Our sewing retreats are a chance to spend time away sewing and learning without the distractions of everyday life. Uninterrupted sewing with two experienced tutors and a group who are as passionate about making as you are. You’ll be staying in a beautifully restored house just down the road which is decked out in all Merchant & Mills cloth and antique textiles.
The studio, where you will spend most of your time, is on the mezzanine floor situated above the shop in Rye. With the shop just downstairs you will have easy access to our complete selection of cloth and notions. Your studio set up will include a Bernina sewing machine and the shared used of two overlockers alongside an array of Merchant & Mills tools.
Each student has ample space in which to cut out and work in, with plentiful natural light. Lunch and snacks will be provided for you in an adjoining kitchen and dining space to keep you sustained for you days of creativity.
Get to know your tutors Katie and Elwen:
How did you first get into sewing?
K: My mum taught me to sew, I was really young, about 8 years old. The first thing I made on a machine was a small drawstring bag for my dad to put his camera flash in, they were big back then! I made it out of an old white pillowcase, and I fed green cord through the top to pull it closed.
E: As far as I can remember I have always been surrounded by fabric and sewing. My mum said there was no stopping me making things from an early age. I distinctly remember at the age of 8 making my first pair of pyjamas. I drew onto the cloth the approximate shape of my body and cut it out. Stitched the pieces together with embroidery thread and then got very cross when it didn’t fit. Things have changed a bit since then but the need and excitement to create remains.
What professional background do you have?
K: I have a BA HONS in textile design from Central Saint Martins, I specialised in woven textiles. After a long spell in London, I moved to the coast to make space in my life for creativity once more. An opportunity showed up working with a wonderful tailor, Brett. I spent close to 3 years making and learning with him.
E: I have worked in fabric shops from the age of 14, learning a lot from the women I worked with. I started properly sewing my own clothes at the age of 16. I then went on to study fashion design at Falmouth University, but home sewing was always at the epicentre of it.
I have spent the last two years at Merchant and Mills working with Katie to finesse my teaching and sewing skills.
What brought you to Merchant & Mills?
K: A visit to the shop one Saturday afternoon left me spellbound, before Tower Street was renovated. It was tiny back then and I was there for hours! The space, the cloth, the patterns, and notions, all of it, beautifully curated. Everything about the place spoke to me, Michael was there and that was an instant connection – truly inspiring. I joined the company after Tower Street was renovated to help open the sewing school.
E: I was living and working in Wales and saw a job listed to work in the shop as a retail assistant, at a time when I wasn’t sure what my next step was. Working around fabric again felt like the right thing, so I applied and was lucky enough to get the role.
What is your favourite cloth and pattern to work with?
K: I love brushed cottons and midweight cotton canvas, Indian handlooms, and Japanese wool. One of my favourite patterns is the Ellis and more recently the Shepherd skirt. I really love pairing fabrics to patterns and experimenting with that, I love seeing what the students pick out for their projects and helping them with that.
E: I love the shepherd skirt – it’s my favourite pattern. It’s brilliant for both summer and winter and I have made several versions. Ridge check is my all-time favourite fabric, we had it in black and ecru, beautifully soft with a handmade charm you get from handloom cloth – absolute fabric perfection.
What is your go to spot in Rye?
K: There are so many great restaurants, galleries, and shops in Rye, but my favourite place has to be the nature reserve, I like to go there for long walks with my dog.
E: I really love the health food shop in Rye; it has some interesting bits that you never find in the supermarkets.
What do you enjoy most about teaching on the retreat?
K: I enjoy being part of each student’s unique journey, learning what it is that they want to achieve and helping them get there, everyone learns differently, and I like working with that. It’s a chance for the students to slow down and do it well, I enjoy all the ah ha moments throughout the week as new tips and skills are learned. I love how these people come together from all over the world connected by a shared love of sewing – who otherwise would perhaps never meet, the collective energy and creativity is magical and different every time. I enjoy teaching total beginners and students that haven’t sewn for a long time, setting them up on their sewing journey. Equally I love teaching students who want to grow their skills and understanding, who come to make something that they wouldn’t try alone at home. It’s a joy knowing that people leave feeling delighted with what they’ve created, armed with new skills and the confidence to carry on with their sewing journey having made new friends and shared many stories. So, in short – the creativity and the connection – that’s why I love what I do.
E: I love connecting with the students and learning about their lives and how they got into sewing, it becomes a little family by the end. It’s brilliant to see the journey that our students go on while they are with us and the skills and knowledge they acquire along the way. Watching them gain confidence and blossom over the week and seeing their excitement and newfound inspiration to continue creating when they get home.
The Grove where you will be staying is located in the centre of Rye, a stone's throw from the Merchant and Mill’s shop. A home to be enjoyed and shared by you all in the same way as our studio. The house is both spacious and cosy, with 2 living rooms, a spacious kitchen, and a stunning conservatory for dinning, chatting, or sewing! There are 6 beds (one room is a shared twin room) and 4 bathrooms. You can read more about the house and see the individual rooms and bathrooms here.