Today saw a foray into dressmaking. Or perhaps a return to sewing? As a child I loved making things, sewing, embroidering, stitching, crocheting etc etc (although I never understood how to knit!). I loved it and made endless things or enhanced things with little embroidery stitches. For my Father’s 40th birthday gift to him, I embroidered numbers 1-40 on 40 white handkerchiefs. Many many hours of stitching but he loved those hankies and still has a threadbare one or two some 30several years later.

I remember Mum making things at home. In latter years to earn ‘a few pennies’ she set up a little home business making and selling things that we’d long forgotten we needed, such as ham bags, jelly strainers and steam pudding covers. She even sold to Harrods and Elizabeth David. As this home business grew she employed stay at home, retired and housebound people to do some sewing and earn themselves ‘a few pennies’. I used to help her make and sell some of these items, as did my Grandmother… and the little business was called ‘Relative Ideas’.

My Grandmother, Jet, was truly gifted and made lots of her own dresses, jackets, coats and other items. In her younger years she had studied dressmaking and textiles and indeed had designed a few pieces for others too. I have a few of her creations in my wardrobe that I occasionally wear and think of all her hard work in designing and making them.

So given my rich history of sewing skills, I really should have been stitching and sewing my own clothes for years. Except I haven’t. Sadly, despite owning a sewing machine, I haven’t used it in decades (apart from briefly helping my friend’s daughter make a patchwork cushion for her Granny when I was living there following my Phyllodes surgeries). My sewing skills needed a refresh and my confidence to make things needed a right jolly good kick up the ***.

So I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’ when a friend of mine from Rock Choir, Miranda, asked several months ago if I’d be interested in doing a dressmaking course with her. We found out a course nearby and looked at those on offer and the prices – eek! Although committed to doing something, the cost was putting us off. We wanted to do a dressmaking course but first needed (apparently) to do a refresher/foundation course before the dressmaking course which added another £180.

Then along came an offer on Groupon. Make a dress in a day for the offer price of £49 with London Textiles Studios. Brilliant. This would be a test to see if we were capable. To see if the enthusiasm was more than ‘just one dress’. It would also work as the ‘foundation’ course required to do the original course that we’d found, if we felt the urge.

Without further ado we signed up and we also encouraged my friend MC and Miranda’s friend, Natalie to sign up with us.

An early start this morning to pick up our group of 4 and drive over to Bow, East London. However it was an easy drive and free to park on a Saturday near the London Textiles Studios.

There were 12 people in our class. Some with previous experience, some not. Most of us had done some sewing at school but with differing quantity of intervening years. There was a choice of fabric available to buy cheaply and some dull grey material free for the course. MC and I chose the grey and thought we’d use our ‘design’ as a template to recreate the dress into many more. Miranda and Natalie used fabric they’d purchased at Fabrics Galore in Battersea.

The dress pattern we were using was a fairly simple shift dress design and one that suited most body shapes.


The morning was mostly the preparation. Learning about the sewing machines. An overview of dressmaking. Measuring ourselves and then cutting out our pieces of fabric for sewing. (Frustratingly there wasn’t quite enough room for us all to cut at the same time so MC and I cut her dress pieces first on a small desk and didn’t manage to get mine cut by lunchtime. Our tutor, Carmen, cut mine out after sending us off for some lunch). We cut out the back, the front and two facing panels for the neckline.

Cutting dressmaking

We discovered a small cafe a short walk away (The Carmelite Cafe at The Nunnery)
that served a small selection of delicious lunchtime meals and some of the best coffee I’ve had since Melbourne!

Our afternoon was sewing! Eeek it was now time to put the dresses together. Inside Out…

  • Under instruction we first sewed darts.
  • Next we edged the bottom and sides of the facing panels.
  • A little like a jigsaw puzzle we put the facing panels to the dress and stitched the necklines.
  • Then from the armpit down to the bottom edge (edging and stitching).
  • Next was the top of the straps.
  • Then the armpits (in order to get some movement into the curves and corners of the dress, on the inside, we cut little nics into the stitching and sliced fabric off at the corners);
  • and having turned the dress the right way, i.e. Outside Out, and with a final check on length we then hemmed (double) the bottom line of our dresses.



FINISHED DRESSESSadly my dress is too tight over the bust but as it was only using the freebie (Nun’s habit material), I plan on remaking it ensuring my measurements are correct and to practice the cutting out myself. But I think you’ll agree we all did an amazing job… in a day!

We learnt how:

  • To understand dress patterns.
  • To take our own measurements for dressmaking (adding 2cm to the breast measurement and length) (on the fold of material & folding the tape measure into 4 against the pattern and adding 3 fingers to the measurement).
  • About selvedge, grain and bias.
  • To prepare and cut out our fabric.
  • About notches and nics.
  • To thread and refill the bobbin.
  • To prepare the sewing machine and troubleshoot when problems occur with tension.
  • To use running stitch and the measuring lines for distance from the edge of material.
  • To use zigzag stitch to stop the material from fraying and again how to measure our stitches to run over the edge.
  • To sew darts and hems.
  • To (via a demo) stitch in zips.

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