Fancy making a Midhurst or Lewes skirt? Meet the Sussex Seamstress

Hobbycraft, the UK’s largest arts and craft retailer, has released a report on the top trends to try in 2021.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 10:20 am

Things include handmade interiors, digital cutting, bargello, cottagecore with a focus on personalisation, sustainability and mindfulness.

It found that the ‘make do and mend’ mentality looks set to continue throughout this year with consumers more aware of being environmentally conscious and looking for ways to upcycle, recycle and reuse.

There was a surge in sewing sales with an increase of 178 per cent in 2020.

Petworth dress

Jayne Green, 49, from Haywards Heath has always sewn and decided to start her business the Sussex Seamstress in March 2020.

After attending the London College of Fashion and she worked for designer Zandra Rhodes as a sample machinist, this meant she made up prototypes for fashion shows and pre-production garments before becoming self-employed. She then worked for the Royal Opera House, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet making costumes.

“With these avenues cut off by the pandemic it made sense to utilise my skills in a more direct way,” said Jayne.

“My husband was made redundant in January 2020, so it was a good opportunity to use his tech skills to help set up Sussex Seamstress online.”

Sussex Seamstress - Jayne

When Jayne launched the business during the first lockdown one of them home schooled while the other worked, this gave them time to research the product and gather information, set up all the technical stuff and construct samples before launching the website on August 1.

Jayne said: “I make paper and PDF dressmaking patterns with online tutorials.

“This involves drafting an initial pattern, making a toile (a quick practice construction of the pattern in calico), making any changes, redrafting, retesting, and finally grading for each size before handing over to my husband for the digitizing part.

“Then it’s yet more testing of the pattern before writing up the instructions and recording the tutorial video.”

Midhurst skirt

All the patterns are named after places in Sussex such as Amberley, Lewes, Pevensey and Chichester.

One of the reasons she chose to name the patterns after towns and villages in the county is because she has lived in Sussex all her adult life.

She said: “And sometimes it will be a friend who lives there that inspires the initial idea for the pattern. The Arundel is a good example of this. Whilst drafting the pattern I kept thinking how perfect the style was for a friend who lives there.”

During the pandemic Jayne says that the online sewing community was a hive of activity and that she saw a lot of reduce, reuse and recycling going on.

Jayne likes to use deadstock fabrics, which is fabric left over from industry. This results in less landfill and waste.

She said: “There are now a range of Gutterman threads made from recycled fibres too. Environment friendly options are increasingly available for the industry as well as home sewing.

“I think people who make their own garments generally take time over them and therefore have a greater appreciation of the garment. Home sewing is not necessarily fashion led and so the garments made have a greater life span generally.”

Without the pandemic Jayne would never have started her business.

She said: “But not being able to go to the shops to source fabric and supplies has been tricky.

“You really need to get a feel for the handle and drape of a fabric before you buy it.

“The quality and transparency can be difficult to determine online shopping too. Unlike clothing you can’t return a cut length of fabric.”

There are a number of patterns of the website for dresses, skirts, PJs and a fitted t-shirt.

For someone who has just started sewing Jayne says a good template to start with is the Midhurst skirt.

“It is relatively simple and comes with a beginner’s online tutorial,” Jayne said.

“The Amberley dress is a classic, no tricky closures and also has an online tutorial to take you through the process. Either of those really.”

The patterns are split into four categories - beginner which are simple patterns, suitable for all skill levels. Although suitable for beginners and provided with instructions that will cover how to sew and construct the garment, these patterns are not intended to teach you how to sew from scratch. There is an assumed knowledge of basic processes like ironing on interfacing and sewing a plain seam.

Next is confident beginner, which is suitable for all skill levels, apart from complete beginners.

This is perfect if you’ve made a few garments and are confident with the basics of sewing, then these patterns will take you to the next step, introducing some slightly more advanced elements such as built-in pockets.

Then there is intermediate, which requires a good level of sewing ability and may involve the use of trickier fabrics or more advanced processes such as special sleeves or seams.

And then there are patterns suitable for advanced sewers, which are for those with extensive sewing experience.

Jayne’s advice for anyone who wants to start sewing is to “borrow a machine or buy a cheap one from a local selling page.

“Get an old sheet and a pattern of a garment similar to one you wear a lot and practise. No pattern is going to fit you perfectly without a few alterations.

“Join some sewing groups online (or in person once were allowed). Don’t expect to get it right first time, relax and enjoy.”

The common misconception that Jayne has found people have when it comes to sewing if that is it ‘what older people do’.

She said: “I’m no spring chicken but I’ve been sewing since I could hold a needle. The online sewing community is so diverse in age and skills there is a place and style for everyone.”

She added: “I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported me while establishing Sussex Seamstress. Whether they’ve bought a pattern, tested a pattern, subscribed to our YouTube channel or followed me on Instagram, it all helps immensely.

“The online sewing community has shown me enormous support. I’m forever grateful.”

For more information, visit www.sussexseamstress.com