Ask Charlotte: Your dressmaking and sewing questions answered by the winner of The Great British Sewing Bee

This week, the super talented Charlotte, winner of series four of the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, fields questions about high bust measurements, cotton vs polyester thread, removing sleeves from a pattern and more!

Ask Charlotte
Question: I want to remove the sleeves from a dress pattern that doesn’t have this option. Do I need to change the pattern or can I just skip them?

Answer: I often want to add or remove sleeves when the pattern doesn’t have that option, and it’s a pretty simple hack. The shape of the armhole is slightly different in sleeveless vs sleeved bodices, the main difference being that sleeveless bodices have a slightly higher underarm so when adapting the sleeved bodice pieces make sure to add a little here. Start with about 1 cm, but make sure to sew a muslin/toile to check the fit. The shoulder seam might also be wider than you would like, but again that is something that you can check at the muslin stage.

Christine Haynes Emery Dress

Q: I’m always hearing about how I should use my ‘high bust measurement’ to get a better fit. How do I take this measurement and what do I do with it?

A: Patterns are designed using a whole load of assumptions about the shape of our bodies, but of course we are all different and very few of us actually conform to these criteria. When it comes to bodices and tops, pattern designers assume a 2″ difference between the full bust measurement and the high bust measurement (taken around the chest and above the bust, right up under the armpits). In general, it’s a lot easier to adjust the fit to accommodate a larger/smaller bust than it is to change the fit across the shoulders and upper chest. This is why it’s often recommended to choose a size based on your high bust measurement (plus 2″, as allowed in the pattern), then adjust the bust with a small/full bust adjustment if necessary.

Merchant and Mills tape measure

Q: Why do quilters use cotton thread and dressmakers use polyester thread? Does it really matter what kind of thread I use?

A: It’s really important to use polyester thread for dressmaking, because cotton doesn’t have the tensile strength to stand up to repeated wear. Quilts have a lot of small seams, so the pressure on any individual one is small. Quilters prefer to use cotton thread because it has the same strength as the cotton fabrics used, and is therefore less likely to damage the fabrics in the long term.

Gutermann Sew All Thread

Q: I want to make a dress with a jersey that is a little bit see through. The pattern doesn’t have a lining, so can I add one?

A: You can add a lining, but bear in mind that the stretch of your fabric will be considerably less with two layers than it would be with one. It could be worth wearing a slip or a vest instead.

Colette Myrtle Dress

To have your questions answered in our next edition of Ask Charlotte, send them to or tag them on Instagram with the hashtag #askcharlottegbsb. If you want to ask Charlotte your questions in person, why not take one of her classes at our West Hampstead shop? You can find them here!

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