I'm wondering if any of you here in the UK watched The Great British Sewing Bee??
This the recent series where amateur sewers took on challenges as they competed to be named Britain's best home sewer. Ann was a worthy winner but I'll admit I wasn't quite sure how the series would work.
Might it be like watching paint dry...
Can you make sewing as interesting as baking on TV...
Can you introduce some stress and meltdown to add to the viewer's interest...
More to the point could Claudia Winkleman, and her canopy of a fringe, carry it off.
But no matter, I love Claudia, she's a breath of fresh air and clearly not a seamstress herself so brought her usual self-effacing wit and humour to the proceedings, whilst judges Patrick Grant (Savile Row tailor) and May Martin (W.I.) cast a critical eye over the resulting garments. I'd be quaking in my boots if the pair of them turned anything I had made inside-out, so when I get back to it I might impose the discipline of a few French seams on myself rather than let the washing machine fray the raw edges into submission.
I was quickly engrossed and ultimately I think Claudia's fringe might have been the only slightly annoying accessory to the whole series. Was I alone I wondered... half hoping that Patrick would pick up the Fiskars and tailor it just a little...
'Well Claudia...the aim is for a neat and tailored look so we must finish your edges properly.'
The stress was readily induced by giving contestants about ten minutes to make a ballgown. In fact that task was allocated about seven hours, ( I would still have needed a long week at minimum) and it was fascinating to watch the different approaches. Those who spent half the time prepping, tacking and making toiles ( a mock-up in cotton fabric) before the scissors came within a mile of the fabric, versus those who leapt right in and guessed, and the subsequent triumphs and disasters. Those who were calm under pressure, those who crumpled into a heap of tears, and they were hardly in a situation where, if it went wrong, they could shove it in a bag and turn it into cushion covers in five years time. I could feel myself wilting inwardly in spirit as someone unpicked a back-to-front something (oh, the times...)
I have no idea about the cumulative effect on the nation, or sewing machine sales, but I do know that every Wednesday morning all I wanted to do was get out a paper pattern, smooth out the fabric for cutting and fire up the Bernina. All I would need in that case was...well a paper pattern and some fabric. I fancied making a flippy summer skirt or two, home-made Boden-style, and how easy that would have been years ago, but how impossible it seems to be these days.
Where to buy paper patterns is the first hurdle. Online, yes, a possibility I discover, but that doesn't feel right at all. I have to go and stand in the shop at the sloping shelf, and leaf my way through the dog-eared corners of the enormous Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls catalogues, and keep an eye on that woman over there who is hogging the Vogue. Then of course I must brave the woman behind the counter with her glasses on a gold cord, and the 'This CANNOT be exchanged' stamp.
Certainly there is nowhere within a reasonable distance from here now, though I had felt sure (wrongly) that John Lewis in Exeter would have stolen a march on all this and stocked up with a little pattern department, and with dress-making fabrics too, so that was a wasted trip. And then dressmaking fabric seems obsolete too, acres of furnishing fabrics but who wants to go out looking like a Parker Knoll armchair. The whole industry seems to have wound down into a sad and sorry decline here in the West Country at least, and may need to crank up again if this series carries on.
But no matter, this is me after all, I have never thrown a paper pattern away, there'd be something in the loft. When I got the box down I realised that I get it from my Mum because she didn't seem to have thrown a paper pattern away either, and I had inherited them.
Just browsing the box was like a journey through a history of my clothes...
Then, branching out on my own machine, I made every permutation of this lot, including that rather 1980s Dallas-style dress on the right which required 5 3/8 yds of suggested fabric... Crepe de Chine, Voile, Georgette, Crepe or Lightweight Cotton. I remember I chose something cheesecloth-like and was in a state of advanced and picklish turmoil from the off.
The obvious problems about using them again are style and ...ahem... pattern size. I am not huge but I know I will have altered the Size 12 patterns to a very snug fit forty years ago, and I'm not sure puffed sleeves and flared skirts are ready for the comeback yet.
But its not just my wardrobe. I know the 1980s passed in a blur of childbearing but I was delighted to see that I must still have found time to sew because there are plenty of more recent children's patterns in the box, and does anyone remember Lewes-based company Clothkits??
Quirky chidren's clothes and in days of yore the pattern was marked on the fabric so all you had to do was cut and sew. I wondered what had happened to them and I am delighted to see that Clothkits have been re-born.
I must confess I would cheat horribly back in the day because they were expensive. I'd buy one kit, make a paper pattern from the pieces and then proceed to make loads of them to my own fabric specifications and child-sizes various. Thirty years have passed, I should be let off for good behaviour.
I am no further on with my summer skirt, except that as I watched the programme I did realise that, thanks to my Mum's tutelage, I could probably have tackled many of the set tasks and so why not draft a pattern from an existing skirt. It has all re-kindled my 'alteration' courage too, so half a waistband completely unpicked on a pair of new Craghopper walking trousers, the firmly entrenched but unwanted elastic removed from the back, and the whole rejoined to make a much nicer garment. Bookhound walked in and said 'You have three minutes left for this task,' which admittedly did phase me momentarily, but I feel sure Patrick and May would be delighted with my efforts.
Anyone else out there making their own...
Anyone inspired to start..