2020-Sewing in a Time of Pandemic

Well what a year 2020 turned out to be!

It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??

To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.

But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.

Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.

About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…

I wore the new Homer & Howells Cissy dress (and failed to remove my coat from shot which I chucked on the floor!)

So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.

In all honesty I hated how I looked in this dress because I had piled on weight and felt very self-conscious in a fitted dress. It was a lovely pattern made in beautiful fabric but I felt I was doing both a disservice. Eventually I did wear it in September by which time I had lost weight and it was a delight to wear! I’m sure I’m not the only one whose state of mind has fluctuated wildly this year and my self-confidence was rockbottom when this picture was taken.

I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.

I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.

Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choices for specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!

One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew

One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities. 

As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.

I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.

Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.

I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.

One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.

As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.

I’m making an effort to look cheerful in this most recent Lamazi blog make, but the wine was slightly off watered down Rosé from my daughter’s fridge and it was 10.30 in the morning! I’m genuinely pleased with the dress though and in spite of everything I’ll wear it on Christmas Day because there’s plenty of room for expansion!!

This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Until next time, stay safe!


8 thoughts on “2020-Sewing in a Time of Pandemic

  1. I enjoy your blog, but where do I find Sewing over 50 (or in my case, over 70)?. Is it just Instagram? I find most sewing blogs and groups are aimed at young, inexperienced people who mostly seem to work in knit fabrics. I used to make all my clothes but middle age changed my shape and I’ve never learnt to do proper fitting. Trying again now though. I found your blog via Pattern Review (I think). Its so easy to follow links and lose track of where you started.

    Is there a pattern company you particularly like? I’m trying Sew Over It, which is ok. Sew Me Something are all cut extremely loose, which doesn’t suit me. I saw Merchant and Mills in the photo, I think?

    Anyway, Happy Christmas and I look forward to more blog posts. Best wishes, Judith in Bristol

    On Wed, 23 Dec 2020, 8:01 am Susan Young Sewing, wrote:

    > Susan Young Sewing posted: ” Well what a year 2020 turned out to be! It’s > been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing > community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that > enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious be” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Judith, thank you for your reply, it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole on the internet isn’t it, especially where sewing is concerned!
      With regards to pattern preferences, that’s a tricky one because each company has a different USP. Personally I like Trend patterns because I think she’s very fashion-forward and I’ve found her fit is good fo me. Have a look at Maven patterns too, Sharon is an experienced pattern cutter and has great attention to details. Merchant & Mills make loose-fitting patterns as a rule although they have some interesting details too. Have a look at the Pattern Reviews page I’ve created, as well as the Simple Sew page in the menu for other ideas.
      In answer to your question about SewOver50, the account is only on Instagram to make it easier to manage but there are various other discussion and advice forums on Facebook and elsewhere too but none is SewOver50.
      I hope this helps a bit? Sue


  2. Hey – we all need wine at 10:30 am sometimes! Thanks for the wrap-up – very cool projects and activities. I need to catch up with the Sew Over 50 posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, it’s been such a strange year hasn’t it but I’m happy with the projects I’ve worked on, it’s just they feel so much more satisfying when you can really chat about them in depth with others. Hey ho, we will get through this eventually. There’s so much going on with the SO50 account too so do get involved if you can

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for all your sewover50 involvement and all your posts throughout the year. You always seem to give off a positive vibe. Sewing has helped me so much this year, as newly retired I have been struggling sometimes to find enough to do, but even just starting to think about the next sewing project can turn this around for me. I don’t sew to save money, but because I enjoy it, and although I prefer to use 2nd hand fabrics where possible, in all honesty the most sustainable thing for me to do would to be to make and buy nothing at all as I already have all the clothes I need, and this gives me some guilt. I feel sure you have plenty of clothes already too. What is your take on that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Helen, you are absolutely right in that I have plenty of clothes! I really do try and rotate most of them but inevitably there have been some which don’t see the light of day again for a variety of reasons which is a great shame. This makes me feel guilty too but the satisfaction of having sewn the garment myself, and the pleasure of wearing it (and occasionally receiving compliments) are how I rationalise it. I could have gone out and bought lots of clothes made in average quality fabric by someone who was underpaid in difficult working conditions. I enjoy dressmaking so much as a process that that outweighs the guilty feeling because sewing helps my mental wellbeing. Making a challenging pattern successfully is so satisfying, but refashioning something into a new and more useful project definitely is too!
      Hope that makes sense? Sue


  4. I enjoyed this post very much, Sue. Thank you for writing it. What a year, but you accomplished so much! I am tempted to join Instagram so that I can follow SO50. To respond to Helen, I started sewing garments as a way to stretch the capacity of my brain several years after getting a big concussion and the onset of, and years later, some improvement in, symptoms of CFS/ME. At first, I could attend my sewing class for only 1/2 an hour, but I am happy to report that by the time Covid shut things down, I could attend for the whole three hours. My speed has picked up, too; the first dress took me five months to make. I, too have enough clothes, and I worry about the environment. Since sewing is so important to me for my physical and mental health, I try to use biodegradeable fabrics, natural buttons, and avoid using fusible interfacing and the like. When Pandemic is over I will be back scouring the thrift stores! I am also concerned about news out of China about cotton being produced using slave labor. Over all, I vote thumbs up for sewing garments. I’m learning (always learning!) a skill that can come in handy, I can make special gifts for people, it doesn’t support fast fashion, it’s creative, and maybe, just maybe, I can make better looking clothes, too.


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