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Sarah Steele shares her lockdown sewdown tips!

We know a lot of you are making homemade masks while in quarantine! Author of The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon, Sarah Steele, shares her top tips on how to sew at home.


1. Take a deep breath. You will probably have to share your sewing space with the whole family. The kitchen table will be doubling up as schoolroom, office, sourdough factory, art studio and jigsaw-assembly line, so find a time when you can claim it for yourself, and make sure people respect that. My children are students, so mornings are a pretty safe bet in my house!

2. Always wipe the table before you start. In my haste to get sewing, I have inadvertently smeared on my precious fabric everything from coffee to maple syrup to said sourdough starter.

3. Keep everything you require for sewing in a box that you can move in and out as you need it. Do not leave your scissors lying around. You will never see them again.

4. What are you going to sew with? We’ve all had time to clear out our wardrobes, and have bags of clothes waiting to go to the charity shop. If there’s a favourite dress that’s too small, you don’t have to say goodbye. Cut the top off it and make a skirt, or have a go at some patchwork: special items such as baby clothes can be made into a unique memory blanket. Be creative. We’ve been making pyjama bottoms out of some old French sheets and trying our hand at indigo dying. Just have fun.

5. Fancy having a go at a new pattern? There are lots of fantastic sewing shops online, where you can browse and order patterns, or if you can’t wait for the post, buy them as a pdf download. Your local print shop may be able to run you off a copy, or you can print the patterns in a series of A4 sheets at home, which you then reassemble (the jigsaw practice will come in handy here).

6. If you’re locked down with your children, this is a great chance to teach them how to use a machine. Kids will love making a simple tote bag.

7. Scrubs? Yes, I’ve made a few sets of these during lockdown. We used medical-grade fabric that required an overlocker, but hospitals will be more than happy to receive colourful sets made from duvet covers on a standard sewing machine. Get in touch with your local coordinator to see what you can do. It’s wonderful to know that something you have made is going to such important use.

8. Box full of fabric scraps? Perfect for making face masks for friends and family. There are lots of tutorials available on YouTube and Pinterest, and since these are so simple to make, it’s a great project for youngsters to have a go at. If you can’t face the laborious task of making ribbon ties, it’s finally becoming easier to find elastic on the internet.

9. Ah, the internet. You can lose whole days comparing patterns and fabrics and scrolling through Pinterest for ideas. I’ve never bought fabric ‘blind’ before, but have had some beauties delivered from independent sewing shops reliant on online trade whilst unable to open their doors. Sites such as thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk and www.fabricgodmother.co.uk have everything you need for your project, from patterns to fabric to thread and notions.

10. Don’t sweat(shop) it. You’re not on Sewing Bee, and this is meant to be fun. Whatever you make does not have to be perfect: it’s already unique. It’s your lovely new garment, so just enjoy wearing it and be proud of it. There was a fair amount of cussing over zips going on in my house, until I realised that cardigans were invented for covering up dressmaking mistakes. Besides, whilst we’re all two meters apart, who’s going to see that little accidental gathering in the seam?