It’s a new year (apparently?) so it’s time for my next Lamazi blog and I’m sewing something for Mr Y! I don’t know about you but I’ve felt I needed to work on something a little different to most of my other recent makes, I’ve made myself some lovely garments that I’m now frustrated not to be able to wear much as I want but Tony has been in need of some new clothes for a while now so it’s his turn to be on the receiving end!
I don’t know what you think but I’ve found that men’s wear patterns and suitable fabrics are definitely a bit harder to come by than women’s or children’s, they are out there if you’re prepared to look but it’s not easy. I’ve made him some nice shirts in the past which you can read about here, and I had made him a couple of Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts recently and then my good friend Claire told me about their Carmanah top which was quite a new pattern. It has several options so you can individualise it, for example with full length or quarter zip, hood or collar, and with or without kangaroo pockets.
Lamazi offers a range of co-ordinating See You at Six fabrics with plain and patterned French terry, and ribbing, all dyed to be a perfect match so we chose the ‘Clouds’ design in Bistro Green.
I’ve never purchased ribbing fabric before so I was unsure how much to buy, initially I requested far too much because the pattern instructions made no sense to me. Liana at Lamazi and fellow-blogger Sharlene advised me so I had 1metre in the end to be on the safe side and that was sufficient for an adult garment. If you find yourself in a similar situation I suggest you measure the appropriate pattern pieces to get an idea, or try contacting the fabric seller and I’m sure they would be happy to advise. For an adult garment it almost certainly needs joins whilst something for a child probably wouldn’t.
Based on T’s measurements (he’s 6’3” and, although he’s lost about 28lbs during lockdown, he’s not skinny) I cut him a size large but I added about 2cms at the CF and CB folds at the bottom because the previous version was just a little snug at that point. He likes the body length which comes down to about hip level, and the sleeves are nice and long too so I didn’t need to add any length to them.
The making up instructions and diagrams are quite clear, I got into a bit of a pickle using the twill tape neatening method though, partly because I printed off the booklet a bit small so I couldn’t easily read the instructions(!) and partly because the green twill tape I had managed to buy was wider than required! Anyway, I persevered and it looks OK in the end. This tape method wasn’t essential and overlocking is perfectly satisfactory, I just thought I would try it for a nice finish on the inside, it definitely adds more complexity if you want to up-skill though. The collar version has a nice detail of the chin guard over the zip which is worth adding for a quality finish.
This fabric is quite pricey but, in my opinion, it’s really lovely quality and it sewed together beautifully. There’s just enough stretch and it would be a good weight for sweatpants or a sweater dress too if you’re tempted. This is the first time I’ve used a range of co-ordinating fabrics and the finished result is really pleasing. Equally you could mix and match colours or prints using remnants for this pattern too, because of the way it’s cut in segments, especially if you go for the full zip version.
T has gallantly modelled the finished result-he’s delighted with it-he’s usually my slightly impatient photographer so the boot was on the other foot today!
Have you sewn anything for the men or boys in your life? How do they feel about it? Luckily T isn’t very demanding where his threads are concerned and he’s always been very happy with the items I’ve made him so far…..I haven’t attempted trousers in years though so perhaps that will be next? I’d interested in which patterns or fabrics for men you have been able to source, I think it’s an area for improvement in sewing terms.
It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??
To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.
But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.
Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.
If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.
About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…
So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.
I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.
I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.
Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choicesfor specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!
One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew
One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities.
As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.
I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.
Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.
I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.
One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.
As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.
This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Considering it’s a raincoat this is a project that came out of a clear blue sky! In other words, I had no plan to make a raincoat until, that is, I spied this gorgeous showerproof Missoni fabric on Dibs’s Selvedges and Bolts website. I’m not normally a sucker for impulse purchases of online fabric but this one with it’s eye-catching colours just had my name on it!
Once I had it in my hot little hands I had to come up with a design for a jacket. My starting point was a vintage pattern for a kagoule-type top which is probably from the late 50s-early 60s but there’s no date on it sadly. As was typical of patterns from that period it’s a single size, medium, which I already knew was OK because I’d used it once before about 4-5 years back. I also have a cheap-as-chips packamac which is a nice style but turned out to leak like a sieve! I would use this as my sample to follow how components like the zip and a storm flap on the front go together for example. There were a few other patterns which gave me some ideas including The Maker’s Atelier Utility Coat and from these various sources I sketched a few drawings to come up with a design I liked.
As the fabric was expensive I only bought two metres so I had to progress carefully for each step. I made a new pattern for most pieces because the new version would be mid-thigh length and have a full length front zip opening to be covered by a storm flap, plus I repositioned the shoulder seam forwards to minimise possible leakage through the seams. I altered the side seam shaping a little by curving them out slightly, to give a bit more room for bulky jumpers/sweatshirts. I reused the original hood and sleeve patterns, plus I settled on two pleated patch pockets with separate flaps on top. To reinforce the shoulder area I made an inner lining pattern which acts as an internal yoke.
I read up a few general tips for sewing shower proof fabric before I started-I didn’t need it to be waterproof so I didn’t tape each seam but I did lengthen the stitch slightly, to reduce the number of puncture holes through the fabric which could potentially let water in. I also used a fine Microtex needle to reduce any friction there might be whilst sewing too. This fabric is different to other woven fabrics because of it’s special coating so any mistakes which have to be unpicked would leave holes. It’s possible to press it carefully but not too hot or you could melt it. Use a pressing cloth over the top and warm the iron up incrementally on a scrap piece until you’re happy with the temperature.
It took me a little while to source the hardwear I needed, many suppliers of zips had the length but not the colour, or the colour and not the length! Eventually I bought two open-ended zips of different colours from Jaycott’s. I couldn’t seem to find any suitable coloured round elastic online so eventually I settled on narrow grosgrain ribbon from VV Rouleaux for the hood and back waist detail instead, plus I sourced some small spring cord-lock toggles to secure the ends where needed. I found the lining for the hood and the shoulder yoke amongst fabrics I already had.
I sewed the jacket up in ‘bite-size’ chunks of time rather than pushing on through-mostly because I was often waiting for something to arrive in the post before I could do the next part. As I wasn’t following a particular set of making instructions I was winging it to a large extent, the order of making was often influenced by another section of the garment having to take a priority at certain points.
It would have been better if the sleeves could have been just 4-5cms longer-I’m not sure why they seem short because I’m sure they weren’t on the original sweatshirt-perhaps the big difference in fabric types was a factor? Anyway, no matter, I added a small section of elastication to the top of the cuff to bring it in slightly to help prevent drips seeping back up my arms if possible! I should add that normally I would pattern-match the print but I didn’t see any need to do that for this jacket.
Because this is very much a ‘make it up as I go along’ garment I used some of the ribbon to neaten the neck/hood seam and jolly nice it looks actually!
For an unplanned garment I’m very pleased with the outcome, I love the colours and I hope it will be useful, it folds up pretty small so I can shove it in a bag if I’m going out and don’t want, or need, to take a heavier coat. It’s very much one of a kind! In normal times I wouldn’t have been sourcing everything online, I enjoy browsing in real shops for haberdashery and trims, but not just at the moment.
Two years ago one of my early makes as a Simple Sew blogger was the Kaftan pattern made in a tropical print cotton lawn kindly given by Doughty’s online fabric store. It was very much a ‘holiday’ garment but, even so, I didn’t wear it as much as I’d hoped because whilst the fabric was quite lightweight there was too much of it around my legs, it was probably a size too large and the whole thing just looked quite bulky. It would have been better in something like a very lightweight cotton voile or Batiste, or a printed chiffon or georgette as a swimsuit cover-up.
Anyway, rather than make another new garment for my next Simple Sew post I’ve decided to refashion the Kaftan into pyjamas instead, retaining the top section and cutting shorts from the remainder using the Lapwing trouser pattern.
I studied myself in the mirror wearing the Kaftan and decided to reduce it to approximately 25cms long from the original waist seam at the side-I would make it level all the way around although the waist seam rises up at the centre front. With the remaining fabric of the skirt I would make the shorts
I took the cord out of the waist and initially decided I would replace it with elastic instead although eventually I changed that plan. I felt the sleeves were a bit long and restrictive to sleep in so I shortened those too by about 5-6cms. I removed the pompom trim first although I didn’t reuse that in the end because I opted to create a curved opening on the shoulder seam instead, to soften the lines.
I partly unpicked the shoulder seam and overlocking sufficiently far that I could re-overlock the edges singly and then roll hem finish them so that the overlock stitches were enclosed.
I also took quite a bit of fullness out of the bust section at the underarm so that it would fit closer to my ribcage, I didn’t remove any corresponding fullness from the newly-shortened skirt though, I simply pleated it up to fit the top part and rejoined them together at the waist seam.
I neatened the new hem using the overlocked rolled hem method again and finally trimmed the waist seam with co-ordinating pink rick-rack from Backstitch. I decided against putting elastic in the original casing because I felt it would ride up while I slept and become annoying around my ribcage. This has proven to be the right choice because the top is comfortably loose without being huge.
Moving on to the shorts, I used a RTW pair I’ve had for years to compare measurements and also to compare against the size chart for the Lapwing trousers. I traced off the pattern in a size 14 because I wanted to create a hem similarly-shaped to my RTW ones for the shorts, they have a slight upward curve at the side seams (I dithered about adding side pockets as per the pattern but in the end I left them out, I thought about adding a patch pocket on the back instead but I didn’t do that either!)
I was able to fold the original front skirt section down the centre front line and cut a pair of front shorts pieces from that. I placed the piece as near to the top as possible so that I had the maximum amount of fabric left to cut the bias strips from.
As is very often the case the back section of trousers was bigger than the front so this meant I couldn’t cut it out of folded fabric. I laid the fabric out flat instead and cut them singly using the centre fold as my guide for the grain and making sure to flip one so that I had a pair, not two the same!
In order to hem the curve I made a wide bias band pattern piece which, ideally, I would have cut one for each leg but the remaining pieces of fabric from the front skirt didn’t allow me to do that so I cut several shorter pieces which I joined to make a long enough strip.
I joined each side seam first, neatened it and pressed towards the back. Having joined the bias strips I pressed over one long edge by 1cm. In order the self-neaten the hem I placed each strip RIGHT side to the WRONG side of the shorts (see photo) and stitched it in position.
Then the strip flips up to the right side, thus also being right side out and enclosing the raw edges. You could simply top stitch this in place along the folded pressed edge or add a trim, I put more rick rack on here to match the top. Now sew up and neaten the inseams.
The rest of the shorts were very straightforward, I placed one leg inside the other so that the crotch seam was right sides together then stitched it twice a couple of millimetres apart before neatening.
I pressed over the top edge by 3.5cms then made two round-ended buttonholes for the ribbon to come through at the centre front. Next I top stitched close to the top fold, then sewed another row of stitching 3cms from the fold to create the elastic channel. I measured my elastic for a comfortable fit and added a short piece of dusky pink ribbon (which probably came off a gift bag or something) to each end of the elastic. I slotted this through the buttonholes and then secured it so that the elastic was just out of sight with only the ribbon showing through the button holes. Job done!
I’m pretty pleased with how my new pyjamas have turned out, I reckon I’ve already worn them more times than as a kaftan so that’s got to be a good thing, right? At least this pretty fabric isn’t languishing in the wardrobe waiting for a warm sunny holiday which is nowhere on the horizon any time soon!
I’m a bit uncomfortable about sharing photos in my PJ’s but it’s in a good cause I guess.
There’s a lot going on in this post because I’m offering you my thoughts on not one product but three!
So, a bit of background first…I used to be a keen runner but various injuries forced me to stop and then I never quite got started again. Fast forward at least 3 years and I’d gained weight which I wasn’t happy about, I felt sluggish and lacking in energy, I wanted to lose the weight for the good of my health and mental wellbeing. So, coming up to date, the return to running is going well (if cautiously…) and I’m losing some weight which in turn has inspired me to try making some of my own activewear. Fortunately for me Melissa Fehr of Fehrtrade has become a sewing friend of mine since first meeting her at the Sewing Weekender a few years ago and she generously offered me a copy of her Tesselate Tee pattern to try. I’d helped test her Rouleur leggings last year so I already had that pattern. Part of the beauty of Melissa’s patterns is that she gives you really comprehensive instructions to be able to sew activewear using just a regular sewing machine if you don’t own an overlocker. I’m in the fortunate position at the moment to be a Pfaff Brand Ambassador and I have their air-threading Admire Air 5000 on loan, along with a Coverlock 3.0 as well so this all seemed like the perfect opportunity to make some new running kit.
Suitable activewear fabric is not something I have in my stash other than the scraps left from testing the Rouleur leggings so I had a little online search and came across Frumble fabrics. They have a good range of activewear fabrics at competitive prices as well as an impressive selection of suitable elastics and other trims or haberdashery you might need for this sort of project. I bought a metre of plain navy fabric and a metre of navy camouflage print, along with navy soft waistband elastic, some navy fold-over elastic and, finally, silicone grip elastic. [One point I should add here is that I decided not to pre-wash the fabric, this was based on my own knowledge and belief that synthetic fabrics are usually more colour-fast than natural fibres. I was wrong. The navy came off on my hands as I was making it up so as soon as I finished both garments they have been through the wash after all. I have alerted Frumble so I’m not saying anything here that I haven’t already fed back to them. Overall I’m pleased with the fabric quality and I learned my lesson-prewash even if you think it doesn’t need it!]
I opted to go for a medium size Tesselate top, Melissa has recently layered the pattern so now you only need to print off the size or sizes that you want, I wavered between small and medium according to my measurements. The small probably would have been fine but the medium gives me a little more room without the constant thought that I should be sucking in my wobbly bits! One of Melissa’s USP’s with her patterns is interesting seam lines which means, as well as striking designs, you can often use up small pieces or remnants of suitable fabrics. The Tesselate has a variety of options including short or long sleeves, thumb cuffs, a hood (with ponytail hole!) and back zipped pocket.
I cut the leggings a mixture between small and medium and I’m happy with the fit of the end result. I had enough fabric for long sleeves on my Tesselate and, although there’s a pattern for the back pocket, rather than print it off I made my own.
I played around with the fabrics until I was happy with their placement, I had enough of the blue spotty fabric for the back and front side panels, everything else I divided between the two navy fabrics.
I’ve made another little video to demonstrate how the air threading works on the Pfaff, you’ll need to bear in mind that it might seem like it takes a while to thread and so where is the advantage in air threading but that’s because I’m trying to explain as I go and I was sitting at a funny angle behind the camera whilst I did it.
After two years of owning the Quilt Ambition 2.0 (now discontinued) I’m used to the quality of Pfaff machines so it doesn’t surprise me that the Air Admire is sturdy (no shifting about on the table while you sew) and very speedy, with a superb quality of stitch. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with the air threading and, as I mention in the video, there’s an automatic threader for both needles too! I couldn’t get the hang of that at all to start with but it’s amazing what a difference it makes if you read the instructions and follow them! Of course, this is an expensive machine and I understand that not everyone will have that kind of budget but if you are considering an air threading overlocker (there are now a lot more models on the market than just market-leader Babylock with prices gradually coming down) then this one is most definitely worth thinking about.
I inserted the invisible zip on the sewing machine, then attached the pocket bag that way too. The T-shirt goes together pretty quickly considering the number of pieces-most pieces are cut singly because they are asymmetric-if you’re using the same fabric throughout it would be an idea to label your pieces in some way so you don’t get them mixed up.
I find it very useful having a variety of stitches to choose from especially when sewing with stretch fabrics, the 3-step zig zag was ideal when I was sewing the elastic into the waistband, I also have an ‘elastic’ stitch which is useful. A lot of machines, even quite simple ones, will probably have a stitch option which will enable you to sew activewear so why not try out a few of them to see exactly what they are, the instruction book should be helpful, or there’s so much information on the internet too.
To neaten the hems and around the neck I swapped over to the Coverlock 3.0 which I had on the coverstitch setting. Again, this is a very sturdy piece of kit with excellent stitch quality, I am finding there is a certain knack to using it and I’m by no means an expert yet but it certainly gives a very professional finish to knit, jersey or stretch garments.
As always, I hope you’ve found this helpful, I always try to be honest about how I get on with a product whether or not I’ve been gifted, loaned or purchased it-all three in this case. If you’re tempted to have a go at activewear then Melissa is a good place to start-she’s even written a book on the subject so you’re in good hands!
So, here we are TWO YEARS on from the first SewOver50 post, on August 18th 2018, and the account now stands at nearly 21K members worldwide!
Personally, I’d really like to thank Judith and Sandy for the amazing amount of work they undertake so graciously in order to steer the Mothership through some interesting and turbulent territory, especially the second half of these last twelve months.
We were all trundling along in our own way when suddenly, in early 2020, the world went very weird indeed. As the impact of Covid-19 started to take effect many of us were locked-down at home, some still working but in a whole new way, reliant on technology to carry on, it was an extremely stressful time for many who could have no contact with their loved ones or friends, lots of sewing-related events we so enjoy were cancelled or postponed. Many of us found that our sewing and creative making was a safe haven amid what was going on around us. For example, did you make a pouffe? I had the luxury of being able to sew whenever I wanted, because I couldn’t go anywhere, and I noticed others embarking on this project so I took the opportunity to use up SO many scraps of fabric and stuff them all into a footstool, I made my own pattern but I know many of you used the ClosetCore free pouffe pattern. I know many others couldn’t sew as often but, from chatting with friends, the time that they were able eke out to sew was vitally important to them, helping them to de-stress and shift their focus for a while. Shopping for fabrics, patterns and haberdashery online became a way, almost the only way, of supporting some of our favourite businesses, as people found new ways to adapt and do business. Sales of sewing machines worldwide increased exponentially with many manufacturers and retailers struggling to keep up with demand. Some of us had sewing sessions with our friends via Zoom, which was occasionally technologically-challenging but it enabled us to be in touch with each other whilst participating in our shared interest. I’m not going to dwell here on the pandemic though because it’s been different for all of us, sewing and being in touch with my sewing friends around the world has been an absolute lifeline for me personally. In fact, rather than watching the all-too-overwhelming daily news stories, it’s enabled me to hear and appreciate what people I feel I’ve come to know have been going through. At one stage it seemed anyone who was able to was using their sewing skills to help with the desperate shortages by making scrubs here in the UK, and possibly elsewhere, and mask-making has become something that people with little previous sewing experience have found themselves being able to contribute. Face coverings have become compulsory in many places now so this will be an ongoing activity in future.
Moving on, as a group @SewOver50 has always strived very hard to be inclusive of anyone who wishes to follow along, after all, part of the reason it started in the first place was because we felt somewhat excluded from sections of the sewing community by virtue (?!) of our age. Following the murder of George Floyd in the US we were all called to question the part we play in our world, even within our sewing community we had to examine our consciences to ask if we were doing enough. #BlackLivesMatter was rapidly followed by #BlackMakersMatter and there is now an Instagram account @BlkMakersMatter where you can see, and follow and support, the massive diversity of BIPOC makers, and not just sewers but crafters and makers of many beautiful things. Many of our wonderful stalwart SewOver50 followers including Diary of a Sewing Fanatic are vocal advocates, I’ve always got time for Carolyn’s no nonsense plain speaking! We shall endeavour to continue reflecting our membership, and involve a diverse range of contributors and guest editors in the future. If you have ideas for future topics, especially if you think we’re missing something important, do please let us know.
So, very briefly, that’s the worldwide picture (as it currently stands) in which there have been quite a few SewOver50-related things going on during the past 12 months too. My personal favourite was our very first, and fortuitously timed, official meet-up in London in late February. Judith was able to join me to co-host and I was thrilled that so many generous companies large and small sponsored prizes for the charity raffle we held. I think, without exception, everyone who attended enjoyed themselves and agreed we would have liked even longer to chat and create new friendships in real life, just weeks later the event couldn’t even have happened. We had high hopes of more of you being able to host your own meet-ups where ever you are in the world but that’s still not really possible, make sure you let us know if you do manage it! Above all though, stay safe!
Stalwart supporter Maria Theoharous in Sydney started her own podcast Sew Organised Style in September 2019 and she generously created a space for Sew Over 50 every Thursday! Judith, Sandy and myself have all chatted with her but you can also listen to a growing list of our fellow followers every week chatting about what sewing, crafting and Sew Over 50 means to them. It’s really lovely to actually hear their voices, talking with enthusiasm about things they are passionate about.
At the beginning of May ClosetCore Patterns paid the ultimate accolade to one of my personally most inspirational sewers, Blanca, by naming a pattern after her, it’s a stylish flight/boiler/jump suit (call it what you will) but I love her personal aesthetic and she absolutely rocks this outfit!
In the UK during the spring, and at the height of lockdown, we had series 6 of the Great British Sewing Bee to enjoy. It featured several fellow dressmakers who we can claim to be representing ‘us’ on national TV. Yes, we know they are ticking boxes to cast certain ‘types’ but at least this time it’s positive discrimination! Even so, 10 weeks went by far too quickly!
Over the year the account covered all sorts of different topics for discussion including, do you always make a toile or just happy to wing it? What are you pet sewing peeves? (cutting out and pattern tracing seemed to be top for this one!) The art of tutu making was a personal favourite, having always loved ballet and especially the costumes. Tips for better and more accurate top stitching was another goody and @SewitwithDi gave us a master class in using the correct interfacings effectively. There are too many others to mention them all but you can refer back at any time, take a screen shot of your favourites or save them to your archive for future reference.
More recently the account reached, and has now surpassed, 20,000 followers! This was marked with a giveaway where two people who had not necessarily met in real life but had formed a friendship through sewing could each win a copy of the same pattern. If you take a look at the hashtag #so50sewalong you can see some of the garments that have been made since this competition ran a couple of months ago. Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that the #sewover50 hashtag has now been used almost 80K times up to this point, it’s an absolute wealth of inspiration and knowledge which is all yours for the taking!
I think many of us enjoyed the opportunity to look back through, and share, some of our holiday photos wearing our me-mades. Sadly many holiday and travel plans haven’t been able to happen this year so it was a lovely way for us all to virtually ‘travel the world’ over the course of a weekend. Lots of us wore those clothes anyway, even if we couldn’t leave home! The online virtual Frocktails in April was another excuse to dress up a bit, knowing our friends around the world were raising a glass to each other at (almost) the same time.
Have you been keeping a #so50bingo card? This has been an ongoing way of keeping tabs on what you have been sewing and other techniques/events you could challenge yourself to try. No pressure, it’s just a bit of fun with no time limit.
During the year I wrote several blog posts based around different topics including sewing advice for newbies (or returners for that matter) your go-to T-shirt patterns, what do you take into account with your fabric buying choices, are you a batch cutter/sewer or just one thing at a time? Judith and I both contributed videos as part of the online Sewing Weekender, this is normally an event held in Cambridge, UK but The Fold Line opened it up worldwide as an online event and it was a huge success with over 1,700 people ‘attending’ from all over the world.
We also held the second #so50visible challenge earlier in the year, we seem to be having success with getting our images reposted by lots of pattern companies which is a very good thing but notably few are choosing older models-with a few honourable exceptions-to represent their patterns in the marketplace. This is still very frustrating when you look at just how many stylish and inspirational people follow this account but if we all keep plugging away a change will come. One thing that pattern companies have said to us is that the quality of photos isn’t always good enough for them to reshare so the better, and clearer, you can make your photos to show off your makes the more likely it is to get reposted. There have been a number of posts with simple tips on how to improve your photos so why not check them out?
Most recently our own Leader Judith has written an article for bi-monthly US-magazine Sew News talking about Sew Over 50, which you can order online.
So, in spite of everything, lots of good things going on for Sew Over 50 in the last twelve months, some progress being made with representation but I’m sure you’ll agree that isn’t all the account is about. I hope you continue to find the account as inspiring as I do? Yes, we all start off by being here for the sewing but it often becomes so much more than that. Real friendships have been forged as a result, very few of us have ever met one another in real life but that doesn’t stop us identifying and empathising with each other and the lives we lead, especially during these last few extraordinary months.
I am deeply indebted to Judith and Sandy for the sheer dedication they have on our behalf, and I’d like to thank all of you for your kind words of encouragement, support and appreciation to me personally, I love being a part of this worldwide community of sewing and I can honestly say the last few months would have been very different without so many of you connecting and interacting with me in some way.
Much as I’m a big fan of sewing and wearing dresses, I do love separates too, especially tops. I think this version of the Amaya shirt by Made My Wardrobe may just have gone to the top of my favourites list! [Full disclosure, Lydia offered me my choice of one of her patterns as a PDF with no expectation of a review and I selected the Amaya with its gathered neckline, raglan sleeves and full floaty cuffs] I printed it off but then didn’t start it for a while until the ‘right’ fabric came along.
As a Lamazi Fabrics blogger we each volunteer for a number of slots throughout the year but Liana was short of a post for early August so I offered to do it. I thought the Amaya would be a good option as it’s not complex and I could probably sew it quite quickly to meet the deadline. When my eyes fell on the beautiful printed Broderie Anglaise I knew I had my perfect match!
When the fabric arrived it was absolutely gorgeous, so soft and pliable. Broderie Anglaise can often be quite stiff and crisp, which may be what you want, but I’ve also found it to be a disguise for a cheaper quality cotton fabric with lots of dressing or starch in it so do be slightly wary of very cheap Broderie Anglaise. This version is a printed soft cotton lawn which is then embroidered, there are lots of eyelets so personally I’ll probably be wearing a plain-coloured RTW camisole underneath as no one needs to see my undies or midriff thank you! This specific fabric does not have an embroidered edge which some Broderie Anglaise does, and also be aware that the embroidered part of the fabric doesn’t run right up to the selvedge, this is normal with this type of fabric. On this particular fabric there’s a wider gap down one side than the other so you may find the useable part of the fabric isn’t as wide as you would think. In other words, don’t scrimp on the quantity of fabric when choosing Broderie Anglaise for a project because you could find yourself a bit short by accident.
I opted for a UK size 14 with no modifications according to my measurements but I think I will go down a size when I make another, the fabric you choose could make a significant difference to the finished look so a soft and floaty georgette or silk crepe de chine for example would look divine with plenty of volume but a firm linen, or a cotton poplin could give you the appearance of a ship in full sail! (that may, of course, be the look you’re after!)
This fabric has a one-way design but I chose to turn the upper sleeve pattern piece to interlock better and make it more economical to cut out, I really don’t think it’s that obvious on the finished garment, always worth checking though!
It’s pretty well impossible to see snipped notches or even triangles on this fabric so, in order to tell the front of the sleeve from the back, I marked the single and double notches with long thread tacks and this seemed to work well.
I used a French seam finish on the cuffs but found there wasn’t any particular advantage to doing this, for the rest of the construction I sewed regular seams and overlocked them together.
The pattern calls for interfacing to be attached down the centre front seam to stabilise it but I chose not to do this as it would show through the eyelets, I simply neatened the edge of the self-facing with the overlocker. I had a rummage through lots of the miscellaneous trims and ribbons I’ve had from past projects and tried a few ideas out with them but in the end I only used a white cotton trim down the front and simple edging lace on the sleeves, I would have used this on the hem too but there wasn’t enough, more on that later.
I added a triple zigzag stitch to embellish the sleeve ruffle seam too.
The neckline is gathered up into a bias-cut band but instead of cutting it on the bias I used a straight strip of the printed lawn from near the selvedge. I did this because a bias strip of such holey fabric wouldn’t have worked well at all, the one drawback of the tie being cut on the straight is that it doesn’t curve around the neckline quite so smoothly but it’s fine. The tie is topstitched close to the edge so, to match the sleeve, I used the triple zigzag stitch again.
Finally I had to finish the hem, I could simply have turned up as per the instructions but I wanted some kind of pretty finish to echo the cuffs. As I didn’t have enough of the sleeve trimming, or any other edging lace which I felt worked alongside what I’d already used, I opted to try out one of the satin stitches which my Pfaff machine is capable of.
I’d never tried this before so I did a couple of experimental tests with a few stitch designs that appealed to me, I used Vilene Stitch N Tear as a backing behind it to stabilise the fabric.
This seemed to be satisfactory so I sewed the whole hem by this method a few millimetres away from the edge. The Stitch N Tear is then carefully torn away to leave the actual embroidery and then finally, as accurately as possible, I snipped away the excess fabric to leave the pretty scalloped edge.
I’m very happy with this finish on the hem BUT it’s just possible that it might not be very durable in the wash, I’m half-expecting that it might start to come away in places. If this happens then I’ll have come up with another idea but for the moment it looks nice.
I hope you’ve found my tips for working with Broderie Anglaise helpful, and things to look out for with it. It’s certainly a fabric that is having a ‘moment’ at the moment, it’s timeless and feminine and I’m looking forward to wearing my Amaya for a few years to come.
Thank you as always to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric to be able to write this, and thank you to Lydia at Made My Wardrobe for generously giving me the pattern.
Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…
I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.
Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…
These have been very strange times of late and many of our regular activities have been curtailed or stopped completely. I’ve carried on sewing because it’s my creative outlet but a few weeks ago I started to feel like I had no clue what particular projects to settle on. Lots of vague ideas would float into my mind but then just as easily float back out again before I got underway with any of them. I had a couple of things which I had to sew for blog posts but beyond those I didn’t have a plan, or a clue!
My friend Melissa @fehrtrade happened to comment in our WhatsApp chat that she had sketched out her summer sewing plans, complete with their fabric needs. Most fabrics were from her stash and a couple of other items needed to be purchased.
This got me thinking, if I actually wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to make then it might give me the impetus to move forwards in a positive direction. So that’s exactly what I did. Some items on the list are patterns I’ve made previously, and love, whilst others were new ones I’ve been wanting to try. Once I’d created a reasonable list I ‘shopped’ from my stash which was good fun, I have some lovely fabrics just waiting for the right project. Whilst I can be something of an impulse purchaser of fabric I’m pretty good at sticking to my own fabric purchasing rules which I listed in the recent @SewOver50 post about fabric-buying which are as follows:
Do I really love this fabric?
Is it suitable for my intended purpose?
Do I really need it?
Price is obviously an important factor too but, for me, it’s loosely covered by these criteria anyway.
I knew with some canny cutting I could get more than one garment out of some of the fabric so eventually I settled on about 8 things from the list. In some cases I had two patterns for one piece of fabric because I couldn’t decide between them.
Once I was ready to cut, initially I picked the patterns I had made before, several times in a couple of cases. Primarily this meant the pattern was already cut out but also I would have things which were reliable because I knew they would fit, I enjoy wearing the style and there’s always room for another version in my wardrobe. Once I’d started cutting I couldn’t stop! I ploughed on for about a day and half until I had a pile of half a dozen items cut out, four of the six were remakes and two were new patterns. I felt very satisfied with this.
So why exactly am I telling you how accomplished I felt!? Because @SewOver50 right-hand woman Sandy messaged me to draw my attention to Lis @ThreadTaylors who had recently posted something similar on her feed whereby she had cut two shirts at the same time for her son and then made them both up too. Now, even though I’ve just told you that I’ve cut lots of things this isn’t my usual practice, I’m normally a ‘one thing at a time’ sewer. When I’m sewing for myself I like to complete the process from cutting to wearing before I move on to the next project, unless something goes disastrously wrong! (it might go on the naughty step for a bit while I sulk!) If I’m making for someone else there are the inevitable delays if there are fittings to schedule but otherwise the same would apply to that as well. Sandy had spotted a topic for discussion here so she invited me to manage a post on @SewOver50 asking if others cut/made in batches, made one thing at a time, or were somewhere in between?
Well the followers of @SewOver50 did not disappoint! Like the recent discussion about ‘cheap’ fabric, this was a topic where lots of you shared your thoughts so I was kept very busy reading, and responding, over the course of the next couple of days.
This is a distillation of your comments and we all seem to have a similar practices at one time or another. Many said they were like me in that they prefer to have one project on the go at a time and this was most often because they want to really enjoy the process. We take time to select the pattern, choose the fabric, match the thread and source the trims or haberdashery. Then very often it’s time to make a toile, finesse the fitting of that toile, maybe even make another toile or two before they are completely happy and ready to cut the fashion fabric, interfacings and linings! It’s all part of what makes dressmaking and sewing an enjoyable pastime for many and it’s not something to be rushed. Personally I wouldn’t say I rush but I don’t always take as much time as possibly I should. Many felt this made them more focussed, or if plenty of time wasn’t an option then they could break it down into 10-20 minute chunks which felt manageable and was still making progress.
To list or not to list? Or sketch for that matter? Melissa likes to create a page of sketches which is great because you can see a style to remind yourself what it looks like, especially if you’re likely to forget which style the pattern number or name refers to, or from a magazine like Burdastyle or Knipmode for example. I’ve made a long written list, selected a few items from it and ticked them off as I cut them. I also have a large whiteboard on the wall of my workroom on which I write different lists for the various things I’m up to and in normal times that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Some people suggested this kept them more focussed and I think I agree with them, I can still slot other items in as required. Personally I’d never want any list to be completely regimented with no flexibility because that would suck all the joy out of sewing for me. There are times when I do have to sew things which I don’t really want to but it’s a necessity and so the pleasurable makes are the ones which I ‘reward’ myself with.
A few people said they didn’t like the idea of lists or batches because they felt it took too much organisation, I probably feel less like that because I have lots of haberdashery, trims, interfacing etc so I don’t need to think too much about “have I got so-and-so” in order to make a start.
If you’re a serial non-finisher then there’s every chance you’ll end up with quite a large UFO pile. I think lockdown and Me Made May (which has just finished) has forced/encouraged quite a lot of people to revisit these projects on the naughty step and to reassess them. There is a distinct feeling of achievement when working through them to either finish a garment, repurpose it, recycle it or take it apart and start again!
The space we need for cutting out was one of the biggest factors for concentrating the cutting to a certain amount of time. If you use the dining table or the floor then there’s every chance you’ll need to move your things for practical reasons, family life/mealtimes for example, the floor is very hard on the knees, pets interrupting are a recurring theme too! All of these may mean you can only use the space in small bursts which limits how much can be cut. For many dressmakers cutting out is a necessary evil which they don’t enjoy so want it over with as quickly as possible. As a former sample cutter I always make sure I cut as accurately and efficiently as possible to ensure the best results. You can read a few of my top tips in this blog. If you really hate cutting out then batching could be a good thing because it gets it out of the way for a while!
In order to be efficient many told me that they will cut several of the same pattern at the same time if they have a favourite. Tops and T-shirts were probably the most popular of these but dresses and trousers/jeans also cropped up too. This can work well when you know a garment fits and you aren’t tweaking and fitting as you go along. Whilst making several versions of a single pattern one follower told me she writes notes onto the pattern each time in a different colour so that she knows what she’s done, and to see its development during the process. If you’re making a number of the same thing it’s efficient to keep the threads the same but personally I like to use a reasonably-matching thread to overlock as often as possible. Others are less precious and will use the same colour for everything because repeatedly changing threads takes time and keeping a range of colours can be costly.
Many of us have spent at least some of lockdown cutting and sewing scrubs, bags and face coverings, some sewed lots of them, others just one or two sets. I’ve no doubt at all though that they were well received but there’s no getting away from the fact that they became very tedious after a while. The repetition was pretty boring, although it could also have the positive byproduct of making us become more efficient sewers, and we all agreed it gave us a new-found respect and admiration for those who had no choice but to sew in factories, often with very little pleasure or decent wages involved. Some of us developed ‘production’ techniques whereby we would complete each operation the same on every garment before moving on, for example, join all the shoulder seams, attach all the neck facings, insert all the sleeves etc etc. This undoubtedly saved a lot of time but it does make you a bit boggle-eyed after a few days! @alexjudgesews did admit though that making scrubs nearly put her off sewing for life! I’ve no intention of getting into the discussion of whether or not any of us should have been sewing scrubs but I do know that I’m really really proud of how the home sewing community rose to the challenge and did it any way.
Many of us gather each prepared project together in some way, ready to begin. I like to use large ziplock-type bags which I can reuse over and over, I’ll put the pattern and cut fabric in although I don’t tend to include inter, threads or trims (many do) I’ll grab those as I go along usually from what I have. One suggested idea I liked was to use baskets to contain everything, that’s certainly more attractive than plastic bags!
A few comments made me chuckle, someone said she batch cuts but then forgets about them, where they are or even what they are! My friend Corrie @ceramic67 told me “I often cut 2 or 3 at the same time, I’m still slow but it makes me feel faster!”
A recurring comment was to spend separate days doing each part of their own creative routine so, a day printing and sticking PDFs then a day tracing them off, a day or more cutting the fabric and then the enjoyment of the sewing uninterrupted. We all have our own version of what works for us and it will vary depending on the types of pattern we like to use.
For lots of us it’s more pleasurable to be free to decide what to make and when to make it, pre-planning is no fun!
Amongst the ‘planners’ some use mood boards with sketches, photos and swatches, others will often create mini-capsules to accompany clothes they already have, or make a new, related, group of clothing. I keep swatches of the fabrics I have in a little book, it’s very low-tech but it’s good to leaf through and reminds me what I have without getting everything out.
So as you’ll see there’s no firm consensus and ultimately we do what works for us and our situation. Maybe you just batch cut small projects like Xmas gifts of pencil cases or wash bags for example, or maybe you only ever one thing at a time and nothing will persuade you to do otherwise! Having more than one item on the go could give you the option to move sideways onto something else if you realise you’ve got to wait for a delivery, or head out for some buttons or something, has anything you read here made you think you’ll try a different method next time?
Whatever works for you, until next time, happy sewing!
At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?
So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.
Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…
So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds.
[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ]
Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.
In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!
For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print.
Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters.
But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.
So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes.
I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?
@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics.
Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.
At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.
Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes.
As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing.