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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