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Ask Charlotte: Your sewing and dressmaking questions answered by the winner of The Great British Sewing Bee

This week, winner of series four of the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, Charlotte Newland is answering your questions about sewing projects for kids, tacking and invisible zips!

Question: I really want to get my daughter into sewing, she is 8. What is a good first project to start her off with? I am looking for something to challenge her to keep her interest but not so difficult she is put off.

Answer: A great first machine sewing project for a child is a pair of elasticated waist pyjama bottoms. They can be made from a knit fabric so there is no need to finish any seams, and are so quick and easy. There are loads of online tutorials – I really like this one from instructables.com.

Kids Sewing

Question: Back at school we were taught to pin then tack then sew but I find this too time consuming and makes me not want to sew! Are all these steps totally necessary?

Answer: That is a lot of steps, and I’m not surprised you’re put off! The good news is that there is usually no need to tack unless you are using a fabric that shifts about, like satin or velvet. When sewing with stable fabrics like cotton, pins are definitely all you need!

Pins and tomato pin cushion

Question: I have just mastered putting a standard zip into a dress but my latest pattern is for an invisible zip and I am finding it very stressful! Do you have any advice to help make inserting an invisible zip a breeze?

Answer: Invisible zips are wonderful things once you get the hang of them. My top tip would be to press the zip teeth flat with a hot iron and steam before sewing. Patterns often warn against pressing the zip with an iron that is too hot in case you melt the nylon teeth, but in all my years of sewing I have never melted a zip. As long as you keep the iron moving, you should be just fine. I also recommend investing in an invisible zip foot to make the sewing process less fraught, and moving the needle position across if necessary so you can sew right up against the zip teeth.

Invisible Zipper Foot

To have your questions answered in our next edition of Ask Charlotte, send them to askcharlotte@thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk or tag them on Instagram with the hashtag #askcharlottegbsb. If you want to ask Charlotte your questions in person, why not take one of her classes at our West Hampstead shop? You can find them here!

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Ask Charlotte: Your sewing and dressmaking questions answered by the winner of The Great British Sewing Bee

This week, the super talented Charlotte, winner of series four of the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, fields your questions about seam allowances, twin needles and buttonholes!

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Question: I have a pattern that does not include the seam allowances. Can I just make it in the next size up?

Answer: Unfortunately not, I’m sorry to say! The difference between sizes isn’t consistent at every seam, so you will end up with a garment that fits peculiarly. There is no shortcut to adding the seam allowances yourself, I’m afraid. You can make this easier by tracing the pattern using two pencils taped together, but make sure you take note of the distance between the pencil lines and use this as your seam allowance.

Swedish Tracing Paper

Q: A lot of patterns suggest using ‘the twin needle method’ when sewing with stretch fabrics. What is this?

A: A twin needle is exactly what it sounds like – it has two needles attached to a single shank so that it can be used in place of a regular needle in your machine. You simply thread your machine as usual, but using two spools (most machines have a hole to put an extra spool holder), and use one in each side of the twin needle. Using a twin needle results in two parallel lines of stitching on the right side of the garment, with the bobbin thread forming a zig zag on the reverse. This allows the stitching to stretch slightly, perfect for hems on knit garments. You will need to practice on scraps first, though, and pay particular attention to your tension settings.

Twin Needle Hem

Q: Buttonholes terrify me! I am always scared I am going to ruin my work. Do you have any top tips?

A: Always sew a practice buttonhole using the same fabric and interfacing combination as your actual garment. If you are lucky enough to have a machine that uses a special foot (that holds the button) to do an automatic buttonhole then you should be just fine. If not, then take the time to mark the position and length of your buttonholes carefully before you start sewing, so that you can make them all the same size. If you use a seam ripper to cut your buttonholes open then put a pin at the far end of the buttonhole so you can’t accidentally slip and cut through your stitches.

Janome Buttonhole Foot

To have your questions answered in our next edition of Ask Charlotte, send them to askcharlotte@thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk or tag them on Instagram with the hashtag #askcharlottegbsb. If you want to ask Charlotte your questions in person, why not take one of her classes at our West Hampstead shop? You can find them here!

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Ask Charlotte: Your dressmaking and sewing questions answered by the winner of The Great British Sewing Bee

This week, the super talented Charlotte, winner of series four of the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, fields questions about high bust measurements, cotton vs polyester thread, removing sleeves from a pattern and more!

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Question: I want to remove the sleeves from a dress pattern that doesn’t have this option. Do I need to change the pattern or can I just skip them?

Answer: I often want to add or remove sleeves when the pattern doesn’t have that option, and it’s a pretty simple hack. The shape of the armhole is slightly different in sleeveless vs sleeved bodices, the main difference being that sleeveless bodices have a slightly higher underarm so when adapting the sleeved bodice pieces make sure to add a little here. Start with about 1 cm, but make sure to sew a muslin/toile to check the fit. The shoulder seam might also be wider than you would like, but again that is something that you can check at the muslin stage.

Christine Haynes Emery Dress

Q: I’m always hearing about how I should use my ‘high bust measurement’ to get a better fit. How do I take this measurement and what do I do with it?

A: Patterns are designed using a whole load of assumptions about the shape of our bodies, but of course we are all different and very few of us actually conform to these criteria. When it comes to bodices and tops, pattern designers assume a 2″ difference between the full bust measurement and the high bust measurement (taken around the chest and above the bust, right up under the armpits). In general, it’s a lot easier to adjust the fit to accommodate a larger/smaller bust than it is to change the fit across the shoulders and upper chest. This is why it’s often recommended to choose a size based on your high bust measurement (plus 2″, as allowed in the pattern), then adjust the bust with a small/full bust adjustment if necessary.

Merchant and Mills tape measure

Q: Why do quilters use cotton thread and dressmakers use polyester thread? Does it really matter what kind of thread I use?

A: It’s really important to use polyester thread for dressmaking, because cotton doesn’t have the tensile strength to stand up to repeated wear. Quilts have a lot of small seams, so the pressure on any individual one is small. Quilters prefer to use cotton thread because it has the same strength as the cotton fabrics used, and is therefore less likely to damage the fabrics in the long term.

Gutermann Sew All Thread

Q: I want to make a dress with a jersey that is a little bit see through. The pattern doesn’t have a lining, so can I add one?

A: You can add a lining, but bear in mind that the stretch of your fabric will be considerably less with two layers than it would be with one. It could be worth wearing a slip or a vest instead.

Colette Myrtle Dress

To have your questions answered in our next edition of Ask Charlotte, send them to askcharlotte@thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk or tag them on Instagram with the hashtag #askcharlottegbsb. If you want to ask Charlotte your questions in person, why not take one of her classes at our West Hampstead shop? You can find them here!

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Ask Charlotte: Your sewing and dressmaking questions answered by the winner of The Great British Sewing Bee

This week, the super talented Charlotte, winner of series four of the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, fields questions about making a first sewing machine purchase, easy patterns for getting started with dressmaking and patterns for tackling knit fabrics!

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Q: Hey Charlotte! What are the easiest ladies patterns and fabrics to use in order to start learning how to sew? I mistakenly started by making a jacket but gave up because it was just too difficult to be rewarding, now scared to try again!
– Asked by @svetlanadelrey

A: Hi svetlanadelrey! Don’t be scared – dressmaking can be so rewarding! I recommend starting with a simple skirt. There are lots of suitable beginner’s patterns – anything that flares out from the waist is perfect, because then you don’t need to worry about the fit on the hips. Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes has some wonderful patterns, and is designed for complete beginners. You can work your way through the book and end up with a whole wardrobe of gorgeous handmade clothes. Good luck!

Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes

Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes is a wonderful resource for new dressmakers!

Q: Hi!!! What do you recommend to look for in a sewing machine. Im going to buy my first so i can start learning 🙂
– Asked by @mariana.dance

A: Hello mariana.dance! That’s a really good question – it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the options. It’s useful to remember that all those fancy stitches are a relatively new addition to home sewing machines, and that people managed perfectly well without them for many years. For dressmaking you really only need a straight stitch, zigzag, and a buttonhole. Once you get more experienced then you might want to invest in a machine with more stitches, or even an automatic thread cutter. Although I warn you, once you get used to not having to cut the threads you won’t want to go back!

Janome CXL301

The Janome CXL301 is great entry-level computerised machine!

Q: What would you recommend for a beginner’s first project with stretchy fabric?? 🙂 I’m a teenager teaching myself to sew and have managed a few simple sleeveless dresses and some cushions, but would love to start trying harder projects 🙂 thanks!!
– Asked by @little_wool_cart

A: Hi little_wool_cart. It’s so great to hear you’re sewing with knits – some people avoid them because they think they are scary. There are loads of lovely patterns for all sorts of garments, including the Agnes top, Axel skirt, and Moneta dress. I recommend using pattern weights and a rotary cutter to cut out knit fabrics, because it’s more accurate than using scissors. Have fun, and good luck!

Colette Moneta Dress

The Moneta Dress by Colette Patterns is a lovely choice for your first knit garment project!

To have your questions answered in our next edition of Ask Charlotte, send them to askcharlotte@thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk or tag them on Instagram with the hashtag #askcharlottegbsb. If you want to ask Charlotte your questions in person, why not take one of her classes at our West Hampstead shop? You can find them here!

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Ask Charlotte: your dressmaking & sewing questions answered by the winner of the Great British Sewing Bee!

We are super excited that we’re working with Charlotte Newland, winner of the Great British Sewing Bee, on a new column for the blog! It’s going to be agony aunt-style, with you submitting your dressmaking and sewing questions for her expert advice!

Ask Charlotte

You can submit your questions via email to askcharlotte@thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk or via Instagram using the hashtag #askcharlottegbsb. She’ll aim to tackle 2-3 of the most pressing questions each month, so start sending those questions her way!

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