Pfaff air threading and a Tesselate Tee!

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 opted to put the pocket in the back left diagonal seam because I decided I could reach it comfortably behind me and use the zip easily whilst moving if necessary. I drew onto the pattern how big it needed to be to accommodate the essentials.
I placed spot and cross paper over the top and traced off the shape, adding 1cm seam allowance to it.
a new pocket bag labelled and ready

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.

Because I was going to be sewing a fair bit of the garments together directly with the overlocker I join the pieces with the pins at least 2-3cms away from, and parallel to, the cut edge. Then it’s safe to sew without the pins being anywhere near the blade.

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.

The finished waistband on the leggings, elastic is completely enclosed in a seam at the top and then I’ve secured it further with a 3-step zig zag stitch
I’ve joined the elastic for the legs into loops which are then sewn to the right side of the fabric, matching the edge of the elastic to the cut edge of the fabric.
I used a small zig zag to stitch it in place. This then flips to the inside and I coverstitched it along the top edge.

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.

The Rouleur leggings also have large side pockets which are perfect for holding your phone and/or keys etc (Betsy getting in on the act again too)

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!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

I made a Sew Over 50 video!

I thought I would share with you the video I made specifically for the recent Sewing Weekender here in the UK for anyone who wasn’t able to, or wasn’t interested in attending. Unlike previous years, when the event takes place over two days in Cambridge, this one was entirely online and so the organisers, Kate and Rachel at The Fold Line and Charlotte @englishgirlathome asked an impressive selection of contributors to make short videos on a variety of topics. I’ve never made a film before so it was a pretty steep learning curve!

The first challenge was going to be filming it, and then it would have to be edited in some way too. I worked out that if I balanced my phone on top of my sewing machine in my workroom it was at the right sort of height with good light. Then I decided I needed a script of sorts to keep me on track and that is what I’ve reproduced here, along with the video itself. I printed it out and stuck the sheets to the window and to the sewing machine like a kind of ramshackle autocue! It turned out the window was too far away though and I looked like I was gazing to the heavens for divine inspiration…how to vloggers do this all the time? Maybe they do just waffle on and nobody minds? hey ho, I knew the things I wanted to say and without some kind of prompt I might forget some of them. Anyway, I managed to film it in bursts although I did have to pause one time to shoo the pigeons off the roof because they were audibly clumping about and I didn’t need that distraction too! I found my laptop has iMovies so I managed to splice the whole thing together using that, the next Jane Campion I am not!! The script below is not word-for-word what I said because I managed to freestyle it a couple of times in an attempt to sound natural but for anyone with hearing difficulties it’s close enough, I’m afraid subtitles were absolutely beyond my rudimentary film-making abilities.

I hope you’ve all been enjoying the Online Sewing Weekender and I want to begin by thanking Kate and Rachel of The Fold line and Charlotte from English Girl at Home for taking the very brave and audacious step of carrying on with the event in spite of the strangeness of the times. It’s so great to imagine all of us sewing away at the same time wherever we are in the world.

As well as my own Instagram account I’ve also been involved with the SewOver50 account since the very beginning and whilst Judith and Sandy manage the account on a day-to-day basis I write the blogs which accompany particular discussions or any challenges which have been running.

When Kate, Rachel and Charlotte invited me to be involved I thought I’d chat a bit about the #so50visible challenge involving indie patterns in particular. It first ran in February last year and then again this March.

The reason SO50 began in the first place was because we felt that our slightly older age group was being overlooked by the burgeoning home sewing industry and we really didn’t want it to become as age-centric as the mainstream fashion industry has always been. Plus many of us bring a wealth of knowledge and experience which we’re only too happy to share with anyone new or maybe returning to dressmaking at home. 

Many of you will know that the dress pattern market has been dominated for many decades by the so-called Big 4 but in the last 10 years or so there’s been a boom in independent designers putting out their own patterns.

Followers of SO50 have embraced these indie designers with gusto but we also felt a little bit side-lined by them too. We didn’t often see ourselves being reflected back on the packaging or marketing. 

The #so50visible challenge was created to draw some attention to ourselves, to highlight that very few older sewers were featured, and to politely encourage a change of thinking. 

We came up with the idea to ask people to only sew a pattern which featured an older model in it’s advertising and promotion.

Judith and I spent an absolute age trawling through the Fold Line database and eventually came up with quite a modest list considering how many patterns are listed! We found a few books with older models too. 

Throughout the month long challenge followers were asked to share their makes, it meant many people found new brands of pattern maker which we might not have heard of before. Very often the most popular patterns were stylish, fashion-forward and wearable but the model looked more like us. Many of SewOver50’s followers are still very interested in fashion and style and we still want to look good whilst making our own clothes. 

Many of us in our 50s and 60s have more time to sew for pleasure and we might have more cash to spend on patterns and fabric too so it always strikes me that it’s a missed opportunity for indie pattern makers to disregard this huge potential market. 

While the first challenge was running we also introduced the #so50thanks hashtag because if anyone’s make was reposted by the designer we thought it was important to appreciate that they had first of all noticed and acknowledged the maker and that they were then happy to share it on their own feed. 

It’s a virtuous circle isn’t it? Feature an older model on the pattern and it gets our attention, we buy your product, we share our makes, SewOver50 probably reposts to it’s 20K followers, you get free advertising to an audience with money to spend, and more people will buy the pattern because they can imagine themselves wearing those clothes-simple! 

There are a few brands which have always been great at using a diverse range of models including Paper Theory, The Maker’s Atelier, Cashmerette, Pattern Union, Style Arc and Grainline for example, and Closet Case patterns have recently named their newest release Blanca after one of our most stylish and inspiring SO50 stalwarts, which is just fantastic and very exciting.

As well as pattern brands there are also a number of books including those by Wendy Ward and Everyday Style by Lotta Jansdottir with a real cross-section of models in them. 

There are a few other companies like Maven and Alice & Co who don’t use models at all, just illustrations or mannequins but they are super-supportive and involved in our community and constantly share and repost. Let’s be honest here, most of us are pleased to get a like or a repost because it gives us a little boost that the designer noticed us, we can all gain ideas and inspiration from others, and we want to see the garments being worn by people who are similar to ourselves in some way. The pattern companies which do notice us have then tended to become very popular with SO50 followers, it’s that virtuous circle again. 

We think there’s a small element of change happening but there’s a long way to go, though there are more companies than just the ones I’ve had time to mention here and there’s always room for more. 

I’m always happy to share the knowledge and experience I have from many years of sewing, and I know of many others who are too. It’s fantastic to be a part of this worldwide sewing community and it’s diversity is vital so if we can encourage a few more indie brands to look beyond the young, slim, white stereotype then that can only be a positive thing right? 

Enticing us to spend our grey pounds (or dollars) is a good reason to check out what the followers of SewOver50 are up to especially as there are now almost 20,000 of us! And I will often write honest reviews of patterns or fabric over on my blog which you might find interesting too, I like to think I’m a critical friend. I would encourage anyone to look at the #sewover50 hashtag because there are now tens of thousands of images to inspire you.

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the Sewing Weekender wherever you are, and I hope whatever you’re sewing is going well, with any luck we will have opportunities to meet again in real life before too long, I do hope so. I love going to meet-ups and being able to chat with fellow sewers, and filming myself like this is a first for me so I hope it’s made a bit of sense! 

Thank you again to Kate, Rachel and Charlotte, 

Bye bye etc etc…

I spent both days of the Weekender on a video call with two of my sewing buddies Melissa Fehr and Elizabeth Connolly, I met them both originally at the first Weekender and we’ve all been fortunate enough to go to every one since, we weren’t going to let a pandemic stop us this time! I made another Camber which was one of the projects I cut out on my recent batch cutting splurge and I added a machine embroidery stitch from my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0.

Me, Melissa and Elizabeth on Melissa’s phone perched in her workspace!

Over the course of the weekend over 1900 people joined in by buying a ticket, and all the profit from ticket sales which totalled over £23K were donated to four fantastic charities, NHS Together, Mind, Stephen Lawrence Trust and Black Lives Matter.

If you’ve ever read any of my previous blog posts you’ll know I really enjoy going to meet-ups so not being able to do this for the last few months has been sad to say the least, with luck it won’t be too much longer though. To my mind, this year Charlotte, Kate and Rachel have successfully created the next best thing because everyone could sew whenever and wherever they were in the world. Some did as I did and had group chats going on, two sewers I know set up their machines on trestle tables in the garden (suitably distanced of course!) others were solo but had all the video content to keep them company or by using the #sewingweekender hashtag, some didn’t/couldn’t really join in with sewing on the day for one reason or another but took part in the giant Zoom at the end of Saturday, or early afternoon on Sunday. The Zoom was fantastic because it made me realise just how many people from all over the world had been participating including the US, Canada, Germany, Norway, Israel and Australia, and hearing so many shout-outs for SewOver50 from them was even better! Everyone, whatever their situation or circumstances, had the opportunity to buy a ticket-which was essentially a charitable donation anyway-it will be interesting to see if this is a format that could be repeated in the future to make the event inclusive worldwide. Were you ‘there’? what did you make of the concept, and was it preferable in some way to the real life event for you, or not as good? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

Testing the Regatta dress from Alice & Co

Alice & Co are a pattern company run by the mother-and-daughter team of designer, pattern cutter and sewing teacher Alice, and Lilia, who is a museum textile conservator for her ‘day job’. I saw they were requesting new testers for one of their latest patterns and, as I generally enjoy the process of testing and I’m happy to give my time to assist small indie companies when possible, I was pleased to be invited to help.

The Regatta is a summer dress featuring a neckline which pulls up with ribbon to tie on the shoulders, a gathered or pleated waist, patch pockets and a button-back closure.

I had some printed viscose fabric in my stash which my good friend Claire had given me a few months back and I was sure it would be ideal for this test version of Regatta. I think the dress will be great made in a wide variety of fabrics including chambray, cotton poplin, madras cotton check, seersucker or shirting, as well as eyelet or broderie anglaise, washed linen…I could go on!

This is a PDF pattern but unlike many which provide you with ALL the pattern pieces you might require, because of the simplicity of the skirt it only gives you pieces for front and back bodice plus a patch pocket. It needs a total of 8 pages printed in colour rather a selection of dotted/dashed lines. The skirt is merely three rectangles (front and two backs) so rather than waste paper it gives you guidelines to follow for cutting the skirt pieces ‘freehand’. This isn’t as daunting as it might sound, I used the full width of the fabric cut to my chosen length PLUS a hem and a top seam allowance and then the same again but cut into two equal pieces to form the backs.

The instruction booklet is written in a nice friendly chatty style which feels both informative and encouraging, I think the illustrations are well-drawn and clear too. I printed mine out in booklet format which is a good option if your printer will allow it, 3 pages printed on both sides which fold neatly into A5.

I opted to cut a size 16 according to my measurements from the chart but I would definitely come down at least a size for the next one. As the bodice needs to be lined anyway you could make up the lining as a toile to see if you need to make any adjustments and then use it in the dress. Depending on your fabric you could self-line it or, as I did, use a plain cotton. I also decided at this stage that I would line the skirt because my fabric is a bit sheer, plus it’s a floaty skirt so I don’t want any knicker-revealing moments on windy days!! [I made a simple A-line lining, not the full pleated skirt which would have been awfully bulky]

The bodice construction is simple [if you don’t like darts you won’t be a fan though, you’ll need to make 8!]

Follow the instructions carefully for the ribbon channel openings, the diagrams will help if you’re not sure. Take care inserting the ribbons pieces at the back-cut the ribbon into one long piece for the front and two shorter pieces for the backs. You could possibly use wide elastic for this element instead if you want a different look, or make a self-fabric strip or what about using a vintage scarf even?

Once you’ve joined the outer fabric and linings together along the neck edges and armholes you’ll also need to understitch here as much as possible, to give it a nice crisp edge and stop it rolling. Just go carefully so as not to catch the fabric accidentally-you won’t be able to sew everything because it will be inaccessible in places. 

Next, when you sew the actual channels that the ribbons sit in, it might be wise to tack in position first, certainly mark the lines in some way-chalk, pencil, erasable marker-or if you have a quilting guide attachment for your machine use that. It looks like a piece of bent metal which slots in behind the foot of your machine. You can see it better in the photo although this was a different project. This enables you to follow a stitching line which is considerably further away than your usual seam allowance markings on the needle plate will allow. You’ll need to be most careful sewing the back channels because the ribbon is already in position so don’t sew through it by accident, it won’t gather up. Slot the ribbon through the front when you’ve sewn the front channel, or leave it until you’re ready to try the dress on and adjust the bows to your taste at the end.

using the quilting guide attachment to follow a wider width [this was on the Heron dress]

Making up the skirt is simple enough, don’t forget to interface the button-stand areas for stability. The pockets are positioned over the side seams but they could go directly on the front if you prefer.

I opted to use pleats on the skirt because I prefer how they look on me to gathers. I don’t have any sage advice or foolproof mathematical equation for working this out I’m afraid, I just pinned the skirt to the bodice at the side seams, CF and CB button-stand and then fiddled until I was happy with the pleats before stitching it on. There were lots of pins involved!  

lots of pins holding the pleats in position ready to sew.

If you aren’t lining the skirt then you can simply slip stitch the lining in place by hand as per the instructions. As I was lining the skirt too I cut, sewed and hemmed a simple A-line shape in plain cotton which I stitched to the bottom of the bodice lining, obviously it must have the gap at the back for the button opening. I simply caught this down behind the button-stand with a few hand stitches so it doesn’t flap about. So that it doesn’t ride up inside the dress I hand-sewed a few stitches at the side seams and CF where the seams meet to anchor them together loosely.

The lining looks like this inside, it doesn’t need to be the full length of the skirt although it could be if you want.

I used a nice deep hem of 5cms to give the skirt weight. I overlocked the edge and then used the blindhem stitch and foot to sew it up. As the hem is straight you could face it instead with bias binding or ribbon, or a contrast fabric for a different look, either machine top stitch or slip-hem in place by hand. The photos show the blindhem for my machine but most machine manuals will show you how to sew this-definitely practice to get it right as there is a knack to it.

I used 4 buttons on the bodice section and then 6 buttons on the skirt, evenly spaced so that there’s still a nice ‘split’ at the bottom. I have a ‘thing’ about button opening on skirts where the bottom button is too close to the hem, don’t ask me why, I just don’t find it aesthetically pleasing. For a novel detail I used red and blue thread to sew on the bodice buttons and ivory on the skirt. I also added a small hook and eye at the waist seam to take any strain off the button at this point. 

All that remains is to pop your dress on and pull up the ribbons to your desired amount and tie in a bow, trim the ends into neat Vs to stop them fraying. Once you’ve adjusted the gathers to your liking then pin and stitch in a few places as per the instructions to hold them in place evenly.  

I used green Grosgrain ribbon as a contrast to the otherwise nautical colours of my Regatta dress.

I just need to find a nice wide belt to finish it off I think although it works perfectly well without. My Regatta dress has already had two wears since I finished it and it’s quirky details make it stand out. It isn’t an ultra-quick make compared to some styles but it’s worth the effort and makes a charming and feminine summer dress. It would even work in more ’special’ type fabrics too, like panne velvet, Chantilly lace or crepe de chine for an evening or party dress.

Once again it’s been an interesting process to help test a pattern and Alice & Co were quick to respond to queries. Another reason I was keen to assist is because as a brand they are very supportive of the Sew Over 50 cause by reposting images shared by older makers using their patterns, and have generously provided prizes in our previous challenges.

So while the sun is out here in the UK this could be a nice addition to your summer/holiday wardrobe.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Pattern testing-a few thoughts on the subject.

If you’ve recently read my post looking at ways in which the Sew Over 50 community can keep ourselves in the public eye (should we wish to of course) you’ll know that I was talking, in part, about pattern testing for pattern designers. This seems to have generated a lot of comments and opinions so I thought I’d look at some of the issues here rather than a long trail of comments on the Instagram account (although you can always read them there too of course)

I deliberately chose not to address the biggest elephant in the room in the previous post because it would distract too much from the overall point of the post. That elephant is ‘why is it unpaid?’

Firstly, in the interests of balance, in a very few cases it isn’t always unpaid, because there is at least one pattern designer who gives a modest amount towards fabric and time for testing when the patterns are getting closer to being released. In my experience they have been pretty well tested in-house before they are sent out to testers for what they hope will be final checking, typos, errors, sizing and fit issues etc. I’m not willing to name this company because I’ve no wish to cast the ones who cannot, or do not, pay in a bad light by comparison, or give anyone the opportunity to start mud-slinging.

This leaves the companies who cannot, or do not, offer to pay for testing. I can only speak for my own experiences of testing here, you may have had other experiences yourself-positive or negative.

Let’s be quite clear, obviously nobody makes us do this and if you are unhappy or don’t agree with it being unpaid, don’t do it! Many indie pattern companies are quite literally one-woman-bands, often with other jobs the rest of the time, and to pay testers is impossible. At least they wish to have a testing process because if they didn’t we might find half-baked products released onto the market for which we’ve paid good money. I’m sure we’ve all used that type of pattern too, which has been rushed out with little or no quality or typo-checking and testing first, it’s infuriating. Yes, of course in an ideal world we would all be paid for doing this but the simple truth is that that isn’t possible in most cases. It’s a terrible business model to rely on unpaid labour but what is the solution? I agree that more of the larger indie companies should definitely be giving better ‘rewards’ because if they can finance fancy promotions and campaigns and websites and several staff then they can give some small remuneration-they wouldn’t expect a photographer or professional model to do it for nothing and they probably work for considerably fewer hours than it takes the maker at home to construct complex garments. Or maybe the ‘working for free’ culture goes further up the chain than we realise?

So, if you offer to do this and are asked to test, what next? The time it takes and the quantity of fabric needed will vary hugely and personally I prefer to know in advance what sort of garment it’s going to be, some designers give a clear descriptions of what it is so you can choose not to participate if you don’t like the sound of it, others play their cards close to their chests and don’t want to give too much away, which makes it a bit more difficult to decide. Again, the comments on IG vary from people finding it an enjoyable, interesting, at times challenging but rewarding (though not financially) experience. Usually the very least reward you can expect from the designer for your time and fabric is a copy of the finished pattern. Some offer discounts for future purchases (is that a ‘reward’?) it depends on their size and set-up to be honest.

One comment on IG spoke of her positive experience with testing for one designer who, whilst not paying, was very happy and appreciative of the results and shared the testers images upon the pattern’s release. Her experience with another pattern company however left a nasty taste because after release the designer only shared images of young, skinny testers thus ignoring this commenter’s time and contributions to the process, let alone her age or body type! If you want a very specific group of people to test for whatever reason then make sure that’s who your testers are. Don’t encourage anyone and everyone, allow them to help but then cut them out afterwards. I wish I knew who the company was so I can avoid them!

Obviously not all of us will have the time or resources to take on testing, the timescales are often tight (2-3 weeks max usually) so if it doesn’t work at the time then turn it down. It isn’t only the making that has to be done, you’ll need to give proper feedback which can take time. The flip side of the coin would be a small designer waiting on information from a tester only to be told, “nah, sorry, didn’t get it done”

I took exception however to one comment that because I, and others like me, were able to give my time, skills and fabric usually with no expectation of reward that I was somehow ‘privileged’. Couldn’t the same accusation then be applied to anyone who ever did anything for another person voluntarily? The person who pushes the book trolley around the hospital wards? The grandparent who goes into the classroom to listen to children read? Charity shops up and down the land would close if they didn’t have enough volunteers to help run them, the world would be an infinitely sadder place if we only ever did things for monetary reward. Yes of course it would be nice to be rewarded-I’d certainly like to get paid more of the time for my sewing, it is definitely undervalued although more often in my experience by the general public than by those who know what’s involved. I’m not putting anyone out of a paid job by helping test patterns, and if it was being paid then I would expect to be paid! If I am willing to offer my experience and skills to someone for little or nothing then that’s my choice.

Pattern designers do also take a chance with who they use to test. If they don’t have any kind of system whereby they can ask or check what skill level someone has then the results that come back may not be useable for them. If it’s a simple pattern then beginner skills might be perfect but I would hope they never dismiss experienced sewers just because it’s a simple pattern because they are more likely to spot errors or offer a better technique or method.

A growing area of change is that many designers are expanding the size ranges they offer so they will (or at least should!) be looking for sewers right across the range to help test the patterns. Is this something you’d consider doing, particularly if sizing has been an issue for you in the past?

@GroovyGreyLook asked if there were consistent standards for testing across the industry and I doubt very much if there is. Designers will set their own criteria which will be hugely variable depending on their own experience I’d say. The ones who have long-term and industry experience will know what they’re doing (although their instruction writing may not be great) whilst newcomers who’ve done a short pattern cutting course for example won’t have encountered so many potential pitfalls yet.

To sum up, yes of course pattern testing should attract some sort of financial reward but the fact remains that the vast majority of designers could never ever manage to do this, they are simply too small. Many of us choose to test because it’s an enjoyable and constructive way to use our skills for the benefit of someone else. It can be frustrating at times because the quality of pattern can be hugely variable and pattern designers will also have the right to pick whomsoever they like to do the testing and if they don’t choose a broad enough pool of people then that’s up to them, there is a vast resource of knowledgable people available.

I must stress that these thoughts are mine and are responses to the comments that have been left on the Instagram posts. I think the question of pattern testing will continue to go around and around but if the discussion leads more of those who are able to pay, even a small amount, to start to do so then that will have been positive. It’s no use getting shouty at people who are working quietly away in a small room doing something they love and hope to share, that’s not helping and it’s tantamount to bullying too. By all means leave your responses so that it can be a discussion but if I feel they are rude or shouty I reserve the right to ignore or delete them.

Until next time,

Sue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

testing Eden by Tilly & the Buttons

It’s always nice to be asked isn’t it? Doesn’t especially matter what but anyway, it is. So when I was asked if I would help in the testing process of TATB’s new pattern for a jacket/coat to be released in the spring I was both flattered and happy to help.

I know I have a regular moan about some Indie pattern designers but TATB are one of those who I think do a very good job. The presentation (recently with refreshed new look packaging) and the quality of the drafting and the instructions is, in my opinion, of a very good standard. Tilly doesn’t usually chuck out loads of patterns one after another, they are often in pairs and spaced out through the year.

As is quite often the case with testing there was originally a fairly tight turnaround to return feedback so my first problem was to source the fabric, and quickly. I’m not a great one for buying fabric online unless I’m confident the description and other information is accurate, or I know exactly what it is. This time though I didn’t have time to explore my regular fabric shopping haunts in London and so I had to search t’internet to see what I could find. I’d hoped to get some kind of waterproof or waxed fabric but the ones I found were either very expensive, too boring, too childish (a lot of dinosaurs and unicorns!) or not suitable for the purpose. Next I looked at wool and wool-blends and many of these were also much too expensive as well but in the end I found a really nice felted wool from FabWorksOnline so I ordered that. I was very impressed with the speed it arrived too! It’s a fully lined jacket and I’d got some silky pale pink cloque in the old stash which I didn’t think I’d use for anything else, and I had a cream-coloured open-ended zip which I thought ‘that’ll do’ so I was good to go. One version of Eden is lined with jersey, you might want to consider putting a silky lining in the sleeves, although you could still put jersey just at the cuff ends if you want the contrast roll-up effect.

After a bit of a hold up the pattern arrived but when it did I hit the ground running. In all of Tilly’s other patterns I make myself a size 5 but after checking the finished measurements for the jacket I opted for a 4 this time.

I’m not going to give you a verbatim run through of the pattern here, this time I’ll highlight areas where I used specific techniques which I think work well for this kind of garment.

There are two style variations of the Eden, either a simple longer-length duffle coat style with toggles, or a shorter jacket with ’storm flaps’ and bellows pockets which is the one I opted for. We were asked not to make any drastic pattern hacks during testing but I chose to add 5cms to the overall length of the shorter style, it was shorter than I would wear it but the other was too long.

The next thing I did differently was to use the lining fabric on the underside of the flaps instead of the wool, to reduce the bulk of them when they go into the seams. If you’re using a thinner fabric this step isn’t so necessary but I knew that once all those thicknesses were layered up into the sleeve seams it would because very bulky.

this is the underside of the front ‘storm flap’ with lining instead of double wool.

The next thing I changed (and which hasn’t been altered on the final pattern) is the shaping at the cuff of the sleeve. This is because if you have a deep turn-back but the sleeve continues down straight ie. getting narrower all the way down, when you fold it back it doesn’t lie flat against the inside of the sleeve seam. Look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve shaped the seam outwards, if you look at the next photo you’ll see why.
when you turn the cuff up inside the sleeve it will sit flush inside now.
I also opted to make the lining shorter to the line I’ve marked so that it wasn’t going to droop out of the end of the sleeve. I felt there should have been a notch to mark where the turn up point was. I made a 5cms turn up for mine.

My other suggestion for the cuff is to use a strip of iron-on interfacing to stop it from stretching, being baggy and to give it some body. This is a technique I’ve picked up after doing numerous sleeve-shortening alterations for people because this is what you will commonly find inside RTW coats and jackets to stabilise it.

Iron-on interfacing applied to the lower edge of the cuff so that it’s just over the folding point of the cuff.
it looks like this when it’s folded back.
After sewing up the sleeve seam I use my ‘clapper’ as a mini ironing board to press the seam open.
Then I turned the cuff back into position to give it a good steamy press. Use a pressing cloth so your fabric doesn’t go shiny. If you aren’t familiar with a clapper, as you can see it’s a wooden tool which can be used in a number of ways. It gets its name from when you whack the steam out of woollen fabrics during the tailoring process, so that it doesn’t remain damp.

I’ve also learned from doing alterations that a few hand stitches inside the cuffs, and also the lower coat hem facing will help hold them in position so that they don’t drop down and spoil the look of your finished jacket. It’s tricky to describe what sort of stitch this should be, it’s a kind of slip-stitch a bit like you might find on handmade curtain hems. The sleeves are raglan so they are easy to insert.

The instructions for putting the zip in are good and the photos are a help here too-there will be an online tutorial although at the time of writing this I’m not sure if it’s available yet. Putting the lining in isn’t actually that complex but it does take time and concentration, and a bit of brute force. Don’t make the opening in the sleeve lining too small because it will make it very difficult to pull everything through, especially if you have stiff or thick fabrics. The gap gets sewn up and is then down inside the sleeve eventually any way. If you’re in any doubt about accomplishing this part my suggestion would be to get the lining sewn by machine to the edges around the front (zip) and hem, pull the lining through and then slip hem the lining to the cuffs by hand.

I chickened out of putting snaps on my jacket even though they would look nice. I haven’t used them on anything else and I didn’t want to spoil my Eden so near the finish line! I opted instead for very large silver press studs which I sewed on by hand.

I finished my Eden in December and I’m really pleased to say that I have worn it loads over the winter months. I’m very happy with my size decision too because there is still plenty of room for jumpers to layer up underneath, I think the next size up would have been too big. I also think the grey and pink look really pretty together as well.

I hope you find the techniques I’ve mentioned helpful, although I don’t think they were carried through to the final pattern, TATB obviously felt that their own methods and descriptions were good enough and maybe I’ve over-complicated things but overall I’m happy with the finished garment. It’s categorised as for ‘improvers’ and I think this is a fair analysis, it would be too complex for a novice sewer although with online tutorials and determination anything is possible!

As you can see from my photos my colour palette is a little more ‘mature’ shall we say than the TATB samples but I think that also proves that it’s a nice casual style which will actually work in lots of fabric and colour combinations. I enjoy the process of testing although there are times when it’s frustrating, I assume I’ve been approached because of what my experience can bring to the party and that isn’t always borne out in the end but it can be rewarding and personally I always take a lot of time over it and try to use my skills and experience to help, advise and improve when possible. I probably won’t be asked again now so I hope you find this post helpful…

Until next time,

Sue