Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…
I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.
Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…
If you’ve ever read the ‘a bit about me’ page here on the blog you’ll see that in the mid 1980s I worked for a bridal and evening wear company in London called David Fielden. I left the London College of Fashion in the summer of 1985 and started working there on my 23rd birthday. Originally I’d wanted to be a costume designer but during my college course I realised that going into bridal or evening wear was a very good alternative. In those days you just sent letters and CVs out to companies you were interested in working for in the hope that they might like the sound of you and be desperate to add you to their payroll! As it happened my letter was passed to Caroline who was the production manager for David in the evening wear workroom and she had done the same course as me a year earlier so she had a fair idea of what I was potentially capable of.
They took me on and I was going to be cutting samples rather than sewing which initially I was disappointed about. I soon learned that cutting was a huge responsibility in its own right. I was used to making my own clothes with inexpensive fabrics which I bought in my local market or fabric shops, now I was working with fabulous silk taffeta, dupion, Duchesse and slipper satins, velvet, beaded and embellished brocades, even the lining was always silk habutai, it was all a bit dazzling and quite scary to start with! I was provided with a massive pair of shears which soon gave me a callous on my finger joint, I still have a mark there to this day. We had two huge waist-high cutting tables with all the fabrics stored underneath. The pattern cutter would pass me the initial pattern to cut as a toile so that she and the designer could assess the shape and fit on the stand. When they were happy I would be given the pattern along with all the fabrics and instructions for the new sample. It was part of my job to get everything out of the fabric as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible so I always spent time working this out like pattern Tetris before going near it with the scissors! I kept sketches of the layplan for future reference too. No piece was ever cut on a fold, we always used a whole front or a whole back, sleeves, bodice pieces or skirt panels could be ‘flipped’ though to fit them in. The pattern cutter would make the pieces in card from the paper version and I would draw around them in chalk or marking pencil, the pattern pieces would be held down on the fabric with long heavy weights, this means the pattern lasts much much longer than a paper one would. The card patterns would be grouped in style number order onto large hooks a bit like safety pins, each size was on a different hook. Some styles got informal names which is what we identified them by in the workroom, for example there was the ‘Doris Day’ which was a pretty 50s-style gown with silk satin boned bodice and clouds of diamante-studded ankle length tulle skirts, it came in soft pastel colours, and the ‘Carmen Miranda’ which was a longer length figure-hugging silk bodice overlaid with sequin-embellished lace and extravagantly ruffled silk organza mermaid skirts. This was one of the best selling designs and came in a variety of colours including black and scarlet, or could be ordered in other colours and fabric combinations by special order. Just one outworker made this style because she became so skilled at it, every ruffle was edged using a rolled-hem foot and it was then sandwiched between diagonal skirt panels. Oh and there were net petticoats under all of that too! It was very popular for magazine shoots because of it’s ‘film star’ quality and we were regularly squashing dresses unceremoniously into boxes or into dress bags to be couriered on the back of motor bikes to Fleet Street! Some of those poor dresses really suffered and looked quite tired in the end.
Whilst the showroom was in the King’s Road, Chelsea at that time the evening wear workroom was set up across town in Farringdon around the corner from now-trendy Exmouth Market, it was definitely not glamorous and the Woolworth’s pick-n-mix counter was the only interesting eatery back then!!
As well as Caroline, who is still a friend all these years later, there was a designer (David didn’t design, he had no drawing or making skills, he employed others to do it for him) a highly-skilled pattern cutter, a sample machinist and a sample cutter (me) When I wasn’t cutting and costing samples and special orders, Caroline and I would cut production too which was all sewn by out-workers who came in regularly to drop off the garments they had made and to collect the next batch, they were paid an agreed piece rate per garment. Each one was a highly skilled, and fast, machinist who would make the whole garment from start to finish. They all had different capabilities so some would stick to simpler garments like skirts or bodices whilst others made the fantastic evening gowns and ball dresses which David Fielden had become known for. Some of them worked in their own homes and didn’t make a massive quantity of garments, and a couple had set up their own workrooms where they then employed a few extra machinists so they could make larger quantities, we are still only talking about several dozen garments per week though, not hundreds or thousands.
Twice a year the designer, Charlotte, would go with David and his business partner Walter to various fabric shows such as Premier Vision to select beautiful fabrics for the next collection. A lot of the fabrics such as silk taffeta, dupion or Duchesse satins would come from local London suppliers in very quick time, often the same day if the colour was in stock, but the premium fabrics from France or Italy would be ordered in sample lengths ranging from as little as 3 metres up to 10 or 20 metres in the new seasons colours. If those styles then went into production then larger orders would be placed at a later date.
Each new collection was often an evolution of the previous one with a few of the most popular styles being developed in new colours and fabrics, plus some completely new styles. It was always exciting to have the new fabrics starting to arrive from overseas, there were some exquisitely beautiful embellished laces and tulles, occasionally further down the line one or two would prove problematic because the supplier couldn’t produce them quickly enough, or in the quantities required. Each ‘piece’ of lace often came in a 5m length which didn’t go very far. My least favourite fabrics to cut were slipper satin or chiffon, they moved about like the very devil and often it was best to sandwich them between two sheets of spot and cross paper.
I would cut everything for each garment as required and then make a ‘bundle’ including all trims (covered buttons, zip, piping cord etc) and labels. All the cut pieces were folded neatly and layered up and then the whole bundle was carefully folded in several layers of tissue paper and tied up along with identifying sticky labels for the outworker to use when they returned it to us in plastic cover.
Once the new collection was underway Caroline would sew samples as well to speed the process up. Models would come in periodically for fittings and to assess a design on the body. As well as cutting the new samples I also cut one-offs and special orders which could be interesting. For example, we made the gown that Sarah Brightman wore to the party after the world premier of Phantom of the Opera [we memorably made another dress for her to wear for a Gala at the Royal Albert Hall, she had a fitting at the showroom and declared it should be taken in which we duly did at the workroom. It was delivered back to her but with only hours to spare she realised she now couldn’t inflate her lungs to actually sing in it!! Back to the workroom it came to be let out again!] I cut gowns for Daryl Hannah (star of Splash with Tom Hanks) allegedly for the Oscars but I never saw her in it, and I cut a dress for Aretha Franklin too but I never saw that one photographed either. Sadly we never got to meet any of the celebrity clientele, we would just get a set of measurements and fittings would usually take place at the shop. Some stars would borrow gowns for swish parties and premiers so nothing much changes does it? Vogue magazine especially commissioned a version of one dress for a shoot, it was a black taffeta column gown with a wide pale pink sash as I recall. When it returned to the workroom afterwards the hem was water-marked and full of sand! It had been photographed on a beach!!
There were times of stress and all-hands-on-deck but lots of laughs too. I have very positive memories of my 3 years at David Fielden, we were a good team and I learnt so much from my colleagues, they were all brilliant at their jobs with so much experience under their belts already. The company was growing fast during those three years and David took on catwalk shows at London Fashion Week (that was very stressful for everyone because of the workload and short lead times involved!) David and Walter travelled to many overseas shows to exhibit which garnered orders from prestige stores in the US such as Neimann Marcus and Bloomingdales among others, stores in Europe, and Harrods in London. [we could have cried though to see these beautiful dresses being crammed into boxes for despatch]
In the end I left after three years because I got fed up with commuting into London every day, I went to work in the dress fabrics department of our local John Lewis branch so that was more textiles and cloth knowledge to store away in my brain to come in handy another day. I’m sorry the quality of the pictures isn’t great, the cuttings were all torn from magazines and newspapers at the time so they are a little tatty in places.
David Fielden is still in business I believe although the premises have moved to Fulham now, I think they specialise entirely in bridal wear but I’m not sure. The website isn’t particularly up to date but you get an flavour.
This turned into quite a long post (I hope you had a coffee in hand?!) but there’s a few pictures to look at too!! I’ve really enjoyed thinking back to my early working days to tell you all about them and I guess I was very fortunate to work with such a variety of very beautiful fabrics, maybe now you can see why I’m always SO particular about cutting out at the start of any project! So until next time,
I thought I would share with you the video I made specifically for the recent Sewing Weekender here in the UK for anyone who wasn’t able to, or wasn’t interested in attending. Unlike previous years, when the event takes place over two days in Cambridge, this one was entirely online and so the organisers, Kate and Rachel at The Fold Line and Charlotte @englishgirlathome asked an impressive selection of contributors to make short videos on a variety of topics. I’ve never made a film before so it was a pretty steep learning curve!
The first challenge was going to be filming it, and then it would have to be edited in some way too. I worked out that if I balanced my phone on top of my sewing machine in my workroom it was at the right sort of height with good light. Then I decided I needed a script of sorts to keep me on track and that is what I’ve reproduced here, along with the video itself. I printed it out and stuck the sheets to the window and to the sewing machine like a kind of ramshackle autocue! It turned out the window was too far away though and I looked like I was gazing to the heavens for divine inspiration…how to vloggers do this all the time? Maybe they do just waffle on and nobody minds? hey ho, I knew the things I wanted to say and without some kind of prompt I might forget some of them. Anyway, I managed to film it in bursts although I did have to pause one time to shoo the pigeons off the roof because they were audibly clumping about and I didn’t need that distraction too! I found my laptop has iMovies so I managed to splice the whole thing together using that, the next Jane Campion I am not!! The script below is not word-for-word what I said because I managed to freestyle it a couple of times in an attempt to sound natural but for anyone with hearing difficulties it’s close enough, I’m afraid subtitles were absolutely beyond my rudimentary film-making abilities.
I hope you’ve all been enjoying the Online Sewing Weekender and I want to begin by thanking Kate and Rachel of The Fold line and Charlotte from English Girl at Home for taking the very brave and audacious step of carrying on with the event in spite of the strangeness of the times. It’s so great to imagine all of us sewing away at the same time wherever we are in the world.
As well as my own Instagram account I’ve also been involved with the SewOver50 account since the very beginning and whilst Judith and Sandy manage the account on a day-to-day basis I write the blogs which accompany particular discussions or any challenges which have been running.
When Kate, Rachel and Charlotte invited me to be involved I thought I’d chat a bit about the #so50visible challenge involving indie patterns in particular. It first ran in February last year and then again this March.
The reason SO50 began in the first place was because we felt that our slightly older age group was being overlooked by the burgeoning home sewing industry and we really didn’t want it to become as age-centric as the mainstream fashion industry has always been. Plus many of us bring a wealth of knowledge and experience which we’re only too happy to share with anyone new or maybe returning to dressmaking at home.
Many of you will know that the dress pattern market has been dominated for many decades by the so-called Big 4 but in the last 10 years or so there’s been a boom in independent designers putting out their own patterns.
Followers of SO50 have embraced these indie designers with gusto but we also felt a little bit side-lined by them too. We didn’t often see ourselves being reflected back on the packaging or marketing.
The #so50visible challenge was created to draw some attention to ourselves, to highlight that very few older sewers were featured, and to politely encourage a change of thinking.
We came up with the idea to ask people to only sew a pattern which featured an older model in it’s advertising and promotion.
Judith and I spent an absolute age trawling through the Fold Line database and eventually came up with quite a modest list considering how many patterns are listed! We found a few books with older models too.
Throughout the month long challenge followers were asked to share their makes, it meant many people found new brands of pattern maker which we might not have heard of before. Very often the most popular patterns were stylish, fashion-forward and wearable but the model looked more like us. Many of SewOver50’s followers are still very interested in fashion and style and we still want to look good whilst making our own clothes.
Many of us in our 50s and 60s have more time to sew for pleasure and we might have more cash to spend on patterns and fabric too so it always strikes me that it’s a missed opportunity for indie pattern makers to disregard this huge potential market.
While the first challenge was running we also introduced the #so50thanks hashtag because if anyone’s make was reposted by the designer we thought it was important to appreciate that they had first of all noticed and acknowledged the maker and that they were then happy to share it on their own feed.
It’s a virtuous circle isn’t it? Feature an older model on the pattern and it gets our attention, we buy your product, we share our makes, SewOver50 probably reposts to it’s 20K followers, you get free advertising to an audience with money to spend, and more people will buy the pattern because they can imagine themselves wearing those clothes-simple!
There are a few other companies like Maven and Alice & Co who don’t use models at all, just illustrations or mannequins but they are super-supportive and involved in our community and constantly share and repost. Let’s be honest here, most of us are pleased to get a like or a repost because it gives us a little boost that the designer noticed us, we can all gain ideas and inspiration from others, and we want to see the garments being worn by people who are similar to ourselves in some way. The pattern companies which do notice us have then tended to become very popular with SO50 followers, it’s that virtuous circle again.
We think there’s a small element of change happening but there’s a long way to go, though there are more companies than just the ones I’ve had time to mention here and there’s always room for more.
I’m always happy to share the knowledge and experience I have from many years of sewing, and I know of many others who are too. It’s fantastic to be a part of this worldwide sewing community and it’s diversity is vital so if we can encourage a few more indie brands to look beyond the young, slim, white stereotype then that can only be a positive thing right?
Enticing us to spend our grey pounds (or dollars) is a good reason to check out what the followers of SewOver50 are up to especially as there are now almost 20,000 of us! And I will often write honest reviews of patterns or fabric over on my blog which you might find interesting too, I like to think I’m a critical friend. I would encourage anyone to look at the #sewover50 hashtag because there are now tens of thousands of images to inspire you.
Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the Sewing Weekender wherever you are, and I hope whatever you’re sewing is going well, with any luck we will have opportunities to meet again in real life before too long, I do hope so. I love going to meet-ups and being able to chat with fellow sewers, and filming myself like this is a first for me so I hope it’s made a bit of sense!
Thank you again to Kate, Rachel and Charlotte,
Bye bye etc etc…
I spent both days of the Weekender on a video call with two of my sewing buddies Melissa Fehr and Elizabeth Connolly, I met them both originally at the first Weekender and we’ve all been fortunate enough to go to every one since, we weren’t going to let a pandemic stop us this time! I made another Camber which was one of the projects I cut out on my recent batch cutting splurge and I added a machine embroidery stitch from my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0.
If you’ve ever read any of my previous blog posts you’ll know I really enjoy going to meet-ups so not being able to do this for the last few months has been sad to say the least, with luck it won’t be too much longer though. To my mind, this year Charlotte, Kate and Rachel have successfully created the next best thing because everyone could sew whenever and wherever they were in the world. Some did as I did and had group chats going on, two sewers I know set up their machines on trestle tables in the garden (suitably distanced of course!) others were solo but had all the video content to keep them company or by using the #sewingweekender hashtag, some didn’t/couldn’t really join in with sewing on the day for one reason or another but took part in the giant Zoom at the end of Saturday, or early afternoon on Sunday. The Zoom was fantastic because it made me realise just how many people from all over the world had been participating including the US, Canada, Germany, Norway, Israel and Australia, and hearing so many shout-outs for SewOver50 from them was even better! Everyone, whatever their situation or circumstances, had the opportunity to buy a ticket-which was essentially a charitable donation anyway-it will be interesting to see if this is a format that could be repeated in the future to make the event inclusive worldwide. Were you ‘there’? what did you make of the concept, and was it preferable in some way to the real life event for you, or not as good? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts
These have been very strange times of late and many of our regular activities have been curtailed or stopped completely. I’ve carried on sewing because it’s my creative outlet but a few weeks ago I started to feel like I had no clue what particular projects to settle on. Lots of vague ideas would float into my mind but then just as easily float back out again before I got underway with any of them. I had a couple of things which I had to sew for blog posts but beyond those I didn’t have a plan, or a clue!
My friend Melissa @fehrtrade happened to comment in our WhatsApp chat that she had sketched out her summer sewing plans, complete with their fabric needs. Most fabrics were from her stash and a couple of other items needed to be purchased.
This got me thinking, if I actually wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to make then it might give me the impetus to move forwards in a positive direction. So that’s exactly what I did. Some items on the list are patterns I’ve made previously, and love, whilst others were new ones I’ve been wanting to try. Once I’d created a reasonable list I ‘shopped’ from my stash which was good fun, I have some lovely fabrics just waiting for the right project. Whilst I can be something of an impulse purchaser of fabric I’m pretty good at sticking to my own fabric purchasing rules which I listed in the recent @SewOver50 post about fabric-buying which are as follows:
Do I really love this fabric?
Is it suitable for my intended purpose?
Do I really need it?
Price is obviously an important factor too but, for me, it’s loosely covered by these criteria anyway.
I knew with some canny cutting I could get more than one garment out of some of the fabric so eventually I settled on about 8 things from the list. In some cases I had two patterns for one piece of fabric because I couldn’t decide between them.
Once I was ready to cut, initially I picked the patterns I had made before, several times in a couple of cases. Primarily this meant the pattern was already cut out but also I would have things which were reliable because I knew they would fit, I enjoy wearing the style and there’s always room for another version in my wardrobe. Once I’d started cutting I couldn’t stop! I ploughed on for about a day and half until I had a pile of half a dozen items cut out, four of the six were remakes and two were new patterns. I felt very satisfied with this.
So why exactly am I telling you how accomplished I felt!? Because @SewOver50 right-hand woman Sandy messaged me to draw my attention to Lis @ThreadTaylors who had recently posted something similar on her feed whereby she had cut two shirts at the same time for her son and then made them both up too. Now, even though I’ve just told you that I’ve cut lots of things this isn’t my usual practice, I’m normally a ‘one thing at a time’ sewer. When I’m sewing for myself I like to complete the process from cutting to wearing before I move on to the next project, unless something goes disastrously wrong! (it might go on the naughty step for a bit while I sulk!) If I’m making for someone else there are the inevitable delays if there are fittings to schedule but otherwise the same would apply to that as well. Sandy had spotted a topic for discussion here so she invited me to manage a post on @SewOver50 asking if others cut/made in batches, made one thing at a time, or were somewhere in between?
Well the followers of @SewOver50 did not disappoint! Like the recent discussion about ‘cheap’ fabric, this was a topic where lots of you shared your thoughts so I was kept very busy reading, and responding, over the course of the next couple of days.
This is a distillation of your comments and we all seem to have a similar practices at one time or another. Many said they were like me in that they prefer to have one project on the go at a time and this was most often because they want to really enjoy the process. We take time to select the pattern, choose the fabric, match the thread and source the trims or haberdashery. Then very often it’s time to make a toile, finesse the fitting of that toile, maybe even make another toile or two before they are completely happy and ready to cut the fashion fabric, interfacings and linings! It’s all part of what makes dressmaking and sewing an enjoyable pastime for many and it’s not something to be rushed. Personally I wouldn’t say I rush but I don’t always take as much time as possibly I should. Many felt this made them more focussed, or if plenty of time wasn’t an option then they could break it down into 10-20 minute chunks which felt manageable and was still making progress.
To list or not to list? Or sketch for that matter? Melissa likes to create a page of sketches which is great because you can see a style to remind yourself what it looks like, especially if you’re likely to forget which style the pattern number or name refers to, or from a magazine like Burdastyle or Knipmode for example. I’ve made a long written list, selected a few items from it and ticked them off as I cut them. I also have a large whiteboard on the wall of my workroom on which I write different lists for the various things I’m up to and in normal times that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Some people suggested this kept them more focussed and I think I agree with them, I can still slot other items in as required. Personally I’d never want any list to be completely regimented with no flexibility because that would suck all the joy out of sewing for me. There are times when I do have to sew things which I don’t really want to but it’s a necessity and so the pleasurable makes are the ones which I ‘reward’ myself with.
A few people said they didn’t like the idea of lists or batches because they felt it took too much organisation, I probably feel less like that because I have lots of haberdashery, trims, interfacing etc so I don’t need to think too much about “have I got so-and-so” in order to make a start.
If you’re a serial non-finisher then there’s every chance you’ll end up with quite a large UFO pile. I think lockdown and Me Made May (which has just finished) has forced/encouraged quite a lot of people to revisit these projects on the naughty step and to reassess them. There is a distinct feeling of achievement when working through them to either finish a garment, repurpose it, recycle it or take it apart and start again!
The space we need for cutting out was one of the biggest factors for concentrating the cutting to a certain amount of time. If you use the dining table or the floor then there’s every chance you’ll need to move your things for practical reasons, family life/mealtimes for example, the floor is very hard on the knees, pets interrupting are a recurring theme too! All of these may mean you can only use the space in small bursts which limits how much can be cut. For many dressmakers cutting out is a necessary evil which they don’t enjoy so want it over with as quickly as possible. As a former sample cutter I always make sure I cut as accurately and efficiently as possible to ensure the best results. You can read a few of my top tips in this blog. If you really hate cutting out then batching could be a good thing because it gets it out of the way for a while!
In order to be efficient many told me that they will cut several of the same pattern at the same time if they have a favourite. Tops and T-shirts were probably the most popular of these but dresses and trousers/jeans also cropped up too. This can work well when you know a garment fits and you aren’t tweaking and fitting as you go along. Whilst making several versions of a single pattern one follower told me she writes notes onto the pattern each time in a different colour so that she knows what she’s done, and to see its development during the process. If you’re making a number of the same thing it’s efficient to keep the threads the same but personally I like to use a reasonably-matching thread to overlock as often as possible. Others are less precious and will use the same colour for everything because repeatedly changing threads takes time and keeping a range of colours can be costly.
Many of us have spent at least some of lockdown cutting and sewing scrubs, bags and face coverings, some sewed lots of them, others just one or two sets. I’ve no doubt at all though that they were well received but there’s no getting away from the fact that they became very tedious after a while. The repetition was pretty boring, although it could also have the positive byproduct of making us become more efficient sewers, and we all agreed it gave us a new-found respect and admiration for those who had no choice but to sew in factories, often with very little pleasure or decent wages involved. Some of us developed ‘production’ techniques whereby we would complete each operation the same on every garment before moving on, for example, join all the shoulder seams, attach all the neck facings, insert all the sleeves etc etc. This undoubtedly saved a lot of time but it does make you a bit boggle-eyed after a few days! @alexjudgesews did admit though that making scrubs nearly put her off sewing for life! I’ve no intention of getting into the discussion of whether or not any of us should have been sewing scrubs but I do know that I’m really really proud of how the home sewing community rose to the challenge and did it any way.
Many of us gather each prepared project together in some way, ready to begin. I like to use large ziplock-type bags which I can reuse over and over, I’ll put the pattern and cut fabric in although I don’t tend to include inter, threads or trims (many do) I’ll grab those as I go along usually from what I have. One suggested idea I liked was to use baskets to contain everything, that’s certainly more attractive than plastic bags!
A few comments made me chuckle, someone said she batch cuts but then forgets about them, where they are or even what they are! My friend Corrie @ceramic67 told me “I often cut 2 or 3 at the same time, I’m still slow but it makes me feel faster!”
A recurring comment was to spend separate days doing each part of their own creative routine so, a day printing and sticking PDFs then a day tracing them off, a day or more cutting the fabric and then the enjoyment of the sewing uninterrupted. We all have our own version of what works for us and it will vary depending on the types of pattern we like to use.
For lots of us it’s more pleasurable to be free to decide what to make and when to make it, pre-planning is no fun!
Amongst the ‘planners’ some use mood boards with sketches, photos and swatches, others will often create mini-capsules to accompany clothes they already have, or make a new, related, group of clothing. I keep swatches of the fabrics I have in a little book, it’s very low-tech but it’s good to leaf through and reminds me what I have without getting everything out.
So as you’ll see there’s no firm consensus and ultimately we do what works for us and our situation. Maybe you just batch cut small projects like Xmas gifts of pencil cases or wash bags for example, or maybe you only ever one thing at a time and nothing will persuade you to do otherwise! Having more than one item on the go could give you the option to move sideways onto something else if you realise you’ve got to wait for a delivery, or head out for some buttons or something, has anything you read here made you think you’ll try a different method next time?
Whatever works for you, until next time, happy sewing!
At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?
So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.
Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…
So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds.
[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ]
Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.
In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!
For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print.
Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters.
But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.
So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes.
I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?
@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics.
Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.
At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.
Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes.
As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing.
I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.
I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs.
I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.
When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.
I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears.
The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.
The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well.
I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.
My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.
Firstly, I probably need to give you a quick explanation of why I’m making a fancy frock during the lockdown because it must seem rather incongruous.
This is my first post as a Lamazi Fabrics blogger and before the Covid-19 pandemic reared it’s ugly head I had offered to make an outfit using a slightly ‘tricky’ fabric in order to share a few hints and tips for sewing with it. I selected the beautiful Tencel/Cupro ‘Bark’ fabric in Lavender because we were going to a wedding in late May which would be the perfect chance to make a something using this special fabric. Very sadly that wedding is now postponed indefinitely but I’m making the dress because I’ll still need something to wear when it’s rescheduled.
The fabric has a lovely weight and handle which makes it drape really well. It’s has a bark-like finish and is different on each side, you could use this to your advantage if you want to create an interesting visual effect by having some pieces with one side out and some using the reverse side.
I made life harder for myself by choosing the new Bias T-shirt Dress by Trend patterns (generously gifted to me by them) in which EVERY piece except the sleeves are singles and strange shapes which means you cut everything out on a single layer of fabric right side up (RSU). Unlike most patterns, when you are cutting pairs of parts you can usually flip a piece without too much difficulty, however if you do that for a piece which must be cut RSU you would have completely reversed the print/design to the wrong side when you try to sew it up. This Tencel/Cupro has a nice look whichever side you use but my advice is to be really careful on printed fabrics before reversing any piece labelled RSU.
Next, when cutting slippery or fluid fabrics (unless you have a lovely big cutting table) you’ll need to handle them as little as possible (by which I mean pulling them about to get them into position) which might be easier said than done. I know that cutting out is most people’s least favourite part of sewing but it’s so important to take time and care at this stage. If you’re cutting out on a table with straight sides use the edges as a visual marker to get the end of your cloth at a right angle to start with, ensure the weft (across the fabric) is nice and straight as well as the warp, pull a few threads to find the grain if necessary. If you have more cloth than will fit on the table in one go you could try having the excess rolled on a cardboard tube if you have one to keep it under control rather than sliding off the table all the time.
Because my pattern has large awkward-shaped pieces cut from a single layer I had no option but to cut out on the floor! This can be physically quite tiring so you might want to get help if you need to. This is slippy slidey fabric so an extra pair of hands could help you lay it up nice and straight, again, rolling the fabric onto a long cardboard tube would also help keep the fabric taut and straight as you lay it out on the floor. This is not a fabric to use weights and a rotary cutter on unless the whole lot fits onto a cutting board without disturbing the fabric, if you’re spending time laying up the fabric carefully so that the grain lines are straight in both (warp and weft) directions you can’t then mess it about shifting a cutting mat underneath it and the pattern pieces need to be secured in place with pins. Cut out carefully moving the pieces as little as possible and try to keep them flat after cutting until you’re ready to sew. All of this will help minimise the pieces stretching out of shape, especially as a lot of this pattern has seams running on a diagonal.
Once I’ve finished cutting out it’s vital to transfer all notches and mark darts and a couple of pivot points so I use old-fashioned tailor’s tacks (obviously you can use a textile marker pen if you prefer, I often do but it’s a pale fabric and I didn’t want to risk any marks being left) It’s a habit of mine to keep all the pattern pieces attached by just a couple of pins to the fabric until I need it, so that I don’t them get muddled. These are curious-shaped pieces so the chance of having them the wrong way round could be quite high! Next I stay-stitched all the neck edges on the machine 5mm in, if you have a very loose weave fabric it would probably be sensible to stay-stitch the bottom edge of the front bodice piece to prevent stretching. If you’re using a particularly fine fabric like chiffon you should stabilise the neck, and any other seams which could stretch, by hand-stitching very narrow cotton tape or ribbon over the seam line on the wrong side of the fabric. When I worked for bridal designer David Fielden many years ago we would cut the selvedges off the silk habutai linings for the seamstresses to use on necklines.
There is just a little fraying on the cut edges which I overlocked singly as I went along, as per the pattern instructions. Whether you’re sewing or overlocking the fabric I strongly suggest you have the whole piece supported on the table in front of the machine rather than feeding up from your lap. This is to prevent the piece becoming stretched as you’re sewing and possibly causing it to become misshapen.
If you find, as I did, that there’s a slight discrepancy between two seams (assuming that it isn’t an error in cutting or adjustment of the pattern) then pin it with the excess on the underside so that when you sew the feed dogs will take up the ease.
My photos should make it clearer, a good press will help steam out some of the excess too. Also, to minimise the risk of making a shiny patch on the fabric make sure you use a pressing cloth, you can often buy silk organza ones although I have a piece of plain fine pure cotton lawn which I’ve overlocked around the edge. I use this when I’m pressing darts or turning points or corners out too.
To sew an invisible zip into the diagonal seam across the back I machined the seam closed but I used a long basting stitch just for the section where the zip will go. This stitching will be removed later.
Once the zip was in and side seams sewn up I checked the fit on myself. I cut a UK 16 and overall I’m happy with the fit and apart from the length I made no alterations to the bodice. Because I made the linen version first I already knew that the shoulders were a bit too broad for me and the sleeves dangled too much off the crown of my arm. I calculated that I needed to remove approximately 3cms to lift them up to a slightly better position. I found I didn’t need to alter the sleeve head though, fortunately it still fitted into the armhole. Another thing I did decide at this point was that the sleeve needed ’something’ else so I mocked up some small pleats and pinned the sleeve into the armhole to try out the effect.
After making the pleats in the sleeves and sewing up the underarm seam I used a ‘pin hem’ to finish the edge. This is similar to a simple rolled hem but even narrower. Begin by stitching a turning of approx 1cm very close to the edge, trim this carefully
I love the 1930s/40s vibe of this dress, the drapey qualities of the fabric enhance the bias lines of the skirt in particular. I really enjoyed the challenge of putting the dress together, there are no particularly difficult techniques as such but it’s an interesting puzzle which you’ll need to spend a little time concentrating on, you’ll be rewarded with a striking but really wearable dress.
Thank you to Trend Patterns for gifting me the pattern, there was no expectation to write a review. You can read my previous review of the Square Dress pattern here. The fabric was provided by Lamazi Fabrics in return for a review which is also published on their own website.
I hope you find some tips and advice in here that might be of use to you if you’re thinking of using a fabric that needs a bit more forward planning than you’re used to. Trend have created another beautiful pattern with stunning and unusual details but the pieces cleverly work with the grain of the fabric so that working with the bias cut is a lot easier than it usually is. They have been gradually increasing their size range too so the TPC26 comes in UK sizes 6-22.
Quite a long blog this time so thank you for reading this far and, until next time,
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…
I hadn’t really planned to write anything about the Kimono:Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition at the V&A because (obviously) I am not an expert and in no way qualified to authoritatively discuss the historic and cultural influences of Japan and the kimono, but then Covid 19 reared its ugly head and now the museum is closed for the foreseeable future, and at the time of writing this we are confined to our homes. Based on this I have decided to put the photos I took into some sort of album so that anyone who had hoped to go to the show can take a look, along with occasional comments based on the information I gleaned from the show and also from a lovely book “Fashioning Kimono” which I was given by a friend recently. I really hope that the current crisis eventually abates to allow this fascinating and lovely exhibition to reopen its doors to the public.
Because I’m a V&A member I had a ticket to a preview day which I nearly didn’t go to but I’m so glad now that I did. The show is set out largely chronologically, visitors are greeted initially by examples of an early nineteenth century kimono alongside a modern example by a Japanese designer and one with Japanese-influence by John Galliano for Christian Dior.
Kimono (meaning ’thing to wear’) is the national dress of Japan and is worn by both men and women. It is a one-piece front-wrapping garment which has changed little for millennia. Traditionally it is made by using the minimum number of cuts from a bolt of fabric around 12 metres long and 40 centimetres wide so that all the fabric is used. Kimono is now more commonly used as a name which covers several styles which, in Japan, would each have their own name to distinguish them, usually by the style of sleeve they have. The fabrics are made from a variety of fibres, most notably silk of course but also cotton or other plant fibres including ramie and hemp.
Moving into the next room there are numerous examples of exquisite historic kimono, alongside pattern books featuring beautiful line drawings of designs which clients could choose from.
A variety of different techniques were used to decorate the kimono including various methods of dyeing such as variations of tie-dye using shibori embroidery, and a form of warp (or weft) printing which, simply put, is when the warp threads are printed before the fabric is then woven. This gives the finished design an attractive fuzzy-edged quality, you may know it as Ikat. [Please excuse my vague descriptions as I didn’t make any written notes.] The red kimono below is a very fine example of kanoko shibori, a labour-intensive, and very expensive, method of tie-dyeing.
The next spectacular garment, which is part of the V&A’s permanent collection, was made for and worn by a concubine who would parade in it for all to see. The quality of the embellishment is mind-boggling, there is masses of gold thread, applique, some of the creatures have ‘whiskers’ and ‘hair’. The shoes are modern reproductions of the sort of elevated footwear these women would have worn, one imagines they had attendants accompanying them to prevent a mishap?!
The exhibition explores the complex relationship between Japan and the West and the influences that had over the fashions of each nation. Once trade routes between Japan and the West started opening up a thirst for the beautiful silk fabrics and kimono-style garments began to develop. From the seventeenth century onwards merchants would take return with these items and they were soon adopted by fashionable high society. Japan responded to this demand by manufacturing textiles and garments specifically for the western export market.
From this point on the exhibition demonstrates the two-way process of influences between Japan and the west. Japan had developed a huge export market of textiles and apparel specifically for the west, and western styles of attire and textile design can be seen entering Japanese design, away from the previous traditional norms.
The final space is the most spectacular simply because of the dazzling array of beautiful garments and the high-ceilinged space they are displayed in.
In conclusion, I hope you enjoyed a brief skip through an exhibition which had so much to offer. It’s visually stunning and has many thoughtful, and helpful, explanations of the links between Japanese and Western fashion and style. I am indebted to the book “Fashioning Kimono” for a few technical explanations which I’ve transcribed in my own words here but I do not seek to go in depth, I hope you understand.
It would be such a pity if more people can’t, eventually, get to see this lovely show but only time will tell how the current world situation works out. I have recently found this YouTube series of short films with the V&A curator guiding you around the show so you might enjoy watching it.
It’s back! After the success of the first #so50visible challenge in 2019 we thought you might like to do it again, especially the thousands of you who have discovered @sewover50 since last year and who might have missed joining in.
In early 2019 we set you a challenge to find a pattern which featured an older model (at least 45+) and make it. If you thought this would be easy then you would have been mistaken, because once we had started looking more closely we realised that this was going to be much harder than it sounded.
Rather than me reinvent the wheel again here I suggest you take a read through the extensive post I wrote at the time, and its follow-up, so that you have some understanding of the challenge we set and how the whole idea came about. There is also a VERY extensive list of as many patterns as we could source at that time.
Since last year I’m cautiously optimistic that the situation seems to have improved somewhat. Sandy and Judith have been diligently saving in Highlights over on the Instagram account many of the new patterns that have been released in the the last twelve months which feature older models-male as well as female. Some of these patterns are by companies which have been consistently good at using a variety of models of all ages whilst for others this is a first toe in the water, which is great to see.
It seems that a lot more companies are actively using older women amongst their choice of models now (although a few still think we all want to wear the frumpier selection of what’s on offer-very wrong!) For the most part though, of the pattern companies who are choosing older models, they realise that we can be stylish, creative, outspoken individuals who do not have a shampoo and set once a week, don’t want to be stereotyped and who have money to spend on quality products.
I’ll list as many of the new patterns as I can but, if you’re tempted to join in with the challenge, I would strongly urge you to take a look at those I’ve already listed because each website will include that brand’s new patterns anyway.
Among the new ones we know of are, in no particular order:
Cashmerette-Washington dress and Rivermont Top and Dress
The Maker’s Atelier-there is wide range of patterns to pick from including several new designs Shawl Collar Dress, Shawl Collar Coat, Over-sized shirt dress, Blazer and Wrap Dress
Style Arc-Sheryl stretch or woven pants, among others.
That Wendy Ward-brand new book ‘Sewing Basics for Every Body’, the Kim jumpsuit and the Dylan Peacoat particularly
Simplicity and Butterick have improved considerably since last year and we have been told that they are actively including more mature models in their catalogues now, let’s hope this is the case. There are now a reasonable number of patterns to choose from (too many to list here individually) so browse their website or catalogues to see if there’s something that appeals.
I’m going to leave it there because I’ll never quite know where the end of this list should be! I would urge you to look through pattern company websites, books and catalogues for your inspiration if you’re keen to participate. I would also add that there are quite a number of small pattern companies who are hugely supportive and involved in our community but they either don’t use older models, or they use illustrations, so we can’t include them for this challenge. That said, we are very appreciative of every repost, share and use of the #sewover50 hashtag that any pattern company gives to a SewOver50er, they are always welcome and it helps to keep our little, occasionally slightly wrinkled, faces in the public eye to prove that we’re still here, and have no intention of keeping quiet.
We’ve got prizes again too so thank you to our list of sponsors (so far) who are offering a selection of patterns, and Wendy Ward is offering a copy of her new book too. Winners will be chosen at random after the challenge closes. You’re welcome to share works-in-progress but only completed garments shared with a photo of the original pattern after the closing date will be eligible to win a prize.
Stay in touch with the Instagram account while the challenge is on because that’s where you will find any new information as it crops up. Make sure you use the new #so50visible20 hashtag although the original #so50visible is OK too. If a pattern company reposts your outfit (which obviously we really hope they will!) use the #so50thanks hashtag too. Keep an eye on their Stories feed too because sometimes they forget to tag us, or the tag doesn’t work for some reason.
The #so50visible20 challenge begins on March 1st and runs for the whole of the month so what are you waiting for? Share a photo of your garment along with the source pattern, have a look in saved highlights on the IG account for various ideas how to do this, it doesn’t have to be a brand new garment this year but it should be a new photo of it, not one you’ve shared before. You could even use a flatlay this time, particularly if you don’t like putting yourself in the frame. Have a look at #so50flatlay for ideas on this. There is no limit to the number of entries you can put in either.
We can’t wait to see how SewOver50ers rise to the challenge, the more we keep this in the public eye then the more chance we have of seeing older faces featuring on pattern covers, in magazines, in sewing books. And part of the worldwide fun of this challenge is seeing makes for the opposite seasons to the one we might be living in because, let’s remember, we’re a global account, and that’s a really big deal!