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Great British Sewing Bee Inspiration: Evening wear

After a momentous 8 weeks of sewing, last night saw the fabulous Charlotte Newland declared the winner, taking this year’s Great British Sewing Bee crown.

Tipped as the favourite after last week’s impressive performance, even the very talented Charlotte showed that creating evening wear isn’t always straight forward. So, to help you sidestep sewing dramas – here is Simplicity’s sewing expert, Julie Bonnar, to tell us what to look out for when it comes to creating a show stopper. 




Specialty fabrics can have a nap but sometimes it’s difficult to tell which is the wrong and right side of the fabric.

It’s important you know about the nap. A fabric with a nap will have a pile. Velvet is a good example, and if you run your hand up and down the fabric you’ll be able to feel it. There’s no wrong or right way to layout the pattern onto fabrics with nap but you do need to be consistent, and make sure that all the patterns pieces are the same. You don’t want one front piece with the nap one way and the other piece the opposite!
I would recommend the pile always runs down the garment. Make sure you select the layout for nap fabric, and cut and sew pieces consistently.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell wrong side of fabric from the right side, so after cutting out mark the pattern pieces with tailors chalk so you know which are the right and wrong sides.

Problem solving for specialty fabrics

Special occasion fabrics include Satin, Sateen, Chiffon, Organza, Taffeta, Brocade, Velvet, Devoré, Lace, Carmeuse, Georgette, Dupon, Shantung, and embellished fabrics such as beaded fabrics.

Cutting out

It’s a good idea to cut out pattern pieces from a single layer of fabric. Try using weights instead of pins to secure pattern to fabric.

Snags easily

Pins need to be super fine, scissors sharp and use new needles. Don’t use a seam ripper to unpick seams as this can rip and make holes in the fabrics. Consider hand-basting seams first to eliminate errors when sewing seams.



Slippery to work with

Try stabilising fabric with tissue – sandwich fabric pieces to be stitched in between two layers of tissue paper.


Stitch length 2mm to 2.5mm in length to avoid damaging the delicate fibres with polyester threads that are smooth. Use either a walking foot or Teflon foot to allow feed dogs to more on top and bottom more evenly. Adjust the presser foot to release presser and try a sample piece of fabric to test.


Seam slippage

Pin in the seam allowance so you don’t need any marks. Use fabric clips, these are relatively new to the market but are perfect for using with luxury fabrics. If worried about fabrics slipping, baste and stitch along the seam allowance in different colour thread (this will help make it easy to remove).


Can be difficult to ease

Fit is so important on special occasionwear, not only for a flattering garment but because specialty fabrics are fragile, if stitching is tight on seams, the fabric can tear when worn. Use tailors chalk to transfer all the important marks for fitting from the patterns like darts, dots and notches.



Don’t over-press specialty fabrics as they can stretch out of shape and can damaged and protect with a pressing cloth and reduce heat and press from the reverse side.


It’s all about the finishing touches

Seams – It’s a chance to make the garment as good o the inside as out so try a Hong Kong or French seam. For see-through fabrics, trim the seam allowance to approx 2cm away from stitching line to prevent an ugly show-through seam.

Hems – Try a rolled hem, hand stitched or baby hem.

Closures – Use lightweight closures like hook and eyes, small buttons and invisible zips. Avoid height duty fastenings like large buttons and exposed zips.


“Slow and steady definitely wins, and while sewing keep stopping to read just fabric,” says Julie Bonnar, sewing expert at Simplicity.


7 tips for a Sensational zip

Invisible zip

  1. Choose an invisible zip and thread that is a close colour match to your fabric as possible.
  2. Press zip flat on a low heat, and press back the curled teeth before inserting.
  3. Always try on the dress to see if you need to adjust the opening and trim opening seam to the same width as the zip.
  4. With right sides together, attach the zip to opening and baste the zip in place using a different colour thread so you can see it clearly.
  5. Use an invisible zip foot to sew the zip to the opening.
  6. Handstitch the zip end to the bottom of the dress opening to avoid it getting bunched up.
  7. Press gently with pressing cloth to protect the fabric.