The Great British Sewing Bee winner Charlotte Newland gives her expert advice to sewists who are just starting out…


If you’ve been inspired by this year’s Great British Sewing Bee it’s time to dust off your sewing machine and get fashioning your own wardrobe. We're getting into the sewing spirit with issue 104 of Mollie which comes with its very own Tilly & The Buttons 2-in-1 pattern for a funky jumpsuit and pair of trousers!

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Issue 104 Tilly & The Buttons pattern gift

Whether you’ve never stitched before, or it’s been a while since you picked up a needle and thread, never fear. We grabbed Charlotte Newland – sewing workshop queen, expert quilter and winner of the 2016 Great British Sewing Bee – to help you with the basics.

From the tools you should have in your kit to why you need to change your sewing machine needle every eight hours (who knew?), Charlotte's top ten tips will get you stitching like an expert in no time. And, after reading them, you'll be ready to make 104's sewing patterns ready for those spring/summer evenings.

Also, check out our interview with Sewing Bee judge Esme Young to learn more about the show, her passion for sewing and her fave collaborations.

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No Regrets stitch unpicker. Image credit: Instagram @oliviastitches

Get your kit together

Before you start, put together a kit of all the essential items you will need to get sewing. This should include a good pair of fabric scissors (don’t use them to cut anything else or they will go blunt!), a pair of small scissors for snipping threads, glass-headed pins (so if you accidentally iron over them they won’t melt), a pincushion (magnetic ones are my favourite), and – most importantly – a stitch unpicker!

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Pick the right machine for you to get sewing. Image credit: Instagram @laurie.mmm

Choose the right machine for you

If possible, try out a few different sewing machines before you buy. Remember, you get what you pay for and the cheapest machines are often not worth the money. Spend a little more if you can to get a machine that has a better build quality.

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Take time getting to know your sewing machine. Image credit: Instagram @emma_giacalone_textiles

Keep it simple

When you start out, it doesn’t have to be all bells and whistles to get you going. You don’t need millions of stitches for dressmaking – a straight stitch, zig zag, and buttonhole are all you need to get started.

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Make sure you pick the right needle for the fabric you're sewing.

Needle knowledge

Remember to change your sewing machine needle after every eight hours of sewing. It really does make a difference! Also always use the correct needle type for your fabric, especially if you're sewing with jersey or stretch fabrics.

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Charlotte cutting out her pattern. Image credit: Instagram @charlottesews

Start small

Don’t be tempted to go straight for a big pattern – start by making a really simple project like a tote bag or envelope-back cushion cover. These will teach you to sew a straight line and give you excellent practice using your machine.

Find your fit

When you're ready to move on to garments, start with something that doesn’t need a lot of fitting, like a gathered skirt. The Cleo skirt by Made by Rae is a fantastic first dressmaking project. I love it so much that it’s the pattern I teach in my introduction to dressmaking class!

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Why not go to a dressmaking workshop to learn the first steps.

Do your research

There are loads of resources for learning dressmaking, for every type of learning style. Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes (of Tilly and the Buttons fame) is a fantastic book for complete beginners and will walk you through every step with wonderful photos and simple instructions. There are also lots of online classes available on platforms like Craftsy and with individual pattern companies (e.g. Closet Case Patterns and Tilly and the Buttons).

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Make a practise garment before cutting up your fabric. Image credit: Instagram @notaprimarycolor

Practice makes perfect

Always make a practise garment (toile or muslin) from cheap fabric before cutting into your more expensive garment fabric. You can buy really cheap sheets from places like IKEA or supermarkets that are ideal for this, and it means you can spot any mistakes and make changes rather than accidentally using up the fabric for your garment.

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Be prepared to adjust your measurements when you start sewing!

Size it up

Always use your body measurements to choose what size you are going to make. Pattern sizing bears no relation to ready-to-wear sizing! Don’t expect a pattern to fit you straight out of the pack. Patterns are designed to fit a specific body type (for women this is usually 5’6” with a B-cup bust and an hourglass shape – think typical 1950s woman), which doesn’t reflect 95 per cent of the population. You may need to use a different size for the bust, waist and hips, and add or remove space for your boobs. This is all perfectly normal but can be tricky to figure out. Independent pattern companies often have sewalongs on their blogs that have lots of useful information about fit adjustments. Alternatively you could attend an in-person fitting class for help.

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A rotary cutter and pattern weights. Image credit: Instagram @charlottesews

Added extras

Things that are nice to have, but not essential, include a rotary cutter and mat which you can use with pattern weights to cut out your pieces. Personally, I find this a lot quicker and easier than pins and scissors.

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Charlotte with her fellow Great British Sewing Bee contestants. Image credit: Instagram @charlottesews

To find out more about Charlotte and her sewing classes visit or follow her on Instagram.

Share your own top sewing tips and hacks with us on our Instagram using #molliemakers and on Twitter and Facebook too. Remember to subscribe to Mollie Makes for more sewing patterns and tutorials.





Karen has been writing for magazines for over 21 years and currently splits her time between journalism and running Creative Biscuit Ceramics Café in east London with her partner Tim. Karen has written for a wide range of publications, from showbiz titles to real life features with plenty of craft and design in the mix too. She now focuses on writing about small creative businesses, craft, design, homes and living well for publications such as Mollie Makes and The Simple Things as well as running creative workshops from her café and making her own ceramics.

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