Are you ready for the first Sew Over 50 sewing challenge?

SewOver50 has been going strong on Instagram for nearly 6 months now, since Judith Staley set it up last August, and it seemed like it was time to consolidate its success by setting up a new challenge for dressmakers to join in with.

Judith and I, along with Sandy in Brisbane, have been working on ideas for a while and eventually we hit upon the notion of asking anyone who wanted to join in to choose a pattern which featured an older person modelling it in the advertising ie: on the packaging or accompanying artwork. This proved to be even more difficult than we had imagined because it only went to show just how few pattern companies feature older models, never mind women of colour or larger sizes! Unlike some recent publicity elsewhere we’re not intending to shame pattern companies who don’t include us as part of their demographic because it isn’t helpful, we want to highlight and commend those companies that already do, even if it’s to a very small degree, and hope to encourage those that don’t to follow suit. It does seem though that a few companies have been falling over themselves to apologise to people of colour who sew (POC) or those who fall outside the ‘normal’ size range for excluding them, whilst we as older sewers didn’t merit such an acknowledgement-perhaps they actually don’t want our custom? Are we being too polite? Whatever, onwards…

Let me set out the challenge to you (should you choose to accept it…) it is this…

To sew a garment either for yourself or someone else using a pattern which features an older person ie: over approximately 45-50, on the cover and/or in other original supporting marketing. This doesn’t include a company sharing of other people’s versions of their patterns on social media. The point is to highlight how few patterns we think there are like this and to encourage designers and pattern companies to think outside the box more and include over the age of 50 in their advertising because we’re such a large part of their buying public. We feel that there is no valid reason to side line this particular audience especially as we often have more disposable income to spend. 

  • The challenge can include any adult garment, for women or men, it can simple or advanced, outerwear or underwear, tops, bottoms, dresses. Only the garment which uses the older model in it’s artwork/advertising should be made, not any other garment by that company if it’s the usual situation.  
  • We have decided to include patterns which feature in books or magazines (probably from within the last 5 years or so) too because there may be more opportunities available there. 
  • If you feel strongly about using a genuine vintage pattern (as opposed to a modern take on vintage) which features an apparently older person then go ahead but it can be so hard to tell because everyone looked old back in the day, even teenagers!
  • Share what you’re up to as often as you like for the duration of the challenge, we all like to see what others are sewing and if you have a great pattern then let’s get it out there for all to see, someone else may want to choose it too! Make sure you follow the @SewOver50 account and use the hashtags #SewOver50 and #So50Visible so that we can all search for and see them too.
  • We’ve had several generous offers of patterns as ‘prizes’ from a few designers which will be randomly awarded at the end of the challenge. This isn’t really intended to be a competition, it’s more a sharing of ideas and inspiration and highlighting our presence.
  • In no particular order the ‘prizes’ are as follows-
  • The Maker’s Atelier-Holiday shirt and top. 
  • Seamwork- 1 of 3 PDF patterns
  • Paper Theory-Olya shirt
  • Alice & Co-pattern bundle.
  • You don’t have to make a brand new garment for the challenge but ideally it will be one you’ve made relatively recently (within a year, say) and haven’t already shared lots of times. Why not take a new photo of it though?
  • When you’re ready to enter then you must include a shot of the original pattern as well as your finished make. If you don’t know how to do multiple images or collages on Instagram then just include the pattern in the shot with you (or your chosen model) Judith will share regular posts and information and you have plenty of time.
  • Post your photos any time between February 1st and March 15th 2019 on the @SewOver50 account and make sure you include the hashtags so that we can see them.
  • The Challenge is open to EVERYONE regardless of your age, size, gender, ethnicity or orientation.

Once we started searching we realised that although there are MASSES of pattern companies now there were very, VERY few using older models [the slight exception seems to be for men’s patterns where an older man is deemed to ‘distinguished’ the same does not seem to apply to women] Judith and I trawled through The Fold Line’s huge database which was very helpful as it collates so many pattern companies but it was often extremely difficult to tell if the model was in the over 45-50 bracket or whether they just appeared that way! We decided to err on the side of caution so as not to cause offence but if you feel the model (or the illustration) is ‘older’ then go right ahead. 

There are doubtless more pattern companies existing in a small way where you are-SewOver50 has a global reach with followers all over the world-so if you know of a company, or are a pattern company, probably producing PDFs, then please highlight it on Instagram or message Judith directly and she’ll share it on the account. 

We’ve compiled a list for you to look through [it isn’t that long and it isn’t definitive by any means] so hopefully you’ll feel inspired and want to show some love to those companies which already acknowledge we exist!

Paper Theory-Olya pattern

Maker’s Atelier-several to choose from

Colette-several to choose from

The Thrifty Stitcher-Dawson Coatigan

Tessuti-various

Pattern Union-various

Sew Me Something-various

Simple Sew-Zoe dress and topAlice & Co-Intrepid Boiler Suit

Sew Over It-Coco jacket

Seamwork-various

Tuesday Stitches-various

Blue Dot patterns-most patterns, Diane does her own modelling

By Hand London-Orsola dress and skirt

Dg patterns-Patricia

Cashmerette-Washington dress

Pauline Alice-Romero trousers

Designer Stitch-various

The Sewing Workshop-various

Fresh Press-various

Sew This Pattern-various

Sinclair patterns-various

Wardrobe By Me-various

Merchant & Mills The Workbook Curlew dress only

Sew Different patterns-Cocoon jacket and possibly a couple of others

Elbe Textiles-groovy old guy, same old, same old with the women though

Simplicity #8607 #8163 absolutely dismal showing by the big companies!

Everyday Style by Lotta Jansdottir -this is a book

Wendy Ward-Beginner’s Guide to Sewing with Knits book

Any pattern created for a sewing or dressmaking magazine and which is modelled by an older person could also be deemed eligible.

As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I know full well that some smaller companies want to keep a tight rein on the image that they are projecting and I respect that completely. Sadly, as a wider community, we’re noticing that some of these companies don’t ever acknowledge any of us, via social media, who don’t fit into their ideal demographic. They are more than content to encourage us to ‘share your makes’ and ‘share the hashtag’ etc. so that they get lots of lovely free advertising from us but this is starting to get galling and I’m thinking of no longer naming, or indeed reviewing, any pattern by certain brands if they can’t be bothered to acknowledge the actual community that they rely on! #NoLikeNoMention

There are a quite number of other groups that are under represented in sewing community terms too so if you feel you are in one of those; people of colour who sew, curvaceous sewers and people with disabilities are just a few examples, please take it as read that you are absolutely invited to be a part of this too, the #SewInclusive hashtag would be pointless if it didn’t actually include anyone who wants to be involved.

We really hope that you’ll want to join in with this challenge, and that by doing so, as a community, we’ll encourage more pattern companies to choose carefully the models they use. Many of them must have stylish Mums or Aunties who would be up for a photo-shoot, or there are plenty of beautiful people right here in the sewing community who would volunteer I’m sure.

We’d love you to be a part of this challenge and help demonstrate that there are many of us who, whilst we’re a bit older, we still take a keen interest in fashion and great clothes, and we make stylish things which deserve to be seen and acknowledged by a greater section of the home dressmaking market. I want to stress that other than the pattern ‘prizes’ which have generously been donated this post is not sponsored, endorsed or affiliated by anyone and the @SewOver50 account isn’t either. We’re really looking forward to seeing what you all come up with so get searching, begin sewing and start sharing.

Happy Sewing,

Sue

Sewing makes of 2018

I think this is a fairly comprehensive album of my makes in 2018, most of them have been worn a good number of times although not all were for me.

When I look back like this I realise what a busy sewing year 2018 was ( and a bit of knitting too!). Also, there seem to be a LOT of dresses and tops but very few skirts and trousers! I think this is definitely as a result of me gaining weight in the last two years and feeling self-conscious so, with the exception of my Megan Nielsen Ash jeans from autumn 2017, I really haven’t wanted to make close-fitting clothes.

I’m addressing this now, with some success so far, but the other truth is that I like wearing looser-fitting clothes anyway, although hopefully I can go down a size or two when I make them in future…time will tell.

Some of the garments you see here have been worn loads since I made them whilst others were less successful. Sometimes this was bad fabric choices, sometimes they didn’t suit me after all, also the weather became so hot that I didn’t wear the heavier items as much as I expected at the time.

I tend not to set myself up for ‘sewnine’ or other year-long initiatives because I’d rather see what takes my fancy as time passes, or whatever gap I feel needs filling. I’ve really enjoyed making a few jackets and coats this year and they have all had a good amount of wear, they aren’t something I’d done much previously. I’ll be making a couple of posh frocks soon because we’re going on a cruise in March which will need a few fancy threads in the evenings, I’ll be taking old favourites like the Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt and New Look 6351 trousers, and Papercut Moana to keep cool in during the day though.

Have you got sewing plans already for 2019 or are you more like me and just see what takes your fancy? We’ve got the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee to look forward to very soon and I’m sure that will inspire even more people to take up this brilliant activity with us! Dressmaking is an activity anyone can try fairly easily these days and there is so much inspiration, help and encouragement out there too, in a way it never was when I was first sewing.

I can’t wait to see the two blockbuster exhibitions at the V&A next year, Dior: Designer of Dreams opens in February and Mary Quant in April so there’s lots to look forward to there. It’s well worth considering membership this year I’d say, I’ve had excellent value-for-money from mine these past four years. [alternatively, Art Fund is also worth considering if you don’t live near London because that gives you reductions to lots of galleries and museums all over the UK, including the V&A)

I’m also looking forward to seeing a lot more SewOver50 activity from all over the world too, have you joined yet?

Maybe our paths will cross in 2019 and we can talk sewing together in real life?

Until then, happy sewing

Sue

Summing up where sewing has taken me in 2018

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 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…..

My name in print!

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!

Loving all the fabrics in Saeed’s, Walthamstow

Hasan, better known as the Man Outside Sainsbury’s!

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!

getting started at SewCam in December

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?!

Happy sewing,

Sue

making the Utility dress by Simple Sew Patterns.

My latest Simple Sew blog make is the fairly recently released Utility Dress, an easy-fitting style with elasticated back waist, drawstring front waist and kimono-shape sleeves. I would say that it’s suitable for softer woven fabrics like chambray, cotton lawn, washed linen or fluid viscose-types, or soft woollens for winter. Having said all of that I chose to make mine in a medium-weight jersey in a tan/black dogtooth check design from Doughty’s Online fabric store. It still works well but you just need to take care not to accidentally stretch some areas such as the neckline in particular and the shoulders. Because of the busy design on this fabric I left out the CF seam and cut the front on a fold instead, thus avoiding any difficult pattern matching down the seam. 

reinforcing the neckline with iron-on interfacing.

I reinforced the neckline using narrow strips of iron-on interfacing I cut myself but you could use the readymade type, I did the same on the front shoulder seams too. You could even use up short lengths of ribbon here for a pretty effect inside. 

As always I deviated from the method of construction a couple of times. After joining the front and back at the shoulders, instead of using ready made bias binding to neaten the neck edge I cut two narrow strips of the jersey which were slightly shorter than the neck edge [the amount will vary depending on how stretchy your fabric is. It’s usually about 85% of the neckline measurement]

Fold them in half lengthwise to form two narrow strips and then place one over the other at a right angle with the folded edges on the ‘inside’ of the V. 

Two narrow strips of fabric, overlapped at a right angle and stitched to hold them in position.

Then reinforce the V on the dress with a row of stitches just within the seam allowance, turning at the V, then carefully snip into the V up to the stitching line.

carefully snip into the V

With right sides together pin the binding to the V section only initially [see the photo to clarify this] and stitch this V section in place by about 5cms either side of the V. Pivot and open the snip as you sew to allow the binding to sit neatly and flat on top of the neck edge. If you’re in any doubt then tack this section first to prevent it moving. 

Attach the V section first, when this is right move on to the rest of the neckband. The pivot point is marked with a purple dot, This is where you rotate the fabric underneath thus opening up the snip you made and enabling the binding edge to match the neck edge.

I pinned on the rest of the neck binding double-checking the length was short enough before sewing the join at the CB. Now you can stitch on the remainder of the band knowing that the V is already sewn accurately. [Thank you Melissa Fehr for this new technique, she uses it in her activewear patterns and I’ve found it gives a nice neat result] Trim and neaten the seam on the inside if required and then you can topstitch it down to prevent the binding rolling.

neckband in position and then topstitched close to the join..

Next I ignored the method for putting the sleeves on. Instead of sewing the side seams up leave them open so that you can open the garment out flat and pin and sew the sleeve strips on more easily.

sleeve band stitched on before sewing up the underarm seam. You can just see that I had pressed the fold line on the sleeve band before I sewed the seam here. This makes it easier to fold once it’s in position. Press the seam towards the sleeve.

Now sew up the side seams including the sleeve bands. Fold the bands up towards the sleeves and either neaten/overlock the raw edge before stitching it down though the stitching line or turn the raw edge under and slip stitch in position. 

neaten the underarm seam before you turn up the sleeve band.

Moving on to the skirt and putting in the hip pockets. I used scraps of matching fabric for the pocket lining as I was concerned that the pattern might show through skirt front. This can reduce bulk too if you’re using a heavier-weight fabric.

pocket bag made with lining scraps

After the pocket bags are complete comes the waistband. I followed the instructions although I think there might be an easier way, I just haven’t worked it out on this version. Although it says there’s a chart to tell you what length to cut the elastic for the back waistband I couldn’t find it anywhere! In the end I decided to cut it half my waist measurement minus about another 6cms, to allow for the stretching and gathering up. I used a length of grosgrain ribbon to go in the front casing. 

I used a zip foot when sewing the waistband to the top of the skirt because I felt it made it less likely that I’d sew accidentally through the ribbon and elastic. 

Joining the waistband containing the ribbon and elastic to the skirt. I’ve used the zipper foot so that I could keep close whilst still making sure I didn’t accidentally sew through the ribbon or elastic. I then neatened this seam on the overlocker.

After joining the top and skirt together all that remains is to hem the skirt. I used a twin needle to do this but you could just turn it up twice and stitch. If you do use jersey fabric for this dress it’s best to sew it with a ballpoint/stretch/jersey needle so that you don’t ladder the fabric as you sew. 

This is a nice comfortable style which I’ll enjoy wearing. Disappointingly there are silly errors again in the instructions which is always so annoying, I hope this won’t be enough to put you off trying this Simple Sew style though which is a bit of a departure from their more usual vintage-style dresses. 

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue






Another Minerva blog already!

A bit like buses, I haven’t written many blogs in recent weeks and now several come along all at once! 

This new one is just to alert you to my next Minerva blog where I’ll tell you how I’ve made a long-sleeved version of the popular Simple Sew patterns Cocoon dress in a really lovely bright red crepe. 

It was still hot and sunny when I made it!

Crepe fabric lends itself to this style as it’s fluid, drapes well and resists creasing. Thank you Minerva for providing me with the fabric, all views expressed are my own however.

Until next time,

happy sewing

Sue

Simple Sew Notch Collar jacket

Usually when I write a Simple Sew blog post it’s a garment for me but this time the finished article is for my friend Janet. We had a shopping trip to London’s Goldhawk Road a little while ago to choose fabric for a dress for Janet’s daughter to wear to a family wedding and while we were in Classic Textiles we got distracted and spotted this lovely pastel tweed. There wasn’t a lot left so she snapped it all up as well as some pretty matching lining, we didn’t have a pattern in mind but I knew I’d have something suitable at home.

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I didn’t realise I even had the Notch Collar jacket, it turned up when I had a recent tidy in my work room.

The jacket got put on the back-burner for a few months because I had the dress for the wedding to make first, and then a last minute dress for Janet herself to wear too so it dropped down the priorities.

With the wedding out of the way in August I could revisit the project. Because there wasn’t a lot of fabric and there could be tricky pattern matching to do I didn’t want a pattern that was too complex with a lot of pieces so when I found the Notch Collar jacket I thought it would be perfect.

If you’re going to make this jacket yourself I would say it’s VITAL to make a toile first. In my opinion it’s quite narrow across the front and shoulders so if you’re fuller-busted you will probably need to do an FBA.  With this in mind I was really pleased, and a bit surprised, when the toile fitted Janet perfectly with no alterations but then she is quite petite build.

 

If you read my pattern reviews regularly you’ll know that I’m not usually a ‘tracer’ but because Janet is so much smaller than me, and I may want to use the pattern again sometime, I opted to trace this one. If you’re short of fabric or if it’s going to be tricky pattern matching it can be really helpful to make pairs of any pieces that require 2 eg. Left front and right front, a pair of sleeves or the whole back rather than just place on a fold. In this case though I folded the fabric carefully in half and pinned in numerous places through the fabric so that I knew the checks were matching on the under layer.

IMG_8271
Pin through the same spot on both layers.

 

Because of the wide width of the fabric I could easily place the front and back side by side so I knew that the check would match down the side seam as far as possible. Because of the dart it wouldn’t match near the underarm seam though, this is inevitable.

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Front and back side by side on the fabric matching from hem level upwards, it will go off slightly because of the dart.

I didn’t cut out the sleeves in tweed at this stage. I cut everything out in lining too with the addition of a pleat of extra fabric in the back to allow for movement. I also cut facings which incidentally I’d made a lot wider than the originals-I think they are too narrow. [later on I discovered that there’s no lower back facing piece and very little hem allowed to turn it up either. I made my own by tracing the lower edge of the back pattern up to the same depth as my front facings-8cms-so that they match when joined at the side seams.]

To stabilise the tweed and give it some extra body I interlined the fronts and back with some calico and basted it to the tweed within the seam allowances around the edges. This is known as ‘mounting’ the fabric and is a very useful technique if you have a fabric that needs stabilising or a little more body for some reason.

I immediately disagreed with the instructions here because, after making the darts, the first thing I would do is make the pockets and sew them on. Because the fabric frays quite a bit I opted to use some lining as well as the facing to ‘bag out’ the pockets. This makes them more stable as well as neater. After matching the checks I top-stitched them on but that pushed everything out of alignment so I ripped that stitching out and hand-sewed them on instead. These aren’t pockets that will need to take a lot of weight so they should be plenty strong enough.

 

 

After joining the shoulders and side seams I pressed the seams open with plenty of steam over my tailor’s ham and gave them a good bashing with my wooden clapper to knock the steam out and flatten the the seams effectively. I used it on the darts too. If you don’t have a clapper you could use a wooden rolling pin if you have one.

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Tailor’s ham and wooden clapper

Things got trickier after this because I had to match the sleeves to the checks of the jacket. Initially I did this by lining up the pattern piece again the jacket on the stand and drew some guide lines onto the pattern. I was reasonably sure this would work so I cut out a pair of sleeves…I was wrong. I’d placed the pattern piece onto the fabric but it was matched to the wrong set of stripes. Damn and blast! Fortunately, I still had enough fabric left for another pair of sleeves and I could cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves instead.

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I cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves

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My pencil markings indicate approximately where the pink stripes are in order to match the facing to the front as much as possible.

I tried a different approach to matching the sleeves. I took the whole piece of remaining fabric and offered it up to the jacket armhole on the stand where I pinned it in position. This seemed to work so I carefully thread traced the crown of the sleeve, removed the fabric again and then laid the pattern piece on top.

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I pinned the whole piece of fabric to the armhole matching the stripes as best I could.

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Thread tracing the sleeve crown

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Then I traced around the whole sleeve slightly outside the pattern ( to allow a margin for error) I could then place the pattern in a corresponding area of check for the second sleeve  so that it, hopefully, matched the jacket too!

Obviously I needed a second sleeve so I had to cut the first one, remove the pattern, place it in the correct position for that sleeve to match and cut it out. If I got this one wrong there was no Plan C…. I’m extremely relieved to say that all was well-phew. One of the benefits of the tweed is that you can make the slightly loose weave work in your favour so I ran the usual two rows of ease stiches around the crown and tacked the sleeves into position.

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I gently pulled up the ease-stitches in the sleeve head before putting each sleeve into the armhole. the red stitches are the markings from where I placed the paper pattern on the fabric.

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Sleeves inset

One fitted perfectly first time and the other I had to reduce the amount of fullness over the crown to make it fit, and still have the checks matching. At this point Janet popped round for a fitting and we were both very relieved that it fitted really well-high fives all round.

One tip I’d give as a result of doing quite a few alterations on coats and jackets is to use a wide strip of iron-on interfacing at the cuff to give it a crisp edge.

 

This is the sort of soft-tailored jacket which will benefit from a small shoulder pad. We aren’t talking ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas’ 80’s shoulders here, just enough to give a little more definition to the shoulder-line. I didn’t have anything suitable so I made a pair with some medium thickness wadding and covered them in fine calico.

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Wadding ‘pad-stitched’ onto calico

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The wadding is attached to one layer of wadding which is in turn stitched to another piece of calico along the shortest edge first of all.

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Snip the curve and flip the calico over to cover the wadding

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Fold the shoulder pad evenly in half and slip stitch it loosely in place along the shoulder seam on it’s underside..

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The shoulder pad extends very slightly over edge of the shoulder in order to support the sleeve head.

To line the jacket next, I interfaced the facings with iron-on Vilene and neatened the edges, then I stitched them wrong sides to right sides on the lining pieces.

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Back neck facing placed on top of the lining and stitched in place, I did the same with the front facings.

I made up the lining as a complete unit-fronts/back/sleeves-which in hindsight wasn’t the right order because after I sewed the jacket and the lining together all the way around the outer edge it meant I couldn’t under-stitch any of it. I should have sewn the lining in without the sleeves attached, under-stitched the neck edge first then attached the sleeve linings afterwards. Instead, I pulled everything through right side out and gave the neck edges a jolly good steam and wallop with the clapper again. Then I ‘stab stitched’ the edges of the front and neck edge by hand, and also a few stitches directly through the lower section of each side seam to keep the two layers fixed together. Finally, I slip-hemmed the sleeve linings in place.

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I stab-stitched through the side seams to hold the lower edge nicely together.

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sleeve lining slip-stitched into position

As I said before this is a ‘soft-tailored’ jacket rather than a very structured one, although I’ve used one or two techniques which I picked up on the tailoring course I did two and a half years ago.

The sparse making up instructions do have a few errors or anomalies which could trip you up. I set the sleeves in rather than on the flat which might not make any difference to the overall finish but the lack of lower back facing or sufficient turn up instead isn’t good, and it says there’s a turn up of 5mm on the cuffs when it’s actually 1.5cms, and in fact 4cms is what I used to give a better finish. I know some of the earlier Simple Sew patterns have a few technical errors and this is one of them but, with this in mind, don’t dismiss it because it’s an attractive little edge-to-edge jacket but make a toile first!

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I relieved to say that Janet is very pleased with her jacket and hopefully will get a lot of wear from it.

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Until next time

Happy sewing,

Sue

Simple Sew Cocoon Coat update

If you read my blog reviewing the new Simple Sew Cocoon Jacket a couple of months back then you might recall the crazy-big toile I made to start with. I didn’t want the fabric to go to waste and so eventually I went back to it to finish. Because it’s a checked fabric I had cut it carefully to match even though it was only for a toile originally. [Since writing the original blog its been brought to my attention that the instructions for joining the front and back pieces together are currently wrong and show the front piece being attached the wrong way up! I’ve done a little diagram below to show how it should be] I’ve realised I thought I’d misunderstood and put it together intuitively, when actually it was the instructions not me, but this isn’t very helpful to you!

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This is how the diagram looks on the instruction sheet

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This is how it should go together.

 

 

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The original HUGE toile back in the summer.

Basically I deconstructed the whole thing by unpicking the seams so that it was the main pieces of fronts and backs again, I hadn’t put any facings on it so this process was pretty quick. Once I’d got the pieces broken down I placed the reduced size pattern pieces from which I’d made my denim version on top of the checked fabric, still matching the checks carefully, and recut them smaller. This time I cut out the facings and patch pockets too.

Then I simply made it up in exactly the same way as the denim coat, I didn’t use any decorative topstitching this time though.

I decided not to use the giant poppers for this one so I had a rummage in my button collection and found two HUGE buttons of unknown origin. This presented two problems, firstly I had to work out very precisely where the buttonholes should be sewn so that when the buttons are done up the checks on the front still match (because I’m like that!) and then I discovered that, because the button was far too large for the automatic buttonhole foot, there were actually NO instructions in the guide book for my machine on how to make a freehand outsize buttonhole. This caused me so much head-scratching! I goggled it on the interweb with no luck but then I remembered my friend Anne, who is an expert sewer, has the same machine as me so I messaged her. She agreed there were definitely no instructions (I wasn’t going nuts!) and whilst I’d have to work out the specifics for my particular buttonhole, she pointed me in the right direction and eventually I had two acceptable buttonholes. What a palaver!

 

 

Anyway, I finished it in the end and the Cocoon Coat pattern will be officially released in the next week as the free gift with Sew Now magazine and on their website so everyone will get the chance to try this very simple but stylish coat. [I noticed the website does draw your attention to the generous sizing and I strongly recommend you make a toile or tissue fit first] I’ve made both mine in woven fabrics but you could try it in boiled wool or another fabric which doesn’t need to be faced or neatened. What about a double-faced jersey cloth, perhaps with a soft fleecy side? You could add a collar, or turn-back cuffs? So may possibilities for such a simple garment.

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I’ve had lots of wear from the denim coat, it’s been really versatile because it isn’t too heavy but there’s room for layers underneath when it gets a bit cooler. What will you make yours in?

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Simple Sew Cocoon jacket

When it came to selecting our next make for the Simple Sew blog there were two new ‘mystery’ patterns on the list as well as all the existing ones. One was a dress and the other was the Cocoon Jacket. As my next blog would be appearing at the beginning of autumn it seemed an idea to take a chance on the jacket-I already know the Cocoon dress which has been incredibly popular and is a very simple and stylish make so I figured the coat would be very similar.

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I was so happy when the pattern arrived because it’s exactly that-simple and stylish!  The obvious fabric choice would be a nice woollen cloth-it suggests a boiled wool and this indeed would be perfect but, because I didn’t know just what the pattern was like until it arrived, I hadn’t chosen any fabric from one of our generous providers so I needed to get my own. For some reason it occurred to me that denim would an interesting choice and ideal for the autumn too. Luckily I live very near a branch of John Lewis so in I went and managed to buy 2.5m of a nice quality rigid denim in a fairly dark blue. The first thing I did when I got it home was put it through the wash twice to get out as much excess dye as possible and deal with any possible shrinkage before I started cutting out.

The pattern pieces are an intriguing shape, the back and the sleeve come as one large piece plus a front, a pocket and neck facings. What this means is that every piece ideally needs to be cut on the single which shouldn’t be a problem, it just takes longer and you need to be very careful not to cut two the same of the large pieces. If you want to use a cloth with a large check you may need to allow more fabric for good matching too. A stripe would look interesting as well.

Initially I opted to make my usual size 14 and I could already see from the pieces that this was likely to be too large. Before anything else I tissue-fitted the pattern. This is when you pin the tissue or paper pieces together accurately as though they are sewn and try it on carefully either on yourself or your dress stand if you have one. From this I could tell that the sleeves would be really long so for the toile I reduced them by about 8-10cms by folding out carefully about halfway down the sleeve. I cut and sewed the jacket then in some grey suiting fabric from my stash so that I could assess the size. I’m so glad I did this because it was HUGE, not just comfortably roomy, actually ginormous! I’m not sure why it needs to be so oversized but that wasn’t how I wanted to wear it so I chose to come down two whole sizes and make a 10. As you’ll see later it’s still plenty big enough. [I’ll recut and make up the grey one at some point so it won’t go to waste.]

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Hmmm, plenty of room for everyone in here!

The instructions tell you to overlock all the edges before starting but I made all the darts first (which aren’t indicated in the line drawing-why not?) and then overlocked. If you’re using boiled wool, or decide to line it, then I wouldn’t bother overlocking unless your fabric frays a lot. Denim does fray a bit because it’s a twill weave but it wasn’t really a problem here. As the overlocking on my coat was going to be visible I picked a mix of three fun colours, fuchsia, orange and teal. I used a jeans needle throughout too although a sturdier size (90 or 100) of a regular needle would do if you haven’t got one.

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multi-coloured overlocking

Because I’m using denim I wanted to use topstitching to highlight the seams. I was going to buy some specific topstitching thread but I couldn’t settle on a colour so instead I tried out a few colours in regular thread I already had and then used the triple straight stitch on my machine, which looks like topstitching. [You may not even know your machine has this stitch, it looks like three rows of straight stitch close together in the diagram so have a look to see if it’s there-it’s also known as saddle stitch] In addition to sewing on the patch pockets with like this I highlighted the darts at the back neck, elbow and hem, as well as all the seams and outer edges. Be aware that the triple straight stitch uses a lot of thread though.

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A very generous patch pocket, I used squared-off top stitching at the top edge for extra reinforcement.

This jacket goes together so quickly! You simply make up each half and then join them down the centre back. [Since writing this it’s been brought to my attention that the instructions for attaching the front to the back at the raglan seam are currently wrong! I’ve realised that I probably disregarded the drawing because I couldnt make sense of it and did it intuitively which isn’t helpful to you! The illustration shows the front piece attaching to the back the wrong way up, in so doing it means the neck edge won’t form a curve and the underarm sleeve seams don’t come together, below is the instruction as it currently stands, together with my drawing of how it should be]

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This is how the instruction sheet shows it. It has the neck edge attaching to the underarm seam and will never work if you do it like this.

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This is my little drawing of how it should be. The illustration looks like the raglan seam won’t match up but it does, you have to manipulate it a little.

 The sleeve seam falls to the front as a raglan and there’s the darts in the back and elbow/underarm to give a little shaping but that’s it. I would urge you if you’re using a boiled wool or other fabric which looks the same on both sides to mark them in some way so that you don’t make up the two halves the same not a pair! If you use boiled wool there’s no need to finish the edges unless you want to, or use the facings. You’ll need to use plenty of steam to press those seams open too.

I used facings cut in denim but you could easily cut them in a contrast if you like. I didn’t bother with interfacing because my jacket is meant to be very soft and slouchy and denim is already quite firm without adding more weight. At the lower hem don’t forget to trim away the excess fabric at the corners so that they turn better to make a sharper corner. When you’re sewing at a point like this always start from the fold or seam (marked with the pointer in my photo) and sew towards the open edge so that you don’t get a wrinkle or lump forming, it pushes any excess fabric away flat as you sew with this method.

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When you stitch the facing at the hem start from the point indicated and sew across.

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trim away the excess at the corner but don’t take it too near the hem itself, to the left.

Once both halves are made and joined there’s only the hems to turn up and the fastenings-if you’re using any- to sew on. I bought a pair of HUGE metal press studs in John Lewis, the pattern suggests magnetic fastenings or bold decorative buttons would be fun too.

Considering I didn’t know anything about the pattern before it arrived I’m really delighted with how it’s turned out. I reckon this will be a very popular pattern this winter as it’s so quick to sew, just be very careful about your sizing though, at the very least do a tissue fit before cutting your fabric. It’s going to be a great casual cover up, for me it’s a variation on the denim jacket, but it’s still generous enough to get woollies underneath.

It would be easy to fully line as well, simply cut all the pieces in a lining fabric too and make up the same. Attach it at the neck and front edges and then add the facings is one way to do this but there are others. Alternatively, you could use ‘Hong Kong’ finish on the seams, this is to bind all the seams with bias- or seam binding, it makes the inside of the coat look lovely although it’s time-consuming. What about using a heavy drill fabric, or a waterproof one even? Add a hood? In-seam pockets? Fleece-lined sweatshirting? So many possibilities!

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dart near the elbow

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front raglan sleeve seams

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darts at the back neck

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GIANT press studs!!

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I used bright pink to top stitch the CB seam

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I managed to top stitch the whole under arm seam too.

Cocoon coat winter-ready!
Even coming down 2 sizes it’s a generous fit and there’s room for jumpers underneath.

Cocoon coat autumn

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there are darts at the back hem

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The blouse is a favourite Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt.

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The trousers are New Look 6351

The jacket will gradually soften and scuff as time passes which is exactly what I want and I think I’ll get a lot of use from it. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of versions of the Cocoon Jacket appearing over the autumn/winter months ahead, I wore it to the recent Sewing Weekender in Cambridge organised by The Foldline and English Girl at Home and it got a fair number of very positive comments. You’ve only got to wait until the November issue of Sew Now magazine when the pattern will be the free gift with it, unless Simple Sew can be persuaded to release it sooner than that…

Happy sewing

Sue

 

 

Does ageism exist in modern dressmaking and why do we need the SewOver50 hashtag?

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So, does ageism exist in modern dressmaking both as a pastime and an industry as it’s developing at the moment? Obviously I hope the answer to my question is “no” but I have my doubts that’s the case.

Why am I even asking? I’m asking because, after I published my last blog about ‘big 4 patterns’ and indie patterns, one point I raised for discussion was that I’d noticed certain pattern designers were ignoring my photos when I’d tagged their product in them. It seems this resonated with others too, and all of us appear to be in the over 45-50 in age group. I’m also well aware by saying this that there will be those who think I’m being paranoid, have an over-inflated sense of my own importance or just suffering from FOMO! (fear of missing out, if you haven’t heard that before) simply for writing this.

Firstly, a very quick lesson in Instagram if you don’t use the platform-those of us who use Instagram regularly know that if we share photos of garments we’ve made it’s completely normal to say which pattern it is and also where we bought the fabric from for example, by ‘tagging’ those companies in the picture. Doing this means that others who see your post know what the products are if they’re are interested in buying them. Within the Instagram sewing community it’s a normal part of what we all enjoy. Tagging also alerts those companies or individuals to a post containing one of their products which they wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s nice to get a ‘like’ from these companies or individuals, more as an acknowledgement than anything else, a comment is even better and a repost on their own feed is the ultimate in flattering acknowledgment of your make.

Eventually it’s possible to strike up ‘conversations’ with some of these companies, much in the same way we do between ourselves in response to photos we like or find interesting or intriguing for example. [Weird guys with guns looking for lurve and usually involving God are a whole other matter and to be avoided and blocked at all costs]  We use their product and mention it so it’s free advertising for them, we get the satisfaction of knowing they’ve seen what we’ve made.

So far, so good, but in the last two years or so there seems to be a proliferation of new independent pattern companies and they are all clamouring for our attention and support, it’s becoming a very crowded market.

I won’t lie, it is very satisfying to have your work acknowledged and I’m always happy when it happens for one of my makes because we all like that approval don’t we? I’ve learned, however, that there are some companies who never acknowledge a tag, it isn’t what they do, it can be a bit like that on Twitter too. There’s no point in jumping up and down in front of them like a needy child.

Initially I didn’t really notice with a particular pattern company I’d used because when I shared the first post of my make being modelled by Doris my dress stand it got a ‘like’. In other words, no clues there to what I look like or anything, and I made it in almost identical fabric to the photo to the pattern cover itself, nothing too ‘inappropriate’. I decided I’d share some better photos in nicer surroundings when I was on holiday a couple of weeks later. This time I ‘modelled’ the dress myself and tagged all the usual information, pattern, fabric etc. Eventually I noticed that it hadn’t provoked a response this time…interesting I thought.

Earlier in the summer I made a garment for a student’s Final exhibition and by chance was asked to use a particular pattern by this same company for it. The photo I was eventually able to share was again of a headless dress stand wearing the garment and this got an acknowledgment.

Funny, I thought, so I had a look at their feed for myself. It’s fair to say that it’s all a beautifully curated series of images, there are reposts of other people’s makes too but all very much in line with their chosen ‘company’ image and saying more about the carefully staged photo than the garment itself. Of course any company is perfectly entitled to use only the images it chooses to to promote itself, I understand that.

I’d decided to make a second version of the dress with some lovely printed viscose linen fabric I bought in Sewisfaction, it was ideal for the dress and would be comfortable in the very hot weather we’d been experiencing in the UK. I would test my suspicions by tagging the pattern company in a photo of me wearing it to see what happened! As I expected, nothing happened. I got a lovely comment and a repost from Sewisfaction about the fabric but as far as the pattern went my face clearly doesn’t fit and I’ll draw my own conclusions why.

Ok, so now I definitely sound paranoid right?

This isn’t the only indie company that I’ve had it happen with and I now know, because other sewers have told me, that they feel ignored by some brands too. It’s like there’s an inner sanctum of pattern brands, bloggers with large followings and newly-hatched fabric businesses and it all goes around and around in this special perfect storm of ‘dreamy’ fabric and ‘swoon-worthy’ ruffles (and when did we get so much hyperbole in sewing too!?)

So what next? Well there isn’t much I can actually ‘do’ other than not bother tagging in photos, I guess if a person looking at my feed is interested enough in the garment they can ask me directly what it is and I’ll tell them. Also, I like to write pattern reviews here on the blog and each one can take me hours to put together. Simple Sew provide me with patterns but almost every other review has been of my own volition because I think I’ve got something useful or helpful to say about a pattern, I don’t write “it’s pretty and here are some lovely pictures of me modelling it” because that’s fairly pointless. I would have written a blog about the offending dress but now I shan’t because why would I waste my time when I could be sewing other things instead. [I should have been concerned from the outset because the model on the packet is about 6’ 7” and 6” wide so I’m guessing I’m not their target audience! hasn’t stopped me yet though LOL] At nearly £20 a pop these patterns are at the distinctly pricey end too.

Which brings me to the newly created hashtag ’SewOver50’. Fellow sewer and Instagrammer Judith Staley felt strongly enough to set up a new account @sewover50 in order that anyone can feel more connected with the online sewing community. In the first 3 days the response has been astonishing, and I think Judith has found it a little overwhelming. The sheer volume of women [no men with guns etc etc] has been extraordinary and I think is an indication of the number of people who want their own ’tribe’, where they don’t feel pushed aside by ambitious younger women. We all have a lot to offer this sewing community of ours and it’s worldwide. In the UK we’re pretty good at holding meet ups and I think the same is true in Australia, I’m not so sure about the US though.

Personally, I love being part of a completely mixed group-all ages, all sizes, all ethnicities, and I don’t want that to change. I don’t only want to be part of the ‘over-50’s’, not at all! But I won’t sit back and let us be ignored either and if this blog upsets or provokes a few people then good! Of course it’s vital to be ambitious for your business and have big plans and ideas but I would remind the ones who think it doesn’t matter if they engage, or not, with an older demographic that by choosing not to acknowledge or engage then they are potentially closing off a lucrative income stream. That isn’t a very sound business idea is it?

On a recent Stitcher’s Brew podcast Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine here in the UK, said specifically that she wanted to include a really diverse range of readers in the magazine (this must be true because even I’ve been in it!) which is great and the evidence is there in the pages. I hope other magazines are of a similar opinion but as I don’t buy loads of them I can’t comment. Several pattern brands which I’ve mentioned before including Maven and The Maker’s Atelier take a very broad and inclusive look at who buys their products and then feature those makers in their own advertising and so on. Their styles are classic and wearable but fashion forward and designed to be remade many times, not here today, gone tomorrow. Incidentally, I’m not sponsored by either of them, I just admire their aesthetic.

I could go on but I’d prefer that others join in the discussion and open it up. Does ageism exist in dressmaking and if so, do we just accept it, like in so many other areas of life? Will our new Instagram identity bring it to the attention of those perpetuating it and cause them to reflect on the business sense of it? I hope so.

To the women who think that over 50 is a foreign country, god willing it’s where you will be one day, like it or not. We haven’t all sunk into senility yet, we don’t (always) wear elasticated waists, we do wear fashionable clothing and high heels and dye our hair, we listen to modern music and drink too much wine on occasion, we sometimes but not always enjoyed our youth but we wouldn’t necessarily want to go through it all again. Yes we might be old enough to be your mother (or even grandmother) but as I saw someone say the other day “we aren’t dead and we aren’t invisible!” deal with it!! IMG_7969

If you’ve read this far, thank you, and please leave a comment as I’m genuinely interested in what others have to say about this topic and regardless of the age group you’re currently in.

Happy sewing 

Sue

Indie patterns vs ‘the Big 4’-discuss

Well, I seem to have set the cat amongst the pigeons a little with my previous post reviewing Vogue 9251. In it I mentioned how I chose this particular pattern over a Sew Over It one. I didn’t say anything detrimental about their Eve dress, I simply chose the Vogue one.

When I posted on Instagram about the new blog I simply commented, “don’t dismiss ‘big 4’ patterns because Vogue have some fantastic designs which fit well and are often fashion-forward”. What I didn’t expect was the number and variety of responses which that provoked. I’d like to try and explore a little more some of those comments here.

When I first learned to dress-make at secondary school the only patterns generally available to me were the big brands, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity etc. Burda were there too but they were much more challenging because very often you had to trace them off (I’ve never been a tracer, always a cutter-outer) and remember to add your seam allowances. They were frequently more fashion-forward but I think because they are a German brand their styles were ‘a bit weird’ and it wasn’t often to my taste at the time. Their printed patterns now include seam allowance but the magazine still has large sheets which you trace and add the SA to. The designs have improved somewhat too. Vogue patterns were always very much the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the pattern brands and it was always a big deal for me to spend so much money on one (even now I try to buy them when they are on a half price offer) They were often where innovative designs first appeared and then an adapted version would appear later on in Butterick or Simplicity instead. Now a Vogue pattern almost seems cheap compared to indies!

Another source of patterns were free ones provided by post by women’s magazines and newspapers, you’d save up printed vouchers which you posted off and they would then post the pattern back to you. A slow process but actually it didn’t matter much because we weren’t all about instant gratification back then, we were happy to wait because we were getting something for nothing! Some of these patterns were OK, some not so much.

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I found this one in my collection, it doesn’t have a date on it but it’s probably from about 1983-4

In the early 80’s Prima magazine started giving free patterns included with the magazine. They were the template type we still get today which came on two-sided sheets that you had to trace off and, as a result, they were quite simple designs but they were popular. I was attempting my own pattern cutting by this time before I went to college so these patterns were a springboard to getting me started.

Then dressmaking seemed to fall out of favour and the curriculum all seemed to change at school. There were always a few of us who kept it up, it was how I earned a modest living while my children were small but it became harder and harder to buy nice fabrics at reasonable prices, or haberdashery, and nobody seemed to think it was a worthwhile pastime.

Then, in 2013, the Great British Sewing Bee happened and everything changed. There was always the core of us that had carried on sewing but now a new group were being introduced to it as a hobby and as a means to make the sorts of clothes they wanted to wear. The big pattern companies were still there but for the women who hadn’t been taught dressmaking they were a bit daunting and also a little dull. [I know there are men who sew but, let’s face it, they are the tiny minority] The packaging looked a bit dated and the layout of the instruction sheets inside hasn’t changed in decades. This isn’t a bad thing for those of us who know what we’re doing but to the unfamiliar they can be very confusing and a bit scary. They generally always assume a good level of sewing knowledge before you start so beyond telling you the order of making they don’t always tell you the exact technique or method. The pattern books don’t help themselves because they can look uninspiring with strange fabric choices and not many up-to-date or trend-led styles, or by making it difficult to spot them amongst the dull ones!

I’m not aware there was any such thing as an ‘independent pattern maker’ before about 5 years ago, and if there was then they were well below the radar, but people like Tilly Walnes, who appeared on the first GBSB series and is Tilly & the Buttons, and Lisa Comfort of Sew Over It both started developing their own patterns and began marketing them. Tilly created wearable, simple modern shapes which were beautifully presented and the instructions came in the form of photographs rather than with illustrations. Sew Over It’s aesthetic is vintage-inspired with tea dresses and floaty skirts being more prevalent. Lisa seems to have diversified into a whole lifestyle-thing which I’m quite glad I’m no longer a young mum trying to emulate.

Fast-forward to today and we have masses of new ‘indie’ patterns flooding the market all the time. It seems that everyone who fancies themselves as a designer can have a go at it and create new patterns and clearly some will be considerably better than others. Initially I didn’t go down the indie route because they were usually in the region of £12-£15 or more for a printed pattern, and besides I have a monstrous collection of paper patterns which I’ve acquired over about 40 years! I wasn’t attracted to the new patterns because they were either too simplistic and I could make my own quite frankly, or they were vintage-style which I’m not that into.

I’ve noticed too since making a few indie brand patterns that with some of them if you don’t fit into a certain age or body type then you never get a ‘like’ or a mention if you tag the company in your IG feed. Frankly, if I, my makes and my photos don’t suit your design ideal or aesthetic then I won’t be bothering to tag in future, you need the customers more than they need you and no one likes to feel ignored.

So, where does that leave us today?

The big companies have carried on very largely unchanged for decades and you can usually be sure of a well-drafted product with good instructions (although if you are able to follow them is sometimes an entirely separate issue) The fit of some of these styles isn’t always so good but there’s always going to be some variation according to the style and I’m not saying they are always wrong or right. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with the human body here with all it’s quirks and variations as well as personal taste and style.

I wonder if the fact that, almost without exception, indie pattern styles have names rather than numbers which instantly makes them more memorable? Also, having now succumbed and bought a number of indie patterns I see there’s a wide variety in the form they take and their packaging is definitely part of the appeal. They come in nice packages and they might feature lovely sketches on the cover or fashion shoot-style photos, many come printed on heavy, quality paper and others are on ‘greaseproof’ type paper or even brown wrapping paper, each is trying be unique in what is becoming a crowded market. If you can get yourself in with The Fold Line and an attractive young blogger who will sing your praises then so much the better, guaranteed advertising.

I think that the single biggest difference that the indies have is the availability of downloadable PDFs. We’ve arrived at that very modern phenomenon ‘instant gratification’. You can purchase, download, print, cut, stick, cut out and sew all in one evening if that is what works for you. The PDF is generally a little cheaper [there are free ones too] so you can buy direct from a pattern maker who may live on the other side of the planet if you want to. It’s possible to get them printed at the local print shop too, or by online printers but I’m wondering if that doesn’t defeat the object of not buying a printed version if there is one in the first place? Indies often have a wealth of online tutorials and support which was never possible before. That said, never dismiss a good old text book-the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (first published in 1978 I think) is an absolute goldmine of information.

In the 4 years or so that I’ve been part of the ‘online’ sewing community I’ve noticed a trend amongst some dressmakers who only appear to use indie patterns and to sing their praises. Is this an inverted form of snobbery? I don’t know but that’s just fine if they are the styles you want make, of course it is, we’re a free country, but a lot of the new styles from some brands are starting to look incredibly ’samey’ and are bringing nothing new to the design table. If you want truly original new styles it seems to me that the Europeans are doing it better, such as Named, Deer and Doe or The Assembly Line.

Some indie patterns are so overly simplistic in the designs they offer that I do wonder why dressmakers are shelling out so much cash for the pattern when they don’t have to. Do they genuinely not realise that there are other, cheaper alternatives?

Don’t get me wrong, there are brands which produce well-drafted, original designs with clear instructions and the designer has worked very hard to put out an excellent quality product but none of the printed versions of these patterns are terribly cheap, many are £20 a pop now (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be because of course there is a lot of time and effort involved) but, as I return to my original point, don’t dismiss the big companies out of hand because they do still have something to offer, relative cheapness for basics being one of them.

I was particularly saddened, and annoyed, to hear Heather-Lou of Closet Case Patterns say on the Stitchers Brew podcast recently that she thought “you don’t need to take a pattern cutting class” because there are “very few things in life you need to go to school for”. Well thanks a bunch!! I’m so glad that myself and thousands like me took the time to go college to follow our dream and learn how to be pattern cutters because it was obviously a big old waste of time as anyone can do it! In the next breath she says that she now has a professional do her pattern drafting because “she (the pattern cutter) went to school and trained to do it” WTF! I’d enjoyed listening to what she had to say up until that point but that’s plain insensitive and insulting. I know there are some brands, like Maven patterns and The Maker’s Atelier, which have been created by women with years of experience and expertise in the fashion industry but there are other’s who don’t have that.

I could wang on for ages about the benefits and downsides of both types of pattern and in all honesty they will coexist side by side from now on. The big companies have certainly got to stay on their toes and possibly find new and engaging ways to present themselves to be appealing to the burgeoning younger market, but I hate to see newer dressmakers parting with lots of cash for some patterns which are really just a new version of the wheel, the spokes or the tyre may be different but it’s still a wheel none the less.

Part of what we all love about dressmaking is making original, creative clothes that fit and supporting one another in our endeavours, long may that continue. It’s just that we are the customer and always have a choice where we spend our hard-earned money.

All views expressed are my own of course and I dare say many of you won’t agree with me but I know from comments on my IG post that I’m echoing thoughts of others too. I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I’ve mentioned either! I’d be really interested to know what you think about the whole subject too so do please leave a comment.

Happy Sewing

Sue