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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

testing Eden by Tilly & the Buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Sue