Just before Christmas I was contacted by founder and editor Jillian Bagnall and offered a complimentary copy of her new, independently published sewing-based mini-magazine called Sewzine to review. I didn’t know what to expect, initially I thought it was an online print-at-home publication but I have been very impressed because it is a nicely produced print magazine on quality paper and with high production values. The graphics are clear and appealing and there’s plenty of attractive photography and illustrations for each article, plus, because it’s been independently published, that means there are no adverts to take up space, it is all content.
Let’s take a look at a few of the articles inside…
I have to admit that bra-making is something I’ve never been very tempted to try, I’d rather leave that to the experts, but I thought the article was very well written because it gives a balanced view of why it’s worth considering making your own bras, or why it might not be for everyone, I was almost persuaded! I thought the information contained in the piece would be extremely useful if you’re about embark on bra-making, including lists of patterns, materials and findings that you would need, where to source them and a tick list to fill in as you collect them together.
I found the article about wool and woollen fabrics really interesting and very well researched, there was all sorts of information about the various sources of woollen fibres and types of fabrics. Like the bra-making article it was well-illustrated as well.
I had a chuckle at the “Bring it Back?” article because I spent so much of my early career cutting and making puffball, or ‘bubble’, skirts. I enjoyed the exploration of the style from its early days to more recent incarnations, I can see this as a thread of articles revisiting other iconic styles in the future…hot pants anyone?
I also really enjoyed the idea of revisiting patterns from a year or two back to reappraise them. We are constantly bombarded by new new new patterns but I’m always happy to reuse patterns I’ve enjoyed making previously. By chance, the pattern featured in this issue is the Grainline Patterns Farrow dress which I’ve actually made 3 times myself, including one review that featured in Sew Now magazine.
The mini-mag is aimed at intermediate sewers but I think this shouldn’t put off less experienced makers. I enjoyed the chatty yet informative style of writing and a lot of time and effort has gone into the inaugural issue, it’s clearly been a lockdown passion project. There are no free patterns or other inducements as an incentive but that does mean that the editorial is unbiased so if you are intrigued to have a read for yourself then follow the link here to the Sewzine website where you can order a copy of the first issue for yourself (it’s priced at £5.75 per copy) Jillian would also welcome any ideas you might have to contribute articles for future issues, contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org While you do that I’m off to have a go at the crossword…
This whole project all came about because I couldn’t resist some ex-Prada fabric I spotted on my friend Dibs’s website, Selvedge and Bolts! She specialises in sourcing gorgeous quality high-end and ex-designer fabrics from Italy and France. This one caught my eye because funnily enough it doesn’t scream ‘designer’ but I liked the graphic print which stands out amongst so many florals.
I ordered 2 metres although I didn’t have a plan for it, then it occurred to me that I should look at actual Prada designs to see if there were any that were at all wearable by someone like me (ie. not six feet tall or looking about 17 years of age!) Somewhat surprisingly there were some really lovely shirt-dresses in eye-catching fabrics.
This was just the springboard I needed so, after a bit of a search through my patterns, I found this McCalls 7470 which had originally been free with Love Sewing magazine at some point in the recent past. The Princess seam lines and shirt styling were exactly what I wanted except I would change the skirt to be a dropped waist dirndl to echo the original.
The #7470 is a Palmer Pletsch fitting method pattern which I’ve never attempted before. I’ve been thinking lately that many of the garments I’ve made in recents months have either been old favourites or very simple shapes with little use of interesting techniques or style lines. I needed to stretch my sewing muscles a bit more-use them or lose them-so I set about following the instructions to tissue fit the bodice first. By a combination of body measurements, knowing my body quirks, periodically trying on the pinned tissue and using my padded-out dress stand Doris I arrived at a fit that I was happy with.
I’m not going to claim it was particularly easy but there are a lot of written instructions on how to approach it on the accompanying sheets to help you, plus online tutorials too. I’d recommend making a toile (or even two) if you need to before using your fashion fabric to avoid expensive mistakes.
I knew fairly early on that my 2 metres of fabric wouldn’t be enough for what I had in mind, and I didn’t want to waste my lovely Prada fabric so I opted to make the pattern instead in a vibrant printed stretch cotton which I’d bought in Paris at last year’s Sewcial event.
I took my time sewing the dress, I wanted to enjoy each part of the process. There is a two-part collar for example, pleated patch pockets with flaps, and a band running right down the front. I had a few problems with insetting the sleeves though. I’d made a small alteration the back of the arm scye which resulted in it getting a little smaller so I expected there to be a discrepancy but it was much bigger than I anticipated, the sleeve head was far too large and wouldn’t fit without puckering and gathering. I looked at a few examples of #7470 on Instagram and many versions were either sleeveless or didn’t mention it as a problem. Anyway, after a lot of fiddling about in the end I dropped the arm scye down to make it larger so that the sleeve head fitted properly.
The skirt was simply 3 rectangles, two for the front and one for the back which I pleated onto the shirt top using a fork to make each pleat even.
So what started as a Prada-inspired dress for one fabric has still ended up as a Prada-inspired dress but made in a different fabric! I finished the whole thing off with these beautiful buttons from Textile Garden all the way down the front.
So that’s my Prada-inspired dress up to this point, just not made with actual Prada fabric. I have a plan for it though because there was another shirt-dress that caught my eye…
I’m really pleased with the outcome and the way it fits, and because I took my time and didn’t rush, it was an enjoyable process. I’d fallen into the habit of making simple projects, I felt something more complex was needed.
We asked you another question on @SewOver50 in October-which were your favourite go-to, never-fail, T-N-T T-shirt (tee shirt?) patterns and naturally you came up with a veeeeerrrry long list. I’ve trawled through them all and simply listed them here with a link (if I found one) for each so you can check them out for yourselves. As blogs go, it’s a bit of a dull one but you might it useful and maybe find your next new favourite pattern amongst these. Needless to say there are probably another one or two hundred more patterns which you think ought to be on this list!
I’m not recommending or endorsing any of these patterns personally, they have all been suggested by you, the enthusiastic followers.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…?
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.
Well what an amazing start the challenge has got off too!
I think the reception has so far exceeded anything Judith and I had hoped for-many of you have embraced the concept we’ve created and are looking with enthusiasm (and frustration too) for patterns featuring an older or more age-appropriate model.
It also means that lots of you have made suggestions for pattern companies from all over the world that we haven’t encountered before so that the list has now got quite a bit longer. We’ve had more offers of prizes too!
Rather than edit the first blog constantly I’ve created a further list here with links to all the extra companies for you. This is still unlikely to be a definitive list though. I’ve gone through every suggestion that we’ve been given up to this point but I haven’t necessarily shared them because sometimes I’ve felt they don’t meet our criteria sufficiently and (heaven forbid) they may just see us as a free marketing opportunity.
Liesl+Co, Maria Denmark and Ann Normandy all feature slightly more mature models but we either know or don’t think they are quite in the 45-50 bracket yet. Still, definitely in the right direction and representing us much better, the patterns are cut for a more mature figure too which is so helpful. Ann Normandy has generously offered a prize anyway.
You have been sharing plenty of photos on Instagram using the hashtag #so50Visible telling us of your plans, and realising the frustrations of finding patterns which represents our age group properly. I was recommended to look at one pattern company (which I won’t name) where I discovered at least two patterns which were modelled by a woman of no more than 30 wearing an outfit and shoes which was clearly designed for a woman about three times her age! talk about Granny clothes, poor girl, and why would that induce a woman of mature years and very conservative tastes want to say “hey, that’s exactly the way I’m going to look when I make those garments”, I’m guessing it won’t.
Which brings me to another point-sometimes it’s gone too far the other way, pattern companies think older sewers want boring, sensible clothes all the time. We don’t!! What many of us have realised is that we are, indeed have to be, capable of looking beyond the face (and figure?) of the model on the envelope all the time in order to visualise the finished garment. This is when accurate line drawings are vital to be able to assess the ‘bones’ of the garment and know whether it will work for us.
Two areas which have been under discussion (separately) in recent weeks (and I’m not going to attempt to address all of it here) is people of colour who sew and larger sizes. In the process of going laboriously through these pattern companies I have seen that there is a modest use of POC as models, but very very few larger models. However many of these companies do sell patterns which go up in some cases to very large sizes, and which are modelled, I’m presuming by their testers, but these are only used in website images.
If you follow the hashtag you can keep up with everybody’s posts, Judith regularly shares them too on the @sewover50 account, the more often you ‘like’ a post the most often the algorithm will push the account up your feed, or you can set the post notifications to alert you whenever there’s a new post. There are now additional prizes which will be allocated completely at random at the end which are from The Sewing Revival, Designer Stitch, The Thrifty Stitcher, Winter Wear Designs and Ann Normandy.
So that’s my little update for you, another rabbit hole to fall down, or maybe you’re already on the case with a new pattern? Remember that you don’t have to share a new garment if you’ve already made something which qualifies, we want to see everything. Judith and I aren’t naive because we realise we are giving pattern companies free publicity at the moment and disappointingly a few of them haven’t acknowledged the challenge is even happening. There may be good reasons for this, or maybe they still think they don’t need to work to attract our area of the market? Remember #NoLikeNoMention!
I think as a by-product of the challenge many of you are also finding inspiring new accounts to follow on Instagram, it’s really lovely to know that there are so many of us sewing away in our various parts of the world. Dressmaking can be a solitary activity and speaking personally it makes me feel more connected by a shared activity. We want Sew Over 50 to be a positive and supportive space where we can share and chat and get advice whenever we need it.
Thank you for joining in and keep those makes coming!
I’m sorry to harp on about it but this is a really big deal for me.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook will have seen that I’ve just had my first ‘serious’ article published in Love Sewing magazine in the UK. I’ve done pattern reviews in magazines a couple of times before, as well as having the occasional photo featured in the ‘readers make’ pages but this is a new departure for me.
Understandably not everyone will want to, or be able to, buy the magazine but I thought those of you that are new to my blog in the last couple of months may be interested to read the original post which the article came about from. You can find it here, along with more photos and information.
If you’re visiting London and have an interest in how our clothing has developed over the centuries, and what the future may hold for the textile and fashion industries then this is a good way to spend a couple of hours. The exhibition is on at the V&A museum until almost the end of January 2019.
Whilst I was paid by Love Sewing to write the article I haven’t been sponsored in any way by the V&A and all views expressed are very much my own.
2017 turned out to be a very busy sewing year for me. Not only did I make a loads of projects for myself and occasionally others but I wrote two articles for sewing magazines, and did a multitude of alterations (some very complex and time-consuming) to numerous wedding dresses, along with more mundane hems and sleeve-shortenings too.
This is a quick dash through many of the things I got up to although I’m not sure everything got photographed at the time. I’ve included a lot of links too if I’ve written blogs on some of the things I mention.
In February while I was having a week’s holiday in the Lake District I managed to squeeze in a visit to Abakhan fabrics in Manchester and bought fabric by weight for the first time in my life. I also went to a meet up organised by the lovely Emily of Self Assembly Required in a pub at King’s Cross station! I met loads of fellow-sewers there as well as picking up some new patterns and fabrics from the swap including the Holiday Top by The Maker’s Atelier which I’ve made twice over the summer.
Another February highlight was seeing the latest Burberry collection alongside the fabulous capes, each one of which was a stunning one-off! I wonder if there’ll be a similar show this season?
March saw the Moneta party (dress pattern by Colette) so I made my first which I altered to include full-length sleeves, a roll collar and a fake exposed zip (I made a short-sleeved one later in the summer too) I wore it when I went to the spring Knitting and Stitching show where once again I met up with a few fellow-sewers organised by Gabby Young (no relation!) from Gabberdashery vlog.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
One of the new people I met was Juliene from Zierstoff Patterns who gave me the opportunity to try out several of their patterns during the course of the rest of the year.
Another new departure was a fundraising initiative with my weekly sewing group. We all spent an afternoon making little ‘pillowcase’ dresses which would eventually be sent off to a girl’s school in Africa.
Moving rapidly into April I visited the wonderful ‘Five Centuries of House Style’ exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, made another Holiday top utilising a few fancy stitches on my sewing machine, as well as a Sophie bolero by Zierstoff. Also during April I was approached to teach some dressmaking classes at a local craft shop so I made some sample garments for that including a dirndl skirt and a jersey tube skirt. I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.
In May I went on my travels with my good friend Sue when we walked a section of the Camino di Santiago in France which was a fantastic empowering experience.
In June Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic and it happened to be a Strictly Come Dancing cruise! The company that make all the costumes, DSI-London, were on board along with many of the dresses so I was in seventh heaven being able to see them close up. I had to write 2 blogs about that just to be able to include all the pictures! you can read them here and here.
By July I was teaching in Hertford and one of the garments was a ‘no-pattern’ kimono which was popular and also the ‘pillowcase’ dress (nothing to do with pillowcases other than a child’s version could be made from one) It’s basically two rectangles of fabric sewn up each side, hemmed at the bottom and a channel at the top with ribbon through it.
Also in July I made my first visit to the fabulous Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A in London which was wonderful. I’ve actually been 3 times now, each time taking a different friend, I’ve had excellent value from my V&A membership and I’d urge anyone local enough and interested in the decorative arts to think about joining.
I had hoped to go to the second Sewing Weekender in August but I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket….or so I thought! About 10 days before the event I got an email from Rachel at The Foldline telling me that sadly someone had had to drop out and would I like her ticket? Silly question! So off I went to Cambridge and had a wonderful time amongst so many fabulous sewing people, friends old and new. It was my birthday too! I made a simple top while I was there this time, one I’d made before so it was quick, meaning I’d have plenty of time for chatting…and taking on Elizabeth for a Ninja sewing challenge!
We each got given a copy of the same pattern and some stretch fabric off the swap table and away we went, with one hour to get it done. The results were ‘mixed’ shall we say, Elizabeth left out a section and didn’t notice until it was too late and I only cut one piece where I should have cut two so I had to go back and cut that. It was a lot of fun though, even if we looked like stuffed sofas!
I spent Septembermaking the top and trousers that I’d be modelling in Love Sewing magazine! This was certainly one of my sewing highlights in 2017, although there have been lots really.I made a third Imogen blouse from fabric I got off The Foldline’s swap table at the first Great British Sewing Bee.
Another favourite top this year was the Merchant & Mills Camber Set which I also got from the King’s Cross meet up in the spring. It’s been a really useful pattern and I love the neat way the binding and the neck yoke finish off the neck edges, it’s a really clever piece of construction.
I also made this top with 1 metre of fabric generously given to us in the Weekender goody bag by Stoff&Stil, it’s Burda 6914 which I’ve used 3 times now although this is the first time as a top. I really like the pleated neckline with a bias binding finish. There was just enough fabric to add slim ruffles to the sleeves which I neatened using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker.
I spent a lot of time during August and September making my entry to The Refashioners 2017, an Alexander McQueen-inspired jacket which I was extremely proud of when I finished it.
Into October and more fabric got purchased at the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally (oops) I made my first pair of jeans this month but I can’t talk about them yet as they were a pattern test which still hasn’t been released-I’m really happy with them though so I’ll publish the blog as soon as it’s released into the wide world. (I think the designer needs to get on with it otherwise the whole world will think that Ginger jeans are the only pattern available!)
After literally months of dithering I finally bought a new mannequin, or ‘Doris’ as she’s known to me. Old Doris was falling to bits and only held together by the t-shirt that covered her, I’d had her for well over 30 years so I reckon I’d had good value out of her. I chose the ‘Catwalk’ model from Adjustoform which I bought from Sew Essential and I’ve been very pleased with it.
Also in October I went up to Birmingham for the SewBrum meet up organised by EnglishGirlatHome, Charlotte where I had a really fun day (apart from the sweary drunk woman on the train coming home!) catching up with chums and visiting Guthrie & Ghani for the first time. I took part in the fantastic raffle while I was there but was unsuccessful….or so I thought (again) About 6 weeks after the event I got a message from Charlotte asking if anyone had told me I’d won a brand new mannequin in the raffle!!! So now I have New Outdoor Doris who lives in Threadquarters and Indoor Doris who lives…indoors, and I use her to take photos on.
November saw another new departure for me when I volunteered to write some reviews of fabric shops in my area. This was for Alex of Sewrendipity as part of her plan to create an unbiased worldwide database of fabric retailers, available to everyone to use. It meant I visited some new places as well as some old favourites.
I made another entry for our annual church Christmas Tree festival. It was a refashion/upcycle of the fabric I used for the previous year and sadly it was Old Doris’s last outing before she heads for the tip! The net petticoat was a tube of fabric with the baubles and lights inside it.
I had also volunteered as a pattern reviewer for Jennifer Lauren Vintage so I made a really nice Mayberry dress and wrote a blog for that very recently. One other new pattern I tried out but haven’t blogged yet was the French dart shift by Maven Patterns. It’s a lovely flattering shift dress with a funnel neck and a variety of sleeve styles and no zip. I made it in a navy fabric of unknown origin and wore it on Christmas Day.
The biggest deal of the year in some ways was in December when I finally, finally, decided to buy a new sewing machine! This was such a big deal because I’ve had my beloved Elna 7000 for probably 27 years and it’s still going strong (only the occasional hiccough) and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. Thing is, technology moves on and whilst that really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me there are processes and functions that I would like in order to keep (even after all these years) on top of my sewing. In early November I went to a fun jeans refashioning workshop hosted by Portia Lawrie and Elisalex (By Hand London) and we were provided with gorgeous Pfaff sewing machines to use.
Anyway, I was thinking about it long and hard for a while because it’s an awful lot of money when I came upon a Black Friday (not even a real thing) deal where this model was virtually half-price. Sooooo, after a visit to Sew Essential a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has come home to live with me and we’re getting to know one another…
So that just about sums up my sewing year. It’s been a lot of fun at times, and hot and frustrating at others (sweltering under mountainous wedding dresses in the height of the summer is no fun) I’ve met some lovely new people and been reacquainted with lovely ‘old’ ones too! I’m looking forward to another busy year of sewing, blogging, teaching, chatting, tea drinking and generally feeling connected to sewers all over the world. It really feels like dressmaking is an activity that is worthwhile again and not just some strange little hobby that old biddies do, besides, it’s surprising what you could learn from an old biddy, she may just have made the same sewing mistakes as you have but 30 or 40 years earlier!
I could hardly believe it when I got an email out of the blue from Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas a couple of months back. She was inviting me to make and review the two patterns which were going to be the free gifts with upcoming issue 46. They were two separate patterns, Butterick 6461 trousers in two lengths with top-stitched seam details and a stretch waist, and McCalls 7322 a simple top with several variations for neck and sleeves.
Once I’d agreed to the challenge (I didn’t need any persuading!) Amy suggested which companies I could select fabric from so I browsed their websites for quite some time until I found what I was looking for. The trousers called for a fabric with some stretch and eventually I chose from Danish company Stoff and Stil their stretch 10 1/2oz denim in dark blue [Amy had advised me that black doesn’t photograph well and, although I would have liked a printed stretch cotton, I couldn’t find anything suitable or to my taste] The top could be made with either a jersey or drapey woven fabrics and I chose a really pretty crepe with watercolour flowers in gorgeous inky shades of plum and blue. Stoff and Stil are breaking into the UK market and have an extensive range of fabrics and patterns, wool and haberdashery available on their website. Their delivery charge however is quite high and I wouldn’t suggest them if you’re impatient or in a tearing hurry as delivery is usually 5-7 days.
While I waited for these to arrive (a slightly nerve-wracking wait because I was up against time to get the patterns made up by a tight deadline) I decided to make a wearable toile of them both to check the fit and any other idiosyncrasies they might throw up.
I had a colourful cotton sateen in my stash which I hadn’t found a use for yet so I made the trousers up in that. I cut a size 16 according to my measurements although I suspected (hoped) that would be a bit big. [You should always go by your own measurements before anything else if you’re making a fitted style because the sizing bears no relationship to shop-bought clothing and will almost certainly be too small if you ignore it. Just because you’re a 10 or a 16 or whatever in the shops doesn’t mean you’ll be the same in paper patterns-that’s the voice of bitter experience talking!!]
In spite of all I’ve just said I soon discovered they were miles too big though the legs and were an unflattering baggy shape that looked nothing like the shape in the photo. The inseams are sewn up first so, to remove some width, I skimmed at least 2cms off each outer or side seam.
This was an improvement but still quite generous in the legs-as a result though I knew I would need to cut at least one, if not 2, sizes smaller when I made the actual trousers. The waistband wasn’t very successful either-I didn’t like the way they told you to put the elastic in, I did it as instructed although I changed the toile later and did the denim version my own way (more of that later)
I’d opted to make Style B which are cropped length with turn-ups.
Once I’d toile-d the trousers I turned my attention to the top. I decided on the longer sleeve version with a bateau neckline, Style F. I fancied style C or D with a neckband initially but I got cold feet!! I’ve been sewing on and off for over 40 years and I just thought “If I mess this up it will be there in the magazine for everyone to see!!” Nightmare!
I made a very quick toile in a rather boring viscose, again from my stash, and the result was a rather boring top!! Ok, what to do?
Fortunately the fabric order arrived and the printed crepe was really lovely, much nicer colours than it’s photo online suggested so I decided I’d use it’s drapiness and work the current sleeve-detail trend by making a floaty gathered cuff instead. Crepe is a fabric which often has a slightly rough, matt feel and has a nice inherent drape which is caused by the way the yarn is twisted and then woven into fabric. It works well for bias cut skirts, dresses or blouses and anything slightly ‘flippy’.
One thing that the toile had thrown up was that the neck was slightly too wide and my bra straps showed so I increased the width of the pattern pieces.
Because the crepe is 150cms wide it meant that I could fold the selvedges into the centre line and then the front and back pattern pieces are side by side. This matters because any pattern of the print which runs across the fabric will run in a pleasing line around the body.
Another alteration I chose to make to the top was to add a little more fullness at the hem level. The toile was a tiny bit snug at hip level so to increase at that point I pinned the neck edge against the fold but pivoted the hem level away from the fold by about 1.5cms.
For the sleeve-hack I used the short sleeve and then cut 2 rectangles that were 50cms x 30cms (50cms is approximately 1.5x the bottom width of the short sleeve) You can make them as full as you want but if they’re too wide they can get a bit annoying catching on things or dripping in the washing up!!
One of the things I liked about the pattern was it’s explanations of various techniques used during the making up. If you’re a complete beginner it isn’t always obvious what a ‘back-tack’ is or how wide the seam allowances are for example and the instructions with many patterns expect you to know things like that already.
So I made up the top again (you could use French seams if you haven’t got an overlocker or your fabric frays badly) I joined the shoulder seams and then attached the neck facings because you can have the whole thing open fairly flat which makes it a bit easier. Self- or contrast bias binding would look nice as an alternative but take care not to stretch the neck edge as you do it because it would be all droopy-dangle…
Now sew up the side seams, try it on to check for fit and make any necessary adjustments then it’s ready for sleeves.
This time I made up the short sleeves then made 2 tubes of the rectangles for the floaty bits. Around the top edge of each tube I ran two parallel rows of gathering stitches within the 1.5cms seam allowance. I always back-tack at one end and leave the other loose to pull up.
I neatened the bottom edges of the tubes at this point too by making a ‘pin hem’.
Repeat for the second sleeve then neaten the edges of the joins by your chosen method.
When I’m setting in sleeves I always start by matching the underarm seams, then the shoulder seam balance mark followed by the front and back armhole notches. Next I pull up the ease stitching gently until the sleeve fits into the armhole, this may take a little while to get a pleasing fit so don’t rush it. Once you’re happy with the fit stitch the sleeves in (there’s nothing wrong with tacking them in first if it helps) Try the top on to make sure the sleeves look OK and then neaten the armhole seam by your chosen method.
Finally I made another pin hem on the hem itself. Although the top looked lovely as it was I like to add little details to make a garment really original so I rummaged through my vast collection of buttons and found a selection in various sizes and colours which I grouped on both the gathered sleeve seams.
So that’s the top, now for the trousers.
I washed and tumble-dried the denim as soon as it arrived because there will always be excess dye in denim and some shrinkage will occur too. I used a denim needle to sew with and I had specific top-stitch thread ready for the seaming details although you could use regular thread, I used regular thread to sew them together. A denim needle is also not essential but it deals with the extra thicknesses involved much better, a sturdy-sized universal needle would be ok if not.
Because I’d made the toile I cut the denim version out making them two sizes smaller. One little change I made was to raise the centre back waist a bit higher because I felt they drooped down at the back.
Sewing them together was straightforward after that, I used a slightly contrasting blue top-stitch thread for the seam details.
Then I got to joining the legs up and, even though I’d cut two sizes smaller, they were still too baggy! I skimmed yet more off the side seams to slim them down some more. It might have been more sensible to measure my thighs and compare that figure to the paper pattern!
I put the elastic in according to the instructions again but it was a disaster! By sewing through the elastic as directed all that did was sew in a stretched position and it couldn’t retract back so it was all baggy and horrid around my waist! I unpicked all of that and sewed it instead into a channel using my zipper foot to sew close to the edge of the elastic under the fabric without catching it (hopefully)
If you’re not confident sewing it this way then you can also sew a channel and then pull the elastic through separately using a bodkin or a strong safety pin.
All that remained was to sew the turn ups as before and they’re complete!
They’re still a bit baggier than I wanted and I might even bring them in some more although better that than make them too tight in the first place, they have hint of maternity trouser to them at the moment although useful if I’ve eaten a big dinner!!
On September 28th I travelled to Stockport with my makes for a photoshoot that many of you will by now have seen in issue 46 of Love Sewing magazine. It was so much fun and it was a real treat to have my make up done by professional Nina Rochford and and be photographed by Renata Stonyte. Along with Editor Amy they really put me at my ease and, whilst I’m not a natural model, they managed to get some nice pictures. It’s been a real thrill to feature in the magazine and to have the opportunity to share my hints and tips with readers. I do hope they have been of some use or help to you, you can email me at email@example.com if you want to ask a specific question, or advice.
I’ve loved writing for Love Sewing and I’m more than happy to do it again! I’m not saying I’m an expert on everything sewingwise-far from it-but I’ve made a ton of different garments over the years, and made a ton of mistakes over the years too!
Whilst I was invited to write the pattern review, and provided with the fabric by Love Sewing, all opinions expressed and advice offered are my own and I hope you might find them helpful if you’re making up the patterns in the future.