I published my review of The Sewing Revival Fantail top recently and since then I’ve made a second using an alternative finish which I thought I would share with you.
This second version uses a ribbing finish on the neck, cuffs and back hem instead of hemming or elastication. I’d bought some Art Gallery viscose from Sew Me Something with an interesting graphic design and then my fellow @SewOver50er Kate @stitchmeayear generously offered me some grey ribbing, she had more than she needed. It turned out to be the perfect match and I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.
There are separate pattern pieces for the ribbing cuffs, neck and hem and, although the same front, back and sleeve pieces are used, there are very slightly different cutting lines for the sleeve.
I had bought 1.5m of the graphic print and it has a fairly distinct one-way design which meant I needed to place each pattern piece carefully to try and get a reasonable match whilst not wasting too much fabric. I was able to do this by folding over one selvedge by just enough to position the front and back pieces along the same fold. This left a good sized piece from which I could individually position and cut a pair of sleeves whilst still just about getting a good match.
Sewing the Fantail with ribbing is very slightly different to the woven version. First, the deep ribbing band is sewn on the back in place of the narrow hem [I’m not sure if there’s a small discrepancy in the pattern or my cutting out but on both my versions I’ve found there to be about 5mm too much fabric in the back compared to the front when joining the side seams]
Like the first version I sewed the ribbing band onto the neck after joining the raglan seams and before sewing up the side seams. As I probably explained in the previous post, I always find it’s easier to put a facing, binding or whatever neck finish on whilst everything can still be laid out flat unless there’s a technical construction reason for doing it later.
The main reason for writing this second post is because I want to show you the way I turned the band at the hem-I forgot to take photos as I was making the first one! It’s a really neat way of of finishing the bottoms of the side seams and can be a useful technique in other places when you’re sewing different hems or edges together because it gives a crisp and level finish to an edge with the seams enclosed. The photos will help make more sense.
One other slight change I made was to the width of the ribbing cuffs, I cut the UK 12 pieces but they were much too baggy for my wrists so I shortened them by 5cms so they aren’t so wide and gapey.
At the moment I haven’t edge stitched any of the ribbing like I would do normally on knit garments. Because this is a combination of woven and knit fabrics I don’t want the woven fabric, at the neck especially, to end up puckered where its attached to the band so I’ve left it for now [and I don’t want holes if I had to unpick it]
I don’t normally post two of the same thing in such quick succession but I wanted to share the hem tip more than anything. I fully anticipate making a knit version of the Fantail at some point, or a short sleeve one in something really light and pretty…That’s what I enjoy about Sewing Revival patterns, so many possibilities if you have the imagination.
My first blog of 2021 features my last make of 2020. After several quiet weeks where I didn’t sew any garments, I had cut this project out a couple of months back but then hadn’t felt motivated to make them at the time…the days between Christmas and New Year was the right time to get my head around a nice involved project though. There has been so much going on in the UK recently, (understatement!) especially in these last few weeks, that I wanted something I had to concentrate on to take my mind off other events outside of my control.
If you’ve read my blog in the past you’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of Trend Patterns but these are the first trouser pattern of theirs that I’ve tried.
I saw Lucy wearing her own version of TPC12 on her stand at the Stitch Festival in London back in early March 2020 (just before everything went weird) and it was the unusual split hem detail that initially I really liked. On closer inspection there are some other nice features too, like the topstitched front seams with optional faux pocket flap, and a button fly. These are the kind of details that attract me to a pattern but I would say before I go much further that this is definitely an intermediate pattern as a result, you will need to be a confident sewer or at the very least game to increase and expand the skills you have already. Before I left the show that day I bought some nice heavier weight plain black linen from Rosenberg’s to make them with.
It was then literally months before I decided to tackle the pattern though. I’m not going to lie, and don’t judge me either, but I had piled on weight during lockdown which I wasn’t happy about and as I got bigger the last thing I wanted to do was make a pair of trousers that emphasised that fact. Eventually however I began dealing with the weight issue which in turn encouraged me to revisit the Utility trousers in the early autumn.
Instead of using the linen for the first pair I bought some grey stretch cotton twill from Backstitch near Cambridge. It’s lovely fabric for trousers and a very good quality at a reasonable price. Because the Utility’s are a fixed waistband I went by my waist measurement at that time (it was shrinking!) so I chose the UK 16 and I could tell that the hip would on the big side but that was OK.
I patiently traced off all the pieces which took a while because there are quite a number of unique pattern pieces that need to be cut right side up (RSU) Labelling them all is of paramount importance so that you don’t end up with unusable pieces of fabric cut the wrong way. Once I had cut the fabric out I left all the pattern pieces attached to the fabric until I had either interfaced them or until they were ready to be sewn. I made both my versions exactly (apart from fit alterations) as the pattern but you could leave off the pocket flap detail by cutting a pair of side fronts, or you could have two pocket flaps by doubling up those pieces instead. An advantage of having so many single pattern pieces is that you might have a more economical layplan because they will interlock better, folded fabric is a much less efficient way of cutting out, a single layer just takes a bit longer.
I said at the start that this is an intermediate pattern in my opinion and that is largely because the hem vents and the button fly are quite involved, although not actually difficult, plus I found the instructions and diagrams were a bit tricky to follow. I didn’t go wrong but they do require absolute concentration. What I’ll do in this blog, so that’s useful to you if you decide to make the trousers, is simplify the order of making down to a basic list which you can use in conjunction with the actual instruction booklet. I won’t give you specific, press here, topstitch there, instructions though, they are in the booklet and the diagrams are very detailed.
My first piece of advice, after you’ve attached all the interfacing to the relevant pieces and transferred all markings to the fabric, is to overlock all the cut edges (except the waist and fly front) first. I don’t normally do this because I prefer to overlock as I go along but it makes more sense here to do it as a batch process, just make sure you don’t trim away too much or lose your notches in the process.
Start by making the ‘pocket’ flap [make up the optional pocket bag if you are going to have one but set it aside for the moment] also, make the back darts and set the pieces aside for now.
Join the front seams for both fronts as far as the vent markers, do not join the fronts to the backs just yet. I found it easier to have only the vent sections to work on flat first although the instructions tell you to join the fronts to the backs. Once you’ve made both the vents except for the final single topstitching to hold the flap in place and are ready to turn up the hem join the fronts and backs at the side seams first. Now complete the topstitching to hold the ventin place then join the inseams, turn up the hem and topstitch to finish. [If you’re using the additional pocket bag I would add it whilst the leg is still open and flat, before sewing up the inseam. I sewed mine on earlier and it got in the way a bit when I was joining the various leg seams]
Pin and partially stitch the crotch seam as per the instructions then apply the outer waistband and press the seam up towards the waistband. [If you want to include belt carriers I would add them before attaching this waistband so that they are caught in the waist seam, the tops of the carriers will be enclosed when you add the facing]
Next, make the right fly section and buttonholes as per the instructions and diagrams. I’ve included a photo of where I stitched through the layers of the right front to hold them all together, I’m not sure if this is quite what is intended but it works-I couldn’t make sense of it otherwise!
Make the left fly front and attach the waist band facing, I’ve included the photo below of how this should look from the inside (yes I did use jazzy overlocking thread just because…)
Sew the remainder of the crotch seam to complete it, then sew the entire crotch seam again about 1-2mm away from the first stitching line.
Sink stitching-to complete the waistband-is simply the industry term for ‘stitch in the ditch’.
Obviously there are points where you would be advised to try the trousers on to check the fit as you go so you could do this by pinning on the stitching line (parallel, not at a right angle!) to avoid unpicking. The advantage of having a split waistband on the centre back seam (like good quality men’s trousers) is that you can fit into the small of the back more effectively.
So that’s, hopefully, a simplified method for you, it isn’t that I think the instructions aren’t good, it’s just that I got a bit confused between what was written and which diagram to follow, and that’s why I wrote it down in a clarified form as I made the second pair.
The fit of the first pair is technically not that good but they are soooo comfortable. The waist was a good fit initially although I’ve lost more weight since then so it’s very roomy now. The major issue (and I’ve read this in a few reviews) is that the crotch length is very long and looks quite droopy. You can see this in the photos of my grey pair, and this makes the cropped leg length look a bit too long as a result. For the second pair in the black linen I redrew the pattern down one size and also folded out 3cms horizontally at hip level on every pattern piece to reduce the rise. The second pair are a much better fit but that won’t stop me wearing the grey pair, it doesn’t particularly bother me that they are overly generous because the shaped waistband can’t fall off my hips anyway. Yes the grey pair are very baggy but that’s fine.
The black linen pair are a better fit at the waist, there’s still plenty of room (too much room?) over the thighs but I don’t mind that. Maybe I’ll shave a little off the next pair, or maybe I won’t…
Overall I’m a big fan of the Utility trousers and I’ll probably make more, now that I’m getting better with the fit. The design details are worth the effort but it is a project you’ll want to take some time over, I had to turn off the radio so that I could concentrate completely and I read aloud each instruction several times to ensure I was going the right way. I sewed matching topstitching but you could use a contrast thread, or maybe you could line the waistband and button stand with contrast fabrics? Apart from the pocket bag if you add one there are no other pockets so you could add some in the side seams quite easily I would have thought, or patch pockets on the back perhaps? I quite fancy a pair made in chunky cord too…
I hope you find this useful, or I’m happy to try and help if I can.
Over on the @SewOver50 account recently I shared a few of my favourite ways to finish hems or raw edges, although course it is absolutely NOT a definitive list by any means. I thought I would expand a little here on the blog using more photos of projects I’ve made in recent years. They are in no particular order either and if I wrote a blog post about the whole garment then I’ve linked it so you can read more if you want to.
Obviously there are the usual hand-finished hems using slip hemming stitch or herringbone stitch for example, which I use a lot too, but I thought I’d share a few alternatives which you might not know, or haven’t used for a while.
I’m beginning here with a faced hem…
The next one is an interesting hem finish which is very useful especially if you want a quality finish on evening or bridal wear. It uses something called ‘crin’, crinoline or horsehair braid (it doesn’t involve actual horsehair any longer though!) I’ve used it here on an organza skirt for the Dior New Look-inspired evening dress I made 4 years ago. As well as a crisp finish I wanted the hem to have distinct body and wave to it so this was the ideal technique. Crin comes in various widths, this was 5cms, lots of colours too because it’s more commonly used these days to trim hats and fascinators.
If you’re making a wedding dress for example and mounting all the skirt pieces onto another fabric, when you use crin on the hem (or bias binding for that matter) by hand-sewing the hem all your stitches will be invisible because you can catch them just through the mounting fabric. This is a couture technique so if you look at red carpet dresses with no visible stitching at the hem this will be how they achieved it. You can apply it as appropriate to any garment that you’ve mounted to another fabric though.
The next couple of photos are where I’ve used bias binding to neaten a hem. I find this a really useful technique if you need the maximum amount of hem because you can sew a very small seam allowance. It’s good if you’re letting down hems to gain length too, on trousers or children’s clothing for example.
If you have fine fabric why not consider using your overlocker if you have one on the rolled hem setting? Refer to your manual for specific instructions how to adjust your machine and make samples first to ensure it’s going to be satisfactory for your particular fabric. You’ll frequently see it used on chiffon or georgette but I’ve used it successfully here on fine cotton lawn, jersey and a stretch velour. If you don’t have an overlocker you can probably achieve a similar finish on your sewing using a rolled hem foot ideally and a small zigzag stitch-as always I would urge you to experiment to see what is possible. Some of the simplest machines can still give you an interesting variety of finishes.
I find the next couture/tailoring technique very useful on sleeves as well as coat, jacket or dress hems. I’ve used it here on my Tilly and the Buttons tester-made Eden. I wasn’t taught this method as such, I discovered it for myself whilst doing alterations taking up sleeves for people. I haven’t ever encountered it in pattern making instructions but I think it’s an excellent way of stabilising the cuffs of coats and jackets.
For this next finish I’ve used a triple straight stitch to create the effect of top stitching on the hem, and several seams, of this Simple Sew Zoe hack I made last summer.
If you have the foot attachment and stitch capability for your sewing machine you can always try blind-hemming. I must admit I don’t use it that often, and only then on completely straight hems. There is a bit of a knack to it and I tend to only use it on a busy print which will disguise any botched bits (yes really!) or if I’m tight for time compared with any other method. It’s not quite the same quality of finish you will see on RTW clothes though which uses a specific machine to blind stitch the hem.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I like to use bias binding to neaten necklines (and armholes) too. I particularly like this as a way of avoiding using a neck or armhole facing which can be notorious for constantly rolling into view or flapping about annoyingly. The version you can see in the following two applications is a strip which I’ve folded in half lengthways first, the raw edges are matched and sewn. The seam is trimmed slightly and snipped if necessary, then turned so that the edge is enclosed and finally topstitched close to the folded edge to secure. In both the following examples I have sewn the binding on the wrong side of the fabric so that the binding turns to the outside to be visible and decorative but you could just as easily sew it to the right side so that it turns to the inside of the finished garment.
I’ve have included another variation of binding on a hem to show you how it can be combined with other techniques to achieve a quality finish. I used it here on a sheer organza which was mounted onto a backing fabric of slipper satin. This meant that when I turned the hem up the hand-stitching was invisible from the outside because the stitches only went through the mounting fabric.
The next technique is more usually the choice of the pattern designer than the dressmaker, although if you know a little about pattern cutting you might be able to do it for yourself. This is an example of a deep grown-on faced hem on the Trend Patterns Square dress which I’ve made twice. It works brilliantly on this dress because the hem edges are straight (square!) plus it gives real weight to the hem which is another satisfying detail.
Pin hemming is a technique I’ve used for decades on fine fabrics. You can replicate it using a rolled hem foot attachment on your machine although it can be trial and error which size works best for you with variable results. I have two different sizes of foot, 2mm and 4mm and I can’t get on with either, I’ve since been told that 3mm is the optimum size for most fabrics but I’m not prepared to risk another mistake when I know I can achieve a good quality result this way instead.
Simply put, I turn over the raw edge by approximately 5mm and stitch very close to the folded edge. Carefully trim the excess close to the stitching line and give it a light press. Then turn again and stitch a second time on top of the first row of stitching. This particular example is from the Trend Bias T-shirt dress I made a few months ago.
If you read about my pattern hack of the Simple Sew Cocoon dress you will see how this variation of hemming came about. I added a large chunk of fabric to give extra length to a dress that would have been too short without it. This method is probably best on a straight hem, you could use it on sleeves too.
This next one is a very much trial and error. I used an edging stitch on my Pfaff sewing machine to hem this Broderie Anglaise blouse which I made recently.
I’ve used a variation of a faced hem recently when, instead of bias binding, I used straight strips of fabric to turn up a straight hem on a dirndl skirt. There will be a blog of this particular garment coming soon…
To finish with is a very simple method of rolling a fairly narrow hem. Overlock the edge first using three (or even two) threads then carefully turn it once and then again so that the overlocking is enclosed inside. If the fabric is quite ‘bouncy’ and won’t stay in position you could press the edge over once first and then roll it the second time. Whilst the result is wider than pin hemming it is narrower, and possibly quicker and more accurate, than a simple turned hem.
This last suggestion is from a project which will be blogged very soon. I cut 6cms wide bias strips which I used to create a self-neatening hem on a pair of pyjama shorts.
I hope you’ve found my suggestions useful or thought provoking, is there something here which you’ve never encountered before, or that’s made you think how you could use a technique you already know in a different way? The idea is to show you a few ways of finishing hems, or raw edges, in new and interesting ways. I’ve not included the usual hand stitching methods because there’s nothing new to think about, although please let me know if you use these methods in a more unusual application. Just because the pattern instructions tell you to finish the hem a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way…although think it through carefully just in case the really is a reason!
In 2016 I took part in Portia Lawrie’s Refashioners competition for the first time when I made a jacket from two pairs of Mr Y’s old jeans, you can read about that one here. I was jolly pleased with it and wear it a lot and obviously I didn’t win although I did get a mention in despatches so I was chuffed with that.
For Refashioners 2017 Portia announced it would be SUITS! Eek, I thought, I’m not sure about that…anyway, nothing daunted, I started thinking about what I might be able to do if I tracked down the right suit. I knew I didn’t want anything too dark or work-a-day so I hoped to find something in a check perhaps. Funnily enough it didn’t really occur to me that it could be something like linen or suede, or a woman’s suit so when the inspirational Blog Tour throughout September started and it featured some of alternative fabrics I did think “oh, why didn’t I do that?” Hey ho…
When it came to inspiration however there was only one person whose tailoring I was interested in and that was Alexander McQueen. The retrospective of his work ‘Savage Beauty’ at London’s V&A museum in 2015 was absolutely mind-blowing-I went 8 times! [I bought annual membership to the museum so that I could go as often as I wanted, it’s fair to say I got full value for my money. I’ve kept up that membership ever since and use it regularly] Whilst I’ve no hope of ever acquiring or wearing McQueen (apart from my treasured silk scarf which Mr Y bought for me at the end of the exhibition) I greatly admire his meticulous tailoring, originality, attention to detail and craftsmanship which has been ably continued since his death by Sarah Burton. [I didn’t blog about Savage Beauty at the time but I wrote one about a fascinating parallel exhibition that was at Tate Britain, you can read thathere]
Portia had set up a Pinterest page of inspiration too so I had a look there as well as internet searches of my own and the book which accompanied the exhibition and is full of wonderful images. So many clever ideas but there would be serious fabric constraints as I only wanted to use one suit, once I’d tracked it down, which meant some things like dresses with elaborate details would be impossible. If I was going to invest quite a lot of time into this it needed to fit me and I’m not a stick insect so I have to be realistic!
I collected ideas and images although some of them were unlikely contenders, for reasons of practicality, quantity of fabric and my own skill level. [I went on a tailoring course at Morley college in London last year and picked up loads of useful skills and the confidence to tackle this head-on, have a look at their prospectus because they offer some great courses] I liked the idea of combining different fabrics and techniques, particularly over or near the shoulders.
I scoured all our local charity shops but didn’t find anything I liked, Mr Y and my Dad didn’t have anything in their wardrobes either. Then, when we were visiting Salisbury in Wiltshire at the end of August, we tried a couple of shops when I spied a black and white checked jacket. It seemed to have trousers with it which didn’t match but these were Prince of Wales check! Looking further along the rail we discovered the right jacket for the trousers was on another hanger-yippee, success! a matching suit in the perfect fabric. It was £25 which was a bit more than I had hoped to pay but the money would go to a good cause so it was a win/win situation really. Even better was the fact it was 100% pure wool and it was a Daks suit from Simpsons of Piccadilly which would have been pretty expensive originally-I definitely lucked out with this one. At £25 though it did mean I would only use one suit rather than buy possibly 2 to mix together. No matter.
So now that I had the suit I needed to come up with a design. I also set myself the rule that I wouldn’t buy anything else so everything had to come from supplies I already had in my workroom. I tried to be a bit ambitious-and different from last year-and initially came up with a few dress designs where I thought I might be able to utilise the trouser legs to make panels and a feature-zip detail.
Before I went too much further though I needed to disassemble the suit to see exactly how much fabric I had. I got out the snips and unpicker and set to (not without trepidation because it was a lovely suit)
The beauty of pure wool is that it presses like a dream and so almost every original crease in the suit disappeared once I’d broken it down into all the parts. Needless to say there was less fabric than I’d hoped for my big plans so I had to modify them a lot. Out went the dress and in came [another] jacket. I’d been looking through my not inconsiderable pattern stash for inspiration and I’d found a dress pattern from 1973 which was amongst a huge number gifted to me last year by a friend. They had belonged to her Mum who was a fabulous dressmaker at Cresta Silks in her youth. Even though it was a dress I was attracted to its striking style lines with a long bust dart that ran parallel to a diagonal under-bust seam, and because it had a centre front seam I thought it was easily adaptable to a jacket. One of the features of McQueen’s work is his unusual seaming and style-lines so I decided to make a toile and see how it went.
The original collar opened at the back for the zip so I made a new pattern so that it opened at the front instead. I also had to change the front and back ‘skirts’ by dividing them evenly in half because the pieces would be too large for the fabric quantity I had. I also wanted to be able to cut various pieces on the bias to make it more interesting so they had to be smaller to achieve this.
By using an open-ended zip I minimised the amount of fabric needed for the front opening, there was no need for an overlap and there’d be barely enough anyway. I also knew that if I could use the original sleeves I would be be able to use all other available fabric for my design.
Amazingly I was happy with the toile and decided to press ahead with the design as it was. I could get the new front panels out of the original, and even managed to include the breast pocket and all the under-linings. However I couldn’t work out a way of satisfactorily utilising the pockets and flaps so they got left out. In the end I couldn’t use the back as per the toile, which had darts and the pattern piece was too large to fit as it was, so I turned the darts into princess seams instead and then those pieces came out of the original back after all. There was a tiny hole in the back but I repaired it with iron-on interfacing and no one would be any the wiser. I’d wanted all the peplum pieces to be on the bias but in order for them to be a reasonable match some had to be on the straight instead.
I won’t pretend that every seam has perfectly matching checks but given the fabric constraints I’m really pleased with the outcome. I carefully made the jacket up, a very enjoyable process, and because it was being fully lined I didn’t need to neaten any of the seams inside, they could just be pressed open. I remembered my tutor Daniel at Morley saying “steam is your friend” and wasn’t afraid to use it often, in conjunction with my tailor’s ham and a pressing cloth.
The trickiest part of the construction was making the original sleeves a little shorter for my arms and to fit into the new armholes. I roughly measured the sleeve head and compared it to the armhole. There was a fair difference so I needed to reduce the sleeve width by sewing up some of the under-arm seams to about elbow level (they are two-part sleeves) I tacked one sleeve in and tried it out. It looked pretty satisfactory without any further adjustment so I did the same to the other one as well. I tried to ensure that the checks matched as best I could too. Again I tried the jacket on to make sure I could move my arms and that I was happy with their length. After I’d machined them both in I reused the pieces of canvas and domette which I’d taken out of the original sleeve heads. These are part of tailoring construction which help give a good rounded shape to the sleeve head and are basted in place by hand onto the jacket seam allowance itself. I also planned to reuse the original shoulder pads later on.
Once the sleeves were in I could think more about the decoration I wanted to add. One of the recurring features I like about McQueen’s tailoring is his use of lace appliqué and embroidery. Amongst my stash of fabrics I have some beautiful black Guipure lace which was left over originally from the bridal shop where I used to work creating and making the most beautiful wedding and evening gowns. I’d used some of it on my elder daughter’s Prom dress 10 years ago but there’s still some left over so I had a little play. I put the jacket on Doris and draped pieces of lace over the shoulders to see what looked best. Part of the beauty of Guipure is that you can trim it into shape without it fraying or falling to bits so once I’d positioned it where I wanted I could trim it to neaten the shape. I love the swirls!
Looking at these photos you can see the other decorative technique I decided to use, embroidery.
I’d seen a very recent McQueen design which had red lacing on and I wanted to incorporate something similar probably in the form of hand embroidery instead, particularly because the fabric has a fine red stripe running through it.
I had a few practices first at simple running stitch, sashiko-style, and I tried a sort-of feather stitch but it looked pretty rubbish and uneven as I couldn’t get it right or consistent so I tried a couple of stitches of the many that my 25-year-old Elna 7000 machine offers.
I liked the feather stitch but decided it would be over-doing it so in the end I settled on the saddle stitch which would normally be used to top stitch but I was going to run it along some of the red stripes in the fabric for emphasis. [If you’re not sure which stitch this is on your machine it’s the one where the picture looks like 3 rows of stitches side by side. It’s actually 3 stitches on top of one another when it sews thus making an effective top stitch]
I decided to follow a few of the red stripes on the front and back, the front ones all run vertically and the back ones are just on one side in a cross formation. I considered putting them elsewhere too but decided there was enough.
Once I’d finished all the decoration I put the shoulder pads and the ‘plastron’ back in (this is a piece of heavy canvas which is part of the underlinings of tailored jackets and which helps give it a smooth line over the chest) The plastron needed to be trimmed slightly to fit inside since it had come from a man’s jacket. Finally I’d managed to salvage just enough fabric in one long strip to make a very narrow facing inside the zip. I turned up the hem first basting it in position and then herringbone stitching it by hand.
I’d found some black lining fabric in my stash so cut out the jacket lining (excluding sleeves because they had their own original lining in) and sewed it together. Red lining would have been nice but I didn’t have anything suitable and I’d have broken my own rules to buy some. Because the facing strip was so narrow I wanted to smarten up it up a bit so I dug out some black braid which I stitched down the edge of it-it looks much better now if the jacket is open.
Next I hand stitched all the linings in position at the hem and around the armholes so that everything was enclosed. The final thing I decided to do was change a couple of the cuff buttons so I swapped one on each wrist to red ones.
And that’s all there is to it…..
I’m afraid I’ll never make much of a model and the backdrop was a choice of either a brick wall or a flower bed! The photos aren’t by Testino (Katie actually) but I hope you’ll get an idea of how the jacket looks, it’s a distinctive but wearable one-off.
I’m so chuffed with my finished jacket and, better than that, I really enjoyed the planning and making very much. I felt I got back in touch with lots of the skills I’ve acquired over many years of sewing, some of which helped me to plan it carefully within the constraints set both by Portia and the ones I set myself, and others meant I could stretch my making skills further than they tend to get stretched these days which is no bad thing.
Initially I wasn’t sure if this would be a refashioning challenge I could rise to but I’ve surprised myself with the outcome. I’ve now got a jacket which I’ll be really happy to wear and I shall enjoy telling anyone who cares to listen exactly how it came about. I don’t know the story of the suit before I bought it but I feel like I’ve given it a new narrative now by reinventing it in a new form….and that might even be something McQueen himself would have applauded.
As ever many pictures are my own but the rest are sourced from the internet.
Have you made a suit refashion this year? I’d love to hear about it, or tell me your thoughts about mine…(risky hehe)
A lot has happened since I wrote my last Simple Sew blog post, Christmas for one thing, and I had a lovely holiday in the sunshine too but now we are all confined to our homes because of Covid 19. Without wishing to trivialise the gravity of this situation, one of the side effects of it is that you might have more time to sew.
I’ve had a rummage through my Simple Sew patterns to find one which I haven’t already shown you, and which has opportunities to hack, and I settled on the Chelsea Collection. This is a capsule wardrobe of a short sleeve blouse with two variations, a pair of trousers and a button-front skirt in two lengths. I liked the blouse with it’s shirred sleeves and keyhole back detail but I decided to mix it up a little by adding a button front. Normally we are able to select fabric from a couple of generous sponsors but I wanted to ‘shop my stash’ to find something this time. I found a very pretty vibrant floral John Kaldor cotton lawn which I think I picked up from a swap table sometime and I knew would work well for the blouse.
I didn’t want the blouse to be overly tight so, after checking my measurements I opted for a larger size than I’ve made previously. If you’ve been a regular reader of my posts you’ll know that I tend to check Simple Sew patterns for any discrepancies before I start. There didn’t seem to be any glaring ones but I just added a slight curve to the back hem so that it dipped in the same way as the front and I trued the shoulder seams so there was a smooth flow from front to back.
As I wanted to alter the front significantly I had to make some changes there first. In order to create a button-stand I simply added 2.5cms to the centre front all the way down what would have been the fold. [2.5cms was a fairly arbitrary figure because it depends really on what size buttons you’re using, a general rule of thumb is that the bigger the button the bigger the button-stand needs to be so that there’s enough overlap and the garment doesn’t end up too tight because the overlap isn’t big enough.]I was able to do this by drawing directly onto the tissue before cutting the piece out as there was enough space to do so.
If you’ve already cut a pattern that you want to add to just stick some extra paper to the centre front fold line, or trace off the whole piece again adding the extra. The original front had a facing for the neckline so now I needed to create a new facing which would neaten both the neck edge and the button-stand. To do this I simply traced off the whole of the new front opening including the neck edge and made the facing a depth of 7cms all the way down from shoulder to hem, with a smooth and gradual curve. The photo should make this clearer. The back neck needed a new facing too because the existing one took the armhole into account. Again I traced off the section I needed making it 7cms at the shoulders to match the front facing.
The final change I made was to lengthen the sleeve a little and add some more fullness to it. I started by making the sleeve 5cms longer and then I drew 3 vertical lines on the pattern at approximately the front notch, back notch and shoulder seam points. [Depending how much extra fullness you want to add to a sleeve you could use more places than this but do try to space them evenly apart.] Next I cut up each line from the bottom until I reached almost the top, I left this very slightly attached. With the piece flat on the table I spread the bottom of each slit by about the same amount, probably about 4 cms, then taped slithers of paper into each gap.
If you don’t want to cut the pattern up you can do the same process by still marking the vertical lines on then pivoting the uncut pattern at the top of each line, use a pencil or your finger as the axis. Draw or trace around the first section, which remains stationary, then each subsequent section after you pivot it to so that you get the extra fullness being added at the hem. Opening up the wedges in this way means you’re adding fullness to the hem but not the crown of the sleeve, if you want extra fullness in the crown spread the whole piece more or less parallel. The grainline should run equidistant down the centre of the new piece (unless you want to cut it on the bias)
Having done all this I cut it out and was ready to sew!
I started by joining the shoulder seams of both the blouse and the facings (which I’d interfaced and neatened) then I attached the facings to the neck edge, turned, understitched and pressed. The keyhole back calls for a small rouleau tube as a button-loop which needs to be inserted at the same time as applying the facing although you could choose to make a hand sewn thread loop and stitch that at the end. In fact it isn’t even vital that this is a functioning loop if you’ve got a front opening, the keyhole is purely decorative now.
I put the blouse onto Doris to check it was looking OK and this was when I found that the keyhole appeared to be bagging outwards quite significantly. I decided not to do anything at this point and I would check again once I had sewed the side seams and put the sleeves in, then I would get a better idea by trying it on myself.
I made three rows of shirring on the sleeves next, using my quilting guide to make sure the first row was 5cms from the bottom edge, the next two rows were then sewn parallel to the first. [Refer to a previous blog post on how to sew shirring if you haven’t done so before] Next I sewed up the sleeve seams and pin-hemmed the bottom edge to give a neat finish.
After sewing up and neatening the side seams I inserted the sleeves. At this point I tried the blouse on again to check the keyhole on myself and, with real shoulder blades under it, it didn’t seem so noticeable. Two other things struck me though, the blouse was a little too big so I took it in on the side seams and also the blouse was a bit shorter than I expected. In order to take as a small a hem as possible I made some bias binding from offcuts of the fabric then stitched it (folded in half lengthways and with the cut edges together) to the hem using a narrow 5mm seam allowance [This is a useful finish to any hem or edge where you need every spare centimetre of fabric.] Have a look at the photo which shows you how to get the ends of the binding enclosed within the front facing. I turned the binding up and top-stitched in place.
Finally, I found some ‘vintage’ buttons amongst my treasure trove and there were just the right number meaning the whole blouse had been sourced from what I already have!
Well I hope now that I’ve made it that I’ll have a chance to wear my Chelsea blouse somewhere other than in my own garden this summer, who knows? Maybe you’re reading this long after the emergency ended and life has returned to some sort of normality, although it definitely won’t be exactly as it was before.
Sewing our own clothes is an activity which gives us so much enjoyment for a variety of different reasons and, right now, the simple act of creating something is chief amongst them for me. It’s absorbing and the problem-solving gives me something else to think about.
I think the keyhole back is, by and large, just about acceptable when I’m wearing the blouse. I also think the cure could be to add a centre back seam instead of cutting on the fold so that the point of the keyhole could extend beyond the centre back line, this would hopefully bring the button and loop closer to one another when they are done up…this is just my theory based on experience and I haven’t tried it out. It’s such a nice little detail that I’m disappointed it hasn’t worked out quite right. I also regret not reading my fellow Simple Sew bloggers reviews of the blouse because then I would have known how short it comes up, personally I would add a minimum of 8-10cms to the length next time.
The sleeves are pretty and feminine but maybe they are a little too girly, the jury is out…
The Amelia tea dress isn’t one I’ve sewn before but Jane who comes to my sewing class had made one last summer and I remember liking the shirred elastic midriff section. The brief for our makes this time was ‘festive’ (we usually don’t have a brief, it’s free-choice) Bearing this in mind Bobbins n Buttons had offered to provide me with fabric so I had a browse on their website and selected the Lady McElroy ‘beauty and the bees’ stretch velvet.
The pattern isn’t intended for jersey but it is simple shapes and a bit of gathering which I knew would still work well, what you don’t want is a fabric that’s too thick or stiff though because the shirring won’t work properly. I planned to hack the pattern a bit so I decided to add long bishop sleeves as it’s winter, I also lengthened the skirt (more on that later) and of course I added pockets!
Because of the distinctive large print I opted to remove the centre back seam and put the zip into the side seam instead, this was to save me the hassle of trying to pattern match the print across the zip. Because I’d removed the CB seam in the bodice I took it out of the skirt too, for the same reasons. If you’ve got a tricky print to match over a seam like this consider whether you can move the zip to the side, it’s not much different to put in and the opening can be a little shorter but still give you sufficient room. Now I could have a line of bees central down the back (and front of course) and just needed to get a good horizontal match too for me to be really happy.
As I said before I wanted the skirt as long as possible but there needs to be a compromise between length versus flare because of the width of the fabric. If you want the skirt to be longer you’ll need to reduce the amount of flare at the hem because you’ll be restricted by the fabric width. The wider the fabric then the more scope you have. I measured how long I could make the skirt before it would need reducing at the hem and decided it would be an acceptable length. I could add around 10cms to the hemmaking sure the new side seams were at a right angle to each other so that the hem will run in a smooth line. I traced around a few bees where they crossed the cutting line so that I could ensure the front and back matched as well as possible.
In order to cut everything as efficiently as possible from the fabric I first cut the skirts against the main fold-don’t forget to exclude the CB seam or the piece will be bigger than your back bodice (if you’re excluding the zip)
Then I refolded the fabric with the selvedges into the centre to cut the bodice pieces on the folds. This is vital to get those bees running down the centre.
From the remaining fabric I cut a pair of long sleeves. I used the pattern from another design I’ve made a few times, I measured the armhole of the dress and compared it against the sleeve I have. It was a little smaller at the crown so I added a small amount to give it sufficient width. Finally, because it’s jersey, I chose to use a neck binding instead of the facings so I cut two narrow strips which were each the same length as the CF to CB measurement of the neck plus a couple of centimetres seam allowance.
Ok, so I mostly followed the instruction with a few minor changes because of my alterations. One thing I did first of all was to stabilise the back shoulder seams and the left side seams where the zip was going to go with iron-on interfacing because I don’t want them to stretch out of shape. I chose to leave the back darts in although I possibly could have eased them out as it’s a stretch fabric.
After joining the shoulder seams I added my neck binding. I folded the strips with RS out along the long edge-I didn’t join them to each other at this stage-then, starting at the V, I stitched just that section into place. This way you can sew just a small part, snip into the V and pivot at the corner more accurately. When I was happy with this I sewed the rest of the binding on leaving just the CB part unsewn, then I could join the two strips in the right place and finally attach it to the neckline. Finally I neatened the edge all the way around and then topstitched it down close to the seam to stop it rolling.
The next part is the shirring which really isn’t difficult so don’t panic. First wind shirring elastic onto an empty bobbin BY HAND stretching it very slightly as you go, put it into the machine in the usual way (you may wish to check the manual if you have an older machine in case there is anywhere else you need to thread the elastic through) Use your matching colour thread on the top in the usual way and lengthen the stitch slightly, it doesn’t need to be zigzag or anything though. Definitely try out a test piece first and don’t forget to secure the start of each new row so that the stitching doesn’t come undone. I don’t secure the other end at this stage though in case I find I need to pull the threads up any more later. You should be able to sew 8 rows of stitching parallel to each other to complete the strip. The fabric will naturallypucker up pretty well but when you’re done stitching hover the iron with plenty of steam over it and you’ll find it gathers up some more as a result. Finally knot the ends of the threads to secure.
Then you need to attach the gathered band onto the lower part of the bodice making sure it’s evenly divided as you go.
Attach the skirts (I’d sewn the pocket bags on to each side seam before doing this. I just use my handy cardboard template which I made ages ago, I just trace around it directly onto the fabric and cut out.)
Next the zip goes into the left side seam. I sew it here out of habit as I’m right-handed and find it easier to do up that way but put the zip in whichever side works for you. After neatening both side seams separately first I sewed up the top of the side seam by about 4cms from the armhole edge. I used an invisible zip and inserted it in the usual way, making sure the waist seams matched, and then joining the rest of the side seam once I was happy with the zip insertion. I sewed up the other side seam and I was ready to tackle the sleeves.
The sleeves are set-in so I made the elasticated cuffs on the flat first using straight strips of jersey the same length as the curved cuff edge. With the strip open and RS together I sewed it once.
Then I folded the strip in half and sewed it on the overlocker to create a channel.
This will turn downwards to form the cuff which I slotted wide elastic through, securing at both ends.
Finally, I sewed the underarm seams to create the sleeves which are inserted into the dress as per the instructions.
All that’s left to do is the hem which I sewed on the coverstitch machine which is on loan to me by Pfaff at the moment.
I’m really pleased with how the dress has turned out, it’s very swishy and has a slightly 1940’s vibe to it. I like the extra length on the skirt and the sleeves look fab. I was a little alarmed when I saw the large scale of the print but actually I really rather like the bees now. One thing I’m not keen on (and this is down to the manufacturer and not the supplier) is that they have printed a black background design onto a white base cloth. Because the cloth has a pile it means that anywhere there are joins there is a slight hint of the white showing through which is not ideal. The velour isn’t too tricky to work with as the pile is a bit flatter than velvet but it does still ‘creep’ a bit in places so if you’re in any doubt that pins aren’t enough to keep it all in alignment make sure you tack (baste) seams together. If you have a walking foot I would definitely advise using it.
I hope this will help you to feel inspired and perhaps have a go at ‘hacking’ a pattern for yourself. This was a very simple one but if you look at my Simplicity blouse hack you can see just how carried away it’s possible to get!
I had a client recently who I did a few alterations for initially but then she asked me if it was possible to replicate a favourite dress she had. It was a tiered sundress in plain cotton with a shirred back panel.
Of course, said I.
It was very straightforward to measure the skirt panels, there were three tiers of almost identical length, each layer was more full than the last, plus a small ruffle on the hem. Next I took accurate measurements of the bodice front and drew a ‘plan’ plus the shirred back. I haven’t made anything using shirring in years and it was going to be guesswork a bit but I found a really helpful tutorial by Seamwork magazine on You Tube which gave a few good tips.
Once I’d got all my notes and diagrams I could calculate how much fabric my client would need, I also gave her advice on what sort of fabric to choose. She was going on holiday in less than six weeks so a speedy decision was needed. I saw three fabrics in our local John Lewis branch which I felt met our requirements so she hot-footed it into there and bought all that was left of a 100% cotton poplin in navy.
As the skirt is a series of rectangles I made that up first. I used the longest straight stitch for the gathering which I divided into manageable length sections-don’t be tempted to sew the whole of a very long strip of fabric in one go, break it down into manageable sections because if one of your threads snaps you’re back to square one.
I decided to toile the bodice front so that I could be certain it was correct as I knew there was no option to buy more fabric if I got it wrong…and I’d got it a bit wrong! The cups were much too shallow and didn’t come far enough up my client’s bust and a lot of her bra [which she wanted to be able to wear underneath] was showing. Back to the drawing board. The shirring element however was fine. I didn’t know exactly how much I might need so I used the full width of the fabric and sewed lots of rows of shirring until my reel of elastic ran out! [If you’re using an actual pattern then it will hopefully give you more guidance than this!]
Wind the shirring elastic carefully BY HAND onto a bobbin, use regular thread on the top. You could draw on your parallel lines first if you wish or you could trust your own skills and use the edge of the presser foot to guide each new row. The shirring doesn’t look like it’s gathered up enough but a good going over it with plenty of steam causes it to shrink up beautifully.
Because the first bodice didn’t give enough coverage I redrafted it but that was worse (I didn’t even try it on my client as I could see it was all wrong) On to Plan C…I decided I would try modelling the pattern on my mannequin so I pinned some very narrow black ribbon to the mannequin using the style lines I required. You only need to do this on one half if it’s going to be symmetrical, make sure you start at the centre front working round to wherever the pieces finish, in my case this was just to the side seams.
I joined this new bodice to the skirt and the shirred back and carried out another fitting on my client. Fortunately this time it was fine and I set to to finish the dress just in time for her to take it on holiday!
I made the straps wider than the originals and they are stitched to the correct length on each shoulder for my client-we all have one shoulder higher or lower than the other so don’t automatically make them identical lengths, pin and check before sewing them in position. If one strap always falls off your shoulder this will be the reason why!
This was a rather convoluted way to make a shirred sundress because my client wanted a replica of a favourite but if you like the idea of it the why not take a look at Cocowawa’s Raspberry dress pattern which has a fully-elasticated bodice instead?
My client wanted fabric as similar as possible to her original but you could easily use cotton lawn, seersucker, chambray, soft linen, lightweight jersey, voile, muslin….the list goes on, just keep it soft and not too thick or it could get very bulky. You could also make it just as a skirt and leave the bodice section off if you wanted, that’s definitely a 70s hippie vibe going on right there, add ribbons, ric-rac, bobble trim, sequins etc etc…
I haven’t written a Simple Sew blog post for a few months but now that Sam Sterken has taken over with the organisation whilst Gabby is having her maternity leave we’re up and running again.
I had a bit of an idea in my head of what I’d like to do using the Zoe pattern which I already had so I chose some medium-weight enzyme washed linen in dark turquoise generously provided for us once again by Doughty’s Fabrics. I was really pleased with it when it arrived as it wasn’t too droopy but not over-firm either. Incidentally, it’s been terrible to photograph accurately, the final outdoor photos are definitely the closest to the real thing [to see how I altered the Zoe neckline so it wasn’t so wide have a look at my previous blog post in early 2018)
I drew a few sketches of ideas which all involved using the top half of the Zoe-initially I was going to extend the sleeves with wide pleated frills and keep the dress straight but I went off that idea as I felt the fabric was too firm for how I wanted it, I thought it would definitely work well with a peg-top skirt instead however. I wanted a shape that wasn’t too voluminous at the hem and by using an inverted A-line shape I could add pleats at the top but keep the hemline slimmer.
I tried on one of my existing Zoes (I’ve made 3) so I could assess what length I wanted the top section, and took an arbitrary measurement of 34cms from the centre of the front neckline to where I wanted the waist, which is slightly higher than my natural waistline. As the Zoe has centre front and back seams I then measured from the top edge down to the point where I wanted the waist seam and drew a line at a right angle on the pattern across from that point. I took that line across to the side seam but at the point where the line met the side seam I made it a right angle, which creates a very slight curve on the line. Because the back neck sits a little higher than the front I matched the side seams to one another first and created a similar line across to meet the centre back seam. [It’s important that these lines are at a right angle where they meet at the side seams because otherwise you would have a slight V shape rather than a smooth line from front to back]
I already have a skirt pattern that I’d drafted last year for a similar peg-top shape, I’d used it gathered though and I wanted pleats on the new dress. Initially I attempted to work out how to get 3 even sized pleats by folding and refolding the paper but I couldn’t quite get it. In the end I decided to cut the pieces in fabric as they were-with a slight modification for the front skirt as that piece was quite different-and then I’d work out the pleats once I was ready to attach the bodice and skirt together.
I cut all the bodice/sleeve/neck facings and assembled the bodice first. I’ve found that it’s easier to sew up the shoulders and attach the neck facings as described in the instructions but then attach the sleeves with the bodice open flat before sewing the side seams rather than in the round. The photos should help make this method quite clear. I added rows of contrast triple straight stitch to various seams as I went including around the neck [I used the quilting guide which came with my machine to do this accurately]
Next I cut the front and back skirts from the remaining fabric, plus I also cut two pairs of pockets for the side seams using the cardboard template I’ve made. [Just choose a pocket pattern that suits the size and shape that you mostly use to go in side seams and then make a cardboard version, mark the grainline and then all you need to do in future is place it on your fabric and draw around it with a pencil or chalk, it saves a paper piece getting scrappier and scrappier with constant use.]
I made up the front and back skirt sections, adding the pockets to the side seams, then top stitched the CF seams as before, I didn’t top stitch the CB seam at this stage as I wanted to be able to sew in a continuous line with no breaks and I couldn’t achieve this until the hem was turned up too. Incidentally, as many of the seams were going to be pressed open inside the dress I overlocked the edges of most of them first then sewed the seam and pressed open.
Next I pinned on the skirt starting by matching the centre front, back and side seams. Because I had no other markings now I played around with different positions for the pleats until I happy with how they looked. This will vary according to what size you’ve cut the waist but for mine I settled on 10cms each side of the CF seam for the first pleat and then the second and third pleats were a further 4 cms away from the previous one. I checked all the measurements to ensure that they were each symmetrical and well-balanced before I sewed it all together, overlocked to neaten and added another row of top stitching to the waist.
This just left the hem length to check, I had opted for quite a long skirt length because I wanted the dress to be a fairly loose throw-on shape but not too baggy or undefined. I was happy with the length I’d plumped for so I used the triple straight stitch once again around the bottom and then down the CB seam, creating an angled line to define the facing which finished the slit opening.
I’m not always super-happy with everything I make (and in truth I’ve positioned the pockets a little bit low in this dress) but I can’t wait to wear this dress during the summer! I’ve only ever worn my previous Zoes with long-sleeved tops layered underneath in chilly weather so it’s a bit of a revelation to realise that the sleeves are the perfect length for a summer dress. I think the skirt shape is more interesting than just a gathered dirndl and the lime-green contrast topstitching is a bit of fun. The linen is a great weight for this too, it will be crumply but that’s part of the charm of linen fabric…I think I may have to make more of this frock!
So, has anything changed yet in the use and portrayal of older sewers and makers in dressmaking in the media? I think the simple answer is still “no, it probably hasn’t much” but before we feel completely downhearted about it I think we should reflect on what has been happening and how we can continue to try and move things forward. Love Sewing magazine in the UK wrote an article about the situation and 10 of us featured in the photo-shoot that resulted…how about a follow-up article Love Sewing? Grainline have released a new pattern which features an older woman modelling it, are there any others doing this yet?
Since Judith Staley started the account in August 2018 it has gained over 12,000 followers and that number continues to climb steadily. I believe part of the reason for this is because people are discovering that it’s a very inclusive account where everyone in it is happy to share advice or tips, to encourage others, where the colour of our (slightly wrinkly) skin is not relevant, our physical abilities and the size of our waistlines likewise. We share our wide and varied takes on patterns both from the so-called Big 4 and Indie designers and, even though we continue to be frequently ignored by them, we will still mention which pattern it is and tag the company anyway. Generally we aren’t sore about it…There have been some successes with reposts by a few pattern companies on their Stories or feed which, if @SewOver50 is tagged, we’ll see. Make sure you always tag the account or use a recognised hashtag-they are all listed saved in Highlights on the account but by using #SewOver50 or #So50Visible for example Judith and Sandy will see you. If they repost your mention they will use the hashtag #So50thanks to acknowledge our appreciation to the pattern company involved. It’s a virtuous circle really, we buy the patterns, we sew the patterns, we share our make, the pattern company sees it and likes it, we buy more patterns! See? everybody is happy and so it goes on. We have the cash and we want to spend it on your product but if we don’t think you’re interested in us because we aren’t young/slim/pretty/etc etc insert as appropriate then we won’t buy your product any more because there are many other ways we can spend our hand-earned money instead.
Personally there are a couple of companies that I don’t bother to tag any longer because neither of them acknowledge or repost a make by anyone under the age of about 35, let alone mine. I mention the pattern and the brand so that others know which design it is but I don’t ’tag’ them. You might think this is petty but I find it very irritating that everyone these days says “tag us so we can see your makes” but then they don’t offer a ‘like’ or a brief comment to acknowledge or ‘reward’ you. I do realise that some accounts have tens of thousands of followers which makes it difficult but it can’t be impossible, and meanwhile we just continue doing free advertising for them. Somehow some companies seem to exist in a vacuum which is unsullied by their actual customers… How about a new hashtag? #NoLikeNoMention or #NoLikeNoTag?
Anyway, moving on…we’ve been asking recently on the SewOver50 account if you have experience of pattern reviewing, pattern testing or blogging about your makes? How was this for you? How did you get started, were you approached or did you volunteer to a call out of some kind? Any or all of these would be a really good way of continuing to have older faces in the mix.
Obviously I do all of the above because that’s why I write this!
So, looking at the first area ‘pattern reviews’ There are several ways you can get involved in this. Firstly decide on a pattern you think people would be interested in hearing about-you may base this on your experiences with it which might be great or they might be terrible! Either way, if you think you’ve got something to add to the conversation then get writing. There are two places which immediately spring to mind to do this and they are The Fold Line online community which is UK-based, and the Pattern Review which is in the US. BOTH are fully accessible from anywhere in the world so this doesn’t mean they are exclusive to those areas, you just might find more ‘voices’ from one or the other. They are VERY different from each other starting from the way they look, The Fold Line feels a little more ‘youth’ oriented and ‘modern’ in its look, I find it more visually appealing and easier to navigate whereas the Pattern Review I found a bit cluttered visually but I’m sure it’s whatever you are used to, I know it’s really popular and there’s a very broad range of people posting on the site which is great. Both have options to leave pattern reviews and share photos of your makes, I’d say that Pattern Review has a larger back catalogue of reviews by virtue of being around longer than The Fold Line. I like that PR has a series of questions available to guide your review which can be helpful and keep you focussed if you aren’t sure what to write, Fold Line is all in your own words. On both you can give an ‘out of 5’ star rating. We’re trying to encourage more of you to leave reviews and these are two places you can do that, it will keep our beautiful older faces in line of sight! Do you know of or use other sites? Let us know either in the comments here or on the IG account so that we can all share and participate. Judith has asked a few stalwart SO50 supporters for their experiences and impressions of using various pattern review sites so look out for those on Instagram this week too.
Personally, I write my own reviews here on the blog as well as The Fold Line although I include a lot more technical stuff than I’d put elsewhere. Most of my reviews are on patterns that I want to write about because I have something to say about them, and a few are because I’m part of a ‘blogger network’ such as Simple Sew patterns. I’ve always endeavoured to be a ‘critical friend’ when it comes to a pattern review and I don’t always give 100% glowing reports, if I encounter problems or errors I will point them out and I’ll try to give alternative methods or techniques if I can. I don’t find the kind of ‘review’ which just says “yes, this is pretty and I love it” very helpful. Preferences are obviously very individual but why do you love it? does it go together well? are the instructions clear? do you need to fiddle around to get a good fit? What sort of fabric works well? All these things matter and that is what many sewers want to know before committing to buying a potentially-expensive new pattern.
I also write reviews of fabrics which I’ve been provided with free of charge by various companies including Sew Me Sunshine and Minerva Crafts. I’m not embarrassed by this because I take a lot of time and effort to write comprehensive and helpful reviews of the product, a couple of metres of fabric is a very modest reward for many hours of work for me. At this point in time I’m not paid to write by anyone.
Love Sewing magazine here in the UK includes a reader every month who sew up their own version of that month’s free gift pattern and then they feature in a professional photo shoot. I was lucky enough to be invited to do this nearly two years ago and it was great fun, if a little nerve-wracking to start with. You may know of other magazines which do this so why not email and offer yourself to them?! Another way of featuring in magazines is to try tagging them if you share photos of your makes (best if you’re using their free gift pattern or another item which was originally in their mag as they’ll be more interested) you might get used on their ‘reader makes’ pages-it’s always fun to see your face in a magazine and sometimes there’s a ’Star Maker’ prize too. Most magazines and pattern companies have a Facebook page as well as Instagram which are easy ways to share your photos, Twitter is much less about images so I tend not to use that. Make sure your photo is of a decent quality though-clean the lens, or the mirror, check the background-are there pants drying on the radiator behind you? You don’t need to be David Bailey or have a fancy camera but if it’s not a clear picture of your make they won’t use it. Again, the SewOver50 account gave lots of tips for taking successful photos using your phone and they are saved in Highlights.
Pattern testing is another area you can volunteer for and could be your opportunity to put your skills to good use. Keep an eye open for tester callouts on IG, or have a look at company websites for a sign-up list but bear in mind that you’ll almost certainly be doing this for purely altruistic reasons, almost no one pays or rewards testers in any way other than a free copy of the finished pattern after release. (This is a bit of a contentious area-should we be more adequately rewarded?- which I’m not going into here) You’ll probably provide your own fabric and donate your time and be helping small companies to improve their products. When I’ve done this in the past the better companies give you a set of questions which is helpful because you can direct your answers to specific areas they want to know about, plus add comments of your own. They should want to know things like ‘do the seams match’ or ‘are there notches missing’, ‘could the instructions be clearer or worded differently?’ I take pattern testing seriously and it can be frustrating and time-consuming when there are problems or errors, there are now rather a lot of inexperienced people releasing patterns which are ill-thought out and inaccurate. I’m more picky about volunteering now as I’m not keen on wasting my time, I get invited to help by some companies which is flattering. You’ll be more or less expected to ‘advertise’ the pattern when it gets released which is fine if you’re happy with what you’ve made, and the very small companies are usually very appreciative of this because they generally have little or no advertising budget so they rely on people like us making and sharing.
Finally, you could have a go at exactly what I’m doing now-blogging! I started to write here four years ago as a means to document what I was making more than anything and it’s diversified a bit because I also review exhibitions and books too, or places and events I’ve visited that have a sewing context. [The word ‘blogging’ or ‘blog’, if you didn’t know, comes from ‘web log’, a form of keeping an online diary.] I don’t have a massive following, or sponsors, like some but I know many people appreciate my plain speaking and honesty in my pattern reviews. Vlogging is a ’thing’ too but I’m not interested in that, I prefer to write and I’d bore myself (never mind you!) wittering on about my latest fabric haul or whatever. There are lots of places that ‘host’ blogs, I use WordPress for which I pay a modest monthly fee but there are many others, some free, some not. If you follow other bloggers, which providers do they use? Do some research to find the site that meets your needs, if you want more bells and whistles later on, can they be added? How much will it cost? You could just write a Word Doc and copy and paste it into a Facebook page. I have a Facebook page for Susan Young Sewing but I must confess I barely use it, I don’t find Fb as engaging as Instagram. Incidentally, The Fold Line has a useful Facebook forum which is where all the discussions take place, and you can sign up for their weekly newsletters which is a round up of all sorts of up-to-date sewing and dressmaking goings-on.
So, to sum up, there are a variety of ways we can continue to get our lovely faces featured so that we aren’t overlooked and the more of us that do it the harder it will be to ignore us! Judith will be sharing ideas and personal testimonies by other Sew Over 50 ‘activists’ during the coming days and weeks so keep a look out for them. If you’ve got a story you want to share with us make sure you use the @SewOver50 tag so that it gets seen [although with our growing numbers this is getting harder so DM if it’s really important] Let’s keep plugging away together, older women have wider choices and opportunities than ever before and it’s so much better if we can endeavour to support each other in reminding the wider world that we’re here and we aren’t going to go away quietly.
I hope we can continue to inspire, support and encourage one another using SewOver50 as our touchstone because we’re bloody brilliant!!
I thought in this blog I’d take a look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last twelve months and it’s made me realise what a wonderful varied collection they are. As well as sewing multiple garments from numerous patterns (which I’ll look at in a separate blog) there have been several meet-ups including the Stitchroom Sewcial in June and the now-famous Sewing Weekender in August, plus one I organised myself in November. I’ve visited quite a few exhibitions, some of them more than once, read lots of books and written reviews of several of them in case anyone out there was interested in knowing more if they fancy a visit or a read for themselves. I’ve been back to the Knitting & Stitching show, and The Handmade Fair for the first time too.
In January I made my first coat in decades, the Butterick 6423 and was pretty pleased with the outcome overall.
My first meet-up of the year in February was a return visit to Balenciaga at the V&A organised by Alex (Sewrendipity) where I met a number of lovely fellow dressmakers in the flesh for the first time. It was so nice to go to an exhibition with like-minded people and then we all went for lunch together afterwards-very civilised!
Also in February Gabby Young invited me to become one of the Simple Sew bloggers so I embarked on a year of wrangling their patterns into submission, they are nice designs but aren’t always faultlessly accurate in their drafting or instructions. I took on the role on the understanding that I’d be honest (although never rude) but informative and constructive. I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether I achieved that.
I had the opportunity to visit the Fashion Technology Academy in April which was such an inspiring place. You can study many of the technical aspects of clothing production there and we also had the chance to try out a taster session of TR pattern cutting with the supremely gifted Claudette Joseph while we were there too. If you, or someone you know, wants to go down the technical route into garment manufacture then this place in North London could be a good place to start looking.
Also in April I returned to the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London to attend their fascinating ‘Inside couture’ afternoon. I’ve been once before but it’s so enjoyable, and such a treat to get the your hands on real couture clothes (with white gloves on, natch). I highly recommend a visit if you’re in London but you do need to book for these particular events, the museum itself is open most days.
The first London Stitchers meet-up was held at the beginning of May and although I’m not technically ‘London’, as has become obvious, I go up a lot. These are organised by Ana Cocowawacrafts and Georgia One Stitch Forward and they vary in their locations between north, south and central London. Anyone is welcome and it’s a great way to meet new people and know that you all have at least one shared interest! It’s like speed-dating for dressmakers!!
Me Made May was also happening on Instagram and for the first time in ages I managed to post every single day for a month-long challenge even though I was out of the country for some of it. Lots of garments I shared weren’t new and box-fresh, in fact quite a few of them were old favourites, which is as it should be. We made a trip to Assisi in Italy during this time so that made my backdrops a bit more interesting for a few days!
I tried something a bit different in May by going on a course to learn how to make and print my own etchings. I’d done this once a million years ago when I did my Foundation Course at college and have always found the medium fascinating and beautiful. [Go and check out Rembrandt’s work in particular if you aren’t sure what they are] I’d met a lovely lady called Chrissy Norman on the first Sewing Weekender two years ago and it turns out that not only does she sew and knit, she’s a super-talented printmaker too. She has a separate IG account for her prints and I admired a print she posted on it early in the year. It transpires that she teaches courses a few times a year at Sudbourne Park Printmakers workshops. Long story short, I signed up and joined her in Suffolk in mid-May. It was soooo interesting and fun, plus I made some pretty respectable prints based on a photo I had taken of the Maggi Hambling sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
The summer saw the first of several visits to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum. I also loved the retrospective of the work of Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum, I didn’t write a review though because by the time I went there wasn’t much left of the run sadly. It was spectacular though and I’m very glad I made the effort. That same day we went to see the musical Hamilton which was absolutely stupendous, Mr Y normally doesn’t go for that style of music but even he has raved about it ever since-highly recommended!
In June I was one of the lucky attendees of the first Stitchroom Sewcial event organised by Anne ‘New Vintage Sewing’ and Lucy ‘Sew Essential’ at Anne’s workplace in the University of Loughborough. They had excelled themselves with activities for us all to try including visiting the print and weaving workshops, computerised machine embroidery, an individual photoshoot AND time to sew and use the industrial machines Anne has in her classroom. I really hope I’m lucky enough to go again in 2019…
I took a road trip with my ‘local’ sewing friends Alana and Helen to visit Sewisfaction on their first Big Summer Stitch-up which was great fun, even though it was a steaming hot day.
At the end of July and beginning of August I posted two blogs which seemed to light the blue touch paper that rapidly became Sew Over 50. When I wrote them I thought no one would read them, much less agree with me, so I was stunned by the response to say the least. My now-friend Judith was amongst those who read them and was feeling the same way so she went one step further and created a new Instagram account called @SewOver50 and everything went a bit nuts from there on. As I write this post the account has gained over 5,300 followers since mid-August which is phenomenal. It’s become a place of inspiration and encouragement for thousands of women (and the occasional man) who sew but felt they, we, are being overlooked or dismissed by the burgeoning home-dressmaking market because of our age.
One thing that some people misunderstood about the whole idea wasn’t that we wanted to be separate from any other age group, like some kind of exclusive club, not at all, we just felt that some people-magazines, pattern companies-were overlooking the opportunity to tap into a market and a group who had cash to spend, had styling ideas, skills and experience to share, originality, fun, empathy, quirkiness, style. For a lot of the people who started following the account they had very little experience of using social media to broaden their horizons in sewing terms, and for connecting with like-minded people around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, as well as Europe. Suddenly there was an identifiable hashtag to follow which took you straight to the heart of this community. In fact it isn’t only sewing that members are supportive with, many face health challenges, a changing body with the menopause, dealing with elderly parents or caring for grandchildren so there have already been lots of conversations that have strayed away from sewing completely, and that’s OK too.
It’s been gratifying to see that a number of sources are making a big effort to be more diverse in who they feature in articles or as models. There is still a long way to go though because we’re conscious it might appear that it’s mostly white middle-aged women who sew, but we know this isn’t the case because there are many women of colour who sew too, maybe they don’t engage as much with Instagram or other social media though? I don’t know the answer to this one except to say that all are welcome because that’s the whole point. It makes me very happy when much younger dressmakers comment to me that they also follow us to get inspiration and advice, which is also the reason that I follow younger sewers myself!
Onwards, there was another amazing Sewing Weekender in August which was quickly followed by SewPhotoHop on Instagram in September organised by Rachel ‘House of Pinheiro‘. I didn’t keep up with this one so much and dipped in and out a bit [the same happened with Sewvember as well] but it’s a good way to find new people to follow and be inspired by if all this is new to you. I’ve just remembered there was MIYMarch (Make it Yourself) but that passed me by completely this year.
In September I became a Minerva Crafts blogger so I’m provided with fabric by them to make up into my own choice of garment and then write a comprehensive review for their own website. I’m enjoying this and it’s another string to my bow.
October saw me return to Birmingham for the SewBrum event which is magnificently organised by Charlotte ‘English Girl at Home’. It’s a chance for dressmakers from all over the place to come together in Birmingham, shop for fabric, visit Guthrie & Ghani and generally hang out together.
I was really chuffed to be invited by Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine to contribute an article about the Fashioned from Nature exhibition to the magazine in November. It was a really big deal for me to write something specifically to appear in print. I’ve been lucky enough to write pattern reviews for Love Sewing and Sew Now in the past but this was a new departure. I’d love to do more like this in the future. There’s definitely a little something coming up early in the new year but I can’t talk about that yet…..
I organised my own meet-up at Walthamstow Market in east London in mid-November which fortunately was a beautiful day as it was well attended and we nearly all went for lunch afterwards, to continue chatting! It was the first meet-up for quite a number of the attendees but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and were delighted to get the chance to chat together in real life and not just in a comments box!
There was a lovely pre-Christmas sewing day in Cambridge called SewCam organised by Jen Walker ‘The Gingerthread Girl’ which was a delightful antidote to festive fever, and a final London Stitcher’s meet up the following weekend to round everything off nicely!
When I look back at everything in this way it makes me so happy to realise the sheer quantity of wonderful opportunities that my love of dressmaking has brought me this year in particular. I continue to teach my lovely group of ladies locally-they think all this Instagram nonsense is ridiculous in a good way! I’ve met so many awesome and inspiring women in real life for the first time and I’ve deepened some of the friendships that started last year, or longer, ago. Many people think that ‘friends’ on Insta aren’t real but that just isn’t true. Of course there are those people you should give a wide berth to and we are continually plagued by nut-jobs who think women who sew will be interested in their guns, or love of God, or whatever but if we all continue to report them then so much the better.
Wherever you are in your sewing ‘journey’ I hope you find it relaxing, fulfilling, inspiring, empowering, distracting, whatever you need it to be. I’ll never stop learning and being creative is so good for us ( we knew this all along but science is finally realising it too!)
I’ve already got some ideas for next year but, to be honest, much of 2018 just unfolded one thing at a time without too much planning in advance. I’d like to expand my own skills in 2019 and not necessarily in dressmaking terms, I have always enjoyed art so perhaps I should get my pencils and paints back out again.
There’s always an element of me hoping you enjoy what I write and find the reviews helpful or informative although, in truth, I’d write them anyway as a record. Thank you for joining me on the journey and Happy New Year, and here’s to lots more sewing adventures, maybe we’ll meet ‘in real life’ in 2019?!