Oh sew simple

Sociable sewing and light-hearted learning combine as Lincolnshire Life visits a new dressmaking workshop at Sassy Sewing in Horncastle.
Sunday, 2:07pm. From behind the steamed-up windows of a pretty, listed shopfront just off Horncastle’s market square comes the sound of laughter, encouragement and congratulation. Inside, four happy crafters are close to finishing a ‘Coco’ dress, inspired and encouraged by an instructor walking the fine line between friendly and effective with good-humoured precision. If sewing in groups is this much of a buzz, it’s no wonder they call it a ‘bee’.

Sewing is booming, spurred on by TV programmes like The Great British Sewing Bee. If your sewing memories are of Mrs Minto’s home economics class, then dressmaking in 2015 might just surprise you. No longer about ‘make do and mend’, this is about stepping off the high street treadmill and making something bespoke that fits like a glove.

Sassy Sewing is, according to owner Julie Brown, “A new kind of sewing shop. When I started dressmaking it was attending workshops and making sewing sociable that inspired me to learn. We moved to Horncastle a couple of years ago and I’ve met so many lovely, friendly, talented people but the nearest workshops are a long drive away, so I decided to run some myself and build a sewing community in my town.

“I found some premises and then realised that the people attending our workshops would need fabric and other stuff too, so Project Sassy became a shop that runs workshops where novices and experts alike can sew, quilt, crochet and socialise in a friendly and engaging environment. Each workshop is built around an end product, so everyone leaves with something unique that they have actually made.”

Julie continued: “Then we thought, if we’re going to run a shop, let’s make it memorable. I wanted to display our beautiful hand-picked stock properly and give memorable and knowledgeable customer service. I already have a full-time job elsewhere in town which I love, so my involvement is purely in my spare time.

“Thankfully, some of those lovely, friendly and talented people I’d already met were waiting to take up the challenge as instructors and one of them, Debs, also runs the shop midweek too.”

The session we attended was ‘Sewing with Knits’ which is a type of stretch material, like a T-shirt or sweatshirt. We would be making a stylish-but-modern dress from a pattern by Tilly and the Buttons. There were four people on the workshop: Kate, Jane, Rachel and Chrissy.

“What I like about workshops like this,” says Kate, “is that I can learn something new with expert advice, but also from the others in the room. We will all make mistakes but having Christina, the instructor, here (Sassy Sewing currently has a team of four instructors, each specialising in different disciplines) means they can all be put right in seconds.”

Jane agrees: “I used to sew a lot and I still do all sorts of crafting now. But I need a confidence boost for my dressmaking and learning from an expert is much more effective than working it out for myself.”

Instructor Christina talks everyone through the basics. First up is getting to know the pattern and understanding the sizing. “Bear in mind that a size 14 on a dressmaker’s pattern is different to a size 14 on the High Street,” says Christina. “If in doubt, take your bust measurement and work the pattern from there.”

Next up is pinning pieces to fabric – easy on a plain colour, but anything with a pattern needs matching. When all the pieces are sewn together you want the pattern to line up as if the dress has been made from one piece.

“A lot of the time on mass produced garments, the pattern is all over the place because they are trying to get the most out of every piece of fabric,” explains Christina.

It sounds tricky, but all our students have it sussed in a few minutes thanks to some simple tips. Kate says it best: “This is where a workshop helps. I get frustrated when a pattern is labelled as being ‘simple’ and then something pops up that I don’t understand. Pattern matching is so simple once it’s been explained.”

Chrissy’s fabric is of a more complex design than Kate’s but she is confident now too. “I’m making this for my daughter. She chose the fabric. It’s a busy pattern, but I think it will look great.”

Watching all this unfold it occurs to me that ‘sewing bee’ is probably the wrong description. What we have here is a sewing pyramid – knowledge and experience passing down through levels of expertise, with free coffee and biscuits too.

The students get help setting up the machines and are encouraged to practice on spare fabric to get the stitch settings right. Before long those shapeless pieces of fabric are looking like a dress. Four hours passes all too quickly and by the end of the workshop two of the dresses are 99% finished, while the other two are not far behind. Christina cleverly makes sure that everyone has sewn at least one of everything (side seam, arms, cuffs, pockets etc) so that no one will get home and not be able to finish it.

“Four hours isn’t quite enough to complete a garment like this,” says owner Julie. “But any longer than that and people will start to lose concentration and make mistakes. A half-day workshop is affordable in both time and money for most people, and everyone either finishes or gets close enough to do the last few bits at home. Plus at Sassy Sewing the door is always open and machines set up, so if people want to come and finish it off here, someone will be on hand to offer advice.”

That simple, but friendly approach to life has become a staple of the Sassy project in just five months.

Sassy Sewing runs regular workshops in sewing, quilting, crochet and more. Visit the website www.sassysewing.co.uk for dates and details on upcoming workshops alongside a lively, entertaining blog and regular Facebook updates. The shop is located just off Horncastle’s market square, under the archway between Age UK and the locksmith’s. Opening hours: 9.30am–4pm Monday to Friday and 9am–4.30pm on Saturday.


Trim around your tissue pattern pieces first before placing them onto your fabric. Knits tend to be thicker and you can cut out the fabric easily when the tissue is trimmed to size, rather than cutting the tissue at the same time.

Change your regular needle on your machine for a ballpoint one. The rounded end of this needle will pass between the fibres of the knitted fabric without causing it to snag.

Use a polyester sewing thread. Gütermann make an excellent sew-all polyester thread available in a large range of colours. This thread is ideal for use with a wide range of fabrics and you get a great result using it on knits.

Use a zig-zag stitch when sewing with knits, as that allows the fabric to stretch and move with your body. We used a stitch of 1.5 width x 2.2 length for joining the seams and 2.5 x 2.5 for top stitching.

Knitted fabric is very accommodating. It hangs well; it doesn’t fray and doesn’t need ironing. However, you need to be careful that you don’t pull the fabric when stitching it as it can go out of shape. Lift the pressure foot and pivot around corners. Take your time and the end results will be very worthwhile.

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