Thursday, 05 April 2012


Need some fancy new threads and haven’t a bean to pay for them? Try making your own, says Katy Pearson

Written by Katy Pearson
My name is Katy Pearson and I am a dress addict. I hold my hands up.

My none-too-secret vice is that a new dress makes me happy. I am too scared to count how many dresses there are in my wardrobe (and in my husband's wardrobe, in the attic at my parents' house and on loan to my little sister...) but suffice to say there are a lot.

In these recession-hit times, however, this is not a practical addiction. I should not be spending my money on frocks that flounce.

And my budget, sadly, does not stretch to designer numbers, let alone one-off, custom-made frocks (of which surely every lady dreams?). So when The Papered Parlour got in touch and told me of their dressmaking weekend class – where I could design and make a whole dress from scratch – I couldn't have signed up any faster. DIY couture? Yes please!

Statistics tell us that the average woman spends £1,000 a year on clothes. But I'm from the disposablefashion generation. If it's pretty, I care not a jot that my Primark frock cost less than my lunch. And while I have a lot of dresses, I'm pretty sure that if you lined them up, their total value would put me in the distinctly below-average category. Yet cheaper, high-street items often turn out to be a false economy; lots of those dresses hanging in various places around Essex have made only one outing before falling into a slight state of disrepair (a broken zip here, a faded shade there).


My nan Iris, 82, is still a whizz on a sewing machine. There is probably no item of clothing that she has not made, at one time or another.

But I'm a grown-up. I should not still be scurrying back to my nan, asking her to 'just take that in a bit there' when my latest vintage find doesn't quite fit.

So it was with a spring in my step and a swish of a skirt that I commenced my weekend of dressmaking. It lasted 10 hours, stretched over two days. The instructor, Mia Jafari, studied textiles at Central Saint Martins before setting up her own label, Ladybirds Love Strawberry Cosmos.


During the course, she patiently showed my fellow dressmaking novices and me how to alter patterns to fit us precisely (not just to the nearest dress size), how to make darts, how to hem, and how to bias bind.

Even more importantly, she dispelled the myth that unpicking is a bad thing, and proved that it doesn't matter whether you are a pro or a bad beginner, sometimes your sewing machine will just play up.

Delightfully, the dressmaking was interspersed with tea and cake, making me feel that I had somehow stepped through an Alice In Wonderland-esque looking glass and landed in the 1940s. Though I doubt any 1940s housewife would have been as chuffed as I was when I tried on my simple shift dress and it actually fitted. Rather well.

When I departed from the class (pattern carefully folded in my bag, dress tucked joyfully under my arm), my mind was already on where I had stashed the sewing machine bought for me years ago. (It was under the stairs of course.)

dm4nKaty in one of her creations

I've since bought a few metres of cheap but cheerful fabric (at £3 a metre, I think even Primark might be beaten) and am proceeding to annoy the husband by laying patterns out on anything that stays still long enough.


But even if I never again manage to create a dress from scratch, the skills I learnt on the course mean that I can rescue those dresses languishing at the back of my wardrobe. Dodgy hem? No problem. Iffy zip? Let me at it. And that's before you even get me started on the unbridled joy of finding a vintage dress that's two sizes too big, knowing that I can make it fi t me.

Who needs a fairy godmother? My sewing machine and I are going to be just fine on our own...




Don't want to go back to school? These books will get you going...

dm booksn

THE SEWING MACHINE ACCESSORY BIBLE by Wendy Gardiner and Lorna Knight (Search Press, £12.99) Shows how to get the most out of your machine, with loads of time-saving tips. Essential for sewingmachine phobes.

I AM CUTE DRESSES: 25 Simple Designs To Sew by Sato Watanabe (Interweave Press, £16.99)

All the dresses are designed from simple outlines that suit all shapes and sizes and are so easy to make – all you need is the basic template.

SIMPLE MODERN SEWING: 8 BasicPatterns To Create 25 Favorite Garments by Shufu- To-Seikatsusha (Interweave, £17.99)

The patterns are adaptable and with no-fuss sizing. You can make pieces unique by varying the fabrics and adding your own embellishments.

STYLISH SEWING: 35 Patterns And Instructions For Clothes, Toys And Home Accessories by Laura Wilhelm (Search Press, £9.99)

Has a huge range of items to choose from, all with a complete list of the materials needed to make them, a clear set of instructions, and patterns and diagrams where needed. It's almost idiot-proof!

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