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Looking back at the GBSB with Wendy Gardiner

It’s not long now! The Great British Sewing Bee will be back on the telly on Tuesday the 12th of February.  Wendy Gardiner is an Ambassador for Simplicity & McCalls and in the past she has shared her thoughts on the Sewing Bee series. We thought it would be great to have a look and see which garments she made that were inspired by the show and she shares lots of tips & tricks too! 

The Walkaway Dress

Remember the walkaway dress? The pattern became hugely popular after they featured it on the show. The Butterick B4790 is an updated design from the 1952 vintage dress that you can make in just a few hours!

Here’s what Wendy has written about her Walkaway dress in the past:

“Last year the Butterick Walkaway dress was featured on the Great British Sewing Bee which was the start of a promotion by The McCall Pattern Company (who distribute Butterick, Vogue, Kwik Sew and of course McCall Patterns) that exceeded all expectations and culiminated  in a massive £8000 cheque being donated by them to The Eve Appeal.  Personally the best part from my point of view was the spectacular sight of over a hundred women wearing their Walkaway Dresses at the Knitting and Stitching show where McCall’s held a Champagne Tea Party. It was so lovely seeing these ladies walk around the show all day, and we all felt as if we belonged to a special club – and indeed we did!

The diversity of the dresses was also fabulous to see – so many different variations, different fabric choices and combinations so although we’d all used the same pattern, no two were the same. That of course is the beauty of dressmaking!”

At the Walkaway Dress Tea Party, Wendy was just one of many in her version of this iconic dress.

Lingerie and Luxury Robes

It was Lingerie week in week 3 of the 2016 series. Some gorgeous designs were made and because sewing lingerie can be quite tricky we thought it would be a good reason to share the tips and tricks Wendy gave back then. Luckily for us, they are still come in very handy today.

“Covering completely new territories, the contestants were asked to make a soft fabric bra this week. Now whilst a small garment, it is certainly one that can be challenging because of course, it has to fit perfectly. At least they didn’t have to cope with under wires as well.

If you also fancy having a go at bra making, then take a look at Kwik Sew 3594 which includes sizes 32-40 with cup sizes AA – D in 32-34, A-DD in 36-38 and cup sizes B-DD in size 40. Do remember to check your sizing, as with all patterns, it might not be the same as your ready-to-wear size – the pattern instructions will help you decide.

Bras need to be made from stretch fabric, such as lace, power net or nylon tricot which means sewing with a ball point needle and stretch stitch (which looks like a bolt of lightening) or small zigzag. Lingerie lace (which usually has a soft back and pretty picot edge) is used on the outside edges to help the bra fit snugly to the body with adjustable straps made from Nylon tricot or indeed bra straps that can be bought in packs. It is like any other garment, follow the instructions carefully step by step and you will quickly master bra making and wonder why you never did it before!

TOP TIP: Use plenty of hand cream in advance of sewing with delicate lacy and silky fabrics and make sure your hands and nails are smooth – rough skin can snag these beautiful fabrics so easily.

The final challenge for the day was to make a luxury robe, so I’ve looked at my favourites for men and women. I love Vogue 9015 which looks soft and silky here in polyester satin. The pack includes nightgowns with lace insets which are really luxurious.

Vogue 8888 is another pack of robe and nightdresses in soft satins and silks. Definitely worthy of a very special weekend away. Make Him indoors his own robe from V8964, which is a Very Easy Vogue design of robe and PJs are you are both kitted out!

Tips on sewing silky fabrics:

  • When sewing silky fabrics you need a universal sharps needle, and preferably a nice new one as blunt needles can not only cause skipped stitches, but may snag the delicate fabric too.
  • Start seams at least 1cm from the end, holding the thread tails behind the needle and go forward 2-3 stitches then back to end, before continuing forward. This will help prevent the lightweight fabrics being pulled into the feed dogs.
  • Sew all vertical seams in the same direction to prevent them twisting and hold the fabric taut in front and behind the needle as you sew to very slightly stretch it. Once pressed it will relax back into a lovely straight seam.
  • Consider French seams on the straight seams, which neatly encases raw edges so the inside looks neat too. To create a French seam, first sew with WRONG sides together, taking a 6mm seam. Trim to 3mm and turn through so RIGHT sides are together, press with seam on very edge. Sew again with a 1cm seam allowance. Press again.”


Sewing for kids

Lots of baby clothes were made throughout the GBSB series. We wonder if it will come back this year!? If you are looking for some great tips on how to sew with knitted fabrics for kids, have a read below. See our children’s collection of patterns here. Wendy wrote the following:

“Another exciting show with lots of ‘arrh’ factor about it. Sewing for children and babies is lovely because everything is so cute, but of course, it’s not without challenges – such as having to work with tiny bits of fabric!

The pattern challenge, to make a babygro with asymmetrical fastening caused some consternation and sadly for one poor contestant, disaster! Which drums into me – guilty as many others – that it is so important to read the instructions through fully before starting. Actually, I always recommend sitting with a cup of coffee, going through the instructions, marking the pattern pieces you will need for the view you are making and mark the layout you will be following for the size, fabric width and view you will use. There is nothing worse than getting interrupted whilst pinning out the pattern pieces and then inadvertently following an alternative layout – and thus getting it wrong!

So properly prepared, with the right pattern pieces it’s time to sew a lovely stretch knit fabric. The contestants were using overlockers, which are fabulous when sewing with stretch fabric, but if you don’t have one, you can use a regular sewing machine and ball point needle.

A ball point needle has a slightly rounded tip (you can’t really see it, but trust me, it has!). This parts the fibres rather than pierces them, which helps feed the fabric and stitch properly. If you inadvertently use a universal/sharps needle, you may well get skipped stitches or simply uneven stitching.

Also consider using a walking foot – I always recommend a walking foot when sewing hard to feed fabrics – it’s not just for quilting! This foot might look complicated, but once fitted, works in conjunction with the feed dogs on the machine to smoothly and evenly feed difficult fabrics, whether they are stretchy, silky, bulky or you need to match stripes and checks. It’s definitely one of my ‘must have’ feet

Sew seams with a stretch stitch (which looks like a bolt of lightening) or a small zigzag. This is particularly important on seams that go around the body – so need to stretch. Vertical seams can be sewn with a straight stitch, but slightly stretch fabric before and after the needle as you sew. (Having said that, for babygros, it is probably best to sew with a stretch stitch as you will be pulling the legs of the garment to slip baby in and out more easily – and remember pull on the garment, not the baby!!).

Also on the show were some fabulous capes for kids. Didn’t they look wonderful. Capes are easy to make and slip on too. You can make them in wool as on the show, (McCalls 7237 is a good one for that, fur trimmed it would make a lovely autumn cape for your little miss). They are good for fancy dress too – easy to make, use fun fabrics for dressing up and a pattern such as McCalls 6998. I also particularly like McCalls 6431 which has capes and ponchos in the pack so choices for different ages or occasions.”

We didn’t think it was possible, but after reading these posts we are even more excited for this years series. We can’t wait to see what they will be making and hopefully we’ll be just as inspired by them as previous years!

Don’t forget to share your latest makes with us on social media using the hashtags #simplicitybyme or #mccallsbyme. We can’t wait to see what you’ve been making. There are prizes to be won each month too!

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