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Surf to Summit Top Pattern - Out now!

In progress bits

19 November 2014, 17:03

Contrary to the amount of time I’ve been spending behind a computer recently, I actually have been finding some time here and there to sew, too. It’s just, well, most of it is for my next pattern, which is going well, but is still at least three weeks off going live (sorry!). It turns out that, even though I can reuse some parts of the pattern between the men’s and women’s versions, there still an awful lot of extra work involved in creating two versions!

You might reasonably expect that I’d have to make twice as many samples, but there’s other added time involved with “invisible tasks” like walking seam lines and measuring finished garments, for instance. While both are made considerably easier done digitally, and even moreso if you’ve organised yourself a nice little Excel spreadsheet to do the heavy calculating and imperial converting, there’s still an awful lot of measuring to be done. But it gives me a little thrill when I can see my finished garment measurements vs body measurements equating to ease, down to 1/100ths of a mm!

This is just a small portion of my spreadsheet – the other bits gave too much away!

If you want to be the first to hear details of my new pattern, then now is an excellent time to sign up for my FehrTrade patterns mailing list, which which you’ll find at the bottom of my Shop front page. If you ticked “Yes” to marketing emails when grabbing my free Running Armband Pocket pattern, then you’re already on it. And I absolutely promise you that the email volume will be really low volume and only important stuff, like sneak previews and special voucher codes.

So on top of getting my next pattern ready to send to my two teams of pattern testers, organising athlete-models, and sewing up more samples, I’ve been spending my office hours working on an upcoming sewing book (not mine!) for a publisher, too. So it’s good practice in double-checking instructions and illustrations, but it is rather brain-taxing to be doing all day!

I’ve managed to squeeze in a few “Fun Sewing” projects, though, including a pair of leggings made from some luuuuuuuuuscious Funki Fabrics lycra (bought with my own money).

I took these for a test (trail) run on Sunday so I can wear them to race Three Molehills this weekend, where I’m hoping to get a few more photos for you all!

I also finally cut out the pieces to make a replica of a favourite mustard yellow ponte sheath dress!

The original is from ASOS, but I just adored the curvy, paneled seaming so I traced off the original a few months ago. The original dress is grubby and pilling, and about 10cm too short in the sleeves and hem, so I of course corrected that on my pattern!

I’m trying to sew this together in as many 15 minute segments as I can gather together – I managed to construct the back (minus the zipper) over lunch today, for example. I’ve actually been personally invited by Samantha Cameron(!) to attend a reception at Number 10 Downing Street next week, so I’m trying to finish this to wear to that! So far I’ve been told that the toilets there are “must see”, and that I should eat as many canapes as possible. Done and done! (No cameras allowed inside though, so no shots of the dress in an iconic location like the Houses of Parliament this time around)

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Cheetah print running leggings

14 November 2014, 13:08

My Fun Sewing Weekend was going so well after I made my galaxy sweatshirt and black travel skirt that I decided to tweak the fit on my Kwik Sew one-piece leggings pattern and test it out on some unsuspecting cheetah-print nylon lycra from UK Fabrics (well, they call it leopard, but I say cheetah!).

I’d made this pattern a few times for myself and many times in classes, but I noticed when I made my crazy cat lady leggings recently that the fit was a bit too loose in places. I totally blame this on my training firming me up further, since the leggings were loose around the hips, upper thighs, and ankles. And perfectly fine at my runner’s calves and quads!

So I shaved off a good centimeter from the front & back crotch curves (meaning 4cm overall), another 1.5cm wedge from the inner thigh on both sides, and then a hefty 3cm wedge from both sides at the ankles. I have tiny, bird-like ankles, and the standard ankle width was just flapping in the breeze… So now my pattern is something like Size Small/XS in the waist and hips & upper thigh, Medium in the lower thigh/knee/calf, and XSish in the ankles. Hooray for custom fit!

These literally took me 20 minutes to cut out and sew together, and I wore them out on my Sunday run around Greenwich Park and back home along the river. These felt so much better for the little fitting tweaks – the cat leggings start to fall down after a few kilometers and pool around my quads (a sure sign they’re too loose above that point), but these stayed in place for the whole 20km run!

I had a friend take these photos on my phone after our first 5km lap of the park, not realising that I should’ve sucked my gut in, ha! I could’ve retaken them but I thought a lot of you might appreciate that even a Team GB athlete has some excess gut in the off-season! (And also because my waist pack has to be cinched tight to not bounce around).

I’m also really pleased with the quality of the nylon lycra from UK Fabrics, too – it’s got a nice weight, great recovery, and feels really high quality. It’s not technically wicking, but frankly, unless you’re running a marathon on a super hot day, it’s not going to matter much to the average runner anyway. I certainly had zero issues on my run today, and wouldn’t hesitate to run in them again!

This means I’ve now got a great, basic pattern to use when I want a pair of running leggings with an uninterrupted print. Of course, I’ve already got a great leggings pattern to use when I want to interrupt the print!

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A black travel skirt

12 November 2014, 13:08

I’ve noticed a hole in my wardrobe recently – I really don’t have any plain black skirts that fit me anymore. I found myself wearing my blue travel skirt I sewed up before we went to Mexico last summer an awful lot, and I seemed to get compliments every time I wore it, too.

So when I saw Tia Knight’s very reasonably priced scuba range, I picked up 3m of black to use for both the contrast on my galaxy print sweatshirt, and to make another travel skirt like my blue one.

Not the most flattering tech drawing! It’s more A-line than this in real life…

Like the first blue version, this is the skirt pattern from Christine Jonson’s Travel Trio Three pattern, which surely must be one of my best-value wardrobe patterns ever, as I’ve made the top 3-4 times now, and now the skirt twice, too. Like before, the skirt is shortened by 12cm at the “lengthen or shorten here” lines, which creates a really flattering hem length for my figure.

Seen here with the gathered turtleneck view from the same pattern, which I made back in 2011!

I really love how flattering and comfortable this skirt is – it’s made from a knit with an elastic waistband, but it doesn’t look sloppy at all. It’s also got two really deep front pockets built in to the seaming, and I’ve got no worries that my phone will fall out when I’m jumping around the moorings.

It’s hard to photograph black garments at the best of times, but it was particularly sunny and our DSLR was at James’s office, so I really must apologise for the quality of the photoshoots this week – the iPhone camera is handy, but it’s not got the best optics!

In terms of time spent sewing vs fabric cost vs number of wears, I have a feeling this is going to big a big earner in my wardrobe! For about an hour’s time and less than £10 of fabric, I’ve got a really great wardrobe basic that’s going to serve me well for years to come.

PS: Londoners – There’s still space to come and learn to sew your own panties with me this Sunday! This is a super-fun class where you’ll learn to work with lace, slipper fabrics, apply seamless lining, and several different types of elastic. You get a choice of brief- or thong-style, too!

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A galaxy print statement sweatshirt

10 November 2014, 12:36

As I mentioned last week, this past weekend was the first one in about a month where I wasn’t working, and I totally planned to fill it with as much Fun Sewing as possible!

First up was a “statement sweatshirt” using some luscious galaxy print ponte leftover from my birthday dress. I love that dress, but I loved the fabric so much that I wanted to be able to wear it with jeans and in casual settings where that va-va-voom sheath dress couldn’t really go.

I don’t usually sew from Big Four patterns as they’re so freaking expensive here, but in order to get the cheapest price on the Kwik Sew leggings pattern for my Like the Wind workshop, I had to become a Sew Today member, which came with my choice of two free patterns. After a bit of a think, I selected McCalls 6992 and McCalls 7026, which I actually frankpatterned together here!

Seen here paired with my Donna Karan denim-look leggings

It’s usually my experience that Big Four patterns have way too much ease, and this was no different. My measurements put me squarely as a Size 16, but after a peek at the finished garment measurements printed on the pattern, I saw that a 14 would be plenty big enough, and that’s what I cut. Really, a 16 would’ve just drowned me.

I decided to use some black scuba from Tia Knight for the contrast raglan sleeves and neck band, and I bought enough to make a skirt from the same yardage, which you’ll see later this week!

I somehow managed to not get any back view photos – sorry about that! The back looks pretty identical to the front, however!

There are a bunch of fancy views in this pattern, but I went for the most basic version without the overlays, sleeve cuffs, or hem band. Instead, I decided to take the thumb-hole cuffs from McCalls 7026 and graft them onto this pattern. Because 7026 calls for stretchier knits than 6992, the size 14 cuff was actually a lot smaller than the end of the sleeve. Instead I went for the size 22 cuff, which matched up almost exactly with the Size 14 sleeve. If you do this, be sure to mark the centre of the end of your sleeve so you can align the thumb-hole cuff properly (so the thumbhole isn’t, say, where your pinky should be!). If my scuba was much stretchier, I’d have cut a smaller cuff and stretched it to fit the sleeve end as I sewed.

I think this hack was mostly successful, but next time I’d shift the hole further towards the end – it’s just slightly too short for my arms, and it feels like there’s too much fabric beyond the hem. Also, I should warn you that the thumb holes are finished entirely with handstitching. Ugh. I felt confident that I could devise a way to do this entirely by machine, but while my theory was sound, in reality it would’ve been equally fiddly to stitch on the machine (you’ve got tiny loops & close layers inside!). So fair enough on McCalls for doing it this way in the instructions.

Overall, I really like this sweatshirt. It was a quick and satisfying make, and I can tell already it’s going to get a lot of wear over the winter!

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A Week in a Day

7 November 2014, 11:39

I’ve been a bad blogger this week. I’ve been doing lots (as you’ll soon see), but working every weekend for the past three, plus the weeks in between, and some out-of-town trips have all really sapped my enthusiasm to write! So I’m taking the lazy option out and catching you all up with a little roundup – a week’s worth of posts in a day…

Like the Wind workshop

Cult running magazine Like the Wind approached me a few months ago to ask if I’d like to run a “sew your own leggings workshop” at the week-long popup they were throwing together at the end of October. I’d known one half of the husband-and-wife team that run the magazine, but I’d never met Julie before this. Once I found out that she not only owns her own overlocker, but bought it when she sewed her own wedding dress with it(!), I knew we’d get along just fine.

We had five runners who’d only done a small amount of sewing before, but had never touched an overlocker before, and certainly not a coverstitch either! They each picked their own fabric from FunkFabrics’ range, and walked home in some very stylish leggings at the end of the afternoon!

Georgina picked a “Gotham” print, so of course she just had to pose with the Batman art in the gallery!

And here’s the finished set! I saw quite a few little “omg I’m so happy in my leggings” dances at the end, which really reminds me why I love teaching so much. Lucy posted a great writeup of the street art tour and my class, too.

There may be another Like the Wind workshop in the new year if we can work out the logistics, but there will definitely be more up at the Thriftystitcher studio in January and February, to be announced very soon! The classes are very similar, so if you’re a runner you can come learn at Thriftystitcher, or non-runners vice-versa at Like the Wind.

But I was so jealous of all their finished leggings that I treated myself to some Funkifabrics lycra this week (it was difficult, but I settled on this geometric aqua number in the end, because it reminded me of a Lamb album cover!).

Random sweatshirt sewing

When I was pulling out supplies to bring along to the workshop, I came across pieces for this sweatshirt that I’d cut out in February when I was trying to deplete random bits of leftover sweatshirting that was taking up too much room in my little sewing cave. The lavender “sacrificial sweatshirt” came out of that same cull, but for some reason I never quite got around to sewing this blue one together at the time.

It’s a testament to the tidyness of my tiny sewing cave that I still have all the pieces, really, and I’ve made this pattern (from the November 2006 Burda magazine) so many times (8? 9?) that I don’t need to dig out the instructions. This really did come together in a morning, and it’s perfect for this weather, now, too.

Spoonflower prints

Spoonflower had a free shipping day back in October, and I couldn’t resist another yard of my fabric collaboration with illustrator Laurie King!

This is the “Maps” in the purple colourway for the Duathlon Shorts pattern, but I may use it instead to see how my Threshold Shorts work in the one-way-stretch Performance Pique fabric…

(Oh, and Spoonflower have BOGOF on all fat quarters (all fabrics) for the next week, so if you wanted to make a bunch of Running Armband Pockets (FREE Pattern alert!) as Christmas gifts, you’d be wise to buy a few fat quarters now!)

My next pattern – male testers needed!

UPDATE: wow, thanks guys! I’ve got enough testers now!

I’m not yet in a position to give away too many details about my next pattern (sorry!) but it’s going very well, and is ready to be graded, and after that, the testing! Yay! What I can say is that this design will be released for both men and women – two different drafts – not one “unisex” one that fits no one well, bleurgh!

I’ve got plenty of fit lady testers, but I could really use some more male testers! What this means is that I need either men who sew and exercise regularly, or women who sew with a man if their life who exercises regularly. You’ll need to have had some experience sewing stretch fabrics, and will need to be able to sew a sample and give feedback within two weeks (I always give you at least two weekends included in the turnaround time). You don’t need to have a blog! In return, you’ll get a chance to test the pattern early, plus a finished (and updated!) copy at the end.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, please leave a comment and I’ll get in touch. For this particular pattern, men who cycle, run, ski or surf are ideal.

I can’t share my tech drawing yet, but I did stumble across this unlikely colour combo when I was pulling out fabrics for my next sample!

How much do I love this aqua and yellow combo?! You may recognise the yellow from my gold medal leggings – I’d cut up the leftovers into strips for coverstitch binding, but they’re also perfect for stretch piping!

Fun Sewing

And finally, after way too much Work Sewing, I’ve cut out some Fun Sewing projects for me. First up is a “statement sweatshirt” using some leftover galaxy print ponte from my birthday dress. I don’t usually sew from Big Four patterns as they’re so freaking expensive here, but in order to get the cheapest price on the Kwik Sew leggings pattern for the Like the Wind workshop, I had to become a Sew Today member, which came with my choice of two free patterns. One of which was McCalls 6992.

I could’ve easily drafted it myself, but I thought it might feel too much like work, so I grabbed this instead, and since it was free and I was feeling supremely lazy, I actually (gasp!) cut the pattern tissue instead of tracing it. Eep. I also chose McCalls 7026 at the same time, so I’m going to try and graft the thumb-hole cuffs onto this at the same time.

I decided to use some black scuba from Tia Knight for the contrast raglan sleeves, but I’ve also been thinking recently that I really need a basic black skirt. My Colette Beignet skirt looked fine in the photoshoot last week, but it’s really too big in the waist now.

What I decided I really wanted was another of Christine Jonson’s Travel Trio Three skirt, as I wear the blue one I made last year all the time, and I consistently get compliments on how thin I look every time I wear it (bonus!).

Since the pattern is already traced out and within easy access, I should be able to sew both this skirt and the sweatshirt in the same weekend. Fingers crossed I can squeeze in a trail run, a 40th birthday party, and a photoshoot into my “free weekend”, too.

And lastly, I want to leave you with two cool things – Joost has gone and completely rebuilt Make My Pattern, which auto-generates free patterns based on your measurements. He’s got a necktie and boxer-brief pattern up now, and I’m guessing he’ll add the teeshirt and trousers from the old site in time, too. Secondly, if you’ve got an iPad, check out Pret a Template, an app for quickly sketching out garment ideas onto croquis (they also have an impressive set of free crquois to download as pdfs, too!)

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Digital-print Cowl neck top

31 October 2014, 12:42

Every now and then, I feel like I really crack a garment – I end up with something that truly blends the most perfect fabric with the perfect pattern. I wasn’t entirely sure until I wore it for a day, but this top really nailed it! It feels 100% designer, special, and yet me at the same time.

The cowl-neck tee pattern is from the October 2014 issue of Burda magazine or available to buy individually as a pdf, and it came in three versions – a plain top (which is the one I made) – a tee sliced into various colourblocks, or a plain dress.

But this garment is really all about the fabric, and the pattern itself plays a supporting role. In fact, most of the time, care, and attention to the entire process was in placing the pattern pieces! Look what I had to start with:

I bought this digital print lycra from Ditto Fabrics when I was down in Brighton this summer (an Italian designer offcut that I snagged for £15!). Originally I thought I’d have the main body in the trompe l’oiel knitted houndstooth as that was what drew me to the fabric, but the houndstooth portion wasn’t quite long enough for the front and back, so I placed those over the “lace” portions and cut the sleeves from the houndstooth instead.

Worn with my Colette Beignet skirt I made back in 2010 that’s sadly, a bit too big for me now (it’s really relying on cinching that belt!

I used a size 40 for the first time here, which is my “new” Burda size since I’ve lost a few cm through training, and the fit is just as I’d like it, really. I loooooove the slim fit sleeves in particular on this pattern. They’re extra long here, too – it’s noted in the instructions are that the sleeves are 10cm longer than normal. I wasn’t sure if I’d keep them extra long or not, but as I was laying out the sleeves, I saw that the piece overlapped into the lace print area nicely, creating a sort of cuff-effect at the sleeve that I really liked the look of:

I’ve made a lot of cowl-neck tops in my time, and some work better than others. I suspected when I saw the construction of this that the cowl might be particularly nice here as it sits high on the chest, and I was right! There’s just enough drape there to be cowl-y, but not enough to have the whole world looking at your navel when you bend over. So two thumbs up on the engineering here.

The shoulders here are both a feature and the only really non-standard step in the constructions. I found Burda’s wording to be a bit, umm, obtuse, so here’s what they actually want you to attach:

It’s worth marking the placement line in chalk on your fabric as it’s really important that the angle is right or the edges won’t line up when you fold the Back back over itself. Here’s what it looks like when finished!

I love that I was able to place the front panel so that the houndstooth print bleeds in at the shoulder – it makes the intersection at the shoulder look so much more fluid, and further enhances the abrupt seaming with the pale lace from the back.

As I wore this tucked into a high waisted skirt, I wanted to show you the full length of the top, even though I wouldn’t wear it this way with this particular skirt. You can see on the front in particular the way the faux-lace print has shadow lines printed into it, which I just love!

And finally, because I know I’m not the only sewing science geek out there, I wanted to show you the most expensive photos ever seen on this site in it’s entire 9+ year history. The backdrop here costs millions of pounds to build, run, and maintain…

Yes, I wore this top to tour a particle accelerator (Ok actually, it’s a synchotron, but no one seems to know what that is What you can see behind me is actually where the beam travels, and the light is split off to do hundreds of amazing experiments at a time. A good friend of ours is a sys admin there and got us in to one of their open days to tour the facility. If you’re near Oxford, it looks like the next Open Day is in March.

So I actually wore a top that makes me feel like a million bucks next to a device which cost even more than that! Sometimes things just work out, eh?

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Burda magazine November 2014

30 October 2014, 14:57

I received this issue a good week ago, but I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic about this one, even though there are a lot of interesting designs going on. There are noticeably fewer patterns included this time, too, which seems to be related to there being some huge gown patterns which take up more space than usual on the pattern sheets.

So if you’ve got a formal occasion coming up over the holidays, you’re about to become very excited, but there’s plenty of casualwear included too…

There are some great separates in this issue, but I personally don’t rate either of these! The top is made for lightweight wovens, but that hem is just far too wide, in my opinion, and really gives the sort of “is she pregnant?” look even when teamed with slim trousers (not to mention that deep neck pleat which will look terrible on large busts!). In this case, they’ve teamed it appropriately with leggings, but delving a little deeper into the pattern, these leggings have: a) interfaced waist facings, and b) an invisible side zipper. On a knit. Errr. The pattern itself looks fine, just not the finishing!!

So are these cigarette trousers any better then? Well, I personally think the inset leather pieces would be more flattering slightly curved rather than straight, but that’s just drafting preference. The zipper on the side though – if you read the instructions, you do 80% of the work of creating a zippered welt pocket, only to seal it up with a facing to make it utterly useless! Otherwise, it looks like a decent pattern for stretch wovens, with a back yoke and nice front pockets.

I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of this knit top across the sewing world in the next few months! It’s what Burda does best – a great knit top with interesting details and great fit that can be made up in a thousand different fabrics.

This lightweight coat is super flattering with the wide, dramatic lapel collar, nipped in waist, and hip-length hem. Burda have styled it quite vintage, but I think this could be flattering on a wide variety of body types- much moreso than the longer version (which has illustrated instructions).

You wait ages for a transitional “car coat” pattern and then two come at once! I’m not entirely sold on the gathered, wide portion on the bottom nor the weird patch pockets, but with a bit of tweaking I think it could really work. Since the bottom is just a gathered rectangle, I’d attach it 1:1 with the front to make it flatter, and shift all the gathering to the back instead!

And now for something completely different (and feeling more like something Manequim magazine would do!) – Burda have printed patterns for five iconic gowns! My favourite is probably this gown similar to the one Eva Green wore in “Casino Royale”. I just adore the back view, and the sleek silhouette.

I love that this asymmetric gown with an overskirt actually could become something really quite modern just by leaving off the overskirt, and shortening the hem to cocktail length (and saving you about 5 meters of satin, too!). Even though the design is over 50 years old, it’s something I’d totally wear.

And as a teenager of the 90s, I totally love that they’ve knocked off Julia Roberts’ red gown from “Pretty Woman”! The neckline looks quite dated IMHO, but I never realised before how similar the draped skirt is to that green “Atonement” gown (this could totally save you some time if you’re recreating the latter).

The children’s patterns this month are for babies, with onesies, teeshirts, little trousers, and even a pacifier holder. All very useful if you have a bunch of friends having babies that need gifts!

And finally, the Plus section this month features cozy jersey patterns, the highlight of which are these sweatpants! I love the yoked seaming, integrated pockets, and front fly so much I’m actually considering drafting my own in my size! Edit: As pointed out by Lauriana in the comments, what’s with the fly? I totally just assumed this was a mock fly, but I’ve looked in the instructions, and ermagod, they actually want you to do a fully functioning fly and button. Even though it’s a knit and has an elastic waist…!

Flip past all the scarf-collar tops and dresses and you may have missed that there’s also a super-flattering, super-useful jersey sheath dress here, too. It looks like the perfect winter dress, as far as I’m concerned!

So not really anything this month I’m on fire to sew ASAP, but plenty of interesting designs to pique my interest. What was your favourite?

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Comment [14]

A Lime Linen Men's Shirt

28 October 2014, 14:03

James has a black linen shirt from Muji that he utterly loves. He’s worn it very nearly to death over almost ten years, though, with it rather faded and with a hole worn in in one place. So he asked me if I could copy it, as it’s a design that he’s never been able to find it shops again.

I’m so proud that my Illustrator skills are such that I can whip up a tech drawing like this in a few minutes now!

It’s an over-the-head design with a front button placket, stand collar, back yoke, and short sleeves with little button tabs on the sleeve hems. The only change I made from the original was to introduce a small pleat at the back yoke, as I just think men’s yoked shirts look weird when they don’t have them, plus it gives a bit of wearing ease back there.

I traced out his existing shirt with craft paper and my serrated tracing wheel, and made a quick muslin, which miraculously needed no fitting changes! Then it was onto the first real version, made up in a lime-green linen-blend mix from Ditto which he chose when we were in their Brighton shop earlier this year.

Plackets always tend to intimidate me as they seem like a bit of witchcraft – how can this weird shape turn into that in just a few steps?? So I put off sewing it, until I remembered that I’d scanned and digitised the placket template from David Page Coffin’s excellent “Shirtmaking” book. This is one of my clever-er ideas, as it means I just just adjust the width and length of the placket in Illustrator and print myself off a fresh template. Because obviously the dimensions for sleeve plackets for men’s shirts are of a different scale than the neck placket here!

The construction was otherwise straightforward, but time consuming. Because the linen frays like crazy, all the seams had to be contained. On the yoke, this meant using the “burrito method” to get both the back and front seams neat, but on the side and sleeve seams, I had to sew french seams, then topstitch these down, because my flat-fell foot just sucks and always ends up being more trouble than it’s worth (and I’d rather take a little more time and be guaranteed a good result!).

But at least the linen takes a press super easily, though it means of course that it wrinkles readily during normal wear, too. That’s just how linen is!

Oh and there’s a nice little buttoned tab on the sleeve edge, too!

James also bought a two-faced charcoal/black Jean Paul Gaultier (yes, really!) flannel when we were at Ditto, so there’s at least one more version of these in his future.

(Mini-rant time – why are there 16 billion menswear patterns of the same freaking button-down shirt, but absolutely none of a slightly different style like this? Menswear patterns really are the poor cousin of the pattern world, eh?)

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Return to the set

27 October 2014, 13:55

Remember last April when I told you all about my day on set of the Great British Sewing Bee? Well, that was at the very end of Season Two, and I must’ve made a good impression on the production company because by the time that post went live, I had already begun work behind the scenes on Season Three!

Over a span of about four months, I spent a lot of time working on the Bee with a team of fantastic people, including the Thriftystitcher herself, who heads up the entire behind-the-scenes sewing team. Most of it was involved with the pattern challenges (the first portion of each episode, where the contestants are given a mystery pattern to make). I can’t discuss details of how we produce the patterns, but just trust me that a lot of work goes into each one before the contestants ever see them! A lot of this work was done in the production company’s offices – which are a pretty normal looking workplace, except at my desk there was a sewing machine and ironing board instead of a computer, which was quite funny!

My work involved a lot of sewing, fitting, digitising, but also illustration, too. I did the latter together with Rosie from DIY Couture (whom I’m not afraid to admit is way better at these than I am!). This proved to be great practice for my own pattern line, as the more I did these for the Bee, the better I got – it was especially helpful for someone to say “ugh, that one looks weird, do it again!” Seriously, this helped up my Illustrator skills immensely!

The Haberdashery, empty and quiet

I was super chuffed to see some of my drawings made it into the final tv shows, too! Here I thought they’d only have an audience of ten, at most!

I wasn’t actually on the set at all for the third series (which will air sometime in 2015, I believe), which I was ok with as I’d heard enough about the super long filming days, and because I’d been on set before.

Once the third series finished filming, however, we had to start work almost immediately on the BBC Children in Need specials which were commissioned using celebrities who had never sewn before! This was a big challenge in both making the patterns easy enough for absolute beginners, but also spelling out e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in the instructions. Even though the CIN specials were only three episodes, they probably took nearly as much work as the full season, since we had to make a huge number of revisions to make sure the challenges ran to time and were easy enough for beginners.

To make everything go smoothly on the day, each celebrity was given an afternoon’s very basic sewing lesson, too, so that everyone was on a level playing field. I personally got to teach five how to sew, and they were all honestly absolutely lovely and enthusiastic about making the simplest of items. I don’t work with absolute beginners much so I’d almost forgotten how magic those first few steps can be.

I was also thrilled when I was asked to make the “perfect” version of the Men’s teeshirt pattern challenge – this is the one which is paraded on tv as the one the contestants should aim towards. Sewing a “perfect” version of something to be scrutinised on tv in front of millions of viewers – no pressure then!!

I love the Pudsey ironing board covers, which you can buy for a tenner!!

Because one of the pattern challenges involved using the overlockers (sergers), I was asked to be on set during the filming of that challenge, both to help out should anything need re-threading, but also to assist the celebrities and the crew. I soon found out that filming is another world – I was soon crawling on the floor like a combat soldier to get to the other side of the set without getting in shot of a camera filming behind, then contorting to take out a sewing machine to thread up in the right thread colour and drop back in without interrupting. I even got an overlocker working that 5 separate people couldn’t get to stitch properly. So proud!

It was that day on set that I was given the moniker “the overlocker ninja”. I may have to put that on my CV (resumé).

Really, I had a brilliant morning on set, but it was utterly exhausting – I had to be on my feet and thinking and reacting the whole time, so much that I went home and had a nap afterwards!

When I started work on the Great British Sewing Bee, I was warned that it’d ruin the show for me as I’d know everything that was going to happen before it went on tv, but actually, it hasn’t at all. In fact, I love the show even more now for knowing all the work, care, and love that goes into each episode, and that the people behind the cameras are as skilled as the people you see on tv. And by only being on set for one third of one episode, I figure it’ll still be a surprise to see exactly what the contestants do with the challenges we’ve devised for them, even if I already know what those challenges will be.

And holy crap, my name is actually in the end credits!!

Bring on Season Four!

UK residents can watch all three Children in Need episodes on iPlayer right now, plus donate to the Children in Need charity and bid for items made on the show via the official eBay shop. Please give generously!


Comment [19]

A Yellow Lace Marlborough bra (that fits!)

24 October 2014, 12:38

I have a long and rather conflicted history with bra sewing. I sewed my first bra five years ago, but despite being an accomplished seamstress and having a really standard body shape, I still haven’t managed to sew a single bra that I’m happy enough to wear on a regular basis in the time since.

Until now.

I knew Orange Lingerie had a bra pattern in the works for the better part of a year, and I knew her bra construction book was awesome, and, when I met Norma on her trip to London last year, she gave me bra fitting advice in a restaurant toilet – and still when she finally released the Marlborough bra pattern I was skeptical. That’s just how burned I’ve been by bra patterns in the past.

But I eventually did break down and buy it, with the thought to throw out all my other tweaks, calculations, traced RTW pieces, and just start fresh with this pattern and see where to go from there.

Choosing a size was actually the most difficult part for me – despite being a 34B in pretty much every RTW bra brand ever, the different formulas used to calculate bra sizes online are insane. Various calculation methods have said I’m anywhere from a 40A (Orange Lingerie’s method) to a 34DD (Bra size calculator’s method), both of which are just laughable (and yes, before you tell me to go get sized in person, I’ve done that in the past, and they said I actually am a 34B). So I threw both out and just made my RTW size, a 34B, with no changes.

Before cutting into anything good, I first made a black test version – it’s unlined with unfinished edges, with various bits cut off of old RTW bras, and “plunge” underwires that were a bit too short. But it freaking fit.

I wasn’t about to get too excited (I’ve been down that road before, declaring I’d perfected bra fit, finally, only to have problems emerge over time and wear). So I wore it for a week or two. And it still fit well. So I cut into the good stuff.

Everything in this pale yellow version is from my (rather extensive) lingerie sewing stash, and I hadn’t remembered until afterwards, but this gorgeous lace was actually a gift from Norma herself, when she came to visit London! You may notice that my straps have an M&S lingerie brand on them, even. Yes, I definitely recycle when the RTW parts are nearly-new and save me some time!

I know I’ve already gone on about the fit, but just indulge me a little bit more. It fits! A bra pattern actually fits me! Yes, I’ve made about 10 beautiful bras, and gotten closer to the perfect fit with each one, but none have stood the test of time enough to be worn in regular rotation. I’ve even held off writing this review until I’d worn it for a few weeks, because I thought surely I’d find something in the fit to dull my enthusiasm (like every time before). But… no. I’ve worn this bra nearly every day since I made it, and I love it – it fits like my favourite RTW & Other Stories bras!

In all my bra sewing escapades, I’ve learned that it’s fairly easy to sew an attractive, well-sewn, pretty bra. It’s extremely freaking difficult to sew a bra that fits properly.

You’ll see below my only change to the pattern. Yes, all my bra hooks are too short for the back piece so I just scooped out the strap curve a bit more. That’s my only change, people. WHAT.

If you’ve never sewn a bra before, I heartily recommend buying the Orange Lingerie book as a companion to this bra pattern. There are illustrated instructions included in the pattern itself, but the instructions are brief, and don’t go into fitting issues at all, or how to line the cup or frame pieces, or lace placement, or anything more than the basics.

My only real gripe with the pattern is that the cup pieces could really use some more alignment marks – placing the Upper Cup to the Lower Cup is especially easy to accidentally reverse. Each time I’ve sewn this I have to squint hard at the Step 2 illustration to make sure I’ve got the right ends aligned – I’ve added my own notches to my pattern, but you really need to pay attention to this step or risk getting a weird fit!

I’ve already cut out another version, to match a pair of Lacey Thongs I made last winter that have been waiting for a mate this long.

And because I love matching sets, I do have enough of this yellow lace to make matching panties for this bra, too… Just give me a rainy day and they’re as good as made!

And if for some reason you think my review’s been swayed by my meeting the author, well, then have a look at Kathy’s reviews of the four versions she’s made already!

PS: If you don’t read my RiverRunner site, you’ve missed my big news – I’ve been selected for Team GB next year!!

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Comment [11]

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