Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Deciding what to wear on holiday

I’m trying to put together a travel wardrobe as I’m off on holiday in the next couple of days. I’m off to Italy and according to the forecast the weather is similar there to in the UK at the moment, with highs around 15 degrees when it’s sunny and dropping to near zero at night. That’s quite a temperature difference, so my strategy is going to be layering. I’m going to include light-weight long-sleeved tops and cardigans with jeans. I’ll also take a warm jumper just in case it gets really cold in the evenings.

After many years of travelling for work, I feel I’m quite a pro at packing; aiming to pack for all scenarios, but also pack light. After all, you never know when you’ll have to carry all your luggage further than you intended. (I learnt that the hard way after arriving in a strange city from the airport to find I had no accommodation). I usually make a list a couple of days in advance (just in case something needs to go in the wash) and then pack the evening before I go. The actual packing probably only takes 20 minutes.


Packing list for 6 day holiday

Bicycle shirt (long-sleeved)

Brushed cotton checked shirt

Long-sleeved t-shirt

Muse cardigan

Thicker  sweater / jacket

2 pairs of jeans

There will be underwear, shoes (1 pair only) outerwear too, but I haven’t bothered with a photo of that.

I’m always shocked though when I find out just how much time other people devote to packing and selecting outfits. My mother-in-law lays all her outfits on the bed in the spare room and starts packing at least a week before a holiday! But then having seen this packing in progress, she does tend to take a huge amount with her!

Perhaps though my mother-in-law isn’t the only person who takes, what I feel, is an extraordinary amount of time packing. I stumbled across this article, which is based on a survey of 2,491 Matalan customers. Apparently, deciding on what clothes to take on holiday uses up to 52 minutes each time. Even on a weekday morning, an average of 16 minutes was spent by the survey group deciding what to wear. In contrast, I think I must have spent all of about 5 minutes actually getting dressed this morning. To be fair I’m wearing the same skirt as yesterday so that was already “pre-selected”. However, I probably spent longer than necessary trying to find my blue cardigan. I didn’t find it and elected to wear a black one instead, even though it doesn’t match with the rest of my outfit so well. Perhaps this is the crux of the whole matter. Perhaps I don’t spend so much time on selecting an outfit as I’m quite willing to compromise. Who really cares if I would have preferred to wear the blue cardigan today instead? I don’t really recall spending any more time on selecting my outfit during Me-Made-May and there was the added inducement to select something that looked good for the photos and the blog!

Where do you fit on the scale? Do you spend a long time carefully deliberating the day’s outfit? Or do you fling on the clothes that are on your bedroom chair/ bedroom floor / first thing out of the wardrobe? How about your packing strategy?




Shiny new underwear

I read once that a bra should be replaced every 6 months. I’m not sure how seriously I can take a comment like that, perhaps it was written by a bra manufacturer and they would love us to replace our underwear as often as possible?

However, I know that all my bras are rather old. I took an objective look at them today and I found out that actually they aren’t in bad shape, despite their age. I can see that there are only three bras that really should be binned. I suspect a combination of my size not changing for years and going for a particular style – underwired with soft cups may have helped with their longevity. I don’t have many bras with moulded cups and I suspect that this type of bra may last less well.

Underwear collection

1 2 3 4
Approximate age 15 years 10 years 10 years 12 years
Description Black, from Germany Black, soft Black, padded Pink, patterned
Is it on the tightest hook and still not tight enough? No No No No
Is the elastic is so stretched out that it doesn’t bounce back anymore? Yes No No No
Is it stained or “grey” looking? No No No No
Has it got any holes in it? No No No No
Is it the wrong size? No No No No
Have the moulded cups lost their shape? N/A N/A No N/A
Do the wires poke through the cup / channelling? No No No Yes
Are the hooks broken or missing? No No No No
Is it no longer supportive? No No No No


5 6 7 8
Approximate age 5 years 8 years 10 years 8 years
Description Dark blue Red White Mid Blue
Is it on the tightest hook and still not tight enough? No No No Yes
Is the elastic is so stretched out that it doesn’t bounce back anymore? No No No Yes
Is it stained or “grey” looking? No No Yes No
Has it got any holes in it? No No No No
Is it the wrong size? Although the same size as the others, this one has always felt a little smaller. No No No
Have the moulded cups lost their shape? N/A N/A No No
Do the wires poke through the cup / channelling? No No No No
Are the hooks broken or missing? No No No No
Is it no longer supportive? No No No No

Even though this selection has clearly served me well for many years, I think it is about time that I added to their number.

I decided to look, first of all, for an easy pattern on the internet. I have been following Madalynne’s blog for a while and she has a few free patterns. The Mallori Lane bralette particularly appealed to me. For underwear with a lot of coverage, it still looks alluring! Not sure why it’s called a bralette – thought -ette was a diminutive ending, so why is a bralette bigger than a bra?

Mallori Lane Bralette

I looked for a few different Mallori Lanes on the internet and loved the one that Lady Sewalot has made and decided to go for a similar look with the powernet as lining and lace on top. I already had some stretch lace in my stash, but I bought all the other items required for the project from Sewn Bristol. These include the picot elastic, elastic straps, powernet, and channelling in “Black Cherry” and gold-coloured rings and sliders . Sewn now has a brilliant selection of lingerie supplies in different colours. I didn’t get one of the kits as these are best suited to standard bras. Instead I bought a ridiculous amount of powernet, (I really hadn’t a clue how much I needed), which will probably last me an eternity, so expect more “Black Cherry” coloured lingerie on this blog!

Mallori Lane Bralette

I made the Mallori Lane in the Small (34”-35”) size, but I significantly increased the back width (a typical change for all my makes).

It wasn’t a particularly difficult make. The instructions were mostly fine to follow, except that the supplies list didn’t contain the channelling and I had to go back to Sewn to buy this about a week later. (Note to self: always read all the instructions first!). That said, the instructions are probably sufficient for most sewists who are familiar with sewing things other than lingerie. The only trouble I had was with how the straps were supposed to be threaded through the rings. I didn’t really understand what was going on and looked at one of my RTW bras to clarify how this was supposed to work. I assume I got it right as I can adjust the straps!

Mallori Lane Bralette

I’m wearing the bralette today and it is comfortable and supportive (at least for me). The pattern is specifically designed for the smaller-endowed (A and B cups). It’s different from my usual preferred underwear, but I think that it is good to try new things. I have always stuck to tried and tested underwear, but I’m learning that with the ability to make clothing my own size, I have more confidence to try new styles. Time to try some proper bras, with underwiring?

And now for a few photos wearing the bralette. It covers a lot so I think I can live with these pictures out there on the internet for all to see……

Mallori Lane Bralette




Tissue Knit Terror

Over the last couple of weeks I have been tackling another t-shirt. I’m using the word “tackling” instead of “sewing” because this fabric has been monstrous to work with. I bought this fabric last year at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. It looks like they still have this fabric in store. I am quite frankly rather relieved that I didn’t try to sew with this until I had more experience with knit fabrics. I don’t consider myself to be a much of a knit fabric expert, but at least I have sewn a few things now and have had some moderate success.

Tissue Knit T
What has been so challenging with this fabric?

First of all, it is flimsy tissue knit. It’s soft and beautiful and semi-sheer, but it really feels like I’m trying to sew cobwebs. Secondly, it’s very stretchy – although it is 100% cotton. This means that trying to sew without stretching it is really challenging. Thirdly, it curls. I thought the last fabric had a tendency to curl, but this fabric has a profound desire to curl and ironing doesn’t help one bit. Altogether, it has been the most challenging fabric I have sewn for a long time and I have been struggling.

Tissue Knit T

What techniques have helped?

Sewing with a layer of tissue paper under the fabric helped loads. It gave the fabric the stability to stop me accidentally stretching it. Using Wonder tape helped hold more than one layer of the fabric in place. This helped particularly when I was sewing the neck band into a loop and other small seams.

Using “tried and tested” techniques has worked. I decided, despite temptation to hem and do the neck band in the way that I have before. I didn’t feel brave enough to try anything else.

Tissue Knit T

What pattern did I use?

This t-shirt was again based on the Laurie T-shirt by Named Patterns.

What did I change about the pattern?

I didn’t use the “folded stripes” as although a tissue knit would work well for this, I felt that the fabric print was busy enough as it was without any other features.

I also decided to add some folded cuffs on the arms; just for something a little different.
I made these in the following way:

  1. Cut two strips measuring 35 cm by 15 cm. I cut the two strips so that when attached to the sleeves the “stripes” appear horizontal compared to the vertical stripes on the sleeves.
  2. Make the strips into loops by sewing the short ends together right sides facing.
  3. Next, attach the strips  to the t-shirt sleeves with the overlocker
  4. Hem the sleeves by folding over the last centimetre and hemming with a zig-zag.
  5. Finally, fold up the cuffs so that the finished hems meet the seam were the sleeve and the cuff meet and sew in place with a zig-zag stitch. This makes sure that both the inside and outside of sleeves look good and the cuffs can be turned up without a seam showing.

Tissue Knit T

Will I sew with a tissue knit again?

No! Oh, go on maybe yes, after I’ve had a couple of years to calm down after this one. It is such a beautiful fabric to wear, that the thought is tempting.

Tissue Knit T

Tissue Knit T


Sew Brum 2016

On Saturday I went up to Birmingham to attend the Sew Brum Meetup. This is the first time I have been to this event although it has been around for a couple of years. It is open to bloggers and non-bloggers alike and is organised by Charlotte from English Girl at Home.

It is the first time that I have met many of my fellow bloggers – I certainly had a feeling of “I know you, but we’ve never met”, it felt like a weird case of “déjà vu”. You are all a fantastic bunch and it was great to finally meet a few familiar (online at least) bloggers and chat to a few new faces too.

We started the day in the Birmningham Museum Tearooms. The museum is a fantastic, almost cathedral like building. I felt almost guilty that I wasn’t going to take a look around. Apologies for the next few photos. There were taken on my rubbish phone, as I’d forgotten my camera.

Birmingham Museum

Birmingham Museum

I recognised our sewing group immediately; it was all those familiar fabric prints that gave it away! I couldn’t quite believe how many people there were!

Tea Room Birmingham Museum

Tea Room Birmingham Museum

First stop was the Rag Market. I had already looked around the rag market a fair bit in July, so apart from more interesting trim / braid from one of the outside stalls, I thought I’d give this a miss and go to Barry’s.

Barry's fabric store

Barry’s fabric store

This time I had written down a wish list and had some exact measurements noted. I bought 1.5 m of a beautiful Wool / Merino ribbed knit. This is going to make a most fantastic winter jumper.

Our last stop in Birmingham was at Guthrie and Ghani’s in Moseley which is a short bus ride from the centre. First of all I had a bite to eat at The Dark Horse pub and then took a look at the fabrics in G&Gs.

The shop is beautiful with everything presented in temptingly attractive fashion. I succumbed to two bolt-ends. First, a viscose jersey with white cherries on a navy blue background. I haven’t made many t-shirts because I had many of these from my pre-sewing days, but it’s now time to replace some of the more grotty t-shirts with some new ones. There is only 0.6m in length, but it a wide fabric (152 cm) and navy and white are easy to team with another fabric if needed.

Brum fabrics

I also picked up some white cuff rib. I didn’t have a particular project in mind for this, but it will come in handy for a jacket perhaps, although I’ll consider dyeing it a darker colour first.

Upstairs in Guthrie and Ghani, there was also a pattern swap. I exchanged a dress pattern that I’ll not use (I’m not a dress person) for this interesting Burda tunic pattern. The pattern seems designed for fabrics such as boiled wool and I thought this pattern would be good for a warm winter tunic.


The event just gets bigger and better each year. I’m sure you’ll agree that Charlotte did a fantastic job organising the itinerary, attracting sponsors and securing all the fantastic donations for the raffle. Thank you Charlotte for running this tremendous event!


Shape and Style

I’ve been giving some thought lately to my personal style. You see, it’s more that I’m not sure whether the styles I wear are flattering for me. It’s a hard one to pick apart your personal preferences from objectivity. Aren’t we are all influenced, to some degree, by the latest trends which we see in the shops? Or do we “revert to type” and find our stylistic home with the fashions we grew up with and wore in our teenage years? Another influence that I think has affected me in the past is being restricted to clothes that fit. This meant that for many years I never bought a fitted blouse or a V-necked top. But could these styles fit into my new wardrobe where I am not limited in this way? I have without question stayed away from anything gathered at the waist. Does this fit in with my body type, or is it just a preference formed by habit? These are all questions that I’ve been mulling over.

I wondered if I could find some “objective” analysis using the various body type calculators on-line. The idea is that you enter your measurements (usually bust, waist and hips) and a choice of flattering styles is suggested. Here are a selection of online calculators I have tried:

The Body Type Calculator

With this calculator, you enter your three basic measurements and it suggests one of four body types; Apple, Banana or Straight, Pear, Hourglass.

My Calculated Body Shape: Banana or Straight

Suggested Styles: None, it’s not a style website

Star Rating: **


Marks and Spencer Style Advisor

There are several additional questions about your skin tone and eye colour, in addition to questions about your dress size. There are lots of questions relating to your personal style and colour preferences as well. A comprehensive style guide is available once you’ve created a personal profile.

My Calculated Body Shape: This website doesn’t provide a body shape such as one of the four body types, but did provide a flattering description: “You’re the ideal blank fashion canvas with your slender silhouette and balanced hip to shoulder proportions. Focus on creating a more defined waist and magic up some sexy curves. Tops and dresses with belts, ties or nipping at the waist are your best friends. Details at shoulder and bust create shapely volume. Look for fuller bottoms and skirts that create shape. Straight, baggy clothes are a waste of time.’

Suggested Styles: There are loads of suggestions, both general advice and specific example garments all obviously from Marks and Spencer’s stores, but it does show well what to go for and what to avoid. For example, for tops, I’m recommended slim fit blouses, fitted tops and slim fit t-shirt and told to avoid loose ft tops and blouses.

Star Rating: *****


Shop your shape

Again the three basic measurements are added and one of eight different body types is suggested; Straight, Pear, Spoon, Hourglass, Top Hourglass, Inverted Traingle, Oval, Diamond.

My Calculated Body Shape: This calculator must work a little differently from the others as it suggested my body shape was a Pear or a Spoon from the measurements. Since the description with these shapes doesn’t describe me and differs from the body shape as calculated by the other websites, I decided to ignore this calculation and look at the style advice for the Straight body shape.

Suggested Styles: The suggested styles were divided into Tops, Bottoms and Swimsuits with advice for each one. For example, for tops – find tops with belted or gathered waists with fullness around the bust and hips.

Star Rating: ***

Shope Your Shape

Prokerala Body Shape Calculator

Entering the three basic measurements, calculates your body type. This calculator uses five body types; Apple, Pear, Rectangle, Inverted Triangle and Hourglass.

My Calculated Body Shape: Rectangle

Suggested Styles: There was some limited style advice:

  • Create the illusion of a well defined waist and gentle curves
  • Show-off those wonderful shoulders and belt your waist to create more of an hourglass figure
  • Wear tops with necklines that accentuate your bust

Star Rating: **


Styling Up

This calculator suggests one of six body types; Hourglass, Pear, Inverted Triangle, Diamond, Oval or Straight. Three basic measurements are used for the calculation.

My Calculated Body Shape: This one calculated me as a pear, but with a 1 inch change in my hip measurement I become “Straight”.

Suggested Styles: Suggested styles are divided into Tops and Bottoms. There are also some links to suggested outfits that I could buy. Although, I did notice that these were repeated between the different body styles and in fact didn’t obey the style suggestions for my body type. It was probably best to ignore these.

The style advice included creating a more defined waist, wide V, U or off the shoulder tops and trousers with a moderate or full flared legs.

Star Rating: ***


BonPrix Shape Calculator

This site calculates your body shape from five possibles; Hourglass, Pear, Apple, Inverted Triangle, Athletic using three basic measurements.

My Calculated Body Shape: Athletic

Suggested Styles:

  • Create curves by wearing a wrap dress or add a skinny belt to a dress
  • Patterned trousers add femininity and softens your shape
  • Add detail such as ruffles, beading and studs to draw attention to one area of your body

There is also an option to “Shop your Style”, although I’m not so sure that it was useful for me. It heavily featured dresses and there weren’t any trousers featured at all. I also wasn’t 100% convinced that the selected garments followed the style advice.

Star Rating: ***

Shape Calculator

So Feminine Body Shape Calculator

This calculator asks for the usual three measurements and also your height.

My Calculated Body Shape: Boyish

Suggested Styles: Recommended styles include tailored, figure hugging tops, round or V-neck tops and narrow-cut trousers.  There is an option to look at recommended looks, such as casual, at work and in the evening. but I was rather disappointed with their styles. They really weren’t the looks I was after, with lots of pink girly stuff interspersed with tights (when were they dependent on body shape?)

Star Rating: **


The Marks and Spencer site was definitely my favourite. There was so much advice; there are recommendations for each garment type. I also liked the styles that they picked from their range. Of course, I’m not going to head out to Marks and Sparks for a spot of shopping, especially as their sizes run a bit too big for me anyway. I’m going to head to my sewing machine!

So how did the advice differ from the wardrobe I have? I think I may have found much of this style advice just by trial and error over the years. I do avoid things that are bulky around the waist, for example. Most of my skirts are either slim or A-line, never gathered. I prefer skinny or flared jeans and not baggy jeans. Perhaps my instinct has been good after all.

The next stage for me is to try a few recommended styles that I have found difficult in the past to wear, because of fit issues – V-neck tops and more fitted tops!

There’s quite a bit of advice out there if you want to explore new styles that suit your body type. Some indie pattern companies create styles with particularly body types in mind. For example, Sewaholic patterns specialise in pear shapes. Vogue patterns have figure flattery diagrams to help you decide whether a style suits you.


The Curvy Sewing Collective have a great article on finding patterns for your body type. Why not go and explore?


Jenna Cardigan in Petrol

Even by my standards I have been making heavy work of sewing in the last month. With a couple of short breaks, an “intense” time at work and the school summer break, I’ve only just finished my cardigan. If any of you have noted from my previous participation in Me-Made-May, I have a serious cardigan problem. I wear cardigans to work a lot in the summer and have been relying on three old ready-to-wear cardigans that have seen better days. I have been planning to make myself a cardigan for ages, but somehow it just didn’t happen. For ages I couldn’t decide on a pattern or style. Anyway, I received the Jenna pattern from Muse in a pattern swap through The Monthly Stitch and I suddenly had no more excuses.


I chose a cotton and lycra jersey fabric from Ditto Fabrics.  The fabric is described as “a good quality cotton and lycra jersey that’s slightly heavier than a normal T shirt weight” on the website. I thought this would be a good choice for a cardigan. Unfortunately, the fabric has more curl than an eighties perm and as soon as the support from the pattern pieces came off, it was trying to curve. It certainly was a challenging fabric. I’ve never sewn with a jersey fabric that curled so much (perhaps I’ve just been lucky before), is there any particular reason why jersey curls like that?


The first thing I like about the Jenna Cardi pattern is the different pattern choices. I chose to make the long-sleeved, hem-length option without the shoulder yokes. Lately, I have been getting a bit frustrated with my fabric stash as I don’t have much storage space. I have been looking to pare it down. For this reason, I’m currently trying to order as little fabric as possible. In the past I’ve often used whatever fabric length was suggested by the pattern, but I usually end up with loads left over, usually about a 1/2 metre which really isn’t big enough for another project in its own right. I ordered just 1 metre of fabric for the cardigan and with some radical tessellation managed to eke out enough fabric for all the required pieces. There was hardly any fabric left over, so thankfully I’m not adding to the growing stash. The pattern suggests a whopping 1.8 metres for the long-sleeved, hem-length option, so I’m very glad I didn’t have all that left over fabric. Although I do think Kat at Muse is quite tall and I did reduce the arm length and body length a little.

The garment came together quite easily, but I did slow down considerably when it got to the buttons. There were 8 buttonholes to do and I usually only manage a couple each evening! I had expected to find buttonholes on knit fabric to be tricky, but I stabilised the fabric with some iron-on, wash-off stabiliser and the buttonholes look good. I’m very fond of the combination of those buttons in that acqua shade with the darker teal of the fabric. The only thing that was a real problem in the whole make was the top-stitching. My fabric is quite thick and with three layers to sew through where the top-stitching is needed, my zig-zagger thingy (which I use as a walking foot) wouldn’t work and the fabric went a little wavy and stretched out around the neckline.

Jenna Neckline

This didn’t bother me too much, because when you wear it the neckline stretches anyway and the problem doesn’t show. However, I didn’t want to risk this happening on the button / buttonhole bands. I settled for hand-sewing these in place, but I’m not happy with the finish. Although it is tidy, whoever heard of hand-sewing on a knit fabric cardigan? I’m not sure how this could be overcome really, at least not with the sewing machines I have.

Buttons close-up

Plus, I do think that if you wear the cardigan undone, the overlocker seam on the inside of the button / buttonhole bands can be quite visible. I would like to see a nicer finish there. Any suggestions? Has anyone else used a different finish for this part of the cardigan? My buttonholes still have a bit of the stabiliser attached as I haven’t washed the cardigan yet.


I’ve worn this cardigan quite a few times in the last week and I’m very pleased with the fit and style of it. The main problem though is the colour. It’s an unusual colour. It’s called “petrol’ on the website, although I’ve never seen any petrol that colour. I’m not really sure what possessed me to go with this colour. Sure, I like it, but it goes with hardly anything in my wardrobe. I have lots of black, white and grey, but can I wear it with anything else? The terracotta corduroy trousers are a challenging combination with my new cardigan!


I thought I’d do a little colour experimentation. Perhaps I could make something else that would work well with this top? Playing around with the Adobe Colour site, I managed to get a few more colour options.

Colour Wheel

Using the Create function, it’s possible to pick colours from a photograph.


Colour Wheel

The select a Colour Rule and see what comes up. That colour to the right of my “petrol” colour, looks suspiciously like the colour of my cords. How about the colour on the far right, that seems to be all the rage in shops at the moment. Would that make an interesting colour combination?


Colour Wheel

Quite like the purple colour to the left, not so sure about those swampy yellows though….

What do you think, what colour would you go with? Do you have any clothes that you struggle to integrate into your wardrobe because of their colour?


A trip to Brum in July

It seems that this month I’m doing a bit of catching up with my blog and this is a write-up of a trip I made back a while back.

Rachel of Rach against the machine suggested a Brum meet-up for a bit of fabric shopping back in July. I thought this was an ideal opportunity to wander a little further than my local fabric shops and have the advantage of local knowledge to help me out!

I haven’t been to Birmingham for many years. All I can remember is the subterranean dungeon that is Birmingham New Street Station and a building site around the Bullring. I imagine I haven’t been there for about 15 years. I was pleasantly surprised when I emerged above Birmingham New Street. There is an atrium full of shops above the platforms and the streets around the Bullring have been transformed into a pleasant pedestrian area.

I met up with the other sewers and we spent a pleasant rime browsing the Rag Market. There are lots of fabric stalls. I was particularly taken with the stall selling trims. They were really unusual and looked like they might be intended for Indian clothing. I bought a metre of three different trims. I’m planning to use the two colourful trims for tunics and the lace will look good on the hem of a knit top, I reckon.


I picked up some fabric too. I bought 1.5 m of a sheer knit fabric, which is probably polyester or viscose, but at £1.50 I thought it was probably worth it. It has an interesting embroidered stripe and has sequins on it too. I’m planning to make this into some sort of loose cardigan. The second length of fabric (also 1.5 m) is 100% cotton and a bright corduroy print. It cost £7.50, which I thought was good value. The pattern is floral, but is quite abstract and looks to me like firework bursts. I can see another corduroy skirt for this fabric. I wear my grey corduroy skirt a lot, especially at work and it will be good to have another similar skirt.

Rag Market Fabric

Clearly I’m not a serious shopper, as I only came away with those two fabrics. I’m quite a slow stitcher, and I know it will take me a while to get round to using those fabrics, especially as I have quite a stash already at home. My fellow brum shoppers had huge bags full of fabric and trims by this point!

Rag Market

After exploring the market, we headed to Barry’s. I must admit, I found this store completely overwhelming. My usual experience of shopping in a fabric store is usually a bit more “Let’s find something that will do for….” and now I was confronted with too much choice! Perhaps I need more preparation before entering a store like this. I should have a specific sewing plan in mind, so that I can focus better….. Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything, but this shop definitely, deserves another trip.


Birmingham is quite a way from home, and I felt that I needed to make the most of my day trip and not just shop. I had been browsing “things to do” in Birmingham on the internet and thought that the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter looked interesting. I am fascinated with learning how things were made in the past and I think a knowledge of the traditional methods leads me to appreciate craftsmanship. The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is built around a jewellery workshop that belonged to the Smith & Pepper jewellery manufacturing firm. The aging proprietors retired in 1981. They struggled to sell the business and when they ceased trading and locked the door, the workshop remained untouched, exactly as it was the day they left. The workshop wasn’t updated after the 1950s and it’s a perfect time capsule. The best thing about the museum is that you’re taken on a tour of the workshop by one of the very knowledgeable staff.

The tour started in the office on the top floor, where complete with old-fashioned typewriters and phones, orders were taken and the jewellery was packaged to be posted to the customers. Smith and Pepper, sold wholesale to businesses rather than directly to the public.

Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (Office)

Unbelievably, they just sent these small anonymous brown boxes via first-class post!

Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (Office)

In the workshop, the day started with the proprietor, Mr Tom Smith weighing the gold out for each of the jewellers. The gold had to be weighed out and weighed in at the end of the day. The jeweller was only permitted a certain percentage loss of gold, depending on the type of work being undertaken. Gold was swept up from the floor at the end of the day and even the sinks led into a reservoir so that any gold from the workshop could be recovered.


The craftsmen’s benches were lit by natural light from above or they were positioned near the windows. Here the craftsmen of the workshop assembled the stamped parts, set stones, soldered and engraved. The jeweller’s workbench is cut out with a jeweller’s apron, made of leather. The apron sat in the jeweller’s lap and serves to collect fragments of gold and stops the craftsman being burnt if anything is dropped.  Work was carried out on the jeweller’s peg. This is the wooden piece that juts out the front of the bench. It is used to balance and stabilise whatever the jeweller was working on. Each bench was also equipped with gas taps. Our guide showed us how the jeweller could change the temperature of the flame and direct to to finely manipulate the jet.


One wall of the workshop has an array of steel dies. These were used to stamp out the gold or silver components for the jewellery. Our guide demonstrated how the presses (below) were used to stamp out shapes. These could be used as pendants. I’d never really thought much about jewellery manufacture before I went on this tour and I hadn’t expected to see that even mass-produced jewellery was made in such a manual way. Unbelievably, Smith and Pepper used to supply jewellery to High Street chains, such as H. Samuel.

Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (Workshop)

The jewellery was polished using these horrific looking machines. I like the “No Smoking” sign behind the machines; a small concession to health and safety, perhaps? Apparently, there was a lady who did gold-plating, in a small room to the left of these machines. This task didn’t take up all her time, so she also doubled as a tea lady. The gold-plating uses a cyanide compound. Would you like to be served tea from a room that has had gold cyanide slopped around in it?


I admit when I got home, I took out my magnifying glass to see if any of my jewellery was made by Smith and Pepper. Sadly, none of it is, although I have quite a few pieces made in Birmingham. This isn’t surprising, though, as Birmingham is still the biggest volume producer of gold jewellery in the country. Altogether, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this museum. The tour is a very interesting insight into a by-gone era.

It was a very busy day for me, but enjoyable. Thanks to all the Brum sewers who showed me around the fabric haunts of Birmingham! See you again soon.