Lingerie and Luxury Robes – a first for the Great British Sewing Bee

Kwik Sew 3594 includes bras for sizes 32-40, AA-DDD
Kwik Sew 3594 includes bras for sizes 32-40, AA-DDD

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.

M5400Of course, you can also have a go at making swim wear, take a look at McCalls 5400 which includes different styles of bikini, including a tankini and tunic. Just like bras, they are made in a stretch fabric this time with Lycra or Spandex.

The final challenge for the day was to make a luxury robe, so I’ve looked at my favourites for men and women (shown below) and included some of my tips on sewing with silky fabrics.

Vogue 9015 is a luxury robe and nightgown with lace insets
Vogue 9015 is a luxury robe and nightgown with lace insets

I love Vogue 9015 which looks soft and silky here in polyester satin. The pack includes nightgowns with lace insets which are really luxurious.



  • 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
    Vogue 8888 is a lovely collection of silky full length robe and nightdresses with lacy insets. I love the decadent feel of this set!

    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.
Vogue 8964 is perfect for the man of the house. It's a Very Easy Vogue design of gown and PJs - as made by one lovely contestant!
Vogue 8964 is perfect for the man of the house. It’s a Very Easy Vogue design of gown and PJs – as made by one lovely contestant!

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!

Enjoy making your own luxurious lingerie. Next week we turn retro!

Sew cute, sew for babies on The Great British Sewing Bee

Make your own babygro from Butterick 5585
Make your own babygro from Butterick 5585

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 snap 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!

mcCalls 7219, a cute pack of baby bits
mcCalls 7219, a cute pack of baby bits

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.

A walking foot may look imposing, but it is one of my 'must have' feet
A walking foot may look imposing, but it is one of my ‘must have’ feet

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!!).

McCalls 7237, a lovely cape with fur trimmed hood and hem
McCalls 7237, a lovely cape with fur trimmed hood and hem

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).

McCalls 6998, great for fancy dress costumes
McCalls 6998, great for fancy dress costumes

Capes 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.

McCalls 6431 capes and ponchos
McCalls 6431 capes and ponchos

Enjoy sewing for your little ones. Next week we go international in style!

Get Stripy – The first Great British Sewing Bee Challenge!

Butterick 6058, stripes, but easier to handle with inserted diagonal panel
Butterick 6058, stripes, but easier to handle with inserted diagonal panel

So the first show is over – the Great British Sewing Bee has done it again – drawn us in and ensured we have sympathy for the plucky contestants as they undertook the first challenge of the series – to make an easy top in silky fabric – but the twist – to match diagonal stripes down the centre front and back! Phew…. not quite so easy then!

But there are of course some ways to do this more easily. The first is to cut each piece separately, not fold fabric hoping to match up the stripes on both layers and cutting two at a time. This is especially tricky with slippery fabrics, so take a little more time, and cut each front piece and each back piece separately – just remember to flip the tissue piece over to get a right and left section.

To match the stripes, cut the first piece, making sure the notches on the centre front seam are nicely aligned with a prominent stripe. Then flip the tissue piece over and with the first cut section to hand, place the tissue on the next piece of fabric, so the centre front notch is on the same strip as before. Lay the first piece alongside to check (don’t forget to allow for seam allowances either). Once satisfied they will match perfectly, cut out.

A maxi in stripes, easy to make and stunning looking
A maxi in stripes, easy to make and stunning looking

On slippery fabrics I definitely prefer to use dressmaking shears that have a slight serrated edge as they grip the fabric as you cut. Take long cuts, running the shears along the table surface between each. (McCalls 7121, sizes 6-22,  is an easy to make maxi dress which looks stunning in stripy fabric)

I always recommend cutting OUT around notches too, this ensures that should you need to pinch a bit of the seam allowance having tried on your garment during construction, you do have a bit to play with – if you have cut wedges or snips into the seam allowance – you don’t!

McCalls 7130, wear it as a strapless dress or skirt with wide band
McCalls 7130, wear it as a strapless dress or skirt with wide band

If possible also use a walking foot to help both top and bottom layers of the fabric feed evenly and smoothly. Although people think of this ingenous foot for quilting, it is actually great for all sorts of fabric including slippery beasties!

To narrow hem the sleeves and bottom edge, do consider using a rolled hem foot. Such a dreamy foot to use – once you have mastered holding the fabric up and slightly to the left in front of the foot. (McCalls 7130, XS 4-6 – XXL 24-28 is a stretch knit skirt/dress with wide band that is a bandeau or skirt yoke. Lots of panels but fab in stripes).

To get started, fold under 3-6mm twice to turn under the narrow hem (depending on the width of the scroll on the front of your hemmer foot) and pin for about 3cm. Attach the foot, but don’t try to put the fabric through the scroll just yet. Sew the first 2cm, sew the stitching is right on the inner edge of the folded hem. Stop with needle down, raise presser foot and guide the fabric raw edge into the coil at the front – just a single layer, not already folded.

Lower the presser foot and away you go. Hold the fabric in front with your right hand, raised and slightly to the left, helping to guide the fabric as it stitches with your left hand. It takes a bit of practice, but keep at it as it is well worth it and the results are fabulous.

Oh, and if you get little bits that haven’t turned under, don’t stress too much, finish the hem and then go back and redo the little bits by turning under the hem allowance as you did before, pin and stitch.

Butterick 6100, a great simple design that can be easily 'hacked'
Butterick 6100, a great simple design that can be easily ‘hacked’

If you love the simple shape of the top on the show, you can recreate it by ‘hacking’ Butterick 6100. Just add a centre front seam, remembering to add seam allowances of 1.5cm (5/8″) and rather than cut on the fold, cut two pieces. Voila – your own ‘hack’.

McCalls 7323, a great way to start with stripes
McCalls 7323, a great way to start with stripes

If you want to work with a stripy fabric but are a bit nervous of matching the pattern down a centre front seam, take a look at McCalls 7323, sizes XS 4-6 to XXL 24-26, as it has a diagonal insert to interrupt the horizontal stripes! Or try Butterick 6287, sizes 6-22 which is for stretch jersey fabrics (slightly easier to work with perhaps!)

So enjoy – working with slippery and stripy fabrics needn’t be a chore!

Only 3 Sleeps until the Great British Sewing Bee

If you are looking forward to the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee as mGBSB4 front cover of bookuch as I am, you will know that it starts on Monday – just three more days away! I have some small insight into the show as author of the accompanying book (very proud of that) but no spoilers so for now, will just share how prepared I think we should all be. Get your gear together!

Firstly if you are going topaper pattern packs want to make some of  the garments that the contestants are challenged with on TV, then of course you must buy the book – because it includes some of the show projects as well as many, many more – shameless plug here! It’s available in good book shops, on Amazon etc and is called The Great British Sewing Bee, From Stitch to Style. Of course the book comes with pattern sheets that you can trace off but you will need pattern paper to do this. I love the Perfect Pattern Paper packs by Pati Palmer for McCalls (available from, code M091). The pack includes two huge, 213 x 122cm (84 x 48”) sheets of gridded tissue paper making copying patterns easy. Use the grid to follow grain lines etc.

Also available from is a pack of plain tissue paper (B 991) and that has five sheets of 76 x 127cm (30 x 50”).

But of course there also lots of patterns in the McCalls, Butterick, Kwik Sew and Vogue Pattern ranges that will be very similar to those featured on the shows, and indeed might be more suited to your figure or shape. So do keep an eye out on the website – again to plug it – my lovely colleague Marilyn will be updating it after each show with pattern suggestions so you can ‘get the look’.

So to be prepared to sew, sew sew, consider these other goodies that are surely ‘must-have’ haby! Treat yourself to a French Curve (M755 for metric, M756 for Imperial) – this is so useful when you need to graduate from one pattern size smoothly to another at say bust to waist to hip (and who doesn’t!) I also find a Hem Marker so useful when taking up hems on your own. It has an adjustable height guide and puffer filled with fine chalk dust, which you puff onto your skirt as you slowly turn, getting a nice even hemline (M587). To perfect press bust darts and curves in princess seams etc, a tailor’s ham is indispensible (M157).

There are lots of other useful haby aids on the website including interfacings, threads, needles and more. For now I will leave you with your preparations. And after each show I will blog some useful techniques and tips to help sew some of the designs featured. So as a little teaser – think pattern matching…..

More in just three sleeps!