Do you go shopping and gasp at the ridiculously extortionate prices of clothes? Does that then lead to a little rant of ‘I could have made this...it’s easy!’? Or, are you feeling inspired from The Great British Sewing Bee? If you’re still dabbling with the idea of picking up your needles and thread, stop procrastinating and start sewing. It may seem difficult, but with the right course, you’ll be a master in no time.
Whether you’re an absolute beginner, hoping to sew your first trousers or the odd seam, or an experienced designer with big dreams of rivalling Jenny Packham’s designs, our range of fun sewing courses starting from the basics up to advanced levels and challenging couture classes are perfect for the stitcher in you.
Sewing courses are highly practical and you will walk away with an Aladdin’s cave of knowledge. You’ll learn all about corset pattern, basic machine and hand sewing skills, understand fit and style detailing, tucks and pleats, fastenings, shaping and pockets, patchwork, pattern adaptation and cutting, and recognise different sewing terminologies. Following some of the workshops, you’ll walk away with your own hard work; from footstools to blinds and home accessories.
Gypsy wedding dresses, clean cut lines or sensual lingerie – what’s your favourite?
Whether or not you’re a fan of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, you can’t help but be mesmerised by Thelma Madine and the dressmaker’s generous use of Swarovski crystals, diamantes, silk and fine tulle – all used to make tight-fitting corsets, puffy skirts and even a five stone wedding dress! If that’s not to your taste, then Alexander McQueen’s strong aesthetic designs with edgy juxtapositional provocative themes may be right up your street. Either way, you can take sewing courses based on different interests, specialising in different areas. Or, unleash your inner agent provocateur and learn to sew sexy lingerie.
in China by you
If you’re hesitant, you’re probably thinking that sewing is not for you because you don’t want to pursue a career in fashion design, and what’s the point when you shop on the high street most times anyway? Well – it’s conscience. We’ve often heard of companies that don’t pay the minimum wage to workers, and moan about how guilty we feel for buying stuff from them, but it’s difficult when the prices are so cheap. So, avoid feeling guilty, make a difference, stop supporting commercial-retail moguls and sew your own wardrobe!
Dust off your sewing machine
It’s old, it’s imposing and it makes a funny noise. Many of us dread the sewing machine sitting in the corner of the room. Why not conquer your fear of the sewing machine and learn to use it? Sewing machine courses will help build your confidence so that you don’t cringe every time you need to rethread. And don’t worry, those days of shouting ‘Miss... Miss...’ in school whilst trying to get your teacher’s attention, are over. Sewing classes are normally small and you get a lot of guidance from the teachers.
Learning to sew will open loads of job opportunities for you. If you want to work in theatre costume, period dress or fashion, corset-making will be a required skill. This can also spill into making bodices and wedding dresses. For footwear fanatics, shoemaking is big business. Pick up tips on basic foot anatomy and sizing, and design your own ladies’ court shoes or open-toed sandals. Of course, there are also jobs available in fashion and designing for all sorts of things like handbags, swimwear and menswear.
Famous sewing enthusiasts
There are tonnes of designers out there to take inspiration from but our favourite is Jimmy Choo. Regardless of whether you can or can’t afford his wares (maybe put in on the wedding shoe list?), we love Jimmy Choo’s humble beginnings. The son of a cobbler, Jimmy was immersed in the shoemaking world from a young age. He produced his first pair of shoes at 11 years-old and worked as an apprentice at a shoe store in Penang, Malaysia. Jimmy’s talent and skills developed and he then went on to study in London. To help pay for his studies, he worked as a cleaner in a shoe factory. He shot to fame after Vogue featured his beautiful shoes on an eight-page spread. Today, he concentrates on his Jimmy Choo couture line and is a firm favourite amongst celebrities. Now, if you’ve got the same drive and passion, then let us help kick-start your sewing career! You could be the next big thing!
That’s sew interesting…
The distance from your nose to your fingertips equals a yard. This measurement was established in England long before the metric system.
If you’re not sure if the fabric’s silk, try setting it on fire. Burned silk smells like burned hair.
A sewing machine powered by small leashed dogs on a kind of treadmill was used in the 19th century England, until the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stepped in.
The first functional sewing machine, invented by French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier in 1830, used only one thread and a hooked needle that made the same chain stitch used for embroidery. Thimonnier was nearly killed by a group of angry French tailors because they feared unemployment as a result of his invention!
Heather Jacks bursts into conversation apologising for our rescheduled interview, ‘I’ve been at pony club all weekend,’ she tells me, and we quickly begin swapping equestrian tales. Selling her last horse a year ago, Heather now spends her days training friend’s horses and competing when she can. Like dressage, sewing is a discipline that runs on precision and perfectionism. Yet this is not the subject of our call and as the conversation moves from stables to sewing, it is easy to see why she won The Sewing Bee crown.
Far more than just a competition winner, for Heather, sewing is a lifelong hobby and ‘pretty much a necessity’. Following the death of her father forty years ago, from a young age Heather made her own clothes and accessories to sell to her friends. Rather like a patchwork quilt, the pieces of Heather’s story fit together into a jigsaw puzzle and the end result looks pretty impressive. Using her childhood dressmaking skills to win The Great British Sewing Bee, like the show Heather has gone on to reinvent sewing and inspire the younger generation. When speaking to The Sewing Bee judge May Martin a few weeks before, it became clear that learning the basics and having fun are important. Horse chat aside, Heather was more than happy to share her story, her top tips and her advice with those thinking about learning to sew.
So Heather, when did you learn to sew?
I learnt to sew very early on at a very young age, my aunt gave me a sewing machine when I was nine or ten and then I started learning at school – we had sewing lessons all the way through to aged sixteen. When I was twelve my father died; he left us with virtually no money and the only way I was going to get any clothes for myself was to make them. I used to go into Northampton to all the leather factories and ask the chaps at chucking out time if I could have the leather scraps. I would make belts and pencil cases and with the money I made from selling these I would go out and buy fabric to make clothes.
Would you say sewing was always a hobby rather than a career?
Yes, it has always been pretty much a necessity to me.
Is this what made you enter The Great British Sewing Bee?
Well I’ve always loved being creative, making anything out of anything really – this has always been a passion of mine because I am also an artist. I’ve also always had a big interest in fashion so love creating my own clothes. I watched the first series of The Great British Sewing Bee and thought, ‘I could do that’. My husband Andy was late home from work one evening and something popped up on the screen with a form asking people to apply for the next series, I was just going to read the questions but ended up filling it in, pressing the button and hey presto I was on the show!
I bet your husband was surprised! What was it like being on the show – is it exactly like it seems on TV?
Well I think after the first half hour you don’t even see the cameras anymore, you’re just focused on not looking like a complete idiot in front of three million people that you just forget about the cameras.
What was the hardest part about actually being on the show?
Oh god the time limits! Definitely the time limits! I’m a fairly slow sewer, unless of course I’m making something to wear to go out in the evening, in which case I’m demonic, but normally I sew quite slowly. If I get to a difficult bit I go and have a biscuit and a cup of tea, or take the dog for a walk, but this was not an option on the show. The time limits were agony, absolute agony.
What was the highlight of the show for you? Obviously winning, but if you had to pick a less obvious one!
For me the highlight was meeting everybody – it was just brilliant! We all came from different backgrounds and we all just got on, that was the weird thing. We just hit it off and everybody would have a different creative take on a task and it was lovely. Sewing is something I have done alone for years and years, so it was really special to be able to talk about it to somebody. There was never a moment where I thought I was going to win. Every challenge had its own ups and downs and we all had our different strengths so all I focused on was getting through each challenge – you have to.
What is your favourite thing to sew?
I love dressmaking and I love doing creative things with the fabric, like the fan pleat I did on the show. I enjoy playing around with the fabric, particularly creating evening dresses as you can do interesting finishes. In fact the evening dress I made in the final was my favourite garment from the show; it was the only time that I could really be creative. Finishing that was probably another highlight – it was absolutely me really.
What advice would you give someone who was a complete beginner who wanted to learn how to sew?
I would say the most important thing to learn first is the very basics. I think this goes for anything you do in life, if you learn the very basic stuff and get the building blocks of what you are trying to do. In sewing, the foundation is simple tasks like perfect seams, perfect darts, being able to put zips in and being an absolute stickler for measuring. Make everything as perfect as possible no matter how simple it is and stick to what you are supposed to be doing, so if you’ve got darts make them exactly the same – same angle, same width, same length and you won’t go wrong.
What would you say is a common mistake new sewers need to look out for?
Trying to be a little too ambitious in what you are doing, taking on something that is more difficult than your learned techniques – this can be difficult and disappointing. Also, if you are not completely accurate in your cutting out it can also be disappointing, sewing is like a fabric jigsaw puzzle and if all the pieces aren’t the right size then they won’t fit together.
So what’s in the pipeline for you in 2014?
Well I’ve started a children’s project called the GoSew project, which involves setting up free tuition for children through the school holidays. We’re just starting it now in Lutterworth and we’re drawing in several schools. The project runs every Wednesday and I’m hoping by the half term we will have three schools involved. It has proved really popular and as I pull in more and more schools I am making plans for the future – I really want to do an interschool challenge next year so we can give the kids really interesting things to do and make a fashion show at the end of it for them.
Are you teaching yourself or overseeing the project?
No I’m teaching as well, I’ve got a band of volunteers but still go in every Wednesday. I train riders of all ages, so for me teaching sewing is no different to teaching riding.
Finally, if you could do your whole time on The British Sewing Bee again, what would you do differently?
Oh definitely my alteration challenges!
And with that Heather went back to her GoSew planning and responding to sewer’s questions on her Twitter page. If Heather has inspired you to get behind the sewing machine, or make your own unique dress, why not take a look at the sewing courses listed on our site?
What started off as a ten minute interview with May Martin ends up as a thirty minute natter; she’s more than happy to run off the obvious topics of her new book and famous television series and talk about the bright orange tangerine onesie and fuchsia pink hot pants she made as a teen. (‘Visualise that my dear...there are lots of things you make growing up you wouldn’t dream of wearing years later!’) After all, there’s forty years of grounds to cover, May’s lifetime of sewing captured in her beautiful book, May Martin’s Sewing Bible: 40 years of tips and tricks, and her three years as a judge on The Great British Sewing Bee. ‘I’ve got the best job in the world you know, aren’t I lucky?!’ Despite the echoing phone line (‘You sound like you’re in a shower,’ she tells me) and her busy schedule, May shares her industry secrets and her top tips and tricks for amateur sewers.
So May, how did you get to where you are today?
Well basically when I was growing up (I’m 63 so we’re talking a long time ago) most women tended to be secretaries, teachers or nurses and it was unusual if you did anything else. But when I was at school, I did O Level (same as GCSEs today) and A Level needlework and really enjoyed it – it just made sense to me. I went to teacher training college and studied dress and design and qualified to be a needlework teacher in 1972. I worked in schools for eight years, having my own needlework department in a girls’ school for the last three, I then started teaching adults in the evening when my children were small and I freelanced. I’ve been freelancing now for 35 years and I teach all over the place – in workshops, in colleges, in schools. I absolutely love it – I’ve got the best job in the world you know, aren’t I lucky?!
As an experienced teacher, what would you say is the most important thing when you are learning to sew; what do you teach first?
Well I think when you are going into anything new you’ve got to learn the basics. I think preparation is key and when I have baby sewers (or new sewers – I always call them babies!) I teach them how to deal with fabrics and patterns, to iron things as they go along and to be as accurate as possible at every stage. I think really being accurate from the start and just taking your time is important, but also don’t deliberate too long – just have fun! The more sewing you do the better you get, so if the first garment isn’t perfect but it works and it fits you, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve got two or three things that aren’t quite right – just make it again and you’ll get better. When my students are new or they come to any of my classes, I say to them all you need is your enthusiasm and I will take you step by step through everything – you need to want to sew.
So you decided quite early on you wanted sewing to be more than a hobby?
Well for me, it hasn’t been a hobby since I was thirteen and I made my first skirt; although I’m doing all the TV stuff, teaching and sharing my skills with others feeds my soul.
That leads really nicely on to my next question, what made you want to get involved with The Great British Sewing Bee?
Well it was quite simple really, the people that produced The Great British Bake Off contacted me saying they were doing a sewing series and would love to meet me. Part of my character is I love doing different things and can’t say no to a challenge. It was really scary at the beginning; you can imagine I’ve never been on television, I can give a talk or demonstrations in front of hundreds of people no problem, but you’re in control. The minute you step in front of the camera it’s completely different, but who would turn down a challenge like that, I mean you would go for it wouldn’t you?
Definitely, well I wouldn’t because I can’t sew! Is it just like it looks on TV or is it different when the camera stops rolling?
No not at all, what you see is a very fair representation of what the show is like. The challenges are all in the time we say they are and it’s a lovely lovely environment. We really look after our contestants because it’s tough!
How easy was it to choose a winner, did you struggle or was it clear?
Well sometimes it is difficult because you might have three people that have been producing the same kind of standards of work and it might be very close. That’s the exciting part though as it would be boring if it was a foregone conclusion. We go in every week and think, ‘Who are we going to send home today?’ and then things evolve through that episode, so choosing the winner usually reveals itself. You look at what they’ve done, you look at the standard of the work and although you might not be sure at the beginning of that episode, by the end it’s clear.
What was the highlight of making the show?
Everybody asks me this and I really can’t answer it! I’ve done three series and three celebrity specials and I really couldn’t pick one moment – my highlight, just making the show.
Good answer, probably the next question you are always asked – what was the hardest part?
Well I’m a teacher, a facilitator, I encourage people and like to watch them blossom, I don’t like seeing students struggle, so the hardest part for me is watching this and then having to send them home.
So let’s talk about your book, who is it aimed at?
I’m hoping there will be something in there for every level of sewer in the way I have presented things and the projects I have given. It’s not an A Level text book; there are selections of different things with degrees of difficulty. I’m hoping that it will encourage young sewers to develop and help them along their journey.
What advice would you give someone who wants to make a career out of sewing?
Well I think if you want to make a career out of sewing you need to learn your craft, you absolutely need to be a be able to do things properly. It also depends on whether you want to teach; its one thing knowing it and another thing being able to share your skills with others, so you need to make sure that you are able to pass your skills on. I’ve got several people that I’ve trained that take on commissions – they make clothes, curtains, all sorts of things. If you do this you need to care about what you do as you are making things for other people and it has to be done to a high standard. But most of all for any of it you need to love the subject, don’t just do it because you think you can earn some money, I mean you really need to love and care about the subject matter.
Finally what is the most common mistake you see when someone is learning?
I would say there isn’t one thing as I cover so many different subjects in my teaching, but a mistake I see time and time again in dressmaking is women not measuring themselves. They will go and pick a dress pattern from the size on the envelope, cut out the pattern, just make it and then wonder why it doesn’t fit. It’s very rare that it will fit because pattern sizes are different to dress sizes, so you need to measure yourself and compare your measurements with the ones on the envelope.
Funny, friendly and by far one of my favourite interviewees, May is the sewing teacher I wished I’d had at school. If (like me) you are inspired to thread a needle and learn something new, take a look at all the sewing courses on offer – who knows, you could be a sewing bee star of the future.
May Martin’s Sewing Bible: 40 years of tips and tricks is published by HarperCollins, £25.
No – not only are some of the biggest names in fashion male, but you’ll find a mix of genders and people of different backgrounds on a sewing course.
Yes! While it’s not going to give you everything you need to work as a fashion designer, taking a sewing course will help you understand how garments are made and about different types of fabric and stitching that you might wish to use in your designs. Many fashion design courses will touch upon sewing as part of the syllabus.
If you want to learn to sew, then yes! Sewing isn’t just about making clothes – you could be making accessories like bags or purses, or soft furnishings. And even if you don’t know your Burberry from your Mulberry, you could still take one of the more fashion-focused sewing courses because these are all about learning the techniques to make clothes, not learning about fashion in order to design them. However, if you are a bit of a fashionista, as mentioned, a sewing course will only help you in your quest to become the next Vivienne Westwood.
No – these will be provided. Unless you’ve agreed with your course provider beforehand that you want to make something specific and therefore have the pattern for that, you’ll be given patterns to work from on the course.
While dressmaking is certainly a very popular type of sewing course, there are other options. Some courses will focus on teaching you to make a specific item which, yes, could be a dress, but could just as easily be a tote bag, a pair of trousers or even boxer shorts! Other courses will aim to simply teach you how to sew and the best practice for making your own fabric items, in which case you might be able to pick what you make.
This depends on the course. Most will have some options you can use, though some will advise you bring your own simply so you can be sure you’re making something you’ll want to use afterwards.
Yes. You’ll be taught how to use one on the course. Obviously, if you’ve used one before you’ll probably be able to skip this, but it’s worth noting that different makes and models may work in different ways. If you’re really put off the idea of machine sewing though, there are plenty of hand sewing courses out there too.
In case you need a little more inspiration, here are some of our favourite photo galleries from course providers offering sewing courses...
Knitting Jewellery with Wire - Knitted Cuff
Sewing - Make a Tote Bag
Our Janome Sewing Machines
Our Craft Studio
Metal Clay Jewellery
Patchwork with confidence
Log Cabin Cushion Workshop
choose fabrics from a wide range in our shop
Sam & Tilly had fun on their first sewing lesson with Crafty Baba, learning some basic steps then going wild with ribbons, fabric and buttons to make their beautiful bookmarks.
Every child should be given a hand knitted bunny rabbit to cuddle-this one is made with Sirdar's Fair Isle yarn and is a quick and easy pattern to follow
An adorable little shrug knitted with Patons Smoothie yarn-a quick knit
A child's halterneck top with pin tuck pleats made from a light cotton.
Get more ideas and be inspired; we've scoured the web to bring you some of our favourite sewing videos...
We tried to find something fun to write about for sewing, yet as we searched, one phenomenon came up time and time again – cats sewing. This seems to be a trend that is sweeping the nation, with Facebook and Pinterest pages evolving dedicated to sewing moggies. As any keen sewer will know, lacking fingers and thumbs must be a major drawback, but before you get started on a sewing course, why not take a look at these crafty kitties for some inspiration? We have searched high and low to bring you some of our favourites –
I just want to watch you sew
Measure me next
This light is so nice and warm, it’s making me sleepy
You’re doing it all wrong, let me show you
Stop taking photos you are distracting me
This cushion cover will look purr-fect when it’s finished
I hate having to unpick my work
Changing the needle is tricky when you have paws
Master, what does this button do?
All this sewing is hard work, I need a rest
By Hotcourses Editor, 15th July 2011
Brenda saw retirement as the perfect opportunity to pursue her interest in sewing and textiles. Due to her sewing skills and hard work on her courses, she‘s now going places with a career in textiles… Name: Brenda Parsons Institution: Morley...
By Hotcourses Editor, 16th August 2012
Sewing courses are some of the most popular here on Hotcourses, whether you fancy sewing a ‘50s swing skirt or learning to tailor suits, there are plenty of courses you can book right here. Many people are reluctant to start this hobby though, fearing the sewing...
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