In Conversation With: Barley Massey, Fabrications

Stephanie Steele Sunday, 28 February 2021

It was about time we caught up with Barley Massey, founder of the wonderful fabric shop and sewing space Fabrications in Hackney, East London, after over 20 years of it being in existence! Barley has long stocked a selection of our ethically and sustainably-sourced textiles, alongside a considered array of knitting yarn, craft supplies and handmade upcycled garments and homewares. A big part of the shop is the sewing space that houses workshops catering to beginners and upwards, but since the pandemic hit coming on to a year ago now, what has been the impact on a business so rooted in a tangible textile world?

Read on for a personal and honest perspective from Barley of her business' impact on wellbeing, education and sustainability.


What is your favourite textile or material (whether you work with it or not)?

I think it has to be denim or rather denim made into jeans with all the stitching, pocket and rivet detailing. The history of denim is interesting as it’s a material that has no boundaries, crossing class, gender and age. But in recent times, we have become more aware of the social and environmental impacts of manufacturing denim and jeans. Its positive to see a shift in denim/jean brands offering repair services and individuals becoming inspired by denim mending techniques such the Japanese art of ‘Sashiko’ stitching and ‘Boro’ patching.

Find courses on sashiko stitching, boro repair, shibori and hand embroidery at Fabrications.

Could you give us three highlights from the 20 years since Fabrications opened doors?

Getting Open:

This is leading up but a significant part! I discovered Broadway Market in the late 1990’s through the “Hidden Art of Hackney” open studios event. At that time many of the shops were boarded up and empty but the council had allowed some of the shops to be opened as exhibition spaces during the open studios event. I learnt that the council was looking for local business and artists to take on leases of the shops to bring them back to life (some of the shops had been empty for over 20 years) so I applied.

My first shop application was unsuccessful (now La Bouche) but my second application is now Fabrications! The shop was in a bad state of disrepair and the leases on offer were “full repairing leases” so after much effort and negotiations I got 2 years rent free in exchange for doing the building work that was required in order to safely use the space and open to the public and I was fortunate to also apply and win a local business regeneration grant. I was also very resourceful and used recycled / reclaimed materials and skill swapped for different services from other trades people. 

This process did take 2 years and in June 2000, Fabrications officially opened! I wanted to include this highlight to encourage others to follow your vision and to recognise that effort is required on that journey - Life will put up many obstacles to test the validity and strength of your convictions!

Upcycling Academy:

In 2010 I was approached by ‘Twisted Thread’ (former organisers of the annual “Knitting & Stitching Shows”) to help them engage with new audiences and offer an educational experience for teachers and their student groups. The concept of  “The Upcycling Academy” was born. The idea was to recreate an imaginary factory production line (or “Productive Line”)  - participants rotated around a series of stations to understand how clothes are made - ethics and working conditions, what happens to clothes at their ‘end of life’, how to re-use clothing in creative ways and how to make informed choices and be a change-maker. I approached ‘Traid’, ‘War on Want’ and ‘The Craftivist Collective’ to partner with me to deliver the concept, which we did for several shows in London, Harrogate and Dublin! 

This experience was a highlight because it really taught me the power of collaboration and working as a team. Each of us brought different knowledge and experiences to the concept. Working as a team we were able to deliver a high quality, educational and creative experience to 10,000’s of school children and other visitors.

The Imaginerium Craft Space:

Around 2005, I started to introduce classes on the shop floor in knitting, crochet, darning, hand sewing, patchwork much to the amusement of passers-by who would stand, watch and point from the shop window, it seemed an unusual site at that time! The classes became so popular that we were running out of space - bless those early participants who patiently crouched on our pouffes and little stools elbow to elbow!

At the back of the shop we had a small unused yard space (apart from our outdoor toilet ‘hut’!) I started to investigate and save up for the possibility of adding an extension. After 2 planning applications and saying YES! to every job and earning possibility (I worked hard during those years!) the build started in 2010 and the shop and new “Imaginerium” craft space housed behind/below the shop was able to re open in 2011. This was a highlight because it really enabled Fabrications as a creative hub to grow and offer a wider programme of classes, events, talks, meetups, collaborations, opportunities and to offer these experiences in a beautiful, light and inspiring eco-friendly space.

Workshops are a key element of Fabrications, if not the key aspect to what makes it so special. How has the pandemic changed things for you and your business?

Alongside all other face-to-face or ‘hospitality’ type activities our classes are currently on hold. This has not only affected our income but also has impacted socially on our customers / constituents. This has been especially noticeable for our regular community craft club which attracts a very diverse group of all ages and life experiences. Strong bonds have been formed and the group looks forward to seeing each other as well as gaining access to Fabrications workshop space, facilities and practical support. We’ve set up a What'sApp group and organised some Zoom sessions but its not the same as the physicality of being together at Fabrications!

However, on a positive note, having this time and space to reset/rethink the evolution of Fabrications, can only strengthen our service and the joy when we can all come together again!

Have you noticed changes to crafting at home from your customers (or general sewing world), either due to the pandemic or even since you founded Fabrications?

Most Definitely! Since establishing Fabrications in 2000 the tides have turned! Back then there were very few ‘visible’ spaces here in the UK dedicated to textiles and in particular ‘sustainable’ textile practice. But slowly but surely each year that passes I have observed and experienced a cultural shift towards some of the old values and ways of living such as making your own clothes and homewares, repair and restoration, appreciation for vintage and second hand, using natural or locally sourced materials, upcycling and clothes swaps. Fuelled by the rise of craft groups, classes, TV shows and social media. 

The pandemic has definitely contributed to the rise of crafting in the home with people trying out crafts as an alternative form of entertainment and self-care. There has been an unbelievable global demand for sewing machines, DIY equipment and crafting supplies! Fabrications is a ‘Brother’ sewing machine dealer also and we have been waiting for some stock for nearly 6 months (which is unprecedented, ordinarily a machine can be ordered and delivered within a week). On a less consumerist note, darning, patching and clothing repair during Lockdown has been epic!

Out of all of the products that you stock, what gets the most interest or questions, and why?

It depends on the time of year. In Autumn/Winter it’s all about the wool and which yarn would be suitable for different knitting and crochet projects or can I decode a pattern or help someone retrieve their stitches! In the spring/summer it turns more to sewing, dressing up and also alterations/repair. Historically this is also a social time so we get bookings for craft parties or invites to offer activities at outdoor events or festivals. This is our rhythm, as human beings we are attuning to the natural cycles. Winter  - inward, Summer – Outward.

You can find a selection of our ethical and sustainable Offset Warehouse fabrics at Fabrications

Alongside other people’s products, you also stock your own handmade upcycled products, and run a ‘Remember Me’ service. Why are these important to both you, and those you serve through this act?

The Upcycling has been my own form of creative expression and response to the wasteful / throwaway culture of our times. From a young age I was taught the values of working in harmony with nature and being resourceful and thrifty – “less is more”.

As human beings we can become overwhelmed by too much choice, in the practice of upcycling one re-works what already exists - this is the beauty and creativity of upcycling as this approach teaches you to find magic in the mundane, look at items (and situations) from different perspectives and connect with the meanings and memories that materials can hold. I think this is why the ‘Remember Me’ service is important to me because its not only practical and useful (we all hold onto items of clothing for different reasons but might not be using them) but the service also weaves together more subtle aspects of human experience – memories and emotions. For the commissioner or recipient the process of turning ‘old’ clothes into something new, can be transformative, healing and celebratory. The service embraces the full cycle of life from birth to death.

With your classes, you partner with incredible craftspeople and educators. It’ll be a tricky one, but what has been a stand out session for you and those attending?

Yes, we’ve been blessed to host many stand out events at Fabrications in our 20 years! But to pick one I would say the “Creativist” Peter Gibson’s “Artwear” exhibition and accompanying events in the Autumn of 1999. 

“Artwear” was an exhibition of over 25 hand embroidered denim jackets that Peter had stitched and embellished by hand over a period of 50 years. He started “Jacketing” in the back of a van to relive the boredom of travelling up and down motorways, whilst touring with his band “Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts” in the sixties. Although a trained musician and painter, Peter had no previous experience of hand embroidery and devised his own methods of “Stitchery”, once immersed in a jacket, Peter would paint most of his denim canvas with threads. His unique work is very colourful, graphic and pictorial in homage to musicians that have deeply influenced him such as Peetie Wheatstraw and Little Richard. Perhaps, I could also say that his jackets are portraits of the soul and an expression of love.

Alongside the exhibition we hosted an opening with a talk, a guided tour evening with a mini catwalk on the shop floor and 1 day workshop where participants could start their own “Artwear” jacket. During the first Lockdown we also hosted a 4 week online “Sew Along” with Peter and his wife Hanelle which attracted participants from all over the world! When joining a workshop with Peter, he has the wonderful ability of making space for self-enquiry and drawing out personal creative expression with the simple yet profound question: “What makes you tick?” (Please see pictures of the exhibition and workshops on Fabrications Instagram feed).

Barley's top picks of our Offset Warehouse fabrics:

Barley stocks a selection of our textiles, currently low in stock as we partnered with the shop back in April last year to enable access to static stock while closures were in place - and incomings for both businesses. But, they do have fabrics no longer available in our shop, so to get hold of them, send an email or call!

  1. Fair trade dark blue selvedge denim (£25.65/m)
  2. Blue and white ramie tweed (£27.99/m)
  3. Grey and peach paint modal silk jersey (£15.90/m)

Find Fabrications:

Website eShop: www.fabrications1.co.uk

Instagram: @fabricationshackney

Address: 7 Broadway Market, Hackney, London E8 4PH

Phone: 020 7275 8043

Email: [email protected]