Where Has the Summer Gone?

August 10, 2014

It seems no time at all since I last posted on this blog, but in actual fact, it was rather a long time ago. SO much has happened, and as this is my busy time of year with the horses, the weeks have galloped by! The GoSew project has finally come to fruition, with much enthusiasm from our young sewists, all of whom seem to have a rather light touch with the sewing machines, but more of that later!

Since having won The Great British Sewing Bee, it was my aim to be able in some way to pass on the skills that have helped me so much in my life, and that is how the first idea of GoSew started. I knew what I wanted to do, but wasn’t entirely sure how to put it together!

After giving a lecture to the local quilters club and mentioning the idea, several people came forward with offers of help, from supervision to demonstration! All I had to do was find my young enthusiasts! And that became obvious very quickly!

The tide has turned now with sewing and related handcrafts, and we find ourselves in a renaissance that is gathering impetus and stature, attracting people from all walks of life, including television producers! Vintage, retro, and recycling/upcycling  are all part of our everyday vocabulary, reflecting the mood of todays youngsters, with a longing for individuality and sustainability, plus a healthy dose of romanticism combined with a modern twist. There is a need to know how to produce these looks without spending a vast fortune that most of us don’t have, and television is now reflecting that growing trend.

Gone are the days when your mother and grandmother were experts in all things related to any form of sewing, knitting, crocheting, rugmaking, lacemaking etc, and now that chain of expertise has been broken, there is a cavernous hole in our basic understanding of how things are constructed, or even a knowledge of fabric type and suitability for the purpose in hand. Our youngsters are hostages to fashion!

The saying that knowledge is power is absolute. Without knowledge, we are powerless. I want to help, in a small way, to re address this in the sewing world, because with the amazing desire that the children have to be able to emulate what they see on the television, without real help, that will turn into frustration, disillusion and a complete disinterest in what could have been a life changing skill. I see my role in this challenge as one of a catalyst; putting two ingredients together to produce something much greater than the two separate parts. Hence GoSew.

I have been blessed with the most astounding help with setting up the GoSew series of summer tuition, and I have to say a massive thank you to the Sherrier School in Lutterworth and the Lutterworth College for the use of their premises and their belief that sewing is an important part of social education. Particular thanks go to Holly Coull and Robyn Wallace at the Sherrier for their unfettered enthusiasm and also to Andrew Cooper Head of Lutterworth College for his great support and belief in vocational skills. Without these people, this whole thing would not have happened.

The great belief that sewing is really important to us all has been carried through by the outstanding support that Janome Sewing Machines has also given me, allowing me the possibility to do pop up workshops with my mobile sewing kit, and  also Simplicity patterns and their generosity. We are on the precipice of a new age of creative sewing and crafts; the embryonic beginnings of a greater manufacturing base and an unprecedented opportunity for vocational skills to be recognised and rewarded as is deserving of  the skills that are required to achieve good creative results. Lets build on what we have!

My idea  of GoSew is that the tuition should be free, as these days, sewing classes can be quite expensive, which is fine for those earning a wage, but for most parents, it becomes an unaffordable dream. I learnt to sew at school, with the most amazing standard of tuition which only became apparent to me much later in life. It changed my life in subtle ways. I want to do the same for others. I am in the process of trying to arrange donations of fabrics of differing types for the children to practice and learn with. For me, that was a tipping point in my sewing experience. Rather than just learning on simple cottons, we had the opportunity to use other, rather more difficult fabrics, and so I fell in love with silk. I so want the children to feel and experience different textures, different fabrics and have the chance to experiment with all manner of things, to build their confidence and love of textiles


Continue Reading

Catching Up!

May 28, 2014

There as been a lot going on since my last post, and now I have lots to tell you!

Our Tuesday sew chats has revealed many things about what you all like to sew, what you don’t like to sew, and what you would love to sew if you had the time and skills. I’ll return to that subject shortly!

Also we touched on the subject of whether sewing should be back on the school curriculum. The answer seemed to be an overwhelming YES!  Of course, my view is that it should be, and with that in mind, I have pushed ahead with my Go Sew project for children aged from 10 to 18

With the most amazing generosity from Janome sewing machines and Simplicity patterns we are on the way to the launch of our very first Go Sew day! The intention is to run dressmaking courses through the summer holidays at no cost to the children.

Sewing is such an important skill to learn; it contains so many things within the act of making a garment – it requires logic, concentration, a bit of maths, co-ordination and creativity. What it gives back is a sense of achievement, pride and confidence. Its a win win situation! If it had been sold to the government as textile engineering then perhaps we would be seeing it back in schools in a more meaningful way!

The excitement that the pop up sewing classes have generated has been amazing, and it appears that we may have to work out an expansion scheme, but with overwhelming offers of help and support, we’re going to accommodate as many children as we can this summer!

Our local schools have also been very supportive offering their premises as a base for the classes. I’m so grateful for their involvement with Go Sew.

Many of you that have Twitter will have seen a variety of garments that I have made over the last couple of months, and now I’m hoping to improve on that by putting up step by step photos of construction so that you can see exactly what I’m doing. Perhaps there is something that you would like to have explained in photos. The text explanation will also appear, but on this website. 140 characters on Twitter just won’t do it !!

Let me know if you have any particular things you would like me to explain or make and I’ll see what I can do. At the moment, I’m working on some short Youtube tutorials to address particular techniques. When they’re ready, I will be letting you all know via Twitter and Facebook.

Anyone in London on Thursday June 12th? I will be at Biddle and Sawyer Silks in Berwick Street, Soho from 6 -8PM signing the current Great British Sewing Bee book, alongside the author, Tessa Eveleigh. Bring your own book or buy one at the time. It would be lovely to meet some of you and have a bit of a chat! Also, the opportunity to get to see the most beautiful silks that are on sale here. My finals dress will be on display – and this is the shop that supplied the silk for it!

Continue Reading

Tuesdays Sewchat

April 21, 2014

If we use the #gosew hashtag we should all be able to follow the line of conversation going along, and for specific longer problems, use the contact page on this website for a more in depth answer. Lets give it a go and work on it from there! Looking forwards to tomorrow evening!

Continue Reading

A Tuesday Evening Sewchat?

April 20, 2014

In a flutter of twitters last Tuesday, it appears that we are all longing for something to fill the gaping hole that seems to have appeared since the Sewing Bee finished. So, (if you’ll excuse the pin, er, pun), what about a little get together on this webpage? I’m also on twitter and facebook, but this may be easier for us all.

If you have any queries, funny stories, pictures, problems or anything else you might want to share, I’ll be on the email ready to give it my best shot and do what I can!!

Use the contact form on the website, and away we’ll go! And still use the twitter and facebook as well…… One of the best things about having been on GBSB is all of you out there that share this same passion as me. WOW!


I’m also intending to put up some tutorials on this website and also on youtube as time goes on.

What catches your imagination?

What would you like to learn?

Is there something you would like explained?

Just drop me a line……Roll on Tuesday!

Continue Reading

Is There an Afterlife?

April 20, 2014

And so The Great British Sewing Bee 2014 is over for another year, and as the dust settles in the distance of time, several people have asked me “what next?”

There is a lot to do!

I am in the process of finding the best way forwards with helping children to learn to sew and make their own clothes. Having asked many youngsters in my area, it seems to me that although sewing is sometimes part of the Design and Technology curriculum, its not addressing the childrens needs. Sewing is now looked upon as cool, creative, fun and expressive. When I was at school, it had a rather less glamorous cloak! It was seen as something that all girls should do; I cannot ever remember one boy that was allowed to
or even interested in sewing. Thank goodness times change.

We are all touched by fashion, even those who dismiss it as trivial and unworthy of mention. I haven’t seen one person naked in the supermarket yet, no matter what walk of life they are from! We all wear clothes. We are all consumers of the fashion industry. And out there, someone is manufacturing, designing, weaving, selling….. The possibilities are endless for career opportunities……

All that is needed is a little knowhow, and we may inspire our youngsters to meaningfully consider the possibilities before them, and at the very least, not be reliant on just buying clothes because they are cheap. Out of learning sewing skills comes a whole package of expression of individuality, confidence, and pride in achievement. And all because someone has taught them to sew. And thanks to GBSB, a total endorsement of the worth of such a simple skill.

The renaissance has started!

Continue Reading

The Final Countdown……..

April 13, 2014

The week preceding the finals was rather a panic. Our brief was to create a couture inspired gown for the final garment of The Great British Sewing Bee 2014. I was rather excited about this as it was exactly what I love to do in my dressmaking.

My sewing over the years has led me on to create more and more complex constructions and my all time favourite thing is to do this type of dress.
I was looking forwards to really showcase my skills once and for all, no holds barred, hopefully with time to complete a couture hand finish on the dress that would knock the judges socks off!

My tactic for getting to the finals was to focus on doing something really well but not overfacing myself by not being able to complete the task and therefore going on to crash and burn. I knew that if I got to the final then I could really go all out both creatively and technically.

As soon as I received the brief for the couture inspired dress, I knew exactly what I wanted; a little touch of Vivienne Westwood and a swirl of Valentino. The design of that dress took me all of 15 minutes, but the reality of how to make it in 6.5 hours took me considerably longer!

But I digress…..

Lets start at the very beginning, waiting outside the studio doors that morning, for the last pattern challenge of GBSB 2014.

It was a wonderful feeling – excitement and nervous exhilaration. The finals at last, and here I was. No expectations were on me as I had never won garment of the week, so I went into the studio determined to thoroughly enjoy myself

Our first challenge on that day was to make a mans tie. Sneaky. And just the job for this very last pattern challenge. A handmade tie has everything you could wish for when the theme of the week is couture. A quick dash into the haberdashery to get our fabrics. I wanted a really firm silk brocade, which I found, although I had considered a plain twill, but being the finals, I went with a delicious magenta and orange broken stripe.

Tie making is a bit fiddly, especially the tipping process, and having never made a tie before, I was surprised at how many pieces there were, but it was such an enjoyable challenge. I was rather pleased with the results although one of the final instructions had me a little perplexed!

I didn’t realise that Chinelo was having such a difficult time. When I saw her at the end of the challenge, my heart went out to her. She was so upset as she hadn’t managed to complete the tie. She doesn’t normally work from a pattern, so the combination of getting her head around unfamiliar instructions, coupled with immense pressure to perform, and the time limit, it was all too much…..

Tamara, on the other hand, had waltzed into the studio with a tie around her waist! Patricks face was a picture!

Tamara made a lovely job of the tie and beat me to first place with a rather lovely specimen. So, one down, two to go!

And so onto the alterations challenge. Over the weeks I had started to adapt my way of attacking the alterations, learning a lot from my fellow competitors… When we saw that there was a wedding dress to be transformed I was rather thrilled. For a change!!!! The dash for the dresses was on, and I was hoping beyond anything that there was a silk one available to us. Silk is my preferred fabric to work with as it is so alive and expressive, beautiful to the touch and lends itself to all manner of shaping and sculpting. Needless to say, it really captures my imagination!

We were directed to make a childs outfit from the gown, so I started by making the skirt part of what was going to be a dress, then moving on to the top, which I began cutting on the stand. After a little while, I realised that what I wanted to do was not going to be possible in the time, so I had to change plans with only 25 minutes to go. Panic! I opted for a very simple top with a bias neckline, and allowing the fabric to really speak for itself. I cut it with slightly extended shoulders so that I could softly tuck them in and give the silk a plumpness and fullness without competing with the intricate gathering around the waist of the skirt. When making something like this, for a little person, its important to remember that everything should be scaled down and delicate. That means seam allowances, hemlines and topstitching all need to be in proportion to the finished article.

With so little time left to complete the challenge, I surprised myself with how quickly I managed to sew. Move over Lynda! (in my dreams – Lynda sews at the speed of light!)

Tamara and Chinelo went roughly down the same path, doing all singing and dancing outfits. Chinelos dress had some cute little sleeves and lovely organza whilst Tamara made a feature of using tulle. Both were beautiful little frocks.

I had a small panic attack when we lined up the mannequins, as suddenly my efforts looked very minimalist in comparison to the other two. Needless to say, I was mightily relieved to come in second with both judges appreciating the simplicity and attention to detail on mine. Phew! Chinelo won this challenge, as she incorporated some nice sewing processes.

And so the first day of the finals came to a close, we were all wanting to get onto the next days sewing as quickly as possible. Another sleepless night and a long day ahead of us…..

Back to the sewing room for the last time. And look who the models were! Our best friends had been drafted in; how lovely to have them with us – a real confidence boost! Thanks Katie!

Armed with our fabrics (metres of the stuff!) we got down to the final dress of the series. The couture inspired gown. Patrick made me laugh as he was asking what I was going to do with all the fabric and whether the budget had been approved! Do you know, silk doesn’t have to be expensive. My glazed silk chiffon was £6.50 a metre, the silk taffeta £8.50 a metre, and all because I scouted around and bought roll ends of discontinued colours. My dress cost just over £100. Not bad for a one off couture ballgown!

The fan pleated section was hand sewn onto coutile, a corset canvas, as I wanted something substantial to be the foundation of the dress. The bodice was cut then fitted to my model. I then boned it with rigiline, then started the arduous task of hand sewing the pleats into place. This took 3.5 hours to complete. After that, came the construction of the skirts, 10 metres in all; two 5 metre circular skirts attached to a wide petersham waistband which had been previously attached to the bodice. The hemline of the skirts was done with an overlocker and rolled to create a beautiful lettuce hemline, slightly wavy, giving a beautiful fluted effect to the skirts.

Once the skirts were attached, a re-fit to Kate was in order. My chain placement was calculated and the giant hooks positioned. The waistband was fastened with hooks and eyes which were hidden under the chiffon. My next task was to make up the bustle with silk taffeta, a wonderful full bodied, lustrous fabric. Its gorgeous to work with and the results are always so pleasing. The final touches of the bustle was to catch in little stitches throughout the overskirt to create volume and movement, giving it a regal air. The curb chain was attached to the hooks on the bodice, and the dress was almost ready for the judging.

And the final, final touches were the top had and riding crop! What I had wanted to do with this last all out sewing challenge was to incorporate proper couture hand sewing tradition, my Leicestershire roots, and my own equestrian background. This was who I am, and what I love.

With everything done, there was nothing to do but wait for the final countdown. That last judging round kind of passed me by. I had done all that I could, really pushed the boat out and there was nothing more to do. I felt that I had done my very best and whatever the result, I was happy.

Standing in the line up, with Tamara and Chinelo was a very still moment. Our friends and family were there with us, a party awaiting, and massive pride in what we had all achieved. I think I was almost daydreaming when my name was announced. Not for one moment had I expected to win the Great British Sewing Bee 2014 title, and for a second or two, I was paralysed, then beyond shocked, then…… well, hopefully you watched it all on BBC! Lost for words!

I would like to say the biggest thank you ever to my fellow competitors, without whom this would have been no fun at all. Such great team spirit, sharing of knowledge, friendship and kindnesses. It is testament to the fact that we all remain in close touch with each other, still sharing our sense of humour, and interest in each others lives. What an amazing experience this has all been and if any of you out there have thoughts about entering the Sewing Bee – DO IT !

And the very last thanks go to Patrick and May, whose expertise and professionalism have been awesome. I hope we all did you proud!

Continue Reading