Freehand Cutting with Chinelo

1 Chinello Freehand Cutting Dress31 the demon eyes of tony blair bodiceIt was my birthday a few weeks ago.  Instead of a present, I asked for a course: the “Freehand Cutting Workshop” taught by Chinelo Bally, the runner-up contestant in this year’s Great British Sewing Bee who stumped so many of us with her flair for speedily making beautifully fitted clothes out of…. well, certainly not sewing patterns!

I rarely go on sewing courses.  I prefer to learn at home from blogs and books in the splendid company of the Blogstalker and Radio 4.  However, there really isn’t much published about freehand cutting and part of my husband’s “birthday-deal” was a promise of coming home late to find the children fed and the dishes done – none of that “you’re home, great, we’re starving” crap.  So you see, I couldn’t resist…  🙂

For the workshop, Chinelo had hired out a studio in Bow, East London; also present was a studio assistant who very kindly allowed us to stay beyond allocated time until we’d finished.  We gathered around a large central table piled with different fabrics out of which we were to make peplum tops or skater dresses (same basic bodice design with different ‘skirt’ lengths).  The form the workshop takes is that Chinelo leads you to chalk certain measurements onto folded pieces of fabric (bodice back and bodice front in one sandwich of layers), then it’s straight to cut and sew (gulp!).  The fabric, zips and bias binding are all provided though I took my fabric remnants home and made my own binding once Chinelo was happy that the dress fit me.

We began by taking our measurements: firstly, the ones with the tape horizontally on the body then measuring with the tape vertically on the body.   For some reason, I have never before carried out this procedure in this logical order (what about you?) and it helped visualize what would happen next when we plotted these measurement on the fabric.

One of the strengths of the workshop is Chinelo’s teaching.  She’s dynamic, thorough and quickly spots whenever a student goes off track in her measurements.  There were 12 students in the class and I think we all felt we’d had our tutor’s undivided attention.  Just as importantly – for it was Saturday afternoon – we had fun!

So what have I learnt about freehand cutting

  • It achieves a perfectly-fitted bodice.  Those of us who follow Winifred Aldrich’s Basic Block instructions in “Metric Pattern Cutting” always complain of too much ease.  Well, this method works.
  • The same procedure can be used to create a close fitting skirt with an added on knee-level fish-tail which follows on from the peplum/circle skirt design principles
  • It’s quick and cheap compared to faffing with commercial patterns that require so many alterations
  • You have no hard copy to adjust from if the fit isn’t perfect.  The range of designs that can be achieved is somewhat limited, e.g. it’s not a technique you would use if your ambition is to create this:1t Running Top
  • With printed fabrics, i.e. graphics, you might find it difficult to control where certain elements will end up on the body.  Imagine my horror (actually, laughter) when I first opened up my bodice front and found revealed – where I kind of imagined my bust points would be – what looked like little red demon eyes of Tony Blair!   😯Help I'm wearing Demon Eyes on me Nipples!

With sewing courses, I suspect that how much you get out of it is dependant on how much work you’re prepared to do afterwards.  Chinelo does make her tutorials available online to those who like to learn from home so I’ll certainly use the freehand technique to make my next skirt.  But it will take months of self-study before I can be nudged out of my paper pattern comfort zone to make anything more complex.

The F Word (Frumpy…)

When I think of Vivienne Westwood – the person – the first incarnation that comes to mind isn’t the veteran punk-queen designer nor the politicized eco-warrior with campaigns close to my own heart.  Instead, I think of the famed exit she made from the premiere of the film Sex and the City.  Although citations are proving hard to find, the general consensus is that she couldn’t watch more than 10 minutes and found the clothes frumpy and boring.  I can just hear her soft Derbyshire tones uttering this, with clicks of contempt.

This is the jacket I’ll be attempting to make, in plaid, for my part in the Vivienne Westwood Challenge.1t Burda Crossover Blazer 06 2012  no121

For ages now, I’ve admired its diagonal lines, the turn back cuffs and the potential in the matching of two contrasting inner and outer fabrics.  That balance of tailoring-meets-rock n’ roll is pretty rare in sewing patterns, I think.Technical drawing burda 6 2012 #121 But, having got hold of the technical drawing, I find the design simple and boxy and it’s hard to believe it’s the same jacket.    Not so much the soldier-turned-highwayman look of Adam Ant that I’d set my sights on.  More over-starched waiter in a dull restaurant.

I’m wondering what my chances are of turning this pattern into something that looks more like this:1t Tartan jacket

When I look closely at this Vivienne Westwood design, three key features that make it different from the Burda pattern stand out:

1 There are waist darts all the way to bust point.  Ok, so this jacket is designed for a woman.  I get it.

2.  There’s a waist seam that drops down diagonally towards the side seams (another dart control?).  This seam sits a good inch higher than where most of us assume our waist to be (an inch above the belly button).  As before, this flatters the female shape to the max.

3. Finally, the asymmetrical collar, notched on one side and extended on the other.  Why did it have to be this way?  It reminds me of one of those naturally asymmetrical, sexy hairstyles that have a lot of movement.  It’s a good trick that brings the design to life.

What do you think are my chances of upgrading a $6 Burda pattern into clever couture?  I’ve got enough frumpy already.  Can you help out with links to interesting plaid/tartan suppliers that can lift this out of the ordinary?

I’ll leave you with a couple of links to blog posts where some clever analysing and copying of Vivienne Westwood design has taken place.  Here’s a clear tutorial from Orchids in May on making one of those asymmetrical and gloriously voluminous draped skirts.  I wish I had a half-scale model to practise this on, with the pinstripe leftovers in the stash.

The other post is from blogger Catherine Daze: the striped jersey dress.  Although not as dramatic as the VW original, the end result, like the skirt by Orchids in May, is accomplished, unordinary and wearable.

Encouraging signs.


1 Clownie 6

Tamara's blouseIf you watched the second series of The Great British Sewing Bee, you may have been charmed by the 1930s blouse made in Episode 6.  Tamara’s blouse in muted, natural colours particularly evoked the era for me.  When I found out that the publishers Quadrille had made many of the patterns from the series available for free download from here, I printed out the pattern and took a sneaky peek at the instructions in the book that had been kindly donated for my Sewing Bee Challenge.  This is the result:

1 Clownie 4

I have mixed feelings about it.  I’d disregarded the advice to make this from something drapey and went instead with poplin (I ripped up a dress I made two years ago so you could say this is a genuine refashioning project).  Although the flowers are exotic, the largeness of them makes me feel like I’m the kind of chintz sofa that was fashionable in the 1980s and can now be found fading away in dilapidating English conservatories.  I also feel rather broad and puffed, like I’m wearing a clown suit.

On the other hand, it’s a look I suspect would work quite well with a pencil skirt, heels and Winehouse-style make-up.  It’s worth giving this a go, even if just to scare the kids!

1 CollarPattern changes made: I added shirring to the centre bottom of the sleeves (in the pattern, the area is cut away).  I also pleated the sleeve head rather than gathered it.

Sizing for this pattern (and other downloads from the book) can be obtained from here.  It’s pretty standard.  According the chart, I’m a 14 but I made 12 anyway.  The muslin I made fit perfectly on the waist though had to be taken in a good 5cm in the shoulders and under the armpits.  The instructions aren’t available from the download.  For that, you have to buy the book and even then, there isn’t that much detail and there certainly aren’t enough diagrams.  I mean, I’m still not sure what a placket is supposed to look like.

You’re all very welcome to snigger viciously at my pathetic attempt at it:1 Oh, plack it!

Should I decide this blouse is a keeper, you can bet I’ll be replacing the placket with an invisible zip.  Boy, wasn’t the 20th century clever with its inventions like the zip!?  And rockets.  But best, zips.

1 Leftovers mmm

1 1930s Blouse

The GB Sewing Bee Challenge Reveal

Feeling inspired by the projects of the second series and in need of an adrenaline rush, I challenged you to join me in some Bee-style sewing to see what we could produce in a week.  So how bad did I feel at putting you through it?  A bit.

megan3Especially on seeing Megan displaying her (ahem, sleeveless!) wrap dress, made in just 3 hours with pins holding the waist seam together.  Do read Meggipeg’s hilarious post as to how her part in this experiment went: it’s haunted by the ghosts of Patrick and May’s passing stark judgement!

Luckily, a few extra hours and the project developed into this.  Megan, it looks fantastic. You both do!

Megan 1 and 2EConnolly coatOur second submission came from an interesting case…  Elizabeth took up sewing only a year ago after being inspired by the first series of the Sewing Bee.  Her first project was  pyjamas made with fabric from  Guthrie and Ghani (Lauren Guthrie was a contestant in Series 1) and she has made 80 garments since. Having got fed up with badly suited RTW, Elizabeth has been seeking an evermore perfect fit in her makes.  This coat, inspired by the vintage projects  in Episode 6, is proof of how much can be achieved if you push at it and focus.  EConnolly coat liningI’m no Patrick or May but I’m sure they’d tell Elizabeth that the fit is excellent and the plaid perfectly matched.  Bonus points too for the pink elephants lining.

Apparently, it took 2 bobbins to feed all those quilting stitches.  Elizabeth also points out this would’ve been impossible with the GBSB time restrictions.  If you want to make a similar coat but feel daunted by a lack of experience, Elizabeth recommends this book.

Can we have Elizabeth in the next series please!

1 Penny Before ShirtOne of my favourite tasks of Series 2 was deconstructing two men’s shirts to make something new (you can see it in Episode 2, starting at 25 minutes).  I tried a similar project two years ago, cutting up my husband’s work shirts to make my daughter some pyjamas (he was pretty upset the following Monday morning when looking for something to wear to work!) and found that even a small person’s garment uses more fabric than you’d think, which in turn limits creativity.

Penny Librarian chose a beautifully coloured shirt with small checks to guide the cutting and the stitching but even so found the task hard under the time constraints.  She produced this top in 4 hours.

GBSB Challenge from PennyIt looks great, Penny.  And you were certainly not a wimp to break for lunch!! Thanks for taking part and for all the useful tips you detailed in your blog post.

The next entry came from my friend Jo who I’m often hassling to sew more, on top of her busy enough life.  Jo was inspired by the prom dress task (Episode 4, 38 minutes) to challenge herself into making a dress for a black-tie do.  She did this last Friday – the day of the actual event!  To add to the pressure, she knew her time was going to be up at 3pm when her three children returned from school hyped up on end-of-term excitement.  Luckily, Jo knows her pattern very well having made Anna a few times before.  On this occasion though, she varied the thigh split to knee length as the evening do was at an army barracks!  🙂1 Jo 1

Jo, you look great and thanks so much for the photo.  Hope you had a fab time!

Finally, me.  For ages, I’ve wanted to refashion a tailored garment but rifling through men’s suits in charity shops has always been a slightly stomach-turning process for me.  “I wonder who wore this?  An undertaker?” I always imagine.

1 channelling John Major1 Inside Jacket-horzAfter the Make-Do-And-Mend task in Episode 6 (25 mins into the show) I looked around charity shops again and found a 100% wool  jacket with paisley lining and lots of interesting details inside.  It looked new too – though I later discovered a crushed Quality Street wrapper in one of the many, beautifully tailored inner pockets.

BlessingUgh, but yes, it could have been worse 😯

In the show, Chinelo’s execution of this task was a triumphantly gorgeous dress.  What I wanted though was a pencil skirt with braces: more like Lynda’s creation.  But my jacket didn’t come with trousers and it soon became apparent that all I was going to eke out of the fabric was a low-waist mini!  The length of this actually came from the sleeves with the cuff buttons ending on front hips.1 Skirt

1 Skirt backI think I spent as much time thinking this through and planning as I did sewing and tried to get as many of the original features as possible into the final cut.

My favourite part is the back of the waistband where I covered the zip with a pocket flap.

And I hope that having lining will make this more wearable.

But you ask how long it took?


1 Paisley LiningYeah, that!

TIMES (x) 4!! 

If I have one criticism of the series, it’s that it’s made sewing seem easier than it is in reality.

Now, for the draw of the book.  I wish I had 4 copies to give to all the entrants as not only is it a fab souvenir of an unforgettable series (complete with a surprise ending) but also because  I feel sure that each of you would have made very creative use of the patterns included.

But the one winner has been drawn (by her again) and it is:

1 Draw winnerELIZABETH!

Thanks all for taking part, giving me your time and for letting me use your photos.  For those with blogs, I’ve tried to include links to your work wherever possible.  I hope you found it an interesting experiment and that it made some of the excitement of the show rub off on you!

Mxxx   🙂

The Vivienne Westwood Challenge

Vivienne Westwood Challenge

Today is Vivienne Westwood’s birthday.  Happy birthday, Dame V!

Actually, I don’t think Vivienne Westwood will read this.  So with any luck, she won’t find out that I’m about to blatantly invite you fellow sewists to copy her formidable, subversive style and make the kind of garment that will invite raised eyebrows when you wear it, along with the question, “Is it Vivienne Westwood?”

So that you can reply, “Oh no, just my homage.”

It needn’t be a difficult challenge.  Imagination, a sense of fun and boldness are more important than overwrought patterns and precise stitching.  If in doubt, find the most interestingly coloured tartan you can, use it to make up your favourite T’n’T pattern and voilà!  But if you’re daunted, I’ll try to tempt you over the next five weeks with ideas, tutorials and hopefully a guest post to help you decide on the characteristic Westwood touches that would perfectly suit your project.  On 20th May, I’ll post your submitted creations in a blog fashion show where we can reveal our tweeds, plaid, clinched womanly waists, drapery or big curvy lapels.  Ooh, and some bondage trousers too, I hope!

What do you think?  Pretentious?  Well, just slightly.  But I think Dame V would approve.

What now:

  • Tell your friends, copy the button code into the widget area of your blog if you have one.  Ask for fabric or pattern suggestions.
  • Tell me.  I hate doing this alone.  Leave me a comment below if you want to play, or if you have thoughts on Vivienne Westwood or favourite creations.
  • Do some reading (and window shopping) for now and check back in a week for an update.


UPDATE:  Some home-type upheaval has caused me to postpone the deadline to 7th June which I hope will help some of you who are joining later on.


Grab My Button Code Generator

“You Have One Week” The GBSB Challenge

Sewers, you have a week to make a garment inspired by the current series of

The Great British Sewing Bee.”

may pat claWhat, do you think one week is a bit mean?  Well of course it is but how do you think those poor contestants must have felt when told to make a silk nightgown to fit a model in 5 hours?!  I was hiding behind the sofa at that point.

Sew Your Own Wardrobe by Tessa EveleghLuckily, no judges will be allowed to scrutinise and pick apart the efforts of this challenge.  In fact, all who submit a picture of their creation by the final of the GBSB next Tuesday will be entered into a draw to win a copy of the book The Great British Sewing Bee: Sew Your Own Wardrobe by Tessa Evelegh, kindly donated by Quadrille Publishing.  After the deadline, I will prepare a blog post of your entries and publish it on Wednesday 9th April alongside the name of the winner of the draw.

The Rules

1 Make a garment inspired by one of the tasks on the show.

2  Email me a photo of the garment, preferably being worn by either yourself, whoever you made it for, or on a dummy (no hangers).  The deadline is Tuesday 8th April 9pm GMT.  Multiple entries ok, and I’d be particularly be happy to see Before and After pictures if you’re refashioning.

3 Make sure you include any text you would like me to publish with your photo, e.g. why you chose that particular task or who you most want to win the series.  If you have a blog, make sure you include the link.  I’ll email you back to confirm I’ve received your entry.

4 If you have a blog, you may like to display this button to show you’re taking part.  Just copy the text below into your widget area.


That’s it.

If you like, leave a comment below telling us you’re joining in.  Or what tasks during this series have most inspired you to have a go?

Now, much to my delight, the second series of the GB Sewing Bee has been longer than the first, with many more projects.  So your memories of the early shows may be a bit hazy.  I know mine are – or maybe it was hiding behind the sofa that made me miss parts.  Luckily, all the episodes are available to view on iPlayer till April 15th.  So if you need a little reminder of the story so far, here are the links (available to all in the UK):

Episode 1 where we meet the contestants, a boring wool skirt is revamped and a silk nightgown is made.

Episode 2 where the contestants are tested on their ability to match patterns.  Do you pleats match?  Can you cut up two shirts to make a new one?

Episode 3 jersey T-shirt refashion, leggings and a wrap dress (gulp!).

Episode 4 sewing for little people plus a prom dress.  Can you make a fancy dress costume out of a pillowcase, a sweatshirt and jogging bottoms?

Episode 5 anorak and velvet trousers.

Tamara's blouseEpisode 6 Vintage heaven.  The beautiful blouse with collar and smocking that we all plan to make some day.  Well, it’s time 🙂

Episode 7 The Semi Final.  Make a garment copy and the dart-it, pleat-it, tuck it, drape-it dress.

All episodes can apparently be viewed outside the UK via Media Hint – a free download that works with Chrome and Firefox.

Good luck!

And sewers?  Try not to have too many tea breaks.  I find it trebles project time!


You can download sewing patterns for many of the makes in the show from here.

So Zo’s review of Sew Your Own Wardrobe can be found here.

GBSB Judge May Martin’s How To Tutorials which could give you ideas can be found here.

In Series 1, the task that most inspired me to do a copycat was this skirt.