Janine at The Sewing Revival, the pattern company based in New Zealand, is gradually creating a growing collection of stylish patterns and there is something very appealing in their deceptive simplicity I think. I’ve made a few versions of several of them now, including the Sidewinder pants, the Bellbird top and the Heron dress.
When Janine kindly offered me my choice of the range to choose from I picked one of the more recent releases, the Fantail top. At first glance it appears to be a simple raglan-sleeved top but along with the high/low hemline and elasticated front hem it offers variations of scooped, ribbing or V neck, elasticated or ribbing cuffs, and the back hem can be finished with ribbing too.
I had a rummage in my stash for some suitable fabric, ideally something with a bit of drape works best so soft viscose, crepe, georgette or chiffon if you fancy a challenge, cotton lawn, wool challis or fine linen would all work very well. Light- or medium- weight jersey will make it into a very chic sweater. I’ve no idea where my piece of navy fabric came from, probably I was given it by an elderly lady because it had a little ticket pinned to one corner saying it was 1 1/2 yards x 54” wide and cost 90p! It certainly smelt a little bit musty so the first thing I did was give it a quick hand-wash, it turns out that the colour ran quite a bit and I was left with blue hands for several hours afterwards!!
The patterns are sold in size bands which each contain 4 sizes (there is some overlap between the brackets) and each band is layered which gives you the option to print only the sizes you want so I printed UK 10 and 12 because, having lost some weight recently, I wasn’t sure which size would be best. In the end I cut a UK12 and it looks fine I think, it’s a roomy style so I could possibly go down a size but as I’m one of life’s ‘fluctuaters’ where weight is concerned maybe I won’t.
I like the instructions on Sewing Revival patterns because they are well explained and illustrated with photographs. If you’re an experienced sewer like me then you won’t necessarily need to follow them closely all the time but I do keep half an eye on them so that I don’t miss a step or construct in the wrong order which might have repercussions later on.
I made the scoop-neck version with elasticated cuffs which is probably the most straightforward variant, the round neck is just the right amount in my view, not too wide, not too deep. Raglan sleeves are super-quick to construct, I usually sew the neck facing on after the shoulder seams and before sewing the under arm seams.
The front and back hems are very different lengths and finished differently so don’t rush through these elements. I ignored the suggested bias-binding finish on the back hem and used one of my favourite techniques of a pin-hem instead ( I wrote instructions for this last year in this blog post on hems )
The USP of this top is the deep partially-elasticated front hem. It looks great but it’s really not difficult to achieve. There are suggested lengths to cut your elastic for each size although you could use a shorter piece over the same length if you want to pull the front in a bit more. Or you could also use a narrower elastic but the pattern is cut for wide width like this so you may have to make an alteration to the hem depth accordingly for the channel to work.
As I said, this is a simple top with eye-catching details, it’s probably a half-day project if you’re got everything you need when you start.
I’ve already got some fabric lined up for another Fantail hopefully very soon, a nice piece of soft viscose from Sew Me Something and ribbing given to me by my friend Kate which by sheer good fortune coordinates perfectly! There’s lots of possible variety with the Fantail, short sleeves is another for example.
Two years ago I wrote a review of the Sewing Revival Heron dress which you can still read here. I liked the pattern so much that since then I’ve made another knee-length version in a viscose/linen mix fabric from Ditto in Brighton and a blouse variation too in a beautiful soft Italian cotton voile, also from Ditto. I wore it often although not so much lately…
While I was at Sew Brum in October 2019 I bought some lovely soft brushed printed viscose twill from Barry’s Fabrics with the express intention of making another Heron but this time making it longer and more cold weather-friendly. There had been a lot of Wilder Gowns by the Friday Pattern Company popping up everywhere at the time, I liked the tiered style a lot but I knew I could create my own take on it by using a pattern I already had. A multiple-layered skirt like this isn’t difficult, it’s really a case of working out the number and sizes of rectangles you want to use. If you take a look at this post I wrote about recreating a sun dress for a client in 2019 you’ll get the gist. Because I like the top section of the Heron so much I decided this was a good pattern to use and it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt it to what I wanted.
All the quantities and proportions I have used for this dress were completely arbitrary and had to be based primarily on the quantity of fabric I’d purchased [which I can’t actually remember as it’s well over a year ago, probably 3m of 150cm wide fabric I’d guess] and my own height of 5’5” so bear this in mind if you decide to have a go yourself. I wanted the dress to be nice and long so eventually I settled on approximately hip length for the bodice, the finished length of the side seam is now 40cms. I folded the front and back dress pattern sections up out of the way when I pinned them to the fabric (obviously you could trace or print off a new copy of the PDF if you wish) Once both bodices, sleeve and pocket pieces are on the fabric [pockets could be cut from something else if you’re a bit short of fabric] I could see exactly how much I had left to create the skirt from. I kept it very simple and divided the remaining fabric into two equal rectangles across the full width, each one measured approximately 56cms long but that had to include the seam allowance at the top and a hem at the bottom.
Initially the construction of the dress followed the normal method up as far as putting the pockets into the side seams of the bodice as per the pattern.
Making the skirt was very straightforward, I joined the short selvedges to one another [if it’s a one-way design make sure the print is running the same way on both pieces] to form a large cylinder of fabric with two side seams. Press the side seams open, if you’ve been able to use the original selvedges they might not need finishing. I made the hem at this point too, it seemed easier than wrestling with a complete dress at the end, although this could have backfired on me if I hadn’t been happy with the length but I was pretty certain it would be OK.
I ran two rows of gathering stitches within the seam allowance of the top edge, I pinned them in position matching the side seams, centre front and centre back, plus the quarter seam positions too. Gather up carefully so as not to break the threads, small pleats would also work here especially if the fabric would be bulky otherwise, it depends a bit on the weight of the fabric to some extent. Once I was happy with the gathering distribution I sewed the skirt on and overlocked the seam.
And that was it. Now, I have to say that because I was taking a risk with proportions and limited by the quantity of fabric I’d bought that if I were to repeat this I would definitely make the bodice quite a lot shorter and make the skirt from more than one gathered tier instead. I’m happy with the overall finished length but I think the seam at the hip isn’t quite right. But, by wearing it with a narrow leather belt (there wasn’t any fabric left for a self-belt anyway) and bringing it in at the waist I’ve saved it, the belt gives it a lot more definition.
I added a tie at the neck this time using a bit of grosgrain ribbon which I had knocking about.
The dress was finished around a year ago and these photos were shot in the autumn but it’s taken until now to write up. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it can be to make your own version of popular patterns using one you already have-there’s a certain risk involved because it might not be completely successful but that’s always the risk anyway when making our own clothes-a style might turn out not to suit us after all, or we make a wrong fabric choice, or it could be a triumph so why not revisit what you already own before buying another pattern?
Well this is definitely late in arriving seeing as the challenge finished on March 15th…! After my flurry of activity for the launch of the first SewOver50 challenge in February, and a follow-up post with updated pattern companies, you might have wondered (probably not though…) where I disappeared to? The answer is simply that I had a holiday booked so off I went! Rude I know but Judith and Sandy were fully in command of the day to day running of the challenge so away I went. I missed seeing large chunks at the end of the challenge though as we were on a cruise where internet access is extortionately expensive and much as I love my sewing buddies I don’t love them THAT much, or another option is you can buy beer in bars when in port in order to receive ‘free’ WiFi (follow a crew member, they always know where a hotspot is)
So that’s my excuses out of the way, how did you get on? Did you enter? I was exempt from entering (obviously) but I did contribute a few makes of my own using patterns that qualified.
I think what the challenge brought home to many people is the lack of visibility of anyone aged over 40 frankly, never mind over 50. There were many comments over the six weeks, from much younger sewers as well as more mature people, saying how they simply hadn’t noticed but once you had noticed it became obvious. We have grown largely immune to it and just accept that the image in no way reflects a large majority of makers, even younger dressmakers must be sick of competing with these idealised versions of themselves too. [ yes we know that this doesn’t bother everybody and that’s fine but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are willing to accept the status quo]
Did you discover a new pattern brand as a result of the challenge? I’m sure there are many other brands who didn’t make themselves known to us either by email or commenting on the previous blog posts and I’m definitely not going to vouch for the quality or otherwise of some of those that did but personally I found lots of new ones which I’ll look out for more often in future. Many of them are PDF which means wherever you are in the world they are still accessible to anyone.
Via her posts Judith encouraged people to contact pattern companies who don’t currently use older models and she herself has received some enlightening answers. Of those companies which have so far responded to Judith, almost without exception they say that, unless they have a friend or family member who is willing to model for them, it’s very very difficult to find suitable older professional models registered with agencies, even if they would like to use them. There were a number of different reasons cited for not using older models and, as we’ve said before, a brand is absolutely entitled to create their own ‘look’ as they see fit. Many also said they already featured, or promised in future to feature, a wider cross-section of makers of all kinds in examples of their patterns, this seems the absolute least that a brand can do in exchange for constant free advertising when we ’share the hashtag’ or tag them in our posts. One brand claimed to feature a wide range of their customers makes but having looked through their feed I beg to differ, a modest range all under about 35 is how I saw it.
A lot of brands are very small operations so we appreciate the difficulties this brings but they were also very often the ones that were most keen to bring about changes. I guess being small means they can alter things about their product if it’s within their power to do so and they genuinely want to.
One brilliant example is Selkie Patterns who are a start-up company based in London creating their own print-to-order designs on lovely quality ethically-sourced fabrics. In January on Instagram they put up a post asking for anyone who would be willing to model their next pattern, I somewhat cheekily responded by saying “would you consider an over 50?” Imagine my shock and surprise when Alexandra contacted me and said “yes!” Gulp!
A month later I found myself posing in the sunshine in a backstreet near Waterloo in London, modelling the new fabric design and a sleeve ‘add-on’ for their London dress, top and skirt pattern. I had a blast and Alex made me feel so comfortable and at ease, and it was all loads of fun…we had cake too! I bet no one eats cake on Vogue shoots… It feels slightly surreal to keep seeing myself pop up unexpectedly in their advertising and on the website now…perhaps Kate Moss feels the same.. I was happy to do it because it was a chance to start the ball rolling [perhaps I should sign up with an agency ROFL]
So if one little company just starting out can do it I’m sure others could too, with a modest camera, an attractive backdrop and a willing volunteer it’s possible to get really nice results. Some might expect to pay or be paid which is absolutely fair enough, especially with larger companies who should have a budget for this, but not everybody can do this at the outset. You only have to look through the Sew Over 50 Instagram account to see just how many fabulous, attractive, amazing, funny, inquisitive people there are out there sewing original and inspirational clothes for themselves-dressing in the way WE want to suit our personalities and tastes. Yes, we might ‘just’ want great fitting jeans and a comfy cardie sometimes but that doesn’t mean we can’t make them for ourselves with fantastic details and using beautiful fabrics.
When the challenge closed Judith had been keeping a list of all the qualifying entrants and, with the help of her two gorgeous grandsons, they quite literally pulled the names of the winners out of her hat!
All the winners should have now been notified and have hopefully claimed their prizes, it will be lovely if they share what they make with the rest of us eventually, it could become a sewing virtuous circle!
So, what have we learned from this? Well there’s still a long way to go for sure but there seems to be a shift in perception in many areas of life that as we get older we shouldn’t be relegated to the backwaters of life, nor should we go there quietly and wait for a life belt to be thrown to us, if we want attitudes to change we have to change them ourselves by making our presence felt. It doesn’t have to be in a loud and crashing way because sometimes the softly-softly approach will work better initially, and if it doesn’t then we’ll just get louder. There is an element of ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ because by approaching pattern companies and magazines directly with polite enquiries and requests we’ve found them starting to sit up and take notice. Again it goes back to us being people who have disposable income to spend on quality products, which businesses with any sense will embrace as a lucrative market (so long as they don’t talk down to us or patronise, we aren’t all in care homes just yet!)
Since its creation just seven short months ago the account now has over 10,000 followers and continues to grow all the time. The Great British Sewing Bee returned for a fifth series and featured several wonderful sewers in their 40s, 50s and 60s, it’s a source of real inspiration and encouragement (isn’t it interesting that one of the judges is a feisty and stylish woman in her 60s? That wealth of knowledge and experience takes time to acquire) There’s another series on the cards and applications are open now so why not give it a try, here’s the link to get you started..
And let’s not forget that 10 of us did a photoshoot for Love Sewing which appeared in February with a fantastic 3 page spread in the magazine and a longer version in their online blog. Editor Amy is always on the look out for readers to review the free gift patterns in each issue so if you think you can write a decent review and would like to participate in a photo shoot yourself then drop her an email.
Personally I’m as inspired by younger makers as I am by people my own age and older, having the cross-section matters to me. I love to go to meet-ups and socialising with other makers because even though it can feel like speed dating for dressmakers I know we all have at least that one interest in common at the outset.
I’ll keep sharing SewOver50 updates here from time to time, I’m always in contact with Judith and some of our other partners in crime. We’ve got plans for the year and we’re are always open to suggestions for collaborations or sponsorships of our initiatives so if you think you’ve something to bring to the table feel free to get in touch with one of us. If there’s a brand you love who you think could do more then why not email them, offer yourself as a tester or a model for them, at worst they’ll ignore you and, if they don’t, who knows where it might lead? You could also leave a pattern review on The Fold Line website, or your preferred pattern review website, try and include nice clear photos where possible, they don’t have to be super-styled but it helps everyone more if you can see the garment clearly (rather than a big ol’ mess in the background) with a couple of views.
Right! I’d better get back to some sewing now, it feels like forever since I did any!
By being a part of the organisation of the first Sew Over 50 challenge it has meant I’ve come across pattern companies which I hadn’t heard of before. In several cases they made contact with me directly through the comments at the end of the first blog post. Not all of these companies make patterns that appeal to me personally but The Sewing Revival in New Zealand was one which did. Janine Pomeroy has created a small but growing number of simple, chic and wearable styles and because they are PDFs they are easily available to you wherever you are in the world.
Janine very generously gifted me the Heron dress (it also comes as a top too) and I’ve just finished making it up in time for my upcoming holiday.
The PDF was initially just available as A4 or US letter format but is one one of their first to also come as A0 copy shop format too. It comes with LOTS of useful and helpful information for when you print it out-there’s even instructions in how to print only the size you need if you prefer, I can’t think of another company I’ve come across which actually talks you through it, I have limited IT skills and wouldn’t have known how to do this for myself so that was helpful. Also, when ordering your pattern, you opt for the set of 3 sizes closest to the size you require according to your measurements. I like this arrangement because you don’t have an overwhelming number of lines to try and cut out from. I’m a UK 12-14 in RTW so I’ve made the size Medium and I’m very happy with it. If you do print all the sizes because you want to cut between different measurements for example then each size prints in a different colour-this is worth bearing in mind because if you print in B&W only they aren’t various styles of dot and dashed lines.
I bought some lovely pale blue viscose/linen printed with navy and red flowers from my recent visit to Ditto fabrics in Brighton specifically for the Heron. If you’re a novice sewer there is plenty of guidance included on which fabrics would work well, as well as other lay plan and cutting tips too.
There are only a few pattern pieces so it doesn’t take long to cut out and start sewing. There are some clever details which mean you don’t have lots of extra facings or elastic casings to cut and sew on, they are included which means the sewing doesn’t take that long either.
I printed out the making instructions in booklet format and I found the photos a tad small that way, I should have left them A4 for clarity although, that said, it’s fairly obvious what you’re doing and there are plenty of written instructions too.
I like the clever way the front facing is ‘grown-on’ so you just neaten the centre front seam and, eventually, once the backs and sleeves are sewn together [raglan sleeve so not tricky setting in] the neck edge gets folded over twice and stitched. This becomes the casing for the elastic.
The deep cuffs fold up in a similar way which is clever because it does away with the need to neaten the cuff hem or to sew on any binding to create a casing for the elastic. It all forms one finished unit in the end.
I should add that the Heron includes in-seam pockets which are a must, and there is a belt pattern too with additional ideas on how to add D-rings to it so it isn’t just a tie belt. I was so eager to finish that I didn’t notice until after I’d sewn it that the hem is finished using bias tape! This gives a lovely neat finish without losing any length, I just did a narrow rolled hem which looks fine too.
As I said earlier, I was given the pattern to try out but I can honestly say I’m really pleased with my Heron and I look forward to wearing it. I’ve already got another fabric lined up for a blouse length version. I thought the sleeves looked like they might be too short but actually they are fine.
The reason The Sewing Revival came to my attention is because they use realistic models to promote their patterns, Janine made a conscious decision to do that whilst still creating covetable and wearable styles of the sort that dressmakers of any age will want. I’d love to know if you’ve used this brand and what you thought, or do you know of any others like it that could be brought to a wider audience? The Sew Over 50 challenge runs until March 15th 2019 so you’ve still got time to join in, and you don’t need to be over 50 to participate!