a SewOver50 discussion about fabric choices.

At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?

So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.

Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…

So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds. 

[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ] 

Hasan, the famous (if you live near London) Man Outside Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow

Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.

In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!

For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print. 

Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters. 

But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.

So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes. 

I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?

@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics. 

I made this beautiful Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile given to me by Pamela and when she saw me wearing it recently she commented that the fabric might not have belonged to her in the first place but to her mother!! Goodness knows how old that could make it but it’s still going strong for me and it’s one of my absolute favourites in warm weather.

Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.

At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.

Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes. 

As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing. 

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

The first official Sew Over 50 meet-up

After a couple of months in the planning I can hardly believe that the first ‘official’ Sew Over 50 meet-up is over! This isn’t really a blog as such, it’s more of a photo album so that those who were there can look out for themselves and to prove that it did happen and a great time was had, new friendships were made, information and tips were shared, fabric was stroked and support and encouragement was offered. 

Judith and I were simply overwhelmed by the feeling that was in the room for those 3 hours. The Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead, London proved to be the perfect venue to hold the meet-up with it’s mix of light-filled studio space and retail opportunities! Whilst quite a few of us already knew one another, and had met in the past, there were many others for whom this was the very first time they had gone to such an event. The distances some people travelled was extraordinary too, south Wales, Cumbria, Cheshire and north west England, Scotland, East Anglia, the south coast and Cologne, Germany were just some of the places people had come from. This represented a really big deal for some because it took them a long way outside their personal comfort zone to go on a long train journey to London and meet lots of strangers who they only ‘knew’ through the medium of little Instagram squares. So far as we can tell all of them thought it had been worth the effort and anxiety because within minutes of arriving they were chatting with fellow sewers and crafters as though they had known each other for years. That’s what the Sew Over 50 community seeks to encourage, to nurture and expand each others skills and talents, we try to make it a positive and supportive place to share our makes whether they are completely successful, or a dismal failure! 

I would personally like to thank every single one of the companies and individuals who gave me prizes for the charity raffle in response to my requests, and several others who offered without me even asking. 

Have a browse through the photos (please ask permission and credit me if you would like to use them elsewhere though, thank you) these are just a few of the hundreds that my daughter Bryony took for us but without them I don’t think there would be much record of the event having taken place…hardly anyone else took photos because they were too busy chatting!

unpacking the cake!
starting to arrive
the chatter gets going
The Village Haberdashery before we filled it up!
Marcia and Ana in the queue to get in
Val and Gilly came a very long way and had never been to a meet-up before but they had a great time
one question which never got asked was “did you make that?” because, obviously, we DID! More likely was “which pattern is that?” or “where’s that fabric from?”
pattern designers Marilla Walker and Ana Cocowawa Crafts who both donated prizes
what’s in the bag?
It’s a handmade plaque made especially for me by Jayne Wright, who also donated two handmade ceramic hedgehog pin-cushions (Threadquarters is the name of my workroom in the garden) Thank you so much Jayne
Judith and Lisa Bobo Bun who had come all the way from Norwich
Sara telling Jo all about sway back adjustments
I love this one, setting up for a selfie!
when Insta-friends finally meet in real life
this made me smile, Judith and I mirroring each other…
Ex-Brownie leader waiting for quiet
Ceramicist extraordinaire Corrie with our Great Leader, naturally she’s wearing one of her own handmade brooches
Susan and Amanda Patterns and Plains who generously offered a prize without me even asking
sorry Marilla but this was the best photo without one of you having closed eyes!
the much-admired cake made by Mr Y, it was universally agreed that it was a delicious fruit cake! ( and now he won’t let me forget it!)
busy in the shop now too
I love how during the course of the afternoon people are in different shots talking to different people all the time.
None of these ladies knew each other before they arrived but they got on like a house on fire
having a really good natter
my raffle ticket-selling friends Sara and Di
Me and lovely Ruth, whose son kindly donated a fabulous designer Anglepoise lamp which was much-coveted in the raffle.
Sharon (with the shoulder bag) is the talent and the brains behind Maven Patterns and generously donated 3 patterns to the raffle
group shot-it was a bit like herding cats but I think we got virtually everyone in
gathering to draw the raffle
by the wonders of WhatsApp I’m telling Kate (who was in Stockholm) that she had won a prize
She had won some lovely Lamazi fabric
with my fellow Love Sewing magazine photo-shoot friends, minus Kate and Sarah who couldn’t be with us. Love Sewing donated a one year subscription
this is us with former editor Amy and we featured in the February 2019 of Love Sewing magazine
designer Lucy of Trend Patterns donated two, here’s Charlotte with her prize
Corrie was thrilled with her Anglepoise, she’d been coveting it right from the beginning!
Sue was over the moon to win a Pfaff Passport 3.0
Judith trying out my teleportation device fashioned from an old hairdryer and sticky-back plastic. It didn’t work so it’s back to the drawing board for me!

I had opted to raise funds for The Samaritans, a UK-based charity who offer support at the end of the telephone to those at risk of suicide and the raffle made over £550 which is magnificent.

Thank you so much to everyone who came along and made it so enjoyable, thanks especially to Judith for having the courage to start the account in the first place. We’re approaching 18K followers and there have been almost 52K uses of the hashtag #sewover50 That’s a LOT of work which Judith and Sandy put in every day to ensure it’s such an enjoyable, interactive and mutually supportive community. I for one hope it continues this way. I’m sorry to those of you who couldn’t get a ticket, or are simply too far away, we want to actively encourage you to create your own meet-ups like this, there was no sewing at this one but you just need a venue where you can chat, a friendly cafe? your local sewing shop? Now we’ve started the ball rolling don’t forget to use the hashtag #so50meetup so we know what you’re up to.

Now, back to some sewing for a while!

until next time,

happy sewing

Sue

Sewing advice for newbies from the Sew Over 50 hive mind.

The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.

So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…

First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.

Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.

Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.

Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.

This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.

So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]

Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.

Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.

If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sew while you sew can be both entertaining and informative.

Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.

As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?

What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.

Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.

Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)

I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

The Frilled Hem Top from Trend Patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

The first SewOver50 challenge roundup and what’s next?

Well this is definitely late in arriving seeing as the challenge finished on March 15th…! After my flurry of activity for the launch of the first SewOver50 challenge in February, and a follow-up post with updated pattern companies, you might have wondered (probably not though…) where I disappeared to? The answer is simply that I had a holiday booked so off I went! Rude I know but Judith and Sandy were fully in command of the day to day running of the challenge so away I went. I missed seeing large chunks at the end of the challenge though as we were on a cruise where internet access is extortionately expensive and much as I love my sewing buddies I don’t love them THAT much, or another option is you can buy beer in bars when in port in order to receive ‘free’ WiFi (follow a crew member, they always know where a hotspot is)

So that’s my excuses out of the way, how did you get on? Did you enter? I was exempt from entering (obviously) but I did contribute a few makes of my own using patterns that qualified.

The Heron Dress by The Sewing Revival
The Holiday Shirt by The Maker’s Atelier, I’ve used this pattern 5 times now.
The Dawson Coatigan by The Thrifty Stitcher (what IS going on with my face? Don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question!!

I think what the challenge brought home to many people is the lack of visibility of anyone aged over 40 frankly, never mind over 50. There were many comments over the six weeks, from much younger sewers as well as more mature people, saying how they simply hadn’t noticed but once you had noticed it became obvious. We have grown largely immune to it and just accept that the image in no way reflects a large majority of makers, even younger dressmakers must be sick of competing with these idealised versions of themselves too. [ yes we know that this doesn’t bother everybody and that’s fine but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are willing to accept the status quo]

Did you discover a new pattern brand as a result of the challenge? I’m sure there are many other brands who didn’t make themselves known to us either by email or commenting on the previous blog posts and I’m definitely not going to vouch for the quality or otherwise of some of those that did but personally I found lots of new ones which I’ll look out for more often in future. Many of them are PDF which means wherever you are in the world they are still accessible to anyone.

Via her posts Judith encouraged people to contact pattern companies who don’t currently use older models and she herself has received some enlightening answers. Of those companies which have so far responded to Judith, almost without exception they say that, unless they have a friend or family member who is willing to model for them, it’s very very difficult to find suitable older professional models registered with agencies, even if they would like to use them. There were a number of different reasons cited for not using older models and, as we’ve said before, a brand is absolutely entitled to create their own ‘look’ as they see fit. Many also said they already featured, or promised in future to feature, a wider cross-section of makers of all kinds in examples of their patterns, this seems the absolute least that a brand can do in exchange for constant free advertising when we ’share the hashtag’ or tag them in our posts. One brand claimed to feature a wide range of their customers makes but having looked through their feed I beg to differ, a modest range all under about 35 is how I saw it.

A lot of brands are very small operations so we appreciate the difficulties this brings but they were also very often the ones that were most keen to bring about changes. I guess being small means they can alter things about their product if it’s within their power to do so and they genuinely want to.

One brilliant example is Selkie Patterns who are a start-up company based in London creating their own print-to-order designs on lovely quality ethically-sourced fabrics. In January on Instagram they put up a post asking for anyone who would be willing to model their next pattern, I somewhat cheekily responded by saying “would you consider an over 50?” Imagine my shock and surprise when Alexandra contacted me and said “yes!” Gulp!

A month later I found myself posing in the sunshine in a backstreet near Waterloo in London, modelling the new fabric design and a sleeve ‘add-on’ for their London dress, top and skirt pattern. I had a blast and Alex made me feel so comfortable and at ease, and it was all loads of fun…we had cake too! I bet no one eats cake on Vogue shoots… It feels slightly surreal to keep seeing myself pop up unexpectedly in their advertising and on the website now…perhaps Kate Moss feels the same.. I was happy to do it because it was a chance to start the ball rolling [perhaps I should sign up with an agency ROFL]

So if one little company just starting out can do it I’m sure others could too, with a modest camera, an attractive backdrop and a willing volunteer it’s possible to get really nice results. Some might expect to pay or be paid which is absolutely fair enough, especially with larger companies who should have a budget for this, but not everybody can do this at the outset. You only have to look through the Sew Over 50 Instagram account to see just how many fabulous, attractive, amazing, funny, inquisitive people there are out there sewing original and inspirational clothes for themselves-dressing in the way WE want to suit our personalities and tastes. Yes, we might ‘just’ want great fitting jeans and a comfy cardie sometimes but that doesn’t mean we can’t make them for ourselves with fantastic details and using beautiful fabrics.

When the challenge closed Judith had been keeping a list of all the qualifying entrants and, with the help of her two gorgeous grandsons, they quite literally pulled the names of the winners out of her hat!

Our generous prize sponsors were:

The Maker’s Atelier
Paper Theory
The Sewing Revival
Naughty Bobbin Patterns
Alice & Co Patterns
Seamwork Magazine
Maven Patterns
The Thrifty Stitcher
Viola Isabelle 6
Ann Normandy
Designer Stitch
Fresh Press Patterns
Laura Sew Different

All the winners should have now been notified and have hopefully claimed their prizes, it will be lovely if they share what they make with the rest of us eventually, it could become a sewing virtuous circle!

So, what have we learned from this? Well there’s still a long way to go for sure but there seems to be a shift in perception in many areas of life that as we get older we shouldn’t be relegated to the backwaters of life, nor should we go there quietly and wait for a life belt to be thrown to us, if we want attitudes to change we have to change them ourselves by making our presence felt. It doesn’t have to be in a loud and crashing way because sometimes the softly-softly approach will work better initially, and if it doesn’t then we’ll just get louder. There is an element of ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ because by approaching pattern companies and magazines directly with polite enquiries and requests we’ve found them starting to sit up and take notice. Again it goes back to us being people who have disposable income to spend on quality products, which businesses with any sense will embrace as a lucrative market (so long as they don’t talk down to us or patronise, we aren’t all in care homes just yet!)

Since its creation just seven short months ago the account now has over 10,000 followers and continues to grow all the time. The Great British Sewing Bee returned for a fifth series and featured several wonderful sewers in their 40s, 50s and 60s, it’s a source of real inspiration and encouragement (isn’t it interesting that one of the judges is a feisty and stylish woman in her 60s? That wealth of knowledge and experience takes time to acquire) There’s another series on the cards and applications are open now so why not give it a try, here’s the link to get you started..

And let’s not forget that 10 of us did a photoshoot for Love Sewing which appeared in February with a fantastic 3 page spread in the magazine and a longer version in their online blog. Editor Amy is always on the look out for readers to review the free gift patterns in each issue so if you think you can write a decent review and would like to participate in a photo shoot yourself then drop her an email.

The fabulous 50s gals and editor Amy.

Personally I’m as inspired by younger makers as I am by people my own age and older, having the cross-section matters to me. I love to go to meet-ups and socialising with other makers because even though it can feel like speed dating for dressmakers I know we all have at least that one interest in common at the outset.

I’ll keep sharing SewOver50 updates here from time to time, I’m always in contact with Judith and some of our other partners in crime. We’ve got plans for the year and we’re are always open to suggestions for collaborations or sponsorships of our initiatives so if you think you’ve something to bring to the table feel free to get in touch with one of us. If there’s a brand you love who you think could do more then why not email them, offer yourself as a tester or a model for them, at worst they’ll ignore you and, if they don’t, who knows where it might lead? You could also leave a pattern review on The Fold Line website, or your preferred pattern review website, try and include nice clear photos where possible, they don’t have to be super-styled but it helps everyone more if you can see the garment clearly (rather than a big ol’ mess in the background) with a couple of views.

Right! I’d better get back to some sewing now, it feels like forever since I did any!

Until next time,

Sue

the day some Sew Over 50 gals did a bit of modelling!

Finally I can talk about the day last November when a group of us travelled to Love Sewing magazine headquarters in Stockport to take part in a photoshoot for a Sew Over 50 article.

Sew Over 50 had begun in August and was gaining a huge following so when editor Amy asked if we could suggest possible models for an article Judith and I approached quite a large diverse group of women initially to see who might be willing or able to travel to Stockport. Not everyone could but eventually we had a group of 10 people.

It was amazing how far some were willing to travel, Corrie and Sara both came from Wales, Judith is usually in Edinburgh and myself, Ruth and Sue were all travelling from Hertfordshire. So the 3 of us decided it would be a good idea to drive to Milton Keynes first and then get the train the rest of the way. Simple? far from it! I checked before booking the train that there was a car park, not pre-bookable unfortunately, but it was a large car park so what could possibly go wrong….Well it turned out that the car park was completely full [and no sign or barrier telling you that before going in and driving all the way to the top floor and down again thus wasting 10 precious minutes] we spent another 15 fruitless minutes driving around and around trying to find ANY alternative until the only possible option was for me to drop Ruth off at the station with her train ticket (and Sue’s too because she wasn’t with us, we didn’t know where she was at that point, probably still driving around too!) Anyway, in the end I drove all the way to Stockport because I was bloody determined that after all the planning I wasn’t going to miss the event! Rant over.

ladies who lunch…without me, but at least Ruth and Sue made it in time.
pre-chat…
Corrie in the make up chair

By the time I got there everyone was chatting away happily, having make up applied, there was a rail full of everyone’s beautiful makes which they had carefully selected to bring. Amy was in the process of grouping the clothes into colour stories and you can see from the eventual photos that it was almost like we had planned it that way. A few of us have met before in real life but for others it was new experience-they had all had a bite of lunch together before I got there-but naturally chatting didn’t prove too difficult anyway. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a Love Sewing photoshoot before so I knew what to expect, this time it was so lovely to have company. Amy hasn’t had this number of ‘models’ to deal with before and I think it was a bit like herding cats at times haha.

Getting any of us to stand still or stop talking long enough to take photos was an achievement in itself, there were probably a few blurred ones, but we settled into it and I think Amy was happy with the results eventually. Incidentally, I’m wearing my Trend Patterns Asymmetric Dress which I reviewed here.

Oh do behave Sue!

This is what Amy was dealing with…what am I doing with my arms? 


ooh, it’s a glamorous business

this shot makes me smile

Eventually after we’d all done our group story shots we had a final altogether group when we all piled into the slightly wobbly set with Amy. It’s astonishing that there are any pictures with all of us looking in the right direction with eyes open and mouths shut!

hmmm…

So after all our fun and games the time came for us to head home again. Sadly for me this meant a really long drive but this was made much more bearable by the fact that Ruth came in the car with me so her company made 4 hours pass a lot quicker than the lonely journey up. We have a WhatsApp group with all of us in it and we’ve had many conversations since and we’ve been looking forward to the release of the magazine so that we can share it with everyone.

You’ll know by now too that it coincides with our first SewOver50 challenge so the article will give lots more exposure to that. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, where have you been? To briefly recap, the aim is to make a garment using a pattern which features a model on the envelope who appears to be at least 45-50 years old. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds so check my previous two posts here and here which has links to a wide selection that we’ve managed to find. There’s a very disappointing number of patterns from the major pattern companies and whilst the article names McCalls and Simplicity, in truth we could only find about 4 patterns from Simplicity and none from McCalls] Between us on the day we wore a very diverse selection of patterns, from mainstream and independent designers, made in all sorts of fabrics, colours and designs which illustrates the point that whilst we may be getting older we aren’t going to let age get in the way of our sartorial choices or be dictated to by what ’society’ expects us to wear. This is in spite of how pattern companies continue to portray us, their clientele, and until they address how diverse everyone actually is we still have to continue to look beyond the envelope.

27_11_18_Mixture_readers1209.jpg
The final results weren’t bad! On the left Sara is wearing a Joni dress from Tilly and the Buttons ‘Stretch’ book in jersey from Trixie Lixie, Sue’s red Ponte dress is Butterick 5559 which is currently unavailable whilst Ruth has made the Nina Lee Southbank sweater dress in jersey from The Textile Centre.

Amy’s team looked after us so well and speaking personally I had so much fun being together with my fellow dressmakers Judith, Corrie, Sara, Sue, Sarah, Di, Ruth, Jeanette and Kate (even though it was shorter than I would have wanted!) Many of the informal photos you see here are my own but some belong to one or more of my fellow models so I am indebted to them for their use here.

Kate on the left is wearing the Factory dress from Merchant & Mills in fabric from Sea Salt, Corrie is wearing the Camber Set top which she’s added a gathered skirt to and she’s used barkcloth fabric from Outback Wife. Judith is wearing a Mercury top from Marilla Walker (in Atelier Brunette Moondust) with True Bias Lander pants.
Sarah is wearing the Fiona sundress by Closet Case Patterns in orange cord from Ditto fabrics in Brighton. She’s wearing the Hampton jean jacket by Alina Design Company over the top in mustard denim from Goldhawk Road. Di is wearing Katherine Tilton for Butterick 5891 (not currently available) made using shirting from a factory sale and a self-drafted denim skirt. Jeanette is wearing the Reeta dress by Named Patterns in a vintage rayon.
So eventually the group shot turned out well!

The magazine arrives on subscribers doormats on February 16th and in the shops from February 21st. In the meantime, have you started your #so50Visible make yet…?

Zoom in

Incidentally, we received no payment for the article and the comments made in it were in response to questions we were asked. All views expressed in this post however are entirely my own.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Are you ready for the first Sew Over 50 sewing challenge?

SewOver50 has been going strong on Instagram for nearly 6 months now, since Judith Staley set it up last August, and it seemed like it was time to consolidate its success by setting up a new challenge for dressmakers to join in with.

Judith and I, along with Sandy in Brisbane, have been working on ideas for a while and eventually we hit upon the notion of asking anyone who wanted to join in to choose a pattern which featured an older person modelling it in the advertising ie: on the packaging or accompanying artwork. This proved to be even more difficult than we had imagined because it only went to show just how few pattern companies feature older models, never mind women of colour or larger sizes! Unlike some recent publicity elsewhere we’re not intending to shame pattern companies who don’t include us as part of their demographic because it isn’t helpful, we want to highlight and commend those companies that already do, even if it’s to a very small degree, and hope to encourage those that don’t to follow suit. It does seem though that a few companies have been falling over themselves to apologise to people of colour who sew (POC) or those who fall outside the ‘normal’ size range for excluding them, whilst we as older sewers didn’t merit such an acknowledgement-perhaps they actually don’t want our custom? Are we being too polite? Whatever, onwards…

Let me set out the challenge to you (should you choose to accept it…) it is this…

To sew a garment either for yourself or someone else using a pattern which features an older person ie: over approximately 45-50, on the cover and/or in other original supporting marketing. This doesn’t include a company sharing of other people’s versions of their patterns on social media. The point is to highlight how few patterns we think there are like this and to encourage designers and pattern companies to think outside the box more and include over the age of 50 in their advertising because we’re such a large part of their buying public. We feel that there is no valid reason to side line this particular audience especially as we often have more disposable income to spend. 

  • The challenge can include any adult garment, for women or men, it can simple or advanced, outerwear or underwear, tops, bottoms, dresses. Only the garment which uses the older model in it’s artwork/advertising should be made, not any other garment by that company if it’s the usual situation.  
  • We have decided to include patterns which feature in books or magazines (probably from within the last 5 years or so) too because there may be more opportunities available there. 
  • If you feel strongly about using a genuine vintage pattern (as opposed to a modern take on vintage) which features an apparently older person then go ahead but it can be so hard to tell because everyone looked old back in the day, even teenagers!
  • Share what you’re up to as often as you like for the duration of the challenge, we all like to see what others are sewing and if you have a great pattern then let’s get it out there for all to see, someone else may want to choose it too! Make sure you follow the @SewOver50 account and use the hashtags #SewOver50 and #So50Visible so that we can all search for and see them too.
  • We’ve had several generous offers of patterns as ‘prizes’ from a few designers which will be randomly awarded at the end of the challenge. This isn’t really intended to be a competition, it’s more a sharing of ideas and inspiration and highlighting our presence.
  • In no particular order the ‘prizes’ are as follows-
  • The Maker’s Atelier-Holiday shirt and top. 
  • Seamwork- 1 of 3 PDF patterns
  • Paper Theory-Olya shirt
  • Alice & Co-pattern bundle.
  • You don’t have to make a brand new garment for the challenge but ideally it will be one you’ve made relatively recently (within a year, say) and haven’t already shared lots of times. Why not take a new photo of it though?
  • When you’re ready to enter then you must include a shot of the original pattern as well as your finished make. If you don’t know how to do multiple images or collages on Instagram then just include the pattern in the shot with you (or your chosen model) Judith will share regular posts and information and you have plenty of time.
  • Post your photos any time between February 1st and March 15th 2019 on the @SewOver50 account and make sure you include the hashtags so that we can see them.
  • The Challenge is open to EVERYONE regardless of your age, size, gender, ethnicity or orientation.

Once we started searching we realised that although there are MASSES of pattern companies now there were very, VERY few using older models [the slight exception seems to be for men’s patterns where an older man is deemed to ‘distinguished’ the same does not seem to apply to women] Judith and I trawled through The Fold Line’s huge database which was very helpful as it collates so many pattern companies but it was often extremely difficult to tell if the model was in the over 45-50 bracket or whether they just appeared that way! We decided to err on the side of caution so as not to cause offence but if you feel the model (or the illustration) is ‘older’ then go right ahead. 

There are doubtless more pattern companies existing in a small way where you are-SewOver50 has a global reach with followers all over the world-so if you know of a company, or are a pattern company, probably producing PDFs, then please highlight it on Instagram or message Judith directly and she’ll share it on the account. 

We’ve compiled a list for you to look through [it isn’t that long and it isn’t definitive by any means] so hopefully you’ll feel inspired and want to show some love to those companies which already acknowledge we exist!

Paper Theory-Olya pattern

Maker’s Atelier-several to choose from

Colette-several to choose from

The Thrifty Stitcher-Dawson Coatigan

Tessuti-various

Pattern Union-various

Sew Me Something-various

Simple Sew-Zoe dress and topAlice & Co-Intrepid Boiler Suit

Sew Over It-Coco jacket

Seamwork-various

Tuesday Stitches-various

Blue Dot patterns-most patterns, Diane does her own modelling

By Hand London-Orsola dress and skirt

Dg patterns-Patricia

Cashmerette-Washington dress

Pauline Alice-Romero trousers

Designer Stitch-various

The Sewing Workshop-various

Fresh Press-various

Sew This Pattern-various

Sinclair patterns-various

Wardrobe By Me-various

Merchant & Mills The Workbook Curlew dress only

Sew Different patterns-Cocoon jacket and possibly a couple of others

Elbe Textiles-groovy old guy, same old, same old with the women though

Simplicity #8607 #8163 absolutely dismal showing by the big companies!

Everyday Style by Lotta Jansdottir -this is a book

Wendy Ward-Beginner’s Guide to Sewing with Knits book

Any pattern created for a sewing or dressmaking magazine and which is modelled by an older person could also be deemed eligible.

As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I know full well that some smaller companies want to keep a tight rein on the image that they are projecting and I respect that completely. Sadly, as a wider community, we’re noticing that some of these companies don’t ever acknowledge any of us, via social media, who don’t fit into their ideal demographic. They are more than content to encourage us to ‘share your makes’ and ‘share the hashtag’ etc. so that they get lots of lovely free advertising from us but this is starting to get galling and I’m thinking of no longer naming, or indeed reviewing, any pattern by certain brands if they can’t be bothered to acknowledge the actual community that they rely on! #NoLikeNoMention

There are a quite number of other groups that are under represented in sewing community terms too so if you feel you are in one of those; people of colour who sew, curvaceous sewers and people with disabilities are just a few examples, please take it as read that you are absolutely invited to be a part of this too, the #SewInclusive hashtag would be pointless if it didn’t actually include anyone who wants to be involved.

We really hope that you’ll want to join in with this challenge, and that by doing so, as a community, we’ll encourage more pattern companies to choose carefully the models they use. Many of them must have stylish Mums or Aunties who would be up for a photo-shoot, or there are plenty of beautiful people right here in the sewing community who would volunteer I’m sure.

We’d love you to be a part of this challenge and help demonstrate that there are many of us who, whilst we’re a bit older, we still take a keen interest in fashion and great clothes, and we make stylish things which deserve to be seen and acknowledged by a greater section of the home dressmaking market. I want to stress that other than the pattern ‘prizes’ which have generously been donated this post is not sponsored, endorsed or affiliated by anyone and the @SewOver50 account isn’t either. We’re really looking forward to seeing what you all come up with so get searching, begin sewing and start sharing.

Happy Sewing,

Sue

Summing up where sewing has taken me in 2018

I thought in this blog I’d take a look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last twelve months and it’s made me realise what a wonderful varied collection they are. As well as sewing multiple garments from numerous patterns (which I’ll look at in a separate blog) there have been several meet-ups including the Stitchroom Sewcial in June and the now-famous Sewing Weekender in August, plus one I organised myself in November. I’ve visited quite a few exhibitions, some of them more than once, read lots of books and written reviews of several of them in case anyone out there was interested in knowing more if they fancy a visit or a read for themselves. I’ve been back to the Knitting & Stitching show, and The Handmade Fair for the first time too.

In January I made my first coat in decades, the Butterick 6423 and was pretty pleased with the outcome overall.

My first meet-up of the year in February was a return visit to Balenciaga at the V&A organised by Alex (Sewrendipity) where I met a number of lovely fellow dressmakers in the flesh for the first time. It was so nice to go to an exhibition with like-minded people and then we all went for lunch together afterwards-very civilised!

Also in February Gabby Young invited me to become one of the Simple Sew bloggers so I embarked on a year of wrangling their patterns into submission, they are nice designs but aren’t always faultlessly accurate in their drafting or instructions. I took on the role on the understanding that I’d be honest (although never rude) but informative and constructive. I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether I achieved that.

I had the opportunity to visit the Fashion Technology Academy in April which was such an inspiring place. You can study many of the technical aspects of clothing production there and we also had the chance to try out a taster session of TR pattern cutting with the supremely gifted Claudette Joseph while we were there too. If you, or someone you know, wants to go down the technical route into garment manufacture then this place in North London could be a good place to start looking.

Also in April I returned to the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London to attend their fascinating ‘Inside couture’ afternoon. I’ve been once before but it’s so enjoyable, and such a treat to get the your hands on real couture clothes (with white gloves on, natch). I highly recommend a visit if you’re in London but you do need to book for these particular events, the museum itself is open most days.

The first London Stitchers meet-up was held at the beginning of May and although I’m not technically ‘London’, as has become obvious, I go up a lot. These are organised by Ana Cocowawacrafts and Georgia One Stitch Forward and they vary in their locations between north, south and central London. Anyone is welcome and it’s a great way to meet new people and know that you all have at least one shared interest! It’s like speed-dating for dressmakers!!

Me Made May was also happening on Instagram and for the first time in ages I managed to post every single day for a month-long challenge even though I was out of the country for some of it. Lots of garments I shared weren’t new and box-fresh, in fact quite a few of them were old favourites, which is as it should be. We made a trip to Assisi in Italy during this time so that made my backdrops a bit more interesting for a few days!

I tried something a bit different in May by going on a course to learn how to make and print my own etchings. I’d done this once a million years ago when I did my Foundation Course at college and have always found the medium fascinating and beautiful. [Go and check out Rembrandt’s work in particular if you aren’t sure what they are] I’d met a lovely lady called Chrissy Norman on the first Sewing Weekender two years ago and it turns out that not only does she sew and knit, she’s a super-talented printmaker too. She has a separate IG account for her prints and I admired a print she posted on it early in the year. It transpires that she teaches courses a few times a year at Sudbourne Park Printmakers workshops. Long story short, I signed up and joined her in Suffolk in mid-May. It was soooo interesting and fun, plus I made some pretty respectable prints based on a photo I had taken of the Maggi Hambling sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

The summer saw the first of several visits to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum. I also loved the retrospective of the work of Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum, I didn’t write a review though because by the time I went there wasn’t much left of the run sadly. It was spectacular though and I’m very glad I made the effort. That same day we went to see the musical Hamilton which was absolutely stupendous, Mr Y normally doesn’t go for that style of music but even he has raved about it ever since-highly recommended!

In June I was one of the lucky attendees of the first Stitchroom Sewcial event organised by Anne ‘New Vintage Sewing’ and Lucy ‘Sew Essential’ at Anne’s workplace in the University of Loughborough. They had excelled themselves with activities for us all to try including visiting the print and weaving workshops, computerised machine embroidery, an individual photoshoot AND time to sew and use the industrial machines Anne has in her classroom. I really hope I’m lucky enough to go again in 2019…

I took a road trip with my ‘local’ sewing friends Alana and Helen to visit Sewisfaction on their first Big Summer Stitch-up which was great fun, even though it was a steaming hot day.

At the end of July and beginning of August I posted two blogs which seemed to light the blue touch paper that rapidly became Sew Over 50. When I wrote them I thought no one would read them, much less agree with me, so I was stunned by the response to say the least. My now-friend Judith was amongst those who read them and was feeling the same way so she went one step further and created a new Instagram account called @SewOver50 and everything went a bit nuts from there on. As I write this post the account has gained over 5,300 followers since mid-August which is phenomenal. It’s become a place of inspiration and encouragement for thousands of women (and the occasional man) who sew but felt they, we, are being overlooked or dismissed by the burgeoning home-dressmaking market because of our age.

One thing that some people misunderstood about the whole idea wasn’t that we wanted to be separate from any other age group, like some kind of exclusive club, not at all, we just felt that some people-magazines, pattern companies-were overlooking the opportunity to tap into a market and a group who had cash to spend, had styling ideas, skills and experience to share, originality, fun, empathy, quirkiness, style. For a lot of the people who started following the account they had very little experience of using social media to broaden their horizons in sewing terms, and for connecting with like-minded people around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, as well as Europe. Suddenly there was an identifiable hashtag to follow which took you straight to the heart of this community. In fact it isn’t only sewing that members are supportive with, many face health challenges, a changing body with the menopause, dealing with elderly parents or caring for grandchildren so there have already been lots of conversations that have strayed away from sewing completely, and that’s OK too.

It’s been gratifying to see that a number of sources are making a big effort to be more diverse in who they feature in articles or as models. There is still a long way to go though because we’re conscious it might appear that it’s mostly white middle-aged women who sew, but we know this isn’t the case because there are many women of colour who sew too, maybe they don’t engage as much with Instagram or other social media though? I don’t know the answer to this one except to say that all are welcome because that’s the whole point. It makes me very happy when much younger dressmakers comment to me that they also follow us to get inspiration and advice, which is also the reason that follow younger sewers myself!

Onwards, there was another amazing Sewing Weekender in August which was quickly followed by SewPhotoHop on Instagram in September organised by Rachel ‘House of Pinheiro‘. I didn’t keep up with this one so much and dipped in and out a bit [the same happened with Sewvember as well] but it’s a good way to find new people to follow and be inspired by if all this is new to you. I’ve just remembered there was MIYMarch (Make it Yourself) but that passed me by completely this year.

In September I became a Minerva Crafts blogger so I’m provided with fabric by them to make up into my own choice of garment and then write a comprehensive review for their own website. I’m enjoying this and it’s another string to my bow.

October saw me return to Birmingham for the SewBrum event which is magnificently organised by Charlotte ‘English Girl at Home’. It’s a chance for dressmakers from all over the place to come together in Birmingham, shop for fabric, visit Guthrie & Ghani and generally hang out together.

I was really chuffed to be invited by Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine to contribute an article about the Fashioned from Nature exhibition to the magazine in November. It was a really big deal for me to write something specifically to appear in print. I’ve been lucky enough to write pattern reviews for Love Sewing and Sew Now in the past but this was a new departure. I’d love to do more like this in the future. There’s definitely a little something coming up early in the new year but I can’t talk about that yet…..

My name in print!

I organised my own meet-up at Walthamstow Market in east London in mid-November which fortunately was a beautiful day as it was well attended and we nearly all went for lunch afterwards, to continue chatting! It was the first meet-up for quite a number of the attendees but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and were delighted to get the chance to chat together in real life and not just in a comments box!

Loving all the fabrics in Saeed’s, Walthamstow

Hasan, better known as the Man Outside Sainsbury’s!

There was a lovely pre-Christmas sewing day in Cambridge called SewCam organised by Jen Walker ‘The Gingerthread Girl’ which was a delightful antidote to festive fever, and a final London Stitcher’s meet up the following weekend to round everything off nicely!

getting started at SewCam in December

When I look back at everything in this way it makes me so happy to realise the sheer quantity of wonderful opportunities that my love of dressmaking has brought me this year in particular. I continue to teach my lovely group of ladies locally-they think all this Instagram nonsense is ridiculous in a good way! I’ve met so many awesome and inspiring women in real life for the first time and I’ve deepened some of the friendships that started last year, or longer, ago. Many people think that ‘friends’ on Insta aren’t real but that just isn’t true. Of course there are those people you should give a wide berth to and we are continually plagued by nut-jobs who think women who sew will be interested in their guns, or love of God, or whatever but if we all continue to report them then so much the better.

Wherever you are in your sewing ‘journey’ I hope you find it relaxing, fulfilling, inspiring, empowering, distracting, whatever you need it to be. I’ll never stop learning and being creative is so good for us ( we knew this all along but science is finally realising it too!)

I’ve already got some ideas for next year but, to be honest, much of 2018 just unfolded one thing at a time without too much planning in advance. I’d like to expand my own skills in 2019 and not necessarily in dressmaking terms, I have always enjoyed art so perhaps I should get my pencils and paints back out again.

There’s always an element of me hoping you enjoy what I write and find the reviews helpful or informative although, in truth, I’d write them anyway as a record. Thank you for joining me on the journey and Happy New Year, and here’s to lots more sewing adventures, maybe we’ll meet ‘in real life’ in 2019?!

Happy sewing,

Sue