I'm well and truly back into the swing of London life after my French escape and so to hand back to fate for this week's Secret Life adventure. Well, I say 'this week' but you will see as this one progresses why it has turned into a 2 week challenge. So, colour red was the category which is all about 'Self Improvement' and challenge number 8 was.....dressmaking skills! Now I will admit to having a sewing machine, but it rarely comes out of its case except for fixing seams and the odd alteration. My technique is certainly not something that my sewing teacher from primary school would have approved of. I found many workshops and classes online, most of which offered a beginners class on how to make a drawstring bag (again flashbacks to primary school and making a peg bag....I've never understood why a 10 year old would want a peg bag!) So, in the true spirit of adventure as always, I chose a 3 hour 1-2-1 session with 'The Thrifty Stitcher'
After booking I received a lovely email from Owner and Tutor, Claire-Louise Hardie to ask what I would like to get out of the class so that she could be prepared. Little did she know how underprepared for it I was! And so the evening came round and with my now honed sense of trepidation/excitement I arrived at The Thrifty Stitcher studio in Stoke Newington. I immediately felt inspired surrounded by the endless array of fabrics, garments and general bits and bobs. Likewise Claire-Louise put me at ease as we spoke through the kind of pieces I would like to make and what my level of skill was. We looked though some patterns and decided on making a nice shift dress. She showed me how to take my measurements accurately and talked me through how sizing has changed throughout the years. It was a real insight to hear how many high street shops, and particularly those aimed at teenagers and young women 'fudge' their sizes slightly to make their customers feel better (when in fact they are getting bigger) and so will want to buy their clothes. I know where I'm shopping from now on...:) What lay ahead in the next couple of hours was a real education. I have never used a pattern as the thought of them always freaks me out slightly (as do the weird 70s illustrations on the packets). However, Claire-Louise was brilliant and talked me through all of the idiocincracies to look out for in this process. It turns out I couldn't have been in better hands as she is the lady who produces the tasks in 'The Great British Sewing Bee' and has recently written a book to accompany the series. I LOVE that programme (and of course Patrick Grant). I learned that the process of pattern cutting was the opportunity to really tailor the fit of the final garment to your individual shape, so not just a case of 'following the lines' ( and there can be a LOT of lines!) Using my measurements we adapted the cut to fit between sizes and then fitted the pattern to my body. This was again revealing to see that it should be narrower in some parts (and sadly wider in others) and that length had to be added. I really had no idea the processes involved in this and again learned that many high street 'fast fashion' stores cut corners which is why we end up with clothes that don't fully fit our shape. Throughout the process Claire-Louise explained everything so clearly, and at the same time I found out more about her background in theatrical costume design which really interested me. And all of this done to a great musical playlist - nice touch! All too soon my 3 hours were up and whilst Claire-Louise started to give me help in how to finish the pattern at home and sew up my dress, I decided however to see the project through to the end in expert hands. So, watch this space for the (hopefully!) finished garment as I continue my sewing challenge next week.......
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.