Learning & Revising – Laurel by Colette


So how do people learn sewing when they aren’t really taught it at school?
Whilst my mother and grandmother attempted to teach me to sew and knit, I picked up some odd habits from them, like using tailor tacks when chalk would do just as well, and never tracing patterns, meaning that if you’d cut a size too small, you’d wasted your money. I was taught sewing at school, 1,000 years ago, by a vile sociopath called Mrs Inglis. Mrs Inglis barely concealed her horror at my wish to construct a pleated skirt in Home Economics. She would routinely remove the scissors from my hands, stating that I was too cack handed (I’ve never managed to cut myself with scissors – jabbed pins into myself repeatedly, banged fingers with hammers, yes), and openly laughed at my attempt at a screen printed blouse (with a sheep on it).

Excellent teaching practice? I don’t think so.

Fortunately my end results were good enough to prevent despondency. I wore the sheep blouse quite a lot in fact, even at university.

However, apart from the odd curtain over the years, and a dress for a May Ball that I’d rather not discuss right now, I didn’t pick up the craft again until fairly recently.

How to revise what I’d learned a whole millennium ago? A lot of books suggest starting off with cushion covers and the like. Well, stuff that. I could barely comprehend wasting time constructing something that gets sat and farted on. No, I wanted to make a dress.

I’d always wanted to make a simple dress in Liberty print cotton lawn. Lawn is a light weight, silky feeling cotton. I’d been deterred by the cost in Liberty itself – upwards of £22 a metre. However, I found 3 metres for about £30 on Ebay and when it arrived I spent a long time fondling the fabric and worrying about the expensive disaster I was about to wreak.

The pattern I chose was the achingly simple Laurel from Colette. Laurel is a simple shift dress with sleeves, darts at front and back and patch pockets. It’s finished with bias binding rather than a fiddly facing and the end result is a straightforward frock that can go anywhere.

There are only 3 main pieces to the pattern and the only part that posed a challenge was easing in the sleeves, which I did in the round. I made miles and miles of bias binding too, a dull job that paid off in the end as I was able to use it for all sorts of things and it lasted for ages.

Sleeves duly eeeased. This is the best bit, I'm not showing the dodgy bit.
Sleeves duly eeeased. This is the best bit, I’m not showing the dodgy bit.

Initially I put in a zip but after forgetting to undo it I found I could put the dress on without, so I removed it.

I closed the escape route here - Laurel is loose enough on me not to need a zip.
I closed the escape route here – Laurel is loose enough on me not to need a zip.

So although the challenge was perhaps slightly greater than that of a cushion, I think the pay off was well worth it. Instead of a cushion, I have a dress – an actual dress, that I can wear, and which Mrs Inglis would probably snigger at but never mind that. Of course it isn’t perfect. I could have done a much better job with the sleeves, I used cheap Coats Moon thread whereas the fabric deserves something of a higher quality, and some of the bias edging is well wonky. But as a revision exercise, and one which I wear often, it was well worth it. It’s good to reflect on what one might do differently next time: French seams, better thread, neater finishing in this case. Would I recommend this to a beginner over a cushion cover? Well, it depends on how that beginner feels about cushions I suppose. The darts and sleeves do pose a challenge, but isn’t that what learning is all about? If you take your time, read the directions carefully, watch some tutorials on the tricky stuff, I see no reason why not. At the end of it, you’ll have picked up some really important basic skills in garment sewing.

She's probably dead anyway.
Yeah, get bent, Mrs Inglis. She picked on my younger brothers as well.

The other thing I learned was that people who compliment your hand sewn outfit don’t want you to point out the mistakes. They are unlikely to understand them and it devalues the compliment.

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