What? No Pattern?

April 6, 2014

It’s semi final time, and what a cracker! No patterns. Gulp.

Once over the initial excitement of the ticket to the semis, the reality set in. The long challenge on the second day was the one we could prepare for ahead of time. This week, the brief was to take a favourite garment, and without destroying the item, make a pattern from it and then make it up. Then wear it!

Choosing an appropriate item wasn’t easy, as most of my stuff is either far too detailed to be able to make in the time, or specialist clothing like my breeches, which I couldn’t source the fabric for. My main concern with my chosen dress was its simplicity. There was no room to hide with it, and as it was lined, everything needed to be pretty well perfect. But I’ll come back to that later.

First things first. Standing outside the studio doors that morning was like looking up at the north face of the Eiger and being told to get to the top by nightfall! Seemingly impossible, but once we were in the sewing room stood before Patrick and May, we were on the climb of our lives! Our first challenge was handed out – 3 metres of fabric and a mannequin – go and make a dress.

Now, let me tell you a story of my first attempt at draping…

I was 23 years old, immortal and awesomely confident with ignorance! My friend and I concocted a dress for me to go to a local farmers ball with 7 metres of almost neon pink shantung silk. So far, that sounds okay, doesn’t it?

Our idea was to truss me up like a shop window dummy, pleating, draping and tucking our way round what seemed like acres of fabric, as I stood there, moving a little this way and that, making sure there was some room for manoeuvre. The outcome was totally splendid, so off I went into the night.

So many people admired my creation, asking where I had bought it, and wanting to know who the designer was. Wow! Until dinner was over…We hadn’t thought about the possibilities of sitting down in the thing, nor what a bit of energetic dancing with a couple of rather robust farmers would do to our masterpiece. As it slowly unravelled, untucked and unpinned itself, I found myself in the ladies room desperately trying to adjust the design to now protect my modesty rather than make a fashion statement!

I quietly slipped into the night, looking rather like a pink Egyptian mummy, safely bandaged rather than draped. That was not an experiment I have ever repeated since!

So, back to the sewing room. You will have seen that I chose a beautiful Liberty silk satin to make my dress with. It had a wonderful drape which suggested that I should cut it on the bias and maximise on its qualities. I had in mind a sort of 1920′s tea dress, with pleats at the back and a plain skirt front that had two concealed wide pleats at the side.

I was rather pleased with the final result but of course would have preferred another 15 minutes to be able to hand finish it. As we lined up for the results, the usual nerves kicked in, and I stood there wondering if I had done enough. A respectable 2nd place! And yes, it was rather like a leg wax…

That first hurdle over with, it was onto the alteration challenge, and not being my favourite part of the competition, I always felt nervous about the demands that were being asked of us! Okay, so this one didn’t look too bad – putting sleeves into a dress. At last, something I felt I could probably do quite well, as it was a straight measuring job. Putting sleeves into a garment that doesn’t already have them is a very useful skill to acquire, as there will be many times in your life when you feel that a dress you loved so much would, these days, look much better with a little sleeve.

2nd place again. Wow!

The first day over with, and back to the hotel for supper with Tamara. Chinelo and Lynda both went to their rooms exhausted, but Tamara and I sat down together with a bowl of chips and a bottle of wine! And what a delicious supper! As usual, we discussed the day’s goings on, and promised ourselves that we would give it everything we had tomorrow. And so the day ended, both retiring to bed for another sleepless night, and another sewing challenge to come.

The big one. Copy a garment. Make it. Wear it.

I chose a simple shift dress, which was perhaps too simple, but to make the challenge a little more difficult, I chose an ivory silk poplin, which gave me nowhere to hide with it, so everything had to be perfect. Making the pattern came first, and I used fabric instead of paper to copy the dress, measuring where the darts were then sewing these into it. I then traced around the outline of the dress pieces and cut out. Next, I unpicked the darts, ironed the fabric pattern and I was ready to go.

Essentially, the hardest bit was done, but the construction needed to be really accurate. The fabric handled nicely and I was pleased with the fit. As usual, time was the enemy, and so a bit of a rush to get into the dress, and that is where it went wrong.

May criticised my dress because of the fit at the back. I couldn’t believe it! It had seemed perfect when I had last tried it on, so why did it appear to be so awful? I found out 30 minutes later when I made a trip to the ladies, and as I stood in front of the mirror trying to get a view of the back, something was pulling. I unzipped the dress only to find that the lining (which I hadn’t had time to slipstitch to the zipper tape), had got caught in the zip. Too late, and the judging was over.

How lucky was I that I got through to the finals? It was such a shame that Lynda was knocked out, but that is the nature of competing. Lynda, we all adored you and how much fun did you bring to the sewing room? And all the naughty sign language you taught us!

Saying goodbye to one of our fellow competitors has never been nice as we all got on so well together, and this was just the worst moment.

I now have all the items of clothing returned to me, and the first thing I did was try on that dress to see whether I was just kidding myself. The back fits perfectly, but it could have done with the shoulder straps taken up by a quarter of an inch.

That dress will haunt me, because I think a lot of people felt that I should have gone that week, and not Lynda. Thank God I’m not a judge.

And now I face the lovely, quirky and inventive Tamara and freehand cutter Chinelo for the finals. It’s couture week and who knows what will happen?

One thing I can safely say is that it will be the sew of a lifetime, and with each of us having very different styles and interpretations for each challenge, anything could happen!

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The Vintage Show

March 31, 2014

Tuesday’s episode saw us all getting to grips with vintage sewing machines. For me, it was a touch of déjà vu as I was instantly whisked back in time to my old school sewing room, sitting in front of the very same model of sewing machine (colour and all!) and feeling very excited as I had earned the dubious accolade of being seen fit to operate the only electric machine in the classroom. Oh, heady stuff!

Very fortunately, I wasn’t the one to break it – I can only imagine Miss Gibbons may have sewn the cuffs of my blazer together behind my back if I had!

So the first challenge, as you all saw, was an old pattern with holes punched into it! Slightly daunting, but as the pattern pieces were laid out, all became obvious. The front and back pieces looked like any other blouse pattern, and so it was easy to work out what the rest were.

The fabric choice demanded something with a nice drape to it, and being so over train spotter grey, I chose a pretty turquoise with little flowers. Just gorgeous.

The make up was fairly straightforward but the shirring a little tricky. Time was a big factor for all of us as there was a lot of detail and careful sewing required; quite hard when you’re under pressure!

The outcome was that there were varying degrees of finish because of the time, with Lynda not up to her usual amazing standards, and David also struggling to get the shirring correct, but when does a bloke use shirring?

There was not a lot to choose between Chinelo, Tamara and myself, and this time, I succeeded in claiming the pattern challenge, so pressure off a little for the alteration challenge to come later in the day.

And so it was on to the alterations.

What awaited us was something I don’t think any of us could have guessed; a suit to be transformed, without the use of any haberdashery. Thank God, because it saved me from going completely mad with hundreds of buttons and yards of totally inappropriate lace. Hooray! Never going down that road EVER again!

As usual with this challenge, we only had 90 minutes (hardly enough time to have a cappuccino and biscuit) to make a totally different and wearable garment. Now, lets face it, any garment is wearable if;

1. You’ve got the figure
2. You’ve got the guts
3. You have no dress sense whatsoever
4. You’ve had a bucket of gin

So the varying degrees of creativity/undress to my eyes seemed perfectly reasonable…

The outcome, however, proved that Patrick, as usual, remained poised, in control and kept his sense of decency intact. (I wonder what HE’S like after a bucket of Dom Perignon? Maybe the hair wouldn’t be quite so perfect!)

And the result was that Chinelo with her mannequin hugging dress/suit came out top of the pile and the naughty ex-schoolgirl Lynda with her pinafore dress took second place, and my executive backless boob tube came in at a respectable third.

David came fourth with his not-so-changed jacket top and unfortunately Tamara didn’t please the judges this time with her wild and wacky asymmetrical jacket rendition. Very Vivienne, I thought…

Day one disappeared into the mists of time, and there we were, all over again, back to complete the big challenge: the vintage coat. Having had a chance to cut out the majority of it the day before (you can’t really make a coat in 6.5 hours) we were ready to sew our way into these historic designs, hopefully using some vintage techniques along the way.

Bulky fabric, linings, interlinings, hand sewn canvas facings…all of these methods were employed to try and recreate a garment with authenticity, the sort of thing my mother would have sewn in her day. David chose a policemen’s jacket from the 1940′s. His fabric was about as thick as carpet. He broke several needles trying to get through all those layers.

Tamara, on the other hand, had a completely different crisis going on. Her fabric was so loose in the weave that it practically unravelled just looking at it. What a nightmare!

The rest of us chose fairly standard fabrics. Lynda chose flannel, Chinelo chose camel and I chose a cashmere and wool blend.

I had something very particular in mind when I was searching for a vintage pattern. What I ended up with was the swing coat that you saw because as a child, I used to dress up in something almost identical. At that age of 4 or 5, my mothers 3/4 length coat absolutely swamped me, dragging behind me like some glorious coronation robe.

My coat was fairly straightforward to sew, but first I interlined it with cotton poplin to give it a little more structure, and hair canvas was used in the front facings to retain the shape and fall of the front of the coat. Having contrast cuffs gave me extra work to do, but well worthwhile I thought, until time caught up with me and the outcome was that I wasn’t going to be able to get the hem finished by the deadline. What a pity! I had seriously thought that I may be a contender this time for the garment of the week; something that has eluded me so far.

Again Lynda was triumphant in this department and as we all lined up for the execution (as it was now being referred to), we all held hands, so hoping that we had done enough to stay in the competition.

David, this time, was the unlucky one. What a wonderful team mate he’s been. Always so helpful and cheery, funny and supportive. I think out of all of us it has been David that has made a meteoric rise in his sewing skills, with this competition taking him into realms he perhaps may never have encountered voluntarily! Dave, you’re FAB!!

And so another set of challenges over, we see the rest of us heading towards the semi-finals, knowing that things are only going to get harder and harder.

So who will it be that leaves the sewing room next week?

Keep watching!!

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The Pindog Diaries

March 25, 2014

Since entering The Great British Sewing Bee 2014, things have started to change…
Once accepted onto the show, panic set in!

Having discovered the subtle seduction of TK Maxx a couple of years ago, my sewing machine went into semi-retirement whilst I flirted with gorgeous designer bargains. The love affair grew and I found myself riffling through rails and rails looking for that elusive something…It had to stop. What on earth was I doing? My wardrobe quickly filled with wear-it-once items and the satisfaction I once knew from making my own stuff had gone.

So out came the sewing machine. Again.

And here I am.

Creativity has always been at the core of all that I do, and sewing is another dimension of that expression. In my head I’m Vivienne Westwood, but just as I get round to cutting the fabric, the conversation I always end up having is this; “So where do you think you’re going to wear that, exactly?”. So, I revert to being classical. Okay, but not as I really am!

But things are changing! I’ve come out. Of the closet! Until GBSB nobody had the faintest clue that I sewed, but now my secret is out. And the best thing is that my friends’ children, who are now teenagers, are mad and willing enough to go with the flow and wear a few of my more unusual ideas. Yippee! A renaissance!!

Whilst taking part in GBSB I was always very aware of the tight time limits. As I’m a bit of a perfectionist, I chose fairly ‘safe’ long projects as I felt sure that although simple in construction, these garments were the best way to showcase my sewing skills.

So for those of you that thought my choices were boring and not creative enough, watch this space!

Each month I’ll be posting a design, and will take you through the construction techniques, fabrics used, and will answer any questions you may have.

After all, let’s share the knowledge.

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