5 Inspirational Women in Sewing

5 Inspirational Women in Sewing

For International Women's Day this year, we thought we would celebrate a few of the inspirational women in sewing who inspire us at Fabrics Galore and whose fabrics and designs still make our wardrobes and homes sing. Read on to be reminded of these 5 inspirational women in sewing. Three of them are also responsible for some of the best designer fabrics in the UK.


Laura Ashley


Laura Ashley


Laura Ashley was a Welsh businesswoman and fashion designer born in 1925. Her story began in 1953 after seeing a Patchwork and Quilting exhibition at the V&A, Laura and her husband Bernard set about learning how to print fabric at their kitchen table and by 1954 they had a company selling printed tea towels, scarves and napkins.

Things really took off and by the 1970s everyone wanted to wear her dresses - In one week alone, London's Fulham Road shop sold 4,000 dresses; it may have helped that Princess Diana was always the brand’s most famous unofficial ambassador. The aesthetic was small floral prints, and her fashion was known for high necked dresses and blouses, romantic silhouettes and frills. 

By the 1980s Laura Ashley had moved into furnishing fabrics too. Although often associated with quintessential British style, Ashley was actually Welsh - her first store was opened in Machynlleth in 1961, with a factory following two years later in Carno, Powys.

Laura Ashley herself had moments of being quite a formidable woman and some of her quotes in interviews illustrate this -'The trouble with feminists is that they put themselves on an equal with men. Well, I'm a woman and I'm much stronger than any man.' What an inspiration and well ahead of her time.

Sadly, Laura Ashley died in an awful accident in 1985 at her daughters home just before her 60th birthday. At the time of her death there were 220 Laura Ashley stores worldwide. 

Although things haven’t worked out for the company she set up in the 30 years since her death, the Ashley Family Foundation, which supports projects to strengthen rural communities in Wales continues. And the Laura Ashley influence can still be seen in both fashion and interiors. In fashion, it’s the ditsy print dresses, statement colours and romantic puffed sleeves; whereas for interiors it’s the cottage core vision. 




Browse our Laura Ashley Fabric Collection


Orla Kiely

Image credit https://orlakiely.com/ 

Orla Kiely was born in Ireland in 1963, and began designing hats but after her father made the comment that every woman carries a handbag and many don’t wear a hat, she moved into handbags. In1995 she started her company around the kitchen table with her husband Dermott. The idea was to bring colour back into fashion which was immersed in black at the time, while at the same time Kiely also wanted everything to have functionality. Her style aesthetic is influenced by mid century modern and is described by her as ‘strong, often minimal, and balanced’.  Kiely herself has said “I love graphic design so everything I do has that nod to graphic designers from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.”

By the early 1990s she moved into laminated handbags and everything changed; then she created Stem in 2000 and it would go on to be her most recognisable design. The now iconic Stem design is based on a rowan leaf and is continuously her most loved print. 

Her fashion designs became hits with everyone from Alexa Chung to the Royals, particularly Kate Middleton who has worn her dresses on a number of occasions; each time their website has a near meltdown. By the end of 2017 they had moved into furnishings and had sold over a million stem printed pots. In between all of this,  Orla Kiely received an OBE in 2011 for contribution to both business and fashion.

Although the fashion business went into administration, Kiely is still designing for the home and has relaunched her website where you can buy the still iconic Stem printed pots and seek inspiration for your home furnishing projects.



Browse our Orla Kiely Fabric Collection


Cath Kidston

Cath Kidston: Photo Credit Alice Whitby

Catherine Isabel Audrey Kidston was born in 1958 in Hampshire, but we now know her better as Cath Kidston. Her career began when she moved to London, first working for interior designer Nicky Haslam, who along with her cousin Belinda Bellville became her mentors. By 1993 she had started her own business, thirty years old this year. She specialises in home furnishing and fashion products, with a nostalgic and vintage aesthetic. She opened her first store in Holland Park in 1993 and started designing her distinct prints starting with the Antique Rose which was inspired by a vintage wallpaper from an antiques market. 

The brand was based around vintage and antique items which she revived with some bright paint. Then after a mistake on the ordering of some duvets, Kidston turned the surplus into cushions, washbags and padded coathangers, and the homewares business was born.

Since then, Kidston’s company has developed and the British public was totally won over by her trademark floral table cloths, crockery and dresses. In 2002 Kidston brought back an old classic the Button Spot - Red and what makes it so special is that the spots are slightly irregular.

The company continued to grow and by 2013 there were 136 Cath Kidston stores across the world, and she received an MBE from the Queen in 2010. Part of Kidston’s endearing appeal are her prints linking to other nationwide events like the iconic London prints in the build up to the Jubilee and Olympics in 2012; our favourite is the Guards inspired by Buckingham Palace. 

In 2008, she collaborated with Tesco to produce shopping bags made from plastic bottles, which were sold to raise almost £500,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care and saved about six million plastic bottles from landfill.

Although she stepped down from the company in 2017, she still works in the industry with a venture called the Joy of Print.


Browse our Cath Kidston fabric collection

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood

We couldn’t talk about inspirational women in sewing without mentioning Vivienne Westwood who sadly died on 29th December 2022. To many she was the “undisputed Queen of British fashion”. She was fairly unique in the industry as in recent years she had been encouraging people to “buy less and spend more”; we can’t think of many designers who have said that. 

Her place in British history is cemented as she became OBE in 1992 and then a Dame in 2006 , although she is so well thought of, she is known as Western Empress Dowager in China.

Vivienne Isabel Swire was born on 8 April 1941, in a small village in Derbyshire, but the family later moved to London where she would meet Malcolm McLaren and together they wanted to start a Punk movement and take on the establishment. To kickstart this idea, together they started many shops including Let It Rock, Too Fast To Live, Too Young to Die. SEX then Seditionaries. The next part of the plan was Westwood dressing the Sex Pistols who McLaren managed. 

But as the Punk movement changed, Westwood focussed more on fashion and everything changed in 1981 when she presented her first Fashion collection - Pirates. By 1989 she was called one of the six most influential designers in the world. Her fashion aesthetic was tartans, corsets, printed t-shirts with powerful cultural and political slogans with a touch of the 18th Century all mixed into one. The political causes close to her heart included Climate Change and Anti- Fracking. 


Esme Young

Esme Young: photo credit ITVX 

Spring is in the air and very soon the Sewing Bee will be returning to our screens, so our thoughts turn to our favourite judge - Esme Young. She was born in 1949 in Bedfordshire and would go on to become a force in the British fashion industry. 

Whilst still at college Esme launched the fashion brand Swanky Modes with friends - Judy Dewsbery, Melanie Langer and Jeanette Beckham. They designed clothing for icons like Grace Jones and Cher. Originally the idea was to create the clothes they were looking and failing to find on the high street.

They went on to design and make trailblazing clothes including a transparent Mac made from shower curtain remnants which would later be used in a Helmut Lang photo shoot for Nova magazine.

In the last season of the Sewing Bee contestants had to recreate her Amorphous Dress which is such a big deal it’s currently being shown at the V&A. This particular collection was the first time anyone had used lycra in something other than swimwear. This collection also included the Padlock Dress worn by Grace Jones which is now in the Museum of London.

By the 1990s Young had moved into designing costumes some of which are totally iconic, just these are two are unforgettable

Bridget Jones - Bunny Girl Costume

Romeo and Juliet - who can forget the great Hawaiian shirts

She joined the Sewing Bee in season four and has taken it by storm to become everyone’s favourite judge. In 2000 she became a lecturer at Central St Martins a moment she describes as a “full circle” moment. And in case you were wondering where her envious collection of necklaces are from, well from various markets like Ridley Road in Dalston.

Inspirational Women and UK Fabric Designers

We are proud to be official fabric suppliers in the UK of such inspirational women designers as Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston and Orla Kiely. We hope you love their fabric collections as much as we do. 

Back to blog

One stop fabric shop

Welcome to the Fabrics Galore London online store, packed full of beautiful fabrics to inspire your next dressmaking, patchwork quilting, craft or home furnishing sewing project. We stock a huge range of different materials alongside designer fabrics from Liberty, Cath Kidston, Orla Kiely, Laura Ashley, William Morris and Alexander Henry. We source the highest quality fabrics, so whether it be a cotton, linen, viscose, chambray, jersey or wool, we have you covered.Check out our dressmaking fabric for something with drape, fabulous Liberty cotton lawn prints, quilting fabrics for patchwork inspiration or the home furnishing section to pimp your pad. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get sewing!

What our customers say

Fast Delivery
Great Quality
Outstanding Customer Service
Fast Delivery
Great Quality
Outstanding Customer Service