Sewing helps

Sewing helps


My best friend Sally and I met on our Art Foundation course nearly 30 years ago. We started to get to know each other travelling home on the Northern line from Algate East. Initially neither of us knew what path our careers would take, I steered towards Fashion courses and Sally Theatre. Our art foundation year was one of the best years of my education, I studied different elements of art from 9am-6pm every day, my kind of heaven. at the end of the course we needed to specialise and I loved pattern, drawing and clothes, so I applied to Middlesex fashion degree and Sally St Martins costume and theatre design.

Sally has always been a very supportive friend from the beginning. She is very tall, beautiful and slim, she started modelled my dresses for my portfolio pictures and she even came with me for moral support on the day of my interview. That summer we decided to plan a road trip together and we drove around France for a month. This holiday is where we started to call each other Puff, we both used to smoke and I guess that was why. We puffed our way around France.
We both made it onto our courses and a year later I found myself homeless, so I stayed in Sally’ loft room for a few months. We would spend £11 a week on food shopping, I remember as we would split the bill. This was a temporary arrangement and I think we saw each other less at this time, as we were doing very different courses in different directions
Since we have watched each other develop our careers, we have married and had children. We are both God parents to each others children. Sally has always been in my life ever since and we have supported each other through family bereavement, health scares, relationships and our career paths.

Just recently Sally found herself in intensive care as a result of developing Sepsis, the only prior warning to this was feeling run down and flu-like symptoms, then her body just gave in and went into septic shock. I have included a link with more information about sepsis.

She was in intensive care for a week and hospital for close to four. Initially I was very emotional about the situation, I have always loved Sally like a sister. I value our friendship so highly. The thought of loosing her was just not something I could comprehend or expected at this time. Thankfully for everyone with help, she is strong and she is recovering.

I visited her in hospital, taking her bags of magazines and treats, trying to make her hospital stay a bit less stressful and give to her in the only way I could.  Her recovery has been a long one, once home she had to move a bed downstairs and be cared for by family and daily hospital visits to her home. The sepsis effected her mobility and even now she has to have regular physiotherapy on her legs.

How can I help, sewing of course!

Her illness happened at the end of her sons year 6 year at primary school. This is the time that she asked for my help. This happens very rarely, so I was more than happy.
Even happier when she asked for me to make a costume for her sons last primary school play; Shakespeare. We had our first design meeting at her bedside, she had a sketch and some images and we started planning, she has done some research into historical costumes and began sourcing fabrics. Sally is a perfectionist and her background being costume, not being able to organise and or make her sons costume was really hard for her. she is also an amazing mother and sees this as her full-time job, a job she does exceptionally well, at times she is totally selfless and probably part of what affects her health at times.

I went to our local fabric shop and video called her and she chose the fabrics and ribbon this way. I found a paper pattern that was close to her initial design and set about making a toile of a jacket and short trousers.

Made to measure

The jacket shape was not quite right, the centre front of the jacket went straight across and the historical images suggested that this needed to be to a point. The sleeves were not as puffy as she wanted and neither were the trousers.
Initially I made up the pattern as it was, apart from adding some extra to the sleeve head. I wanted to make sure the size was right first and also draw the changes on the body, rather than guess their positioning. We arranged for the first fitting and armed with a toile, pins, a tape measure and scissors we set about fitting the first toile.

The trousers were far too small, even though his measurements matched the size chart on the pattern. So I needed to make the trousers bigger around the waist. The back needed to be raised and the waistband enlarged.
The jacket needed to be longer and the centre front changed. The sleeves and the collar looked great which was a relief.
I went away with a list and set about making amendments and making a second toile.

The next toile fitted really well, the only thing to change was the length of the leg ties and adding an extra 1cm to the sleeves. Making a toile is so worth while and means you can make with confidence, as you practiced once already. When I worked in bridal wear we always made a toile, as the dresses were made to measure, literally fitting like a glove.


The next day I cut everything out; lining, jacket fabric and trousers.
I had to overlock the trouser fabric as it was a very open weave, fraying badly and I interlined the collar and front panels of the jacket. The trouser fabric was so thick, the initial ties had to be changed. Instead of a bow we decided to shorten them again and cross them over, adding a button detail.
It took a few hours to cut everything out, then I spent the next 5 hours sewing non stop. The weather was incredibly hot in London, so I set my sewing machine up in the garden. Using my garden table, working in sunglasses and I had a fan pointed at my machine the whole time. By the end of the first day I had practically finished the trousers and had all the parts ready to sew together for the jacket. I didn’t add the buttons or the waistband on the trousers.

I loved making the jacket the most, I haven’t made something tailored for a while, so enjoyed how structured it was. I chose a Jacquard fabric in blue and gold.

I had taken my time when cutting out the jacket, making sure the pattern matched on the centre front panels. The jacket also had small capped sleeves above the sleeve head, these looked great. I lined the jacket with a blue synthetic lining. Before I sewed the buttons on, I planned another fitting.

The next fitting

I marked the button positions whilst he was wearing it, making sure the pattern lined up and that it wasn’t too tight. the same with the trousers, I added the elastic to the waistband, but left it open so if i needed to tighten or loosen I could, Everything fitted, so I went away to finish all the hand sewing and then make the ruffle. Burly looked fantastic, I was so pleased with how well everything looked together. I firstly added the button holes and hand sewing the buttons on. Then closing the lining and elastic opening.

The ruffle

I had never made a Victorian ruffle before, so after watching an online tutorial I spent a good few hours hand sewing 3 reels of ribbon together.

I delivered everything a few days before the dress rehearsal and I went along with Sally to watch the play a few days later. Burley was the star of the show and obviously the best dressed.

This was such a positive experience, I got to spend more time with my best friend, doing something that challenged me and I simply love sewing. I felt honoured, lucky and so happy I could help.

Costume is definitely something I would love to do more. I want to make a couture Alice in Wonderland costume next. I can imagine making, made to measure fancy dress costumes for the rich and famous. I have since volunteered and made costumes for the next school play, Guys and dolls at my local secondary school.

I am pleased to say that Sally is much better and I am seeing her for a coffee on Friday. I love how sewing can help people and i am lucky enough to have the time to do so. I love you Puff. x