The Great Tapestry of Scotland and V&A Dundee

In April 2022 I had the great good fortune to spend some time with @SewOver50 supremo Judith Staley at her home in Edinburgh. On our first day we took the train to Dundee where we visited the new Scottish outpost of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s an architecturally stunning building, designed to resemble a ship on the River Tay and sitting alongside Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic ship Discovery.

Posters and programmes from 40 years of productions, I remember seeing this poster on the London Underground!

After a tasty bowl of soup in the cafe to keep us going we went to explore the permanent Scottish Galleries which contain a wide selection of some of Scotland’s finest innovations, heritage, designs and designers.

V&A Dundee is nowhere near as large as its London counterpart and is ideal for a half-day visit, entry is free except for the special exhibitions and it’s definitely worth going if you are in the area.

The following day Judith and I caught a train from Edinburgh Waverley to Galashiels where the Great Tapestry of Scotland is now permanently housed in a new, purpose-designed building. I urge you to take a look at the website because it will give you so much more information on the origins and creation of the tapestry than I can here. Each separate tapestry (which, like the Bayeux Tapestry, is actually an embroidery) has been sewn by people in locations all over Scotland, a thousand individuals, on specially-woven linen from the Isle of Bute and the majority measure approximately 1 metre by 1 metre square.

The 155 panels are now displayed in chronological order and cover almost every aspect of Scottish life from prehistory up to the present day.

Judith taking a closer look at the opening tapestry.
How Scotland started, before it was even Scotland, 420 million years ago.
This beautiful nautilus shell contains the names of the embroiderers of this panel.

What follows is a selection of the photos I took on my visit, they are loosely in chronological order (unless I’ve mixed them up) but they represent a very small part of the Tapestry as a whole.

Historic Rosslyn chapel
close up of the Green Man motif.
Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides
The life of Mary Queen of Scots, a highly skilled embroiderer herself
There is so much variety in the techniques on display, I was especially impressed with the representation of plaid cloth and other textiles in this panel.
Scottish Tweed fabrics became an essential element of the upper-class gentleman’s country wardrobe.
This panel was possibly my favourite, the vibrant colours really caught my eye.
The complex range of stitches and textures is stunning.
The peacock feather motif of the Paisley design
Designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his equally talented wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh
In V&A Dundee they have a complete interior by Charles Rennie Mackintosh originally from a tea room in Glasgow.

I could have photographed every panel but then my phone would have exploded so I had to stop somewhere! These are just a few of the 155 panels to see and enjoy.

There are magnifying glasses provided if you want a closer look.
reading the info…

I know next-to-nothing about embroidery or tapestry, Judith is very skilled, but we were both blown away by the sheer variety and skill that we witnessed in the Great Tapestry of Scotland. If you are ever in the Galashiels area it is definitely worth a few hours of your time, although sadly we didn’t have long enough.

Until next time,

Sue

Summing up the Sew Over 50 sustainable sewing challenge.

I’ve been an absolute fraud when it’s come to writing any Sew Over 50 blogs for ages and ages which I feel very guilty about. I’ll hold my hands up and say that the community has been an absolute lifeline during the last awful 18 months that we’ve all been going through-the support, friendship, inspiration, encouragement and camaraderie that I’ve found through the account has been personally so important but my writing and blogging has really tailed off along with my mood in general. Judith and Sandy do an absolutely awe-inspiring job of running the account for us, along with fantastic guest editors to keep us all coming back time after time-thank you thank you THANK YOU!!! The sheer variety of topics covered has been incredible but I thought I’d dip my toe back into the @SewOver50 blogging waters by writing a round-up of the August 2021 challenge #So50SustainableSewing

If you follow Judith’s personal account @judithrosalind you’ll already know she has been increasingly sewing in a more mindful and sustainable way for some time now and has wanted to launch a challenge on the account so that we can all join in with this in some way.

We all know that ’the most sustainable garment is the one already in our wardrobe’ and that is true but it doesn’t allow for the important creative outlets that our sewing and garment making gives us. So, if we are to continue sewing for ourselves or others, how can we approach it?

Judith’s idea for the challenge is a simple one-we use only fabric which is already ‘in the system’, especially if it’s already sitting on our shelves. In other words, we source it in a variety of inventive ways and these fabrics could include… 

  • remnants or scraps
  • charity or thrift shop finds-fabrics or garments
  • vintage textiles
  • textile manufacturing waste
  • fabric swaps in person or online
  • de-stashes
  • discarded garments, table cloths, bed linen, curtains etc 

This isn’t a definitive list of course and over the whole month of August several guest editors shared their brilliant insights to inspire us. 

The month kicked off with Judith making a guest appearance on the Sew Organised Style podcast chatting with Maria Theoharous about her idea and lots of ways for us to get involved. Maria always has Sew Over 50 Thursdays too which feature guests from our community who share their sewing stories, techniques and inspiration so it is definitely worth having a listen while you’re sewing, or walking the dog!.

Throughout August there was a great line-up of guest editors including Jen Hogg @jenerates who is so overflowing with ideas that she had 4 separate posts! Her first post encouraged us to ‘shop our stash’ if you have one…I know I do! Like her, some of my fabrics are relatively recent purchases, occasionally on impulse although not always by any means, whilst others are fabrics I’ve acquired over a long period of time and from various different sources. Jen sees it as part of her creative process, to have the choice amongst her stash, to inspire her ideas for making. Jen is a multi-talented woman who not only sews but knits, embroiders, makes jewellery, works leather….in the UK you are probably familiar with her from being a contestant on the Great British Sewing Bee, plus you can also listen to her chatting on Sew Organised Style too! 

Some of the guest editors including Jen Hogg, Sue Stoney, Irene Lundell and Tricia Morris

Next was Sue Stoney @suestoney in Australia who shared her love of collecting all sorts of vintage items for later use including beautiful table linen and haberdashery. Many of us probably have buttons, zips, hooks and eyes, threads, elastic (doesn’t last indefinitely though so check it hasn’t perished before you sew it into something you don’t want to fall down around your ankles!) which came to us via our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, neighbours etc etc. I know I love to rummage amongst the hundreds of buttons I have to something special and individual, and I can’t recall the last time I actually bought hooks and eyes or press studs!

just a few of Sue Stoney’s treasured vintage haberdashery finds

Whilst the challenge is intended to encourage us to get creative and inventive for the pleasure of it alone there were also prizes to be awarded so the post on August 8th shared the generous sponsors for these. They included @criswoodsews whose zero-waste Parasol dress pattern has proved extremely popular especially during this challenge. @lizhaywood3754 is also an advocate for zero-waste sewing and has published two books on the topic. @thatwendyward has a recently published book on sewing more sustainably (she chats with Maria about it on the podcast too!) Wendy has long been mindful on the topic after years of working in the RTW industry, as well as producing her own patterns, teaching and writing several other sewing books all of which feature older models! There were also prizes from small businesses @greyfriarsandgrace who create paper patterns which guide the user to sew clothes using recycled textiles, and @craftandthrift who sell thrifted fabrics and kits. 

Jen returned with her second post sharing her use of ‘found’ fabrics, including a beautiful blouse made from a sheer vintage embroidered table cloth. Found fabrics can make you a lot more creative because you feel less constrained by what to make with them, do you find the cost of brand new fabric can stifle your creative instincts because of the fear of making costly errors? 

this blouse using a sheer vintage embroidered table cloth is so pretty

One garment that offered massive chances to use up multiple fabrics was the ubiquitous tiered and ruffled dress-a buffet dress in current parlance! Followers have certainly embraced this style and the account shared just a small selection of them on August 11th.

Robyn @robbynu42 was one of many to create some fabulous tiered and ruffled dresses using repurposed fabrics.

Next up was Marcia @MarciaLoisRiddington who adores #GrannyChic and is a wonderful exponent of using vintage fabrics to great advantage and her combinations of colours and patterns is absolutely masterful (mistressful?) 

Marcia is always so colourful, her combinations of vintage textiles are so original and fun.

Then @irenelundell from Sweden urged us to think about ‘circular’ sewing, buy from charity or thrift shops when you see it because not only does it support a good cause but it gives the textile or garment the chance of a new or extended life. 

Irene wearing her thrifted and dyed with iron and tea denim jacket! It has rusty nail marks to add to it’s charm

Tricia @morrissews who followed is a fine exponent of refashion, remake, remodel, recycle and repair…and try as much as possible to not replace. She shared her @Elbe_textiles (another prize sponsor) Sorrento bucket hat which couldn’t be more suitable for using up lots of small fabric scraps to make something really useful and wearable. 

Tricia wearing her denim scraps Sorrento bucket hat by Elbe

Jen’s third post demonstrated the times she’s used multiple garments to make a single new one, such as the three shirt shirt! Casual jackets which are made up of small pattern pieces are also ideal for a patchwork approach, there are even small businesses now making these commercially and every garment is different, some even manage to use 100% recycled components. 

Jen’s 3 shirt shirt!

She talks too about the 90 minute transformation challenge on GBSB was actually a very liberating experience because there was no time to be overly precious with what they were given to use, it forced her to think outside the box very quickly and not have time for self-doubt.

There was another Jen up next, @jenlegg_teescreatives who told us how she has used textiles belonging to dear and much-missed friend and how, when she wears the jacket she’s sewn, it feels like a hug from her friend Emma. There are many other ways you can honour or remember a friend or loved one in this way too by sewing articles like soft toys, cushions, patchwork quilts or rugs for example using garments that once belonged to them. 

Jen Legg wearing an absolutely beautiful jacket with a really touching story behind it.

Jen Hogg made her final return to tell us about using factory surplus in her making. She’s fortunate to live near a number of textile mills in Scotland and has been working closely with them to find inventive ways of using their ‘waste’ products. By using cashmere off-cuts, including something called ‘slitter’ which is a by-product of making cashmere scarves, so far Jen has knitted or crocheted rugs and blankets, and woven and stitched the strips together to make whole pieces of textile big enough to make into jackets, dresses or coats. Are there any textiles manufacturers or processors near you? Do they sell off any of their excess or by-products? It might be worth investigating. Another way of using up scraps which has been around for many many years is rag rugging (also known as proggy rugging) and @raggedlife has loads of ideas for this technique.

Jen’s beautiful jacket made with cashmere ‘slitter’ tape, all carefully pieced to make usable sized pieces big enough to sew into a garment.

As the month was drawing to a close Raquel in Taipei @raquel_sewing_knitting_in_asia (who is an absolute Queen of refashioning!) showed us how she takes inspiration from high-end fashion and clothing all around her but then recreated the looks using multiple end-of-line garments and thrifted clothes. Not only that, she would wear them a few times but if they aren’t quite right she isn’t afraid to take them apart again and reconfigure them into a new garment more to her liking! Sometimes more than once! I’m always too precious with things I’ve made to do that even if I don’t much like the end result, instead they tend to sit on the naughty step while I sulk about what went wrong with them, I should just tackle it head on and take up that unpicker! 

Raquel in one of her remade remakes!

The final guest editor for the sewing sustainably month was Judy @judywillimentross whose speciality is refashioning mens suits into another wearable garment. She buys them in charity shops but one of her own rules is not a purchase a suit which might still be of use to someone less fortunate and not in a position to buy new. [This could also be something to be mindful of when purchasing any very inexpensive garment, should we consider whether it would be of use to another person as it is before we buy it to cut up. Or do we take the view that the money we pay for it is a donation to a charity in need of the cash, especially if it’s going to end up in landfill otherwise?] Judy carefully uses ever-smaller fabric scraps to piece together into patchwork. 

Judy in one of her carefully pieced garments using men’s suit fabrics

So there you have it, loads of creativity to inspire us with our sewing projects in the future. By the time you read this the randomly-chosen winners of prizes will have been announced but the hashtag #so50SustainableSewing will continue to be used so the ideas bank will be constantly refreshed. 

I’ve added links throughout so you should be able to see and read for yourselves what the guest editors had to say. 

Judith and Sandy constantly add to the saved Highlights on the account too, particularly any one of the many worldwide challenges you might like to participate in, plus using some the dozens of hashtags unique to us will give you unlimited ideas for your own future projects.

I created this collage of a few of my projects made using thrifted, salvaged, reused, donated or repurposed fabrics at the start of August but I never posted it.

For this post I’ve concentrated entirely on the sustainable sewing challenge and so I’ve not added many thoughts of my own. In truth, I wasn’t in the headspace to participate while it was going on but it did cause me to think about some of the projects I’ve completed in recent years which went some way to being ‘sustainable’.There are so many ways we can all do a little, or a lot, to contribute to reducing the problem of waste and over-consumption. We should be mindful that whatever is right and possible for one person though is not necessarily going to be achievable for another. For example, many of us can practice visible mending because we like that it gives longevity to a garment and can look attractive, but others will see it as a reminder of hard times or embarrassment. Our community is nothing if not supportive so we need to be mindful of others at times.

Until next time, 

Happy sewing 

Sue

Two years of Sew Over 50!! (where did that time go??)

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! 

still no luck for Judith using my homemade teleportation device…must try harder

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! 

photo credit Blanca via Closet Core Patterns

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.

joining with Virtual Frocktails, my dress is self-drafted

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. 

Thank you, and until next time,

Happy sewing!

Sue