Having cut her teeth in the fashion industry, designer Carolyn Denham found herself in search of something more hands-on, so set her sights of bringing together a new vanguard of doers and makers. The result was haberdashery and sewing brand Merchant & Mills, which she founded in 2010 with her partner, photographer Roderick Field. With a sharp focus on high-quality materials and timeless pattern designs, Merchant & Mills has become a go-to for seasoned stitchers and keen crafters, as well as those simply looking to put a personal spin on their wardrobes. Based the idyllic coastal town of Rye, the shop is a sight to behold - a cavernous sewers paradise where every nook is crammed with fabric roles, tools and helpful trinkets. Keen to pay a visit, we stopped by with our Pattern Savannah fabrics, and watched in awe as she and her team whipped them up into three of their best-loved designs.
On Founding Merchant & MillsI practically made everyone's uniform in sixth form. In those days, you couldn't buy the things you wanted to wear - not in Sheffield anyway! I worked in fashion out in Italy for 12 years but I really didn't enjoy it.
When I came back to the UK I decided I wanted to do something with my hands - to make things. I came up with the idea for Merchant & Mills in 2000. I thought I would start the company and sell fabric and patterns to make the clothes. Everybody thought I was crazy and said, 'nobody sews!'. At the time no-one really was sewing, so I didn't do it. Then, in 2009, I thought 'I'm just going to do it and I don't care if no one buys it'. It was something I felt I needed to do.Shop now
On Sewing Today: The popularity of sewing has grown since I started. You do have to become competent with a sewing machine, just as you would do with a car or a keyboard - but once you're there you can do anything. You just have to take your time and enjoy the experience. We're all still learning every single day - we learn from each other.Shop now
Our customer base is largely successful professional women; barristers, lawyers, doctors, solicitors and university professors. They are looking for mindfulness, looking for something that isn't so head or computer-based. They want to make things specific to them. That's what it's about - getting out of your everyday world and into a world where you don't have to think about anything aside from making something lovely. It's less about fashion, more about making something you can really wear in fabrics that your wardrobe is already made out of.Shop now
On Liberty London Fabrics Liberty London does great fabrics. The Tana Lawn is perfect for patterns. It's kind of silky but easy to use. It makes up really nicely. My mum always told me to buy the most expensive fabric I can because the work level is the same. Love the fabrics that you're going to make something with because that's what it's all about.Shop now
On the Fielder Dress The Fielder Dress and top is based on a traditional sweatshirt. We wanted to design something that had the casual nature of a sweatshirt but slightly elevated. Customers initially seemed nervous of combining a woven fabric with stretchy ribbing but it's surprisingly easy and now one of our bestselling patterns. Ribbing can come in quite a limiting range of colours, so picking a patterned fabric like this pink one will mean you are bound to be able to pick out one shade to match.Shop now
On the Ellis and Hattie Dresses The Ellis and Hattie pattern is our only pattern with two variations, if Ellis is a gentle woman then Hattie is a blithe bachelorette. The Hattie features four delicate neck darts and has a lined bodice, dropped waist and bold patch pockets. This dress works really well in an all over print like this one, you wouldn't want to pick anything you had to pattern match, and something like a stripe would interrupt the lovely darts. I also saw one that was made with a contrast top and skirt fabric. I love how people use our patterns to showcase their own sense of style.Shop now
On the All State Shirt We kept getting asked whether we would design patterns for men. Not only do people want to make something for their partner/brother/dad, we do have a number of dedicated male sewers who have been buying our fabrics for a long time. We brought out three men's patterns which are everyday classics with a Merchant & Mills twist. The All State is a short sleeve boxy shirt, inspired by the American style of the fifties. This version gives the All State and injection of fun, don't forget to pattern match with a print this bold!Shop now