Doing a bit of stitching

By Justine Tabak

Doing a bit of stitching


‘Mother’s in the kitchen,  Doing a bit of stitching..’

Playground rhyme , 1960's onwards.....

I’m so pleased with the quality of stitching from the factory that makes my clothes.  High standards and old fashioned finishing is always what I wanted when I set up my new collection.

I’m old enough to have learned hand sewing at primary school (does any school do that any more? ) – making my first top age 9!  Dressmaking at home was an important way of keeping up with trends and as a teenager those skills were essential in adapting many outfits.  I can’t count how many times I took in my jeans to make them ‘skinny’ in the late 70 ‘s  - not available in the shops but great to wear with my dad’s old 'boyfriend' jumpers.  And a friend has recounted the trouble she had with an outfit she wanted to wear to a Blondie concert – just imagine wrestling a black binbag in a sewing machine!

Illustration from my well loved Ladybird Book of 'How to Sew' 


But the other end of the scale is where I’m at now, with precise work on french seams, taking inspiration from little-used sweet smocking details, specifying tailoring details like facings and bias cut edgings.  It does take more time to plan and costs a little more to produce but the end product is then an item of value which lasts .   

My inspiration board with stitch pattern prints and vintage florals 

Stitch floral design on my Meadow Cotton Top

I also love taking stitch and embroidery patterns as inspiration for prints. This season I looked at some vintage embroidery manuals with their stitch motifs. Satin, cross, feather and herringbone patterns make interesting patterns when painted and printed in trompe l'oeil effect. 

Indira making a sample 

One unexpected result of insisting on fabulous skills in manufacture is that the inside can be as beautiful as the outside – and so one customer demonstrated how she chose to wear her Pearly Queen jacket inside out for evening as the gorgeous printed  silk lining made a statement, and the quality of the finish means not a stitch out of place. The machinists at the factory I use takes real pride in showing me new finishes and the careful detailing such as covered seams on my lace, bias bindings around necklines and the tiniest of hand stitches for buttons and loops. 



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Heart on your sleeve - in celebration of Valentine's Day

By Justine Tabak

As a celebration of Valentines Day I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite fashion images with hearts and love as their theme.
Danielle Darrieux, one of France's great movie stars wearing a glamorous sequinned heart dress.
I just love this 1920's 'Queen of Hearts' flapper dress 
The unmistakable Twiggy wearing a 1960's dress in a pink and yellow heart print 
Sophie Dahl wearing Vivienne Westwood in this Nick Knight shoot for Vogue 2003
Catwalk model wearing Schiaparelli 2014
And the not so wearable 'fluffy heart' worn by Cara Delevingne
shot by Mario Sorrenti in 2016

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Pearly Pop Up

By Justine Tabak


On a beautiful September weekend, in a historic Huguenot house in Spitalfields, I welcomed visitors to my very first Pearly Pop Up shop. It was a fitting place to give a first 'outing' to the collection that had taken inspiration from the kings and queens of the east end with their finery of pearl buttons. 

For those who know me, Spitalfields and this house in Princelet St was somewhere that I lived for 13 years. When I moved there many years ago, the area was totally unrecognisable to the gentrified and tourist haunt it is today. Houses lay empty, Spitalfields market was a mere shell with no sight of shops and Brick Lane market was where you would scavenge for treasure on pavement stalls. On a Sunday morning, I would get up in the small hours, buy a cream cheese bagel from the famous Brick Lane Bagel Bake and then rummage for scraps of fabrics, haberdashery and ephemera within the piles of clothes that were tipped onto the ground. 

Now the area is transformed, pavement stalls have been replaced with the organised market of Trumans Brewery. The second hand surprises of discarded homes have been replaced with artisan crafts and designer wares. Spitalfields has undergone a huge transformation.  

The house at 4 Princelet Street has remained constant throughout all this change. It is a house known for film shoots and for countless period dramas that have been made there. Paint is milky and flaking with layers of generations from soft dusty Georgian colours to 'recent' stippled thirties paint of dark browns and rich greens. Beauty lies within it's frugal grandeur. 

So to this house I returned with my first collection. Fresh ideas drawn from the past and designed with the elegant simplicity of timeless modernity. Although I love vintage, clothes have to stand the test of time and suit the lives we live now. 

Enjoy a tour of the Pearly  Pop Up! 

Welcome to the Pearly Pop Up!

Portobello  Nottingham Lace Skirt hangs in the shuttered window

Pearly Queen Dress 

Pearly King Cushion 

 Daisy in the Pearly Queen Drress

Celebrate the Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival in London this weekend. This Sunday, 25th September, starting at the Guildhall at 1.30pm and then parading through the streets to St Mary Le Bow church at 3pm for a service of thanksgiving. 



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The last Nottingham lace maker

By Justine Tabak

The last Nottingham lace maker

I’ve always been fascinated by lace, its delicate nature and wealth of patterns. I used to design lingerie (for a leading High Street brand!) and I've spent years collecting fragments of the stuff at vintage fairs and charity shops. For my new collection, I needed to find a quantity of cotton lace, this time to be worn on the outside.
Knowing that Nottingham is traditionally world famous, I expected a quick Google search would conjure up a selection of worthy suppliers. To my surprise, only one true Nottingham lace manufacturer survives today, Cluny Lace of Ilkeston Nottingham.

Family Interests
Cluny has a rich heritage. Owned by the Mason family, now in it’s ninth generation, the factory still stands in an imposing mill in Ilkeston. It is here that the original Leavers lace machines were bought in the 1880’s, part of a thriving industry that once employed 20,000 Nottingham lace makers. Now, a smaller ‘family’, both real and adopted, continue the tradition with rare skills almost forgotten.

Leavers Lace

Leavers Lace is the closest you’ll find to handmade, made on huge 19th Century machines weighing up to 15 tons. Using finest Egyptian cotton, the yarn is twisted to emulate hand made lace. Apparently, John Heathcote, the original inventor of the machines had spent many hours observing the nimble fingers of the lacemakers as they twisted and spun the yarn by hand. Unlike modern knitted laces, the twisting creates a crunchy texture, the intricacies of the patterns clearly defined by the fineness of the thread.
When I spoke to Kate in sales, she kindly explained that no two rolls were the same, each one translating the ‘personalities’ of the machines, not always easy to work with but I was soon charmed by the knowledge that each piece had it’s own character and whimsy.

Future Prospects
It’s an industry that literally survives by a thread. Taking seven years to train an apprentice, Cluny employs the last remaining lace crafters who have grown up in the business. With a workforce heading towards retirement, it will be challenging to find new apprentices to replace lifelong skills let alone be enticed to what is seen as as a dying industry. Ian, makes the punch cards that contain the lace ‘code’ for the patterns, he is the last man in Nottingham with that knowledge

It is interesting to note that the other famous surviving lace centre, Calais, originally imported all their machinery from Nottingham but whilst the lace industry has been government supported in France, Nottingham lace manufacturing has dwindled to near death following technological change, globalisation and the recession.

Hope and beauty
There are glimmers of hope with high end designers, such as Burberry and Paul Smith, using Cluny Lace and recreating it’s heritage into modern styles.
And, of course, Cluny were delighted to see their lace adorning Kate Middleton’s wedding dress designed by Sarah Burton.

Long live Nottingham Lace.

Visit Cluny Lace at 



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Family of British Isles

By Justine Tabak

Family of British Isles

When I embarked on this new journey, I wanted to get back a sense of community to my working life. After leaving the RCA, my career started out at Fendi in Italy, a brand and country that supports family traditions and makers are revered for their long standing artistry and craft. I learnt Italian from scratch and quickly built up relationships with fabric manufacturers, pattern cutters and the factories that meticulously interpreted sketch to sample. There was a sense of pride in the 'family' effort of creating a collection to be proud of together.

The other thing that struck me about working in Italy was how much original source material was referenced from local culture and the rich history that surrounded us in Rome. Colours would be matched to the soft frescoes of Renaissance art, prints could be inspired by anything from mosaics to contemporary art and shapes were influenced by historical togas through to skinny jeans dolce vita style.  Rome was their oyster. It taught me to delve deeper into style references and explore what was under my nose. 

After four years, I decided I missed my family too much and wanted to base myself back in the UK. It was a bit of a culture shock for me with British fashion at that time centred around the High Street, with its pressure on cost and huge production runs. From Roman atelier to central London studio, I adapted to quick turnaround fashion and commercial costings. I embraced the industry and soon managed to find creativity in all projects whether for a large multiple or smaller mid level brands. What remained consistent was my love of seeing the product made, photographed and marketed, working alongside the teams that helped to make products and stories come alive. 

So for my first exciting venture on my own, I look forward to working with my new family of 'British Isles'. Working in Britain enables me to meet face to face with manufacturers, fabric producers, designers and crafters who contribute their skills and creativity . As a small business I can keep an eye on production and ensure that care and quality is maintained. It also means that lead times are shorter, travel is kept to a minimum and  any problems can be sorted quickly. After years of working with mass producers in far flung places it's good to be able to meet the real people that make it happen.

Fabric is sourced where possible in Britain and with the exception of silk I've managed to find Nottingham lace, Yorkshire wool and Scottish knitwear for A/W 16. Every mill that I visit has a wealth of heritage and is passionate about keeping British manufacturing and quality ahead of its game. It's a small world and I've found that suppliers have been only too happy to recommend others. Kate Hills who spearheads the 'Make it British' campaign has been hugely helpful amongst others. 

And as with my career beginnings, I'm discovering that inspiration can be found on my doorstep. As a lover of social history, it's been fun exploring the people, folklore and  quirks that make us unique from past to present. Just as I discovered in Rome, there are so many ideas that can be adopted from my own heritage for colour, print and style. This season it's my Northern roots and my love of the East End. Shapes are cut with a nod to tradition, simplified for ease of wear with a dash of modern romance to detailing. 






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First cut

By Justine Tabak

First cut

So this is it, my first blog post. A new collection with so many stories to tell.

The first is dedicated to my past as I lurch into the future. My grandfather was a tailor, a Polish immigrant who settled in Hackney and cut fine cloth into mens tailoring. One of the few items he left from his life was a large pair of tailoring scissors, passed down to my Mum for her numerous dressmaking projects and then on to me as a fashion student. They were huge, made for big hands and long seams. 

Whilst looking through archives for my first collection, I stumbled across this print. A tiny swatch of cotton with a delicate scissor and ribbon print, finely transferred by the Edwardian copper roller. Love at first sight, I fell for the whimsical charm of a humble scissor scattered simply in a regular pattern, a mix literally, of practical and pretty. It seemed apt that this would become my signature, a symbol of my heritage so relevant to my life today. 

So here we are, new beginnings.........

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