This post was originally written in January 2021 as a Minerva post for their recently completely revamped their website. I didn’t publish it here at the time and I’ve now sewn another pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers so I thought I would share my thoughts. I have a paper copy of the pattern but it’s possible that it is now only available as a PDF, unless you can locate a copy somewhere.
I had chosen this interesting reversible woven jacquard fabric in black/cream because I was attracted to the random wavy stripes. When it arrived I found that they ran across the width of the fabric not down the warp so I had to bear this in mind when I cut them out. Fortunately, at 150cms wide with a nice firm selvedge, I didn’t need to alter my plans because I could cut them across the weft grain instead. I intended to make a pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers and I thought this fabric would look good in this wide-legged style, they have 3 front pleats, side pockets and a centre back zip. I opted to use the black as the outside but I could have used either side of this fabric, or both sides at once to make a contrast.
I folded the material carefully across the width matching the selvedges to each other so that it wasn’t twisted and then pinned the front and back pattern pieces on, ensuring they were at a right-angle to the selvedge on the weft rather than the usual warp grain line. To mix things up a bit I cut two of the pocket bags on the normal grain so that the stripes ran crosswise, plus the remaining two pocket bags in a scrap of bright pink lining fabric.
The fabric was best suited to garments like trousers, skirts, structured dresses, jackets or formal business-type wear although how much call there is for that just now I’m not sure. It doesn’t have much drape but I decided it was still suitable for the Portobello trousers.
The fabric sewed well although I think because I cut it on the cross-grain, there was quite a lot of fraying so I’d advise overlocking all the edges singly before beginning construction.
The style is close-fitting on your natural waist line so the instructions advise choosing according to your waist measurement and go up a size if you’re in between sizes, it’s almost always simpler to take something in that to let it out. The fit over the hips is very generous but if you have an extreme difference between your waist/hip ration then it’s worth double-checking before cutting out. I fell between a UK 12 and 14 so I went with a 14
I traced off the pattern and it went together well, it’s a very simple pattern with clear diagrams and instructions. I ignored the waistband pattern piece because I chose to use an interfacing product called Fold a Band which is perfect for straight waistbands as it gives exactly the right seam allowances and folds. After checking the fit without a waistband I worked out how long my band needed to be, including an overlap and seam allowances, which I then cut in fabric the same width as the Fold a Band rather than using the pattern piece. Fold a Band comes in black or white, and medium or firm weights, depending on your fabric type, and makes a finished width of 2.5cms once it’s sewn on. This is a fairly narrow finish which personally I think is just right. Once I had ironed the interfacing to the fabric I overlocked one long edge, this would be the one to the inside of the finished garment. Pin and stitch the un-neatened edge right sides together to the waist, you could add a couple of useful hanging tapes to the side seams at this point too. Make the turnings at the ends and then you can turn up the band in the usual way and slip stitch it by hand or sink stitch from the front to secure.
Finally, after one last check of the fit, sew on a fastening or make a buttonhole with matching button. Lastly, try them on and turn up the hem to your chosen length, I overlocked the edge and made a 5cms deep turning which I slip-hemmed in place.
Since making the black and white Portobellos I have recently sewn a new fuchsia pink crepe pair. The very inexpensive fabric was bought from Walthamstow market late in 2019 with the intention of making wide-legged trousers but they didn’t actually get cut and sewn until October 2022.
I urgently needed a project to sew at the Herts Sewcial with about 15 minutes before I had to leave the house. Initially I was flapping around thinking of all the garments I wanted to sew here and now but then I remembered I had suitable fabric along with the good intentions to make another pair of Portobellos. The pattern was already traced and I just had to locate the fabric but I managed to grab everything I needed (an orange zip but no one would see that!) and rushed out of the house!
I was pleased with the finished trousers, I think the unusual vertical stripes are striking and the wide leg is very comfortable to wear. They were a bit baggy over the bum though but I think taking them in significantly would have altered the overall look of the style, I’m not sure. Looking again at the back leg pattern piece I think it could be overly generous compared to the front, the darts might need to be a little longer, so I might make some changes on the next pair (I didn’t, because I forgot that I’d written this comment!)
I’m very happy with the new pink pair, even though they weren’t high on my list for Saturday. The bright colour will bring me a lot of joy when I wear them and I’ve always loved that Katharine Hepburn 1940s or ‘Brideshead Revisited’ insouciant look. I’m not sure I’ve personally achieved that look but hey ho, that’s never stopped me yet.
I seem to be constantly attracted to teal/turquoise/duck egg shades recently so this Art Gallery organic cotton jersey for my recent Minerva post looked perfect when it hoved into my field of vision!
I’ve used Art Gallery knit fabrics in the past and the designs and fabric, whilst fairly pricey, are lovely quality. This particular jersey is an organic cotton (with a little Elastane) and very soft, a lighter weight than many so it would be good for children’s and babies clothing as well as adults. I love the print, I think it’s a vaguely ‘Tribal-esque’ graphic stripe and I quickly decided to make a Tabitha T-shirt from Tilly and the Buttons book ‘Make it Simple’ which I’ve made a few times before but to try out the dress hack version for a change this time.
I traced off a new copy of the pattern using the horizontal lines indicated across the bodice specifically for the dress. I’m not long in the body but I thought it looked a little short so I added an extra 2cms to the bodice length. In truth I probably could have added more than that because I feel there isn’t as much blousing at the waist as there seems to be in the photo in the book [If you know, or suspect, you have a long body length then pay close attention to this before cutting your fabric, get someone to take your nape to waist measurement and compare it to the back pattern piece. If necessary then add any extra through the horizontal ‘lengthen/shorten’ lines, and don’t forget to do the front as well!] If you’re wondering why this matters, it will mean that the waist seam sits too high above your natural waist and could look more like Empire line.
I followed the instructions in the book to draft my own skirt pattern which was simple enough, you only need one because the front and back are identical (you’ll need a decent sized piece of paper to do this) I cut the new front and back as complete pieces so that I didn’t have to cut anything on the fold, I also wanted a short sleeve so I traced one off.
The fabric was a little bit curly at the edges so I took my time cutting out, be careful not to pull or drag the fabric at this stage because this could result in twisting of the finished garment. It’s helpful to mark stripes onto the pattern so that you can then match them to corresponding seams more easily. Cutting a single layer of fabric can really help make this more straightforward, and be less wasteful too.
Moving on, the suggestion for the waist casing is to use eyelets or buttonholes. I used a small round-ended buttonhole, whichever method you choose make sure you interface underneath first to stabilise the fabric. I used the quilting guide to help me sew an accurate 2cms seam to create casing. Once I’d sewn it I used a bodkin to thread the ribbon through.
The rest of the construction was pretty quick because I already knew the T-shirt in size 5 was a nice fit, the skirt was a bit ‘hippy’ though so I took some off in that area. Following the drafting instructions the pattern piece is shaped for the waist but, for me, a straight rectangle would suffice.
The length was educated guesswork but I’m very happy with it and it’s not too restrictive at the hem, any longer or narrower and the skirt might need a split in it to allow movement. I have the advantage of using a Pfaff coverstitch machine to hem the sleeves and skirt but a twin needle or a zig-zag stitch will do the job too, and don’t forget to use a ballpoint or jersey needle. I used a narrow grosgrain ribbon in a toning teal to slot through the waist casing to complete the dress. As I mentioned near the beginning I might add just a little more length to the bodice next time but otherwise I’m really pleased with this Tabitha dress, it will be comfortable to wear for everyday and easy to roll up in a suitcase if I ever get to go on holiday again!
Minerva provided me with this lovely fabric to write about, I’m delighted with the quality and I’m especially happy with the dress which is so just comfortable.
I followed the progress of this pattern with interest on Instagram when it was originally released nearly two years, it was fascinating to see how Claire-Louise Hardie (the Thrifty Stitcher!) developed and finessed the various elements of it as she sampled it, up to the point that she was ready to release it for sale. It has attractive style lines with princess seams in the front which curve into hip pockets, the back also has princess seams and there’s a horizontal seam just below the natural waist. The collar curves up smoothly against the neck and the back collar has a ‘sunray’ of five darts spreading out towards the shoulder blades which I particularly like. The cuffs each have 3 similar darts, the details on this pattern has simple but so stylish.
This post was originally published last year by Minerva who generously provided me with a nice firm Ponte Roma in a plain navy to make the Dawson in, it would also work very well in a boiled wool, felted wool, Melton, not a loose tweed though as they can start to fray and you’d lose the details too much in the weave. Anything fairly structured and stable would effectively show off the style lines. You could get some interesting effects with checks or stripes if you want a challenge! I’d wanted to make another version for a while because I’ve had really good use from the navy one, I hadn’t got around to finding any specific fabric for it but then I hit upon the idea of using a single old heavyweight cotton curtain that used to keep the drafts out by our front door. It had long been replaced for this task but I just had it folded up underneath the heat-reflective mat that I use on my cutting table. In order to maximise the fabric in the curtain I undid the deep hem and the sides, and removed the tabs at the top. I gave it a wash to clean it but also to, hopefully, stop it shrinking later on.
Areas like the pocket edges and the neck need stabilising with some iron-on tape or strips of interfacing as per the instructions, especially if you use a knit fabric like Ponte. I would recommend stabilising the shoulders with seam tape or scraps of ribbon to prevent stretching too. I used a specific needle for stretch fabrics and you could use the ‘lightening’ stitch to sew with if your machine has it, or a very straightened out zigzag. If you do use boiled wool the layers could be quite thick, use a straight stitch but you may need to lengthen it a little more than usual.
The pattern comes in eight sizes which are not numbered in the conventional way, CL opts for letters instead, so you work from your own body measurements to choose which size should fit you. I cut and sewed a size F originally which was quite generous, for the newer version I’ve cut the next size down. I misjudged how generous the ease is in the garment so I usually wear the Ponte version layered up over jumpers or sweaters on warmer cool days if that makes sense. At the end of the day it’s intended as a casual coat so don’t make it too small as you’ll always be pulling it closed across you. The sleeves are nice and roomy too, I’ve noticed some coat/jacket patterns can be a bit snug around the bicep for me which is a bit dispiriting, I’m hardly a muscle-bound hulk! Just check before cutting out if you’re happy with the sleeve length too, I probably could have added just 3-4cms because it feels the tiniest bit short on me.
The pattern goes together beautifully and all that tweaking in the sampling stage is borne out in the final version. I found the instructions pretty clear, they are mostly photographs and there are some really useful hints and tips which will come in very handy if you aren’t that experienced in your dressmaking yet. Make sure you transfer your markings for the pocket pivot point for example so that you get a crisp finish for the corners.
You could top stitch all the darts down, possibly in a contrast thread if you like, but because the Ponte had a slight stretch I didn’t do this on mine. I did top stitch down the front facings though and caught them down in a couple of places on the inside to stop them flapping.
For the ochre version I topstitched more of the seams, I confess that I was incredibly slovenly and used up various threads in my collection so not all the stitching is the same colour…oops! Incidentally I didn’t use top stitch thread, instead I used the triple straight stitch which looks very similar although it is quite thread-hungry (hence the non-matching!)
This time however I didn’t top stitch the front facings down, I adopted a different approach. As it’s an unlined coat so all the innards are visible I used some ribbon to anchor the facing down in a couple of places. I chose to do this because I know from experience that when you’re sewing through several thick layers the triple stitch (which is a set length on my Pfaff and not adjustable) it can lead to puckering which doesn’t look so nice. Try a sample before you go ahead if you aren’t sure, that’s a LOT of slow unpicking if you don’t like it after all.
I finished the hem by hand using a herringbone stitch rather than machining it for the same reason that I didn’t top stitch the front facings.
I think the Dawson is a well-drafted and executed pattern from an independent designer (and CL’s art work features herself so it squeaks into the #so50visible category!) The Minerva Ponte Roma works well for the soft tailoring, using my old curtain gives the slightly cocoon-shape a little more definition. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do an FBA if you need to either. I’m much happier with the fit of the ochre one, but I love the navy and will still wear it regularly too.
Because the Dawson is a loose cocoon shape it would make a beautiful evening coat in a glamorous brocade, to go over the top of your evening outfit, denim would look great too (Have a look at my Simple Sew Cocoon jacket in denim here)
I guess this was also a useful exercise in upcycling, the curtain was years old and not being used for it’s original purpose so I thought why not give this a try. If I found I wasn’t mad about wearing the colour after all I know it’s 100% cotton so it would dye, I might come unstuck with the polyester sewing thread though which would take up the colour differently-it’s hardly Saville Row standard though! The Dawson took barely two metres of fabric (the front facing is helpfully cut in two parts which helps reduce the fabric usage, and of course you could always use a contrast fabric anyway) it doesn’t instruct you to use interfacing on any of the collar or facing parts but I did, just to stabilise the fabric a bit.
I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.
I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs.
I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.
When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.
I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears.
The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.
The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well.
I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.
My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.
My latest Minerva blog post is up for you to read now and it’s a jacket that nearly didn’t make it. I chose the fabric based on the image on screen but when it arrived both the background colour wasn’t what I expected and the design was larger than I thought it would be too. The lesson to learn from this is to order a swatch whenever possible to make sure the fabric is exactly as you expect or want.
That said, the quality of the loop-back jersey I used was absolutely lovely and it made up-eventually-into a really nice Jalie Charlie bomber jacket. I haven’t used Jalie before but I must say I was very impressed with the HUGE size range each pattern comes in, the quality of the instructions and illustrations (in both English and French) and the sizing is spot on.
The next problem I had was matching ribbing to the multi-coloured fabric and also finding a suitable open-ended zip. Eventually I found a gorgeous raspberry pink plain jersey from Sewisfaction instead of ribbing, and I got a zip from MacCulloch & Wallis in London.
Anyway, once I got everything together it all sewed up really well and I was pleased with how all the colours eventually came to form a unified whole. Subtle it isn’t so it definitely needs to be worn with plain garments but it’s a bit of fun and I know I’ll use the pattern again too.
As always, you can find the full rundown of my making experience over on the Minerva blog now, I hope you find it useful.
It’s been almost a month since I was loaned a Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 to try out so thought I would give you a ‘half-term report’ on how I’m getting on with it.
First thing to say is that it’s quite a beast! It’s a very substantial piece of machinery and so is fairly heavy as a result. That being said, this is normally the case with coverstitch machines because they are generally bigger than overlockers so the weight isn’t unusual. It does have a good-sized and comfortable carrying handle though.
Ok, so, the Coverlock 3.0 is a combination machine in that it is both an overlocker and a coverstitch machine. I’m sure you already know that an overlocker will trim and neaten raw edges and often sew the seam as well if you have 4 or 5 thread version. What you may not know is that a coverstitch machine doesn’t trim any edges, it will sew two or sometimes three rows of top-stitching on the outside of a garment whilst covering the edge of the fabric on the inside with loops of thread to ‘cover’ it. It has the advantage of being stretchy too. If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about have a look inside the hem or cuffs of a RTW jersey garment and you should see.
The first thing I had to do was not only rethread the machine as it didn’t arrive pre-threaded but I also needed to change it’s function from coverstitch to overlock. A major part of what I want to assess for you is how quick and straightforward it is to go between the functions. This is partly why I didn’t plunge in with a review as soon as I got it because I didn’t think it would be balanced or fair. Indeed, I will certainly write another review in due course after a decent amount of time and usage has occurred.
Because the machine was merely delivered to me without any demonstrations I’ve needed to use the instruction book a fair bit. If you have difficulty following written instructions and/or diagrams this may not be ideal for you but there is a (silent) DVD included with very clear animations of exactly what you need to do for each of the stitch variations possible. [I didn’t find this straightaway though so I muddled through with the booklet! I’ve also since found a few very helpful You Tube videos which were useful]
I’m not going to lie, it does take a bit of time to make the changes because you’ll need to remove and reinsert the needles to different positions as well as thread the machine in different ways depending on the function. This will eventually take me less time and I’ve added Post-it notes to the relevant pages in the book so that I don’t have to keep searching for the two I’ve favoured most. The machine is capable of up to 23 stitches using 2, 3, 4 or 5 threads and up to 3 needles. So far I’ve only used the 4-thread overlock and the coverstitch but I will endeavour to use more, including the flatlock, and report back.
I decided on making a hacked version of the Tilly and the Buttons Nora top which I’ve made a couple of times before as I didn’t want any nasty complications by attempting an unfamiliar pattern with a new piece of machinery!
The beautiful jersey with an amazing ‘tie-dye’ print is from Lamazi fabrics and was my choice as a July/August maker of the month [it could be you if you tag them on Instagram] I cut the sleeve to approximately 3/4 length and also cut two cuff pieces which were again approximate, initially about 20cms in length and then my wrist measurement at one end and my mid-forearm measurement at the other. I added a couple of centimetres for seam allowance to all sides.
I’d definitely say you need to do a bit of forward planning if you intend to use both the overlock and coverstitch functions on a project because of the swapping between the two. For example, on my Nora I needed to coverstitch just the cuffs and the hem, everything else could be sewn either directly using the 4-thread overlock or on my Quilt Ambition 2.0. I opted to sew the top together first and complete the hems at the end, in the usual way although there may be times when it’s better to hem first, we’ll see.
If you’re merely changing the thread colours it can be done in the same way as regular overlockers by snipping the threads near their spools, tying on the new colour and pulling each of them gently through, plus rethreading the eye of the needles. On one occasion when I altered the function I completely rethreaded but the stitch was much too loose-what had I done? It was all done correctly and yet it was way too loopy. I checked the manual for hints on troubleshooting but it didn’t make much difference. I was starting to pull my hair out when I realised I had threaded the machine without lifting the handle out of the way-the threads MUST go under it or they don’t sit in the tension discs! (Had I watched the helpful YouTube video first I would have known this…) Another thing I learnt the hard way was when the spool holder kept falling off the back of the machine and I was ready to chuck it out of the window I noticed it has to be slid sideways to click securely in position-doh!
The next two projects I made I didn’t use the coverstitch function as both the sweatshirts had cuffs and waistbands but I constructed much of them using the 4-thread overlock stitch. I used fabric provided to me by Minerva and they will appear on their blog in the new year. One of the patterns I used was the gorgeous Maxine sweatshirt given to me by it’s designer, Dhurata Davies. I’m going to make another one soon so I’ll write an individual blog on it then. [I got both tops out of 2.5m of fabric!]
For the final project I want to talk about here I took a different approach. It’s an Amy top by Brilliant Patterns and which I’ve made a couple of times before. I had a 1m remnant of loop-back cotton sweatshirting which I bought from Sew Me Something at a show for £8 and by shortening the sleeves very slightly, cutting the neckband in two parts and joining it I got a WHOLE sweatshirt out of the one metre!!
This time I set the machine up with a wide 2-needle coverstitch and I used my regular sewing machine to sew most of the seams. What I did at each stage of construction was to press the seams flat and top stitch them using the Coverlock. This meant that there would be two rows of top stitching on the outside and the raw edges were covered on the inside. This was generally OK although as I’ve yet to ‘get my eye in’ with lining up the foot against a seam or other visual marker a couple of them do waver more than I would usually like. It turns out there is a large removable flat bed included to increase the working area (it was tucked down inside the box and I’ve only just found it!!) this will support your work while you sew but it does take up a bit more room.
So to sum up (for now) I’ve been impressed with the quality of the stitches I’ve used so far on the Coverlock 3.0 and I will definitely look for opportunities to try others whilst I have it. I’ve yet to be convinced about swapping between the stitch-types but obviously, as I get more familiar with it, I should get faster at changing between them. There are few processes which have to be gone through to make the changes but I’ll probably work out an order or procedure to follow to speed it up. If you are short of space a combination machine might be useful, they aren’t cheap though. You’ll almost certainly use the overlocker stitches more of the time so possibly changing occasionally to coverstitch will be sufficient. I would definitely say you should have a thorough demonstration of the machine so that you know what is involved and what it is capable of. Unlike washer/driers which don’t do either job very well this machine does both functions to a very high standard.
Thank you to Pfaff for giving me the opportunity to try out their machine and if you have any questions about my experience so far then do ask.
So, has anything changed yet in the use and portrayal of older sewers and makers in dressmaking in the media? I think the simple answer is still “no, it probably hasn’t much” but before we feel completely downhearted about it I think we should reflect on what has been happening and how we can continue to try and move things forward. Love Sewing magazine in the UK wrote an article about the situation and 10 of us featured in the photo-shoot that resulted…how about a follow-up article Love Sewing? Grainline have released a new pattern which features an older woman modelling it, are there any others doing this yet?
Since Judith Staley started the account in August 2018 it has gained over 12,000 followers and that number continues to climb steadily. I believe part of the reason for this is because people are discovering that it’s a very inclusive account where everyone in it is happy to share advice or tips, to encourage others, where the colour of our (slightly wrinkly) skin is not relevant, our physical abilities and the size of our waistlines likewise. We share our wide and varied takes on patterns both from the so-called Big 4 and Indie designers and, even though we continue to be frequently ignored by them, we will still mention which pattern it is and tag the company anyway. Generally we aren’t sore about it…There have been some successes with reposts by a few pattern companies on their Stories or feed which, if @SewOver50 is tagged, we’ll see. Make sure you always tag the account or use a recognised hashtag-they are all listed saved in Highlights on the account but by using #SewOver50 or #So50Visible for example Judith and Sandy will see you. If they repost your mention they will use the hashtag #So50thanks to acknowledge our appreciation to the pattern company involved. It’s a virtuous circle really, we buy the patterns, we sew the patterns, we share our make, the pattern company sees it and likes it, we buy more patterns! See? everybody is happy and so it goes on. We have the cash and we want to spend it on your product but if we don’t think you’re interested in us because we aren’t young/slim/pretty/etc etc insert as appropriate then we won’t buy your product any more because there are many other ways we can spend our hand-earned money instead.
Personally there are a couple of companies that I don’t bother to tag any longer because neither of them acknowledge or repost a make by anyone under the age of about 35, let alone mine. I mention the pattern and the brand so that others know which design it is but I don’t ’tag’ them. You might think this is petty but I find it very irritating that everyone these days says “tag us so we can see your makes” but then they don’t offer a ‘like’ or a brief comment to acknowledge or ‘reward’ you. I do realise that some accounts have tens of thousands of followers which makes it difficult but it can’t be impossible, and meanwhile we just continue doing free advertising for them. Somehow some companies seem to exist in a vacuum which is unsullied by their actual customers… How about a new hashtag? #NoLikeNoMention or #NoLikeNoTag?
Anyway, moving on…we’ve been asking recently on the SewOver50 account if you have experience of pattern reviewing, pattern testing or blogging about your makes? How was this for you? How did you get started, were you approached or did you volunteer to a call out of some kind? Any or all of these would be a really good way of continuing to have older faces in the mix.
Obviously I do all of the above because that’s why I write this!
So, looking at the first area ‘pattern reviews’ There are several ways you can get involved in this. Firstly decide on a pattern you think people would be interested in hearing about-you may base this on your experiences with it which might be great or they might be terrible! Either way, if you think you’ve got something to add to the conversation then get writing. There are two places which immediately spring to mind to do this and they are The Fold Line online community which is UK-based, and the Pattern Review which is in the US. BOTH are fully accessible from anywhere in the world so this doesn’t mean they are exclusive to those areas, you just might find more ‘voices’ from one or the other. They are VERY different from each other starting from the way they look, The Fold Line feels a little more ‘youth’ oriented and ‘modern’ in its look, I find it more visually appealing and easier to navigate whereas the Pattern Review I found a bit cluttered visually but I’m sure it’s whatever you are used to, I know it’s really popular and there’s a very broad range of people posting on the site which is great. Both have options to leave pattern reviews and share photos of your makes, I’d say that Pattern Review has a larger back catalogue of reviews by virtue of being around longer than The Fold Line. I like that PR has a series of questions available to guide your review which can be helpful and keep you focussed if you aren’t sure what to write, Fold Line is all in your own words. On both you can give an ‘out of 5’ star rating. We’re trying to encourage more of you to leave reviews and these are two places you can do that, it will keep our beautiful older faces in line of sight! Do you know of or use other sites? Let us know either in the comments here or on the IG account so that we can all share and participate. Judith has asked a few stalwart SO50 supporters for their experiences and impressions of using various pattern review sites so look out for those on Instagram this week too.
Personally, I write my own reviews here on the blog as well as The Fold Line although I include a lot more technical stuff than I’d put elsewhere. Most of my reviews are on patterns that I want to write about because I have something to say about them, and a few are because I’m part of a ‘blogger network’ such as Simple Sew patterns. I’ve always endeavoured to be a ‘critical friend’ when it comes to a pattern review and I don’t always give 100% glowing reports, if I encounter problems or errors I will point them out and I’ll try to give alternative methods or techniques if I can. I don’t find the kind of ‘review’ which just says “yes, this is pretty and I love it” very helpful. Preferences are obviously very individual but why do you love it? does it go together well? are the instructions clear? do you need to fiddle around to get a good fit? What sort of fabric works well? All these things matter and that is what many sewers want to know before committing to buying a potentially-expensive new pattern.
I also write reviews of fabrics which I’ve been provided with free of charge by various companies including Sew Me Sunshine and Minerva Crafts. I’m not embarrassed by this because I take a lot of time and effort to write comprehensive and helpful reviews of the product, a couple of metres of fabric is a very modest reward for many hours of work for me. At this point in time I’m not paid to write by anyone.
Love Sewing magazine here in the UK includes a reader every month who sew up their own version of that month’s free gift pattern and then they feature in a professional photo shoot. I was lucky enough to be invited to do this nearly two years ago and it was great fun, if a little nerve-wracking to start with. You may know of other magazines which do this so why not email and offer yourself to them?! Another way of featuring in magazines is to try tagging them if you share photos of your makes (best if you’re using their free gift pattern or another item which was originally in their mag as they’ll be more interested) you might get used on their ‘reader makes’ pages-it’s always fun to see your face in a magazine and sometimes there’s a ’Star Maker’ prize too. Most magazines and pattern companies have a Facebook page as well as Instagram which are easy ways to share your photos, Twitter is much less about images so I tend not to use that. Make sure your photo is of a decent quality though-clean the lens, or the mirror, check the background-are there pants drying on the radiator behind you? You don’t need to be David Bailey or have a fancy camera but if it’s not a clear picture of your make they won’t use it. Again, the SewOver50 account gave lots of tips for taking successful photos using your phone and they are saved in Highlights.
Pattern testing is another area you can volunteer for and could be your opportunity to put your skills to good use. Keep an eye open for tester callouts on IG, or have a look at company websites for a sign-up list but bear in mind that you’ll almost certainly be doing this for purely altruistic reasons, almost no one pays or rewards testers in any way other than a free copy of the finished pattern after release. (This is a bit of a contentious area-should we be more adequately rewarded?- which I’m not going into here) You’ll probably provide your own fabric and donate your time and be helping small companies to improve their products. When I’ve done this in the past the better companies give you a set of questions which is helpful because you can direct your answers to specific areas they want to know about, plus add comments of your own. They should want to know things like ‘do the seams match’ or ‘are there notches missing’, ‘could the instructions be clearer or worded differently?’ I take pattern testing seriously and it can be frustrating and time-consuming when there are problems or errors, there are now rather a lot of inexperienced people releasing patterns which are ill-thought out and inaccurate. I’m more picky about volunteering now as I’m not keen on wasting my time, I get invited to help by some companies which is flattering. You’ll be more or less expected to ‘advertise’ the pattern when it gets released which is fine if you’re happy with what you’ve made, and the very small companies are usually very appreciative of this because they generally have little or no advertising budget so they rely on people like us making and sharing.
Finally, you could have a go at exactly what I’m doing now-blogging! I started to write here four years ago as a means to document what I was making more than anything and it’s diversified a bit because I also review exhibitions and books too, or places and events I’ve visited that have a sewing context. [The word ‘blogging’ or ‘blog’, if you didn’t know, comes from ‘web log’, a form of keeping an online diary.] I don’t have a massive following, or sponsors, like some but I know many people appreciate my plain speaking and honesty in my pattern reviews. Vlogging is a ’thing’ too but I’m not interested in that, I prefer to write and I’d bore myself (never mind you!) wittering on about my latest fabric haul or whatever. There are lots of places that ‘host’ blogs, I use WordPress for which I pay a modest monthly fee but there are many others, some free, some not. If you follow other bloggers, which providers do they use? Do some research to find the site that meets your needs, if you want more bells and whistles later on, can they be added? How much will it cost? You could just write a Word Doc and copy and paste it into a Facebook page. I have a Facebook page for Susan Young Sewing but I must confess I barely use it, I don’t find Fb as engaging as Instagram. Incidentally, The Fold Line has a useful Facebook forum which is where all the discussions take place, and you can sign up for their weekly newsletters which is a round up of all sorts of up-to-date sewing and dressmaking goings-on.
So, to sum up, there are a variety of ways we can continue to get our lovely faces featured so that we aren’t overlooked and the more of us that do it the harder it will be to ignore us! Judith will be sharing ideas and personal testimonies by other Sew Over 50 ‘activists’ during the coming days and weeks so keep a look out for them. If you’ve got a story you want to share with us make sure you use the @SewOver50 tag so that it gets seen [although with our growing numbers this is getting harder so DM if it’s really important] Let’s keep plugging away together, older women have wider choices and opportunities than ever before and it’s so much better if we can endeavour to support each other in reminding the wider world that we’re here and we aren’t going to go away quietly.
I hope we can continue to inspire, support and encourage one another using SewOver50 as our touchstone because we’re bloody brilliant!!
I’m really happy with this make, it’s the Dawson Coatigan by The Thrifty Stitcher, Claire-Louise Hardie, which I made in Navy Ponte Roma given to me by Minerva Crafts in return for an honest review.
This pattern was released just before Christmas and I think it would be a useful addition to any wardrobe. It’s a softly tailored edge to edge coat with flattering seam lines and integral pockets. It works well in a structured jersey like Ponte Roma, and it would also look good in boiled wool or felted wool.
And depending when you’re reading this the Dawson also qualifies for the Sew Over 50 #so50Visible challenge too which finishes on March 15th. Read my previous blog posts for all the details on that but you haven’t got long if you hope to win one of the prizes!
There’s lots more details and photos of my make over on the Minerva Crafts website, thank you as always to them for providing me with the fabric.
My latest Minerva blog is live now and it’s all about their beautiful printed velour. I was attracted to the gorgeous mixture of teal colours with a splash of pink thrown in for good measure. Initially I was going to make a pleated skirt with it but eventually I decided that wouldn’t be flattering on me so I settled on the River dress by Megan Nielsen with my own adaptations instead.
I lengthened the short sleeves and added elastic to make cuffs, I increased the length of the dress overall too and left a side split and finally I put wide elastic under the bust to create an Empire line.
This is a very simple pattern to sew and has the novelty of two necklines-a scoop and a V-and because of its raglan sleeves you can have either in the front, I generally wear it with the V in the front.
As always, you can find the full details of the fabric and my sewing tips on adapting the pattern with a lot more photos on the Minerva Crafts website, thank you to them for providing me with the fabric, in return for an honest review.
I thought in this blog I’d take a look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last twelve months and it’s made me realise what a wonderful varied collection they are. As well as sewing multiple garments from numerous patterns (which I’ll look at in a separate blog) there have been several meet-ups including the Stitchroom Sewcial in June and the now-famous Sewing Weekender in August, plus one I organised myself in November. I’ve visited quite a few exhibitions, some of them more than once, read lots of books and written reviews of several of them in case anyone out there was interested in knowing more if they fancy a visit or a read for themselves. I’ve been back to the Knitting & Stitching show, and The Handmade Fair for the first time too.
In January I made my first coat in decades, the Butterick 6423 and was pretty pleased with the outcome overall.
My first meet-up of the year in February was a return visit to Balenciaga at the V&A organised by Alex (Sewrendipity) where I met a number of lovely fellow dressmakers in the flesh for the first time. It was so nice to go to an exhibition with like-minded people and then we all went for lunch together afterwards-very civilised!
Also in February Gabby Young invited me to become one of the Simple Sew bloggers so I embarked on a year of wrangling their patterns into submission, they are nice designs but aren’t always faultlessly accurate in their drafting or instructions. I took on the role on the understanding that I’d be honest (although never rude) but informative and constructive. I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether I achieved that.
I had the opportunity to visit the Fashion Technology Academy in April which was such an inspiring place. You can study many of the technical aspects of clothing production there and we also had the chance to try out a taster session of TR pattern cutting with the supremely gifted Claudette Joseph while we were there too. If you, or someone you know, wants to go down the technical route into garment manufacture then this place in North London could be a good place to start looking.
Also in April I returned to the Fashion and Textiles Museum in Bermondsey, London to attend their fascinating ‘Inside couture’ afternoon. I’ve been once before but it’s so enjoyable, and such a treat to get the your hands on real couture clothes (with white gloves on, natch). I highly recommend a visit if you’re in London but you do need to book for these particular events, the museum itself is open most days.
The first London Stitchers meet-up was held at the beginning of May and although I’m not technically ‘London’, as has become obvious, I go up a lot. These are organised by Ana Cocowawacrafts and Georgia One Stitch Forward and they vary in their locations between north, south and central London. Anyone is welcome and it’s a great way to meet new people and know that you all have at least one shared interest! It’s like speed-dating for dressmakers!!
Me Made May was also happening on Instagram and for the first time in ages I managed to post every single day for a month-long challenge even though I was out of the country for some of it. Lots of garments I shared weren’t new and box-fresh, in fact quite a few of them were old favourites, which is as it should be. We made a trip to Assisi in Italy during this time so that made my backdrops a bit more interesting for a few days!
I tried something a bit different in May by going on a course to learn how to make and print my own etchings. I’d done this once a million years ago when I did my Foundation Course at college and have always found the medium fascinating and beautiful. [Go and check out Rembrandt’s work in particular if you aren’t sure what they are] I’d met a lovely lady called Chrissy Norman on the first Sewing Weekender two years ago and it turns out that not only does she sew and knit, she’s a super-talented printmaker too. She has a separate IG account for her prints and I admired a print she posted on it early in the year. It transpires that she teaches courses a few times a year at Sudbourne Park Printmakers workshops. Long story short, I signed up and joined her in Suffolk in mid-May. It was soooo interesting and fun, plus I made some pretty respectable prints based on a photo I had taken of the Maggi Hambling sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
The summer saw the first of several visits to the Frida Kahlo exhibition and Fashioned from Nature at the V&A museum. I also loved the retrospective of the work of Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum, I didn’t write a review though because by the time I went there wasn’t much left of the run sadly. It was spectacular though and I’m very glad I made the effort. That same day we went to see the musical Hamilton which was absolutely stupendous, Mr Y normally doesn’t go for that style of music but even he has raved about it ever since-highly recommended!
In June I was one of the lucky attendees of the first Stitchroom Sewcial event organised by Anne ‘New Vintage Sewing’ and Lucy ‘Sew Essential’ at Anne’s workplace in the University of Loughborough. They had excelled themselves with activities for us all to try including visiting the print and weaving workshops, computerised machine embroidery, an individual photoshoot AND time to sew and use the industrial machines Anne has in her classroom. I really hope I’m lucky enough to go again in 2019…
I took a road trip with my ‘local’ sewing friends Alana and Helen to visit Sewisfaction on their first Big Summer Stitch-up which was great fun, even though it was a steaming hot day.
At the end of July and beginning of August I posted two blogs which seemed to light the blue touch paper that rapidly became Sew Over 50. When I wrote them I thought no one would read them, much less agree with me, so I was stunned by the response to say the least. My now-friend Judith was amongst those who read them and was feeling the same way so she went one step further and created a new Instagram account called @SewOver50 and everything went a bit nuts from there on. As I write this post the account has gained over 5,300 followers since mid-August which is phenomenal. It’s become a place of inspiration and encouragement for thousands of women (and the occasional man) who sew but felt they, we, are being overlooked or dismissed by the burgeoning home-dressmaking market because of our age.
One thing that some people misunderstood about the whole idea wasn’t that we wanted to be separate from any other age group, like some kind of exclusive club, not at all, we just felt that some people-magazines, pattern companies-were overlooking the opportunity to tap into a market and a group who had cash to spend, had styling ideas, skills and experience to share, originality, fun, empathy, quirkiness, style. For a lot of the people who started following the account they had very little experience of using social media to broaden their horizons in sewing terms, and for connecting with like-minded people around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, as well as Europe. Suddenly there was an identifiable hashtag to follow which took you straight to the heart of this community. In fact it isn’t only sewing that members are supportive with, many face health challenges, a changing body with the menopause, dealing with elderly parents or caring for grandchildren so there have already been lots of conversations that have strayed away from sewing completely, and that’s OK too.
It’s been gratifying to see that a number of sources are making a big effort to be more diverse in who they feature in articles or as models. There is still a long way to go though because we’re conscious it might appear that it’s mostly white middle-aged women who sew, but we know this isn’t the case because there are many women of colour who sew too, maybe they don’t engage as much with Instagram or other social media though? I don’t know the answer to this one except to say that all are welcome because that’s the whole point. It makes me very happy when much younger dressmakers comment to me that they also follow us to get inspiration and advice, which is also the reason that I follow younger sewers myself!
Onwards, there was another amazing Sewing Weekender in August which was quickly followed by SewPhotoHop on Instagram in September organised by Rachel ‘House of Pinheiro‘. I didn’t keep up with this one so much and dipped in and out a bit [the same happened with Sewvember as well] but it’s a good way to find new people to follow and be inspired by if all this is new to you. I’ve just remembered there was MIYMarch (Make it Yourself) but that passed me by completely this year.
In September I became a Minerva Crafts blogger so I’m provided with fabric by them to make up into my own choice of garment and then write a comprehensive review for their own website. I’m enjoying this and it’s another string to my bow.
October saw me return to Birmingham for the SewBrum event which is magnificently organised by Charlotte ‘English Girl at Home’. It’s a chance for dressmakers from all over the place to come together in Birmingham, shop for fabric, visit Guthrie & Ghani and generally hang out together.
I was really chuffed to be invited by Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine to contribute an article about the Fashioned from Nature exhibition to the magazine in November. It was a really big deal for me to write something specifically to appear in print. I’ve been lucky enough to write pattern reviews for Love Sewing and Sew Now in the past but this was a new departure. I’d love to do more like this in the future. There’s definitely a little something coming up early in the new year but I can’t talk about that yet…..
I organised my own meet-up at Walthamstow Market in east London in mid-November which fortunately was a beautiful day as it was well attended and we nearly all went for lunch afterwards, to continue chatting! It was the first meet-up for quite a number of the attendees but I think everyone enjoyed themselves and were delighted to get the chance to chat together in real life and not just in a comments box!
There was a lovely pre-Christmas sewing day in Cambridge called SewCam organised by Jen Walker ‘The Gingerthread Girl’ which was a delightful antidote to festive fever, and a final London Stitcher’s meet up the following weekend to round everything off nicely!
When I look back at everything in this way it makes me so happy to realise the sheer quantity of wonderful opportunities that my love of dressmaking has brought me this year in particular. I continue to teach my lovely group of ladies locally-they think all this Instagram nonsense is ridiculous in a good way! I’ve met so many awesome and inspiring women in real life for the first time and I’ve deepened some of the friendships that started last year, or longer, ago. Many people think that ‘friends’ on Insta aren’t real but that just isn’t true. Of course there are those people you should give a wide berth to and we are continually plagued by nut-jobs who think women who sew will be interested in their guns, or love of God, or whatever but if we all continue to report them then so much the better.
Wherever you are in your sewing ‘journey’ I hope you find it relaxing, fulfilling, inspiring, empowering, distracting, whatever you need it to be. I’ll never stop learning and being creative is so good for us ( we knew this all along but science is finally realising it too!)
I’ve already got some ideas for next year but, to be honest, much of 2018 just unfolded one thing at a time without too much planning in advance. I’d like to expand my own skills in 2019 and not necessarily in dressmaking terms, I have always enjoyed art so perhaps I should get my pencils and paints back out again.
There’s always an element of me hoping you enjoy what I write and find the reviews helpful or informative although, in truth, I’d write them anyway as a record. Thank you for joining me on the journey and Happy New Year, and here’s to lots more sewing adventures, maybe we’ll meet ‘in real life’ in 2019?!