Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple months (or unless you have *no* interest in sewing whatsover – in which case you may want to stop reading now) you will have heard that there’s a new sewing show in town. London town, to be precise, and that show is the Great British Sewing Bee Live. It’s the largest ‘new’ dressmaking event in the UK.
It’s being hosted at the Excel Exhibition Centre in East London for four days across 21st – 24th September 2017. Adult advance day tickets are £16.50/£20 on the door (two days £29 in advance) but you can currently get them half price on the official show website if you’re thinking of booking last-minute.
You’ll want to get the Docklands Light Railway to Prince Regent station – the usual station would be Custom House for Excel Centre (the clue being in the name there) but the station is currently closed so you’ll need to get off at Prince Regent instead. Don’t worry – it’s not far, you just go into the back entrance of the Centre rather than the front. It’s literally three minute’s walk from the station, if that.
I’ve been to many, many sewing events over the years, with the Knitting and Stitching show wearing the current crown of popularity. The last ‘new’ event I went to, the Stitching Sewing and Hobbycrafts Show (also at the Excel) was an utter disappointment, so I approached the new Sewing Bee event with similar caution.
When you enter the exhibition area, your first thoughts are on how utterly white and clinical the place looks. I must admit I was a little apprehensive walking in, it’s nothing like the entrance into the Knitting and Stitching show where the walls are adorned with creative work. Around the edge of the area are the workshops (which you have to book in advance) – these were all full! There’s a massive range of courses that you can do, and I think they are really reasonably priced. If I’d have got my act together and booked at the time I got my tickets there’s a few that I would have liked to have done – ‘Couture Hand Sewing Techniques’ (2 hours, £27) being top of my list.
If you’re more of a watcher than a do-er, there’s a catwalk show featuring designs from both the major pattern companies and the indie ones. This is shown three times a day (the same garments at each) so you’re bound to be able to catch one of them. It’s a great opportunity to see the patterns made up in real life, and the show is free to watch! There’s a few seats around the edge but you’ve got to be quick – I stood at the back as all the seats had gone, but I still had a good view. The dresses you see below were all part of the ‘Cocktail Hour’ social sew along hosted by Vogue Patterns this year.
There’s a nice little display of vintage Liberty garments which you can walk around – I loved seeing all the retro fashions made up from the Liberty fabrics of the time. I was very much drawn to the seventies styles, which is probably my inner retro child coming out! It’s interesting though because that explains why I always love a good retro-looking shirt…
If you’re in the market for a dressmaking dummy, Adjustoform have a stand here where you can see the forms in the flesh and have a play about with them before making your choice. I have the ‘Juliet’ dummy (which I love) and want to buy the ‘Romeo’ to go with her – but it starts at a 37 inch chest and my husband is a 34 inch, so Juliet will forever be without her Romeo unless I seriously feed up the husband so he puts on a couple of stone. Oddly though, the ‘junior’ forms only go up to a 32 inch chest, and all of the male forms start at 37 inch so there’s a bit of a gap in the market here for men with 32-37 inch chests.
There’s a nice little gallery in the centre of the exhibition area featuring some of the garments that have been made on the show. Now you’re not going to believe this, but I’ve NEVER watched the Sewing Bee (I know, I know) as I never get time to watch TV, but if you’ve watched it all the way through then it would be quite exciting to see these in the flesh!
There’s a ‘live demo theatre’ on the edge of the exhibition, where you can go and watch dressmaking techniques be performed and ask questions. This one was on zips, there were screens either side of the work table so that you could see the detail of what was being done. Very useful as you can only learn so much from a book – sometimes it’s easier to see it being done right in front of you.
There’s a ‘Super Theatre’ at the show too (extra charge of £5, or included with a VIP day ticket) where each day at 11am and 2pm Patrick Grant and Esme Young are on stage for an hour discussing all things dressmaking with an audience Q&A. Former contestants and audience members can work together to attempt ‘alterations challenges’ to compete for the GBSB Live’s ‘Best Stitcher’ crown. I didn’t buy the tickets for this, so can’t comment on what it was like – but if you think it might be your sort of thing then it’s only £5 a ticket.
Finally on to the main attraction of the show (for me, anyway) – the fabric shopping. I usually come away from sewing shows relatively empty-handed (or with boring things like thread and machine needles) as I find that they mainly cater to quilters, and the percentage of non-sewing stands (massage chairs, hair ties, handbags and sweets I’m looking at all of you) is far too high for my liking. The amount of stands that I *could* buy from is always about 25% or less of what’s actually there. However, the Sewing Bee Live was different. I actually had to leave before I spent any more money. This is a totally new concept to me!
All the regulars were there – Fabrics Galore, M Rosenberg and Son (Stitch Fabrics), Simply Fabrics etc, but there were a lot more smaller companies there as well, which was nice. Nina Lee London, Dragonfly Fabrics, Guthrie and Ghani, Fabworks Mill just to name a few.
I know all too well that fabric shopping can be addictive, so look away now if you don’t want to be tempted…
There was a lot of autumn fabrics to be had, wools and coatings featured heavily. One stand in particular proved pretty dangerous for me – Holland and Sherry. They are a cloth mill on Saville Row, London and they had brought all their end of rolls/remnants to the show. Each piece was pre-cut, and ranged from around 1 metre in length (90cm was the shortest I saw) to 3.5 metres. Everything was organised by colour, and as I’m currently trying to make plain (well plain-ish, come on you know me – I just mean ‘no skulls’ really) but good quality skirts that will go with some of the more crazy things I make, this was like fabric heaven to me. I love autumn and winter, and wools are my favourite fabrics. I think I might have drooled a bit when I saw their shelves.
I spent an obscene amount of money at this stand – but it would have been a crime not to at these prices. The pieces ranged from about £15-£35 (the majority fell in this bracket) to £50-£100 for cashmere or longer yardage. This sounds a lot, but we’re talking 100% wool here – this company supplies extremely high-end luxury fabrics and at the show they were up to 90% off the regular prices. I picked up a gorgeous 1.2m piece of 100% cashmere skirting for £65 that retails at £395 per metre. THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY FIVE POUNDS PER METRE. I wouldn’t normally spend that kind of money on fabric (I could get almost six metres of Alexander Henry fabric for that price!) but it was so beautiful and it will become a really luxury pencil skirt that will last me years (unless I hash it up lol). It’s really going to push me to learn proper couture finishing techniques so that I can do it justice, so let’s call it £65 for fabric AND learning a new skill. Bargain, amiright 😀
So here’s the haul from today…and yes, I love autumn and all its colours.
Top to bottom:
Burnt orange corduroy, but this is not your ordinary corduroy. It’s a cotton/cashmere mix and is OMG-SO-SOFT.
100% wool moss green check (this will become an A-line above-the-knee skirt. And hopefully not look too ‘country’).
The aforementioned cashmere. It looks considerably lighter in the pic above – it’s actually burgundy and black. This is heading for pencil-skirt territory when I’ve found the perfect pattern (and have made multiple muslins to ensure a perfect fit lol)
At the bottom is a red-pink-blue weave 45% wool/55% silk slinky fabric which is going to be the lining of the cashmere skirt. I would usually say something like this is WAY too good to be a lining, but something just feels wrong about lining a cashmere skirt with a polyester fabric…
A better pic of the colours and textures:
So that was part one of the haul (yes, there’s more, don’t judge me lol). The husband also chose some fabrics for himself – which wifey here will end up making into garments for him but you know, in the name of love and all that.
So he chose:
Dark rich purple velvet to make a jacket with – I’m told it’s going to have lots of gold on it, I think he’s hankering for a military style jacket. Should be totally fun to make and not stressful at all…
Forest green herringbone cashmere coating, a 3.5 metre piece so now he’s expecting to have a coat AND a jacket made from it. I’m too scared to cut into the bloody thing let alone make two coats from it.
Last but not least, some Liberty fabric, because y’all know how much I love a good shirt. Two prints for me, two for the hubbers. Can you guess which ones are for me?
Hint: I’m left and right, he’s top and bottom.
And just because I’m always cold and wearing coats, and also because leopard print is my netural, I snaffled the last three metres of this coating for £25. Shown here with the obligatory ‘boring bits’ of my purchases. That orange thing is a rubber thimble btw, I decided that I really do need one as I now have a little hole in the top of my little finger from hand-sewing hems. Ouchies. The serger needles were because I’ve had my overlocker for about five years now and have never thought to change the needles… It could probably also do with a damn good clean too. I’ll add it to my to-do list (and ignore for the next six months probably. Maybe we’ll call it a Christmas break job).
Overall, I’m a happy bunny, even if my bank balance is now screaming. I was initially going to pass up on going to this show, because I thought that £16.50 was a bit steep for an entry ticket (Knitting and Stitching show is only £14.50 and you can usually get a promo code) especially as I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But, I can honestly say it’s one of the best that I’ve been to, from a dressmaker’s point of view. Non-sewing stalls were kept to a minimum (Cat’s Protection, Dogs’ Trust, two nail varnish stalls and a hair clip stall were all I clocked) and the aisles were nice and wide. There’s plenty of toilets in the main Excel centre itself (you just need to get your hand stamped so that you can walk in and out of the exhibition) and lots of places to buy food and drink at not-totally-extortionate prices. There’s also several seats where you can chill out and eat a packed lunch – usually I’m sitting on the floor for this at the other shows so having a seat is a luxury!
The aisles are nice and wide – my husband doesn’t like crowds or being boxed in and the Stitching Sewing and Hobbycrafts show was a real nightmare for him. So if you suffer with this too, the layout is better here and there are a lot of ‘open’ areas along the way round such as the catwalk and the mini-exhibitions. I’d say there were maybe eight aisles to walk down in total, and while this isn’t on the same scale as the Knitting and Stitching show, 90% of them were relevant to me as a dressmaker which is awesome. If you’re going on the Saturday I imagine it will be busier, so the weekday (Thursday) photos here probably show it a bit quieter than it will be at the weekend. It was fabulous to see some familiar faces from Instagram there as well, there definitely should be some sort of organised meetup for Facebook/Instagram groups so that we can see each other face to face for a chat rather than on a screen!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my review – #soznotsoz for the amount of words (I like to talk a LOT) and the amount of pictures. But I hope I’ve helped some of you make a decision whether to go, or let you know what to expect if you’re going at the weekend, or let you live the show through this post if you’re too far away/can’t make it.
If you’ve been, or are planning on going, or have some comparisons to other shows you’ve been to, I’d love to hear your views and thoughts!
Now I need to go and find somewhere to store all this new fabric…