We’re delighted to welcome Susan Cropper, owner of the fabulous Loop shop in Islington, as a contributor to our Knitter’s Weekend series of local guides for knitters. We have a feeling that London will require more weekends if we are going to even scratch the surface of the city’s many delights, but Susan gives us a rich, fiber-centric start. –Kay and Ann
London is a multi-cultural city steeped in centuries of history. At the same time, the city continues to inspire the world with the very best of new theatre, arts, music and craft.
London has been my home for the past 30 years, after starting out life in New York City.
While writing this article, and going about taking pictures, London grabbed my heartstrings once again. It’s an amazing place for anyone interested in knitting, textiles and fiber arts.
Textiles have been well thought out on the London transport system. When you’re on the buses and trains look down at the fabrics of the upholstery – some of them are beautiful.
My tour starts in the center of London, commonly referred to here as “The West End,” with Oxford Circus tube station at its heart.
A short walk from Oxford Circus is Liberty. Housed in a magnificent Tudor building with fabulous textiles, scarves, furniture and more, Liberty was opened in 1875 by Arthur Liberty. The current building was built in 1924 using timber from two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. (The frontage at Great Marlborough Street is the same length as the Hindustan.) Devoted to Arthur Liberty’s vision of an Eastern Bazaar and determined to change the look of homeware and fashion, his collection of ornaments, fabric and objets d’art proved irresistible to a society intoxicated by Japan and the East.
Today Liberty’s is a great place to walk around looking at beautiful fabrics. There are also great chocolate, fashion and beauty departments. There’s a wonderful restaurant, Cafe Liberty, that is open from breakfast to dinner along with a gorgeous afternoon tea.
A short walk from Liberty is Cloth House.
I love this fabric shop, which stocks a mixture of new and vintage products which are carefully curated.
They source beautiful, mostly natural, fabrics and haberdashery from all over the world, sometimes working closely with local textile traders and artisans using traditional skills.
They have hand printed cottons, washed linen and organic cottons as well as very beautiful, simple Japanese fabrics. You can find some beautiful things to trim your knits with here.
Walk down Oxford street towards Selfridges and you will come to Marylebone Lane on a side street.
Tucked on a side street near Marylebone High Street (another lovely shopping street which is the home of Designer’s Guild, Skandium, Daunt books and a special Japanese ceramic shop called Eclectic66 ) you will find VV Rouleaux which has the most incredible selection of ribbons and small textile treasures.
The Button Queen is nearby, too, and has an museum-quality selection of vintage buttons.
Cutting back through to Regent street you’ll arrive at Piccadilly Circus which is a merging of streets going in different directions. Go one way and to find theatres, the other way and you are in Chinatown for a great Dim Sum lunch or a five-minute walk to The Royal Academy, one of my favorite art museums. I love looking at the exhibitions in beautifully ornate old rooms.
Across the street from the Royal Academy is Fortnum & Mason – a mecca for food fanciers for over 300 years, with the most beautiful packaging you can find. It’s worth going in just to look around and marvel at the cakes, chocolates, and teas, and the stunning food hall. It’s also fun to look at Fortnum & Mason’s elaborate, whimsical window displays. Afternoon tea in The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is world renowned. Reserve online; such a treat!
If you need a breather or just want to be in nature, Green Park is close by.
On a Sunday:
Columbia Road Flower market
On Sundays, in the eastern part of London, Columbia Road is transformed into a wonderful flower market. In addition there are 60 independent shops on both sides of the road and on a few of the side streets. There are small art galleries, cake shops and vintage shops as well. The air is intense with the scent of flowers and the chant of the barrow boys: “Everthin’ a fiver!”
One of my favorite shops is Jessie Chorley’s, an Aladdin’s cave of unique embroidered beauty.
Jessie transforms found paper, books, fabrics and pre-worn clothing into one-of-a-kind objects to be cherished. (Jessie also runs workshops from the shop as well as teaching at my shop, Loop, a few times a year.)
Nearby, Brick Lane is great for other independent shops, The Truman Brewery (an old brewery that now houses craft and independent fashion fairs), Indian restaurants and Beigel Bake, a 24-hour bakery beloved for its great bagels and sandwiches. Spitalfields Market and Shoreditch are both great areas to explore on foot.
If you come in winter it’s worth going to Dennis Severs’ House. Dennis Severs was an artist who lived in the house in much the same way as its occupants in the 18th century would have done. A few nights a week there are “Silent Nights” where you explore the house by candlelight. It’s an intimate portrait of the lives of a family of Huguenot silk-weavers from 1724. Magic.
On another day, take the Underground to the Southbank area.
The Tate Modern is an international museum of modern art in a huge industrial building that formerly was a power station. The permanent collection is fabulous as well as the special exhibitions.
After walking around the Tate you might be hungry for food, film, theatre, music or more art. Walk along the Southbank outside of Tate Modern and you will find yourself at The Southbank Centre along the River Thames. There you will find loads of food stalls, restaurants, bars, pop-up fairs as well as The British Film Institute, Hayward Art Gallery, The National Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It’s lovely to just mooch about this whole area.
From the Southbank area you can walk over to Borough Market (open Wednesday-Saturday), a large open-air food market. There are stalls where farmers drive in from British farms as well as France and Holland, selling gorgeous fresh produce, meats, cakes and wines as well as cooked food. There are also some great restaurants here.
Ah, and then we come to Loop, my baby. Take the tube to Angel or Highbury/Islington and you’ll be in the great neighborhood of Islington. The area boasts so many excellent restaurants and bakeries, including Ottolenghi, that Upper Street (the main shopping street) has been nicknamed “Supper Street,” and the top end of it which is Highbury Corner is referred to as “Piebury Corner.”
Loop is at the “Angel” end of the neighborhood and is on Camden Passage, a pedestrian street that is filled with vintage and antique shops, more cafes –including my favourite, the Elk in the Woods– and lots of independent shops. On Saturdays and Wednesdays there is an antique market.
I opened Loop 11 years ago and have strived to make it like the best yarn fair in the world. We have loads of gorgeous yarns in natural fibers, and hand-dyes from small artisanal dyers from the UK and around the world. We’re also the European flagship shop for Brooklyn Tweed and Quince & Co, and have over 120 colours of Madelinetosh yarns. We stock a selection of Wollmeise alongside haberdashery, both vintage and handmade, and work by textile artists, such as Sophie Digard, Nathalie Lete and Julie Arkell. We also have great workshops from beginner’s through to master classes, with visiting teachers from around the world, so it’s worth checking our website to see if a class is going on when you might visit. It’s textile heaven.
(Yarn photos in the gallery at the top of this article are from Loop.)
Top Tips for London:
Buy an Oyster Card. Unless you are planning on walking everywhere (London is a huge city) or taking Uber or taxis, you must buy an Oyster Card as soon as you arrive as the buses and trains don’t take cash. Get a tube map, available at any tube station for free.
Two great websites for knowing how to get around:
TFL (Travel for London)’s Journey Planner. This will show you numerous ways to get from A to B and also has live travel updates for route and service changes.
London W1B 5AH
47 Berwick Street, W1
(closest tube: Oxford Circus)
102 Marylebone Lane, W1
(closest tube: Oxford Circus or Bond St)
Fortnum & Mason
181 Piccadilly, W1
(closest tube either Piccadilly Circus or Green Park)
The Royal Academy
Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1
(closest tube either Piccadilly Circus or Green Park)
(closest tube: Southwark or Blackfriars)
8 Southwark Street, SE1
(closest tube: London Bridge)
Columbia Road Flower Market
Sundays from 8am to around 3pm
Columbia Road, E2
(closest tube: Bethnal Green)
15 Camden Passage, Islington N1
(closest tube: Angel)
Jessie Chorley The Shop
158a Columbia Rd E2
(closest tube: Hoxton or Bethnal Green)
Dennis Severs House
18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields. E1
(closest tube: Shoreditch High St)
287 Upper Street, N1
(closest tube: Angel or Highbury/Islington)
Elk in the Woods
37 Camden Passage, N1
(closest tube: Angel)