It 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
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!
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.