is most definitely many more shows, shops and interesting places than those I mention in this guide.

But here’s my version of:

A Sewing-Geek’s Guide To London!

Yes, yes. I know you want to find out about fabric stores where you can find fabulous and/or cheap fabric. And there are plenty of those. I’ll get to them in the next part of the guide.

But before we begin on the shopping, let’s look at other stuff you can have fun with – and get inspired by – in London.

 

Musuems and Exhibitions:

 

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London, SW7 2RL
Take the tube to South Kensington (District, Circle & Picadilly). From here there is a tunnel from which you enter the museum directly.
Open:
Daily: 10 – 5.45 pm
Friday: 10 – 11 pm (I haven’t tried going Friday evening yet. But I have heard it’s great – we’re talking music, bar, etc. – and it’s on my list for next time I’m in town.)
Free admission

Museum London sewing guide

The main entrance of the museum
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

V & A (as it is affectionately know as) is a design- and arts museum in the museum area south of Kensington Gardens. It’s huge and there are so many things to see there. I recommend that you take a look at the website to check out if there are any small free special exhibitions (for instance right now they have a temporary exhibition of sewing tools). Admission is free but nobody minds if you place a donation of 4 pounds in the donation boxed…

Besides V & A’s extensive exhibitions on European cultural history, art and textiles, (+ a rather large Asian collection) they also have a large permanent fashion exhibition + temporary fashion related shows. For the temporary fashion exhibitions you need a special admission ticket at about 12 £ – it’s worth every penny!

The permanent fashion exhibition shows garments from the last 500 years – up to around 2001 at the moment. The items of the exhibition are changed from time to time, so that you always have something new to look at. The exhibition consists of both  chronologically placed montres which allows you to disover the evolution of fashion and even in many cases the evolution of the construction, as you are able to see the inside details of many of the garments, as well as several theme displays.

London fashion guide

From the chronological exhibition – here inspired by a 1950’s Vogue

 

sewing guide london

Theme display on Rainwear in London. The theme displays change regularly

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear is the current (until 12 March 2017) special exhibition about underwear. I am most definitely going to see that (it opened the day after I left this time around) it looks very interesting. Here are some press pictures from the exhibition:

 

Undressed Exhibition 13/04/2016

Undressed Exhibition 13/04/2016

 

Undressed Exhibition 13/04/2016

Undressed Exhibition 13/04/2016

V&A also has a lot of shops placed around the museum. Here you can find books, sewing tools, notions and quaint little things like this thimble shaped pen holder, I just had to have…

guide London sewing books

Thimble shaped pen holder. I had to get that one. .. And I always find a lot of inspirational books as well….

 

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace
In Kensington Gardens
Tag tuben til Queensway (Central) eller Notting Hill Gate (Central, District or Circle)
Open daily 10 – 6 pm
Admission: Adults 18£, kids under 16 free

London guide kensington palace

View towards the East Front. (c) Historic Royal Palaces

Kensington Palace is – and has been- home to many of the British royal family. Will and Kate are living there at the moment, but a large part of the castle is open to the public with several exhibitions. Besides the castle, there is a fabulous garden that you can have a nice walk in and the lovely Orangery where lunch and high Tea is served.

You can walk around the castle, see the old apartments and learn about court life in the 17th century (did you know, for instance, that at that time, when you were at the court, you didn’t just go to the bathroom. Instead you had a “discreet” elongated bowl which you just stepped over, and then did what you had to do, right there in the middle of all the other court people…). And then you can pretend that you are a posh lady before you move on to the exhibitions…

guide london kensington palace

Crazy people, those posh 17th century ladies…

 

Fashion Rules – restyled

The Fashion Rules exhibition is an exhibition of some of the dresses of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. The dresses are displayed thematically and are accompanied by original designer sketches and photos. It’s a beautiful exhibition where you get a very close look at the couture dresses and the thoughts behind each design.

Colour has many symbolic associations and can reflect a variety of emotions. Royal women have used colour to make a strong visual statement and to communicate specific ideas. They have worn black for sombre occasions or mourning, national colours for state visits abroad or ivory, silver and gold for special events such as the state opening of Parliament. The designer Norman Hartnell said ‘unusual and light clear tones are the favourite colours for ladies of the Royal Family, for they must stand out, yet be distinguishable in a subtle and dignified way.’ Used in this way, colour could set the scene. Princess Margaret looked every inch a fairy tale princess in white silk chiffon. Diana, Princess of Wales lit up a red carpet in a startling green gown by Catherine Walker. The overall impact of colour became even more important from 1960s when newspapers such as The Sunday Times began to print colour supplements.(c) Historic Royal Palaces

Colour has many symbolic associations and can reflect a variety of emotions. Royal women have used colour to make a strong visual statement and to communicate specific ideas. They have worn black for sombre occasions or mourning, national colours for state visits abroad or ivory, silver and gold for special events such as the state opening of Parliament.

The designer Norman Hartnell said ‘unusual and light clear tones are the favourite colours for ladies of the Royal Family, for they must stand out, yet be distinguishable in a subtle and dignified way.’ Used in this way, colour could set the scene. Princess Margaret looked every inch a fairy tale princess in white silk chiffon. Diana, Princess of Wales lit up a red carpet in a startling green gown by Catherine Walker. The overall impact of colour became even more important from 1960s when newspapers such as The Sunday Times began to print colour supplements.

(c) Historic Royal Palaces

 

sewing guide london

I absolutely loved to look at the original design sketches – with fabric samples attached

 

Victoria Revealed

Since you already paid to go in and see the royal dresses, you should allow yourself the treat of seeing the exhibition Victoria Revealed. It doesn’t have anything to do with fashion or sewing (all though there are some of Queen Victoria’s Dresses and some children clothes on display) but it is one of the absolutely best museum exhibitions I have ever seen.  This exhibition tells the story of the long life of Queen Victoria inspired from her diary, which is quoted around the displays. It was a great experience and actually made me buy a biography on Victoria to learn more about her life. Me, who really don’t care about royalty…

Display case of Queen Victoria children's clothes in the Family Room. The case features outfits worn by Victoria's eldest children - Bertie and Vicky.

Display case of Queen Victoria children’s clothes in the Family Room. The case features outfits worn by Victoria’s eldest children – Bertie and Vicky.

The room explores the mourning period for Victoria's family after Prince Albert's untimely death. The central showcase displays Queen Victoria's earliest surviving mourning dress and two outfits worn by her children, Leopold and Beatrice.

The room explores the mourning period for Victoria’s family after Prince Albert’s untimely death.

The central showcase displays Queen Victoria’s earliest surviving mourning dress and two outfits worn by her children, Leopold and Beatrice.

 

When you are done at the museum, you can walk in the garden and here you’ll find the very lovely Orangery. This is a great (albeit a bit expensive) place to get lunch or, as I did, high tea. It’s an experience. A very high-carb experience, and you might need a nap afterwards. Don’t say I didn’t warn you:-)

After 3 hours in the museum we needed some food. Well, we got it!

After 3 hours in the museum we needed some food. Well, we got it!

 

If you haven’t had enough of royal dresses – and if you are in London between July 23 2016 and October 2nd 2016 – you have a unique opportunity to see Fashioning a Reign at Buckingham Palace in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. There are at least 50 dresses and hats and shoes as well – all worn by Queen Elizabeth. I’m definitely going to see it this autumn before it closes!

Sir Norman Hartnell, pale green crinoline evening gown made of silk chiffon and lace embroidered with sequins, pearls, beads and diamante Worn by Her Majesty The Queen in 1957 during her visit to the United States of America as a guest of President Eisenhower ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST/ (c)HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II 2016 Single use only in relation to the exhibition 'Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe'

Sir Norman Hartnell, pale green crinoline evening gown made of silk chiffon and lace embroidered with sequins, pearls, beads and diamante

Worn by Her Majesty The Queen in 1957 during her visit to the United States of America as a guest of President Eisenhower

ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST/ (c)HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II 2016

Single use only in relation to the exhibition ‘Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe’

 

Well that’s what I could think of regarding exhibitions and museums in London to recommend to you. In the next part of the guide, I’ll talk about fabric stores and other places to shop….

8 replies
  1. Rachel says:

    What a lovely guide. I love the V & A but have not been for years. You have inspired me to take another visit.

    Reply
  2. Roberta says:

    Thank for the lovely tour. London is definitely on my bucket list. My only question is, how are the fabric prices compared to the USA? Is cotton as expensive as it is here?

    Reply
  3. Donna says:

    I am headed to London in 2 weeks. The timing of this posting is perfect. Thank you! Looking for ward to pt 2!!!

    Reply
  4. Tammy Joho says:

    I love London! I really enjoyed the fashion exhibits at the V&A the last time I was there, and if I didn’t live across the pond, I’d surely find a way to travel there multiple times a year as well!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *