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Ask Charlotte: Your sewing and dressmaking 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 your questions about seam allowances, twin needles and buttonholes!

Ask Charlotte

Question: I have a pattern that does not include the seam allowances. Can I just make it in the next size up?

Answer: Unfortunately not, I’m sorry to say! The difference between sizes isn’t consistent at every seam, so you will end up with a garment that fits peculiarly. There is no shortcut to adding the seam allowances yourself, I’m afraid. You can make this easier by tracing the pattern using two pencils taped together, but make sure you take note of the distance between the pencil lines and use this as your seam allowance.

Swedish Tracing Paper

Q: A lot of patterns suggest using ‘the twin needle method’ when sewing with stretch fabrics. What is this?

A: A twin needle is exactly what it sounds like – it has two needles attached to a single shank so that it can be used in place of a regular needle in your machine. You simply thread your machine as usual, but using two spools (most machines have a hole to put an extra spool holder), and use one in each side of the twin needle. Using a twin needle results in two parallel lines of stitching on the right side of the garment, with the bobbin thread forming a zig zag on the reverse. This allows the stitching to stretch slightly, perfect for hems on knit garments. You will need to practice on scraps first, though, and pay particular attention to your tension settings.

Twin Needle Hem

Q: Buttonholes terrify me! I am always scared I am going to ruin my work. Do you have any top tips?

A: Always sew a practice buttonhole using the same fabric and interfacing combination as your actual garment. If you are lucky enough to have a machine that uses a special foot (that holds the button) to do an automatic buttonhole then you should be just fine. If not, then take the time to mark the position and length of your buttonholes carefully before you start sewing, so that you can make them all the same size. If you use a seam ripper to cut your buttonholes open then put a pin at the far end of the buttonhole so you can’t accidentally slip and cut through your stitches.

Janome Buttonhole Foot

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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