The Sidewinder pants are my third make using a pattern from The Sewing Revival following on from several versions of their Heron dress and Bellbird top. I’ve already written reviews of them which you can read about here and here, plus I made a new version of the Bellbird at the recent Sewing Weekender in Cambridge, organised by The Fold Line.
The Sidewinders are a very simple pull-on trouser pattern with a tapered leg but their USP is the diagonal side seam which gives them such an interesting ‘twist’. They are flat-fronted with an elasticated back waist and of course there are pockets in the seams too. There are variations at the hem too as you can choose plain full-length, 7/8ths with turn-ups like mine or use wide elastic to gather the hem into cuffs. As you can see from the artwork they could be very casual or dressed up with heels, fabrics with a bit of body but some drape and softness are suggested. Like the other Sewing Revival patterns these are PDFs so you can buy, download and print your pattern any time, or have them printed for you on A0.
As I’ve come to expect with SR patterns the instructions and illustrations are very clear and personally I’ve always found their sizing very good too. I cut the large based on my measurements although I did decide to shorten the leg length very slightly as I didn’t want them ‘pooling’ around my ankles too much, the idea is that they sit above the ankle bone. The instructions tell you what length of elastic to cut for the back waist which you can then adjust to suit.
For the first pair I used some Royal blue crepe fabric which was leftover from the Trend Asymmetric dress I made last year. If you’re using a plain fabric these trousers are surprisingly economical to cut and if you’re short of fabric you could cut the pocket bags and waist band facings from other fabrics too. You could have fun with stripes or checks to give them a bit of a Vivienne Westwood vibe but you’d need more fabric for that. What about using ribbon or piping down the side seam for emphasis?
Construction is very quick, I’d say that this could be a half-day project if you aren’t getting fancy with pattern-matching. I really like the way that the waistband is a facing because when it folds over the top it secures the pocket bags in place, you only need to neaten the lower edges of them. The elastic gets slotted through the back channel which extends slightly around to the front beyond the ‘normal’ side seam position. Once this is stitched in place you sew down the facing at the front. This line of stitching isn’t near the edge, it’s approximately 3.5-4cms away depending on the width of your elastic so use a guide of some kind to keep it parallel, I always use the quilting guide which comes with my machine or you could use Washi tape or similar stuck onto the bed (I’m not keen on this personally as I wouldn’t any sticky residue near my fabrics but I know others use this method)
As I said earlier I’ve made both versions with a small turn-up so once I’ve turned them up I stitched through seam lines of the inner and outer leg seams to hold the turn-up securely in position.
You’ll notice from the grey version that I contrast top-stitched in pink either side of the outer leg seams to give some emphasis to the diagonal seam, I like how it goes ‘off’ at the hem.
Janine at The Sewing Revival generously provided me with the pattern for the Sidewinders and I’ve been more than happy to write a review because I love these trousers! I’m planning to make more for the winter and I’ll definitely give a gathered ankle pair a try too.
After a few weeks of sewing for others, writing (and then completely rewriting the Sew Over 50 birthday blog post because I lost ALL 4000+ words!!!!) and being away from home it’s lovely to get back to a bit of sewing for myself and sharing my thoughts with you. I’m so happy that I discovered The Sewing Revival as a result of our first Sew Over 50 challenge at the beginning of the year, did you find any new patterns brands as a result too, that was certainly our hope.
When our Great Leader Judith responded to the call by the Sewcialists account on Instagram twelve months ago to set up a new account specifically for sewers over 50 little did we imagine that it would become what it is now. With over thirteen and a half thousand followers, and still increasing all the time, it’s a hub primarily for sewers, dressmakers, sewists, crafters, call them what you will, who are mostly, but not exclusively, over the age of 50 to share what they’ve made. The #sewover50 hashtag has now been used over 31K times! We have made it a supportive, encouraging and educational place where people can feel safe and happy to post their photos and know that there will be other like-minded people who have the same shared interest in sewing looking at them. Our life experiences will have many parallels, dealing with things like menopause and our bodies changing into ones we no longer recognise, caring for elderly parents perhaps, looking after grandchildren or worrying about older offspring trying to make their way in the world. Some of us might be in a ’sweet spot’ before some of these events arrive but whatever brings us to #sewover50 we all want to make the most of our sewing time.
I said ‘mostly over the age of 50’ because there are many younger people following too, they may not share as many images but we know from comments and feedback that they enjoy seeing and being inspired by what other SewOver50ers post.
Rather than simply write another ‘what have we done, what have we achieved’ post I thought I’d turn the questions over to others who have been a part of Sew Over 50 since the early days. With over 13.5k thousand members, and more than 31,000 uses of the hashtag, it was almost impossible to choose from so many amazing people but we narrowed it down to a tiny cross-section and they all generously shared with me what their own feelings about Sew Over 50 are, what it means to them and why they think it’s important.
I started by asking them how @SewOver50 had come to their attention, and I’ve used their own words as often as possible.
Several of us were already following Judith and enjoyed her sewing and interacting with her so it was a simple step to move sideways to the new account from August 18th. Others came to it via the Sewcialists account and some noticed the #sewover50 hashtag starting to appear in accounts of other makers that they followed. It mushroomed at lightening speed. One of the most touching responses I received though was from Tina @bricolagedk1 who told me a very different reason for her joining in. Living in Denmark she was struggling to adjust to a new and altered body-shape after a mastectomy, RTW clothing just wasn’t right any more so she wanted to start sewing her own again after many years but found a lack of patterns and information available. She contacted Judith directly and, when Judith shared the question with everyone this was the response. I’ll let her explain in her own words,
“You posted my request and I got an amazing response. People gave me drafting tips, and told me of helpful sewing tools for hurting hands and weak arms. A couple of post mastectomy sewers also contacted me. Others from the SO50 community gifted me patterns, and translated patterns for me from languages I didn’t understand. They told me of patternmaking books with drafting tips for asymmetric sewing. But most of all, everyone was extremely supportive, and in less than a year I have gone from feeling so alone and insecure about how to sew for my changed body, to being part of a very supportive, helpful and inclusive community.”
Marianne @foxglovesandthimbles also found us via Sewcialists but she makes an interesting observation about what happened for a while after joining. Initially she wasn’t sure about becoming part of a sub-community because she’s very happy in her own skin but she gave us the benefit of the doubt. However, “during the first weeks of SO50 I struggled with the fact that, due to the call for inclusion, my feed ended up less diverse. Instagram’s algorithm steered me away from my younger sewing friends and all I saw was Sew Over 50 posts. Just as I was about to quit the group it became obvious that using the hashtag had helped a lot of sewists in finding their tribe and gaining confidence. That’s what convinced me to stay and fully support SO50!” The darned algorithm has a lot to answer for and I wonder how many others didn’t stick around?
When I asked what everyone enjoyed about being a part of SO50 I got many and varied answers. Janet @sewdalriada felt that “since participating in SO50 and making new friends my Instagram feed is brighter and livelier and I look forward to the imaginative, creative and often humorous posts popping up each day.” Kate @stitchmeayear loves that we “champion ordinary sewers….real people being proud of what they’ve made which is great.” Words like positivity and humour cropped up often, the overwhelming experience though is supportive, knowledgeable and inspirational. Carolyn @diaryofasewingfanatic says she believes “SO50 came at a great time when sewists were voicing their displeasure at not being seen. This account makes it possible for older sewists to be seen and heard from now on.”
Everyone I spoke to felt that because we are all, for the most part at least, of similar ages and shared life experiences, that we ‘got’ each other, we feel included which was a very positive thing. Kellie @gigi_made_it puts it beautifully, “you have managed to infuse a sense that our lives as creatives matter, that there is value in what we do. Our group exists to support, inform, inspire, encourage and lift each other up, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.”
I was interested to know about everyone’s sewing ‘career’ and many are like me, a lifetime of sewing and dressmaking, often with a break for career and/or children. Carrie @endlessdznsbycarrie told me she was a long-time sewer but “life pulled her away for a few years. When I returned to sewing in 2007 I took quite a few classes and here I am now-loving it even more!” Raquel @raquel_sewing_knitting_in_asia had a different reason to start, “my sister Bea taught me to sew when I was 16 years old and having boyfriend trouble. She knew that teaching me to sew would be a creative outlet I could use in my life then.” Nicky, however, is a relative newbie “my daughters bought me a beginners dressmaking course two years ago and I have not looked back-I absolutely love it! I am a slow sewer and growing in confidence.” Janet had been a avid dressmaker until the demands of work and family life got in the way but she rediscovered her love of sewing “after a gap of many years, following my husband’s life changing accident. As his primary carer sewing has proved therapeutic by providing a creative outlet and temporary escape and has been a great confidence booster.” Lisa @mabelthemannequin has an equally difficult story when, after a lot of years sewing mostly for others she was diagnosed last year with a systemic illness which robbed her of her sight for a few months, “it was during this time that my husband read an article to me from the internet about Me Made May and we decided it was something for me to aim for when my sight returned. I started sewing for myself again and am absolutely loving it! I am using lots of skills that I had forgotten I had and am far more adventurous in both the things I want to make and wear.”
We all look at SO50 for inspiration so I wondered if anyone used it specifically as a resource for other information? Blanca @blakandblanca says she “asks about patterns, techniques and sources often as a way to support suppliers or businesses that are independent and are promoted by the sewing community.” Janet often saves posts by other members, for example where they’ve shared tips on pattern adjustments. Mary @marythimble says members “are a constant source of inspiration to me, after all, they’re real people! They are all so ready with tips, advice and knowledge, I have learnt so much from so many people. I would never have thought I could make my own jeans, coats or undies before.” Marianne lives in the Netherlands which, like the UK, isn’t often troubled with very hot weather but recently she called upon her sewing friends in warmer climates for advice in suggesting stylish hot weather patterns! Raquel and Tina told me that they had been inspired to try new techniques such as embroidery, fabric dyeing, use vintage patterns and work with sheer fabrics after seeing others do the same.
Interacting with one another seemed to be the main reason many of our members contribute to the account, the feeling of being part of a group. For Mary she “no longer feels that sewing is an isolating hobby. It’s no longer weird to prefer to sew on a Friday night than go out partying. I am understood and accepted for being slightly eccentric!” Carolyn follows several other sewing related groups including #sewincolour #pocwhosews #plussizesewing and #curvysewingcollective. By including these along with the #sewover50 hashtag she finds a much more diverse group of people through her posts. [Incidentally, did you realise that you can write all the hashtags you like to use in ‘notes’ on your phone so that you can then simply copy and paste them into your posts rather than try and remember, and laboriously type, them all out every time. It’s saved in favourites on the account if you want more info]
The original reason the account started in the first place was what we perceived as lack of visibility for older sewers so I asked everyone if they felt it as important for us to be ‘campaigning’ still. There was an overwhelming ‘yes!’ Carolyn puts it so eloquently when she told me “while the sewing community has experienced and continues to experience growing pains while attempting to include ALL sewists under the tent, it’s doing better a far better job than the the knitting community. While change has been incremental so far, you can tell everyone has heard the conversations and is trying hard to apply them. And we all know change takes time…nothing happens overnight. The thing is to ensure that the changes aren’t temporary but they’re binding and will be there going forward.”
Lisa also made a good point when she said “I am 50 but I’m not ready for my shroud just yet! I want to wear fashionable clothes and I want to decide if it is appropriate for me. Seeing models my age, shape and size is important whatever age you are. Things are improving but we must continue.”
Marianne takes a different stance because, for her, “age representation is a non-issue. When I first started sewing I never felt like those artist’s impressions on pattern envelopes, or stick thin Parisian ladies with their hats and gloves, were very useful when it came to judging the bones of a pattern. Line drawings most definitely were! They are still my main source of information and I hardly look at the models.” Tina made the point that she often doesn’t buy a pattern “when the girl modelling them is 30 years younger than me, because I cannot relate my body to the way her body is, and because my body bits are not placed in the same places as hers. So I guess if it looks good on her it will look horrible on my body where 50 years of gravity is a fact!” Blanca reckons it is “so important for people of all ages and sizes to see themselves as valued by the businesses they support. There is certainly a change going on in the pattern world.”
Many of us feel we have formed real bonds with people across the world although admittedly not many of us have been able to meet up in real life but @suestoney covered quite a lot of ground in the UK during her visit earlier in the year, meeting up with several fellow SewOver50ers including Janet and Judith. If you ever meet up with others, especially if it’s in some far-from-home location, make sure to tag us so we can share! We really are a global account and we love to reflect that in our posts. Katrin @sagner_by_katrin feels that although she isn’t aware of other sewers near her in Sweden she says that we’re all “a friendly bunch so I don’t hesitate if I want to ask someone something. Mostly I really enjoyed being inspired by everybody and maybe inspire others too.”
I was interested to hear if anyone felt their own style had changed, or was evolving as a result of being part of SO50. All of us agree that we’re very inspired by what others post and it influences what patterns we might choose to buy and make. I love that Carrie says “so many in the #sewover50 community have inspired me to take my ‘I make what I like-I wear what I like’ creations up a few notches! I no longer consider colours or seasons or even fabrics when creating, I just have fun with it!” Also Tina makes the point that by seeing what looks good on 50+ bodies inspires her to try out new patterns and fabrics.
Carolyn knows her own style pretty well but she’s always interested to see the different adaptations of patterns that people create by using colours, prints and patterns that she wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. Janet has pushed her style boundaries “for example I’ve made dungarees and shorts, both of which I feel comfortable wearing.” Mary acknowledges “there have been several times I’ve made things based on seeing it on someone else, I always try to acknowledge them as my inspiration when I do.” Although she’s yet to embrace the animal print trend!
Our challenges are something which seem to have divided opinion, some embraced them enthusiastically and others not so much. The initial one sparked a huge amount of interest because it really drew attention to just how few patterns featured an older model, the flatlay challenge was definitely for fun and there were a lot of entries, which may have been because we had so many prizes! There is currently an ongoing challenge to use or reinvent a vintage or vintage-inspired pattern to create a brand new garment. It might require a little more thinking outside the box because the finished garment doesn’t have to be an exact replica of a vintage garment, merely use the pattern as a springboard to creativity. Going forward we want to host more challenges which encourage and inspire everyone, whether they take part or not, so that it makes us really think more about our sewing. We’ve go our thinking caps on but if you have a good idea you’d care to share then do let us know. Blanca made the point that the challenges gave her some guidelines to follow which are what she needs to get properly inspired. “Not so easy for me to sit down and decide what to do with a blank slate. Every challenge was exciting to follow with group members bringing on their fun and beautiful creations. Nothing like checking in on new posts!”
It’s almost impossible to sum up briefly what @sewover50 has become, and what it means to everyone who participates. It means different things to different people but the main things I’ve drawn from everyone’s responses is that above all else it’s inspiring and supportive. For some it has enabled them to come to terms with serious health issues for themselves or loved ones, it has given them a breathing space away from difficulties. Creativity is a form of mindfulness because while you’re sewing for pleasure there’s time to consider what you’re doing, often to the exclusion of everything else. My own feelings are perhaps more complex because I often undertake sewing, mainly alterations, for others and I can’t honestly find much that’s mindful in turning up someone’s trouser hems! However, I then try to ‘reward’ myself with sewing something just for me. I try to ‘give back’ to the sewing community in the form of using my years of experience by helping test patterns for Indie makers. We all agree that though we want to see similar people to ourselves sewing and making, we also want a balance, we want to share and be inspired by our younger sewing friends. In the UK it became something of a dirty word to study ‘textiles’ and the art of clothes making had virtually died out amongst the younger generation. Thankfully, that seems to be in reverse now, partly because of programmes like the Great British Sewing Bee (and its overseas counterparts) because young women in particular, and some young men too, are embracing the creativity and satisfaction we can get from making our own clothes.
At the end of our (Ok, not mine, the technology gremlins showed up with impeccable timing!) recent appearance on That Sewing Blab, the final question Dawn asked to Judith and Sandy was, “if (still waiting…) the big pattern companies come knocking to ask how we would like to be presented in the catalogues and on pattern envelopes, what would we say to them?” Well we would certainly say that putting all the same old pictures from the last year in the front of the catalogue does not constitute any change, it just means that the same photos are not hidden in the catalogue so much. Sandy did some research recently to see if there had been an appreciable change and she worked out that from the hundreds of images she trawled through in the big catalogues that just 1% featured anyone who appeared to be remotely 45+. This is much worse than any other group with the possible exception of people with disabilities. We know change takes time but really?? There’s no excuse in this day and age not to have a good cross-section of ages, sizes, ethnicities, gender/non-binary, everyone. Many of us choose to make our own clothes because we can’t or don’t want to conform to ‘the norm’, there shouldn’t be the same constraints as there are in the RTW fashion industry. #sewover50 is trying to help speed up part of the change.
I am deeply indebted to everyone who so generously sent me their personal stories, and I am extremely grateful that they have allowed me to share them here with you. Without them, and all of you, there would be no point to the account existing. It could have withered on the vine right back at the beginning, or fizzled out after just a few months, but it didn’t, it’s still going strong. This is in no small measure to the time and dedication that Judith and Sandy spend day in, day out, responding and reacting to every post that shares the hashtag. Given that there is no reward for doing so that’s no mean feat, some companies have paid staff to do exactly that and they don’t do it half so well!
If you still haven’t read any of my original posts that kick started all of this then you can read a couple of them here, and here .
I would especially like to thank these wonderful women for their honesty, their kind words and their unending support and enthusiasm, I haven’t been able to use even a fraction of what they shared with me but without them, all of you, Judith, Sandy and I would have nothing to do…other than have more time to sew I suppose…
Maybe you’ve recently found SewOver50, perhaps you’ve just returned to sewing and dressmaking or it’s new hobby for you. Whatever your situation (and you absolutely DON’T have to be over 50 to follow us) you can rest assured that there will lots of people only too willing to offer you help, assistance, friendly supportive comments and inspiration.
I think Mary sums up many (but not all!) of us with her remark, “the not-so-secret-society-of-aging-sewers. I may look half a hundred, but in my head I’m being the rebellious teenage I never was!”
I decided to try something different to dresses from the Simple Sew collection for my blog post this time so I’ve chosen the wide-legged Palazzo pants.
I always have a look at any posts or reviews about a particular Simple Sew pattern first to check if there are any pitfalls I should look out for which might influence my decision, or how I tackle making it, and the overall opinion of trousers was positive. I sorted out some fabric from deep in the stash, it’s a viscose from the now-defunct Adam Ross fabrics which has a good drapey quality, although I know it will crease so I’ll wear these permanently standing up!
There are only 4 pattern pieces to the trousers-front/back/waistband/pocket- which makes them very simple to lay up and cut out, you could even leave out the pockets if you’re short on fabric but why would you leave out pockets?!
I checked my measurements against the chart to decide my size, I also measured the pattern pieces to get some idea of the ease involved but I was optimistic they would be generally OK. If you’re very unsure, or between sizes, I’d suggest you make a toile that’s about mid-thigh in length to check the fit and comfort around your waist, hips and body length. Leave out the pockets at this stage, there are darts in the back and the front is flat, you could insert a zip in the back if it makes things easier to fit yourself but I didn’t bother. Always sew a toile as accurately as you would the garment itself because if you don’t bother cutting properly or following the seam allowances how will you know where the problems lie? That’s the whole point of a toile! Make any adjustments on the toile and transfer the changes to the pattern pieces. There are no lengthening/shortening lines marked on the pattern so I suggest, if you need to make either of these changes, drawing a line at a right angle to the grainline at a point midway between the waist and crotch level. Fold out or add in length through this line.
It wouldn’t be a Simple Sew pattern if there weren’t some errors to keep you on your toes and this is no different. On the back piece the pocket placement notches are only printed on size 8 and none of the others. Either transfer the markings to your size or remember to snip them when you’re cutting out the back.
The lay plan for cutting out shows the main pieces interlocking, which is fine if you have plain or multi-directional fabric but don’t forget to keep the pieces running the same way if you have a distinct one-way print. Also, I didn’t cut out the waistband until I was happy with the fit of my trousers as it’s very shaped piece and if it’s too big or too small you’ll probably need to cut another. Don’t forget to make a snip for the centre back on the waistband, it could have done with a notch for the side seam position though as there isn’t one so it’s guesswork.
I’m not normally an advocate of overlocking the edges until they’re sewn up [because you if you aren’t careful you can easily lose too much seam allowance in the trimming and when you join pieces together you could start to make the garment too small, plus your notches disappear] but, as many of the pieces here require the seams pressed open and flat, I overlocked most pieces first this time.
You will find that for instructions 4 and 6 the words don’t match the diagrams but the drawings are correct
Next the pockets go in (unless you wish to check the waist/hip fit first in which case tack or machine baste the side seams and leave the back open where the zip will be inserted in order to try the trousers on) The pocket insertion is easy enough, follow the instructions carefully and don’t sew the sew the openings shut by mistake! Also, don’t forget to sew the bottom of the pockets or all your sweets will fall out down inside your trouser leg!!
After I’d assessed the waist size (comfortable to loose) and crotch length (comfortable) at this point I cut and interfaced the corresponding waistband [for some reason there are two waistbands printed out but I could find no discernible difference between them so just ignore one and cut a pair in fabric plus one interfacing]
The reason the waistband goes on before the zip insertion is because the zip runs right up into the waistband to finish at the top, there’s no overlap allowed with button or hooks and eyes. You could use the overlap method if you prefer but you’ll need to add some extra length to the waistband on one end to allow for the overlap.
The lack of indication of the side seams on the waistband means you’ll need to pin carefully to evenly absorb any fullness of the trousers to ensure a good smooth fit to the waistband. [the side seam is probably at the halfway point but not necessarily, especially if you’ve made any fit adjustments to the waist]
The instructions and illustrations for inserting the zip are pretty clear however there seems to be a contradiction with an earlier instruction which tells you to sew up the back crotch seam. Illustrations 13-15 appear to have the CB seam unsewn and 16 tells you to sew it up after inserting the zip but previous diagram 6 tells you to sew it up! No wonder I got in a muddle!! My suggestion would be, if you’re using an invisible zip as suggested, leave the CB seam unsewn AND ignore instruction 11 to sew up the inseam until after you’ve inserted the zip. Before sewing the waistband down I added to hanging tapes to each side seam so that I had an additional means to hang the trousers up if needs be.
Hopefully you’ve now arrived at a finished pair of trousers which simply need hemming. After checking the length wearing shoes (they come up pretty long) you could use the simple rolled hem finish as per the instructions or, as I did, leave a sizeable hem of about 5cms to give weight to the very flared leg width. I overlocked the edges to neaten and then used my blindhem stitch with the appropriate foot on the machine to finish [incidentally the photo is of a different project] I don’t use this technique often but it’s a good, and quick, finish on hems that don’t have too much, if any, curve. You could also slip hem by hand of course.
The Palazzo pants are worth persevering with as they have a pleasing smooth fit over the waist and hips which is very comfortable and the leg is wide without being crazy-big. You could shorten them to culotte length very easily, they would work well in a variety of fabrics including linen, chambray or crepe, fabrics with a bit of drape and fluidity will look nicest as you don’t want to look like Coco the Clown!
Overall I’m pleased with these trousers, they are a good fit and make a nice alternative to a skirt or close fitting trousers especially in warm weather.
If you encounter any problems with them that I might be able to help with do message me and I’ll try my best.
I had a client recently who I did a few alterations for initially but then she asked me if it was possible to replicate a favourite dress she had. It was a tiered sundress in plain cotton with a shirred back panel.
Of course, said I.
It was very straightforward to measure the skirt panels, there were three tiers of almost identical length, each layer was more full than the last, plus a small ruffle on the hem. Next I took accurate measurements of the bodice front and drew a ‘plan’ plus the shirred back. I haven’t made anything using shirring in years and it was going to be guesswork a bit but I found a really helpful tutorial by Seamwork magazine on You Tube which gave a few good tips.
Once I’d got all my notes and diagrams I could calculate how much fabric my client would need, I also gave her advice on what sort of fabric to choose. She was going on holiday in less than six weeks so a speedy decision was needed. I saw three fabrics in our local John Lewis branch which I felt met our requirements so she hot-footed it into there and bought all that was left of a 100% cotton poplin in navy.
As the skirt is a series of rectangles I made that up first. I used the longest straight stitch for the gathering which I divided into manageable length sections-don’t be tempted to sew the whole of a very long strip of fabric in one go, break it down into manageable sections because if one of your threads snaps you’re back to square one.
I decided to toile the bodice front so that I could be certain it was correct as I knew there was no option to buy more fabric if I got it wrong…and I’d got it a bit wrong! The cups were much too shallow and didn’t come far enough up my client’s bust and a lot of her bra [which she wanted to be able to wear underneath] was showing. Back to the drawing board. The shirring element however was fine. I didn’t know exactly how much I might need so I used the full width of the fabric and sewed lots of rows of shirring until my reel of elastic ran out! [If you’re using an actual pattern then it will hopefully give you more guidance than this!]
Wind the shirring elastic carefully BY HAND onto a bobbin, use regular thread on the top. You could draw on your parallel lines first if you wish or you could trust your own skills and use the edge of the presser foot to guide each new row. The shirring doesn’t look like it’s gathered up enough but a good going over it with plenty of steam causes it to shrink up beautifully.
Because the first bodice didn’t give enough coverage I redrafted it but that was worse (I didn’t even try it on my client as I could see it was all wrong) On to Plan C…I decided I would try modelling the pattern on my mannequin so I pinned some very narrow black ribbon to the mannequin using the style lines I required. You only need to do this on one half if it’s going to be symmetrical, make sure you start at the centre front working round to wherever the pieces finish, in my case this was just to the side seams.
I joined this new bodice to the skirt and the shirred back and carried out another fitting on my client. Fortunately this time it was fine and I set to to finish the dress just in time for her to take it on holiday!
I made the straps wider than the originals and they are stitched to the correct length on each shoulder for my client-we all have one shoulder higher or lower than the other so don’t automatically make them identical lengths, pin and check before sewing them in position. If one strap always falls off your shoulder this will be the reason why!
This was a rather convoluted way to make a shirred sundress because my client wanted a replica of a favourite but if you like the idea of it the why not take a look at Cocowawa’s Raspberry dress pattern which has a fully-elasticated bodice instead?
My client wanted fabric as similar as possible to her original but you could easily use cotton lawn, seersucker, chambray, soft linen, lightweight jersey, voile, muslin….the list goes on, just keep it soft and not too thick or it could get very bulky. You could also make it just as a skirt and leave the bodice section off if you wanted, that’s definitely a 70s hippie vibe going on right there, add ribbons, ric-rac, bobble trim, sequins etc etc…
It’s funny how sometimes, when life dishes up lemons, it can take quite a while to get that lemonade made.
What on earth am I talking about…? well, when I left my job in a secondary school five years ago in a manner not of my choosing I had no idea what could happen next. If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while now you’ll know that I’ve carved out a life that involves sewing for my own pleasure, sewing for others, visiting interesting galleries, museums and exhibitions and, best of all, forming new friendships through those sewing activities. This post is really a result of the last one…
Two years ago Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic at a time no longer during school holidays, which turned out to be a Strictly Come Dancing-themed cruise. It was during this that I met Theresa Hewlett and without whom no costumes for the TV show would get made. She is the pattern cutter and alterations manager for the show, and designer Vicky Gill’s right hand woman. I didn’t know any of this when we first met on the ship, many of the costumes from the most recent series were on display around the ship and T was there giving us all very insightful guided tours of the dresses with tales of how each garment was constructed. As you can imagine I absolutely lapped it up [you can read my two blog posts from that trip here and here] and I was even more pleased to discover we’d both attended London College of Fashion within a year of each other.
That was that until several months later when I decided to give Twitter a try and somehow came across Theresa, on there, During the duration of the show she regularly tweets updates on progress of the costumes and little behind-the-scenes nuggets (she certainly never gives away big secrets though!)
DSI-London are based in Croydon, south of London so I travelled there by train and tram and found them based in a very unassuming building in a quiet residential road. I’d be lying if I told you that inside all was super-glamorous sparkles, feathers and sequins because that wouldn’t be true. Up the stairs you enter the showroom where customers can shop from the RTW items of essential ballroom and Latin dance-wear such as practice clothes, shoes of all styles, spray tan and eyelashes. It is also in this area that fittings on bespoke outfits take place. Later on in my visit I was privileged to sit in on fittings for two custom-made dresses for a young dancer who had flown over especially from Ireland and was flying back again that evening. It was fascinating to watch T tweak and measure and pin (always safety pins, regular pins would fall out straight away-I’m going to remember that one when I’m pinning wedding dress skirts in future!) T’s colleague Nina sits in as well to make notes of the customers requirements and record measurements, photos are often taken too, especially as the client is unlikely to be able to come for many fittings.
T gave me a tour through all the different departments within the company, they don’t only produce the Strictly costumes but also Dancing On Ice, as well as costumes for cruise ships and many other shows around the world. The ready to wear garments for these orders are cut and made in a separate workroom on the same floor. The cutting room for men’s wear is downstairs, as are the bulk of the fabric, haberdashery and trim supplies, and the laundry room.
The designs are created by Vicky Gill (who sadly I didn’t get to meet during my visit) and then T makes the made-to-measure patterns which are in turn are passed to a highly-skilled cutter who cuts all the fabrics and they go on to the machinists who sew the garments together, each person generally makes the whole garment and any alterations go back to that machinist too.
Once the dress is put together a fitting like the one I witnessed takes place to check fit and skirt length. The dress goes back to the machinist for any changes to be carried out and then it goes on to the stoning department for embellishment, which might include feather trim too.
Scattered all around the studio are mannequins in various states of undress and with different quantities of padding. The machinists use these all the time to be able to assess the dress as they progress, for the placement fringing or embellishment for example. [Incidentally, every dress is built on a leotard base so whenever there’s a ‘no knickers under her dress!’ scandal after the TV show it’s nonsense]
DSI often has dresses come back to them for alterations, fashions change, children grow, bodies alter. New skirts can be added, sleeves removed or added, stoning added to. It’s worth mentioning that the dresses (apart from ones with feathers on) can go in the washing machine, a fact I found amazing! In another part of the building there is a laundry with dresses drip-drying on a rail. Everything is sewn together on industrial zigzag machines along with rolled hem machines and overlockers. Theresa told me it’s very challenging at times to keep the machines working happily because they have to sew through so many layers of difficult fabrics at once, frequently including feathers and crin, and sometimes stoning if an alteration has to be carried out after completion. (they use heavy duty domestic machines to carry out repairs or alterations at the TV studios whilst the program is going out)
Many of the dresses from the TV show are hired by other productions of SCD around the world, they are all for sale on the company website so you could buy yourself a little piece of Strictly. DSI-London sell a wide range of specialist fabrics and trims too so if you ever need/want to have a go at making costumes or dancewear then have a look at their website.
I so enjoyed my visit to DSI-London and thank you so much to Theresa and all the staff who were so friendly and made me very welcome. I absolutely loved being back in a workroom environment again, it’s been a very long time since I was part of a creative team like this and it made me realise how much I miss it-everyone has a part to play in the making of these garments whether it’s wedding dresses in my case, or dance dresses. Obviously it isn’t glamorous in the slightest, it’s hard work in a hot room, and the pressure is immense when there’s a live TV programme at the end of every week for three months…and then Dancing on Ice after that.
It’s possible to for you to visit DSI-London too as they offer tours around the premises at different times of the year, have a look at their website to see when they are next taking place. I know they have proved popular though so there may be a bit of a wait.
It won’t too long now until the new series of Strictly starts again and the relatively peaceful atmosphere of the workrooms will be replaced with frenetic activity, I’ll be thinking of the people I met during my visit as they produce dozens of beautiful garments every week to dazzle us on our TVs on Saturday evenings during the autumn. And if you want regular updates on costume progress during the week, follow Theresa on Twitter.
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…)
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.
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.
In addition to the actual dress there is a full-size and several miniature versions made in printed paper which are like beautiful sculptures.
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)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.