Obviously this approach harms no one except me and eventually I stopped sulking and relented because they had produced some really nice-looking patterns in the intervening years (and drafted by a professional pattern cutter…)!
I bought the Sienna Maker jacket because I was attracted to the variety of options it had including different lengths, quirky sleeve pockets and a button-up back vent on the short version plus the elements were all largely ‘mix-and-match’. This is something that’s always been quite normal with paper patterns from the traditional Big 4 (they aren’t 4 any more but you know what I mean) Indie patterns seem to often have a tendency for fewer versions in a single pattern and then you’re left to put your own spin on them, or they create add-on packs when they notice what others have been doing for themselves.
Anyhoo, in the autumn of 2022 I was going on a sewing retreat hosted by Sew Me Something in Stratford upon Avon so, using some printed needlecord from Barry’s in Birmingham, I cut out the short version of the Sienna Maker as one of my projects to sew while I was there.
The Sienna Maker is intended to be slightly oversized so I based my size choice on my bust measurement (39”) and went with a US14. I’m more than happy with the fit and there’s room for a layer or two in cooler weather (it isn’t lined though so this does make it a little trickier to get sweaters down the sleeves)
I found the instructions and diagrams really thorough, it’s rated as an advanced garment and I would agree with this because you’re dealing with some unusual or more tricky techniques, plus the fabric will probably be stiffer or thicker than most dressmaking fabrics. A good degree of accuracy is needed to create a sharp collar and lapel for example but I thought the diagrams and instructions for this area in particular were very good. It’s helpful to be clear which is your right and left because the two longer coat styles don’t have symmetrical details on the fronts so if you’re in any doubt (especially if the fabric is the same on both sides) put sticky labels onto the pieces until they are sewn together.
There is a lot of encouragement to create the garment you want by including various suggestions for seam finishes for example. I used a mixture of bias binding (Hong Kong finish) and simple overlocking but you could use flat fell seams for some of them if you wish. I’ve had a look and the Closet Core website has loads of tutorials for different techniques and methods so you might find something helpful there if you’re a bit stuck.
I made my own bias binding for both jackets, and for the short version I topstitched and made buttonholes in a contrast bright pink. I bought some fabulous metal buttons from the amazing selection at Textile Garden you’ll be spoilt for choice! You could also use heavy duty poppers instead.
Fast forward to April 2023 and I was heading to a different retreat with my Sew Over 50 photo shoot pals to a wonderful place we’ve found in Derbyshire.
When I bought the pattern I had always intended to make a longer version too, I just hadn’t found the right fabric. Eventually I settled on the 12oz organic sanded twill cotton from Merchant and Mills in the Stanley Tan shade after seeing it made up as a jacket by a friend. I decided (and I hope I don’t live to regret this…) not to prewash it, my rationale being that there was quite a lot of fabric so it could end up streaky from the washing machine. Also, because it’s a coat, it won’t get laundered very often anyway and I could get it professionally cleaned when necessary.
I opted to make the longest version with the belt and D-rings so there are no fastenings this time, it has a deep front overlap which personally I feel crosses over to the wrong side, I would normally cross right over left so it feels a bit alien. As before, the instructions are excellent, there are a couple of areas where you really need to concentrate like making the opening on the front for the belt to pass through. My top tip would be to make sure you have transferred all the pattern markings carefully before you do any sewing because the two fronts each have different features, I used lots of tailor’s tacks!
In spite of the distractions of sewing with my friends I took each part of the process slowly to make sure I had everything in order and a really nice quality finish. Once again I made bias binding from a blouse I no longer wore but liked the fabric, it has a new life inside the coat where I can see and enjoy it for far longer than as an unloved blouse.
The coat has an attached belt which slots through D-rings on a tab to fasten (which I already had due to a major cock-up when ordering trims for a ruck sack pattern, but that’s a story for another day…) There are some very thick layers in few places but my Pfaff handled them superbly, I used a chunky jeans needle throughout.
The suggested finish is to topstitch all the facings and collar but I decided against this and I spent a quiet evening herringbone stitching them all in place. If you are going to machine topstitch I strongly suggest tacking (basting) the stitching line so that you have an accurate line to follow on the right side, this should hopefully reduce the need to redo areas where you may have wobbled off course.
I hope I will get as much use from the new longer Sienna Maker as I’ve had already from the short version, it will be too warm on sunny days but for our unreliable weather I’m sure it will be great. I didn’t want a heavy full-length coat and so just-above-the-knee suits me fine. Incidentally, there’s a large interior breast pocket and I didn’t include the back hem split. The fabric is beautifully soft but weighty, it has a suede-like finish, pricey but superb quality.
Delighted as I am with my new coat I can’t help feeling that there’s more than a hint of four candles and Arkwright’s stores about it but no matter, in my head perhaps I should rename it the Ronnie! [one for my British readers there…]
I’ve got a couple more Closet Core patterns in the pipeline over the summer, I made a Mile End sweatshirt last autumn and I’ve also bought the Nicks dress which I’ve got fabric lined up for already plus I’ve just invested in the Kalle shirt so I must be impressed with the quality of the patterns!
In the spring of 2022 Lamazi launched their first range of exclusive design fabrics called Garden of Dreams which proved to be a big hit with customers so now, in Spring 2023, they are launching a second range called Summer Party. This collection includes printed linen and viscose marrocain and has been created by super-talented surface pattern designer Rachel Parker using vibrant shades and subtle pastels.
Liana at Lamazi generously gave me my choice from the new collection so I opted for the gorgeous Painted Foliage design which comes on a fine, more environmentally-friendly mill-washed linen, it is semi-sheer and reminds me of beautiful stained glass windows with the sun shining through them. It’s been lovely to work with so I’ll share some of my experiences of sewing with it you.
Because the linen has been mill-washed it’s already beautifully soft but I gave it a pre-wash anyway for my own peace of mind, habit I guess plus I’ve learned the hard way over the years!
Like the Marina dress I wanted to use every possible scrap of the 3 metres of fabric so I chose to use the Maven Wendy smock top (which I already had) for the bodice and then a simple tiered skirt attached at the bottom. A tiered skirt is an excellent way to use every bit of fabric because, with a few calculations, you can simply cut (or tear with certain fabric types) strips across the full width of the fabric available, gather them up and attach to the layer above/below.
I chose to cut a size medium for the blouse although I probably could have sized down to a small, I actually reduced it though the underarm seam after trying it on the first time. I shortened the length by about 30cms too, the amount you need to shorten by will vary depending on the look you’re after. I also wanted more fullness in the sleeve so I ‘slashed and spread’ a traced-off copy of the sleeve pattern to give added volume.
By folding the selvedges into the centre fold I could cut the front and back bodice pieces side by side [this is also useful when you need to ensure the good pattern match on a print] I used the various gaps between the sleeves and bodice pieces for the two small patch pockets and the front neck facing. So that I kept the remainder of the fabric as untouched as possible I had to cut and join lots of bias strips for the neck binding. From everything that was left I cut (across the fabric width) two strips measuring approximately 30cms deep and three strips approximately 40cms to form the skirt. [I could have simply cut the remaining fabric into two equal rectangles and made a gathered skirt from that but I wanted a more interesting skirt and sewing the skirt in tiers like this gives a fuller hem] Eventually there were only very small scraps left.
Next I constructed the skirt, I opted to overlock the cut edges before gathering because of the potential for fraying-I would normally overlock afterwards.
I simply joined the two 30 cms strips at the short ends to form a loop, these seams would eventually match the side seams on the bodice. The three deeper strips were also joined at the short ends to form an even longer loop. I turned one long edge of this section and hemmed it using the trailing leaves embroidery and on the remaining long edge I sewed two rows of gathering stitches, this was pulled up and attached to the shorter skirt section. Finally I gathered the remaining top edge of the smaller loop and attached the whole skirt to the bottom of the bodice, no pattern needed!
Lastly, I created a casing on the bottom of the sleeves and ran elastic through them.
Because of its semi-sheer quality I don’t think the fabric is particularly suitable for trousers or shorts, at least not without lining or mounting it first. It’s a softer linen which lends itself to more unstructured shapes, maybe with gathering, pintucks or soft pleats so shirts. blouses and dresses are ideal. It doesn’t have much drape though unless cut on the bias.
Thank you once again to Lamazi for providing me with this beautiful cloth, I know there are still a few more exclusive collaboration fabrics to come into stock so do keep an eye on the website or sign up for the newsletter. Small businesses are having a very tough time at the moment and I have no qualms about the quality of cloth and the standards of service that Liana and James continue to offer at Lamazi. I was given the fabric but have not received a payment for this article.
I bought 3 metres of this gorgeous viscose crepe fabric (originally bought from Fabric Godmother in July 2020 in probably long discontinued) but it sat in my stash for nearly 3 years before I could decide what to make with it! The problem was that I liked it so much that I didn’t want to waste it on something which didn’t show off the beautiful ‘ceramic tiles’ print, utilise its gorgeous drapey qualities, or which left too much wasted. I would regularly get the fabric out and pin it onto Doris in various ways to see if I could settle on anything in particular. I knew it had to have simple lines and I didn’t want complicated pattern matching to break up the design. In the last year I’ve made a number of LB Pullovers from Paper Theory and it occurred to me that the top was just the right shape to use for the bodice (minus the sleeves and collar) and then I could use what was left for a skirt.
I used approximately 60cms for the bodice (I was able to place the front and back side by side across the width) and then everything that was left I cut into strips across the width following the ‘tile’ design. I had enough to make 3 tiers to the skirt and, ideally, each one would have been twice as long as the one above but there wasn’t really sufficient for that. I reckon the tiers were more like one and a half times as long so that would have to do.
Each tier is as deep as the tile print.
It might have taken nearly three years to get there but I’m really pleased with the final result and I know I’m going to enjoy wearing this dress in the coming months.
Do you dither as long as me about what to sew with fabric you love? I can’t be the only one who gets their various fabrics out periodically, strokes it, considers it, matches patterns to it and then folds it away again until next time!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 modelsfinally 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!
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 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!
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.
And then in August I turned 60…
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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,
The previous Sew Over 50 posts I’ve compiled for your favourite T-shirts and flat-fronted trousers have proven to be extremely popular reference sources for you so I thought it might be useful to add another pattern type to the series.
This time I’ve chosen to focus on the short(ish) casual jacket, which I discovered has a wide variety of names depending on where you live (or which generation you are from) including jeans, utility, shaker or chore jacket. You know the sort, often workwear-inspired with plenty of pockets, it can be thrown on instead of a cardigan or a heavier coat, it might be a little more chic than a sweatshirt, or it might not. In fact it could be pretty smart depending on the fabric choice or maybe it’s super casual, definitely no longer than hip length though. So already lots of options but those were the basic criteria and then I threw it open to all of you for your own recommendations.
I started my research by going to the #So50Jackets hashtag. You can usually then select images by choosing between ‘top’ or ‘recent’ categories. Top will be the most popular images with loads of likes, probably as a result of the number of followers that an account has or it’s a really cool garment and the algorithm will skew its visibility. I tend to select recents because the images are exactly that, more recently sewn (or at least posted) which is helpful if you want some seasonally appropriate inspiration.
I soon discovered there are a few big hitter styles which are very popular with the sewing community just now so I’ll start with their details and then follow with all the other suggestions which came in from you via comments on my Sew Over 50 post in October. Whenever possible I’ve given the maximum size available, or bust/hip measurement which were correct at the time of publishing this post.
Grainline Tamarack: a simple shape but extremely popular because of it’s quilting possibilities. Sizes up to UK 30 (US 26) up to hip 58” The Grainline Thayer would also fit the bill but with more pockets.
The Sewing Revival-Mallard: a classic single-breasted silhouette which features a collar and outsized pockets with flaps. Fits bust up to 47”/hip 50”
Papercut-Stacker: a utility button-up in a cropped boxy fit, fits up to 46.5” bust
Butterick #5616: another popular pattern but you’ll need to look beyond the awful sketches and photos on the packet, the line drawings will give you a far better idea of the possibilities. Fits up to UK 22(US18) no measurements given
Style Arc-Adelaide: simple silhouette with various pocket/cuff/options plus a full lining pattern too. Fits up to bust 58” hip 61”
Pauline Alice-Ninot and Ayora: Ninot is a boxy shape with a Peter Pan collar and welt pockets, fits up to bust 42.5” whilst the Ayora is a short reversible quilted jacket and fits up to bust 47”
Itch to Stitch-Causeway: a bomber jacket with elasticated hem and princess seams which can also be made fully reversible. Fits up to bust 49.5” depending on cup size
Sew Different-Swing jacket: this is a relaxed throw on jacket with no fastenings, there are large pockets incorporated into the front diagonal seams. The largest size will fit up to a 50” bust/52.5” hip
Helen’s Closet-Pona: another softly tailored jacket with no fastenings, it has wide lapels, patch pockets and roll-back cuffs. Fits up to bust 54”
Deer and Doe-Lupin: a short jacket with back yoke and waistband, welt pockets and a draped collar. Fits up to 45” bust
Fabric-Store.Com-Paola: a free PDF pattern if you register, it’s workwear-inspired with a straight boxy shape, 4 pockets and flat fell seams. Sizes up to US 28/30 (no measurements given)
Love Notions-Metra: another soft blazer shape with shawl or wide lapel options, princess seams with welt pockets. This pattern is intended for stable knits and will fit up to bust size 57.5”/ hips 59.5”
Pattern Union-Felix: this is more of an edge-to-edge French style jacket than workwear, it can be made in 3 different lengths and will fit a maximum bust size of 54.5”
Tessuti-Ines shirt: this shirt pattern would translate well into a jacket simply by using a weightier fabric. Fits up to UK 22
Tessuti-Lyon jacket: a semi-fitted ‘cardigan’ style which is ideally suited to boiled wool. Also fits up to UK 22
McCalls #7729 another traditional jeans jacket with lots of ideas for customisation, fits up to UK 22
Fibremood-Madou: an adaptable loose-fitting shirt/jacket pattern with a wide size range fitting up to 57.5” bust
Cashmerette-Auburn jacket: a classic short length single-breasted blazer specifically designed for the fuller figure. The Princess seams help to give an excellent fit for up to 62” bust
Patchwork and Poodles-Patchwork chore coat: this jacket is specifically designed to make using pre-quilted fabric and as such is a simple shape. It is relaxed fit rather than oversized. It can be made up to bust size 56-58”/hip 58-60”
So there you have more than twenty suggestions which came directly from the followers of @SewOver50, there are undoubtedly many other suitable patterns, in fact there were several that were suggested which I could not trace so I assume they are now out of print or discontinued. I’ve given you descriptions and links for every pattern rather than loads of individual images so click on the links to see what each one looks like. Don’t forget to check if there’s a hashtag for the pattern too, if so there will be plenty of inspiration to be had from that.
If you sew any of the patterns here make sure to include the #So50Jackets hashtag as well as #SewOver50 (@SewOver50 in Stories) A lot of the companies mentioned here will acknowledge our existence but several resolutely do not (presumably run by immortals?) I found it interesting that so many of your suggestions are now from Indie pattern companies and not the Big Four as some might expect. Times change rapidly and we are moving with them, I think it’s proof that whilst we may be a little older we are still happy to keep up with trends in fashion whilst doing it very much our way. SewOver50 will continue to push for greater recognition of older sewers and makers at any opportunity because we know we all have something positive to offer the home sewing community as a whole.
This post was originally written in January 2021 as a Minerva post for their recently completely revamped their website. I didn’t publish it here at the time and I’ve now sewn another pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers so I thought I would share my thoughts. I have a paper copy of the pattern but it’s possible that it is now only available as a PDF, unless you can locate a copy somewhere.
I had chosen this interesting reversible woven jacquard fabric in black/cream because I was attracted to the random wavy stripes. When it arrived I found that they ran across the width of the fabric not down the warp so I had to bear this in mind when I cut them out. Fortunately, at 150cms wide with a nice firm selvedge, I didn’t need to alter my plans because I could cut them across the weft grain instead. I intended to make a pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers and I thought this fabric would look good in this wide-legged style, they have 3 front pleats, side pockets and a centre back zip. I opted to use the black as the outside but I could have used either side of this fabric, or both sides at once to make a contrast.
I folded the material carefully across the width matching the selvedges to each other so that it wasn’t twisted and then pinned the front and back pattern pieces on, ensuring they were at a right-angle to the selvedge on the weft rather than the usual warp grain line. To mix things up a bit I cut two of the pocket bags on the normal grain so that the stripes ran crosswise, plus the remaining two pocket bags in a scrap of bright pink lining fabric.
The fabric was best suited to garments like trousers, skirts, structured dresses, jackets or formal business-type wear although how much call there is for that just now I’m not sure. It doesn’t have much drape but I decided it was still suitable for the Portobello trousers.
The fabric sewed well although I think because I cut it on the cross-grain, there was quite a lot of fraying so I’d advise overlocking all the edges singly before beginning construction.
The style is close-fitting on your natural waist line so the instructions advise choosing according to your waist measurement and go up a size if you’re in between sizes, it’s almost always simpler to take something in that to let it out. The fit over the hips is very generous but if you have an extreme difference between your waist/hip ration then it’s worth double-checking before cutting out. I fell between a UK 12 and 14 so I went with a 14
I traced off the pattern and it went together well, it’s a very simple pattern with clear diagrams and instructions. I ignored the waistband pattern piece because I chose to use an interfacing product called Fold a Band which is perfect for straight waistbands as it gives exactly the right seam allowances and folds. After checking the fit without a waistband I worked out how long my band needed to be, including an overlap and seam allowances, which I then cut in fabric the same width as the Fold a Band rather than using the pattern piece. Fold a Band comes in black or white, and medium or firm weights, depending on your fabric type, and makes a finished width of 2.5cms once it’s sewn on. This is a fairly narrow finish which personally I think is just right. Once I had ironed the interfacing to the fabric I overlocked one long edge, this would be the one to the inside of the finished garment. Pin and stitch the un-neatened edge right sides together to the waist, you could add a couple of useful hanging tapes to the side seams at this point too. Make the turnings at the ends and then you can turn up the band in the usual way and slip stitch it by hand or sink stitch from the front to secure.
Finally, after one last check of the fit, sew on a fastening or make a buttonhole with matching button. Lastly, try them on and turn up the hem to your chosen length, I overlocked the edge and made a 5cms deep turning which I slip-hemmed in place.
Since making the black and white Portobellos I have recently sewn a new fuchsia pink crepe pair. The very inexpensive fabric was bought from Walthamstow market late in 2019 with the intention of making wide-legged trousers but they didn’t actually get cut and sewn until October 2022.
I urgently needed a project to sew at the Herts Sewcial with about 15 minutes before I had to leave the house. Initially I was flapping around thinking of all the garments I wanted to sew here and now but then I remembered I had suitable fabric along with the good intentions to make another pair of Portobellos. The pattern was already traced and I just had to locate the fabric but I managed to grab everything I needed (an orange zip but no one would see that!) and rushed out of the house!
I was pleased with the finished trousers, I think the unusual vertical stripes are striking and the wide leg is very comfortable to wear. They were a bit baggy over the bum though but I think taking them in significantly would have altered the overall look of the style, I’m not sure. Looking again at the back leg pattern piece I think it could be overly generous compared to the front, the darts might need to be a little longer, so I might make some changes on the next pair (I didn’t, because I forgot that I’d written this comment!)
I’m very happy with the new pink pair, even though they weren’t high on my list for Saturday. The bright colour will bring me a lot of joy when I wear them and I’ve always loved that Katharine Hepburn 1940s or ‘Brideshead Revisited’ insouciant look. I’m not sure I’ve personally achieved that look but hey ho, that’s never stopped me yet.
In the summer of 2021 Simply Sewing magazine invited me to choose an Indie brand pattern to sew and review for them. After some deliberation I settled on the Maker’s Atelier Asymmetric Gather dress which they generously provided me with free of charge. The article was published a year ago now but if you didn’t see it then I’m sharing some of my thoughts about the pattern here.
I like Maker’s Atelier patterns because they are deceptively simple to look at but many of them have stylish details such as notched hems, interesting seam lines, button-up backs or gathered sections which can elevate the garment out of the ordinary. On their website, and also in their newsletter, they always illustrate how much variety you can create from reusing a single pattern simply by sewing it in different fabric-types. I’ve made numerous iterations of their Holiday Shirt and Top using a number of different fabrics and embellishments for example.
If you’ve seen my various makes of Trend Patterns you’ll already know I’m rather fond of an asymmetric style and although the Maker’s Atelier one is a simple cocoon-shaped shift dress the gathered features really lift it out of the ordinary.
Because the front pattern piece is cut as a whole ‘right side up’ by flipping the piece over you can have the gathered neckline to the right or left depending on your preference. I love how the back is given shape and definition by adding the wide elastic at waist level too.
The style works best using a fabric that gathers softly and has some drape which is why the viscose twill kindly given to me by Sew Me Sunshine worked well. I wanted a fabric with a little bit of weight to it so that the elastication looked right, a stiff fabric without any fluidity would not flow nicely over the contours of the body. I really wanted a design that would look interesting whether it was gathered or not. This particular fabric from Mind the Maker contains 100% LENZING™ ECOVERO™ Viscose, which is a sustainably certified viscose fibre by LENZING™ with minimal environmental impact in the production process (compared to production of traditional viscose fibres). Some fibre and fabric production methods can be very damaging to the environment and the work force so this is at least a step in the right direction.
It was very satisfying to see the shape come together once I’d inserted the elastic, I know it probably sounds odd but I do love a bit of understitching on a facing. However I’ve found the back neck facing keeps creeping up though so I need to find a way to fix that.
Viscose often shifts around quite a lot so it’s important to not pull or drag it too much while you’re laying it up so that your pieces aren’t distorted once you’ve cut them out. If you have to cut on a table which isn’t quite big enough make sure the overhanging fabric is at least supported on a chair to prevent it pulling the fabric on the table out of shape. If you can manage to cut on the floor that would probably be preferable. Thankfully there aren’t many pattern pieces though so it isn’t a complex lay-plan.
My measurements at the time fell between a UK 12 and 14 so I measured the front and back pattern pieces to work out what the finished bust and hip sizes would be, from these I opted to sew a UK12. I was happy with the final fit, there’s just enough fullness without becoming too voluminous and baggy. I’m 5’5” tall and a little ‘pear-shaped’ but this style would suit a variety of body shapes because it skims over the waist and thigh area, it isn’t a ‘fitted’ style. The elasticated sections on the hip and back give the slightly-cocoon shape some definition and this could be adjusted to your personal preference. I’ve gained few pounds since I last summer but the dress still looks okay I think.
The one major adjustment I made was to shorten the pattern by 5cms before cutting out. I read a few online reviews before I started which all said they wish they had, or they did, make it shorter. I’m happy with how the finished length looks on me, it would definitely not have looked right if I’d left it as it was. I took the 5cms out horizontally across the front and back just below the hip/knee area, not from the hem. If you shorten it from the hem you will make the shape at the bottom a little wider which might result in it losing a little of its ‘peg’ shaping. The only other thing I did was to slightly raise the position of the elastic channels on the back and hip by approximately 1.5cms so that proportionately they sit a little higher on me, I think it looks better.
An easy hack would be to use a narrower elastic than suggested, or sew two or more rows of narrower elastic into channels, you could even use shirring elastic. Instead of elastication how about slotting ribbon or tape through the channels, sew buttonholes for the tape and leave the ends dangling so that they are decorative and adjustable, perhaps finish the ends with small toggles to make a feature of them? Leave the sleeves off completely maybe or turn them into full-length sleeves with elasticated cuffs, or a cap sleeve. If you’re feeling adventurous you could even elasticate the hem! What about having fun playing with the grain line, especially if you use a check or striped fabric. There aren’t any pockets so you could add at least one in-seam pocket, probably on the non-elasticated side seam.
As well as viscose-types like I’ve used you could also choose fabrics such as handkerchief or washed linens, crepe, softer types of satin, crepe de Chine, challis and wool crepe. Softer cottons like lawn or chambray-types would all work well too. You don’t want anything overly stiff or thick because you wouldn’t get the lovely definition to the elasticated folds, they could become a bit clunky. Ideally avoid fabrics which crease badly if you might be sitting in it for any length of time, creases would spoil the look of the front.
I chose to trace off the pattern, I find I’m doing this more and more often even though I’m not a big fan of doing so. Take your time if you’re tracing the pattern, transfer all the markings accurately. Because the neckline is asymmetric make sure you cut the neck facing to match and double check you have a mirrored any pieces that are a pair before cutting into your fabric. Read through all the making instructions before you start and highlight any areas that you think are, or might be, trickier for you.
The Asymmetric Gather dress isn’t a difficult garment to sew up, I would say anyone from an adventurous beginner upwards would enjoy making it. It certainly took me less than a day to make, especially as there are no openings like zips or buttons to construct.
I’ve found it entertaining to see my changing hairstyle since I first made this! I was paid for the original article last year but all thoughts, advice and opinions are my own.
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.
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 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…
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!)
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.
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.
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!