GBSB Episode 3 – Back to the Fifties

p01s6fyfI think Episode 3 of Sewing Bee is my favourite so far. Vintage sewing is a passion of mine so it was interesting to see how the contestants coped.

I loved the Walk-Away dress – what a simple dress, but how effective and elegant! I was happily watching this and envying the contestants for making such a lovely garment when it suddenly dawned on me that I had an original 1950s pattern in my collection of just such a dress! My Butterick pattern calls it a ‘Coverall dress’ and also includes a short version which it calls a ‘Coverall Cobbler’s Apron’. I’ve dug this one out and added it to my growing list of things to make – I’ll have to grade it up first though as it’s to fit bust 32”!

Vintage Sewing Patterns
Butterick ‘Quick and Easy’ Coverall Cobbler’s Apron

The task was made more difficult as the contestants had to make the dresses using vintage 1950s sewing machines which could only do a basic stitch. They were given the option of using a binding foot, which Neil managed, but most of the contestants stuck to the more traditional method. Patrick and May were looking for speed and skill on the binding. Ryan excelled again and won the Walk-Away dress challenge and Matt was second.  Some contestants struggled with their binding and button loops, or the alignment of the front fastening.

It was funny seeing the contestants struggling with vintage machines. I learnt to sew on my Mum’s hand-operated Singer from the 1950s, learning to sew one-handed from an early age. I have also recently inherited an old Singer treadle machine, which I am looking forward to experimenting with when I have some spare time.

My vintage Singer treadle sewing machine
My vintage Singer treadle sewing machine, primed and ready for action!

There was an interesting section of the programme examining Christian Dior’s New Look which often required 10 metres of fabric or more to make a garment! It was lovely to hear the group of elderly ladies discussing their passion and excitement for the New Look fashions following the war and the sense of freedom and adventure that these represented.

Christian Dior's New Look
Christian Dior’s New Look

The alteration challenge required the contestants to make a garment from a pair of 1950s curtains in one and a half hours, again using the vintage machines. These machines didn’t offer buttonholes so the contestants had to think of other ways to fasten their garments, inserting zips or using ribbon ties for example. Neil made a lovely fitted halterneck dress, but unfortunately didn’t quite finish. Lots of the contestants made skirts, Matt made a child’s dress and Neela, a strapless top. Lorna won this challenge with her bright, bold patterned skirt which May praised as ‘exquisitely shaped’. Neil’s gorgeous dress came second.

Day 2 required the contestants to make a 1950s inspired sheer blouse in six hours.  This was reported to be the hardest challenge yet, with the sheer fabrics requiring very fine and even seams. The group needed to get their garments right first time, as it was likely that any errors would show on the finished garment and Patrick said he was looking for complete precision – no pressure then!

Even cutting out proved a challenge, with the fabrics moving and shifting as the contestants pinned and cut. Deborah came up with an interesting solution, pinning her fabric to a foam board to stop it shifting. Some contestants made the mistake of using fusible interfacings which should never be used on sheers as it changes the nature of the fabric and shows through. Several contestants correctly used organza for interfacing.

This was a difficult challenge and none of the blouses were without issues.  Neil hated the challenge and said that sewing with sheers was his worst nightmare. He had bravely drafted his own pattern but Patrick stated that the pattern was unsuitable for the fabric and lacked refinement.  Several contestants had lumpy seams, poor fit or fabrics pulling to one side. Lorna once again won the challenge with a blouse which had been adapted from a pattern for a nightdress – she managed to achieve exquisite, fine seams on this difficult fabric, and also won garment of the week.

I particularly loved Deborah’s blouse which featured a tie neck, little cap sleeves and buttons up the back. If anyone knows where I can obtain this pattern, I would love to know!

So who went home? Sadly it was Neela, although she said she was very much looking forward to going home and sewing lots of garments as slowly as possible – I can sympathise with that!

Next week’s episode looks more challenging than ever, with the emphasis on structure – a corset and tartan kilts are two of the garments involved – should be an easy week then!!!

2 thoughts on “GBSB Episode 3 – Back to the Fifties

  1. Like you, my first reaction to the difficulty the sewers experienced with the old machines was bewilderment. My first machine was a Singer 99k. It was hand operated so they had it a little easier! Looking forward to seeing your coverall/walk away dress! 🙂


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