It’s back! After the success of the first #so50visible challenge in 2019 we thought you might like to do it again, especially the thousands of you who have discovered @sewover50 since last year and who might have missed joining in.
In early 2019 we set you a challenge to find a pattern which featured an older model (at least 45+) and make it. If you thought this would be easy then you would have been mistaken, because once we had started looking more closely we realised that this was going to be much harder than it sounded.
Rather than me reinvent the wheel again here I suggest you take a read through the extensive post I wrote at the time, and its follow-up, so that you have some understanding of the challenge we set and how the whole idea came about. There is also a VERY extensive list of as many patterns as we could source at that time.
Since last year I’m cautiously optimistic that the situation seems to have improved somewhat. Sandy and Judith have been diligently saving in Highlights over on the Instagram account many of the new patterns that have been released in the the last twelve months which feature older models-male as well as female. Some of these patterns are by companies which have been consistently good at using a variety of models of all ages whilst for others this is a first toe in the water, which is great to see.
It seems that a lot more companies are actively using older women amongst their choice of models now (although a few still think we all want to wear the frumpier selection of what’s on offer-very wrong!) For the most part though, of the pattern companies who are choosing older models, they realise that we can be stylish, creative, outspoken individuals who do not have a shampoo and set once a week, don’t want to be stereotyped and who have money to spend on quality products.
I’ll list as many of the new patterns as I can but, if you’re tempted to join in with the challenge, I would strongly urge you to take a look at those I’ve already listed because each website will include that brand’s new patterns anyway.
Among the new ones we know of are, in no particular order:
Cashmerette-Washington dress and Rivermont Top and Dress
The Maker’s Atelier-there is wide range of patterns to pick from including several new designs Shawl Collar Dress, Shawl Collar Coat, Over-sized shirt dress, Blazer and Wrap Dress
Style Arc-Sheryl stretch or woven pants, among others.
That Wendy Ward-brand new book ‘Sewing Basics for Every Body’, the Kim jumpsuit and the Dylan Peacoat particularly
Simplicity and Butterick have improved considerably since last year and we have been told that they are actively including more mature models in their catalogues now, let’s hope this is the case. There are now a reasonable number of patterns to choose from (too many to list here individually) so browse their website or catalogues to see if there’s something that appeals.
I’m going to leave it there because I’ll never quite know where the end of this list should be! I would urge you to look through pattern company websites, books and catalogues for your inspiration if you’re keen to participate. I would also add that there are quite a number of small pattern companies who are hugely supportive and involved in our community but they either don’t use older models, or they use illustrations, so we can’t include them for this challenge. That said, we are very appreciative of every repost, share and use of the #sewover50 hashtag that any pattern company gives to a SewOver50er, they are always welcome and it helps to keep our little, occasionally slightly wrinkled, faces in the public eye to prove that we’re still here, and have no intention of keeping quiet.
We’ve got prizes again too so thank you to our list of sponsors (so far) who are offering a selection of patterns, and Wendy Ward is offering a copy of her new book too. Winners will be chosen at random after the challenge closes. You’re welcome to share works-in-progress but only completed garments shared with a photo of the original pattern after the closing date will be eligible to win a prize.
Stay in touch with the Instagram account while the challenge is on because that’s where you will find any new information as it crops up. Make sure you use the new #so50visible20 hashtag although the original #so50visible is OK too. If a pattern company reposts your outfit (which obviously we really hope they will!) use the #so50thanks hashtag too. Keep an eye on their Stories feed too because sometimes they forget to tag us, or the tag doesn’t work for some reason.
The #so50visible20 challenge begins on March 1st and runs for the whole of the month so what are you waiting for? Share a photo of your garment along with the source pattern, have a look in saved highlights on the IG account for various ideas how to do this, it doesn’t have to be a brand new garment this year but it should be a new photo of it, not one you’ve shared before. You could even use a flatlay this time, particularly if you don’t like putting yourself in the frame. Have a look at #so50flatlay for ideas on this. There is no limit to the number of entries you can put in either.
We can’t wait to see how SewOver50ers rise to the challenge, the more we keep this in the public eye then the more chance we have of seeing older faces featuring on pattern covers, in magazines, in sewing books. And part of the worldwide fun of this challenge is seeing makes for the opposite seasons to the one we might be living in because, let’s remember, we’re a global account, and that’s a really big deal!
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 Sewwhile 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.
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!
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.
Well, I seem to have set the cat amongst the pigeons a little with my previous post reviewing Vogue 9251. In it I mentioned how I chose this particular pattern over a Sew Over It one. I didn’t say anything detrimental about their Eve dress, I simply chose the Vogue one.
When I posted on Instagram about the new blog I simply commented, “don’t dismiss ‘big 4’ patterns because Vogue have some fantastic designs which fit well and are often fashion-forward”. What I didn’t expect was the number and variety of responses which that provoked. I’d like to try and explore a little more some of those comments here.
When I first learned to dress-make at secondary school the only patterns generally available to me were the big brands, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity etc. Burda were there too but they were much more challenging because very often you had to trace them off (I’ve never been a tracer, always a cutter-outer) and remember to add your seam allowances. They were frequently more fashion-forward but I think because they are a German brand their styles were ‘a bit weird’ and it wasn’t often to my taste at the time. Their printed patterns now include seam allowance but the magazine still has large sheets which you trace and add the SA to. The designs have improved somewhat too. Vogue patterns were always very much the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the pattern brands and it was always a big deal for me to spend so much money on one (even now I try to buy them when they are on a half price offer) They were often where innovative designs first appeared and then an adapted version would appear later on in Butterick or Simplicity instead. Now a Vogue pattern almost seems cheap compared to indies!
Another source of patterns were free ones provided by post by women’s magazines and newspapers, you’d save up printed vouchers which you posted off and they would then post the pattern back to you. A slow process but actually it didn’t matter much because we weren’t all about instant gratification back then, we were happy to wait because we were getting something for nothing! Some of these patterns were OK, some not so much.
In the early 80’s Prima magazine started giving free patterns included with the magazine. They were the template type we still get today which came on two-sided sheets that you had to trace off and, as a result, they were quite simple designs but they were popular. I was attempting my own pattern cutting by this time before I went to college so these patterns were a springboard to getting me started.
Then dressmaking seemed to fall out of favour and the curriculum all seemed to change at school. There were always a few of us who kept it up, it was how I earned a modest living while my children were small but it became harder and harder to buy nice fabrics at reasonable prices, or haberdashery, and nobody seemed to think it was a worthwhile pastime.
Then, in 2013, the Great British Sewing Bee happened and everything changed. There was always the core of us that had carried on sewing but now a new group were being introduced to it as a hobby and as a means to make the sorts of clothes they wanted to wear. The big pattern companies were still there but for the women who hadn’t been taught dressmaking they were a bit daunting and also a little dull. [I know there are men who sew but, let’s face it, they are the tiny minority] The packaging looked a bit dated and the layout of the instruction sheets inside hasn’t changed in decades. This isn’t a bad thing for those of us who know what we’re doing but to the unfamiliar they can be very confusing and a bit scary. They generally always assume a good level of sewing knowledge before you start so beyond telling you the order of making they don’t always tell you the exact technique or method. The pattern books don’t help themselves because they can look uninspiring with strange fabric choices and not many up-to-date or trend-led styles, or by making it difficult to spot them amongst the dull ones!
I’m not aware there was any such thing as an ‘independent pattern maker’ before about 5 years ago, and if there was then they were well below the radar, but people like Tilly Walnes, who appeared on the first GBSB series and is Tilly & the Buttons, and Lisa Comfort of Sew Over It both started developing their own patterns and began marketing them. Tilly created wearable, simple modern shapes which were beautifully presented and the instructions came in the form of photographs rather than with illustrations. Sew Over It’s aesthetic is vintage-inspired with tea dresses and floaty skirts being more prevalent. Lisa seems to have diversified into a whole lifestyle-thing which I’m quite glad I’m no longer a young mum trying to emulate.
Fast-forward to today and we have masses of new ‘indie’ patterns flooding the market all the time. It seems that everyone who fancies themselves as a designer can have a go at it and create new patterns and clearly some will be considerably better than others. Initially I didn’t go down the indie route because they were usually in the region of £12-£15 or more for a printed pattern, and besides I have a monstrous collection of paper patterns which I’ve acquired over about 40 years! I wasn’t attracted to the new patterns because they were either too simplistic and I could make my own quite frankly, or they were vintage-style which I’m not that into.
I’ve noticed too since making a few indie brand patterns that with some of them if you don’t fit into a certain age or body type then you never get a ‘like’ or a mention if you tag the company in your IG feed. Frankly, if I, my makes and my photosdon’t suit your design ideal or aesthetic then I won’t be bothering to tag in future, you need the customers more than they need you and no one likes to feel ignored.
So, where does that leave us today?
The big companies have carried on very largely unchanged for decades and you can usually be sure of a well-drafted product with good instructions (although if you are able to follow them is sometimes an entirely separate issue) The fit of some of these styles isn’t always so good but there’s always going to be some variation according to the style and I’m not saying they are always wrong or right. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with the human body here with all it’s quirks and variations as well as personal taste and style.
I wonder if the fact that, almost without exception, indie pattern styles have names rather than numbers which instantly makes them more memorable? Also, having now succumbed and bought a number of indie patterns I see there’s a wide variety in the form they take and their packaging is definitely part of the appeal. They come in nice packages and they might feature lovely sketches on the cover or fashion shoot-style photos, many come printed on heavy, quality paper and others are on ‘greaseproof’ type paper or even brown wrapping paper, each is trying be unique in what is becoming a crowded market. If you can get yourself in with The Fold Line and an attractive young blogger who will sing your praises then so much the better, guaranteed advertising.
I think that the single biggest difference that the indies have is the availability of downloadable PDFs. We’ve arrived at that very modern phenomenon ‘instant gratification’. You can purchase, download, print, cut, stick, cut out and sew all in one evening if that is what works for you. The PDF is generally a little cheaper [there are free ones too] so you can buy direct from a pattern maker who may live on the other side of the planet if you want to. It’s possible to get them printed at the local print shop too, or by online printers but I’m wondering if that doesn’t defeat the object of not buying a printed version if there is one in the first place? Indies often have a wealth of online tutorials and support which was never possible before. That said, never dismiss a good old text book-the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (first published in 1978 I think) is an absolute goldmine of information.
In the 4 years or so that I’ve been part of the ‘online’ sewing community I’ve noticed a trend amongst some dressmakers who only appear to use indie patterns and to sing their praises. Is this an inverted form of snobbery? I don’t know but that’s just fine if they are the styles you want make, of course it is, we’re a free country, but a lot of the new styles from some brands are starting to look incredibly ’samey’ and are bringing nothing new to the design table. If you want truly original new styles it seems to me that the Europeans are doing it better, such as Named, Deer and Doe or The Assembly Line.
Some indie patterns are so overly simplistic in the designs they offer that I do wonder why dressmakers are shelling out so much cash for the pattern when they don’t have to. Do they genuinely not realise that there are other, cheaper alternatives?
Don’t get me wrong, there are brands which produce well-drafted, original designs with clear instructions and the designer has worked very hard to put out an excellent quality product but none of the printed versions of these patterns are terribly cheap, many are £20 a pop now (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be because of course there is a lot of time and effort involved) but, as I return to my original point, don’t dismiss the big companies out of hand because they do still have something to offer, relative cheapness for basics being one of them.
I was particularly saddened, and annoyed, to hear Heather-Lou of Closet Case Patterns say on the Stitchers Brew podcast recently that she thought “you don’t need to take a pattern cutting class” because there are “very few things in life you need to go to school for”. Well thanks a bunch!! I’m so glad that myself and thousands like me took the time to go college to follow our dream and learn how to be pattern cutters because it was obviously a big old waste of time as anyone can do it! In the next breath she says that she now has a professional do her pattern drafting because “she (the pattern cutter) went to school and trained to do it” WTF! I’d enjoyed listening to what she had to say up until that point but that’s plain insensitive and insulting. I know there are some brands, like Maven patterns and The Maker’s Atelier, which have been created by women with years of experience and expertise in the fashion industry but there are other’s who don’t have that.
I could wang on for ages about the benefits and downsides of both types of pattern and in all honesty they will coexist side by side from now on. The big companies have certainly got to stay on their toes and possibly find new and engaging ways to present themselves to be appealing to the burgeoning younger market, but I hate to see newer dressmakers parting with lots of cash for some patterns which are really just a new version of the wheel, the spokes or the tyre may be different but it’s still a wheel none the less.
Part of what we all love about dressmaking is making original, creative clothes that fit and supporting one another in our endeavours, long may that continue. It’s just that we are the customer and always have a choice where we spend our hard-earned money.
All views expressed are my own of course and I dare say many of you won’t agree with me but I know from comments on my IG post that I’m echoing thoughts of others too. I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I’ve mentioned either! I’d be really interested to know what you think about the whole subject too so do please leave a comment.
Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!
The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!
Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.
The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.
The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!
Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.
This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.
The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.
This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.
Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…
And so to the last outfit of the month…
The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.
So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)
Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?
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!
In late 2017 I responded to an invitation/request on Instagram by Sewrendipity for bloggers to contribute to a project she wants to put together to collate information about fabric shops in as many areas or cities of as many countries as people care to add. If you don’t know Alex she was a contestant in Series 3 of the Great British Sewing Bee, and she’s passionate about sewing and dressmaking.
It can be really difficult to know where fabric shops are around your area and even if you do know they’re there, are they worth visiting? I live just north of London so it’s not that difficult to go in to places like Liberty, The Cloth House, MacCullough & Wallis, Walthamstow market, Goldhawk Road and any number of other retailers. Googling doesn’t always shed much light on what you’re looking for so Alex’s idea of creating, over time, a go-to place for this information could be a big leap forward! It’s now live and you can now check it out here.
I don’t always want to go into London so I like to use shops and retailers that are in my own area. This isn’t an exhaustive list for my part of Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire by any means but it’s a few to give you an idea. I’ve been to some of them but not all so I’ll give more details for some than others but I hope overall it’s helpful. If you’ve got any other suggestions do let me know, you could add them in the comments at the end if you like. The list is in no particular order so don’t assume I’m putting them in order of my preference because I’m not. Please bear in mind I wrote this original post in late 2017 so not all the information will still be up to date. Please check the website for each shop for current information.
Escape and Create, St Ives, Cambs
This shop for dressmakers and crafters which had opened just one week before my visit in 2017.
Owner Julie Miles made me very welcome and was more than happy to share her vision for the shop, she has great plans and it will be lovely to see them unfolding over the coming months.
So far she has a small-ish but rapidly growing selection of printed and plain cottons, the Christmas fabrics were just being put out while I was there! There are some nice jerseys, fleece and plush fabrics too, and a selection of fat quarters as well. They don’t currently sell specific soft furnishing fabrics although they probably will eventually, they do offer furnishing-related courses though including lampshade-making, and roman blind and curtain making. The fabrics are beautifully displayed on ‘industrial-style’ metal and wood racking against an exposed brick wall, the effect is very striking and classy (when I saw a photo of it posted on Instagram before my visit I thought it was the newly refurbished Liberty fabric department!) fabrics are priced per metre. They don’t sell yarn or wool though.
The shop stocks a range of Indie patterns including Tilly and the Buttons, Cashmerette, Closet Case, Fancy Tiger Crafts, Sewaholic and Avid Seamstress at present, and the range will probably expand in the future. They carry a few of the major pattern books too including Burda.
You might be interested to know that Escape and Create offers a 10% discount if you have a valid membership card for the W.I. or Quilter’s Guild.
Escape and Create has a small but useful range of equipment and haberdashery, mostly essentials like needles, pins, unpickers, tailor’s chalk and markers etc. the Gutermann thread hadn’t arrived when I visited but I know it has now.
Upstairs there is a large bright room where all the classes will take place. It’s so spacious that it’s possible for 2 classes to go on at once if needs be. I was there on a sunny day but it would be a bright workspace even on a dull day. There is also more fabric up here but if you go in the next few weeks please be understanding because this is area is a ‘work in progress’.
Escape and Create has a good website https://www.escapeandcreate.co.uk (you can’t buy fabric through it yet but that will be coming) although Julie told me it will be having an update and refresh soon. The website carries a full list of all the classes they offer both in St Ives and several other locations in the area. Sewing machines are provided at St Ives if required or you can bring your own if you prefer. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
St Ives is a small attractive Cambridgeshire town and it took me an hour to drive from my home. I came a bit unstuck once I got there because parking was a bit tricky (I missed a sign to the public car park so I ended up in the main shopping area which has quaint and narrow streets and not meant for lost drivers like me!) Anyway, there is a public car park behind the shops so make sure you look out for the P sign shortly before you get to main shops. There’s also on-road parking but don’t rely on that on busy days, I had driven past the shop as I came in so at least I knew where I was heading once I’d parked!
Escape and Create is open Monday to Saturday but not Sunday or Thursday afternoon, which is the local half-day closing. Their address is
40a, The Broadway, St Ives, Cambs, PE27 5BN,
phone: 01480 300092,
In my opinion Escape and Create is a lovely, promising sewing shop in a nice location. It’s ‘bedding in’ at the moment so I would say if you want something specific then give them a ring first to check, it’s better to go at this stage with an open mind and just enjoy looking around. They have some lovely things already with more to come and the new shop has loads of potential to develop and I really hope sewers and crafters in the local, and wider, area support them so that they can flourish.
Backstitch at Burwash Manor.
Backstitch is an independent fabric and wool shop based in the village of Barton just outside Cambridge and as such you’ll need a car to get there. There’s plenty of free parking though and, because it’s based in several converted farm buildings, there are a number of other deli, plants and clothes outlets as well as a nice little tea room serving tea, coffee, cakes and light meals.
The shop itself is modestly sized (although it is now double to the size it was a year ago) and it’s light and bright with the fabrics well displayed. They carry a good range of quality modern printed and plain cottons, linens, jerseys, denims, some boiled wool and coat fabrics as well as interfacings and haberdashery. There’s also a small selection of furnishing fabrics.
They sell a large range of various indie pattern brands which are catalogued in a flip file so it makes it simpler to look through them rather than wade through masses of patterns. They sell an extensive range of haberdashery, sewing and crafting equipment too although not sewing machines. They also sell an expanding range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns and equipment too.
Backstitch offers a variety of classes in dressmaking and crafting which are listed and bookable online via their excellent website http://www.backstitch.co.uk and they also sell their fabric online too.
I like the range of fabric they have on offer because it’s extensive enough without being too sprawling and unfocussed, the designs are well-considered and modern, or traditional with a twist but they have good basics too. One thing I noticed on my recent visit is that they have an impressive range of plain fabrics (not as crazy as that might sound, it can be really hard to find nice quality plain fabric to match a dizzying array of patterned ones!) These come in woven cottons, ponte roma jersey, lovely linens, sweat-shirting and ribbing, and craft felt by the metre.
The downside is that without a car it would be hard to visit….unless you can persuade a friend to drive you! It takes me around 45 minutes to drive there from my home but I generally come away with something nice…
I’ve written a review of them previously when I took a group of my sewing students for a visit last year and you can read about it here
You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest too.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
Crafty Angel, Buntingford
Craft Angel is primarily an online shop at present but the physical shop is open on Saturdays and Sundays 10am-4pm. This is because the owner, Angela, is still a full-time graphic designer who happens to have an absolute passion for fabrics and crafting!
I went for a visit and was given a lovely warm welcome by Angela, she really appreciates the fact that customers make a choice to visit because it isn’t on a high street. Crafty Angel is based on a working farm outside the village of Buntingford in Hertfordshire. I won’t lie, I went a bit adrift when I tried to find it because instead of trusting the map on their website I put the postcode into my Sat Nav and it took me all over the countryside but nowhere near where I wanted to be!! My advice is to stay on the A10 between Buntingford and Royston as instructed and then follow the turn off for Therfield and Sandon from this direction. There are then pink signs up to direct you towards the shop, it’s probably a mile or so and is a bit further than the map on their website makes it look but keep straight until a sharp right-hand bend in the lane and then you should see another pink sign to go straight on up a farm drive. Go to the right past the farm buildings and park in front of the shop.
Hyde Hall Farm
The premises contains the shop and workroom combined with the tables in the centre, and shelves containing the stock are around the edges. Whilst not a huge space it is very pleasant and welcoming, the windows look out onto the yard. There is a kitchen onsite too so hot and cold food and drinks are possible if you’re there for a whole day course, subject to prior arrangement.
Crafty Angel has a modest but well-chosen and attractive range of good quality cottons, jerseys, denim and linens all priced by the half-metre. Have a look at their (not surprisingly) well designed website for full details of the brands they sell. They also stock a variety of Indie dress patterns too and a small range of haberdashery and equipment. Although cushion-cover making has been a class previously they only stock a very limited range of specific furnishing fabrics.
Crafty Angel also has a modest range of qood quality yarn for knitting and crochet, with patterns available for inspiration, and classes too.
Amongst the workshops on offer are dressmaking, free-machine embroidery, applique and even umbrella-making! [I really like the sound of that!] Ange plans to offer more courses over time, you can always contact her to see if it’s possible to tailor-make (sorry) a class to your needs.
I would say it’s best to ring first if you’re making a visit if you want something specific but otherwise it’s a nice place to drop in at a weekend, and Pixel the dog is bound to be delighted to see you too!
This shop was first opened 45 years ago but at the moment it’s future is in the balance because the lady who started it recently passed away and so it is up to her family if it will continue as a fabric shop. Efforts are being made to find a buyer so we’ll have to see. Since the summer of 2018 it is under new ownership, still as a fabric shop, although I haven’t had a chance to visit yet.
In truth, the shop had a lot of stock but much of it wouldn’t appeal to a modern dressmaker. It was geared more towards quilting, patchwork and crafting and so there is an abundance of printed cottons better suited for these. They also have jerseys (mixed quality, some reasonable, some less so) and fleece (some quite nice ones for children) There are currently some tweeds and brushed cottons which would be good for autumn/winter projects, they sell lining too. There are plain and printed poly/cottons and a few satin and moire-type fabrics used for bridalwear. There are some printed viscoses in jazzy designs too, along with interfacings and quilting supplies.
There is a varied selection of haberdashery and equipment in the shop including zips, Gutermann thread, ribbons, trims, buttons etc, and they sell big-brand patterns but not Indie ones. They don’t sell sewing machines.
They have quite a large selection of wool and knitting patterns but these tend towards the more ‘traditional’ shall we say.
The thing with Fashion N Fabrics is that it’s got stuck and not moved with the times or the newer generation of sewers so it feels very muddled, cluttered and quite dated which is a real shame because it could be trading on its 45 year history and attracting younger sewers and riding the crest of the ‘Sewing Bee’ wave. All the staff are knowledgable and obviously keen for the shop to continue, and I know they’ve been having a sort-out recently and unearthed long-forgotten gems!
There is a website but it isn’t much use because it’s really only a collection of pictures and some background on the shop, with the address and phone number etc. They’ve only been accepting credit cards in the last year or so too!
I hope this doesn’t sound like a hatchet job because it really isn’t meant to be but in order for me to include it here I need to be truthful about what to expect from it at the moment. Definitely go for a visit if you’re in the area, it’s in a part of St Albans called Marshallswick on Beech Rd, there is free parking on the road and in front of the shop. There’ll be a bus route nearby too although I don’t know what number it would be, sorry.
You can find the shop at 24, Beech Rd, St Albans, AL3 5AS
Telephone: 01727 865038
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm, except Thursday 9am-1pm (although this may not be correct because I don’t think the website has been updated for quite a while, best to ring first)
Finally, my local shop is a branch of John Lewis, Welwyn. It’s a pretty good-sized department with a wide selection of fabrics including the usual printed cottons, viscose, jerseys and linings as well as woollens (suiting, coating etc) evening and bridal fabrics including sequins and lace. They offer a wide range of trims, haberdashery, threads, zips etc and equipment although this does feel reduced from what it used to be, annoyingly you can’t buy ribbon by the metre, just on rolls. Most lace and trims are still by the metre though. They have a range of sewing machines mainly Janome, Brother and their own brand [I think each branch might have different models in stock though so definitely check with the store if you’re making a special visit to view or buy] The regular department staff are very helpful and knowledgeable but because it’s a department store you can’t always guarantee that the sales assistant is a regular who knows what they’re talking about, or being asked about! the range of patterns is very limited now to just Vogue and New Look, they also have a few Tilly and the Buttons but not the full range. They sell Adjust-o-form mannequins too.
There’s some free parking on the street outside or a number of town centre car parks, and there is also a mainline railway station [Welwyn Garden City not Welwyn North] and a number of bus routes come into the town centre too.
Address: Bridge Road, Welwyn G.C. Herts, AL8 6TP
Telephone: 01707 323456
Their opening hours are currently Monday to Saturday 9am-7pm except Thursday 9am-8pm and Sunday 11am-5pm (10.30am for browsing)
The website is www.johnlewisplc.com you can find a map with directions on there. There is also a branch in Cambridge which stocks fabrics.
So that’s my list of fabric retailers that I’ve actually visited in my area. In addition to this there is a stall in Hitchin market who have a range of fabrics including the usual printed cottons and poly/cottons plus furnishing fabrics and oilcloth. He often has a number of bolt-ends or sample lengths which he’s bought from clothing manufacturers and I’ve found a few gems amongst them in the past. He’s definitely there on Saturdays and possibly Tuesday and Thursday but because it’s an outdoor market this might vary. By the way, he can be a bit grumpy but he’s ok if you smile! There are various car parks in the area as well as some street parking. The town has a railway station (10-15 minute walk into town) and is well-served by buses. There is also a good haberdashery stall run by Kim Keeping and from September 7th 2018 she will have a shop premises nearby in 34, Bucklesbury.
There is also a stall in Stevenage Indoor Market but I haven’t visited it personally. It isn’t open every day though [Wed-Sat only] I’m told it stocks a good range of specialist dance, stretch and lycra-type fabrics.
Among other shops in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire that I haven’t visited but have been told about are Needlecraft in Hemel Hempstead. It has a comprehensive website which seems up to date and interactive so I might try and get over there sometime.
In Hertford is the Hertford Craft Centre which has a website but it doesn’t look like the information is very up to date. I know the opening hours are a bit hit-and-miss, supposedly you ring a bell and someone comes to let you in. However a friend tried to visit recently but waited in vain to be let in, disappointing as she’d made a special trip based on website info.
There is a shop in Ely to called Sew Much to Do (great name!) which again I haven’t had a chance to visit. It doesn’t have it’s own website though, the website address directs you to a Facebook page. They are on Instagram though https://www.intagram.com/sewmuchtodoely
[Right off territory is Anglian Fashion Fabrics in Norwich which I visited recently-great shop, definitely worth seeking out if you’re in the area!]
You might be aware of other shops or retailers in this area of the country, we aren’t hugely well served for fabric shops without going into London I don’t think. The retailers I’ve talked about are ones I’ve shopped in or know about already, let me know if there’s a good one near you so we can all share the information, or if you think I’ve misrepresented a shop I’ve mentioned above. I’ve tried to be fair and honest but as I’ve not been paid to do these reviews so I want to speak as I find. I know trading is incredibly hard though so I don’t want to be overly harsh, the shop I was working at in Hertford ‘The Creative Sanctuary’ sadly closed at the end of September 2017 so we all need to try and support bricks-and-mortar stores as much as we can. That said, they have to sell what customers want and give excellent customer service otherwise we won’t go back or spread positive vibes about them.
Since September 2019 a new fabric and knitting shop ‘Stitch and Knit’ has opened in Brookmans Park in Hertfordshire. It stocks a range of fabrics suitable for quilting, patchwork, dressmaking and crafting along with haberdashery and Simplicity and Burda patterns. There are also yarns and patterns suitable for knitting and crochet, plus trims and embellishments. There will be classes suitable for children and adults in sewing, crafting, knitting and crochet. The website is under construction and the contact details are 91, Station Close, Brookmans Park, Herts, AL9 7QT, telephone 01707 518966
Plenty there to keep you busy! New places to visit, or ones to revisit maybe. Let me, or Alex, know if there are others you think could be added, I bet there are. You might fancy compiling a list for where you live for others to use too.
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.