We asked you another question on @SewOver50 in October-which were your favourite go-to, never-fail, T-N-T T-shirt (tee shirt?) patterns and naturally you came up with a veeeeerrrry long list. I’ve trawled through them all and simply listed them here with a link (if I found one) for each so you can check them out for yourselves. As blogs go, it’s a bit of a dull one but you might it useful and maybe find your next new favourite pattern amongst these. Needless to say there are probably another one or two hundred more patterns which you think ought to be on this list!
I’m not recommending or endorsing any of these patterns personally, they have all been suggested by you, the enthusiastic followers.
The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.
So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…
First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.
Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.
Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.
Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.
This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.
So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]
Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.
Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.
If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sewwhile you sew can be both entertaining and informative.
Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.
As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?
What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.
Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.
Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)
I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.
Well this is definitely late in arriving seeing as the challenge finished on March 15th…! After my flurry of activity for the launch of the first SewOver50 challenge in February, and a follow-up post with updated pattern companies, you might have wondered (probably not though…) where I disappeared to? The answer is simply that I had a holiday booked so off I went! Rude I know but Judith and Sandy were fully in command of the day to day running of the challenge so away I went. I missed seeing large chunks at the end of the challenge though as we were on a cruise where internet access is extortionately expensive and much as I love my sewing buddies I don’t love them THAT much, or another option is you can buy beer in bars when in port in order to receive ‘free’ WiFi (follow a crew member, they always know where a hotspot is)
So that’s my excuses out of the way, how did you get on? Did you enter? I was exempt from entering (obviously) but I did contribute a few makes of my own using patterns that qualified.
I think what the challenge brought home to many people is the lack of visibility of anyone aged over 40 frankly, never mind over 50. There were many comments over the six weeks, from much younger sewers as well as more mature people, saying how they simply hadn’t noticed but once you had noticed it became obvious. We have grown largely immune to it and just accept that the image in no way reflects a large majority of makers, even younger dressmakers must be sick of competing with these idealised versions of themselves too. [ yes we know that this doesn’t bother everybody and that’s fine but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are willing to accept the status quo]
Did you discover a new pattern brand as a result of the challenge? I’m sure there are many other brands who didn’t make themselves known to us either by email or commenting on the previous blog posts and I’m definitely not going to vouch for the quality or otherwise of some of those that did but personally I found lots of new ones which I’ll look out for more often in future. Many of them are PDF which means wherever you are in the world they are still accessible to anyone.
Via her posts Judith encouraged people to contact pattern companies who don’t currently use older models and she herself has received some enlightening answers. Of those companies which have so far responded to Judith, almost without exception they say that, unless they have a friend or family member who is willing to model for them, it’s very very difficult to find suitable older professional models registered with agencies, even if they would like to use them. There were a number of different reasons cited for not using older models and, as we’ve said before, a brand is absolutely entitled to create their own ‘look’ as they see fit. Many also said they already featured, or promised in future to feature, a wider cross-section of makers of all kinds in examples of their patterns, this seems the absolute least that a brand can do in exchange for constant free advertising when we ’share the hashtag’ or tag them in our posts. One brand claimed to feature a wide range of their customers makes but having looked through their feed I beg to differ, a modest range all under about 35 is how I saw it.
A lot of brands are very small operations so we appreciate the difficulties this brings but they were also very often the ones that were most keen to bring about changes. I guess being small means they can alter things about their product if it’s within their power to do so and they genuinely want to.
One brilliant example is Selkie Patterns who are a start-up company based in London creating their own print-to-order designs on lovely quality ethically-sourced fabrics. In January on Instagram they put up a post asking for anyone who would be willing to model their next pattern, I somewhat cheekily responded by saying “would you consider an over 50?” Imagine my shock and surprise when Alexandra contacted me and said “yes!” Gulp!
A month later I found myself posing in the sunshine in a backstreet near Waterloo in London, modelling the new fabric design and a sleeve ‘add-on’ for their London dress, top and skirt pattern. I had a blast and Alex made me feel so comfortable and at ease, and it was all loads of fun…we had cake too! I bet no one eats cake on Vogue shoots… It feels slightly surreal to keep seeing myself pop up unexpectedly in their advertising and on the website now…perhaps Kate Moss feels the same.. I was happy to do it because it was a chance to start the ball rolling [perhaps I should sign up with an agency ROFL]
So if one little company just starting out can do it I’m sure others could too, with a modest camera, an attractive backdrop and a willing volunteer it’s possible to get really nice results. Some might expect to pay or be paid which is absolutely fair enough, especially with larger companies who should have a budget for this, but not everybody can do this at the outset. You only have to look through the Sew Over 50 Instagram account to see just how many fabulous, attractive, amazing, funny, inquisitive people there are out there sewing original and inspirational clothes for themselves-dressing in the way WE want to suit our personalities and tastes. Yes, we might ‘just’ want great fitting jeans and a comfy cardie sometimes but that doesn’t mean we can’t make them for ourselves with fantastic details and using beautiful fabrics.
When the challenge closed Judith had been keeping a list of all the qualifying entrants and, with the help of her two gorgeous grandsons, they quite literally pulled the names of the winners out of her hat!
All the winners should have now been notified and have hopefully claimed their prizes, it will be lovely if they share what they make with the rest of us eventually, it could become a sewing virtuous circle!
So, what have we learned from this? Well there’s still a long way to go for sure but there seems to be a shift in perception in many areas of life that as we get older we shouldn’t be relegated to the backwaters of life, nor should we go there quietly and wait for a life belt to be thrown to us, if we want attitudes to change we have to change them ourselves by making our presence felt. It doesn’t have to be in a loud and crashing way because sometimes the softly-softly approach will work better initially, and if it doesn’t then we’ll just get louder. There is an element of ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ because by approaching pattern companies and magazines directly with polite enquiries and requests we’ve found them starting to sit up and take notice. Again it goes back to us being people who have disposable income to spend on quality products, which businesses with any sense will embrace as a lucrative market (so long as they don’t talk down to us or patronise, we aren’t all in care homes just yet!)
Since its creation just seven short months ago the account now has over 10,000 followers and continues to grow all the time. The Great British Sewing Bee returned for a fifth series and featured several wonderful sewers in their 40s, 50s and 60s, it’s a source of real inspiration and encouragement (isn’t it interesting that one of the judges is a feisty and stylish woman in her 60s? That wealth of knowledge and experience takes time to acquire) There’s another series on the cards and applications are open now so why not give it a try, here’s the link to get you started..
And let’s not forget that 10 of us did a photoshoot for Love Sewing which appeared in February with a fantastic 3 page spread in the magazine and a longer version in their online blog. Editor Amy is always on the look out for readers to review the free gift patterns in each issue so if you think you can write a decent review and would like to participate in a photo shoot yourself then drop her an email.
Personally I’m as inspired by younger makers as I am by people my own age and older, having the cross-section matters to me. I love to go to meet-ups and socialising with other makers because even though it can feel like speed dating for dressmakers I know we all have at least that one interest in common at the outset.
I’ll keep sharing SewOver50 updates here from time to time, I’m always in contact with Judith and some of our other partners in crime. We’ve got plans for the year and we’re are always open to suggestions for collaborations or sponsorships of our initiatives so if you think you’ve something to bring to the table feel free to get in touch with one of us. If there’s a brand you love who you think could do more then why not email them, offer yourself as a tester or a model for them, at worst they’ll ignore you and, if they don’t, who knows where it might lead? You could also leave a pattern review on The Fold Line website, or your preferred pattern review website, try and include nice clear photos where possible, they don’t have to be super-styled but it helps everyone more if you can see the garment clearly (rather than a big ol’ mess in the background) with a couple of views.
Right! I’d better get back to some sewing now, it feels like forever since I did any!