Manolo and McQueen

Just a quick update of two exhibits which are in London at the moment in case you’re planning a visit to the capital.

At the Wallace Collection in Manchester Sq just behind Oxford St there are currently many beautiful examples of the shoes made by Manolo Blahnik over the course of his long career. He is a frequent visitor to the museum and over the years has used many of the rooms and their paintings and artefacts for inspiration. It’s easy to see this as you move around the upper rooms in this building which hosted many fashionable parties in its elegant salons. The shoes are displayed within beautiful glass domes and they have been placed in specific rooms and settings by Blahnik himself.

Even if you’re at the Wallace Collection primarily for the shoes don’t neglect the rooms themselves because there’s lots of varied and beautiful art to display including several Rembrandts, Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds portraits, and The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (more of a smirk really…)

don’t forget to look up at the spectacular chandeliers
This painting shows Maria Camargo, the woman generally regarded as the first ‘ballerina’ because she danced so daintily on her toes.
Madame de Pompadour
The Swing by Fragonard. Vivienne Westwood has said that this was a influential painting for her when she was creating her more structured and sumptuous gowns.
We listened to a very enlightening talk about this deceptively simple painting called The Lacemaker. It’s small but beautifully observed.

So, lots and lots of shoes, some-most-were very impractical, bought by women who don’t have to walk far or travel on public transport…This exhibition is on until September 1st and is free to enter which has to be a very good reason to go.

Also free is the exhibit on the second floor of the Alexander McQueen store in New Bond St, it’s intended for students but as a keen dressmaker I think that counts too.

We had attempted to visit here several weeks ago but it was closed because they were filming so do be aware there’s a possibility it might not be open for some reason. Check the shop opening hours too.

I was practically hyperventilating as we climbed the spiral staircase (with anticipation not lack of exercise!) I have been a long time admirer of Lee Alexander McQueen’s work and that of Sarah Burton since his untimely death in 2010 so to be so close to the garments, samples, inspirations and working processes is an extraordinary opportunity. I visited the Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A in 2015 a ridiculous eight times and I’m not ashamed of it!! Part of what I admire is that McQueen himself was the whole package-he designed incredible garments which pushed boundaries but he could also cut patterns, sew garments by hand or machine, he was a true visionary.

You’re not left to your own devices once in the exhibition space, there is a member of staff to show and explain anything. Maria was there when we visited and she explained that she works in the Atelier most of the time and at others she is at the exhibit to help visitors to understand and appreciate what they are seeing. Whoever is there if you visit make sure you ask questions to get the most from it.

On the rails are examples of vintage garments which were deconstructed to their bare bones, analysing the techniques underneath in order to create new and original garments.

For example the beautiful black embellished jacket and trousers were inspired by several vintage and antique mens frock coats and jackets, the exposed canvas, pad-stitching and quilting were reinterpreted with a modern twist, including beautiful jet-embellished lace applique. [Take a look at my previous post when I refashioned a two piece suit into a McQueen inspired jacket.]

Some of the inspiration for the fabrics came from an antique Jacquard fabric samples book found in a Parisian flea market.

Inspiration boards including Victorian photographs and fabric samples
A few of the many photographs taken on the house models in the looks at various stages of development.
We were told that some of the jet beads used were salvaged from antique jewellery and repurposed, that’s high-end upcycling!

As well as the black suit there is also a completely contrasting dress which has it’s origins in the John Everett Millais painting of Ophelia (in Tate Britain) the pioneering photography of Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian wedding dress and original Victorian corsets which, like the jackets, have been taken apart to analyse their construction.

one of the mood boards accompanying the dress
an original Victorian wedding dress
You can see how the boning sits in pockets semi-exposed just as it did in the Victorian original

In addition to the actual dress there is a full-size and several miniature versions made in printed paper which are like beautiful sculptures.

Fabric to dream of….

There is also an outfit with a hand-painted leather jacket and asymmetric knitted dress underneath, it turns out that our guide Maria was responsible for painting it (in gouache apparently)

Hand-painted leather jacket
happy face…

In addition to the new garments there are a few from previous collections including the iconic high-collared corset made in 1997 by Mr Pearl.

If you’re interested in the ‘bones’ of garments and knowing some of the processes which lead to their creation then you’re bound to find this a fascinating exhibit to visit-I felt incredibly privileged to be able to see the garments so close and to have someone like Maria explain firsthand what we were seeing. As I said earlier, the exhibits will change regularly, this one is due to continue for a few more weeks and then a new one will be installed in September, we asked what it might be but Maria was sworn to secrecy!

Overall, two fascinating short term exhibitions which are worth a visit if you get the chance.

Until next time,

Sue

Testing the Regatta dress from Alice & Co

Alice & Co are a pattern company run by the mother-and-daughter team of designer, pattern cutter and sewing teacher Alice, and Lilia, who is a museum textile conservator for her ‘day job’. I saw they were requesting new testers for one of their latest patterns and, as I generally enjoy the process of testing and I’m happy to give my time to assist small indie companies when possible, I was pleased to be invited to help.

The Regatta is a summer dress featuring a neckline which pulls up with ribbon to tie on the shoulders, a gathered or pleated waist, patch pockets and a button-back closure.

I had some printed viscose fabric in my stash which my good friend Claire had given me a few months back and I was sure it would be ideal for this test version of Regatta. I think the dress will be great made in a wide variety of fabrics including chambray, cotton poplin, madras cotton check, seersucker or shirting, as well as eyelet or broderie anglaise, washed linen…I could go on!

This is a PDF pattern but unlike many which provide you with ALL the pattern pieces you might require, because of the simplicity of the skirt it only gives you pieces for front and back bodice plus a patch pocket. It needs a total of 8 pages printed in colour rather a selection of dotted/dashed lines. The skirt is merely three rectangles (front and two backs) so rather than waste paper it gives you guidelines to follow for cutting the skirt pieces ‘freehand’. This isn’t as daunting as it might sound, I used the full width of the fabric cut to my chosen length PLUS a hem and a top seam allowance and then the same again but cut into two equal pieces to form the backs.

The instruction booklet is written in a nice friendly chatty style which feels both informative and encouraging, I think the illustrations are well-drawn and clear too. I printed mine out in booklet format which is a good option if your printer will allow it, 3 pages printed on both sides which fold neatly into A5.

I opted to cut a size 16 according to my measurements from the chart but I would definitely come down at least a size for the next one. As the bodice needs to be lined anyway you could make up the lining as a toile to see if you need to make any adjustments and then use it in the dress. Depending on your fabric you could self-line it or, as I did, use a plain cotton. I also decided at this stage that I would line the skirt because my fabric is a bit sheer, plus it’s a floaty skirt so I don’t want any knicker-revealing moments on windy days!! [I made a simple A-line lining, not the full pleated skirt which would have been awfully bulky]

The bodice construction is simple [if you don’t like darts you won’t be a fan though, you’ll need to make 8!]

Follow the instructions carefully for the ribbon channel openings, the diagrams will help if you’re not sure. Take care inserting the ribbons pieces at the back-cut the ribbon into one long piece for the front and two shorter pieces for the backs. You could possibly use wide elastic for this element instead if you want a different look, or make a self-fabric strip or what about using a vintage scarf even?

Once you’ve joined the outer fabric and linings together along the neck edges and armholes you’ll also need to understitch here as much as possible, to give it a nice crisp edge and stop it rolling. Just go carefully so as not to catch the fabric accidentally-you won’t be able to sew everything because it will be inaccessible in places. 

Next, when you sew the actual channels that the ribbons sit in, it might be wise to tack in position first, certainly mark the lines in some way-chalk, pencil, erasable marker-or if you have a quilting guide attachment for your machine use that. It looks like a piece of bent metal which slots in behind the foot of your machine. You can see it better in the photo although this was a different project. This enables you to follow a stitching line which is considerably further away than your usual seam allowance markings on the needle plate will allow. You’ll need to be most careful sewing the back channels because the ribbon is already in position so don’t sew through it by accident, it won’t gather up. Slot the ribbon through the front when you’ve sewn the front channel, or leave it until you’re ready to try the dress on and adjust the bows to your taste at the end.

using the quilting guide attachment to follow a wider width [this was on the Heron dress]

Making up the skirt is simple enough, don’t forget to interface the button-stand areas for stability. The pockets are positioned over the side seams but they could go directly on the front if you prefer.

I opted to use pleats on the skirt because I prefer how they look on me to gathers. I don’t have any sage advice or foolproof mathematical equation for working this out I’m afraid, I just pinned the skirt to the bodice at the side seams, CF and CB button-stand and then fiddled until I was happy with the pleats before stitching it on. There were lots of pins involved!  

lots of pins holding the pleats in position ready to sew.

If you aren’t lining the skirt then you can simply slip stitch the lining in place by hand as per the instructions. As I was lining the skirt too I cut, sewed and hemmed a simple A-line shape in plain cotton which I stitched to the bottom of the bodice lining, obviously it must have the gap at the back for the button opening. I simply caught this down behind the button-stand with a few hand stitches so it doesn’t flap about. So that it doesn’t ride up inside the dress I hand-sewed a few stitches at the side seams and CF where the seams meet to anchor them together loosely.

The lining looks like this inside, it doesn’t need to be the full length of the skirt although it could be if you want.

I used a nice deep hem of 5cms to give the skirt weight. I overlocked the edge and then used the blindhem stitch and foot to sew it up. As the hem is straight you could face it instead with bias binding or ribbon, or a contrast fabric for a different look, either machine top stitch or slip-hem in place by hand. The photos show the blindhem for my machine but most machine manuals will show you how to sew this-definitely practice to get it right as there is a knack to it.

I used 4 buttons on the bodice section and then 6 buttons on the skirt, evenly spaced so that there’s still a nice ‘split’ at the bottom. I have a ‘thing’ about button opening on skirts where the bottom button is too close to the hem, don’t ask me why, I just don’t find it aesthetically pleasing. For a novel detail I used red and blue thread to sew on the bodice buttons and ivory on the skirt. I also added a small hook and eye at the waist seam to take any strain off the button at this point. 

All that remains is to pop your dress on and pull up the ribbons to your desired amount and tie in a bow, trim the ends into neat Vs to stop them fraying. Once you’ve adjusted the gathers to your liking then pin and stitch in a few places as per the instructions to hold them in place evenly.  

I used green Grosgrain ribbon as a contrast to the otherwise nautical colours of my Regatta dress.

I just need to find a nice wide belt to finish it off I think although it works perfectly well without. My Regatta dress has already had two wears since I finished it and it’s quirky details make it stand out. It isn’t an ultra-quick make compared to some styles but it’s worth the effort and makes a charming and feminine summer dress. It would even work in more ’special’ type fabrics too, like panne velvet, Chantilly lace or crepe de chine for an evening or party dress.

Once again it’s been an interesting process to help test a pattern and Alice & Co were quick to respond to queries. Another reason I was keen to assist is because as a brand they are very supportive of the Sew Over 50 cause by reposting images shared by older makers using their patterns, and have generously provided prizes in our previous challenges.

So while the sun is out here in the UK this could be a nice addition to your summer/holiday wardrobe.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

The Frilled Hem Top from Trend Patterns

Trend are fashion-forward indie pattern company based in London and I’ve already used their Asymmetric Dress pattern twice (and reviewed it here) I even wore the first one for the Love Sewing magazine Sew Over 50 photo shoot too because I felt it was such a striking but wearable dress that it deserved to be seen in a national sewing publication!

I made this version in brocade for our cruise to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in March…
…and it has a pocket!

The next Trend pattern I’ve decided to tackle is the Frilled Hem Top TPC5 and it’s another goody as far as I’m concerned. As well as the ruffle detail it features some interesting diagonal seam lines (there’s no side seam) The degree of difficulty is described as moderate and I’d agree with that because although the techniques used aren’t difficult you need to keep your wits about you to ensure that you’re attaching the pieces to the right seams, it could be easy to lose sight of which way up they are because the usual ‘landmarks’ like armholes or necklines aren’t so obvious. There are photographs as well as written instructions, which are fairly clear, at the end of the day it’s a simple top and so long as the ruffle goes in first attached to the right pieces then adding the back yoke and sleeves is straightforward. I hadn’t got a suitable zip, I’d thought about using an exposed metal zip but the one I had in my stash was too chunky for the weight of the fabric so I opted for a simple button and hand sewn loop closure instead.

My fabric was a very thin cotton I’d picked up from a swap sometime ago-I couldn’t really say what it is as it isn’t soft like lawn, or sheer like voile, it’s slightly more crisp like poplin but less weighty. Whatever, it’s worked just fine for this and it didn’t cost me anything!

As I was making the top at this year’s Stitchroom Sewcial I was fortunate to be able to use the industrial rolled hem machine to finish the edge of the ruffle, it’s super-quick and neat and took me about 30 seconds to hem the whole piece instead of my usual pin-hem finish which would take at least half an hour!

As I didn’t have much fabric, plus I wanted to wear it as a summer top, I cut the sleeves down to short length. I was a little concerned that they looked like they may be a bit snug on my not-very-slim arms, the bicep measurement seemed to be ok but the crown looked narrow. I decided to go ahead and insert the sleeves and actually they are just fine as you can see from the photos. As there is no underarm seam to match the sleeve to it’s vital that the shoulder/sleeve head notches are marked or you’ll struggle to insert them properly. I’ve made a straight-from-the-packet size 14 again and the fit is spot on for me with no alterations, it’s a good fit across the shoulders and upper chest area and then flares out over the hips.

There are two points in the instructions which are useful and important to follow. The first is very simple, it tells you to ’sink stitch’ (that’s what it always was until ’stitch in the ditch’ became a thing) through the shoulder seams to hold the neck facings securely in position, this is both quicker and more effective than hand stitching them down I always think. The second point is that you can’t sew the whole hem up all in one go, you’ll need to sew the centre front section, stop, move the frill out of the way and then recommence the rest of the hem. If you don’t you’ll just sew over the frill which will look terrible.

You’ll need to sew the hem between the frills separately to the rest of the hem, moving the frill out of the way.
I finished off the neckline with a button and loop.
I love this detail where the frill, the back and the side all meet.

So that’s the Frilled Hem Top, it should probably take around half to a whole day to make, it took me longer because I was nattering at the Sewcial quite a lot, and then I made a super-quick Mandy Boat T-shirt using the industrial coverlock machines in between too.

This was my other Sewcial make, the Mandy Boat Tee which is a free pattern from Tessuti. I’ve made it in a gorgeous jersey form Lamazi Fabrics which I’ve learnt was recently discontinued.
If you’re interested in the jeans they are Megan Nielsen Ash which I tested nearly two years ago and I LOVE wearing.

The TPC5 takes a little under 2 metres of fabric, probably less if you’re making it sleeveless or short sleeves. The size range isn’t extensive, 6-16 UK sizes, and they aren’t the cheapest but I’ve been very happy with the two I have and I’ll definitely make some more variations of this particular pattern. You could create some really interesting looks by using contrasting fabrics or colours, or leave out the frill completely to show off the unusual seam lines?

Trend have a wide range of patterns now, which don’t necessarily appeal to everyone but I think they are well worth a look at because of their unusual styling and details. They may look scarily fashion-forward but if you want something which is less predictable and run-of-the-mill in a sea of ‘meh’ patterns then, in my unsolicited opinion, they are a good bet. They often have a flash discount offer too so keep your eyes peeled for them!

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue

Pattern testing-a few thoughts on the subject.

If you’ve recently read my post looking at ways in which the Sew Over 50 community can keep ourselves in the public eye (should we wish to of course) you’ll know that I was talking, in part, about pattern testing for pattern designers. This seems to have generated a lot of comments and opinions so I thought I’d look at some of the issues here rather than a long trail of comments on the Instagram account (although you can always read them there too of course)

I deliberately chose not to address the biggest elephant in the room in the previous post because it would distract too much from the overall point of the post. That elephant is ‘why is it unpaid?’

Firstly, in the interests of balance, in a very few cases it isn’t always unpaid, because there is at least one pattern designer who gives a modest amount towards fabric and time for testing when the patterns are getting closer to being released. In my experience they have been pretty well tested in-house before they are sent out to testers for what they hope will be final checking, typos, errors, sizing and fit issues etc. I’m not willing to name this company because I’ve no wish to cast the ones who cannot, or do not, pay in a bad light by comparison, or give anyone the opportunity to start mud-slinging.

This leaves the companies who cannot, or do not, offer to pay for testing. I can only speak for my own experiences of testing here, you may have had other experiences yourself-positive or negative.

Let’s be quite clear, obviously nobody makes us do this and if you are unhappy or don’t agree with it being unpaid, don’t do it! Many indie pattern companies are quite literally one-woman-bands, often with other jobs the rest of the time, and to pay testers is impossible. At least they wish to have a testing process because if they didn’t we might find half-baked products released onto the market for which we’ve paid good money. I’m sure we’ve all used that type of pattern too, which has been rushed out with little or no quality or typo-checking and testing first, it’s infuriating. Yes, of course in an ideal world we would all be paid for doing this but the simple truth is that that isn’t possible in most cases. It’s a terrible business model to rely on unpaid labour but what is the solution? I agree that more of the larger indie companies should definitely be giving better ‘rewards’ because if they can finance fancy promotions and campaigns and websites and several staff then they can give some small remuneration-they wouldn’t expect a photographer or professional model to do it for nothing and they probably work for considerably fewer hours than it takes the maker at home to construct complex garments. Or maybe the ‘working for free’ culture goes further up the chain than we realise?

So, if you offer to do this and are asked to test, what next? The time it takes and the quantity of fabric needed will vary hugely and personally I prefer to know in advance what sort of garment it’s going to be, some designers give a clear descriptions of what it is so you can choose not to participate if you don’t like the sound of it, others play their cards close to their chests and don’t want to give too much away, which makes it a bit more difficult to decide. Again, the comments on IG vary from people finding it an enjoyable, interesting, at times challenging but rewarding (though not financially) experience. Usually the very least reward you can expect from the designer for your time and fabric is a copy of the finished pattern. Some offer discounts for future purchases (is that a ‘reward’?) it depends on their size and set-up to be honest.

One comment on IG spoke of her positive experience with testing for one designer who, whilst not paying, was very happy and appreciative of the results and shared the testers images upon the pattern’s release. Her experience with another pattern company however left a nasty taste because after release the designer only shared images of young, skinny testers thus ignoring this commenter’s time and contributions to the process, let alone her age or body type! If you want a very specific group of people to test for whatever reason then make sure that’s who your testers are. Don’t encourage anyone and everyone, allow them to help but then cut them out afterwards. I wish I knew who the company was so I can avoid them!

Obviously not all of us will have the time or resources to take on testing, the timescales are often tight (2-3 weeks max usually) so if it doesn’t work at the time then turn it down. It isn’t only the making that has to be done, you’ll need to give proper feedback which can take time. The flip side of the coin would be a small designer waiting on information from a tester only to be told, “nah, sorry, didn’t get it done”

I took exception however to one comment that because I, and others like me, were able to give my time, skills and fabric usually with no expectation of reward that I was somehow ‘privileged’. Couldn’t the same accusation then be applied to anyone who ever did anything for another person voluntarily? The person who pushes the book trolley around the hospital wards? The grandparent who goes into the classroom to listen to children read? Charity shops up and down the land would close if they didn’t have enough volunteers to help run them, the world would be an infinitely sadder place if we only ever did things for monetary reward. Yes of course it would be nice to be rewarded-I’d certainly like to get paid more of the time for my sewing, it is definitely undervalued although more often in my experience by the general public than by those who know what’s involved. I’m not putting anyone out of a paid job by helping test patterns, and if it was being paid then I would expect to be paid! If I am willing to offer my experience and skills to someone for little or nothing then that’s my choice.

Pattern designers do also take a chance with who they use to test. If they don’t have any kind of system whereby they can ask or check what skill level someone has then the results that come back may not be useable for them. If it’s a simple pattern then beginner skills might be perfect but I would hope they never dismiss experienced sewers just because it’s a simple pattern because they are more likely to spot errors or offer a better technique or method.

A growing area of change is that many designers are expanding the size ranges they offer so they will (or at least should!) be looking for sewers right across the range to help test the patterns. Is this something you’d consider doing, particularly if sizing has been an issue for you in the past?

@GroovyGreyLook asked if there were consistent standards for testing across the industry and I doubt very much if there is. Designers will set their own criteria which will be hugely variable depending on their own experience I’d say. The ones who have long-term and industry experience will know what they’re doing (although their instruction writing may not be great) whilst newcomers who’ve done a short pattern cutting course for example won’t have encountered so many potential pitfalls yet.

To sum up, yes of course pattern testing should attract some sort of financial reward but the fact remains that the vast majority of designers could never ever manage to do this, they are simply too small. Many of us choose to test because it’s an enjoyable and constructive way to use our skills for the benefit of someone else. It can be frustrating at times because the quality of pattern can be hugely variable and pattern designers will also have the right to pick whomsoever they like to do the testing and if they don’t choose a broad enough pool of people then that’s up to them, there is a vast resource of knowledgable people available.

I must stress that these thoughts are mine and are responses to the comments that have been left on the Instagram posts. I think the question of pattern testing will continue to go around and around but if the discussion leads more of those who are able to pay, even a small amount, to start to do so then that will have been positive. It’s no use getting shouty at people who are working quietly away in a small room doing something they love and hope to share, that’s not helping and it’s tantamount to bullying too. By all means leave your responses so that it can be a discussion but if I feel they are rude or shouty I reserve the right to ignore or delete them.

Until next time,

Sue

Simple Sew Zoe dress hack

I haven’t written a Simple Sew blog post for a few months but now that Sam Sterken has taken over with the organisation whilst Gabby is having her maternity leave we’re up and running again.

I had a bit of an idea in my head of what I’d like to do using the Zoe pattern which I already had so I chose some medium-weight enzyme washed linen in dark turquoise generously provided for us once again by Doughty’s Fabrics. I was really pleased with it when it arrived as it wasn’t too droopy but not over-firm either. Incidentally, it’s been terrible to photograph accurately, the final outdoor photos are definitely the closest to the real thing [to see how I altered the Zoe neckline so it wasn’t so wide have a look at my previous blog post in early 2018)

I drew a few sketches of ideas which all involved using the top half of the Zoe-initially I was going to extend the sleeves with wide pleated frills and keep the dress straight but I went off that idea as I felt the fabric was too firm for how I wanted it, I thought it would definitely work well with a peg-top skirt instead however. I wanted a shape that wasn’t too voluminous at the hem and by using an inverted A-line shape I could add pleats at the top but keep the hemline slimmer.

I went with option 4

I tried on one of my existing Zoes (I’ve made 3) so I could assess what length I wanted the top section, and took an arbitrary measurement of 34cms from the centre of the front neckline to where I wanted the waist, which is slightly higher than my natural waistline. As the Zoe has centre front and back seams I then measured from the top edge down to the point where I wanted the waist seam and drew a line at a right angle on the pattern across from that point. I took that line across to the side seam but at the point where the line met the side seam I made it a right angle, which creates a very slight curve on the line. Because the back neck sits a little higher than the front I matched the side seams to one another first and created a similar line across to meet the centre back seam. [It’s important that these lines are at a right angle where they meet at the side seams because otherwise you would have a slight V shape rather than a smooth line from front to back] 

I already have a skirt pattern that I’d drafted last year for a similar peg-top shape, I’d used it gathered though and I wanted pleats on the new dress. Initially I attempted to work out how to get 3 even sized pleats by folding and refolding the paper but I couldn’t quite get it. In the end I decided to cut the pieces in fabric as they were-with a slight modification for the front skirt as that piece was quite different-and then I’d work out the pleats once I was ready to attach the bodice and skirt together.

I cut all the bodice/sleeve/neck facings and assembled the bodice first. I’ve found that it’s easier to sew up the shoulders and attach the neck facings as described in the instructions but then attach the sleeves with the bodice open flat before sewing the side seams rather than in the round. The photos should help make this method quite clear. I added rows of contrast triple straight stitch to various seams as I went including around the neck [I used the quilting guide which came with my machine to do this accurately]

the sleeve is pinned on with the bodice opened out flat
the seam is pressed towards the sleeve
then the sleeve is pressed up towards the shoulder
the underarm seam is sewn up, overlocked together and then the sleeve is folded up again and top stitched into position.
On the outside I used the quilting guide on my machine to sew 4cms away from the finished edge of the neck.
top stitching on the neck edge.
the finished bodice

Next I cut the front and back skirts from the remaining fabric, plus I also cut two pairs of pockets for the side seams using the cardboard template I’ve made. [Just choose a pocket pattern that suits the size and shape that you mostly use to go in side seams and then make a cardboard version, mark the grainline and then all you need to do in future is place it on your fabric and draw around it with a pencil or chalk, it saves a paper piece getting scrappier and scrappier with constant use.]

card pocket template
the back and front skirt sections, the back is placed again the selvedge and the front extends all the way to the fold, I didn’t cut down the righthand side of the pattern as it looks here.

I made up the front and back skirt sections, adding the pockets to the side seams, then top stitched the CF seams as before, I didn’t top stitch the CB seam at this stage as I wanted to be able to sew in a continuous line with no breaks and I couldn’t achieve this until the hem was turned up too. Incidentally, as many of the seams were going to be pressed open inside the dress I overlocked the edges of most of them first then sewed the seam and pressed open. 

Next I pinned on the skirt starting by matching the centre front, back and side seams. Because I had no other markings now I played around with different positions for the pleats until I happy with how they looked. This will vary according to what size you’ve cut the waist but for mine I settled on 10cms each side of the CF seam for the first pleat and then the second and third pleats were a further 4 cms away from the previous one. I checked all the measurements to ensure that they were each symmetrical and well-balanced before I sewed it all together, overlocked to neaten and added another row of top stitching to the waist. 

Initially I tried to work out using my existing skirt pattern where the pleats would go but I couldn’t quite get my head around it so I chose to try it freehand in the fabric which, in the end, was a lot better.
the pins mark where I would match the pleats to the bottom of the bodice.
finished pleats!

This just left the hem length to check, I had opted for quite a long skirt length because I wanted the dress to be a fairly loose throw-on shape but not too baggy or undefined. I was happy with the length I’d plumped for so I used the triple straight stitch once again around the bottom and then down the CB seam, creating an angled line to define the facing which finished the slit opening. 

I’m not always super-happy with everything I make (and in truth I’ve positioned the pockets a little bit low in this dress) but I can’t wait to wear this dress during the summer! I’ve only ever worn my previous Zoes with long-sleeved tops layered underneath in chilly weather so it’s a bit of a revelation to realise that the sleeves are the perfect length for a summer dress. I think the skirt shape is more interesting than just a gathered dirndl and the lime-green contrast topstitching is a bit of fun. The linen is a great weight for this too, it will be crumply but that’s part of the charm of linen fabric…I think I may have to make more of this frock!

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Sew Over 50-has anything changed yet and what else can we do?

So, has anything changed yet in the use and portrayal of older sewers and makers in dressmaking in the media? I think the simple answer is still “no, it probably hasn’t much” but before we feel completely downhearted about it I think we should reflect on what has been happening and how we can continue to try and move things forward. Love Sewing magazine in the UK wrote an article about the situation and 10 of us featured in the photo-shoot that resulted…how about a follow-up article Love Sewing? Grainline have released a new pattern which features an older woman modelling it, are there any others doing this yet?

Since Judith Staley started the account in August 2018 it has gained over 12,000 followers and that number continues to climb steadily. I believe part of the reason for this is because people are discovering that it’s a very inclusive account where everyone in it is happy to share advice or tips, to encourage others, where the colour of our (slightly wrinkly) skin is not relevant, our physical abilities and the size of our waistlines likewise. We share our wide and varied takes on patterns both from the so-called Big 4 and Indie designers and, even though we continue to be frequently ignored by them, we will still mention which pattern it is and tag the company anyway. Generally we aren’t sore about it…There have been some successes with reposts by a few pattern companies on their Stories or feed which, if @SewOver50 is tagged, we’ll see. Make sure you always tag the account or use a recognised hashtag-they are all listed saved in Highlights on the account but by using #SewOver50 or #So50Visible for example Judith and Sandy will see you. If they repost your mention they will use the hashtag #So50thanks to acknowledge our appreciation to the pattern company involved. It’s a virtuous circle really, we buy the patterns, we sew the patterns, we share our make, the pattern company sees it and likes it, we buy more patterns! See? everybody is happy and so it goes on. We have the cash and we want to spend it on your product but if we don’t think you’re interested in us because we aren’t young/slim/pretty/etc etc insert as appropriate then we won’t buy your product any more because there are many other ways we can spend our hand-earned money instead.

Personally there are a couple of companies that I don’t bother to tag any longer because neither of them acknowledge or repost a make by anyone under the age of about 35, let alone mine. I mention the pattern and the brand so that others know which design it is but I don’t ’tag’ them. You might think this is petty but I find it very irritating that everyone these days says “tag us so we can see your makes” but then they don’t offer a ‘like’ or a brief comment to acknowledge or ‘reward’ you. I do realise that some accounts have tens of thousands of followers which makes it difficult but it can’t be impossible, and meanwhile we just continue doing free advertising for them. Somehow some companies seem to exist in a vacuum which is unsullied by their actual customers… How about a new hashtag? #NoLikeNoMention or #NoLikeNoTag?

Anyway, moving on…we’ve been asking recently on the SewOver50 account if you have experience of pattern reviewing, pattern testing or blogging about your makes? How was this for you? How did you get started, were you approached or did you volunteer to a call out of some kind? Any or all of these would be a really good way of continuing to have older faces in the mix.

Obviously I do all of the above because that’s why I write this!

So, looking at the first area ‘pattern reviews There are several ways you can get involved in this. Firstly decide on a pattern you think people would be interested in hearing about-you may base this on your experiences with it which might be great or they might be terrible! Either way, if you think you’ve got something to add to the conversation then get writing. There are two places which immediately spring to mind to do this and they are The Fold Line online community which is UK-based, and the Pattern Review which is in the US. BOTH are fully accessible from anywhere in the world so this doesn’t mean they are exclusive to those areas, you just might find more ‘voices’ from one or the other. They are VERY different from each other starting from the way they look, The Fold Line feels a little more ‘youth’ oriented and ‘modern’ in its look, I find it more visually appealing and easier to navigate whereas the Pattern Review I found a bit cluttered visually but I’m sure it’s whatever you are used to, I know it’s really popular and there’s a very broad range of people posting on the site which is great. Both have options to leave pattern reviews and share photos of your makes, I’d say that Pattern Review has a larger back catalogue of reviews by virtue of being around longer than The Fold Line. I like that PR has a series of questions available to guide your review which can be helpful and keep you focussed if you aren’t sure what to write, Fold Line is all in your own words. On both you can give an ‘out of 5’ star rating. We’re trying to encourage more of you to leave reviews and these are two places you can do that, it will keep our beautiful older faces in line of sight! Do you know of or use other sites? Let us know either in the comments here or on the IG account so that we can all share and participate. Judith has asked a few stalwart SO50 supporters for their experiences and impressions of using various pattern review sites so look out for those on Instagram this week too.

I was in The Fold Line weekly newsletter earlier in the year, this could be you too!

Personally, I write my own reviews here on the blog as well as The Fold Line although I include a lot more technical stuff than I’d put elsewhere. Most of my reviews are on patterns that I want to write about because I have something to say about them, and a few are because I’m part of a ‘blogger network’ such as Simple Sew patterns. I’ve always endeavoured to be a ‘critical friend’ when it comes to a pattern review and I don’t always give 100% glowing reports, if I encounter problems or errors I will point them out and I’ll try to give alternative methods or techniques if I can. I don’t find the kind of ‘review’ which just says “yes, this is pretty and I love it” very helpful. Preferences are obviously very individual but why do you love it? does it go together well? are the instructions clear? do you need to fiddle around to get a good fit? What sort of fabric works well? All these things matter and that is what many sewers want to know before committing to buying a potentially-expensive new pattern.

I also write reviews of fabrics which I’ve been provided with free of charge by various companies including Sew Me Sunshine and Minerva Crafts. I’m not embarrassed by this because I take a lot of time and effort to write comprehensive and helpful reviews of the product, a couple of metres of fabric is a very modest reward for many hours of work for me. At this point in time I’m not paid to write by anyone.

Love Sewing magazine here in the UK includes a reader every month who sew up their own version of that month’s free gift pattern and then they feature in a professional photo shoot. I was lucky enough to be invited to do this nearly two years ago and it was great fun, if a little nerve-wracking to start with. You may know of other magazines which do this so why not email and offer yourself to them?! Another way of featuring in magazines is to try tagging them if you share photos of your makes (best if you’re using their free gift pattern or another item which was originally in their mag as they’ll be more interested) you might get used on their ‘reader makes’ pages-it’s always fun to see your face in a magazine and sometimes there’s a ’Star Maker’ prize too. Most magazines and pattern companies have a Facebook page as well as Instagram which are easy ways to share your photos, Twitter is much less about images so I tend not to use that. Make sure your photo is of a decent quality though-clean the lens, or the mirror, check the background-are there pants drying on the radiator behind you? You don’t need to be David Bailey or have a fancy camera but if it’s not a clear picture of your make they won’t use it. Again, the SewOver50 account gave lots of tips for taking successful photos using your phone and they are saved in Highlights.

meddling with modelling!
in the now-defunct Sew Now magazine

Pattern testing is another area you can volunteer for and could be your opportunity to put your skills to good use. Keep an eye open for tester callouts on IG, or have a look at company websites for a sign-up list but bear in mind that you’ll almost certainly be doing this for purely altruistic reasons, almost no one pays or rewards testers in any way other than a free copy of the finished pattern after release. (This is a bit of a contentious area-should we be more adequately rewarded?- which I’m not going into here) You’ll probably provide your own fabric and donate your time and be helping small companies to improve their products. When I’ve done this in the past the better companies give you a set of questions which is helpful because you can direct your answers to specific areas they want to know about, plus add comments of your own. They should want to know things like ‘do the seams match’ or ‘are there notches missing’, ‘could the instructions be clearer or worded differently?’ I take pattern testing seriously and it can be frustrating and time-consuming when there are problems or errors, there are now rather a lot of inexperienced people releasing patterns which are ill-thought out and inaccurate. I’m more picky about volunteering now as I’m not keen on wasting my time, I get invited to help by some companies which is flattering. You’ll be more or less expected to ‘advertise’ the pattern when it gets released which is fine if you’re happy with what you’ve made, and the very small companies are usually very appreciative of this because they generally have little or no advertising budget so they rely on people like us making and sharing.

I was invited to test the Tilly and the Buttons Eden coat
Ana of Cocowawa invited me to test her Maple dress pattern

Finally, you could have a go at exactly what I’m doing now-blogging! I started to write here four years ago as a means to document what I was making more than anything and it’s diversified a bit because I also review exhibitions and books too, or places and events I’ve visited that have a sewing context. [The word ‘blogging’ or ‘blog’, if you didn’t know, comes from ‘web log’, a form of keeping an online diary.] I don’t have a massive following, or sponsors, like some but I know many people appreciate my plain speaking and honesty in my pattern reviews. Vlogging is a ’thing’ too but I’m not interested in that, I prefer to write and I’d bore myself (never mind you!) wittering on about my latest fabric haul or whatever. There are lots of places that ‘host’ blogs, I use WordPress for which I pay a modest monthly fee but there are many others, some free, some not. If you follow other bloggers, which providers do they use? Do some research to find the site that meets your needs, if you want more bells and whistles later on, can they be added? How much will it cost? You could just write a Word Doc and copy and paste it into a Facebook page. I have a Facebook page for Susan Young Sewing but I must confess I barely use it, I don’t find Fb as engaging as Instagram. Incidentally, The Fold Line has a useful Facebook forum which is where all the discussions take place, and you can sign up for their weekly newsletters which is a round up of all sorts of up-to-date sewing and dressmaking goings-on.

So, to sum up, there are a variety of ways we can continue to get our lovely faces featured so that we aren’t overlooked and the more of us that do it the harder it will be to ignore us! Judith will be sharing ideas and personal testimonies by other Sew Over 50 ‘activists’ during the coming days and weeks so keep a look out for them. If you’ve got a story you want to share with us make sure you use the @SewOver50 tag so that it gets seen [although with our growing numbers this is getting harder so DM if it’s really important] Let’s keep plugging away together, older women have wider choices and opportunities than ever before and it’s so much better if we can endeavour to support each other in reminding the wider world that we’re here and we aren’t going to go away quietly.

I hope we can continue to inspire, support and encourage one another using SewOver50 as our touchstone because we’re bloody brilliant!!

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Bellbird top from The Sewing Revival

The Sewing Revival are a small PDF pattern company based in New Zealand and I first discovered them through the first Sew Over 50 challenge at the beginning of the year. Since then I’ve made 4 (!) versions of their Heron dress and top, 2 dresses and a top for me and one top for my SiL for her birthday. I really like the simple but stylish aesthetic, coupled with the fact they can be quick to make which is a real ‘palette-cleanser’ if you’ve been doing some more complex projects beforehand.

The Bellbird is basically a T-shaped top with dolman sleeves but it’s USP is the wide gathered cuffs on the short sleeves. You can choose between a scoop or a V neck, I’ve made the V.

It probably works best in a fabric with a bit of drape like crepe-de-chine, a soft viscose or fine linen, I used (eventually after a lot of going through the stash to find the right quantity!) a sheer polyester chiffon of unknown provenance. It wasn’t quite enough to cut the front and the back both on folds so the front went on the fold and the back went on the selvedges so there’s a seam. Also, because of the sheer nature of the fabric I opted not to use the neck facings but I made some bias binding to finish off the neck instead.

It’s very important to stabilise the neck edge as soon as possible so that it doesn’t stretch out of shape. I ran a row of stay stitches 5mm from the neck edge front and back-you could also use stay-tape or iron-on stabiliser if it isn’t going to show. Next I joined the shoulders using French seams as the fabric is so sheer, it gives a better quality of finish and makes the seams a little bit stronger too as they are sewn twice in this method. you could use a tiny flat-felled seam here if you wish but I think that’s taking things a bit far for a polyester chiffon!

I decided to use the French binding method which involves cutting bias strips which are at least twice as wide as you need plus seam allowances, making sure it was plenty long enough to go right around the neck with some extra to spare. Join the strips in the usual way if you need to and press the seams open before you fold the strip in half lengthways and press all along the folded edge so that you have a long continuous strip of folded bias binding. Next, I wanted the binding to show on the right side of the fabric so this means you need to pin the cut edges of the binding together to the neck edge ON THE WRONG SIDE. When you sew it on around the neck edge the binding will flip to the OUTSIDE thus enclosing the raw edges inside itself. The photo above shows where I’ve sewn the bias on, I’ve under-stitched it on the inside and then flipped it to the outside and now it’s pinned down. Finally I topstitched it down on the outside. Overall I’m happy with how this turned out because the chiffon is very very wiggly and you’ll need to be a bit patient with yourself if it’s the first time you’ve attempted a fabric like this. Take each step slowly and tack or baste as you go if you’re in any doubt about your ability to sew just using pins.

Once the neck is sewn it’s a case of joining the underarm seams, also using French seams, and then making the casing to enclose the elastic. This is the ‘detail’ of the Bellbird top so try and use wide elastic and don’t make it too tight on your arms as this is gives the best effect. Finally, finish off by making the hem.

I know chiffon isn’t exactly an ‘every day’ fabric but I’ve worn this top twice already now-albeit with a cami underneath as it’s sheer-and it’s very comfy. It droops backwards off my shoulders a little but I find that’s often the case with V necks on me when the garment is loose-fitting. I might try the scoop neck next time to see how that is. It’s designed to be a fairly close fit over the hips, not loose and floaty, I made a size large and it’s perfect for me. The Sewing Revival patterns come in selection of size brackets and you choose the set closest to you personal measurements. If you fall between sizes I think I’d advise going for the size nearest your bust measurement and altering the hip to suit.

Have you tried any other Sewing Revival patterns? There are some new ones just out including an interesting pair of diagonal-seamed trousers which are very intriguing so I’m sure these won’t be the last patterns of theirs that I’ll review.

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue