First a bit of preamble, because the origins of the fabric I used for this top were important. In June 2022 me and Mr Y were finally able to return to mainland Europe again for a four day stay in Florence, one of my favourite cities. We knew it would probably be very busy with visitors during the summer but frankly I didn’t care about this, I was just so happy to be able to see all those magnificent buildings and beautiful art again.
In between looking at the art and strolling the ancient streets I indulged in a little window shopping at the stores where I can afford literally nothing, including Alexander McQueen, Missoni and Gucci.
Amongst all these shops though I *may* have come across a fabric emporium….In truth, there are quite a number of fabric shops in Florence, what with this being Italy and home of fabulous quality textiles.
I had, however, been given the name of another more accessible shop by a kind Instagram follower so we set off to find it with only the vaguest idea where it was. Bacci Tessuti is quite close to the Medici Chapel and San Lorenzo and, with a little help from Google Maps, we found it eventually.
The air-conditioned shop was a very welcome haven from the extreme heat Florence was experiencing during our visit and I was not disappointed by what I found, there is a wonderful selection of lovely cloth to browse.
The choices in a beautiful store like this can be quite overwhelming so I had a sort-of plan to buy something which felt ‘Italian’ to me. I set out looking at their fine linen, personally I would call it handkerchief linen and it’s much lighter and softer than most of the heavier and more durable linens I’ve seen on sale in the UK. I homed in on one with a large design in blue, red and pink flowers (I love a floral fabric but I don’t often wear it) but this one ’spoke’ to me. So that was great but then the helpful shop manager, who spoke excellent English, pointed out the Liberty Tana lawn he had at a very good price! I would have resisted but my husband wanted to buy some for me so who am I to turn him down!
These were going to be my total purchases but when I went over to the counter the manager told me that the linen cloth was by the textile designer for well-known Italian brand, Pucci. At this point he produced from under the counter several short length pieces of some beautiful Italian designer fabrics including Dolce and Gabbana! They were all very lovely (and still expensive) but I wouldn’t have a use for them. The one I did fall for though was a small piece of silk/cotton cloth from Pucci with their trademark psychedelic design in delicate ice cream shades. It still wasn’t cheap but it was just a bit different and there was enough to make a top of some kind. So of course it came home with me…
With my purchases safely stowed away we got on with enjoying the rest of our holiday (although I spent a fair bit of time planning in my head what I was going to make when we got home!)
As I said earlier, I had no more than 1m30 of fabric to play with and I still wanted to do a decent job of matching the print as best I could. The basic pattern fitted on the fabric, it’s only a front, back, sleeves and facings, but I thought it might look a bit meh, and there would still be some wastage. After a bit of a rethink, by shortening the body and making two deep ruffles across the width of the fabric I knew I would get a much more interesting design and have very little wastage in the end.
Basically it was a case of working out how long I could afford to make the top section and still get ruffles that were a balanced length [I had the Merchant and Mills Florence top in my head as inspiration] I took a line horizontally straight across to the centre front/back from the side seam approximately 15cms down from the bottom of the arm scye of both the front and back. What I should have done if I had stopped to think about it was make the centre front longer, I didn’t though and as a result the front hem lifts up because of my bust. The back is fine though.
I was able to cut the front and back pieces side by side on the folded cloth which meant the design ran smoothly around the garment. From the remaining fabric I calculated how deep two full widths of the fabric could be (approximately 28cms each strip) and still have enough to get two sleeves and the neck facings out too.
Once I had all the pieces it was just a case of assembling. First I did my usual scavenge through my button boxes to find enough suitable colours in matching sizes. After joining the shoulder seams and attaching the neck and back facings I sewed all the buttonholes at this stage, by doing this first it meant I wasn’t fighting the bulky seam of the gathered ‘skirt’ later.
As for the other Italian fabrics, I have plans to make a shirt dress with the beautiful linen, I have a design I’ve drafted and sewn a couple of versions of but there’s probably still a few tweaks I want to make to it before making it in the ‘real thing’. The Liberty lawn is waiting for the right project to present itself too, no need to rush these things. I’m all for sewing the good stuff but it’s really upsetting if you sew a dud with it!
As one of the new team of Backstitch Ambassadors I relished the chance to go along to the gorgeous shop at Burwash Manor to browse their fabrics and patterns. It’s about 40 minutes from where I live and I love to go there whenever I get an opportunity, I’ve previously included it in this round-up of Hertfordshire based fabric shops. To be completely honest, I already had an idea that I would like to make the newish Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt but I had an open mind about fabric choice. In my head I was looking for a lightweight linen-type but as soon as my eyes alighted on the checked double gauze I was all in for that! It was folded on the bolt with the large check visible on the outside but when I discovered the reverse was small checks my mind was blown and I knew I could mix the two sides to create a unique garment. There are currently 4 colours available but I settled on the pretty shell pink variation. I took 2 metres as per the pattern instructions but after cutting it out (and as I’ve found before with M&M patterns) I had almost 50cms left over, even allowing for pattern matching. It’s very annoying when this happens and I’ve made a note for next time. I cut a straight UK 12 with no mods.
The Ellsworth is quite typical of M&M’s aesthetic, it is a very wide and loose fit shirt with a stepped hem, a collar and button placket and cropped, cuffed sleeves. It will lend itself towards fabrics which have an element of fluidity and drape such as soft linen or cotton-types, light woollens, crepe, chambray or babycord. Some light- or medium-weight jerseys would probably be okay but I wouldn’t recommend ones with a lot of stretch.
Another reason for choosing this shirt (apart from the fact I liked it anyway) is because I had seen a few makers on Instagram were having trouble interpreting the instructions for the placket. I hope what follows will give you a bit more information and guidance.
Away we go…
Definitely give your fabric a wash first, its light loose weave will shrink a little (it will be very crinkly when it comes out of the machine but don’t panic, it will press flat again. You may ultimately prefer the crinkles but they will be hard to work with during the making process so press as you go for now)
If you are a person with no patience when it comes to laying up your fabric, or time is tight, then this may not be the fabric choice for you because it does need some careful laying up and folding to get the checks straight and matching [or you could cut every piece on the flat to save on the head scratching] There were a couple of places where, in spite of my best efforts I was bit off but I won’t tell you where they were and you might not notice anyway! It does have the advantage of the large check being 3cms square and the reverse is 1cm squares so a 1cm or 1.5cm seam allowance shouldn’t be a problem to follow.
The problematic placket is made first so here’s my interpretation of the instructions for you. Begin by interfacing all pieces as instructed (although I interfaced the whole placket rather than half as the fabric is quite fine and a bit unstable)
Next I moved on to the sleeve opening which is neatened with a very narrow bias strip.
The hem facings are sewn on next, then join the shoulders using French seams. This is a useful technique if your fabric is very fine, sheer, or frays badly, or if you don’t own an overlocker. Obviously you can sew a flat seam and overlock/zigzag if you prefer. You could also topstitch these seams if you want a bit of interest on them. My personal preference is to press shoulder seams to the front, this is so that the seam is slightly less visible when looking at it.
I found the collar instructions straightforward so I won’t go into them as well, I opted to catch the lower edge down by hand so that I had control over it and a really neat finish. I also added a label from Little Rosy Cheeks.
The sides are then French seamed, be careful with the step at the lower edge and make sure you don’t take too much seam allowance on the seams because this could throw out the overlap at the top of the opening. I used the bartack stitch on my Pfaff to secure it as this could be a point of weakness further down the line.
I cut a straight UK 12 with no modifications and I’m 5’5” tall but if you’re taller you might want to lengthen the shirt as it’s quite cropped at the front.
I’m very pleased with how the Ellsworth has come out, I’ve worn it with flat-front Eve trousers but it will look good with a skirt or even a dress under it for layering. I’m going to have a look through the stash to see what other fabrics I can make it in now!
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write for Backstitch because it’s a lovely little shop which I’ve been visiting for a few years now. It’s in a beautiful rural location and sells a really nice, well-considered range of quality fabrics and indie patterns and sewing books. As Ambassadors we are provided with gift vouchers to shop in the store, it’s entirely up to us what we make and how much of those vouchers we spend, the balance can be kept to spend on another occasion if we choose to. If you don’t live anywhere near enough to pay a visit yourself then Backstitch has a recently revamped website to shop through too, their range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns are all on there too.
I hope you have found my review useful, that’s always my intention, do write in the comments if there’s something which still isn’t clear and I’ll try to help.
There’s been quite a lull in my sewing and blogging of late due to a distinct lack of motivation and generally feeling meh about everything. I don’t know about you but I’m utterly cheesed off with the persistence of the ‘Rona and, whilst I really try to find the positives as much as I can, there comes a time when I’m all out of good thoughts.
Anyhoo, I’ve finally managed to get my act together and to cut out and sew something which is worth blogging about!
You’ll know I use The Sewing Revival patterns a lot, and especially because they are SewOver50-friendly in their representation. Janine kindly offered me a copy of the new and improved Kingfisher top recently so here are my thoughts on it. The original version was one of the first in the Sewing Revival collection and it now features extra variations including 3 sleeve lengths and additional ruffles and frills to gussy it up.
Initially I’d settled on using a length of fabric I bought recently but in the end, whilst searching-sorry-shopping, my stash I came across a length of batik-printed lightweight cotton which had originally been a dress. I bought it as a remnant which was in two different-sized pieces pieces so I joined them right across the weft to make it useable. From that I turned it into a simple ‘pillowcase’ dress with a gathered drawstring top and hemmed at the bottom. Needless to say, this being England, I didn’t get a massive amount of wear from it because our climate is so unreliable. Sadly I don’t seem to have a photo of it now so you’ll just have to believe me.
The Kingfisher has raglan sleeves which are always so nice to make because they are simple and quick to construct. One of The Sewing Revival’s trademarks is to mix a stretch neck band, cuffs or hem with a woven fabric and this top features a ribbed, rounded neck band. But first I had to get all the pieces out of a length of fabric with a join across it at about 50cms in, plus a tear at right angles to the selvedge in another place AND a small hole just near that! I calculated that I could get a pair of 3/4 length sleeves but one would have to have the seam running horizontally across it. Another new feature of the Kingfisher is additional small ruffles to add so, instead of placing them vertically on the sleeves, I opted to cover the seam with horizontal ruffles, that way way both sleeves would look the same. After a bit of pattern Tetris I got everything I needed out including the ruffles. I started by making the sleeves.
Because of the limitations of the fabric the ruffles were only 5cms wide so, in order to lose as little of their width as possible, I finished each edge with a rolled-hem finish on the overlocker. Check your instruction booklet because I’m sure many models will offer this feature, it will involve a few simple adjustments to the settings to achieve. A rolled hem is a quick and attractive way of neatening fine or lightweight fabrics when you can’t afford to lose too much off the edges.
I created a cuff to finish the sleeve ends by cutting two pieces of fabric from along the selvedge and sewing them on. My original plan was to create an elasticated cuff using a casing but then inspiration struck(!) and I sewed three rows of shirring instead.
Shirring works best on lighter-weight fabrics such as soft cotton-types [lawn, batiste, voile, Swiss Dot, pique, poplin if it isn’t too stiff] also most viscose/rayons, many silks, and fine woollens such as challis. This isn’t a definitive list by any means, basically nothing too thick, or stiff or overly ‘bouncy’. As with anything you’re unsure about I’d strongly suggest sewing a few samples first to see how it goes.
To begin (and these are very much my own thoughts on shirring, you will find many others which might vary to these-trial and error before you startis the best plan of action) you ideally need a bare minimum of 1.5x the eventual finished measurement but as a rule of thumb I would say at least 2 or 2.5x your finished measurement, especially if the fabric is very fine. I also wrote advice on shirring the back of a sundress in a previous blog post which you can still read here.
I cut this top in a UK10 so it’s a closer fit than some tops I’ve generally made but I’m really happy with the fit, there’s still ample room for comfort and movement. From a fabric that was languishing in a box I’ve concocted a casual top I can wear in warmer or cooler weather.
Thank you to Janine for providing me with the pattern, I hope my review will be helpful, for a such a simple shape there are so many possibilities with it. If you haven’t tried any Sewing Revival patterns I’d definitely suggest you pop over there and take a look, and if you choose to follow any link I’ve created in this post or previous TSR ones, and you then make a purchase, I will receive a modest fee from it. You can also read my previous reviews for the Sidewinder pants, the Heron dress plus a hack, the Bellbird top and the Fantail top and it’s follow-up. If you want any more inspiration use the hashtag #KingfisherTop on Instagram or Facebook. I’ve got plans for a deep-cuff version later in the year, just so long as I don’t have another creative slump…!
Welcome back and thanks for reading this far, I’ll try not to leave it so long next time!
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. Incidentally, there is also a slightly different sleeveless version of the Fantail available too.
I’ve made loads of different clothes over the decades but actual shirts for myself have not tended to be among them. I’m not sure why, possibly because I had to wear boring school shirts for years and years, and for a while I had to wear a uniform when I worked for the John Lewis Partnership so my personal preference has tended to softer blouse shapes. That said, I love to see a crisp white shirt especially when it’s given an inventive twist. It’s a wardrobe staple and yet there’s always room for a new version.
Lucy at Trend Patterns has just released the first 3 patterns of what will become a shirt collection and each is available printed, as a PDF or as a complete kit with pattern, fabric and trims. TPCSH1 is a feminine Pussy bow top with shirt sleeves and a ruffle hem, TPCSH3 has stunning gathered ‘angel’ sleeves which really make a statement whilst the body is kept simple and traditional so that the sleeves do all the talking.
Lucy offered me the kit of TPCSH2 to try out, it is a box-pleated front shirt, deceptively simple to look at but those details take a little time to get right. It’s classified as ‘moderate/hard’ and I would agree, not because the elements in themselves are especially difficult but each of them needs some experience and precision to execute so I wouldn’t recommend this as your first shirt project.
The kit comes with enough good quality plain white cotton poplin to make up to the largest size of a UK 22, along with Trend-branded buttons (a nice touch) and iron-on interfacing. All you need to provide is your own thread!
I started off by taking my measurements and comparing them to the sizing chart, there is also a chart giving you finished garment measurements too which is helpful because it will give you some idea of how oversized the shirt will be when it’s finished. I made a UK 12 and as you will see from the finished photos it’s a very generous fit, to be honest, if you want a close-fitting shirt then this particular pattern won’t be the one for you.
I opted to trace off the pattern, there are two separate fronts, right and left, and a whole back plus sleeves, yoke, cuffs and collar. There is no pattern piece for the bias binding for the sleeve placket, you just need to cut yourself two bias strips approximately 30cms x 4cms. The right and left fronts are the same except for the extra on the centre front which creates the folded fly with concealed buttonholes. I traced off one front then, to save some time and to ensure they were identical, pinned it to more spot and cross paper before cutting them out together so that I had a mirror version with the additional front added. It’s really important to trace the front very carefully because of the three box pleats, if they are each a bit off you risk the pleats not sewing together accurately which will leave you scratching your head. There are a lot of drill holes to mark the stitching which will eventually hold the pleats in place, don’t be tempted to miss any out because they are also really helpful when you’re folding and pressing the pleats in position. You could choose to trace just half the back to save paper if you intend to always cut it on the fold anyway but having a whole piece gives you the option to have the fabric out flat, besides, it’s almost always more economical to cut fabric out as a single layer [this can be especially helpful if you ever need to do some tricky pattern placement or matching]
Because the fabric is plain, placing the pattern pieces and cutting out was a breeze-no pattern matching, yay! I spent quite a while making traditional tailor’s tacks for every single one of the drill holes. You could use a washable or some other kind of disappearing marker pen if you are confident that it definitely won’t come back to haunt you but I wasn’t going to take the risk on plain white fabric!
In the past I’ve occasionally found some of the earlier Trend instructions a bit tricky to follow but the more recent ones have illustrations rather than photos and I found this set very clear. My biggest piece of advice would be to read then re-read the instructions before you start, and to highlight anything that you know you’re going to have to really concentrate on, this isn’t a race after all.
Constructing the fly front and button stand first, including the buttonholes, was satisfying, I often feel like I’ve run out of steam by the end of any project which requires buttonholes and it’s a bit of a chore by then but this gets it out of the way nice and early. [I should add at this point that I started out sewing with a fine size 60 needle so as not to leave too many noticeable puncture holes in the plain fabric if I went wrong or needed to unpick. However, this size needle kept skipping stitches for some reason so I went up to a 70 and had no further problems]
My second piece of advice would be to press your pleats on the ironing board if you possibly can. I only have a small heat-resistant board in Threadquarters which meant I was constantly moving the fabric which was not ideal, it was so much easier on the ironing board because the whole piece fitted on. Do not rush this part, with pure cotton fabric you can have the iron on pretty hot but do be careful of your fingers with hot steam. Pin, tack or Wonder Tape the pleats in position once pressed if you want to.
The instructions are to stitch down each pleat according to the markings using a few stitches. I did quite a lot of testing using a variety of decorative stitches for this before I committed to the bar tack. The next challenge was getting each of those bar tacks (30 in total!) central over the pleat. My machine comes with a number of feet which are used in conjunction with the decorative stitches and one of these has horizontal red lines which proved very helpful in getting lined up for every bar tack. After making a few of these bar tacks I ‘got my eye in’ so I could tell very quickly where to start each stitch, having the needle stopping in the up or down position is an absolute essential feature on my machine for me and it was brilliant during this, being able to lift the foot to check I was sewing in the correct place without the work shifting was so helpful. The photos will hopefully make my method clearer to follow. It’s vital to take your time and be as accurate as possible during this stage because the box-pleats are the USP of this shirt and it will obvious if they are off-kilter. I sewed in white thread but you could use a colour, or even hand embroider to give your shirt a totally original look.
Incidentally, Trend will be creating a series of video tutorials to help so I suggest you check their Instagram account or the website for those. Also, there was a slight problem with pattern markings for the back box pleat which were incorrect. This has been rectified but if you bought a copy very soon after release you might find you have to scratch your head a little, the notches were in the wrong places. Check the website if you’re in any doubt.
I followed the order of construction to complete the shirt (I usually do the first time I make a pattern) but personally I would put the collar on after making the yoke. I like to do it before the side seams are sewn up or the sleeves are inserted, unless there’s a technical reason not to obviously.
Everything came together really well, I’ve always found Trend patterns are accurately drafted so I know the pieces will go together well without major discrepancies-this is why it’s so important to trace off carefully if it’s your preferred method, if seams or notches don’t match up you won’t know where the fault lies [the same applies to accurate cutting out too]
Clearly not everyone will want to make a shirt that is going to take a sizeable amount of time to construct, or to launder afterwards for that matter, but if we only made simple loungewear for ever then the art and skill of making our own clothes will be lost, just at a time when so many people have discovered, or rediscovered, the joy of sewing for themselves. There will always be a place for a classic white shirt and Trend has created a small but growing collection with original twists on the genre. The last year has been so tough for small business owners so I really appreciate being given this kit to try out, I wasn’t under any obligation to review it other than share some photos but personally I have no problem with sewing and writing about it. I will always try to give you a balanced view and if I can support a little business by giving them some positive exposure then I will. Alongside that I’m keen to demonstrate that a design-led style doesn’t have to beyond us ‘ordinary’ sewers either, if you like it then sew it!
I hope I’ve given you some idea of what will be involved in making the TPCSH2, if you’re looking to push your skills on a bit this could be a good project. Maybe you need/want a plain white shirt in your wardrobe [amazingly I didn’t have one in mine, just a couple of short-sleeved ones] I might layer this with a sleeveless tank top over it, or a waistcoat could look interesting. This is a typical cotton poplin shirting but you could use a variety of fabrics, you could have fun with graphic prints or stripes, try something soft like double gauze or a crisp linen? Or what about harvesting the fabric from several well-worn mens shirts to make a more patchwork look. Take your time though and enjoy the process.
I’ve got a long-sleeved T-shirt under it because it was a chilly day and it will be perfect for the day I can return to the V&A. I don’t know about you but I’ve really missed putting an outfit together to go on a nice day out, deciding which of the lovely garments I’ve made that I want to wear and how I’m going to accessorise them. It seems such a small silly thing to miss but I shall be so glad when I can start doing it again.
Most of all, thank you to Trend for giving me the opportunity to try the kit, until next time,
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?
My first blog of 2021 features my last make of 2020. After several quiet weeks where I didn’t sew any garments, I had cut this project out a couple of months back but then hadn’t felt motivated to make them at the time…the days between Christmas and New Year was the right time to get my head around a nice involved project though. There has been so much going on in the UK recently, (understatement!) especially in these last few weeks, that I wanted something I had to concentrate on to take my mind off other events outside of my control.
If you’ve read my blog in the past you’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of Trend Patterns but these are the first trouser pattern of theirs that I’ve tried.
I saw Lucy wearing her own version of TPC12 on her stand at the Stitch Festival in London back in early March 2020 (just before everything went weird) and it was the unusual split hem detail that initially I really liked. On closer inspection there are some other nice features too, like the topstitched front seams with optional faux pocket flap, and a button fly. These are the kind of details that attract me to a pattern but I would say before I go much further that this is definitely an intermediate pattern as a result, you will need to be a confident sewer or at the very least game to increase and expand the skills you have already. Before I left the show that day I bought some nice heavier weight plain black linen from Rosenberg’s to make them with.
It was then literally months before I decided to tackle the pattern though. I’m not going to lie, and don’t judge me either, but I had piled on weight during lockdown which I wasn’t happy about and as I got bigger the last thing I wanted to do was make a pair of trousers that emphasised that fact. Eventually however I began dealing with the weight issue which in turn encouraged me to revisit the Utility trousers in the early autumn.
Instead of using the linen for the first pair I bought some grey stretch cotton twill from Backstitch near Cambridge. It’s lovely fabric for trousers and a very good quality at a reasonable price. Because the Utility’s are a fixed waistband I went by my waist measurement at that time (it was shrinking!) so I chose the UK 16 and I could tell that the hip would on the big side but that was OK.
I patiently traced off all the pieces which took a while because there are quite a number of unique pattern pieces that need to be cut right side up (RSU) Labelling them all is of paramount importance so that you don’t end up with unusable pieces of fabric cut the wrong way. Once I had cut the fabric out I left all the pattern pieces attached to the fabric until I had either interfaced them or until they were ready to be sewn. I made both my versions exactly (apart from fit alterations) as the pattern but you could leave off the pocket flap detail by cutting a pair of side fronts, or you could have two pocket flaps by doubling up those pieces instead. An advantage of having so many single pattern pieces is that you might have a more economical layplan because they will interlock better, folded fabric is a much less efficient way of cutting out, a single layer just takes a bit longer.
I said at the start that this is an intermediate pattern in my opinion and that is largely because the hem vents and the button fly are quite involved, although not actually difficult, plus I found the instructions and diagrams were a bit tricky to follow. I didn’t go wrong but they do require absolute concentration. What I’ll do in this blog, so that’s useful to you if you decide to make the trousers, is simplify the order of making down to a basic list which you can use in conjunction with the actual instruction booklet. I won’t give you specific, press here, topstitch there, instructions though, they are in the booklet and the diagrams are very detailed.
My first piece of advice, after you’ve attached all the interfacing to the relevant pieces and transferred all markings to the fabric, is to overlock all the cut edges (except the waist and fly front) first. I don’t normally do this because I prefer to overlock as I go along but it makes more sense here to do it as a batch process, just make sure you don’t trim away too much or lose your notches in the process.
Start by making the ‘pocket’ flap [make up the optional pocket bag if you are going to have one but set it aside for the moment] also, make the back darts and set the pieces aside for now.
Join the front seams for both fronts as far as the vent markers, do not join the fronts to the backs just yet. I found it easier to have only the vent sections to work on flat first although the instructions tell you to join the fronts to the backs. Once you’ve made both the vents except for the final single topstitching to hold the flap in place and are ready to turn up the hem join the fronts and backs at the side seams first. Now complete the topstitching to hold the ventin place then join the inseams, turn up the hem and topstitch to finish. [If you’re using the additional pocket bag I would add it whilst the leg is still open and flat, before sewing up the inseam. I sewed mine on earlier and it got in the way a bit when I was joining the various leg seams]
Pin and partially stitch the crotch seam as per the instructions then apply the outer waistband and press the seam up towards the waistband. [If you want to include belt carriers I would add them before attaching this waistband so that they are caught in the waist seam, the tops of the carriers will be enclosed when you add the facing]
Next, make the right fly section and buttonholes as per the instructions and diagrams. I’ve included a photo of where I stitched through the layers of the right front to hold them all together, I’m not sure if this is quite what is intended but it works-I couldn’t make sense of it otherwise!
Make the left fly front and attach the waist band facing, I’ve included the photo below of how this should look from the inside (yes I did use jazzy overlocking thread just because…)
Sew the remainder of the crotch seam to complete it, then sew the entire crotch seam again about 1-2mm away from the first stitching line.
Sink stitching-to complete the waistband-is simply the industry term for ‘stitch in the ditch’.
Obviously there are points where you would be advised to try the trousers on to check the fit as you go so you could do this by pinning on the stitching line (parallel, not at a right angle!) to avoid unpicking. The advantage of having a split waistband on the centre back seam (like good quality men’s trousers) is that you can fit into the small of the back more effectively.
So that’s, hopefully, a simplified method for you, it isn’t that I think the instructions aren’t good, it’s just that I got a bit confused between what was written and which diagram to follow, and that’s why I wrote it down in a clarified form as I made the second pair.
The fit of the first pair is technically not that good but they are soooo comfortable. The waist was a good fit initially although I’ve lost more weight since then so it’s very roomy now. The major issue (and I’ve read this in a few reviews) is that the crotch length is very long and looks quite droopy. You can see this in the photos of my grey pair, and this makes the cropped leg length look a bit too long as a result. For the second pair in the black linen I redrew the pattern down one size and also folded out 3cms horizontally at hip level on every pattern piece to reduce the rise. The second pair are a much better fit but that won’t stop me wearing the grey pair, it doesn’t particularly bother me that they are overly generous because the shaped waistband can’t fall off my hips anyway. Yes the grey pair are very baggy but that’s fine.
The black linen pair are a better fit at the waist, there’s still plenty of room (too much room?) over the thighs but I don’t mind that. Maybe I’ll shave a little off the next pair, or maybe I won’t…
Overall I’m a big fan of the Utility trousers and I’ll probably make more, now that I’m getting better with the fit. The design details are worth the effort but it is a project you’ll want to take some time over, I had to turn off the radio so that I could concentrate completely and I read aloud each instruction several times to ensure I was going the right way. I sewed matching topstitching but you could use a contrast thread, or maybe you could line the waistband and button stand with contrast fabrics? Apart from the pocket bag if you add one there are no other pockets so you could add some in the side seams quite easily I would have thought, or patch pockets on the back perhaps? I quite fancy a pair made in chunky cord too…
I hope you find this useful, or I’m happy to try and help if I can.
It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??
To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.
But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.
Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.
If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.
About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…
So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.
I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.
I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.
Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choicesfor specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!
One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew
One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities.
As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.
I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.
Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.
I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.
One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.
As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.
This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
The Festive season is often a reason to make, or buy, a special new outfit to wear for office parties or Christmas Day but this year’s Festive season things will be very different for most of us. I don’t want to be entirely negative though so, as part of the Lamazi blogger team, I thought I’d make something which is a little bit Christmassy but will double up as a ‘regular’ winter dress too.
I’ve chosen the cord velvetfrom Danish Design in a gorgeous shade of aubergine-I’m always a sucker for purple-but it comes in several other beautiful rich shades including a sumptuous gold and a stunning teal too. I picked this fabric because it’s a medium weight stretch jersey and has soft pile which makes it lovely to the touch. I’ve made a dress but you could easily make tops or wide-legged pants in it, or babies and children’s clothes too because it’s washable and crease resistant.
Whilst I love a complex make to really get my teeth into I felt this wasn’t a garment which warranted lots of time. Making a special Christmas once-worn garment wasn’t appropriate any longer so I wanted something quite simple but adaptable and for that reason I’ve picked the Somerset T-shirt by Maven Patterns. I’ve made a few of these now, the bones of it are beautifully simple, it has a self-neatened bateau neckline, a slightly fitted silhouette and four sleeve options. I’ve chosen the Bishop sleeve with a long cuff but I’ve hacked the sleeve to make it even fuller, and I’ll lengthen the body to create a dress finishing below the knee.
The Somerset has excellent very full instructions with lots of tips and advice to get a good finish. There’s a useful sheet to write all your information including body measurements and fit alterations, and a fabric stretch gauge to check you have enough stretch for the pattern to fit properly. You can also list the needle type and size you’ve used, stitch type and length and anything else you might want to remember for another time.
To increase the size of the sleeves I took the bishop sleeve pattern and drew 5 vertical lines from each of the notches from shoulder to hem. Each segment will become slightly wider as it gets nearer the bottom edge so make sure they are even in size.
Cut a piece of spot and cross or tracing paper bigger than the pattern as it is, mark a grainline running right down the paper and then lay the pattern piece on top of it, matching the grain on the pattern to the grain line you’ve just drawn. Next, I carefully cut up to the top of the marked lines taking care not to snip right through at the top, keep it attached by a tiny amount to act as a pivot point. [If you don’t want to cut your original pattern piece I suggest you trace off a new one to use instead] Then you splay the hem edge apart by a few centimetres each, I added 2.5cms between the each of the ‘side’ segments and 5cms to the central one. By doing this you’re adding fullness at the hem but not altering the sleeve head. You could put additional fullness to the sleeve head by opening the top edge too if you wanted. I lengthened the sleeve by 5cms too so that it would have plenty of blousy fullness into the cuff.
Trace around the new shape using a tracing wheel or pencil and cut out the new piece transferring all markings. One final change I made was to add a bias grainline because I knew I wanted to play with the stripe direction of the rib on the fabric.
I had pre-washed my fabric and partly tumble dried it on ‘low’ before letting it dry completely on the clothes airer, it seemed to survive the experience just fine.
I made an arbitrary choice of how long to make the dress by simply holding the tape measure at my shoulder and seeing where it came to at about mid-shin! I attached another piece of spot and cross to the bottom of the front and back pattern pieces and drew on the skirt length I wanted, plus a generous hem. I knew I would have to make some adjustments to the hip and thigh during the fitting stage, just make sure that the hip and thigh measurements are plenty big enough because you can always remove some, it’s much harder to add later!
The ‘cord’ runs across the width of the fabric and I wanted the rib to run down the length of my dress which meant I had to fold the fabric across the width. Try not to twist the fabric if you have to fold this way, I marked a single rib by following it across the width with pins so that I can see it clearly. Fabrics like corduroy, velvet or velour have a pile or ‘nap’ which will shade so if you cut some pieces facing one way on the grain and some pieces running the other way then you will end up with a garment that looks like it’s been made with two different colour fabrics, even though you know that isn’t the case. If you’re unsure what quantity of this type of fabric to buy go with the ‘with nap’ amount on the pattern information and follow the one-way layplan to cut out.
Once I’d cut all my pieces I followed the making instructions which are very comprehensive. If you have a walking foot for your machine I strongly recommend you use it because velour like this has a ‘pile’ and has a tendency to ‘creep’ as you sew so you might find that it starts off with all the edges matching but by the time you get to the other end the two fabrics are no longer matching. I also strongly recommend you tack any seams you are unsure about. You could use a million pins but by the time you’ve done all that you could have basted it in place which does the same job and usually more effectively. I was able to coverstitch the neck and the skirt hem on the Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 I have on loan as a brand ambassador but it works just as well by overlocking the raw edges and twin-needle stitching them down, or zigzag and twin-needle, or two rows sewn singly if you don’t have a twin needle. When it comes to pressing a fabric like this, if you don’t have a special needle board (and few of us do) then you should press on the reverse at all times. You could place a towel on your pressing surface and lay the fabric on top so that the pile of the cloth is against the pile of the towel which will help protect it. Use a pressing cloth as well. These tips will also apply to regular corduroy or any non-stretch fabrics with a pile too.
The bell of the sleeve is gathered using shirring elastic which helps to retain some of the stretch required for the cuff.
Once the sleeves were in I sewed up one side seam directly on the overlocker and then pinned the other side seam to fit myself. This was because I didn’t know if I’d need a split at the hem to be able to walk in the dress and I didn’t want to end up with loads of unpicking!
I looked at the fit in the mirror first of all and the sewn side seam was quite wavy, this could be cured by either adjusting the differential feed on the overlocker so that it doesn’t happen, or you could stitch the seam on the sewing machine and then overlock the edges [This is what I opted to do because I could see I had to take a fair bit off the side seams anyway to achieve a fit I was happy with] Then I put the dress on inside out in front of the mirror and pinned out the excess. I turned it right side out and tried it on again to check the fit, then finally sewed both side seams on the sewing machine, I used a ‘stretch’ needle, a ballpoint or jersey needle performs the same task. Either use a short straight stitch or a straightened out zigzag, make some samples to see which works best for your particular fabric.
Lastly, the cuffs go on and the skirt is hemmed.
And that’s pretty much it, it pops straight over the head so no tricky closures, because of the stretch it didn’t need a split, and that means there’s room for Christmas lunch and it won’t look like a dish rag after spending the afternoon curled up on the sofa watching Christmas telly!
I have to say that I’m really happy with this dress because it ticks all the boxes I wanted it to. It’s comfortable but it looks Christmassy, it looks great with opaque tights, heels and jewellery, but also with boots, a chunky belt, a roll neck top underneath for extra warmth or a cosy scarf…and did I mention it’s comfortable! #secretpyjamas It also has the advantage of rolling up and going in the corner of a bag or suitcase and coming back out again not needing a press. Bonus!!
At 160cms the fabric is very wide so a little will go a long way, and because it’s so soft it would be lovely for children’s wear too. It needs a little bit of careful handling but a lot of that is in the ground work. Make sure you lay it up and cut it accurately to minimise unnecessary stretching or distortion (try to keep it flat on the table or lay it up on the floor) pin or tack the seams so they don’t move about and press carefully as you go and you should be fine.
It’s been an incredibly tough year for so many and I wouldn’t blame you for not feeling like making anything new to wear. However, if crafting and creating bring you joy and respite then you could view it as a gift to yourself, and when you choose to buy from small companies like Lamazi and Maven then you are helping them too.
Thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric for me to write my review, and I hope you find it helpful.
So, here we are TWO YEARS on from the first SewOver50 post, on August 18th 2018, and the account now stands at nearly 21K members worldwide!
Personally, I’d really like to thank Judith and Sandy for the amazing amount of work they undertake so graciously in order to steer the Mothership through some interesting and turbulent territory, especially the second half of these last twelve months.
We were all trundling along in our own way when suddenly, in early 2020, the world went very weird indeed. As the impact of Covid-19 started to take effect many of us were locked-down at home, some still working but in a whole new way, reliant on technology to carry on, it was an extremely stressful time for many who could have no contact with their loved ones or friends, lots of sewing-related events we so enjoy were cancelled or postponed. Many of us found that our sewing and creative making was a safe haven amid what was going on around us. For example, did you make a pouffe? I had the luxury of being able to sew whenever I wanted, because I couldn’t go anywhere, and I noticed others embarking on this project so I took the opportunity to use up SO many scraps of fabric and stuff them all into a footstool, I made my own pattern but I know many of you used the ClosetCore free pouffe pattern. I know many others couldn’t sew as often but, from chatting with friends, the time that they were able eke out to sew was vitally important to them, helping them to de-stress and shift their focus for a while. Shopping for fabrics, patterns and haberdashery online became a way, almost the only way, of supporting some of our favourite businesses, as people found new ways to adapt and do business. Sales of sewing machines worldwide increased exponentially with many manufacturers and retailers struggling to keep up with demand. Some of us had sewing sessions with our friends via Zoom, which was occasionally technologically-challenging but it enabled us to be in touch with each other whilst participating in our shared interest. I’m not going to dwell here on the pandemic though because it’s been different for all of us, sewing and being in touch with my sewing friends around the world has been an absolute lifeline for me personally. In fact, rather than watching the all-too-overwhelming daily news stories, it’s enabled me to hear and appreciate what people I feel I’ve come to know have been going through. At one stage it seemed anyone who was able to was using their sewing skills to help with the desperate shortages by making scrubs here in the UK, and possibly elsewhere, and mask-making has become something that people with little previous sewing experience have found themselves being able to contribute. Face coverings have become compulsory in many places now so this will be an ongoing activity in future.
Moving on, as a group @SewOver50 has always strived very hard to be inclusive of anyone who wishes to follow along, after all, part of the reason it started in the first place was because we felt somewhat excluded from sections of the sewing community by virtue (?!) of our age. Following the murder of George Floyd in the US we were all called to question the part we play in our world, even within our sewing community we had to examine our consciences to ask if we were doing enough. #BlackLivesMatter was rapidly followed by #BlackMakersMatter and there is now an Instagram account @BlkMakersMatter where you can see, and follow and support, the massive diversity of BIPOC makers, and not just sewers but crafters and makers of many beautiful things. Many of our wonderful stalwart SewOver50 followers including Diary of a Sewing Fanatic are vocal advocates, I’ve always got time for Carolyn’s no nonsense plain speaking! We shall endeavour to continue reflecting our membership, and involve a diverse range of contributors and guest editors in the future. If you have ideas for future topics, especially if you think we’re missing something important, do please let us know.
So, very briefly, that’s the worldwide picture (as it currently stands) in which there have been quite a few SewOver50-related things going on during the past 12 months too. My personal favourite was our very first, and fortuitously timed, official meet-up in London in late February. Judith was able to join me to co-host and I was thrilled that so many generous companies large and small sponsored prizes for the charity raffle we held. I think, without exception, everyone who attended enjoyed themselves and agreed we would have liked even longer to chat and create new friendships in real life, just weeks later the event couldn’t even have happened. We had high hopes of more of you being able to host your own meet-ups where ever you are in the world but that’s still not really possible, make sure you let us know if you do manage it! Above all though, stay safe!
Stalwart supporter Maria Theoharous in Sydney started her own podcast Sew Organised Style in September 2019 and she generously created a space for Sew Over 50 every Thursday! Judith, Sandy and myself have all chatted with her but you can also listen to a growing list of our fellow followers every week chatting about what sewing, crafting and Sew Over 50 means to them. It’s really lovely to actually hear their voices, talking with enthusiasm about things they are passionate about.
At the beginning of May ClosetCore Patterns paid the ultimate accolade to one of my personally most inspirational sewers, Blanca, by naming a pattern after her, it’s a stylish flight/boiler/jump suit (call it what you will) but I love her personal aesthetic and she absolutely rocks this outfit!
In the UK during the spring, and at the height of lockdown, we had series 6 of the Great British Sewing Bee to enjoy. It featured several fellow dressmakers who we can claim to be representing ‘us’ on national TV. Yes, we know they are ticking boxes to cast certain ‘types’ but at least this time it’s positive discrimination! Even so, 10 weeks went by far too quickly!
Over the year the account covered all sorts of different topics for discussion including, do you always make a toile or just happy to wing it? What are you pet sewing peeves? (cutting out and pattern tracing seemed to be top for this one!) The art of tutu making was a personal favourite, having always loved ballet and especially the costumes. Tips for better and more accurate top stitching was another goody and @SewitwithDi gave us a master class in using the correct interfacings effectively. There are too many others to mention them all but you can refer back at any time, take a screen shot of your favourites or save them to your archive for future reference.
More recently the account reached, and has now surpassed, 20,000 followers! This was marked with a giveaway where two people who had not necessarily met in real life but had formed a friendship through sewing could each win a copy of the same pattern. If you take a look at the hashtag #so50sewalong you can see some of the garments that have been made since this competition ran a couple of months ago. Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that the #sewover50 hashtag has now been used almost 80K times up to this point, it’s an absolute wealth of inspiration and knowledge which is all yours for the taking!
I think many of us enjoyed the opportunity to look back through, and share, some of our holiday photos wearing our me-mades. Sadly many holiday and travel plans haven’t been able to happen this year so it was a lovely way for us all to virtually ‘travel the world’ over the course of a weekend. Lots of us wore those clothes anyway, even if we couldn’t leave home! The online virtual Frocktails in April was another excuse to dress up a bit, knowing our friends around the world were raising a glass to each other at (almost) the same time.
Have you been keeping a #so50bingo card? This has been an ongoing way of keeping tabs on what you have been sewing and other techniques/events you could challenge yourself to try. No pressure, it’s just a bit of fun with no time limit.
During the year I wrote several blog posts based around different topics including sewing advice for newbies (or returners for that matter) your go-to T-shirt patterns, what do you take into account with your fabric buying choices, are you a batch cutter/sewer or just one thing at a time? Judith and I both contributed videos as part of the online Sewing Weekender, this is normally an event held in Cambridge, UK but The Fold Line opened it up worldwide as an online event and it was a huge success with over 1,700 people ‘attending’ from all over the world.
We also held the second #so50visible challenge earlier in the year, we seem to be having success with getting our images reposted by lots of pattern companies which is a very good thing but notably few are choosing older models-with a few honourable exceptions-to represent their patterns in the marketplace. This is still very frustrating when you look at just how many stylish and inspirational people follow this account but if we all keep plugging away a change will come. One thing that pattern companies have said to us is that the quality of photos isn’t always good enough for them to reshare so the better, and clearer, you can make your photos to show off your makes the more likely it is to get reposted. There have been a number of posts with simple tips on how to improve your photos so why not check them out?
Most recently our own Leader Judith has written an article for bi-monthly US-magazine Sew News talking about Sew Over 50, which you can order online.
So, in spite of everything, lots of good things going on for Sew Over 50 in the last twelve months, some progress being made with representation but I’m sure you’ll agree that isn’t all the account is about. I hope you continue to find the account as inspiring as I do? Yes, we all start off by being here for the sewing but it often becomes so much more than that. Real friendships have been forged as a result, very few of us have ever met one another in real life but that doesn’t stop us identifying and empathising with each other and the lives we lead, especially during these last few extraordinary months.
I am deeply indebted to Judith and Sandy for the sheer dedication they have on our behalf, and I’d like to thank all of you for your kind words of encouragement, support and appreciation to me personally, I love being a part of this worldwide community of sewing and I can honestly say the last few months would have been very different without so many of you connecting and interacting with me in some way.