Talking: Jane White from Jane White Couture

Jane White runs Jane White Couture in North Lincolnshire.Jane White

What brought you to sewing? and have you been formally taught yourself?

My Dad was a cabinet maker and I think I had a natural curiosity for making things because he did. I can remember having fabrics, needles, pins, scissors from a very young age, about 6 or 7 making clothes for dolls and other craft bits and pieces. Mum, long suffering with the mess, but was very encouraging. We also did a lot of sewing at primary and junior school. The lightbulb moment was when Great Auntie Margaret’s Singer hand sewing machine entered my life aged 9 enabling me to make my first garment. I was hooked!

My high school teacher, Mrs Tong, was a couture dressmaker and an inspiration. From 13 I was so lucky to learn fabulous, high level practical making skills from her. I gained an ‘O’ and ‘A’ level in dressmaking with her. I spent years making my own clothes at home, going on courses yearning to do something in the sewing world. In 2000 I graduated with a level 4 City & Guilds Fashion and Pattern Cutting qualification and a Certificate in Education and started my couture dressmaking and teaching career.

The vast majority of home sewists are self taught, what would you say is the benefit in investing in some tuition?

I meet sewers with amazing self-taught skills but investing in tuition will raise their skills to the next level. Tuition will polish up the fit and finish, introduce new techniques and, with a better understanding build confidence. I always encourage my sewers to explore their skills further, trying more complex techniques and challenging fabrics, adding stylish individuality to their project. Sewing in a group of like-minded enthusiasts is not only a friendly way to sew but a great way to get new ideas and encouragement.

Can you give us an example of a technique which is demystified once you understand a bit more about it?

I love demystifying techniques with my sewers – that ‘light-bulb’ moment is still so wonderful. 

My ‘no-brainer’ (the ladies description) concealed zip method works every time and is easier than they think. My ‘how to re-thread your overlocker without tears’ method is also a stress buster.

Pattern manipulation often feels like a dark art, is it really something that everyone can master?

I would say most sewers can master the basics of pattern manipulation. It is a bit easier if you have used commercial patterns. I teach my students how to move a dart around a pattern and this is something we do a lot of. If the dart isn’t in the right place for the wearer we move it or incorporate it in a seam. We turn straight skirts into an A-line, we suppress an underarm dart into a princess line seam or panel bodice for the ladies with a fuller bust for a better fit. It is all about having the knowledge to make the garment fit and style your own. We also do a lot of pattern cutting from basic pattern blocks drafted to the wearer’s body measurements rather than standard sizing. Even new sewers start by making their own pencil skirt pattern and then use it to make a skirt with a fabulous fit.

Do you still have the enthusiasm to sew for yourself when it’s your day job?!

Yes! I certainly do. I love trying out new commercial patterns and making my own. I very rarely buy clothes, I love fabric and colour and something a bit different. I have made four dresses from Vogue V1410 by Lynne Mizono – now known as the class mad dress because they thought I was mad when I showed them the pattern. We now have about a dozen versions. The sewers are also very inspiring with what they make and I get ideas from them. We have a toile bank at the studio where we share our garment test runs. It is very important that I keep my own skills fresh and up-to-date. If we are doing a workshop using a specific pattern I always test it out for myself first.

And finally:

A top tip for a novice sewer?

Choose a fabric that is easy to work with, medium weight cottons and denim are good choices. Avoid shiny and stretchy fabrics until you are feeling more confident and of course you should join a sewing group, sign up for a workshop and sew, sew sew!

 A great pattern for a beginner?

Choose a simple pattern for your first garment but be aware, I think Vogue Easy patterns are often still too advanced for a beginner. I like new sewers to make a simple skirt that is easy to fit and quickly achievable.  There is a good range of patterns out now designed new sewers I have been testing out McCall’s M7129 circular skirt. This pattern is specifically designed for new dressmakers. It has comprehensive instructions that are easy to follow and, because the size choice is based on your waist measurement it is easy to get a great fit. Choose a cotton fabric. Full skirts are also on-trend for this spring/summer.

 And one for the more advanced?

The ladies are making Vogue 1254 by Anne Klein at the moment. They do love the Vogue designer patterns which introduce higher level construction skills and more fitting. This style looks great on different body shapes with the correct fit and is good for daytime and evening. Kay Unger’s V1392 is popular with the experienced sewers.

A suggestion of a blog (or two) for us to add to our feed readers!

I have a piece on my blog about Great Auntie Margaret and her machine and some pattern reviews 

One of my lovely students Lizzie, who has just been for my three day pattern cutting course, has a sewing blog telling the story of her sewing journey from a novice.

You can find Jane at Jane White Couture  on Twitter , on Facebook  and on Pinterest