PatternReview has an annual Sewing Bee contest that attracts some amazing, creative, technically proficient sewists… and this year I foolhardily decided to enter! I figured I would have some fun doing a sewing project on an unknown theme with an 8-day deadline… sort of like a Project Runway, but without the annoying reality TV drama.
Since this contest has kind of dominated the last 6 weeks of my sewing life, I’m going to write it all up in one blog post. You can link to my reviews of each garment with the link in each section.
The first challenge was “Knit Dress with a Twist” which was fairly in line with my sewing interests. I had just picked up about 4m of a viscose/rayon jersey from a Facebook Marketplace listing, for $5. I did some research and looked at wrap dresses on Diane von Furstenberg’s website, and found a good inspiration dress which had a sort of traditional collar-and-button-down neckline combined with a wrap waistline and skirt.
I created the pattern beginning with my self-drafted bodice block, did some draping with the fabric on the dress form, transferred the draped version to paper to see if I had a good pattern, then tried it cutting it out of the fabric. I didn’t actually do a muslin for this dress! I figured if I fucked it up, I could just start over with new fabric. It was a combination of studying other patterns and just slashing and spreading away at the paper until I got what I wanted. And it worked! I draped a collar stand and collar using the shapes in David Page Coffin’s book on Shirtmaking, and the sleeves came from a t-shirt pattern. The skirt was just drawn on paper so that the waist would line up with the bodice with crossover at the front edges.
I had to line the bodice so that the white wrong-side of the fabric wouldn’t show up weird when the collar was open. The lining was caught under the button plackets and then hand-stitched in place lower down to the criss-crossing pieces.
I was really pleased with how this dress turned out. I’ve worn it to work once… with opaque leggings just in case I had a “wardrobe malfunction” moment. I also wore it to the symphony, although it felt a little bit casual for that.
I was nervous about whether I’d get through the first round of the Sewing Bee… there were something like 86 participants and less than half were supposed to go through. But I did!
For the second round, we were given the challenge of making a garment with the “Collar” as the primary focus. The challenge was given at 9am CST on Monday morning… I had to be on a ferry to start my trip to Mexico by 5pm PST on Tuesday. So all the machine sewing parts had to be finished in about 35 hours, plus I had to work, pack, and clean my house for my housesitter.
On the weekend before, I had (on a whim) bought some lightweight denim with a neat lace border treatment from Fabricland and made pants with it, with the lace along the hems. I started playing with leftover pieces on my dress form and thought it would be cool to turn the fabric upside down and try to make a collar out of the lace pieces.
I draped a princess-seam bodice (and then made a muslin! woohoo!) for the body of the top, and left the collar pieces as a puzzle to sort out with hand-sewing while on the plane or at the resort. I had to do a lot of very tricky detective work to piece together the right combination of the diamond motifs, at the right angles, so it would fit around my neck. It didn’t clue in to me until later on that normally a front neckline is lower than a back neckline, so I ended up with a collar that sort of rode up high in front. But that’s okay! I think it was creative enough – and pretty enough – to get me through to Round 3.
The challenge for Round 3 was “Cargo Bottoms“, with this description: “Cargo bottoms are loosely cut garments originally designed for rough work environments and outdoor activities, distinguished by numerous large utility pockets for carrying tools.”
What I picked up on from this was the invitation to make something for outdoor activities with numerous utility pockets. I sewed a very-embellished pair of the Stretch Hiking Pants from Pattern Adventure. My fabric was Khaki Microfiber Stretch Woven from Discovery Fabrics. I really wrestled with this project, partly because I was working from a pattern instead of making up my own, and the pattern wasn’t actually in my possession when I started. I didn’t get it until Thursday afternoon, and when I made up my first muslin there were fit issues caused by not doing my measurements right. Birgit helped me diagnose this and redid the pattern, and by Friday at the end of the day, we had a working pattern.
I spent a lot of hours on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday doing all the pockets, the waistband customization, and the ruching channels on the leg seams to allow the pants to turn from full length into capri pants when I want to go wading. I have detailed all of the modifications, custom features, etc. on the pattern review I wrote up — which in hindsight seems REALLY long. But there was a lot going on with those pants! I was proud of the way they fit in the end, and they are really really comfortable to wear.
In the end though, the judges didn’t advance me to Round 4. At first I was stunned, because my pants were among the more technically difficult in the round. I think there are a couple of places where I might have gone wrong though. First, the fabric choice — it’s not really a fabric designed for a tough work environment although it is definitely for outdoor activities. I think the lightness of the fabric probably made the pants look ill-fitting because of all the drapey bits. Also, while there are 9 pockets in these pants, none of them are the classic large utility pocket, and I noticed that all of the people who advanced had used those classic pleated or bellows pockets. Finally, I wonder if the judges thought that having Birgit help me solve the fitting issues was off-side, although she does stand behind every pattern she sells and will help anyone who runs into fit issues with their projects.
Anyways, for whatever reason, not getting into Round 4 was not the biggest tragedy. First of all, this is my first time doing Sewing Bee and I didn’t think I’d make it past Round 2 considering I was on vacation for most of it. Also, the 11 participants in Round 4 are some of the most talented and creative sewists I’ve seen, and I am really pleased to have had the chance to get to know them (especially Cupid Dog who lives here in Victoria and who is going to be part of my sewists’ posse!). And finally, I am breathing a sigh of relief that I don’t have to come up with a whole outfit in one week on the Round 4 theme of a “Museum Exhibit for Sewists’ Art: Quality and Fashion”.
I had begun thinking of really artsy designs for a quilted jacket last week, because lots of people in the PR Forum for this contest were joking about that being one of the challenges. I went down to the beach and got inspired by the colour gradations in the rocks jutting out of the ocean. I sketched a coat which I was going to try to make either from quilting together scraps from our new-ish bedroom quilt, or by ombre-dyeing some ivory wool coating I was given last month. This project would have CONSUMED me and driven me absolutely around the bend to try and finish in a week, and I probably would have messed it up. Should I ever want to actually do this garment, I’d rather not do it on a deadline.
I’m looking forward to seeing what my new friends come up with for Round 4.
Will I do the Sewing Bee next year? Yes, I’ll think about it, depending on whether the schedule lines up well with the rest of my life. I think I need to think about doing less technically complex garments and focus more on the quality of sewing and finishing. But it’s a nice way to get to meet new sewists, and a fun creative challenge.