For those denim freaks out there, Son of a Stag in London will have long been a denim destination on your pilgrimage list, especially for those living in the UK. Rudy has been in business for over 20 years and Linda came on board 13 years ago in 2005. The couple and their extended team have grown S.O.A.S into a denim institution and its become a world-renowned name and an epicenter for the local denim community. I have spent many an hour ogling their collection of vintage Buddy Lee’s and fantastic range of top-drawer Japanese, UK and USA made denim. I’ve also had a couple of pairs of my jeans altered and mended too. I will often send people to the store on Drays Walk to hand over their crotch blow-outs or knee busts or to get their hems taken up on the famed Union Special 43200G.

But over recent years the repair side of the business has been getting pretty popular, and those that know Rudy well will know about his obsession with vintage sewing machines; an obsession that dates back many many years, stretches way beyond the in-store Union Special, and has led to the need for a couple of storage units over the years ūüėČ

The famed Union Special, Photo by Sadia Rafique

So it was time to grow and take the repair side of the business into its own home and unbox these hoarded machines that have been taking over their lives. Enter Soldier Blue, Son Of A Stag’s new workshop that opened at the end of October last year. I went to visit the store for a look at all the machines they have set up and chat to my Denim Dudette, Linda about the project and their plans for the future.

Linda Rieswick in Soldier Blue, Photo by Sadia Rafique

So how did this store come about Linda? You just needed more space and staff for the repair jobs?

“Yes, we had been doing repairs for such a long time and we’d out-grown that space, really. And the Son Of A Stag store staff spent quite a lot of time with customers: taking down information, doing consultations, etc. On a daily basis we have around ten jeans coming in, so it has become a lot. The no 1 request is crotch repair and we probably need more than three darning machines just to keep up with it all”

And what kind of customers do you get here? Are they all denim heads?

“Actually the biggest percentage is totally normal people, not purist denim heads, meaning the majority of the jeans are cheaper jeans that are just very well loved. Meaning the price they are paying for the repair is outweighing its original cost”

But thats the funny thing about that favourite pair of jeans, isn’t it? It doesn’t actually matter where they came from, if they are your favourite, thats all that matters. People get so attached to them and I know that I’ve blown several friend’s minds when I tell them that rip doesn’t mean the end for their favourite pair. Its actually nice that you have that mix of crowd in here, rather than it being all denimheads.

“Yes, it was the same when we opened the store and had a big party- it was such a great, mixed crowd.¬† We had lots of denim designers come down, the whole All Saints denim design team because their offices are around the corner, loads of interesting fashion students because the London metropolitan university is nearby, the London collage of fashion students also attended, denim weavers…. such a great mix. And then¬†there are quite a lot of movie companies and stylists in the area so we’ll often have people from Warner Bros and costume designers coming in here for repairs”

Soldier Blue, Photo by Sadia Rafique
Linda Pretending to Work, Photo by Sadia Rafique

Yeah, this area is one of my favourite in London, its still a little unknown yet right in the middle of things.

Its the perfect location really: Aldgate East is 3 mins from the corner here and Liverpool Street is 5 mins, plus its close to our other store. The area hasn’t been gentrified yet but its going that way. And this is the garment district so you have Petticoat Lane market right here with all the African or Italian fabric shops. Petticoat lane market is actually the oldest clothing market in London so its nice to be bringing some history back to the area.

How did you find the store itself?

We always had a keen interest in this street because of the really amazing building across the road. It’s half falling down with trees growing out of the building, really interesting graffiti artists popping over here all the time, yet nobody ever on the street over here. But unfortunately the building has been sold to developers and there’s rumours its going to be developed into new flats and shops.

Eugh, man. Thats a shame. Nowhere is safe!

So tell me more about the machines, because I feel like this whole set-up, this whole story is really all about the machines. How many do you think you have in total and how many are here?

All together I would say over 100. There are well over 15 hemming machines in here alone but we still have some in our flat and then some in storage too. They were going up the stairs… It’ll take us some time to get them all set up and working.¬†Just this week we had our engineer in fixing them all and then he’s back in again today! We knew that working with them would end up taking up a lot of our time but Rudy’s passion has always been machines so rather than owning a house, we just own hundreds of vintage sewing machines!¬†From next week there’s a guy coming once a week to help us with all the machines. Giving them some TLC. He knows how to fix them and know how to work them but he doesn’t have any himself”

Some of Rudy’s collection of machines, Photo by Sadia Rafique
Machine Porn, Photo by Sadia Rafique

Its actually quite an investment because they are so collectible though. What’s your favourite at the moment?

Oh the chain stitch machine for sure. We are really into working on the chain stitch machine at the moment, it has taken some time. I have shit loads of threads that I bought that didn’t work out. In the end we went to south London to an African shop to buy embroidery threads that work so much better. Ghanian and Nigerian threads work really well, its funny the things you learn!

The ‘Right’ Embroidery Threads, Photo by Sadia Rafique

What else have you learnt in this process? Have you had to make modifications to the old machines or adapt them in any way?

“We actually put in a bunch of server motors: with the darning machines its better to have a slower speed and with these server motors you can slow them down or speed them up. they make it better for the environment too. And then pedals: its impossible to find original pedals in England. These are from LA and they are new but cast in in the old style. Some of the original machines are so sensitive and original pedals are cast-iron and heavy so sometimes they can be too heavy for the machine. So with the new pedals and server motors you are making things a lot easier for yourself”

And so what are your next plans? You have a space next door that you can expand into and this place is taking shape and growing in machines by the day, what does the next year look for to you?

We might start re-working vintage garments we’ve been collecting over the years seeing as we have the right equipment to do it. And¬†once the machines are all working and we’re all feeling confident with them we want to start doing our own denim in here, thats the long-term idea. We already have a few names and logos lined up for the brand but I don’t want to say yet. We’ve been working on the patterns and the buttons designs already. We’ll start up with some Japanese denim that I already have my eye on from my last trip out there, I’m excited. It will be very different to Son of a Stag but thats all I’m saying!

Such an awesome space and such amazing machines. Keep scrolling for a few more shots of the store and its inhabitants. And follow their instagram for updates on the store and their future projects! Oh and of course, if you’re into machines, you have to go and visit the team at¬†38 Toynbee St, London E1 7NE, UK.

More of the Beautiful Machines, Photo by Sadia Rafique
Vintage Japanese Textiles, Photo by Sadia Rafique
I don’t know why but this photo gets me excited.
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Trend forecaster, denim designer, industry journalist and author of Denim Dudes.