Dressing well by your own hand

Although I own an old second hand sewing machine, my sewing activities are usually pretty much confined to cushions and curtains. I'd never really considered making my own clothes until I came across Merchant & Mills who describe themselves as 'determined to encourage the world to sew'.

Carolyn Denham, the creative force behind Merchant & Mills has put together a small collection of beautifully designed pieces aimed at encouraging intelligent, independent women to buy traditional patterns and "dress well by their own hand".

The clothes are simple in construction yet sophisticated to wear. My favourites include 'The Trapeze' (above right), a 1960s style tailored dress with flattering narrow shoulders and no fastenings (so it's easy to make) and the fisherman inpsired tops (above left).

As if the designs weren't lovely enough, the patterns themselves are also a thing of beauty. They use sturdy brown card that can be directly chalked around instead of pinned out and come in utilitarian black and white packaging.

Their online shop includes a great range of cloths including wool (I particularly love the checks), linen, oilskin and organic fairtrade cotton. Plus you can also stock up on their 'notions' - sewing goodies including traditional scissors, buttons, tailors chalk and entomology pins, all of which are so lovely that I have practically convinced myself that I really can't manage without them.

Images: Merchant & Mills.

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