Germany Part Two

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And so day two of our buying trip dawns bright and chilly and we head down to a fabulous breakfast at the hotel, where amongst other things, one can dine on the oddly named “Smacks” breakfast cereal. As we eat our fresh fruit and yoghurt, cold cheeses, smoked fish, and sausage balls, and drink our hot chocolate, we start to pull together our wish list of Swafing fabrics. There are a couple of areas we are certain to spend a lot of our time in, but others we are not so definite about, so we know there will be plenty of discussion on foot, as well as plenty of rushing back up and down the stairs to either replace or grab a bolt we have changed our minds about.

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German hot chocolate, which comes with a portion of cream, peculiarly, on the side …

Soon enough the minibus comes and we are on the starting line, our scanner in hand and today’s trolley bearing the Emporia name: some of the others (namely Paul, from Fabrics Galore) have been here since 8am and we are now raring to go. Taking a quick squiz at what he’s already stacked on his trolley, we rush off with the likes of Tracey from Eastbourne and Kerry from Chatham at our shoulders as we all go about the very serious (but very enjoyable) business of choosing new fabric.

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One side of trolley based excitement …

This year we spend much more time looking at the upholstery section, which includes a few more linen and cotton blends, heavier weight pieces that have become more popular in the new shop – we look at styles featuring maps, animals silhouettes and simple polka dots. There’s also quite a bit of time spent dithering about with the fleece and faux fur as it’s very cold outside and we know that people at home are probably suffering from the chills of winter too. It’s all so soft, squishy and warm that we can’t resist chucking a few rolls on the trolley.

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The other side of exciting …

Next stop is the corduroy section; Clair has been longing for some of the needlecord for simply ages, so now her chance has come to take a good long look at it all and make a few choice decisions. Unfortunately, it was all just too lovely, and there much was much crying of “But I want that one too!” before we finally narrowed our selection down to a few brighter prints, some for boys, some for girls and some for everyone. And of course, there was much of the obligatory fabric dance which must be done by either of us while we debate what we might make from a particular print for ourselves. I’m not sure the factory workers were particularly impressed by this or the hysterical laughter coming from behind the shelving in the basement …

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Crazy cats, dogs and horses, that sadly didn’t make the grade …

There then followed more decisive selections from the jersey collections (a few key styles making a welcome return, plus some fabulous new ones), some very exciting sweatshirt material (which may sound like a contradiction in terms, but we promise they’re good’uns), and a quick stop at the bizarre animal print section, from which we returned with only one slightly bonkers print, which was a very special customer request. A few more unusual one offs got bunged on the trolley at the last minute, before the minibus heralded the end of our buying and decision making and we went hotel-wards once more.

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Tulips from Amsterdam …

The following day was spent mostly on trains once more as we journeyed into Amsterdam for a few hours. There we found the obligatory tulips, which were a most welcome burst of colour on a grey winter’s day, a delightful fancy lunch in the Bijenkorf (Amsterdam’s equivalent of Selfridges) and a spot of touristy gazing at the beautiful 17th century architecture all whilst wearing our hand-knitted bobble hats. Then it was onto the plane, where all of us buyers from the South East end of the country slept like tired children at the end of a hard day’s play.

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Bobble hats and the canal …

There may not have been any snow on this year’s trip, but it was no less exciting than our first venture to Germany. We can’t wait for our new stock to arrive so we can start making and showing off all our amazing new fabrics to you lot, so you can feel just as inspired too. Keep your eyes peeled on the blog and at the shop for when the first deliveries start arriving …

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We’re All Off To Germany!

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Last week you may have noticed there was a devastating gap in your inbox, a fabric-shaped hole in your social media activity, a lack of pictures of all the best prints to inspire your creative mind and get your sewing hands itching – and that is because Clair and I had sneakily skipped off to Germany once more on our much anticipated fabric buying trip.

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Just as ridiculously excited as last time …

You may recall the absolute giddiness with which we approached the trip to Nordhorn, which is located just over the border from Holland, last year. It was very much like an exciting school trip, which unfortunately involved getting up at 4am, where we would be able to spend all our time talking to like minded fabric addicts and run amock along the rows of beautiful bolts at the factory, fantasising about what we would be able to make with everything on the shelves. And much as we were determined to be a teensy weensy little bit more grown up about the whole thing year, we pretty much failed, and were just as giddy and just as school-childish, getting over excited by the new collections and constantly gibbering about which ones might make the best pyjamas.

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Colourful bolts of loveliness …

The only significant differences this year were that we knew we wanted to come home with more than just new jersey, so instead of going to the hotel for a chat and a cup of hot chocolate when we arrived, we headed straight to the factory to get started. Being up since four in the morning and not eating a great deal during the day doesn’t really prepare your mind terribly well for making sensible decisions and being able to focus precisely on what would go down well in the shop. So knowing that we needed to do a full run of the entire factory and see precisely everything that was available, we started on the mammoth task of recceying all three floors and running up and down all the aisles, cooing and oohing at everything until we basically made ourselves completely fabric blind.

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Lots of amazing jersey

Since last year Swafing have finished building a brand new processing plant which means that they now carry a much wider range of fabric styles, so this year we faced the prospect of looking at and potentially buying: jersey, cotton prints, fleece, faux fur, corduroy, linen, flannel, toweling, velour, wool, upholstery fabric, oilcloth, vegan leather, lace, lycra, satin, and a whole load of other less exciting stuff like bondaweb and interfacing.  Once again the big rolls of fleece looked all too inviting as we succumbed to terrible choice paralysis and simply wanted to lie down under a table or hide inside the goods lift on our trolley. (Fun fact about the Swafing goods lift – if you are rather tired and not concentrating on how it actually works, you can stand outside it with your massive trolley full of fabrics getting in the way of all the people who work there, repeatedly pressing the button and not getting very far, until a kind German man appears and tells you to press and hold, and then steers your wayward trolley into the lift for you, before walking off whilst clearly thinking to himself that those ladies look a little bit crazed behind the eyes.)

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The very comfortable Riverside hotel …

There is such a thing as too much choice sometimes, and when you are low on energy getting carried away is all too easy and making acute decisions is not; this then lead us to making the most sensible decision of the day – to have a bit of a sit down and a nice cup of tea, in typically British style. After a restorative brew we were able to start thinking a bit more productively and actually put a few bolts on the trolley in a more organised fashion. But soon it was time for the minibus to take us back to the hotel for a night of pizza, wine, and endless discussion about fabric shops with all the other buyers.

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And relax …

Tune in next week, lovely readers, to hear more about what we actually bought and how we wowed the crowds of Amsterdam with our matching bobble hats.

 

The Jersey is Finally Here!

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After a whole month and a half of waiting, the jersey we ordered on our little trip to Germany has finally arrived and we are giddy with joy! It seems like much longer ago than that that we were heading off out to snowy Nordhorn across the flat landscape of Holland, to pick out our favourite gems from the Swafing factory – but now it’s here and we can finally start to think about all the lovely things we can make with it. (Not just pyjamas, although that would obviously be a good place to start …)

Take a look at these delicious stripes! Candy cane pink, purple and beige tiny ones, chunky red and green paired with white, and a gorgeous multi version which just whips me straight back to the eighties and reminds me of crop topped roller skaters. Despite not being a crop top wearer I can promise you that I will be making myself a very funky retro styled t shirt with that number any day now.

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Funky nautical anchors, cute and funny little monsters, knights on horseback and spring themed birds are all destined to make fantastic stuff for kids, and any grownups who love a good printed fabric.

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And of course, what better shapes could there be to inspire you to make those mythical pyjamas I’ve been whittering about since February? Sleepy stars and dreamy clouds of course. It’s enough to make me want to whip up some right now simply so I can go back to bed. Which ones are floating your boat? We’d love to know.

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Since the jersey arrived in the shop at the end of last week, we’ve had plenty of compliments on them from admiring customers. But we’ve also had a lot of little worried faces look at us when we’ve told them that these gorgeous prints are jersey. “Isn’t sewing with jersey really tricky?” those worried faces have been saying, and “Don’t you need to have an overlocker?” Well, quite frankly no, it doesn’t have to be any trickier than sewing with more complicated patterns with flat cottons and you definitely don’t need to have an overlocker. It all depends on what you’re planning on making.

The one fantastic benefit of stretch materials is just that – they stretch. So you have very little need for darts and inserts – the material simply gives and takes at the right points to fit your form. Plus, it doesn’t fray, so you don’t have to spend ages finishing seams – hurray! It does take a bit of getting used to if you’ve never sewn anything with stretch in it before, but there are plenty of helpful guidelines out there to show you the way. For example, if you head over to Tilly and the Buttons’ blog, you can read all about her advice to sewers using standard machines for sewing with knitted fabrics, which will ease your mind no end. And if you’re really scared of taking the plunge with the brand new lovelies from Swafing, you can always buy yourself a small amount of our bog standard purple jersey, which at the bargain price of £4.00 a metre, gives you plenty of material to play about with and get used to. Plus, soon we’ll be running some dedicated jersey classes – so keep your eyes peeled for those in the coming months.

Emporia Goes to Germany Part 2

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Waking up the next morning we were greeted by a frosty fog that covered the bay, and the chilly air was a shock to the system when we opened the windows on the balcony to take some photos. Coming downstairs for a hearty German breakfast (scrambled eggs, meatballs, cheese, smoked salmon, rye bread, fruit, yoghurt and lots of teeny tiny muffins) we could see that it had snowed over night, and was threatening to do so again.

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The atmosphere at breakfast was one of great excitement as there were several other fabric shop owners who had never been to the Swafing factory before, so we listened agog to the how the day would pan out and started to get fidgety to get to the factory and start choosing. Everyone gathered in the lobby at half nine and we were whisked off by Hans and his men once more in the blustery snow, through the town to Swafing HQ.

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To say it was a similar feeling to being let into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is an understatement – we were giddy with excitement (as you can see from last week’s pic) and Clair and I had to stop ourselves from doing little jigs of glee as we walked up and down the aisles of fabrics. The other buyers peeled off and started to load their trolleys with various bolts, and despite the relative calm of everyone else (and the workers) we found something hilarious to laugh about on almost every row, whether it was the fact that I declared you could make lovely pyjamas out of almost that every single bolt we looked at or that we were saying “Ooh look at that!” every five minutes, even at the interfacing and hosiery rolls. We were most definitely the naughty school children of the group, giggling, skipping about and generally not behaving like the rest of the grownups.

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Despite the fact that Swafing stocks vast amounts of upholstery, craft cotton and fashion fabrics, we were hell bent on picking out some jersey for the shop, so we spent most of our time cooing over the gorgeous prints, stripes and soft, squishy fleeces on show. Most of what we came away with, we think will make some fantastic t shirts, skirts, babygrows, onsies, dresses and hooded tops. And a good deal of it will be suitable for men and boys too, as we specifically picked out some more masculine styles. Cool neutral stripes, large stars on a grey background, knights on chargers next to castles and nautical anchors are all destined to hit our shelves sometime soon.

Unfortunately we couldn’t bring home everything we liked, but here’s some stuff we might have to go back and get next time: thick squidgy fleeces, brightly colours pandas, zingy apples, pink foxes, Angry Birds and some incredibly kitsch gnomes. One print which caused up to have hysterics and still makes us giggle when we look at it, was this bizarre combo of deer in a park, with an oddly proportioned giraffe hanging about in the background. Not really a pair of animals that go naturally together, but then neither of us are David Attenborough, so what do we know? Maybe in Germany this is a sight you see every day. What do you think?

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So having spent all day clutching our calculators and grabbing enormous bolts of fabric and hauling them onto our trolley, we headed back to the hotel and had our final dinner, with yet another faux birthday celebration and more sparkler themed ice creams, before tripping up the stairs to our beds, ready to dream about all the delicious things we could make with our brand new selection of fabrics.

Emporia Goes to Germany

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For three whole days last week, the shop was (wo)manfully manned by the lovely Melissa from Aye Aye and the delightful Nicky whilst Clair and I skipped off to Europe for some serious fabric shopping. We weren’t simply browsing the shelves of a local fabric emporium, like the German twin of our very own beloved store, oh no – we spent the day oohing and ahhing over a whole three floors of various lovely designs as we wandered the corridors of the Swafing factory in Nordhorn.

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The Riverside Hotel

If you haven’t heard of Swafing Fabrics, you will soon be able to see their delights for yourselves, as we filled our trolley with plenty of exciting designs that will be appearing on our shelves very shortly. Having been invited by Mr Swafing himself, we obviously couldn’t refuse the opportunity of heading off to his factory to take a closer look at all the lovely fabrics he makes. And we were not disappointed in the slightest.

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Snowy boathouse down by the lake

We headed out from home at 4am last Wednesday, into the dark and frosty morning, before catching a plane to Amsterdam, as the factory is very close to the Dutch German border. Arriving at the airport, Terry the Swafing rep handed us our train tickets to Hengelo, (making us feel like we were on a very special school trip) and we sped off in the direction of Nordhorn on our very fast, efficient and smooth European train. Making sensible use of the time, we held a very brief merchandising meeting, consisting of getting excited about what we might make with the new fabrics and put in the window, before reality kicked in and we alternately looked at trashy magazines, did a bit of knitting and snoozed – 4 o’clock in the morning is a very early start for anyone you understand.

Sunset from the bar

Sunset from the bar

Once we arrived at the final train station, Hans arrived to collect us in his enormous four by four, and whizzed us off to the hotel Riverside just over the border in Germany. The Riverside is a gorgeous contemporary four star hotel (only the best for us!) located by the beautiful river that runs through Nordhorn. Lakeside views, a gorgeous boathouse, plenty of moorhens and pretty fairylights in the hedges were all on show through the windows, and inside there was a roaring fire, comfy cushions and blankets, and heated benches in the restaurant; there couldn’t have been a warmer welcome unless Mr Swafing had wrapped us up in the big rolls of fleece he sells and rolled us over to the fireside himself.

Roasty toasty fire

Roasty toasty fire

Having settled in and collapsed briefly on our respective big comfy beds, we headed downstairs for dinner, beer and to catch up with all the other fabric shop owners who had come to see what the Swafing factory had to offer. Meeting up with the likes of Tracey from Eastbourne’s Owl and Sewing Cat, Paul from Fabrics Galore in Battersea and Kerry from Just Fabrics in Chatham was fantastic fun and we had a good old chinwag about all our shops and what we could expect to see in the factory the following day. Being one of the youngest shops in the gang, it was fascinating to hear how the others run their stores, and we got plenty of inspiration for new projects in the future, from patterns and classes to trade fairs and suppliers.

Nordhorn Church at dusk

Nordhorn Church at dusk

After an enormous pizza and some ice cream puddings with sparklers in (these German fabric manufacturers know how to live) we finally gave in, and headed to bed, full of anticipation for visiting the fabric factory the next day. Come back next week to hear more about the factory itself and what amazing designs we decided to bring home with us …

Insanely excited by the fabric

Insanely excited by the fabric