Finding inspiration for your sewing

Nicki Trench shares her current obsession, inspiration and the best tip for fabric shopping

“There are so many things to be passionate about in life – so many new things to try out and my diverse interests mean I’m constantly moving from one exciting project to another both personally and professionally. I’m very lucky to able combine my love of visual and creative arts into my work life and my love of music is and has always been very much part of my life away from work.

Of course in design as well as in life, there is one thing for certain: things always change and I’ve noticed recently that although the vintage look for interiors is still very much in fashion, it has moved on from chintzy pastel florals to a much more rounded, wholesome feel without being grungy. The colours have a brighter richness about them and they are often matched with a hint of an interesting shape of something crafted from the past. I love seeing all the changes in style and I’m very lucky to live on the edge of London, which continues to inspire and revive me even in the depths of winter.

So now I’m beginning to crawl out of my winter hibernation and am bursting into spring with the energy of a steam train. I’ve recently been searching for fabrics that are going to feed my latest obsession – tango tote bags. It seems a strange one, I admit, but when I’ve closed down the computer and put it to bed after a hard day’s work, I have another life – dancing the Argentine Tango. Oh the shoes! High heels – glamorous and seductive. They are amazing and need protecting as I move from club to club dancing the night away, so I’m on a quest to find some gorgeous fabric to make a bag to fit the retro feel of the milongas (dances) and that will protect those sexy heels and with enough space for a purse and a toothbrush (it’s a very close dance!).

“Music is and has always been very much part of my life away from work”

Traditional Argentine tango is a social dance and though it might contain some of the steps you are likely to see on Strictly Come Dancing, it’s danced in a much more intimate and compact way and to the beautiful music of the traditional recorded orchestras of 1930s and 40s.

There is definite dress code at the milongas, based on a lost elegance designed to show off the dance and dancer. As you move around the floor the dresses look best if they are feminine, soft, swishy and have a bit of glam. These are often really hard to get hold of and so many people will either make their own, or buy from other people who do. Since taking up tango, my eyes look towards a completely different type of fabric in shops now as I’m browsing for clothes. But I think that big vintage floral and even chintz works really well with this Argentinean feel for my bag.

Florals were to the fore when I recently went to Stokesley in Yorkshire to teach a craft workshop at a recently opened café called Lotti’s Voluptuous Delights. Low lights with fabric-covered lampshades bought from local markets and car boot sales, tables draped with vintage floral tablecloths which showed up in beautiful contrast with the dark walls hung with sparkly retro mirrors and bags made from one-off fabrics. And that’s not even mentioning their huge cakes dripping with butter icing, chocolate and fruit. Think over-sized marshmallows, towers of choux, huge bowls of super healthy salad and tarts. If you’re not near Stokesley, don’t fear, they have huge ambitions with new stores opening in Leeds, York, Manchester, Liverpool and Brighton.

It’s just not that easy to find fabrics like the ones used at Lotti’s and it takes time and dedication to find the kind of vintage fabrics I’m looking for. So on a hunt to find something that can replicate that luscious and voluptuous feel and for a bit of inspiration, I took a little trip to one of my favourite shops, The Cloth House in Berwick Street in central London. The interior has a light pitched roof and big wooden benches in the middle of the shop for cutting the fabric. They don’t have the biggest range, but you can be assured that all the fabrics are beautiful and some unusual.

“My advice is never to leave a gorgeous vintage fabric in the shop”

I bought two fabrics from there, one a checked hemp and the other a thick cotton with big, bright prints, not because they were suitable for my bag, but just because I liked them and will use them for perhaps a cushion or a different type of project in the coming months. I was very tempted by their gorgeous braids and ribbons displayed in wooden cubby holes, which are obviously very much influenced by the ‘folk’ trend that is fashionable at the moment, but I was trying to keep focused on the job in hand.

In the end, I bought some upholstery vintage fabric from my local vintage emporium. It took a while to seek out among the stalls piled with old china tea cups, tins and all sorts of paraphernalia, but it was a great find and just perfect for the tango look I was after.

When searching out vintage fabrics always look carefully for stains or odd joins. Sewing with some very old vintage fabrics can also be tricky as the fabric can perish or be very delicate depending on how it has been stored over the years. I often get drawn towards old embroidered tablecloths. I love the idea of the amazing skill that has gone into them and even if some of the cloth is stained or has perished, you mustn’t feel guilty about cutting it up and using the embroideries to make something wonderful. I picked up some gorgeous tablecloths that I intend making into a patchwork curtain over the coming months.

My advice is never to leave a gorgeous vintage fabric in the shop. They are hard to come by, so snap them up when you can. You can always add them to your stash and make something with them later.

sewing projects shot on location

Keeping me inspired

Coffee & Tea shops: They always seem on trend. London is full of independent cafes. There is a very modest one in Charlotte Street where I meet my daughter when I’m in central London. The interior is modern and clean, but they serve my Earl Grey in a vintage tin tea pot with china tea cups.

Tango: A mix of glamour and elegance – a girl’s got to have a bit of indulgence and sparkle in the night. Some of my inspiration comes from the tango clubs in Buenos Aires. The more glamorous have shiny marble floors and pillars, glass chandeliers and heavy fabrics. Or there are the less glam, but equally inspirational styles with big, colourful distressed paintings, oddly matched chairs with a backdrop of dark walls and fairy lights.

Nature: I’m constantly inspired by the colours in nature. It’s the biggest inspiration for me. My iphone gets filled up with photos of mustard yellows of the sand, browns and heathers of a landscape, green mosses or a bright red and white of a boat against an azure Devon estuary. I don’t have any memory left on the phone for selfies.”

Buy the pattern for the bag, get info on workshops, craft clubs and more at and read Nicki’s blog at