Sew School with Helen Mackenzie

Inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee? Whether you’re completely new to sewing or have some experience but nervous (like me), you’ll be interested to know that Barnet has its own Sew School to help you improve your needle skills.

Over the years I’ve made curtains, done alterations and run up fancy dress creations for my daughter – but always tentatively. Borrowing my mother’s sewing machine, I always felt I would lose control, but thanks to Helen Mackenzie and Sew School I’ve been able to finesse these skills and even now have a machine of my own.

After originally training at the Wimbledon School of Art, 10 years with theatrical costumers Angels when it was in Camden and a long spell on Eastenders, Helen set up Sew School in 2009 to fit around family life. The classes take place at her home in Carnarvon Road, at the dining room table that seats six people. You can take your own machine if you have one, but it’s simpler to use one of Helen’s.

I attended the five week-long Sew Basic course, with each session lasting two and a half hours. This is ample time to calmly gain confidence mastering a sewing machine in a friendly and supportive environment. Like a yoga class, there is something very therapeutic and luxurious about dedicating time to one thing.

After covering the basics of understanding the mechanics of a sewing machine, threading up and the importance of tension Helen explained the different stitches and shared techniques that give your sewing a more professional finish. We learnt how to do a useful range of seams and hems, facings, bagging out, darts, piping, gathering, so by week 4 we were able to make a little elasticated, gathered skirt. In week 5 we concluded with mini cushion cover, creating buttonholes and fitting a zip. Cream coloured calico and red thread were used so we could see clearly what we were doing (and there’s nowhere to hide with such a colour scheme!)

It was surprisingly satisfying and you’re left with a great sense of achievement. What’s more, Helen has a fun, relaxed manner and is very good at dealing with a range of confidence levels. She is patient, happy to repeat things and demonstrate personally and Helen’s useful reference booklet is well laid out and clearly worded and includes a comprehensive list of recommended suppliers.

Once you have completed the beginner’s course you can join Helen’s Sew Club monthly classes and there are Sew Young sessions for children and teenagers. She also offers private tuition. I’m really looking forward to progressing and sharing these skills with my daughter who’s already been working on sewing projects of her own. However, the Sewing Bee might have to wait a while (or perhaps a generation).

Sew School 3

Sew School 8

Sew School 7

Sew School 4

Sew School 1


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