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…
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.
After a couple of months in the planning I can hardly believe that the first ‘official’ Sew Over 50 meet-up is over! This isn’t really a blog as such, it’s more of a photo album so that those who were there can look out for themselves and to prove that it did happen and a great time was had, new friendships were made, information and tips were shared, fabric was stroked and support and encouragement was offered.
Judith and I were simply overwhelmed by the feeling that was in the room for those 3 hours. The Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead, London proved to be the perfect venue to hold the meet-up with it’s mix of light-filled studio space and retail opportunities! Whilst quite a few of us already knew one another, and had met in the past, there were many others for whom this was the very first time they had gone to such an event. The distances some people travelled was extraordinary too, south Wales, Cumbria, Cheshire and north west England, Scotland, East Anglia, the south coast and Cologne, Germany were just some of the places people had come from. This represented a really big deal for some because it took them a long way outside their personal comfort zone to go on a long train journey to London and meet lots of strangers who they only ‘knew’ through the medium of little Instagram squares. So far as we can tell all of them thought it had been worth the effort and anxiety because within minutes of arriving they were chatting with fellow sewers and crafters as though they had known each other for years. That’s what the Sew Over 50 community seeks to encourage, to nurture and expand each others skills and talents, we try to make it a positive and supportive place to share our makes whether they are completely successful, or a dismal failure!
I would personally like to thank every single one of the companies and individuals who gave me prizes for the charity raffle in response to my requests, and several others who offered without me even asking.
Have a browse through the photos (please ask permission and credit me if you would like to use them elsewhere though, thank you) these are just a few of the hundreds that my daughter Bryony took for us but without them I don’t think there would be much record of the event having taken place…hardly anyone else took photos because they were too busy chatting!
I had opted to raise funds for The Samaritans, a UK-based charity who offer support at the end of the telephone to those at risk of suicide and the raffle made over £550 which is magnificent.
Thank you so much to everyone who came along and made it so enjoyable, thanks especially to Judith for having the courage to start the account in the first place. We’re approaching 18K followers and there have been almost 52K uses of the hashtag #sewover50 That’s a LOT of work which Judith and Sandy put in every day to ensure it’s such an enjoyable, interactive and mutually supportive community. I for one hope it continues this way. I’m sorry to those of you who couldn’t get a ticket, or are simply too far away, we want to actively encourage you to create your own meet-ups like this, there was no sewing at this one but you just need a venue where you can chat, a friendly cafe? your local sewing shop? Now we’ve started the ball rolling don’t forget to use the hashtag #so50meetup so we know what you’re up to.
The Amelia tea dress isn’t one I’ve sewn before but Jane who comes to my sewing class had made one last summer and I remember liking the shirred elastic midriff section. The brief for our makes this time was ‘festive’ (we usually don’t have a brief, it’s free-choice) Bearing this in mind Bobbins n Buttons had offered to provide me with fabric so I had a browse on their website and selected the Lady McElroy ‘beauty and the bees’ stretch velvet.
The pattern isn’t intended for jersey but it is simple shapes and a bit of gathering which I knew would still work well, what you don’t want is a fabric that’s too thick or stiff though because the shirring won’t work properly. I planned to hack the pattern a bit so I decided to add long bishop sleeves as it’s winter, I also lengthened the skirt (more on that later) and of course I added pockets!
Because of the distinctive large print I opted to remove the centre back seam and put the zip into the side seam instead, this was to save me the hassle of trying to pattern match the print across the zip. Because I’d removed the CB seam in the bodice I took it out of the skirt too, for the same reasons. If you’ve got a tricky print to match over a seam like this consider whether you can move the zip to the side, it’s not much different to put in and the opening can be a little shorter but still give you sufficient room. Now I could have a line of bees central down the back (and front of course) and just needed to get a good horizontal match too for me to be really happy.
As I said before I wanted the skirt as long as possible but there needs to be a compromise between length versus flare because of the width of the fabric. If you want the skirt to be longer you’ll need to reduce the amount of flare at the hem because you’ll be restricted by the fabric width. The wider the fabric then the more scope you have. I measured how long I could make the skirt before it would need reducing at the hem and decided it would be an acceptable length. I could add around 10cms to the hemmaking sure the new side seams were at a right angle to each other so that the hem will run in a smooth line. I traced around a few bees where they crossed the cutting line so that I could ensure the front and back matched as well as possible.
In order to cut everything as efficiently as possible from the fabric I first cut the skirts against the main fold-don’t forget to exclude the CB seam or the piece will be bigger than your back bodice (if you’re excluding the zip)
Then I refolded the fabric with the selvedges into the centre to cut the bodice pieces on the folds. This is vital to get those bees running down the centre.
From the remaining fabric I cut a pair of long sleeves. I used the pattern from another design I’ve made a few times, I measured the armhole of the dress and compared it against the sleeve I have. It was a little smaller at the crown so I added a small amount to give it sufficient width. Finally, because it’s jersey, I chose to use a neck binding instead of the facings so I cut two narrow strips which were each the same length as the CF to CB measurement of the neck plus a couple of centimetres seam allowance.
Ok, so I mostly followed the instruction with a few minor changes because of my alterations. One thing I did first of all was to stabilise the back shoulder seams and the left side seams where the zip was going to go with iron-on interfacing because I don’t want them to stretch out of shape. I chose to leave the back darts in although I possibly could have eased them out as it’s a stretch fabric.
After joining the shoulder seams I added my neck binding. I folded the strips with RS out along the long edge-I didn’t join them to each other at this stage-then, starting at the V, I stitched just that section into place. This way you can sew just a small part, snip into the V and pivot at the corner more accurately. When I was happy with this I sewed the rest of the binding on leaving just the CB part unsewn, then I could join the two strips in the right place and finally attach it to the neckline. Finally I neatened the edge all the way around and then topstitched it down close to the seam to stop it rolling.
The next part is the shirring which really isn’t difficult so don’t panic. First wind shirring elastic onto an empty bobbin BY HAND stretching it very slightly as you go, put it into the machine in the usual way (you may wish to check the manual if you have an older machine in case there is anywhere else you need to thread the elastic through) Use your matching colour thread on the top in the usual way and lengthen the stitch slightly, it doesn’t need to be zigzag or anything though. Definitely try out a test piece first and don’t forget to secure the start of each new row so that the stitching doesn’t come undone. I don’t secure the other end at this stage though in case I find I need to pull the threads up any more later. You should be able to sew 8 rows of stitching parallel to each other to complete the strip. The fabric will naturallypucker up pretty well but when you’re done stitching hover the iron with plenty of steam over it and you’ll find it gathers up some more as a result. Finally knot the ends of the threads to secure.
Then you need to attach the gathered band onto the lower part of the bodice making sure it’s evenly divided as you go.
Attach the skirts (I’d sewn the pocket bags on to each side seam before doing this. I just use my handy cardboard template which I made ages ago, I just trace around it directly onto the fabric and cut out.)
Next the zip goes into the left side seam. I sew it here out of habit as I’m right-handed and find it easier to do up that way but put the zip in whichever side works for you. After neatening both side seams separately first I sewed up the top of the side seam by about 4cms from the armhole edge. I used an invisible zip and inserted it in the usual way, making sure the waist seams matched, and then joining the rest of the side seam once I was happy with the zip insertion. I sewed up the other side seam and I was ready to tackle the sleeves.
The sleeves are set-in so I made the elasticated cuffs on the flat first using straight strips of jersey the same length as the curved cuff edge. With the strip open and RS together I sewed it once.
Then I folded the strip in half and sewed it on the overlocker to create a channel.
This will turn downwards to form the cuff which I slotted wide elastic through, securing at both ends.
Finally, I sewed the underarm seams to create the sleeves which are inserted into the dress as per the instructions.
All that’s left to do is the hem which I sewed on the coverstitch machine which is on loan to me by Pfaff at the moment.
I’m really pleased with how the dress has turned out, it’s very swishy and has a slightly 1940’s vibe to it. I like the extra length on the skirt and the sleeves look fab. I was a little alarmed when I saw the large scale of the print but actually I really rather like the bees now. One thing I’m not keen on (and this is down to the manufacturer and not the supplier) is that they have printed a black background design onto a white base cloth. Because the cloth has a pile it means that anywhere there are joins there is a slight hint of the white showing through which is not ideal. The velour isn’t too tricky to work with as the pile is a bit flatter than velvet but it does still ‘creep’ a bit in places so if you’re in any doubt that pins aren’t enough to keep it all in alignment make sure you tack (baste) seams together. If you have a walking foot I would definitely advise using it.
I hope this will help you to feel inspired and perhaps have a go at ‘hacking’ a pattern for yourself. This was a very simple one but if you look at my Simplicity blouse hack you can see just how carried away it’s possible to get!
So, has anything changed yet in the use and portrayal of older sewers and makers in dressmaking in the media? I think the simple answer is still “no, it probably hasn’t much” but before we feel completely downhearted about it I think we should reflect on what has been happening and how we can continue to try and move things forward. Love Sewing magazine in the UK wrote an article about the situation and 10 of us featured in the photo-shoot that resulted…how about a follow-up article Love Sewing? Grainline have released a new pattern which features an older woman modelling it, are there any others doing this yet?
Since Judith Staley started the account in August 2018 it has gained over 12,000 followers and that number continues to climb steadily. I believe part of the reason for this is because people are discovering that it’s a very inclusive account where everyone in it is happy to share advice or tips, to encourage others, where the colour of our (slightly wrinkly) skin is not relevant, our physical abilities and the size of our waistlines likewise. We share our wide and varied takes on patterns both from the so-called Big 4 and Indie designers and, even though we continue to be frequently ignored by them, we will still mention which pattern it is and tag the company anyway. Generally we aren’t sore about it…There have been some successes with reposts by a few pattern companies on their Stories or feed which, if @SewOver50 is tagged, we’ll see. Make sure you always tag the account or use a recognised hashtag-they are all listed saved in Highlights on the account but by using #SewOver50 or #So50Visible for example Judith and Sandy will see you. If they repost your mention they will use the hashtag #So50thanks to acknowledge our appreciation to the pattern company involved. It’s a virtuous circle really, we buy the patterns, we sew the patterns, we share our make, the pattern company sees it and likes it, we buy more patterns! See? everybody is happy and so it goes on. We have the cash and we want to spend it on your product but if we don’t think you’re interested in us because we aren’t young/slim/pretty/etc etc insert as appropriate then we won’t buy your product any more because there are many other ways we can spend our hand-earned money instead.
Personally there are a couple of companies that I don’t bother to tag any longer because neither of them acknowledge or repost a make by anyone under the age of about 35, let alone mine. I mention the pattern and the brand so that others know which design it is but I don’t ’tag’ them. You might think this is petty but I find it very irritating that everyone these days says “tag us so we can see your makes” but then they don’t offer a ‘like’ or a brief comment to acknowledge or ‘reward’ you. I do realise that some accounts have tens of thousands of followers which makes it difficult but it can’t be impossible, and meanwhile we just continue doing free advertising for them. Somehow some companies seem to exist in a vacuum which is unsullied by their actual customers… How about a new hashtag? #NoLikeNoMention or #NoLikeNoTag?
Anyway, moving on…we’ve been asking recently on the SewOver50 account if you have experience of pattern reviewing, pattern testing or blogging about your makes? How was this for you? How did you get started, were you approached or did you volunteer to a call out of some kind? Any or all of these would be a really good way of continuing to have older faces in the mix.
Obviously I do all of the above because that’s why I write this!
So, looking at the first area ‘pattern reviews’ There are several ways you can get involved in this. Firstly decide on a pattern you think people would be interested in hearing about-you may base this on your experiences with it which might be great or they might be terrible! Either way, if you think you’ve got something to add to the conversation then get writing. There are two places which immediately spring to mind to do this and they are The Fold Line online community which is UK-based, and the Pattern Review which is in the US. BOTH are fully accessible from anywhere in the world so this doesn’t mean they are exclusive to those areas, you just might find more ‘voices’ from one or the other. They are VERY different from each other starting from the way they look, The Fold Line feels a little more ‘youth’ oriented and ‘modern’ in its look, I find it more visually appealing and easier to navigate whereas the Pattern Review I found a bit cluttered visually but I’m sure it’s whatever you are used to, I know it’s really popular and there’s a very broad range of people posting on the site which is great. Both have options to leave pattern reviews and share photos of your makes, I’d say that Pattern Review has a larger back catalogue of reviews by virtue of being around longer than The Fold Line. I like that PR has a series of questions available to guide your review which can be helpful and keep you focussed if you aren’t sure what to write, Fold Line is all in your own words. On both you can give an ‘out of 5’ star rating. We’re trying to encourage more of you to leave reviews and these are two places you can do that, it will keep our beautiful older faces in line of sight! Do you know of or use other sites? Let us know either in the comments here or on the IG account so that we can all share and participate. Judith has asked a few stalwart SO50 supporters for their experiences and impressions of using various pattern review sites so look out for those on Instagram this week too.
Personally, I write my own reviews here on the blog as well as The Fold Line although I include a lot more technical stuff than I’d put elsewhere. Most of my reviews are on patterns that I want to write about because I have something to say about them, and a few are because I’m part of a ‘blogger network’ such as Simple Sew patterns. I’ve always endeavoured to be a ‘critical friend’ when it comes to a pattern review and I don’t always give 100% glowing reports, if I encounter problems or errors I will point them out and I’ll try to give alternative methods or techniques if I can. I don’t find the kind of ‘review’ which just says “yes, this is pretty and I love it” very helpful. Preferences are obviously very individual but why do you love it? does it go together well? are the instructions clear? do you need to fiddle around to get a good fit? What sort of fabric works well? All these things matter and that is what many sewers want to know before committing to buying a potentially-expensive new pattern.
I also write reviews of fabrics which I’ve been provided with free of charge by various companies including Sew Me Sunshine and Minerva Crafts. I’m not embarrassed by this because I take a lot of time and effort to write comprehensive and helpful reviews of the product, a couple of metres of fabric is a very modest reward for many hours of work for me. At this point in time I’m not paid to write by anyone.
Love Sewing magazine here in the UK includes a reader every month who sew up their own version of that month’s free gift pattern and then they feature in a professional photo shoot. I was lucky enough to be invited to do this nearly two years ago and it was great fun, if a little nerve-wracking to start with. You may know of other magazines which do this so why not email and offer yourself to them?! Another way of featuring in magazines is to try tagging them if you share photos of your makes (best if you’re using their free gift pattern or another item which was originally in their mag as they’ll be more interested) you might get used on their ‘reader makes’ pages-it’s always fun to see your face in a magazine and sometimes there’s a ’Star Maker’ prize too. Most magazines and pattern companies have a Facebook page as well as Instagram which are easy ways to share your photos, Twitter is much less about images so I tend not to use that. Make sure your photo is of a decent quality though-clean the lens, or the mirror, check the background-are there pants drying on the radiator behind you? You don’t need to be David Bailey or have a fancy camera but if it’s not a clear picture of your make they won’t use it. Again, the SewOver50 account gave lots of tips for taking successful photos using your phone and they are saved in Highlights.
Pattern testing is another area you can volunteer for and could be your opportunity to put your skills to good use. Keep an eye open for tester callouts on IG, or have a look at company websites for a sign-up list but bear in mind that you’ll almost certainly be doing this for purely altruistic reasons, almost no one pays or rewards testers in any way other than a free copy of the finished pattern after release. (This is a bit of a contentious area-should we be more adequately rewarded?- which I’m not going into here) You’ll probably provide your own fabric and donate your time and be helping small companies to improve their products. When I’ve done this in the past the better companies give you a set of questions which is helpful because you can direct your answers to specific areas they want to know about, plus add comments of your own. They should want to know things like ‘do the seams match’ or ‘are there notches missing’, ‘could the instructions be clearer or worded differently?’ I take pattern testing seriously and it can be frustrating and time-consuming when there are problems or errors, there are now rather a lot of inexperienced people releasing patterns which are ill-thought out and inaccurate. I’m more picky about volunteering now as I’m not keen on wasting my time, I get invited to help by some companies which is flattering. You’ll be more or less expected to ‘advertise’ the pattern when it gets released which is fine if you’re happy with what you’ve made, and the very small companies are usually very appreciative of this because they generally have little or no advertising budget so they rely on people like us making and sharing.
Finally, you could have a go at exactly what I’m doing now-blogging! I started to write here four years ago as a means to document what I was making more than anything and it’s diversified a bit because I also review exhibitions and books too, or places and events I’ve visited that have a sewing context. [The word ‘blogging’ or ‘blog’, if you didn’t know, comes from ‘web log’, a form of keeping an online diary.] I don’t have a massive following, or sponsors, like some but I know many people appreciate my plain speaking and honesty in my pattern reviews. Vlogging is a ’thing’ too but I’m not interested in that, I prefer to write and I’d bore myself (never mind you!) wittering on about my latest fabric haul or whatever. There are lots of places that ‘host’ blogs, I use WordPress for which I pay a modest monthly fee but there are many others, some free, some not. If you follow other bloggers, which providers do they use? Do some research to find the site that meets your needs, if you want more bells and whistles later on, can they be added? How much will it cost? You could just write a Word Doc and copy and paste it into a Facebook page. I have a Facebook page for Susan Young Sewing but I must confess I barely use it, I don’t find Fb as engaging as Instagram. Incidentally, The Fold Line has a useful Facebook forum which is where all the discussions take place, and you can sign up for their weekly newsletters which is a round up of all sorts of up-to-date sewing and dressmaking goings-on.
So, to sum up, there are a variety of ways we can continue to get our lovely faces featured so that we aren’t overlooked and the more of us that do it the harder it will be to ignore us! Judith will be sharing ideas and personal testimonies by other Sew Over 50 ‘activists’ during the coming days and weeks so keep a look out for them. If you’ve got a story you want to share with us make sure you use the @SewOver50 tag so that it gets seen [although with our growing numbers this is getting harder so DM if it’s really important] Let’s keep plugging away together, older women have wider choices and opportunities than ever before and it’s so much better if we can endeavour to support each other in reminding the wider world that we’re here and we aren’t going to go away quietly.
I hope we can continue to inspire, support and encourage one another using SewOver50 as our touchstone because we’re bloody brilliant!!
When Harriet asked me if I’d contribute a blog post for Sew Me Sunshine I was excited and very happy to help. After I’d had a good look at all their lovely fabrics I settled on the pink colour-way of the Gemma viscose/linen mix, it’s such a pretty shade with a magnolia flower print. When the fabric arrived Harriet has included a helpful card with full fabric details including fibre composition details plus width and quantity purchased. There’s a space to note if you pre-wash or not before it goes in the stash or straight to use.
The print is quite wide spaced and one-way [actually there are one set of flowers which run in one direction and another set which go the opposite way] so it’s worth bearing this in mind with pattern placement, and all your pieces should be positioned one way or the other.
I decided to make a Maven patterns French Dart shift dress which I’ve made twice before because it’s a lovely simple shape with no fastenings which makes it quite quick to make, three sleeve options, side seam pockets and an elegant roll collar.
Because of the positioning of the print I opted to have the smaller flowers running down the centre rather than the large blooms which would have resulted in a more wasteful lay plan. As I had enough fabric I opted for the long sleeved version which I’ve made both times previously, the gathers at the cuff are so pretty. I cut the sleeves so that similar flowers are on a level with the dress front.
Because the fabric is quite loosely-woven and a linen mix it tends to fray a bit you’ll need to be aware of this. Making a style with lots of gathers may not be wise because it will start to come apart eventually the more you pull the gathers up-the cuffs on this dress were fine as it’s fairly short. The fabric would look lovely in pleats or folds too.
The fabric sews up beautifully, it isn’t overly drapey but it’s nicely fluid and responds well to pressing although like most linen, and linen/mix, there is noticeable but not excessive creasing-this is one of the features of the fabric and you have to accept that as part of it, it isn’t a fault. You could also use it for loose-fitting shirts or trousers, for example the Zadie jumpsuit from Paper Theory would look gorgeous in it or what about the Tilly and the Buttons Seren dress, nothing too tight-fitting though as it will crease badly or ‘seat’. You can always add a soft cotton lawn lining to a fabric like this which might help, this particular fabric isn’t sheer though so you can’t really see through it.
The structure of the fabric lends itself to the roll-neck collar and this one doesn’t have any interfacing in it, it stands well on its own.
I’m really happy with the finished dress, it’s very feminine and in a very unpredictable British climate I think it will be ideal on cooler warm days (does that make sense!?) I’ll wear it with tights in the autumn. Incidentally, I hand finished the hem so that the stitches are invisible, you could machine it up though.
Thank you Harriet for providing me with the fabric and the opportunity to write about it-it also comes in a pale blue colour-way too which is equally lovely if pink isn’t your thing.
I wasn’t familiar with textile artist Anni Albers but when I saw that Charlotte (English Girl at Home) had made a visit from Birmingham I thought it must be worth a look.
I wasn’t disappointed either. You don’t need to have any previous idea of this artist’s work to enjoy and appreciate the quality of what you see before you in this exhibition at Tate Modern in London until January 27th, 2019.
To give you a little bit of background, Anneliese Fleichmann was born in Berlin, Germany in 1899, she was encouraged to study drawing and painting, becoming a student at the Bauhaus in 1922 where she met artist Josef Albers, marrying him in 1925. Not every class was available to women and she had been unable to get into glassmaking whilst at the Bauhaus [a renowned combined crafts and Fine Arts school from 1919 to 1933 before being closed by the Nazis] so she reluctantly attended textile weaving instead. She soon became fascinated by the whole process of weaving and gradually developed her distinctive geometric style.
She and her husband, who were both Jewish by birth although she herself was baptised a Protestant, eventually moved to the USA in 1933 where they taught at the experimental Black Mountain Academy in North Carolina, an art school with a kind of ’summer camp’ ethos of studies and farm and domestic work.
She continued to experiment and create throughout her long life although eventually she gave up weaving because of the physical strain it placed on her preferring, instead to create prints and monographs.
She was commissioned a number of times to create textiles for specific situations including domestic, hotels and student accommodation. These items included rugs and diaphanous hanging room dividers.
Here are just a few of my photographs, many don’t do full justice to the intricacies of the weave or the subtleties of the colours but hopefully they will give you a taste.
Sketches of design ideas.
Wall hangings and room-dividers.
Albers moved on to drawing and printmaking as she got older, often her subject was knots! Top right is a rug. She continued to explore textile-related areas though such as pattern, line, texture and knotting.
In the same room there are 3 huge screens showing the process of weaving in close up which was enthralling.
As I said earlier, you don’t need to know anything about Albers to enjoy this exhibition. My good friend Jenny (my culture buddy!) is a busy Vicar with no art or textiles experience but we always find much to enjoy on our visits to galleries even if they are outside our usual preferences or knowledge. The work on display here is beautiful and tactile (but don’t touch!) and could look very much at home in a domestic setting, not something I can always say about some art work we’ve seen!
The Fashion & Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London is hosting a new exhibition of gorgeous vintage frocks from the 1930’s so I thought I’d tell you a little about it to whet your appetite if you’re looking for an exhibition to go to.
It’s called “Night and Day: 1930s fashion and photographs” and is on now until January 20th, 2019 so you’ve got a little while in which to see it. I know a few people are a bit sniffy about the FTM, I’m not really sure why as I think they put on small but interesting fashion and textile (!) related shows which are very varied in their content and unlike most other shows they aren’t expensive. One of the things I like best is that you can get so close to the exhibits without glass getting in the way so you can really see, in many cases, exactly what you’re looking at. There is always labelling in the vicinity for the exhibits but you also get a purpose-designed booklet, always in keeping with the theme, to accompany it as well. I generally keep this to have a read through later on because in this case there’s a wealth of background information of the social upheaval that was going on at the time to give you some context. I’ve found if I try to read the booklet I don’t look at the clothes and vice versa.
This show is divided into linked groups of gowns, dresses and ensembles, including some menswear. There are stunning evening gowns in a myriad of beautiful shades and fabrics, day dresses, floaty summer gowns complete with gorgeous straw hats and practical but elegant daywear, always with hats!
I’d gone on this particular day because fashion historian Amber Butchart was giving a talk about her new book, “The Fashion Chronicles: the style stories of history’s best dressed” which was absolutely fascinating, she’s an excellent speaker and really knows her subject. I bought a copy of her book afterwards and took the chance to ask her if there will be another series of “a Stitch in Time” on BBC4. Sadly she doesn’t think there will be at present unless we campaign for it. I found it such an interesting series and I know a lot of others who don’t have an interest in fashion or textiles per se found it fascinating too. Shame…
This show isn’t only clothes and as is often the case there are also some lovely photographs on display as well, including a gallery full of those by Cecil Beaton.
It might be worth mentioning that if you go along late on a Friday afternoons there’s usually a complimentary glass of bubbly available as you go in so if that doesn’t enhance the experience and get your weekend off to a good start I don’t know what would!!
I definitely recommend making the trip to Bermondsey, it isn’t far on foot from other attractions like the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, and about a 15 minute walk from Tate Modern, or Southwark and Borough Market as well so you could easily combine visits to more than one [ok, maybe not the Tower as well!]