We love SewOver50 but how much has changed?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last four and a bit years, if you’re a maker of your own clothes, and you are part of the Instagram sewing community in general then you are sure to have noticed @SewOver50. Being a follower of the account might even be the reason you’re here reading my blog at all.

I won’t go over everything again because you can read most of it in the Sew Over 50 section of this blog, if you don’t already know how the @SewOver50 account Instagram came to be set up it’s all there.

What I’ve been thinking about over the last few months though is how much has actually changed, and have things improved as a result, or have we developed into a different entity?

There has definitely been a noticeable improvement by some pattern brands to include a wider variety of models in their marketing and this is worth applauding. For example, brands such as Merchant and Mills now feature several older models which was not something they did before, and Sew Over It made a noticeable choice to add older models by recruiting from our own community, including Janene @ooobop and Lena @That LenaKing. Sew Over It also went so far as to join forces with Judith and Sandy last year in a week-long online collaboration, wouldn’t it be great if more companies took the opportunity to truly engage with the 45,000 followers of the account in this way? In the past couple of years we have seen a change for the better in the number of larger-size models featured by pattern companies because so many of them are now making a much broader range of sizes but it seems that it’s still younger models that they go for, with one or two exceptions.

This is all well and good but has there been as much change as we might have hoped for more than four years down the line and after all we’ve done in continually trying to raise our profile? Or have we partly stopped noticing that the changes have slowed down, have we stopped agitating for it because we have become such a close and supportive community in our own right that we just don’t need to care so much? I could argue that we now have each other to bounce our ideas off, to inspire, we encourage and educate one another. As adults of ‘a certain age’ we really shouldn’t care, because we certainly don’t have to care, that the majority of younger designers and pattern makers don’t want to engage with us. They seem to believe they still don’t need to do anything to make our custom feel appreciated, although the current world economic situation might eventually make it otherwise.

By each of us continuing to share our makes regularly on Instagram, and using the various #SewOver50 hashtags, we have created our own self-supporting community to the point that we neither notice nor care what most pattern companies think about us (do they think about us?) because they are still barely engaging with us anyway. Greying hair and wrinkles spoil their aesthetic but that’s just tough, we will sew and wear what we want and their artfully constructed Instagram posts are not going to sway us. What can influence me personally is a positive review of a pattern by fellow sewers and honest feedback about its quality, it isn’t the pretty packaging which will make me want to buy the pattern. Some pattern companies do enlist the help and experience of older sewers with their pattern testing which is good (although I’m slightly suspicious of the ones which use older testers but then their versions of the garment are curiously absent from the company feed when the pattern lauches) If you’re interested and willing I would certainly encourage volunteering to test patterns, bear in mind you are still unlikely to be paid for your time or materials although there are exceptions. These days I’m much more circumspect about who I give my skills, fabric and time to. I wrote a blog on this very subject back in 2019 which I reread recently, and I’d quite forgotten that there were a number of very interesting comments from readers at the end too.

Since the start of SewOver50 we now have other ways of communicating our thoughts and opinions with others, for example with the podcast Sew Organised Style that Maria @velosews has been producing for several years now. You can jump over there to listen by following this link. She covers a wide range of topics and is always happy to hear from us so if you have a project, a challenge or maybe an event which you think others will want to hear about then get in touch with her.

In a recent development, Byrd @yogabyrdsews and Molly @MikeandMollyshouse have now started a regular Instagram Live #So50Live where they chat together about their own sewing goings-on and they often welcome guests for a natter too. They are both based in the US so each Live event takes place at differing times to allow for global time zones, in other words sometimes favouring European time zones or sometimes better for Australasia. When the Live event is taking place you can join in by sending questions or comments for them although this isn’t possible if you are watching it later on and not live. You can always watch at a later time by following the posts saved on the SewOver50 grid.

Sewing magazines often feature items by or about older sewers, reader pattern reviews are a regular in many and Judith and Sandy have contributed to several UK-based publications but we’d still really like to see more older professional models on the covers and in other articles though. We should try to do all we can to dispel the ‘old lady sewing’ image that still persists.

For me and many others, the greatest part of SewOver50 has been the feeling of connections and community which it has fostered, we share inspiration and encouragement. Many of us have formed new friendships, often locally and sometimes all over the world, we find so much enjoyment in being able to meet up and talk about sewing and fabric regardless of anyone’s age. Don’t wait for someone else to set up a sewing sewcial or a meet-up, if there isn’t one happening where you live have a go at doing it yourself. If you have a fabric or craft shop locally would they be willing to host you, it could be mutually beneficial, or are there textile districts in the town you live in? Textile and craft fairs are another great way to meet and chat with others I’ve always found. Or why not go to a gallery or museum exhibition together, I find chat flows very easily when you’re sharing the experience with others in this way.

I had the enormous pleasure of visiting the Great Tapestry of Scotland with Judith in April 2022

Participating in sewing ‘challenges’ can be another very inclusive and fun activity, SewOver50 always do a fantastic round-up of the current ones on the grid, watch out for them on Stories or saved in Highlights There’s never any pressure to participate but there’s bound to be something which will pique your interest, focus your wandering mind, or just help use up some of that stash!

There is much to celebrate in the difference that being part of SewOver50 has made to many of us, no matter what our actual age. We’ve become an account that is worth aspiring to be a part of because of the positive ageing message that we present. No one shies away from the tough stuff though, many of us will be ’sandwiched’ between caring for ageing parents or looking after grandchildren, we have health issues, financial worries, the global situation is extremely concerning but if you can spend a little valuable me-time sewing or crafting and know that, if you share a photo of the outcome (and even the failures!) with the hashtag #SewOver50 then somewhere in the world members of this community will appreciate what you might have had to overcome to get to that point!

Join in the conversations, keep raising our collective profile, we’re probably the ‘youngest’ older generation there has been so far. What I mean by that is that many of our mothers or grandmothers were ‘destined to be middle-aged’ by the time they reached their teens, in their clothing, their hairstyles, their aspirations and outlook on life simply because that was how it was then. On the whole we now have more options and opportunities than ever before and are able to embrace life in a way they couldn’t, if we can continue to combat age-prejudice from our little corner of the internet then wouldn’t it better for everyone in the long run?

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

a run down of sewing and more in 2022

Well, here we are at the end of another year which has not been without its challenges again. We’ve been learning to live with Covid 19 as a fact of life but 2022 has been tumultuous in terms of other world events, including the beginning of the war in Ukraine, multiple Prime Ministers here in the UK, the Platinum Jubilee and then the death of Queen Elizabeth, and a worsening cost-of-living crisis, to name but a few.

You haven’t come here to read my personal thoughts on any of these though, there are many who have or will continue to comment more eloquently, passionately or noisily, than me and my blog is for me to detail my sewing.

I began the year with sewing a few garments for the book written by Juliet Uzor to accompany the spring series of the Great British Sewing Bee. The series didn’t air until the late Spring so I wasn’t able to share these photos at the time. In total I sewed five garments which featured, some of which were Juliet’s original designs and others were pattern challenges from the new or previous series of GBSB. Obviously when I’m making these samples I’m sworn to secrecy and I’m rarely told anything more about them anyway until the book comes out. I really enjoy sewing for this though and whilst there are time pressures and it has to be my best possible sewing that’s a challenge I’ve enjoyed rising to. [I’ve sewn for a few books now so I know what’s expected] I have to say that I have no idea how the Bees manage to complete the pattern challenges in the time allowed because they took me a jolly sight longer than a couple of hours!!

Immediately I finished these garments I became a Backstitch Ambassador and sewed up my first Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt. You can read my review of it here, it’s proven to be the most popular post of the year.

The Ellsworth shirt for Backstitch, plus I’m wearing the Eve trousers also by Merchant and Mills. I’ve sewn 5 iterations of them in 2022, it’s such an adaptable pattern.

Next I sewed a Paper Theory LB Pullover from a herringbone tweed wrap which I made a few years ago and then never wore, this became the first of 4 LB Pullovers this year. It’s occurred to me that I haven’t blogged this top yet so I need to put that right in 2023. The trousers are another pair of Eves in soft corduroy and they featured in a Sew Over 50 post I wrote early in the year with many of your favourite trouser patterns in.

An upcycled LB pullover with cord Eve trousers.
I sewed this Named Talvikki sweater in a really thick sweatshirting I bought at 1st for Fabrics. I wrote a review of it over on the Fold Line website if you’re interested.

I also hosted a couple more of my Herts Sewcials before the lawn bowls season started again and we had to stop until early October. They have been such a source of fun and sewing camaraderie and I hope to announce some other sewing days later this year. It all takes time to find a suitable venue, make bookings, advertise etc etc though

I was (finally) struck down by the first of two bouts of covid in late February which meant I had to miss out on the The Stitch Festival show in London and being in the first ever Sew Over 50 lounge. This was particularly gutting because I had organised the whole rota of people who had generously volunteered to ‘woman’ the space over the four days and I couldn’t share all the fun and chat, and the fashion show which I could only watch unfolding on social media from home.

I sewed a Tilly and the Buttons Nora cardigan using another of the fabrics I bought from 1st for Fabrics and it’s been in regular use on chilly days (I’m wearing it again right now)

I diversified a little after that when I made a fabric roll to keep our ‘good’ cutlery in. It’s only ever lived in a box with bits of tissue and an elastic band around the items so I finally got around to making something more suitable. I used a couple of fat quarters and some Liberty off-cuts in the stash, plus some wadding to go inside. The embroidery function on my machine was very handy for making the labels for each pocket too, all in all a very satisfying make.

Dhurata Davies had very generously gifted me a copy of her Overlap pattern in 2021 and I bought this silk habutai fabric from Hasan, the Man Outside Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow specifically to make it. However, it took me until March 2022 to actually do so! I’m so glad I finally did because it’s been absolutely lovely in warm weather and on holidays, it’s so light and folds up very small. The construction of the collar and facings on it are things of beauty too.

I used a ‘vintage’ 80’s blouse pattern in my collection to sew a shirt dress for our delayed holiday to Antigua in March. We should have gone in March 2021 to celebrate Mr Y’s 60th birthday but world events scuppered that. In spite of my having Covid just two weeks before we were due to go I was cleared to fly at the last minute and thankfully we all made it there-and back-without further problems.

I sewed the first of two Elbe Textiles Serpentine hats, the first from Ellsworth leftovers. Because I hadn’t been able to leave the house in the lead-up to our trip I had to make do with the interfacing I already had so the brim wasn’t really stiff enough. It was shady and kept the sun out of my eyes though. Mask-wearing was still strictly enforced in Antigua.

As soon as I got back from holiday I chatted on Instagram live with Gabby of Gabberdashery on her Quick Unpick feature. It was nerve-racking to start with but I quickly forgot that people were watching and just enjoyed nattering with Gabby.
It wasn’t as bad as all that!

I had been wanting some kind of vest or tank top for a while and then Charlotte Emma patterns released the Clove Vest which was exactly what I wanted! I bought, printed, stuck together and sewed one in double-quick time and I have been using it ever since. In fact I’ve just made another using small leftovers of another project so it’s a good way to use remnants up.

The Clove Vest in action on a walking trip to the Yorkshire Dales, Swaledale to be exact.

From Yorkshire we continued north to Scotland where we had the huge pleasure of staying with Sew Over 50 Supremo Judith Staley. The OHs went off to play on trains while Judith I went first to the V&A in Dundee and the following day we visited the Great Tapestry of Scotland which we would both highly recommend.

In April I organised a quick, low key, visit to Walthamstow market where I caught up with friends old and new. Not too many purchases on my part, I’m more of an enabler…

I delved into the remnants box and found enough of this linen to make a short-sleeved Fantail Top by The Sewing Revival, I love the gathered elastic hem detail on this pattern. Using fabric I bought at Walthamstow I sewed this shorter, wider pair of Eve trousers.

I returned soon after to Walthamstow and the William Morris gallery to catch the small-but-perfectly-formed exhibition of Althia McNish’s work. Until I listened to the very first Haptic and Hue podcast nearly 3 years ago I had never heard of this wonderful textile designer. I’m very glad I know about her now because her designs are so full of life, colour and vibrancy.

I hadn’t sewn anything for Lamazi as a blogger for a while but I was able to make this McCalls 8090 using their beautiful own design Tencel Lyocell ‘Garden of Dreams’. It has the most gorgeous handle and drape, and I love the vibrant colours of the print. It worked beautifully for this pattern and I’ve worn it loads, plus I’ve layered long-sleeved tops under it this autumn/winter, and with tights and a cardigan over the top too. I really must write this pattern up as a proper blog post in 2023!

In late April myself and my fellow Love Sewing models finally FINALLY got to Thirkelow in Derbyshire for our sewing retreat. I can’t tell you how many times this got pushed back and pushed back because of the pandemic and we were all just so thankful to be together as planned and have a wonderful time chatting, sewing, walking, laughing, eating and drinking at last. We booked for 2023 before we even left, and 2024 is in the diary too!

I made my second LB Pullover while I was in Derbyshire (yes I actually got some sewing done…)
These are the Trend Utility trousers from a couple of years ago.

Another departure was a waistcoat for Mr Y, everything except the buttons (ironic when you see how many buttons I have) came from the stash. I first used the pattern over 20 years ago for some wedding ushers.

I don’t think these Marcy Tilton trousers have been my biggest success…I’ve met someone since who was wearing them and they looked great so if I size down by at least 3 sizes (or more) they won’t look so voluminous, I hope.

I made my second Serpentine hat which worked better than the first, I wore it loads
Claire and I went to both Africa Fashion and Fashioning Masculinities at the V&A on the same day and unexpectedly bumped into Barbara so we all had a lovely outing together
Farie from GBSB Series 7 was a work colleague of my friend Jane who kindly hosted a lovely lunch so we could all meet Farie and have a good old chat about all things Bee and sewing!

I spend a good deal of time sewing this jacket for my dear friend Sue for her son’s wedding in July, we bought the stunning fabric from Misan in the Goldhawk Road. It all got rather more complicated after she broke her wrist on holiday and I had to make the whole outfit because she couldn’t get to the shops!

The ridiculous steaming heat of July meant I moved everything indoors where it was only marginally cooler. Sue’s top was the Maker’s Atelier gathered top from their spring/summer magazine sewn in crepe-back satin.

I was asked by a friend if I could replicate a dress she had seen last year online so eventually I was able to create this dress partly utilising an existing 1980s pattern and partly by pattern cutting other elements myself. Our measurements are very similar so I dug this cotton fabric out of the stash and made a version for myself first which Lynn then tried on as a toile. Astonishingly it was all perfect so I made her own dress without any need for further fittings!

I’ve made a second version for myself using some very inexpensive fabric from Walthamstow. This time I made a new cropped bell-shaped sleeve and altered the front to add a shirt collar.

After my second bout of Covid (thank you MR Y) June saw us able to travel on a long-planned trip to Tuscany in Italy. We had a wonderful stay in Florence which included a visit to Bacci Tessuti which was chock-full of beautiful fabrics. I bought myself a lovely piece of fine linen and Mr Y treated me to two pieces of Liberty Tana lawn. I also bought a remnant of Pucci silk/cotton which was just enough to make a short version of my own Dexter pattern.

I added a button back
This was the first version of a short Dexter in fabric that had sat in the stash for a while.

And then in August I turned 60…

Afternoon tea at Cliveden was one of my treats over a wonderful weekend
At the end of August we had the opportunity to get up close and personal with several hives full of honey bees
The exhibition celebrating 150 years of the Royal School of Needlework at the Fashion and Textiles museum was well worth a visit with many beautiful exhibits including this stunning Red Dress

At the end of September was the event many of us had been waiting months for, it was the very first Sew Over 50 Frocktails event held in Edinburgh and hosted by both Judith and Sandy! I suggest you pop over to the blog post I compiled afterwards to get the full rundown with loads more pictures.

The beginning of October saw my Herts Sewcials recommence again. I didn’t have a project to sew until the day before, there was lots to organise and I became so indecisive! At the last minute I settled on the Portobello Trousers by Nina Lee in a bright pink crepe and what a good choice they were, I’ve really enjoyed wearing them!

Next up I headed to London and the autumn Knitting and Stitching show, not once but twice!

Catching up with Maria from the Sew Organised Style podcast and Sewing Bee alumnus Mercedes
Another Bee, Jen Hogg on her own Jenerates stand this time along with Sew Over 50 stalwart Sue Stoney, also visiting from Australia
I was the only non-Australian here at the Tessuti stand!
Trying out a Simplicity PDF for the first time

In October I treated myself to a Sew Me Something retreat in Stratford upon Avon which was so enjoyable and I met some lovely people while we all sewed together.

Day 1 hotel mirror selfie, the Olya shirt by Paper Theory and those pink Portobellos again.
On day one I completed this Tessuti Lily Linen dress in red check bought at the K&S show a few weeks earlier. I love this dress but sadly I’ve got to do some fixing because somehow a pen I was using sprang a leak and blobbed ink down the front skirt! I’m very upset about it and I think I’m going to have to cover it with a patch of fabric if I can match it successfully.
Fun times with CL @thriftystitcher and my chum Elizabeth came to visit on day two
Third LB pullover of the year, a sleeveless one this time and completely influenced by Sandy @sunnydayz and her holiday wardrobe
I popped pockets into the side seams

I also started a Closet Core Sienna Maker jacket while I was in Stratford but I didn’t finish it until after I got home. I’ll blog this one in the new year, I’m really pleased with it though and, weather permitting, it’s had a good number of wears so far. After this I also compiled a Sew Over 50 blog post rounding up lots of your favourite casual jacket patterns

In November I had a massive tidy up and sort out in Threadquarters and as a result I made this Fehrtrade Tessalate Tee for yoga from various jersey scraps.

This gorgeous lawn was one of my purchases from the K&S show, as soon as I saw it I knew it would be perfect for another M&M Ellsworth.

Sue treated me to afternoon tea at the Lanesborough Hotel in London and we both proudly wore our me-mades for the occasion.

My next Backstitch blog came at the end of the year when I sewed this cheerful saffron Ingrid by Homer and Howells.

Nearly there, honestly….I constructed another ‘tree’ for the local Christmas Tree festival at the beginning of December, she was called ‘Etoile de Noel’ this year because almost everything came from recycled toiles

We had loads of snow in late December (unusual for this part of the UK) and I took the opportunity to take pictures of this full circle skirt sewn using a vintage Vogue Claude Montana pattern from the early 80s.

A bit more crafting before Christmas with these Festive oven gloves, I found a tutorial on’t t’internet which helped with fabric requirements and measurements but actually you could copy a pair if you have them.

And so to the final two makes of 2022, first was another LB Pullover, this time in ruby red velour-so comfy!

And the absolute final make was another Charlotte Emma Clove vest in stash remnants (from a sweatshirt for Mr Y in 2020)

This wasn’t absolutely everything I sewed in 2022 but most items are there, not all of it was for me by any means. It looks like I need to write up a few more reviews though, they have definitely not been happening so much in the previous twelve months. In November and December I did some teaching for Backstitch which was very enjoyable, I’ll be doing some more in 2023 too. There will be new exhibitions to look forward to in London including one featuring the work of Gabrielle Chanel in the autumn.

Thank you for following my activities this year, it’s been great to meet more of you in real life and I hope we’ll get the chance for more meet-ups again in 2023. I don’t have any sewing resolutions for next year, we’ll just have to see how it all unfolds I reckon.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

PS as I was writing this the news about the death of fashion great Vivienne Westwood came through, I wrote a post reviewing her autobiography which I would highly recommend if you want to learn more about her.

My latest Backstitch project, the Ingrid dress by Homer and Howells


It’s been a while since I wrote my first blog post for Backstitch way back in January but I’m happy to say that I have loved wearing the Ellsworth shirt I made then, it’s been a great addition to my wardrobe. 

For my second post I’ve sewn a Homer and Howells Ingrid dress. Like many popular styles circulating this year it’s a loose-fitting dress but the USP of the Ingrid is its unusual asymmetric style lines. 

The front and back are both quartered by differing horizontal and diagonal seams, plus the bust shaping is in the form of tucks in the centre front seam. It pops on over the head so no zips to insert, there are inseam pockets and a choice of two skirt lengths and two sleeve shapes. 

I felt with all this unusual seaming going on that I didn’t want a busy printed fabric which disguised it (that said, you could have fun with stripes or even checks) My original plan was to use needlecord and deliberately cut the pieces in opposite directions to highlight the shading this would create. 

However I wasn’t sure that any of the colours available in the shop at the time I was making it were really very ‘me’ so I plumped for the saffron yellow Broderie Anglaise double gauze instead! [I made this handbrake turn decision partly based on having recently seen a woman wearing a similar style RTW dress made in grey Broderie Anglaise and the fabric looked great, not too ‘girly’ or twee at all]

The stitching on Broderie Anglaise fabric usually has a right and a wrong side if you look closely at the embroidery but it isn’t always very obvious. My advice would be to choose the side you prefer and stick to it throughout! Because virtually every piece of the Ingrid is cut as a single I pinned paper labels onto each one so that I didn’t get them mixed up. Alternatively you could use small sticky dots to differentiate.

I gave the fabric a pre-wash before cutting, there was virtually no dye run and no obvious shrinkage either. Because of its asymmetric shape the Ingrid is almost all cut from a single layer of fabric so I would highly recommend keeping each pattern piece attached to the fabric until you’re ready to use them, or label them as I’ve suggested earlier. [Incidentally, if ever you’re short of fabric for a project, check if you can cut it out of a single layer rather than folded, it’s always more economical…just make sure you mirror everything as necessary] Helpfully Backstitch sell their fabrics in 25cm increments which can mean a lot less wastage, I bought 2m25 for this dress.

I pinned rough labels to the pieces so that I knew exactly which one was which.

I found the instructions and diagrams for construction nice and clear and very straightforward, do read them through a couple of times first though because I made assumptions about the order of making in a couple of places which would have led me up the garden path and some unpicking. The right and left dress parts are sewn tops to skirts before joining vertically at the centre front and back. Some of the seams which would normally match one another on more conventional styles don’t on the Ingrid because of the asymmetry but if you start pinning at the top of each seam down to the hem you should be fine. 

The fabric sewed up nicely although be aware that the weave of double gauze causes it to have a little inherent stretch so try not to pull it about too much during construction, and pressing causes some of the natural crinkles of the cloth to flatten as well but they will bounce back after the next wash. 

I made a couple of other small deviations from the pattern by using self-fabric bias binding instead of the neck facing. I cut a bias strip 4cms wide, folded and pressed it lengthwise before sewing the two cut edges to the neckline on the dress. Next, I understitched the seam to the inside then finally topstitched it down to finish. I also chose to sew my own thread loop for the button at the back neck rather than try to make a rouleau loop with such ‘bobbly’ fabric, I was delighted to find a button in the shop which is a great match to the fabric colour. 

marking the centre front point on my folded binding
Pinning the bias binding in position
Close up of the centre front seam details

I wasn’t convinced that either skirt length would be quite right on me so I went somewhere in between, finishing a little below knee length (I’m 5’5”) I wanted longer sleeves too so I used a bell-shaped pattern with a cuff which I had drafted myself for a different dress earlier in the year. 

My sleeve has a fixed cuff with gentle gathers (incidentally, the colour here is paler than in reality, the outdoor photos of the finished dress are much more accurate)

Finally, I turned up the hem by 2.5cms and then used one of the huge range of embroidery stitches on my Pfaff machine to sew it up, it took a while to go all the way around the hem but I love the little detail it gives. 

The hem is finished with a machine embroidery stitch

The only fitting change I will probably make if/when I sew another Ingrid is to slightly reduce the width of the shoulders, the sleeves cause them to droop off my shoulders a little but it’s not a major issue. I sewed the UK14 with no fitting adjustments other than the length and it’s very comfortable.

The back seams are asymmetric too
The button and hand-sewn loop

Thank you to Backstitch for providing me with the fabric and supplies to sew with by means of gift vouchers, the Ingrid is not currently stocked in the shop though. Broderie Anglaise might not be typical winter fabric but I love the sunny colour on a miserable English day.

I hope you’ve found my review helpful, until next time,

Happy sewing
Sue

Italian cloth and hacking a ‘vintage’ pattern

First a bit of preamble, because the origins of the fabric I used for this top were important. In June 2022 me and Mr Y were finally able to return to mainland Europe again for a four day stay in Florence, one of my favourite cities. We knew it would probably be very busy with visitors during the summer but frankly I didn’t care about this, I was just so happy to be able to see all those magnificent buildings and beautiful art again.

In between looking at the art and strolling the ancient streets I indulged in a little window shopping at the stores where I can afford literally nothing, including Alexander McQueen, Missoni and Gucci.

I could get a closer look at the details in the Gucci store that is based in the Gucci exhibition (worth a visit)
Missoni….obviously, look at that extraordinary panelled dress
Alexander McQueen…be still my beating heart

Amongst all these shops though I *may* have come across a fabric emporium….In truth, there are quite a number of fabric shops in Florence, what with this being Italy and home of fabulous quality textiles.

I failed to make a note of the name of this particular shop but it was very close to the Duomo and the Baptistry. I didn’t go in (thankfully it was shut at the time!) but they clearly specialised in very high-end alta moda fabrics which were nowhere near my budget!
Stunning beaded silk cloth

I had, however, been given the name of another more accessible shop by a kind Instagram follower so we set off to find it with only the vaguest idea where it was. Bacci Tessuti is quite close to the Medici Chapel and San Lorenzo and, with a little help from Google Maps, we found it eventually.

The air-conditioned shop was a very welcome haven from the extreme heat Florence was experiencing during our visit and I was not disappointed by what I found, there is a wonderful selection of lovely cloth to browse.

The choices in a beautiful store like this can be quite overwhelming so I had a sort-of plan to buy something which felt ‘Italian’ to me. I set out looking at their fine linen, personally I would call it handkerchief linen and it’s much lighter and softer than most of the heavier and more durable linens I’ve seen on sale in the UK. I homed in on one with a large design in blue, red and pink flowers (I love a floral fabric but I don’t often wear it) but this one ’spoke’ to me. So that was great but then the helpful shop manager, who spoke excellent English, pointed out the Liberty Tana lawn he had at a very good price! I would have resisted but my husband wanted to buy some for me so who am I to turn him down!

These were going to be my total purchases but when I went over to the counter the manager told me that the linen cloth was by the textile designer for well-known Italian brand, Pucci. At this point he produced from under the counter several short length pieces of some beautiful Italian designer fabrics including Dolce and Gabbana! They were all very lovely (and still expensive) but I wouldn’t have a use for them. The one I did fall for though was a small piece of silk/cotton cloth from Pucci with their trademark psychedelic design in delicate ice cream shades. It still wasn’t cheap but it was just a bit different and there was enough to make a top of some kind. So of course it came home with me…

it’s a bit crumpled from the wash after I got it home
The linen is on the left, plus the two pieces of Tana lawn bought by my husband, and that was my view from the hotel in the background, straight over the Arno with the Ponte Vecchio just to the left.

With my purchases safely stowed away we got on with enjoying the rest of our holiday (although I spent a fair bit of time planning in my head what I was going to make when we got home!)

Initially I was going to use this ‘vintage’ Style pattern as is (I bought it new in 1988 so it’s a little upsetting to think of it as vintage!) I used it several times back in the day, and I’ve sewn it again a couple of times in the last few years. The back buttons are the feature I like, the rest is basically a woven T-shirt.

As I said earlier, I had no more than 1m30 of fabric to play with and I still wanted to do a decent job of matching the print as best I could. The basic pattern fitted on the fabric, it’s only a front, back, sleeves and facings, but I thought it might look a bit meh, and there would still be some wastage. After a bit of a rethink, by shortening the body and making two deep ruffles across the width of the fabric I knew I would get a much more interesting design and have very little wastage in the end.

Basically it was a case of working out how long I could afford to make the top section and still get ruffles that were a balanced length [I had the Merchant and Mills Florence top in my head as inspiration] I took a line horizontally straight across to the centre front/back from the side seam approximately 15cms down from the bottom of the arm scye of both the front and back. What I should have done if I had stopped to think about it was make the centre front longer, I didn’t though and as a result the front hem lifts up because of my bust. The back is fine though.

The first dashed line is roughly where I folded out the pattern to make the horizontal seam, the curved dashed line on the front is how I should have shaped it.

I was able to cut the front and back pieces side by side on the folded cloth which meant the design ran smoothly around the garment. From the remaining fabric I calculated how deep two full widths of the fabric could be (approximately 28cms each strip) and still have enough to get two sleeves and the neck facings out too.

Once I had all the pieces it was just a case of assembling. First I did my usual scavenge through my button boxes to find enough suitable colours in matching sizes. After joining the shoulder seams and attaching the neck and back facings I sewed all the buttonholes at this stage, by doing this first it meant I wasn’t fighting the bulky seam of the gathered ‘skirt’ later.

My usual mash-up of various buttons down the back
By sewing the buttonholes at an early stage meant I didn’t have to struggle getting the bottom one under the buttonhole foot with the gathering in the way.
All finished. I know I’m just being fussy but you can probably see what I mean about the top rising up at the front slightly. There is no bust dart on the pattern which would have made a difference.
I’m pleased with how the top uses almost all the fabric and shows off the print to good effect, I didn’t want to chop it up unnecessarily and there weren’t many options with the small quantity I had anyway. I had to use a very narrow pin hem on the ruffle to maximise the length, the sleeves had their normal hem allowance on them. If you want a few more ideas for finishing hems I wrote this blog a couple of years ago which you might find useful.
I opted to have the ruffle run straight across the back rather than have an opening (this was because I was being lazy and didn’t want to make a facing and sew more buttonholes!!)
The top is shorter than I’ve worn in the recent past but I like the look, especially with the flat-fronted Eve pants by Merchant and Mills
Out in the wild at Africa Fashion which is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 16/4/23

As for the other Italian fabrics, I have plans to make a shirt dress with the beautiful linen, I have a design I’ve drafted and sewn a couple of versions of but there’s probably still a few tweaks I want to make to it before making it in the ‘real thing’. The Liberty lawn is waiting for the right project to present itself too, no need to rush these things. I’m all for sewing the good stuff but it’s really upsetting if you sew a dud with it!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Sewing the M&M Ellsworth shirt for Backstitch

The Backstitch store at Burwash Manor near Cambridge.

As one of the new team of Backstitch Ambassadors I relished the chance to go along to the gorgeous shop at Burwash Manor to browse their fabrics and patterns. It’s about 40 minutes from where I live and I love to go there whenever I get an opportunity, I’ve previously included it in this round-up of Hertfordshire based fabric shops. To be completely honest, I already had an idea that I would like to make the newish Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt but I had an open mind about fabric choice. In my head I was looking for a lightweight linen-type but as soon as my eyes alighted on the checked double gauze I was all in for that! It was folded on the bolt with the large check visible on the outside but when I discovered the reverse was small checks my mind was blown and I knew I could mix the two sides to create a unique garment. There are currently 4 colours available but I settled on the pretty shell pink variation. I took 2 metres as per the pattern instructions but after cutting it out (and as I’ve found before with M&M patterns) I had almost 50cms left over, even allowing for pattern matching. It’s very annoying when this happens and I’ve made a note for next time. I cut a straight UK 12 with no mods.

I loved the elliptical pearly buttons but there were only two of the pink shade left so I made do with two pink and four ivory. Backstitch have quite a wide selection of buttons, trims, and ribbons plus lots of other haberdashery and sewing equipment including Brother sewing machines.

The Ellsworth is quite typical of M&M’s aesthetic, it is a very wide and loose fit shirt with a stepped hem, a collar and button placket and cropped, cuffed sleeves. It will lend itself towards fabrics which have an element of fluidity and drape such as soft linen or cotton-types, light woollens, crepe, chambray or babycord. Some light- or medium-weight jerseys would probably be okay but I wouldn’t recommend ones with a lot of stretch. 

Another reason for choosing this shirt (apart from the fact I liked it anyway) is because I had seen a few makers on Instagram were having trouble interpreting the instructions for the placket. I hope what follows will give you a bit more information and guidance. 

Away we go…

Definitely give your fabric a wash first, its light loose weave will shrink a little (it will be very crinkly when it comes out of the machine but don’t panic, it will press flat again. You may ultimately prefer the crinkles but they will be hard to work with during the making process so press as you go for now)

If you are a person with no patience when it comes to laying up your fabric, or time is tight, then this may not be the fabric choice for you because it does need some careful laying up and folding to get the checks straight and matching [or you could cut every piece on the flat to save on the head scratching] There were a couple of places where, in spite of my best efforts I was bit off but I won’t tell you where they were and you might not notice anyway! It does have the advantage of the large check being 3cms square and the reverse is 1cm squares so a 1cm or 1.5cm seam allowance shouldn’t be a problem to follow.

The problematic placket is made first so here’s my interpretation of the instructions for you. Begin by interfacing all pieces as instructed (although I interfaced the whole placket rather than half as the fabric is quite fine and a bit unstable)

Mark the bottom of where the placket will be sewn on with tailor’s tacks or a soluble marker pen then stay stitch just within the seam allowance, at 1.4cm (14mm) to reinforce the area. For visual reference, the large squares are my right side, the small squares are the wrong side of the fabric.
Cut down the centre front line and carefully snip diagonally into the corners.
Fold and press each of the two placket pieces down the centre and then press in the seam allowance on one edge only. Trim this by half
Next, pin each unpressed edge onto either side of the slit, right sides together.
Stitch each side in position down as far as the tailor’s tacks, you should stop a little bit short of the bottom edge.
Trim down the seams by half.
Now flip the work over so that you have the wrong side uppermost. Press the seams in towards the placket piece on the left as you look at it then fold over like this, pin and tack in place. Now turn the work back over again.
Working with the right side uppermost, edgestitch the placket you have prepared.
Keeping the right unfinished placket out of the way, you need to position the left placket (the one you have just sewn) layered like so with the triangle at the base of the slit. Carefully stitch just below the original staystitching. This is with the inside of the work uppermost, neaten the edge and press downwards.
Now work on the right placket (it is on the left as you look at it though) Fold up the lower edge as demonstrated here, pin and tack in place. Edgestitch on the right side of the placket only as far as the bottom, do not sew across the bottom yet. Now work your buttonholes while the placket is still separate.
After working the buttonholes, lap the placket over the underneath one and stitch it in position like this.
You should now have a placket which looks something like this.

Next I moved on to the sleeve opening which is neatened with a very narrow bias strip.

I found the bias strip included to be incredibly narrow, especially for a fabric which is loose weave and a bit prone to fraying so you may want to cut your strips a little bit wider. I made the strips work but they were very fiddly. Instead of edgestitching as per the instructions I sewed them with a tiny zigzag which I hope will hold them firmly in place. Or you could slipstitch them by hand if you prefer. Next, fold the bias evenly in half and stitch across the top at a 45 degree angle, I’m not sure if the diagram intends you to sew through the sleeve too, I didn’t.
The way I’ve sewn it, once it’s finished, the sleeve opening and cuff looks like this.

The hem facings are sewn on next, then join the shoulders using French seams. This is a useful technique if your fabric is very fine, sheer, or frays badly, or if you don’t own an overlocker. Obviously you can sew a flat seam and overlock/zigzag if you prefer. You could also topstitch these seams if you want a bit of interest on them. My personal preference is to press shoulder seams to the front, this is so that the seam is slightly less visible when looking at it.

I found the collar instructions straightforward so I won’t go into them as well, I opted to catch the lower edge down by hand so that I had control over it and a really neat finish. I also added a label from Little Rosy Cheeks.

Inside the finished collar

The sides are then French seamed, be careful with the step at the lower edge and make sure you don’t take too much seam allowance on the seams because this could throw out the overlap at the top of the opening. I used the bartack stitch on my Pfaff to secure it as this could be a point of weakness further down the line.

I opted to sew two rows of edgestitching along the top of the hem facings, just to add a bit of interest.
Finally, the cuffs are sewn on and the buttons added.

all finished

I’m all in Merchant and Mills today, these are their Eve trousers in cream drill which I bought at their Rye store back in September 2021.

I cut a straight UK 12 with no modifications and I’m 5’5” tall but if you’re taller you might want to lengthen the shirt as it’s quite cropped at the front.

I’m very pleased with how the Ellsworth has come out, I’ve worn it with flat-front Eve trousers but it will look good with a skirt or even a dress under it for layering. I’m going to have a look through the stash to see what other fabrics I can make it in now!

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write for Backstitch because it’s a lovely little shop which I’ve been visiting for a few years now. It’s in a beautiful rural location and sells a really nice, well-considered range of quality fabrics and indie patterns and sewing books. As Ambassadors we are provided with gift vouchers to shop in the store, it’s entirely up to us what we make and how much of those vouchers we spend, the balance can be kept to spend on another occasion if we choose to. If you don’t live anywhere near enough to pay a visit yourself then Backstitch has a recently revamped website to shop through too, their range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns are all on there too.

I hope you have found my review useful, that’s always my intention, do write in the comments if there’s something which still isn’t clear and I’ll try to help.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Merchant & Mills Fielder Top

The Fielder top and dress by Merchant and Mills has been around for at least six years I think but I only bought my copy from Anne NewVintageSewing just last year when she was having a destash sale.

Essentially it’s a raglan cropped-sleeve sweatshirt or dress with ribbing cuffs, hem and neckline. The sleeves have darts at the shoulder to give them some shaping and the neckline is quite scooped out. Most of the sweatshirts I’ve made in recent years have been quite baggy and over-sized so I thought I would try the closer fit of the Fielder for a change. Based on my own body measurements and the finished measurements given on the packet I opted for a UK size 12, and I lengthened the sleeve to be wrist length.

I bought the unusual ‘quilted’ fabric from the M&M stand at the recently-revived Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London. It was so good to be able to browse a whole selection of stands once again, it had been over 18 months since any of us were last able to do that. The colour reminds me of old-fashioned sticking plasters, the triple-layer fabric is a clever weave but the loose threads through the middle layer do come adrift quite easily. Because of this I overlocked every piece around its edges to prevent further disintegration. I also stay-stitched the neck edge before it had a chance to stretch.

I couldn’t get any ribbing in a colour I was happy with but I found this brilliant wide elastic in MacCullogh and Wallis with it’s pink/beige stripe blending into black.( Can’t find this exact product on their website, I bought it in-store, they do have similar items online though) The next challenge was how to attach it without losing any of the colours.
I tried out laying the elastic over the top of the overlocked edges like this and that seemed satisfactory. I lined up the pink stripe with the O/L stitching underneath which created a suitable overlap.
I tried out a few stitch options and settled on this closed overlock on my Pfaff
It calls for the blindhem foot to be used which meant I could follow the red guide along the stripe.
The finished stitch is nice and stable and looks good too.
The next challenge was neatening the neck but, as you can see from the photo above, the width of the elastic meant it stood away from the neck and was all wavy.
I pinned it on though and had a ponder on how to solve the issue while I went out for a run….
I came up with the idea that if I could get rid of the fullness on the outer edge (like I’ve pinned it out here) then that might work. I sewed the elastic on in the same way I had on the cuffs and hem and pinned evenly and in alignment with each line on the check design.
Next I folded and pinned each pleat evenly, the chalk line and pencil marks where I would start and finish the line.
I used the width of the presser foot as a starting point to sew down to the bottom of the triangle.
a completed triangle.
This is how it looked after I’d sewn all the triangles and I was pleased with the result. The idea worked but now the triangles weren’t flat inside against my neck.
I tried topstitching each one from the outside to see if it would flatten the triangle sufficiently.
It worked! I pushed them all the same way instead of having some going in one direction and some the other.
The end of the elastic was folded over and stitched with two lines at the CB, it ain’t perfect but I’m pretty pleased with end result! I thought I was going to have to settle for an alternative ribbing/binding of some kind on the neck which wouldn’t have linked so well with the hem and cuffs so I’m delighted with how well this has worked out.
I added this gorgeous little label given to me by my friend Alana (and available from Rosy Little Cheeks) on the back, I think it’s perfect, and true!

I haven’t mentioned the rest of the garment construction because it’s a very straightforward sew, I just made it a bit harder for myself…but in a good way.

As I said in an Instagram post, whilst I’m really pleased with he finished result as a garment, I’m not 100% convinced about the fit yet. The fabric is an unusual alternative to traditional sweatshirt fabric, although it creases more and there’s no stretch either but I think it will come to like it. I’ve got plans to make a plain white button-up shirt to go under things this winter (most of mine are over-sized like the sweatshirts!) so I’ll probably layer it up under this, or a roll-neck perhaps?

Anyhoo, that’s one way to elevate a plain top into a slightly more interesting one (IMO!)

Until next time, Happy sewing

Sue

1980’s College Days refound!

Did you keep any of your old college course work? I am by nature something of a hoarder but even I was surprised when an unpromising cardboard folder came to light recently while we were having a grand clear out. It said “Russia 1980” on the outside so I was excited to think that it contained some memorabilia from my school trip of that year [The trip caused some local controversy at the time because that year the USSR had invaded Afghanistan just a matter of weeks earlier and some people felt we should no longer go. Our Head Mistress, the doughty Miss Pagan, was having none of it so we went regardless! Many countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics later that year in protest…about the invasion, not because my school trip went ahead]

I digress, upon opening the folder I found it contained nothing of that trip at all but it did contain many of the sketches and designs I produced whilst at London College of Fashion between 1983-85 including the final project when I produced two ‘mass market’ bridal outfits. Well what a trip down memory lane they proved to be! It was a period of my life when I was so happy with what I was doing, I’d finally found the right course for me (technical garment construction and not just design) I had a great bunch of college mates, I loved it.

I’m sharing the sketches partly because then I’ve documented everything for my own reference and enjoyment, but also because I hope there might be things of interest to others as well. Fashion-wise the early eighties were a time of puffball skirts and massive ruffles, enormous sleeves and ra-ra skirts, wide collars and even wider shoulder pads! Princess Diana was the style darling of the fashion magazines and whatever she wore became a trend. Last year I shared lots of press clippings and photos from my early working career which you can still read here.

The earliest image is from before my college days and it’s the dress I made for my school friend’s 21st birthday in October 1982. It was entirely self-drafted because I hadn’t formally learnt pattern cutting yet at this point. I can remember it clearly and the notes on the sketch are very thorough. It was a great party too!

What follows are the design and development sheets for an evening wear module [you can see now why it’s my first love when it comes to making] We had to design variations of similar dresses and gowns to illustrate how a garment could be adapted and simplified to cater for it’s appropriate market.

This was the high-end dress as a starting point, it still has fabric swatches attached. I will have trawled the fabric suppliers around the college in London’s West End and been one of those annoying students who would ask for swatches of expensive fabrics which they had no possibility of ever buying! Most of the shops and showrooms were amazingly tolerant of us. It’s such a typical 80s dress with ruffles and bows a-plenty.
This was the middle market version so the fabric would have been less costly and the ruffle quota was much reduced, it was similar but simplified. There would have been fewer hand-sewn elements but the silhouette is still recognisable.
This is the mass market dress and I made notes to the side as well. It is still recognisable as the coming from the same silhouette but costs were further reduced by using inexpensive fabric and much less of it. I wonder if I made a conscious decision to use felt tip for the sketch as well?
Variations for the high-end dress (I obviously preferred this market as the drawings are better!)
more development ideas
Crikey, getting very carried away with the felt pens here, I think there’s a hint of Antony Price and Thierry Mugler creeping in
I remember starting to make this one up but I don’t think it was ever finished, I wonder what happened to it? It’s probably in a box in my parents’ loft!
lots of detailed annotations
yet more variations
Blimey!
What I find interesting about all of these sketches is the similarity to the designs I would actually go on to work on at David Fielden after I left college. At this point I had no real idea that bridal and evening wear was the direction I would eventually take, I just knew that I really enjoyed it.
And this is where my bridal career effectively began, it was the optional bridalwear module in the second year of the course. I still had a hankering for theatrical costume so this was a perfect outlet for those ideas. I cut and made this dress, eventually I disassembled it and I know I still have the buttons at least in my ‘collection’.
Sleeves were clearly a ‘thing’ for me!
I don’t remember what these were related to, just general evening wear I guess
woaah, more enormous sleeves, and rosettes too

For my final project I opted to make two bridal outfits, I’m guessing they were mid-range and the jacket and skirt was probably intended as a register office outfit whilst the ‘Laura Ashley” dress and jacket was probably for a simple church wedding or registry office. I had a real client for the suit which was my then-boyfriend’s sister. This was handy because she paid for the fabrics for it, the jacket and skirt were white crepe-back satin and the blouse underneath was a soft green georgette. I think my ‘brand’ was possibly Jacques Verts who specialised in smart workwear for the modern working woman (definitely power shoulder pads with everything) or mother-of-the-bride type outfits with matching everything, dresses, jackets, hats, bags, shoes, the lot.

Quite a bit of Eighties power shoulders going on in these

Laura Ashley were hugely popular in the Eighties with their feminine and floral styles, they also produced a range of dresses for brides and bridesmaids at reasonable prices so that will be why I picked them as my brand for this project.

I remember those box pleats being the very devil to work on, I think I made things very complex for myself with them. I bought a pretty white cotton damask fabric from Laura Ashley to make my sample from (like tablecloth fabric but softer) I’m pretty sure there’s still a bit of it knocking about in one of my fabric boxes…I wonder what happened to the dress and jacket though?

Well, there we are, another wander back into the past for some Eighties fashion extravagance. You’ll see why I probably won’t embrace the current trend for wide collars because I did them the last time around (although fabulous sleeves will always hold an attraction for me) we were all busy being New Romantics but that Steve Strange eye make-up was difficult to pull off with glasses!

rocking my Eighties mullet (specs sponsored by Everest double glazing…)

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

The Sewing Revival Heron dress hack

Two years ago I wrote a review of the Sewing Revival Heron dress which you can still read here. I liked the pattern so much that since then I’ve made another knee-length version in a viscose/linen mix fabric from Ditto in Brighton and a blouse variation too in a beautiful soft Italian cotton voile, also from Ditto. I wore it often although not so much lately…

wearing the blouse on my trip to Paris for the Sewcial in May 2019
my very first version of the Heron dress…it has pockets!

While I was at Sew Brum in October 2019 I bought some lovely soft brushed printed viscose twill from Barry’s Fabrics with the express intention of making another Heron but this time making it longer and more cold weather-friendly. There had been a lot of Wilder Gowns by the Friday Pattern Company popping up everywhere at the time, I liked the tiered style a lot but I knew I could create my own take on it by using a pattern I already had. A multiple-layered skirt like this isn’t difficult, it’s really a case of working out the number and sizes of rectangles you want to use. If you take a look at this post I wrote about recreating a sun dress for a client in 2019 you’ll get the gist. Because I like the top section of the Heron so much I decided this was a good pattern to use and it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt it to what I wanted.

All the quantities and proportions I have used for this dress were completely arbitrary and had to be based primarily on the quantity of fabric I’d purchased [which I can’t actually remember as it’s well over a year ago, probably 3m of 150cm wide fabric I’d guess] and my own height of 5’5” so bear this in mind if you decide to have a go yourself. I wanted the dress to be nice and long so eventually I settled on approximately hip length for the bodice, the finished length of the side seam is now 40cms. I folded the front and back dress pattern sections up out of the way when I pinned them to the fabric (obviously you could trace or print off a new copy of the PDF if you wish) Once both bodices, sleeve and pocket pieces are on the fabric [pockets could be cut from something else if you’re a bit short of fabric] I could see exactly how much I had left to create the skirt from. I kept it very simple and divided the remaining fabric into two equal rectangles across the full width, each one measured approximately 56cms long but that had to include the seam allowance at the top and a hem at the bottom.

Initially the construction of the dress followed the normal method up as far as putting the pockets into the side seams of the bodice as per the pattern.

Making the skirt was very straightforward, I joined the short selvedges to one another [if it’s a one-way design make sure the print is running the same way on both pieces] to form a large cylinder of fabric with two side seams. Press the side seams open, if you’ve been able to use the original selvedges they might not need finishing. I made the hem at this point too, it seemed easier than wrestling with a complete dress at the end, although this could have backfired on me if I hadn’t been happy with the length but I was pretty certain it would be OK.

I ran two rows of gathering stitches within the seam allowance of the top edge, I pinned them in position matching the side seams, centre front and centre back, plus the quarter seam positions too. Gather up carefully so as not to break the threads, small pleats would also work here especially if the fabric would be bulky otherwise, it depends a bit on the weight of the fabric to some extent. Once I was happy with the gathering distribution I sewed the skirt on and overlocked the seam.

And that was it. Now, I have to say that because I was taking a risk with proportions and limited by the quantity of fabric I’d bought that if I were to repeat this I would definitely make the bodice quite a lot shorter and make the skirt from more than one gathered tier instead. I’m happy with the overall finished length but I think the seam at the hip isn’t quite right. But, by wearing it with a narrow leather belt (there wasn’t any fabric left for a self-belt anyway) and bringing it in at the waist I’ve saved it, the belt gives it a lot more definition.

I added a tie at the neck this time using a bit of grosgrain ribbon which I had knocking about.

I grabbed a cheeky selfie in John Lewis with my sewing friend Ruth in the autumn, we can only dream of when we can meet up again at the moment though sadly. that’s my upcycled jeans jacket I’m wearing

The dress was finished around a year ago and these photos were shot in the autumn but it’s taken until now to write up. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it can be to make your own version of popular patterns using one you already have-there’s a certain risk involved because it might not be completely successful but that’s always the risk anyway when making our own clothes-a style might turn out not to suit us after all, or we make a wrong fabric choice, or it could be a triumph so why not revisit what you already own before buying another pattern?

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Trend Utility trousers TPC12

My first blog of 2021 features my last make of 2020. After several quiet weeks where I didn’t sew any garments, I had cut this project out a couple of months back but then hadn’t felt motivated to make them at the time…the days between Christmas and New Year was the right time to get my head around a nice involved project though. There has been so much going on in the UK recently, (understatement!) especially in these last few weeks, that I wanted something I had to concentrate on to take my mind off other events outside of my control.

If you’ve read my blog in the past you’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of Trend Patterns but these are the first trouser pattern of theirs that I’ve tried.

I saw Lucy wearing her own version of TPC12 on her stand at the Stitch Festival in London back in early March 2020 (just before everything went weird) and it was the unusual split hem detail that initially I really liked. On closer inspection there are some other nice features too, like the topstitched front seams with optional faux pocket flap, and a button fly. These are the kind of details that attract me to a pattern but I would say before I go much further that this is definitely an intermediate pattern as a result, you will need to be a confident sewer or at the very least game to increase and expand the skills you have already. Before I left the show that day I bought some nice heavier weight plain black linen from Rosenberg’s to make them with.

It was then literally months before I decided to tackle the pattern though. I’m not going to lie, and don’t judge me either, but I had piled on weight during lockdown which I wasn’t happy about and as I got bigger the last thing I wanted to do was make a pair of trousers that emphasised that fact. Eventually however I began dealing with the weight issue which in turn encouraged me to revisit the Utility trousers in the early autumn.

Instead of using the linen for the first pair I bought some grey stretch cotton twill from Backstitch near Cambridge. It’s lovely fabric for trousers and a very good quality at a reasonable price. Because the Utility’s are a fixed waistband I went by my waist measurement at that time (it was shrinking!) so I chose the UK 16 and I could tell that the hip would on the big side but that was OK.

I patiently traced off all the pieces which took a while because there are quite a number of unique pattern pieces that need to be cut right side up (RSU) Labelling them all is of paramount importance so that you don’t end up with unusable pieces of fabric cut the wrong way. Once I had cut the fabric out I left all the pattern pieces attached to the fabric until I had either interfaced them or until they were ready to be sewn. I made both my versions exactly (apart from fit alterations) as the pattern but you could leave off the pocket flap detail by cutting a pair of side fronts, or you could have two pocket flaps by doubling up those pieces instead. An advantage of having so many single pattern pieces is that you might have a more economical layplan because they will interlock better, folded fabric is a much less efficient way of cutting out, a single layer just takes a bit longer.

I said at the start that this is an intermediate pattern in my opinion and that is largely because the hem vents and the button fly are quite involved, although not actually difficult, plus I found the instructions and diagrams were a bit tricky to follow. I didn’t go wrong but they do require absolute concentration. What I’ll do in this blog, so that’s useful to you if you decide to make the trousers, is simplify the order of making down to a basic list which you can use in conjunction with the actual instruction booklet. I won’t give you specific, press here, topstitch there, instructions though, they are in the booklet and the diagrams are very detailed.

My first piece of advice, after you’ve attached all the interfacing to the relevant pieces and transferred all markings to the fabric, is to overlock all the cut edges (except the waist and fly front) first. I don’t normally do this because I prefer to overlock as I go along but it makes more sense here to do it as a batch process, just make sure you don’t trim away too much or lose your notches in the process.

Start by making the ‘pocket’ flap [make up the optional pocket bag if you are going to have one but set it aside for the moment] also, make the back darts and set the pieces aside for now.

Join the front seams for both fronts as far as the vent markers, do not join the fronts to the backs just yet. I found it easier to have only the vent sections to work on flat first although the instructions tell you to join the fronts to the backs. Once you’ve made both the vents except for the final single topstitching to hold the flap in place and are ready to turn up the hem join the fronts and backs at the side seams first. Now complete the topstitching to hold the vent in place then join the inseams, turn up the hem and topstitch to finish. [If you’re using the additional pocket bag I would add it whilst the leg is still open and flat, before sewing up the inseam. I sewed mine on earlier and it got in the way a bit when I was joining the various leg seams]

Pin and partially stitch the crotch seam as per the instructions then apply the outer waistband and press the seam up towards the waistband. [If you want to include belt carriers I would add them before attaching this waistband so that they are caught in the waist seam, the tops of the carriers will be enclosed when you add the facing]

Next, make the right fly section and buttonholes as per the instructions and diagrams. I’ve included a photo of where I stitched through the layers of the right front to hold them all together, I’m not sure if this is quite what is intended but it works-I couldn’t make sense of it otherwise!

the pencil is pointing to where I’ve added the row of stitching to keep the layers together.

Make the left fly front and attach the waist band facing, I’ve included the photo below of how this should look from the inside (yes I did use jazzy overlocking thread just because…)

the completed grey version showing the button fly and jigger button

Sew the remainder of the crotch seam to complete it, then sew the entire crotch seam again about 1-2mm away from the first stitching line.

Sink stitching-to complete the waistband-is simply the industry term for ‘stitch in the ditch’.

Obviously there are points where you would be advised to try the trousers on to check the fit as you go so you could do this by pinning on the stitching line (parallel, not at a right angle!) to avoid unpicking. The advantage of having a split waistband on the centre back seam (like good quality men’s trousers) is that you can fit into the small of the back more effectively.

So that’s, hopefully, a simplified method for you, it isn’t that I think the instructions aren’t good, it’s just that I got a bit confused between what was written and which diagram to follow, and that’s why I wrote it down in a clarified form as I made the second pair.

The fit of the first pair is technically not that good but they are soooo comfortable. The waist was a good fit initially although I’ve lost more weight since then so it’s very roomy now. The major issue (and I’ve read this in a few reviews) is that the crotch length is very long and looks quite droopy. You can see this in the photos of my grey pair, and this makes the cropped leg length look a bit too long as a result. For the second pair in the black linen I redrew the pattern down one size and also folded out 3cms horizontally at hip level on every pattern piece to reduce the rise. The second pair are a much better fit but that won’t stop me wearing the grey pair, it doesn’t particularly bother me that they are overly generous because the shaped waistband can’t fall off my hips anyway. Yes the grey pair are very baggy but that’s fine.

The black linen pair are a better fit at the waist, there’s still plenty of room (too much room?) over the thighs but I don’t mind that. Maybe I’ll shave a little off the next pair, or maybe I won’t…

Overall I’m a big fan of the Utility trousers and I’ll probably make more, now that I’m getting better with the fit. The design details are worth the effort but it is a project you’ll want to take some time over, I had to turn off the radio so that I could concentrate completely and I read aloud each instruction several times to ensure I was going the right way. I sewed matching topstitching but you could use a contrast thread, or maybe you could line the waistband and button stand with contrast fabrics? Apart from the pocket bag if you add one there are no other pockets so you could add some in the side seams quite easily I would have thought, or patch pockets on the back perhaps? I quite fancy a pair made in chunky cord too…

I hope you find this useful, or I’m happy to try and help if I can.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Have you listened to the Sew Organised Style podcast yet?

Well, have you? If you’re a follower of the @SewOver50 account then it could be right up your street because it’s creator, Maria @velosews is a part of our community too!

When Maria was in London last year we had such a great visit to Dior:Designer of Dreams at the V&A

Maria has worked hard to gather lots of interesting content and adds new items daily and every Thursday there is something new from SewOver50 to listen to. So far she has chatted with account founder Judith Staley and second-in-command Sandy Bach and several of our stalwarts including, to date, Sue Stoney, Marcia Riddington, Cathy Grant and Carrie Cunningham.

Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…

I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.

Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…

until next time

Sue