Two years ago I wrote a review of the Sewing Revival Heron dress which you can still read here. I liked the pattern so much that since then I’ve made another knee-length version in a viscose/linen mix fabric from Ditto in Brighton and a blouse variation too in a beautiful soft Italian cotton voile, also from Ditto. I wore it often although not so much lately…
While I was at Sew Brum in October 2019 I bought some lovely soft brushed printed viscose twill from Barry’s Fabrics with the express intention of making another Heron but this time making it longer and more cold weather-friendly. There had been a lot of Wilder Gowns by the Friday Pattern Company popping up everywhere at the time, I liked the tiered style a lot but I knew I could create my own take on it by using a pattern I already had. A multiple-layered skirt like this isn’t difficult, it’s really a case of working out the number and sizes of rectangles you want to use. If you take a look at this post I wrote about recreating a sun dress for a client in 2019 you’ll get the gist. Because I like the top section of the Heron so much I decided this was a good pattern to use and it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt it to what I wanted.
All the quantities and proportions I have used for this dress were completely arbitrary and had to be based primarily on the quantity of fabric I’d purchased [which I can’t actually remember as it’s well over a year ago, probably 3m of 150cm wide fabric I’d guess] and my own height of 5’5” so bear this in mind if you decide to have a go yourself. I wanted the dress to be nice and long so eventually I settled on approximately hip length for the bodice, the finished length of the side seam is now 40cms. I folded the front and back dress pattern sections up out of the way when I pinned them to the fabric (obviously you could trace or print off a new copy of the PDF if you wish) Once both bodices, sleeve and pocket pieces are on the fabric [pockets could be cut from something else if you’re a bit short of fabric] I could see exactly how much I had left to create the skirt from. I kept it very simple and divided the remaining fabric into two equal rectangles across the full width, each one measured approximately 56cms long but that had to include the seam allowance at the top and a hem at the bottom.
Initially the construction of the dress followed the normal method up as far as putting the pockets into the side seams of the bodice as per the pattern.
Making the skirt was very straightforward, I joined the short selvedges to one another [if it’s a one-way design make sure the print is running the same way on both pieces] to form a large cylinder of fabric with two side seams. Press the side seams open, if you’ve been able to use the original selvedges they might not need finishing. I made the hem at this point too, it seemed easier than wrestling with a complete dress at the end, although this could have backfired on me if I hadn’t been happy with the length but I was pretty certain it would be OK.
I ran two rows of gathering stitches within the seam allowance of the top edge, I pinned them in position matching the side seams, centre front and centre back, plus the quarter seam positions too. Gather up carefully so as not to break the threads, small pleats would also work here especially if the fabric would be bulky otherwise, it depends a bit on the weight of the fabric to some extent. Once I was happy with the gathering distribution I sewed the skirt on and overlocked the seam.
And that was it. Now, I have to say that because I was taking a risk with proportions and limited by the quantity of fabric I’d bought that if I were to repeat this I would definitely make the bodice quite a lot shorter and make the skirt from more than one gathered tier instead. I’m happy with the overall finished length but I think the seam at the hip isn’t quite right. But, by wearing it with a narrow leather belt (there wasn’t any fabric left for a self-belt anyway) and bringing it in at the waist I’ve saved it, the belt gives it a lot more definition.
I added a tie at the neck this time using a bit of grosgrain ribbon which I had knocking about.
The dress was finished around a year ago and these photos were shot in the autumn but it’s taken until now to write up. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it can be to make your own version of popular patterns using one you already have-there’s a certain risk involved because it might not be completely successful but that’s always the risk anyway when making our own clothes-a style might turn out not to suit us after all, or we make a wrong fabric choice, or it could be a triumph so why not revisit what you already own before buying another pattern?
It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??
To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.
But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.
Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.
If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.
About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…
So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.
I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.
I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.
Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choicesfor specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!
One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew
One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities.
As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.
I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.
Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.
I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.
One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.
As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.
This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
There’s a lot going on in this post because I’m offering you my thoughts on not one product but three!
So, a bit of background first…I used to be a keen runner but various injuries forced me to stop and then I never quite got started again. Fast forward at least 3 years and I’d gained weight which I wasn’t happy about, I felt sluggish and lacking in energy, I wanted to lose the weight for the good of my health and mental wellbeing. So, coming up to date, the return to running is going well (if cautiously…) and I’m losing some weight which in turn has inspired me to try making some of my own activewear. Fortunately for me Melissa Fehr of Fehrtrade has become a sewing friend of mine since first meeting her at the Sewing Weekender a few years ago and she generously offered me a copy of her Tesselate Tee pattern to try. I’d helped test her Rouleur leggings last year so I already had that pattern. Part of the beauty of Melissa’s patterns is that she gives you really comprehensive instructions to be able to sew activewear using just a regular sewing machine if you don’t own an overlocker. I’m in the fortunate position at the moment to be a Pfaff Brand Ambassador and I have their air-threading Admire Air 5000 on loan, along with a Coverlock 3.0 as well so this all seemed like the perfect opportunity to make some new running kit.
Suitable activewear fabric is not something I have in my stash other than the scraps left from testing the Rouleur leggings so I had a little online search and came across Frumble fabrics. They have a good range of activewear fabrics at competitive prices as well as an impressive selection of suitable elastics and other trims or haberdashery you might need for this sort of project. I bought a metre of plain navy fabric and a metre of navy camouflage print, along with navy soft waistband elastic, some navy fold-over elastic and, finally, silicone grip elastic. [One point I should add here is that I decided not to pre-wash the fabric, this was based on my own knowledge and belief that synthetic fabrics are usually more colour-fast than natural fibres. I was wrong. The navy came off on my hands as I was making it up so as soon as I finished both garments they have been through the wash after all. I have alerted Frumble so I’m not saying anything here that I haven’t already fed back to them. Overall I’m pleased with the fabric quality and I learned my lesson-prewash even if you think it doesn’t need it!]
I opted to go for a medium size Tesselate top, Melissa has recently layered the pattern so now you only need to print off the size or sizes that you want, I wavered between small and medium according to my measurements. The small probably would have been fine but the medium gives me a little more room without the constant thought that I should be sucking in my wobbly bits! One of Melissa’s USP’s with her patterns is interesting seam lines which means, as well as striking designs, you can often use up small pieces or remnants of suitable fabrics. The Tesselate has a variety of options including short or long sleeves, thumb cuffs, a hood (with ponytail hole!) and back zipped pocket.
I cut the leggings a mixture between small and medium and I’m happy with the fit of the end result. I had enough fabric for long sleeves on my Tesselate and, although there’s a pattern for the back pocket, rather than print it off I made my own.
I played around with the fabrics until I was happy with their placement, I had enough of the blue spotty fabric for the back and front side panels, everything else I divided between the two navy fabrics.
I’ve made another little video to demonstrate how the air threading works on the Pfaff, you’ll need to bear in mind that it might seem like it takes a while to thread and so where is the advantage in air threading but that’s because I’m trying to explain as I go and I was sitting at a funny angle behind the camera whilst I did it.
After two years of owning the Quilt Ambition 2.0 (now discontinued) I’m used to the quality of Pfaff machines so it doesn’t surprise me that the Air Admire is sturdy (no shifting about on the table while you sew) and very speedy, with a superb quality of stitch. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with the air threading and, as I mention in the video, there’s an automatic threader for both needles too! I couldn’t get the hang of that at all to start with but it’s amazing what a difference it makes if you read the instructions and follow them! Of course, this is an expensive machine and I understand that not everyone will have that kind of budget but if you are considering an air threading overlocker (there are now a lot more models on the market than just market-leader Babylock with prices gradually coming down) then this one is most definitely worth thinking about.
I inserted the invisible zip on the sewing machine, then attached the pocket bag that way too. The T-shirt goes together pretty quickly considering the number of pieces-most pieces are cut singly because they are asymmetric-if you’re using the same fabric throughout it would be an idea to label your pieces in some way so you don’t get them mixed up.
I find it very useful having a variety of stitches to choose from especially when sewing with stretch fabrics, the 3-step zig zag was ideal when I was sewing the elastic into the waistband, I also have an ‘elastic’ stitch which is useful. A lot of machines, even quite simple ones, will probably have a stitch option which will enable you to sew activewear so why not try out a few of them to see exactly what they are, the instruction book should be helpful, or there’s so much information on the internet too.
To neaten the hems and around the neck I swapped over to the Coverlock 3.0 which I had on the coverstitch setting. Again, this is a very sturdy piece of kit with excellent stitch quality, I am finding there is a certain knack to using it and I’m by no means an expert yet but it certainly gives a very professional finish to knit, jersey or stretch garments.
As always, I hope you’ve found this helpful, I always try to be honest about how I get on with a product whether or not I’ve been gifted, loaned or purchased it-all three in this case. If you’re tempted to have a go at activewear then Melissa is a good place to start-she’s even written a book on the subject so you’re in good hands!
So, here we are TWO YEARS on from the first SewOver50 post, on August 18th 2018, and the account now stands at nearly 21K members worldwide!
Personally, I’d really like to thank Judith and Sandy for the amazing amount of work they undertake so graciously in order to steer the Mothership through some interesting and turbulent territory, especially the second half of these last twelve months.
We were all trundling along in our own way when suddenly, in early 2020, the world went very weird indeed. As the impact of Covid-19 started to take effect many of us were locked-down at home, some still working but in a whole new way, reliant on technology to carry on, it was an extremely stressful time for many who could have no contact with their loved ones or friends, lots of sewing-related events we so enjoy were cancelled or postponed. Many of us found that our sewing and creative making was a safe haven amid what was going on around us. For example, did you make a pouffe? I had the luxury of being able to sew whenever I wanted, because I couldn’t go anywhere, and I noticed others embarking on this project so I took the opportunity to use up SO many scraps of fabric and stuff them all into a footstool, I made my own pattern but I know many of you used the ClosetCore free pouffe pattern. I know many others couldn’t sew as often but, from chatting with friends, the time that they were able eke out to sew was vitally important to them, helping them to de-stress and shift their focus for a while. Shopping for fabrics, patterns and haberdashery online became a way, almost the only way, of supporting some of our favourite businesses, as people found new ways to adapt and do business. Sales of sewing machines worldwide increased exponentially with many manufacturers and retailers struggling to keep up with demand. Some of us had sewing sessions with our friends via Zoom, which was occasionally technologically-challenging but it enabled us to be in touch with each other whilst participating in our shared interest. I’m not going to dwell here on the pandemic though because it’s been different for all of us, sewing and being in touch with my sewing friends around the world has been an absolute lifeline for me personally. In fact, rather than watching the all-too-overwhelming daily news stories, it’s enabled me to hear and appreciate what people I feel I’ve come to know have been going through. At one stage it seemed anyone who was able to was using their sewing skills to help with the desperate shortages by making scrubs here in the UK, and possibly elsewhere, and mask-making has become something that people with little previous sewing experience have found themselves being able to contribute. Face coverings have become compulsory in many places now so this will be an ongoing activity in future.
Moving on, as a group @SewOver50 has always strived very hard to be inclusive of anyone who wishes to follow along, after all, part of the reason it started in the first place was because we felt somewhat excluded from sections of the sewing community by virtue (?!) of our age. Following the murder of George Floyd in the US we were all called to question the part we play in our world, even within our sewing community we had to examine our consciences to ask if we were doing enough. #BlackLivesMatter was rapidly followed by #BlackMakersMatter and there is now an Instagram account @BlkMakersMatter where you can see, and follow and support, the massive diversity of BIPOC makers, and not just sewers but crafters and makers of many beautiful things. Many of our wonderful stalwart SewOver50 followers including Diary of a Sewing Fanatic are vocal advocates, I’ve always got time for Carolyn’s no nonsense plain speaking! We shall endeavour to continue reflecting our membership, and involve a diverse range of contributors and guest editors in the future. If you have ideas for future topics, especially if you think we’re missing something important, do please let us know.
So, very briefly, that’s the worldwide picture (as it currently stands) in which there have been quite a few SewOver50-related things going on during the past 12 months too. My personal favourite was our very first, and fortuitously timed, official meet-up in London in late February. Judith was able to join me to co-host and I was thrilled that so many generous companies large and small sponsored prizes for the charity raffle we held. I think, without exception, everyone who attended enjoyed themselves and agreed we would have liked even longer to chat and create new friendships in real life, just weeks later the event couldn’t even have happened. We had high hopes of more of you being able to host your own meet-ups where ever you are in the world but that’s still not really possible, make sure you let us know if you do manage it! Above all though, stay safe!
Stalwart supporter Maria Theoharous in Sydney started her own podcast Sew Organised Style in September 2019 and she generously created a space for Sew Over 50 every Thursday! Judith, Sandy and myself have all chatted with her but you can also listen to a growing list of our fellow followers every week chatting about what sewing, crafting and Sew Over 50 means to them. It’s really lovely to actually hear their voices, talking with enthusiasm about things they are passionate about.
At the beginning of May ClosetCore Patterns paid the ultimate accolade to one of my personally most inspirational sewers, Blanca, by naming a pattern after her, it’s a stylish flight/boiler/jump suit (call it what you will) but I love her personal aesthetic and she absolutely rocks this outfit!
In the UK during the spring, and at the height of lockdown, we had series 6 of the Great British Sewing Bee to enjoy. It featured several fellow dressmakers who we can claim to be representing ‘us’ on national TV. Yes, we know they are ticking boxes to cast certain ‘types’ but at least this time it’s positive discrimination! Even so, 10 weeks went by far too quickly!
Over the year the account covered all sorts of different topics for discussion including, do you always make a toile or just happy to wing it? What are you pet sewing peeves? (cutting out and pattern tracing seemed to be top for this one!) The art of tutu making was a personal favourite, having always loved ballet and especially the costumes. Tips for better and more accurate top stitching was another goody and @SewitwithDi gave us a master class in using the correct interfacings effectively. There are too many others to mention them all but you can refer back at any time, take a screen shot of your favourites or save them to your archive for future reference.
More recently the account reached, and has now surpassed, 20,000 followers! This was marked with a giveaway where two people who had not necessarily met in real life but had formed a friendship through sewing could each win a copy of the same pattern. If you take a look at the hashtag #so50sewalong you can see some of the garments that have been made since this competition ran a couple of months ago. Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that the #sewover50 hashtag has now been used almost 80K times up to this point, it’s an absolute wealth of inspiration and knowledge which is all yours for the taking!
I think many of us enjoyed the opportunity to look back through, and share, some of our holiday photos wearing our me-mades. Sadly many holiday and travel plans haven’t been able to happen this year so it was a lovely way for us all to virtually ‘travel the world’ over the course of a weekend. Lots of us wore those clothes anyway, even if we couldn’t leave home! The online virtual Frocktails in April was another excuse to dress up a bit, knowing our friends around the world were raising a glass to each other at (almost) the same time.
Have you been keeping a #so50bingo card? This has been an ongoing way of keeping tabs on what you have been sewing and other techniques/events you could challenge yourself to try. No pressure, it’s just a bit of fun with no time limit.
During the year I wrote several blog posts based around different topics including sewing advice for newbies (or returners for that matter) your go-to T-shirt patterns, what do you take into account with your fabric buying choices, are you a batch cutter/sewer or just one thing at a time? Judith and I both contributed videos as part of the online Sewing Weekender, this is normally an event held in Cambridge, UK but The Fold Line opened it up worldwide as an online event and it was a huge success with over 1,700 people ‘attending’ from all over the world.
We also held the second #so50visible challenge earlier in the year, we seem to be having success with getting our images reposted by lots of pattern companies which is a very good thing but notably few are choosing older models-with a few honourable exceptions-to represent their patterns in the marketplace. This is still very frustrating when you look at just how many stylish and inspirational people follow this account but if we all keep plugging away a change will come. One thing that pattern companies have said to us is that the quality of photos isn’t always good enough for them to reshare so the better, and clearer, you can make your photos to show off your makes the more likely it is to get reposted. There have been a number of posts with simple tips on how to improve your photos so why not check them out?
Most recently our own Leader Judith has written an article for bi-monthly US-magazine Sew News talking about Sew Over 50, which you can order online.
So, in spite of everything, lots of good things going on for Sew Over 50 in the last twelve months, some progress being made with representation but I’m sure you’ll agree that isn’t all the account is about. I hope you continue to find the account as inspiring as I do? Yes, we all start off by being here for the sewing but it often becomes so much more than that. Real friendships have been forged as a result, very few of us have ever met one another in real life but that doesn’t stop us identifying and empathising with each other and the lives we lead, especially during these last few extraordinary months.
I am deeply indebted to Judith and Sandy for the sheer dedication they have on our behalf, and I’d like to thank all of you for your kind words of encouragement, support and appreciation to me personally, I love being a part of this worldwide community of sewing and I can honestly say the last few months would have been very different without so many of you connecting and interacting with me in some way.
Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…
I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.
Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…
I thought I would share with you the video I made specifically for the recent Sewing Weekender here in the UK for anyone who wasn’t able to, or wasn’t interested in attending. Unlike previous years, when the event takes place over two days in Cambridge, this one was entirely online and so the organisers, Kate and Rachel at The Fold Line and Charlotte @englishgirlathome asked an impressive selection of contributors to make short videos on a variety of topics. I’ve never made a film before so it was a pretty steep learning curve!
The first challenge was going to be filming it, and then it would have to be edited in some way too. I worked out that if I balanced my phone on top of my sewing machine in my workroom it was at the right sort of height with good light. Then I decided I needed a script of sorts to keep me on track and that is what I’ve reproduced here, along with the video itself. I printed it out and stuck the sheets to the window and to the sewing machine like a kind of ramshackle autocue! It turned out the window was too far away though and I looked like I was gazing to the heavens for divine inspiration…how to vloggers do this all the time? Maybe they do just waffle on and nobody minds? hey ho, I knew the things I wanted to say and without some kind of prompt I might forget some of them. Anyway, I managed to film it in bursts although I did have to pause one time to shoo the pigeons off the roof because they were audibly clumping about and I didn’t need that distraction too! I found my laptop has iMovies so I managed to splice the whole thing together using that, the next Jane Campion I am not!! The script below is not word-for-word what I said because I managed to freestyle it a couple of times in an attempt to sound natural but for anyone with hearing difficulties it’s close enough, I’m afraid subtitles were absolutely beyond my rudimentary film-making abilities.
I hope you’ve all been enjoying the Online Sewing Weekender and I want to begin by thanking Kate and Rachel of The Fold line and Charlotte from English Girl at Home for taking the very brave and audacious step of carrying on with the event in spite of the strangeness of the times. It’s so great to imagine all of us sewing away at the same time wherever we are in the world.
As well as my own Instagram account I’ve also been involved with the SewOver50 account since the very beginning and whilst Judith and Sandy manage the account on a day-to-day basis I write the blogs which accompany particular discussions or any challenges which have been running.
When Kate, Rachel and Charlotte invited me to be involved I thought I’d chat a bit about the #so50visible challenge involving indie patterns in particular. It first ran in February last year and then again this March.
The reason SO50 began in the first place was because we felt that our slightly older age group was being overlooked by the burgeoning home sewing industry and we really didn’t want it to become as age-centric as the mainstream fashion industry has always been. Plus many of us bring a wealth of knowledge and experience which we’re only too happy to share with anyone new or maybe returning to dressmaking at home.
Many of you will know that the dress pattern market has been dominated for many decades by the so-called Big 4 but in the last 10 years or so there’s been a boom in independent designers putting out their own patterns.
Followers of SO50 have embraced these indie designers with gusto but we also felt a little bit side-lined by them too. We didn’t often see ourselves being reflected back on the packaging or marketing.
The #so50visible challenge was created to draw some attention to ourselves, to highlight that very few older sewers were featured, and to politely encourage a change of thinking.
We came up with the idea to ask people to only sew a pattern which featured an older model in it’s advertising and promotion.
Judith and I spent an absolute age trawling through the Fold Line database and eventually came up with quite a modest list considering how many patterns are listed! We found a few books with older models too.
Throughout the month long challenge followers were asked to share their makes, it meant many people found new brands of pattern maker which we might not have heard of before. Very often the most popular patterns were stylish, fashion-forward and wearable but the model looked more like us. Many of SewOver50’s followers are still very interested in fashion and style and we still want to look good whilst making our own clothes.
Many of us in our 50s and 60s have more time to sew for pleasure and we might have more cash to spend on patterns and fabric too so it always strikes me that it’s a missed opportunity for indie pattern makers to disregard this huge potential market.
While the first challenge was running we also introduced the #so50thanks hashtag because if anyone’s make was reposted by the designer we thought it was important to appreciate that they had first of all noticed and acknowledged the maker and that they were then happy to share it on their own feed.
It’s a virtuous circle isn’t it? Feature an older model on the pattern and it gets our attention, we buy your product, we share our makes, SewOver50 probably reposts to it’s 20K followers, you get free advertising to an audience with money to spend, and more people will buy the pattern because they can imagine themselves wearing those clothes-simple!
There are a few other companies like Maven and Alice & Co who don’t use models at all, just illustrations or mannequins but they are super-supportive and involved in our community and constantly share and repost. Let’s be honest here, most of us are pleased to get a like or a repost because it gives us a little boost that the designer noticed us, we can all gain ideas and inspiration from others, and we want to see the garments being worn by people who are similar to ourselves in some way. The pattern companies which do notice us have then tended to become very popular with SO50 followers, it’s that virtuous circle again.
We think there’s a small element of change happening but there’s a long way to go, though there are more companies than just the ones I’ve had time to mention here and there’s always room for more.
I’m always happy to share the knowledge and experience I have from many years of sewing, and I know of many others who are too. It’s fantastic to be a part of this worldwide sewing community and it’s diversity is vital so if we can encourage a few more indie brands to look beyond the young, slim, white stereotype then that can only be a positive thing right?
Enticing us to spend our grey pounds (or dollars) is a good reason to check out what the followers of SewOver50 are up to especially as there are now almost 20,000 of us! And I will often write honest reviews of patterns or fabric over on my blog which you might find interesting too, I like to think I’m a critical friend. I would encourage anyone to look at the #sewover50 hashtag because there are now tens of thousands of images to inspire you.
Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of the Sewing Weekender wherever you are, and I hope whatever you’re sewing is going well, with any luck we will have opportunities to meet again in real life before too long, I do hope so. I love going to meet-ups and being able to chat with fellow sewers, and filming myself like this is a first for me so I hope it’s made a bit of sense!
Thank you again to Kate, Rachel and Charlotte,
Bye bye etc etc…
I spent both days of the Weekender on a video call with two of my sewing buddies Melissa Fehr and Elizabeth Connolly, I met them both originally at the first Weekender and we’ve all been fortunate enough to go to every one since, we weren’t going to let a pandemic stop us this time! I made another Camber which was one of the projects I cut out on my recent batch cutting splurge and I added a machine embroidery stitch from my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0.
If you’ve ever read any of my previous blog posts you’ll know I really enjoy going to meet-ups so not being able to do this for the last few months has been sad to say the least, with luck it won’t be too much longer though. To my mind, this year Charlotte, Kate and Rachel have successfully created the next best thing because everyone could sew whenever and wherever they were in the world. Some did as I did and had group chats going on, two sewers I know set up their machines on trestle tables in the garden (suitably distanced of course!) others were solo but had all the video content to keep them company or by using the #sewingweekender hashtag, some didn’t/couldn’t really join in with sewing on the day for one reason or another but took part in the giant Zoom at the end of Saturday, or early afternoon on Sunday. The Zoom was fantastic because it made me realise just how many people from all over the world had been participating including the US, Canada, Germany, Norway, Israel and Australia, and hearing so many shout-outs for SewOver50 from them was even better! Everyone, whatever their situation or circumstances, had the opportunity to buy a ticket-which was essentially a charitable donation anyway-it will be interesting to see if this is a format that could be repeated in the future to make the event inclusive worldwide. Were you ‘there’? what did you make of the concept, and was it preferable in some way to the real life event for you, or not as good? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts
These have been very strange times of late and many of our regular activities have been curtailed or stopped completely. I’ve carried on sewing because it’s my creative outlet but a few weeks ago I started to feel like I had no clue what particular projects to settle on. Lots of vague ideas would float into my mind but then just as easily float back out again before I got underway with any of them. I had a couple of things which I had to sew for blog posts but beyond those I didn’t have a plan, or a clue!
My friend Melissa @fehrtrade happened to comment in our WhatsApp chat that she had sketched out her summer sewing plans, complete with their fabric needs. Most fabrics were from her stash and a couple of other items needed to be purchased.
This got me thinking, if I actually wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to make then it might give me the impetus to move forwards in a positive direction. So that’s exactly what I did. Some items on the list are patterns I’ve made previously, and love, whilst others were new ones I’ve been wanting to try. Once I’d created a reasonable list I ‘shopped’ from my stash which was good fun, I have some lovely fabrics just waiting for the right project. Whilst I can be something of an impulse purchaser of fabric I’m pretty good at sticking to my own fabric purchasing rules which I listed in the recent @SewOver50 post about fabric-buying which are as follows:
Do I really love this fabric?
Is it suitable for my intended purpose?
Do I really need it?
Price is obviously an important factor too but, for me, it’s loosely covered by these criteria anyway.
I knew with some canny cutting I could get more than one garment out of some of the fabric so eventually I settled on about 8 things from the list. In some cases I had two patterns for one piece of fabric because I couldn’t decide between them.
Once I was ready to cut, initially I picked the patterns I had made before, several times in a couple of cases. Primarily this meant the pattern was already cut out but also I would have things which were reliable because I knew they would fit, I enjoy wearing the style and there’s always room for another version in my wardrobe. Once I’d started cutting I couldn’t stop! I ploughed on for about a day and half until I had a pile of half a dozen items cut out, four of the six were remakes and two were new patterns. I felt very satisfied with this.
So why exactly am I telling you how accomplished I felt!? Because @SewOver50 right-hand woman Sandy messaged me to draw my attention to Lis @ThreadTaylors who had recently posted something similar on her feed whereby she had cut two shirts at the same time for her son and then made them both up too. Now, even though I’ve just told you that I’ve cut lots of things this isn’t my usual practice, I’m normally a ‘one thing at a time’ sewer. When I’m sewing for myself I like to complete the process from cutting to wearing before I move on to the next project, unless something goes disastrously wrong! (it might go on the naughty step for a bit while I sulk!) If I’m making for someone else there are the inevitable delays if there are fittings to schedule but otherwise the same would apply to that as well. Sandy had spotted a topic for discussion here so she invited me to manage a post on @SewOver50 asking if others cut/made in batches, made one thing at a time, or were somewhere in between?
Well the followers of @SewOver50 did not disappoint! Like the recent discussion about ‘cheap’ fabric, this was a topic where lots of you shared your thoughts so I was kept very busy reading, and responding, over the course of the next couple of days.
This is a distillation of your comments and we all seem to have a similar practices at one time or another. Many said they were like me in that they prefer to have one project on the go at a time and this was most often because they want to really enjoy the process. We take time to select the pattern, choose the fabric, match the thread and source the trims or haberdashery. Then very often it’s time to make a toile, finesse the fitting of that toile, maybe even make another toile or two before they are completely happy and ready to cut the fashion fabric, interfacings and linings! It’s all part of what makes dressmaking and sewing an enjoyable pastime for many and it’s not something to be rushed. Personally I wouldn’t say I rush but I don’t always take as much time as possibly I should. Many felt this made them more focussed, or if plenty of time wasn’t an option then they could break it down into 10-20 minute chunks which felt manageable and was still making progress.
To list or not to list? Or sketch for that matter? Melissa likes to create a page of sketches which is great because you can see a style to remind yourself what it looks like, especially if you’re likely to forget which style the pattern number or name refers to, or from a magazine like Burdastyle or Knipmode for example. I’ve made a long written list, selected a few items from it and ticked them off as I cut them. I also have a large whiteboard on the wall of my workroom on which I write different lists for the various things I’m up to and in normal times that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Some people suggested this kept them more focussed and I think I agree with them, I can still slot other items in as required. Personally I’d never want any list to be completely regimented with no flexibility because that would suck all the joy out of sewing for me. There are times when I do have to sew things which I don’t really want to but it’s a necessity and so the pleasurable makes are the ones which I ‘reward’ myself with.
A few people said they didn’t like the idea of lists or batches because they felt it took too much organisation, I probably feel less like that because I have lots of haberdashery, trims, interfacing etc so I don’t need to think too much about “have I got so-and-so” in order to make a start.
If you’re a serial non-finisher then there’s every chance you’ll end up with quite a large UFO pile. I think lockdown and Me Made May (which has just finished) has forced/encouraged quite a lot of people to revisit these projects on the naughty step and to reassess them. There is a distinct feeling of achievement when working through them to either finish a garment, repurpose it, recycle it or take it apart and start again!
The space we need for cutting out was one of the biggest factors for concentrating the cutting to a certain amount of time. If you use the dining table or the floor then there’s every chance you’ll need to move your things for practical reasons, family life/mealtimes for example, the floor is very hard on the knees, pets interrupting are a recurring theme too! All of these may mean you can only use the space in small bursts which limits how much can be cut. For many dressmakers cutting out is a necessary evil which they don’t enjoy so want it over with as quickly as possible. As a former sample cutter I always make sure I cut as accurately and efficiently as possible to ensure the best results. You can read a few of my top tips in this blog. If you really hate cutting out then batching could be a good thing because it gets it out of the way for a while!
In order to be efficient many told me that they will cut several of the same pattern at the same time if they have a favourite. Tops and T-shirts were probably the most popular of these but dresses and trousers/jeans also cropped up too. This can work well when you know a garment fits and you aren’t tweaking and fitting as you go along. Whilst making several versions of a single pattern one follower told me she writes notes onto the pattern each time in a different colour so that she knows what she’s done, and to see its development during the process. If you’re making a number of the same thing it’s efficient to keep the threads the same but personally I like to use a reasonably-matching thread to overlock as often as possible. Others are less precious and will use the same colour for everything because repeatedly changing threads takes time and keeping a range of colours can be costly.
Many of us have spent at least some of lockdown cutting and sewing scrubs, bags and face coverings, some sewed lots of them, others just one or two sets. I’ve no doubt at all though that they were well received but there’s no getting away from the fact that they became very tedious after a while. The repetition was pretty boring, although it could also have the positive byproduct of making us become more efficient sewers, and we all agreed it gave us a new-found respect and admiration for those who had no choice but to sew in factories, often with very little pleasure or decent wages involved. Some of us developed ‘production’ techniques whereby we would complete each operation the same on every garment before moving on, for example, join all the shoulder seams, attach all the neck facings, insert all the sleeves etc etc. This undoubtedly saved a lot of time but it does make you a bit boggle-eyed after a few days! @alexjudgesews did admit though that making scrubs nearly put her off sewing for life! I’ve no intention of getting into the discussion of whether or not any of us should have been sewing scrubs but I do know that I’m really really proud of how the home sewing community rose to the challenge and did it any way.
Many of us gather each prepared project together in some way, ready to begin. I like to use large ziplock-type bags which I can reuse over and over, I’ll put the pattern and cut fabric in although I don’t tend to include inter, threads or trims (many do) I’ll grab those as I go along usually from what I have. One suggested idea I liked was to use baskets to contain everything, that’s certainly more attractive than plastic bags!
A few comments made me chuckle, someone said she batch cuts but then forgets about them, where they are or even what they are! My friend Corrie @ceramic67 told me “I often cut 2 or 3 at the same time, I’m still slow but it makes me feel faster!”
A recurring comment was to spend separate days doing each part of their own creative routine so, a day printing and sticking PDFs then a day tracing them off, a day or more cutting the fabric and then the enjoyment of the sewing uninterrupted. We all have our own version of what works for us and it will vary depending on the types of pattern we like to use.
For lots of us it’s more pleasurable to be free to decide what to make and when to make it, pre-planning is no fun!
Amongst the ‘planners’ some use mood boards with sketches, photos and swatches, others will often create mini-capsules to accompany clothes they already have, or make a new, related, group of clothing. I keep swatches of the fabrics I have in a little book, it’s very low-tech but it’s good to leaf through and reminds me what I have without getting everything out.
So as you’ll see there’s no firm consensus and ultimately we do what works for us and our situation. Maybe you just batch cut small projects like Xmas gifts of pencil cases or wash bags for example, or maybe you only ever one thing at a time and nothing will persuade you to do otherwise! Having more than one item on the go could give you the option to move sideways onto something else if you realise you’ve got to wait for a delivery, or head out for some buttons or something, has anything you read here made you think you’ll try a different method next time?
Whatever works for you, until next time, happy sewing!
At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?
So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.
Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…
So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds.
[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ]
Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.
In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!
For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print.
Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters.
But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.
So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes.
I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?
@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics.
Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.
At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.
Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes.
As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing.
This isn’t so much a blog as a photo album. I know lots of you appreciate seeing images from the beautiful exhibitions that I often go to so I thought I’d share the pictures I took when I visited the Alexander McQueen shop in Old Bond St, London recently.
If you go up to the second floor of the flagship store you will find a stunning collection of brand new as well as archive garments on display. Whilst you’re not allowed to touch, nothing is behind glass and you are free to take your time, wander around between the clothes and see everything close up and great detail.
The overarching theme this time is ‘roses’ and as well as items from the new collection there are several gowns from past ones including the Sarabande collection from 2007, and The Girl Who lived in the Tree from 2008. McQueen used many natural forms and ‘textiles’ within his collections including shells and bones as well as wood and metal, he never shied away from experimentation.
Close by are the most gorgeous, extravagant gowns made from metres and metres of Italian silk taffeta, constructed to specifications which will enhance its qualities of stiffness and pliability. We were told that each gown contains none of the usual stiffeners or interfacings such as crin or horsehair, a small amount of boning is used in the Elizabethan-style collar of the red dress but that’s it.
These photos are well worth taking the time to look at because it gives you some idea of the working process as well as the starting point for ideas. There are images, for example, from Vita Sackville West’s beautiful gardens at Sissinghurst Castle in Sussex (well worth a visit too!)
What I find so memorable about the show space is the sheer amount of visual information and it’s there for all to see, there’s nothing secretive or precious about the process. Although it’s aimed at students primarily anyone with an interest is welcome too, and the assistants are happy to tell you everything they know, and to point out things which may be of interest. I wonder if other designers would be as happy to open up in this way? The Sarabande Foundation was set up by Lee Alexander McQueen as a way of promoting and supporting visionary creative talent which still continues.
So, what loves a rose possibly most of all? Bees of course! Just take a look at this beautiful gown, it’s so simple in its silhouette and yet the details are stunning.
Just a few more photos! There are also examples of dresses nearby made from beautiful needlepoint, and one riffing on a similar theme of deconstructed corsets similar to the previous exhibition.
So to sum up, if you are in London in the Mayfair area I’d urge you to take a visit to the second floor of the McQueen shop. Even if you only have 30 minutes it’s a good way to spend the time and don’t worry, the doorman is friendly, tell him I sent you!!
When our Great Leader Judith responded to the call by the Sewcialists account on Instagram twelve months ago to set up a new account specifically for sewers over 50 little did we imagine that it would become what it is now. With over thirteen and a half thousand followers, and still increasing all the time, it’s a hub primarily for sewers, dressmakers, sewists, crafters, call them what you will, who are mostly, but not exclusively, over the age of 50 to share what they’ve made. The #sewover50 hashtag has now been used over 31K times! We have made it a supportive, encouraging and educational place where people can feel safe and happy to post their photos and know that there will be other like-minded people who have the same shared interest in sewing looking at them. Our life experiences will have many parallels, dealing with things like menopause and our bodies changing into ones we no longer recognise, caring for elderly parents perhaps, looking after grandchildren or worrying about older offspring trying to make their way in the world. Some of us might be in a ’sweet spot’ before some of these events arrive but whatever brings us to #sewover50 we all want to make the most of our sewing time.
I said ‘mostly over the age of 50’ because there are many younger people following too, they may not share as many images but we know from comments and feedback that they enjoy seeing and being inspired by what other SewOver50ers post.
Rather than simply write another ‘what have we done, what have we achieved’ post I thought I’d turn the questions over to others who have been a part of Sew Over 50 since the early days. With over 13.5k thousand members, and more than 31,000 uses of the hashtag, it was almost impossible to choose from so many amazing people but we narrowed it down to a tiny cross-section and they all generously shared with me what their own feelings about Sew Over 50 are, what it means to them and why they think it’s important.
I started by asking them how @SewOver50 had come to their attention, and I’ve used their own words as often as possible.
Several of us were already following Judith and enjoyed her sewing and interacting with her so it was a simple step to move sideways to the new account from August 18th. Others came to it via the Sewcialists account and some noticed the #sewover50 hashtag starting to appear in accounts of other makers that they followed. It mushroomed at lightening speed. One of the most touching responses I received though was from Tina @bricolagedk1 who told me a very different reason for her joining in. Living in Denmark she was struggling to adjust to a new and altered body-shape after a mastectomy, RTW clothing just wasn’t right any more so she wanted to start sewing her own again after many years but found a lack of patterns and information available. She contacted Judith directly and, when Judith shared the question with everyone this was the response. I’ll let her explain in her own words,
“You posted my request and I got an amazing response. People gave me drafting tips, and told me of helpful sewing tools for hurting hands and weak arms. A couple of post mastectomy sewers also contacted me. Others from the SO50 community gifted me patterns, and translated patterns for me from languages I didn’t understand. They told me of patternmaking books with drafting tips for asymmetric sewing. But most of all, everyone was extremely supportive, and in less than a year I have gone from feeling so alone and insecure about how to sew for my changed body, to being part of a very supportive, helpful and inclusive community.”
Marianne @foxglovesandthimbles also found us via Sewcialists but she makes an interesting observation about what happened for a while after joining. Initially she wasn’t sure about becoming part of a sub-community because she’s very happy in her own skin but she gave us the benefit of the doubt. However, “during the first weeks of SO50 I struggled with the fact that, due to the call for inclusion, my feed ended up less diverse. Instagram’s algorithm steered me away from my younger sewing friends and all I saw was Sew Over 50 posts. Just as I was about to quit the group it became obvious that using the hashtag had helped a lot of sewists in finding their tribe and gaining confidence. That’s what convinced me to stay and fully support SO50!” The darned algorithm has a lot to answer for and I wonder how many others didn’t stick around?
When I asked what everyone enjoyed about being a part of SO50 I got many and varied answers. Janet @sewdalriada felt that “since participating in SO50 and making new friends my Instagram feed is brighter and livelier and I look forward to the imaginative, creative and often humorous posts popping up each day.” Kate @stitchmeayear loves that we “champion ordinary sewers….real people being proud of what they’ve made which is great.” Words like positivity and humour cropped up often, the overwhelming experience though is supportive, knowledgeable and inspirational. Carolyn @diaryofasewingfanatic says she believes “SO50 came at a great time when sewists were voicing their displeasure at not being seen. This account makes it possible for older sewists to be seen and heard from now on.”
Everyone I spoke to felt that because we are all, for the most part at least, of similar ages and shared life experiences, that we ‘got’ each other, we feel included which was a very positive thing. Kellie @gigi_made_it puts it beautifully, “you have managed to infuse a sense that our lives as creatives matter, that there is value in what we do. Our group exists to support, inform, inspire, encourage and lift each other up, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.”
I was interested to know about everyone’s sewing ‘career’ and many are like me, a lifetime of sewing and dressmaking, often with a break for career and/or children. Carrie @endlessdznsbycarrie told me she was a long-time sewer but “life pulled her away for a few years. When I returned to sewing in 2007 I took quite a few classes and here I am now-loving it even more!” Raquel @raquel_sewing_knitting_in_asia had a different reason to start, “my sister Bea taught me to sew when I was 16 years old and having boyfriend trouble. She knew that teaching me to sew would be a creative outlet I could use in my life then.” Nicky, however, is a relative newbie “my daughters bought me a beginners dressmaking course two years ago and I have not looked back-I absolutely love it! I am a slow sewer and growing in confidence.” Janet had been a avid dressmaker until the demands of work and family life got in the way but she rediscovered her love of sewing “after a gap of many years, following my husband’s life changing accident. As his primary carer sewing has proved therapeutic by providing a creative outlet and temporary escape and has been a great confidence booster.” Lisa @mabelthemannequin has an equally difficult story when, after a lot of years sewing mostly for others she was diagnosed last year with a systemic illness which robbed her of her sight for a few months, “it was during this time that my husband read an article to me from the internet about Me Made May and we decided it was something for me to aim for when my sight returned. I started sewing for myself again and am absolutely loving it! I am using lots of skills that I had forgotten I had and am far more adventurous in both the things I want to make and wear.”
We all look at SO50 for inspiration so I wondered if anyone used it specifically as a resource for other information? Blanca @blakandblanca says she “asks about patterns, techniques and sources often as a way to support suppliers or businesses that are independent and are promoted by the sewing community.” Janet often saves posts by other members, for example where they’ve shared tips on pattern adjustments. Mary @marythimble says members “are a constant source of inspiration to me, after all, they’re real people! They are all so ready with tips, advice and knowledge, I have learnt so much from so many people. I would never have thought I could make my own jeans, coats or undies before.” Marianne lives in the Netherlands which, like the UK, isn’t often troubled with very hot weather but recently she called upon her sewing friends in warmer climates for advice in suggesting stylish hot weather patterns! Raquel and Tina told me that they had been inspired to try new techniques such as embroidery, fabric dyeing, use vintage patterns and work with sheer fabrics after seeing others do the same.
Interacting with one another seemed to be the main reason many of our members contribute to the account, the feeling of being part of a group. For Mary she “no longer feels that sewing is an isolating hobby. It’s no longer weird to prefer to sew on a Friday night than go out partying. I am understood and accepted for being slightly eccentric!” Carolyn follows several other sewing related groups including #sewincolour #pocwhosews #plussizesewing and #curvysewingcollective. By including these along with the #sewover50 hashtag she finds a much more diverse group of people through her posts. [Incidentally, did you realise that you can write all the hashtags you like to use in ‘notes’ on your phone so that you can then simply copy and paste them into your posts rather than try and remember, and laboriously type, them all out every time. It’s saved in favourites on the account if you want more info]
The original reason the account started in the first place was what we perceived as lack of visibility for older sewers so I asked everyone if they felt it as important for us to be ‘campaigning’ still. There was an overwhelming ‘yes!’ Carolyn puts it so eloquently when she told me “while the sewing community has experienced and continues to experience growing pains while attempting to include ALL sewists under the tent, it’s doing better a far better job than the the knitting community. While change has been incremental so far, you can tell everyone has heard the conversations and is trying hard to apply them. And we all know change takes time…nothing happens overnight. The thing is to ensure that the changes aren’t temporary but they’re binding and will be there going forward.”
Lisa also made a good point when she said “I am 50 but I’m not ready for my shroud just yet! I want to wear fashionable clothes and I want to decide if it is appropriate for me. Seeing models my age, shape and size is important whatever age you are. Things are improving but we must continue.”
Marianne takes a different stance because, for her, “age representation is a non-issue. When I first started sewing I never felt like those artist’s impressions on pattern envelopes, or stick thin Parisian ladies with their hats and gloves, were very useful when it came to judging the bones of a pattern. Line drawings most definitely were! They are still my main source of information and I hardly look at the models.” Tina made the point that she often doesn’t buy a pattern “when the girl modelling them is 30 years younger than me, because I cannot relate my body to the way her body is, and because my body bits are not placed in the same places as hers. So I guess if it looks good on her it will look horrible on my body where 50 years of gravity is a fact!” Blanca reckons it is “so important for people of all ages and sizes to see themselves as valued by the businesses they support. There is certainly a change going on in the pattern world.”
Many of us feel we have formed real bonds with people across the world although admittedly not many of us have been able to meet up in real life but @suestoney covered quite a lot of ground in the UK during her visit earlier in the year, meeting up with several fellow SewOver50ers including Janet and Judith. If you ever meet up with others, especially if it’s in some far-from-home location, make sure to tag us so we can share! We really are a global account and we love to reflect that in our posts. Katrin @sagner_by_katrin feels that although she isn’t aware of other sewers near her in Sweden she says that we’re all “a friendly bunch so I don’t hesitate if I want to ask someone something. Mostly I really enjoyed being inspired by everybody and maybe inspire others too.”
I was interested to hear if anyone felt their own style had changed, or was evolving as a result of being part of SO50. All of us agree that we’re very inspired by what others post and it influences what patterns we might choose to buy and make. I love that Carrie says “so many in the #sewover50 community have inspired me to take my ‘I make what I like-I wear what I like’ creations up a few notches! I no longer consider colours or seasons or even fabrics when creating, I just have fun with it!” Also Tina makes the point that by seeing what looks good on 50+ bodies inspires her to try out new patterns and fabrics.
Carolyn knows her own style pretty well but she’s always interested to see the different adaptations of patterns that people create by using colours, prints and patterns that she wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. Janet has pushed her style boundaries “for example I’ve made dungarees and shorts, both of which I feel comfortable wearing.” Mary acknowledges “there have been several times I’ve made things based on seeing it on someone else, I always try to acknowledge them as my inspiration when I do.” Although she’s yet to embrace the animal print trend!
Our challenges are something which seem to have divided opinion, some embraced them enthusiastically and others not so much. The initial one sparked a huge amount of interest because it really drew attention to just how few patterns featured an older model, the flatlay challenge was definitely for fun and there were a lot of entries, which may have been because we had so many prizes! There is currently an ongoing challenge to use or reinvent a vintage or vintage-inspired pattern to create a brand new garment. It might require a little more thinking outside the box because the finished garment doesn’t have to be an exact replica of a vintage garment, merely use the pattern as a springboard to creativity. Going forward we want to host more challenges which encourage and inspire everyone, whether they take part or not, so that it makes us really think more about our sewing. We’ve go our thinking caps on but if you have a good idea you’d care to share then do let us know. Blanca made the point that the challenges gave her some guidelines to follow which are what she needs to get properly inspired. “Not so easy for me to sit down and decide what to do with a blank slate. Every challenge was exciting to follow with group members bringing on their fun and beautiful creations. Nothing like checking in on new posts!”
It’s almost impossible to sum up briefly what @sewover50 has become, and what it means to everyone who participates. It means different things to different people but the main things I’ve drawn from everyone’s responses is that above all else it’s inspiring and supportive. For some it has enabled them to come to terms with serious health issues for themselves or loved ones, it has given them a breathing space away from difficulties. Creativity is a form of mindfulness because while you’re sewing for pleasure there’s time to consider what you’re doing, often to the exclusion of everything else. My own feelings are perhaps more complex because I often undertake sewing, mainly alterations, for others and I can’t honestly find much that’s mindful in turning up someone’s trouser hems! However, I then try to ‘reward’ myself with sewing something just for me. I try to ‘give back’ to the sewing community in the form of using my years of experience by helping test patterns for Indie makers. We all agree that though we want to see similar people to ourselves sewing and making, we also want a balance, we want to share and be inspired by our younger sewing friends. In the UK it became something of a dirty word to study ‘textiles’ and the art of clothes making had virtually died out amongst the younger generation. Thankfully, that seems to be in reverse now, partly because of programmes like the Great British Sewing Bee (and its overseas counterparts) because young women in particular, and some young men too, are embracing the creativity and satisfaction we can get from making our own clothes.
At the end of our (Ok, not mine, the technology gremlins showed up with impeccable timing!) recent appearance on That Sewing Blab, the final question Dawn asked to Judith and Sandy was, “if (still waiting…) the big pattern companies come knocking to ask how we would like to be presented in the catalogues and on pattern envelopes, what would we say to them?” Well we would certainly say that putting all the same old pictures from the last year in the front of the catalogue does not constitute any change, it just means that the same photos are not hidden in the catalogue so much. Sandy did some research recently to see if there had been an appreciable change and she worked out that from the hundreds of images she trawled through in the big catalogues that just 1% featured anyone who appeared to be remotely 45+. This is much worse than any other group with the possible exception of people with disabilities. We know change takes time but really?? There’s no excuse in this day and age not to have a good cross-section of ages, sizes, ethnicities, gender/non-binary, everyone. Many of us choose to make our own clothes because we can’t or don’t want to conform to ‘the norm’, there shouldn’t be the same constraints as there are in the RTW fashion industry. #sewover50 is trying to help speed up part of the change.
I am deeply indebted to everyone who so generously sent me their personal stories, and I am extremely grateful that they have allowed me to share them here with you. Without them, and all of you, there would be no point to the account existing. It could have withered on the vine right back at the beginning, or fizzled out after just a few months, but it didn’t, it’s still going strong. This is in no small measure to the time and dedication that Judith and Sandy spend day in, day out, responding and reacting to every post that shares the hashtag. Given that there is no reward for doing so that’s no mean feat, some companies have paid staff to do exactly that and they don’t do it half so well!
If you still haven’t read any of my original posts that kick started all of this then you can read a couple of them here, and here .
I would especially like to thank these wonderful women for their honesty, their kind words and their unending support and enthusiasm, I haven’t been able to use even a fraction of what they shared with me but without them, all of you, Judith, Sandy and I would have nothing to do…other than have more time to sew I suppose…
Maybe you’ve recently found SewOver50, perhaps you’ve just returned to sewing and dressmaking or it’s new hobby for you. Whatever your situation (and you absolutely DON’T have to be over 50 to follow us) you can rest assured that there will lots of people only too willing to offer you help, assistance, friendly supportive comments and inspiration.
I think Mary sums up many (but not all!) of us with her remark, “the not-so-secret-society-of-aging-sewers. I may look half a hundred, but in my head I’m being the rebellious teenage I never was!”