Sewing the M&M Ellsworth shirt for Backstitch

The Backstitch store at Burwash Manor near Cambridge.

As one of the new team of Backstitch Ambassadors I relished the chance to go along to the gorgeous shop at Burwash Manor to browse their fabrics and patterns. It’s about 40 minutes from where I live and I love to go there whenever I get an opportunity, I’ve previously included it in this round-up of Hertfordshire based fabric shops. To be completely honest, I already had an idea that I would like to make the newish Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt but I had an open mind about fabric choice. In my head I was looking for a lightweight linen-type but as soon as my eyes alighted on the checked double gauze I was all in for that! It was folded on the bolt with the large check visible on the outside but when I discovered the reverse was small checks my mind was blown and I knew I could mix the two sides to create a unique garment. There are currently 4 colours available but I settled on the pretty shell pink variation. I took 2 metres as per the pattern instructions but after cutting it out (and as I’ve found before with M&M patterns) I had almost 50cms left over, even allowing for pattern matching. It’s very annoying when this happens and I’ve made a note for next time. I cut a straight UK 12 with no mods.

I loved the elliptical pearly buttons but there were only two of the pink shade left so I made do with two pink and four ivory. Backstitch have quite a wide selection of buttons, trims, and ribbons plus lots of other haberdashery and sewing equipment including Brother sewing machines.

The Ellsworth is quite typical of M&M’s aesthetic, it is a very wide and loose fit shirt with a stepped hem, a collar and button placket and cropped, cuffed sleeves. It will lend itself towards fabrics which have an element of fluidity and drape such as soft linen or cotton-types, light woollens, crepe, chambray or babycord. Some light- or medium-weight jerseys would probably be okay but I wouldn’t recommend ones with a lot of stretch. 

Another reason for choosing this shirt (apart from the fact I liked it anyway) is because I had seen a few makers on Instagram were having trouble interpreting the instructions for the placket. I hope what follows will give you a bit more information and guidance. 

Away we go…

Definitely give your fabric a wash first, its light loose weave will shrink a little (it will be very crinkly when it comes out of the machine but don’t panic, it will press flat again. You may ultimately prefer the crinkles but they will be hard to work with during the making process so press as you go for now)

If you are a person with no patience when it comes to laying up your fabric, or time is tight, then this may not be the fabric choice for you because it does need some careful laying up and folding to get the checks straight and matching [or you could cut every piece on the flat to save on the head scratching] There were a couple of places where, in spite of my best efforts I was bit off but I won’t tell you where they were and you might not notice anyway! It does have the advantage of the large check being 3cms square and the reverse is 1cm squares so a 1cm or 1.5cm seam allowance shouldn’t be a problem to follow.

The problematic placket is made first so here’s my interpretation of the instructions for you. Begin by interfacing all pieces as instructed (although I interfaced the whole placket rather than half as the fabric is quite fine and a bit unstable)

Mark the bottom of where the placket will be sewn on with tailor’s tacks or a soluble marker pen then stay stitch just within the seam allowance, at 1.4cm (14mm) to reinforce the area. For visual reference, the large squares are my right side, the small squares are the wrong side of the fabric.
Cut down the centre front line and carefully snip diagonally into the corners.
Fold and press each of the two placket pieces down the centre and then press in the seam allowance on one edge only. Trim this by half
Next, pin each unpressed edge onto either side of the slit, right sides together.
Stitch each side in position down as far as the tailor’s tacks, you should stop a little bit short of the bottom edge.
Trim down the seams by half.
Now flip the work over so that you have the wrong side uppermost. Press the seams in towards the placket piece on the left as you look at it then fold over like this, pin and tack in place. Now turn the work back over again.
Working with the right side uppermost, edgestitch the placket you have prepared.
Keeping the right unfinished placket out of the way, you need to position the left placket (the one you have just sewn) layered like so with the triangle at the base of the slit. Carefully stitch just below the original staystitching. This is with the inside of the work uppermost, neaten the edge and press downwards.
Now work on the right placket (it is on the left as you look at it though) Fold up the lower edge as demonstrated here, pin and tack in place. Edgestitch on the right side of the placket only as far as the bottom, do not sew across the bottom yet. Now work your buttonholes while the placket is still separate.
After working the buttonholes, lap the placket over the underneath one and stitch it in position like this.
You should now have a placket which looks something like this.

Next I moved on to the sleeve opening which is neatened with a very narrow bias strip.

I found the bias strip included to be incredibly narrow, especially for a fabric which is loose weave and a bit prone to fraying so you may want to cut your strips a little bit wider. I made the strips work but they were very fiddly. Instead of edgestitching as per the instructions I sewed them with a tiny zigzag which I hope will hold them firmly in place. Or you could slipstitch them by hand if you prefer. Next, fold the bias evenly in half and stitch across the top at a 45 degree angle, I’m not sure if the diagram intends you to sew through the sleeve too, I didn’t.
The way I’ve sewn it, once it’s finished, the sleeve opening and cuff looks like this.

The hem facings are sewn on next, then join the shoulders using French seams. This is a useful technique if your fabric is very fine, sheer, or frays badly, or if you don’t own an overlocker. Obviously you can sew a flat seam and overlock/zigzag if you prefer. You could also topstitch these seams if you want a bit of interest on them. My personal preference is to press shoulder seams to the front, this is so that the seam is slightly less visible when looking at it.

I found the collar instructions straightforward so I won’t go into them as well, I opted to catch the lower edge down by hand so that I had control over it and a really neat finish. I also added a label from Little Rosy Cheeks.

Inside the finished collar

The sides are then French seamed, be careful with the step at the lower edge and make sure you don’t take too much seam allowance on the seams because this could throw out the overlap at the top of the opening. I used the bartack stitch on my Pfaff to secure it as this could be a point of weakness further down the line.

I opted to sew two rows of edgestitching along the top of the hem facings, just to add a bit of interest.
Finally, the cuffs are sewn on and the buttons added.

all finished

I’m all in Merchant and Mills today, these are their Eve trousers in cream drill which I bought at their Rye store back in September 2021.

I cut a straight UK 12 with no modifications and I’m 5’5” tall but if you’re taller you might want to lengthen the shirt as it’s quite cropped at the front.

I’m very pleased with how the Ellsworth has come out, I’ve worn it with flat-front Eve trousers but it will look good with a skirt or even a dress under it for layering. I’m going to have a look through the stash to see what other fabrics I can make it in now!

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write for Backstitch because it’s a lovely little shop which I’ve been visiting for a few years now. It’s in a beautiful rural location and sells a really nice, well-considered range of quality fabrics and indie patterns and sewing books. As Ambassadors we are provided with gift vouchers to shop in the store, it’s entirely up to us what we make and how much of those vouchers we spend, the balance can be kept to spend on another occasion if we choose to. If you don’t live anywhere near enough to pay a visit yourself then Backstitch has a recently revamped website to shop through too, their range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns are all on there too.

I hope you have found my review useful, that’s always my intention, do write in the comments if there’s something which still isn’t clear and I’ll try to help.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Sewing and other bits in 2021

Well that was another weird year wasn’t it!? I’m not gonna lie but I’ll be glad to see the back of 2021. For every good event there seemed to be two or three stinkers which I found made it really hard to see positives anywhere. I know that there were some good things though and I’m incredibly grateful to have the life that I do so I don’t want to dwell on the downside, let’s move into 2022 with an air of cautious optimism!

I entitled my round up for 2020 as ‘sewing in a time of pandemic’ and I’m so glad I didn’t know then that 2021 was going to be ‘part two!’ Anyway, I’ve collected a few photos to round up my sewing and other events I was able to get up to during 2021 although I’m not sure if they are particularly chronological…the length and colour of my hair at any given time will give you a bit of a clue!

I’ve decided that the Trend Utility pants are definitely my favourite trouser pattern of the year-I had made two pairs by the end of 2020 and finished a third, in orange linen, in spring 2021 and I’ve worn them all fairly constantly. I find them interesting to make, they aren’t a completely straightforward sew and need a bit of concentration but they are all the better for that. The leg flaps are their USP and they are a design feature that make me very happy!
I was wearing them in the late summer when we finally escaped with one of our daughters on a week’s holiday, along with another favourite, the Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt.
The orange linen pair were perfectly autumnal at Kew Gardens in November, and the colours were absolutely stunning.
This hacked Sewing Revival Heron dress was one I finished in 2020 but wore a lot in 2021, and will do in 2022 as well.
I’m still not convinced about the ribbon bow but I haven’t actually done anything about changing it.

I was looking for new sewing challenges early in the year during the next long lockdown and Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few items including this Carmanah sweatshirt by Thread Theory. The fabric was kindly provided for me as I’m part of the Lamazi blogger team.

This is the Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirt I made for Mr Y at the start of the year and he’s worn it on heavy rotation. These items of menswear led to me writing an article for Love Sewing magazine about sewing for men, and by men, in the spring and I joined Maria at Sew Organised Style podcast to chat about it too.
Mr Y celebrated his 60th birthday quietly at home in March, we both wore hand-mades!
…and we celebrated a second wedding anniversary in lockdown too. Cabin fever had taken hold a bit as I dug out my wedding dress and flounced around the garden in it! I really hope our 33rd anniversary this year can be outside of the house!!
Let joy be unconfined because mid-March saw us going for our first vaccination and I wore entirely hand sewn garments to mark the occasion, including a Holiday Shirt, a Nora sweatshirt and my self-drafted rain coat.

I was selected to contribute some articles offering sewing tips and advice for an online sewing project in the early spring but after just two such items they just stopped contacting with me or replying to my emails. Bit rude I’d say, I’ve no idea what was wrong because they never had the courtesy to tell me, and I’ve no intention of wasting more time on them frankly.

Moving on…

Lucy at Trend generously gifted me the kit for the Box Pleat shirt from her capsule shirt collection. Like all her patterns it is so well drafted, I should have gone down at least one size though (my fault for being overly-cautious) There are currently three patterns in the shirt collection but I know there are more in the pipeline.
I only made two Minerva projects in 2021 and this Tabitha dress from Tilly and the Buttons book ‘Make it Simple’ was one of them. I really like the Art Gallery fabric and I’ve had plenty of wear from it.
I was so happy to see my dear sewing chum Claire after far too long at the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the V&A in the summer. It was an interesting show although I suspect we nattered all the way around it! [it seems there was a ‘wear checks’ memo sent out too!]

As you know if you read my posts I like to reuse patterns if they have lots of options so I’ve sewn several variations of a number of Sewing Revival patterns during the year, including the Fantail top below which I made in an ancient remnant in my stash which I believe somebody once paid 90p for!

The wide elastic casing in the front hem is such an interesting detail.
This is another version of the Fantail featuring jersey cuffs and back hem.
This Sewing Revival Kingfisher top was made using the fabric from a summer dress which I never wore. It’s been a satisfying project because I worn it often (I‘d had a haircut by this point too!)
I enjoyed the challenge that this Heron adaptation presented because I used linen jersey provided for me by Lamazi fabrics. It was a learning experience and I shared lots of hints and tips in the accompanying post. It’s been such a lovely fabric to wear, it’s very comfortable and it has a beautiful sheen which is not particularly obvious in this photo.
I made another pair of Simple Sew Palazzo pants in a linen remnant I bought from Lamazi, they are comfortable and very nice to swoosh about in! That’s a M&M Camber Set top with them.
I sewed a third version of the Trend Bias T-shirt dress which I made specifically for an occasion at Capel Manor College in north London when the Japanese ambassador to the UK came to plant cherry trees. I’ve only had a chance to wear it once so far because the weather was getting colder but I have every intention of wearing it a lot in 2022-you know I love a floaty dress and this pattern is perfect for that!
I managed to get an outing to the Fashion and Textiles in the autumn to see ‘Beautiful People’ and it was well worth it because the colours and fashions were so uplifting.
One of my personal favourite posts of the year was this one where I had rediscovered lots of my college work and sketches from the 1980s. It was so much fun to find them unexpectedly and it seems it was a trip down memory lane for many of you too.

I wrote just three specific Sew Over 50 blog posts in 2021, the first was a summing up of lots of ideas and inspiration for how to sew more sustainably which the followers of the Sew Over 50 account contributed. There was a lot of it and it definitely worth a read.

Judith Staley joined Maria on the podcast to chat about it too.

I was a guest editor on the Sew Over 50 account in the autumn when we chatted about mannequins in our sewing practice. Many of you contributed some brilliant and insightful comments, I wonder how many people have gone on to buy a dress form, or use the one they have differently, or more often, as a result?

Sew Over 50 stalwart Tina generously shared with us the many resources she has gathered together over the last couple of years for sewing and adapting patterns and clothing after a breast cancer diagnosis. It has been one of my most read articles on the blog since it was published in the autumn and I know Tina is happy for followers to contact her via Instagram for any advice or support she can offer them. For me, she very much represents the positive aspects of being a part of this worldwide community.

One of my favourite ‘in person’ events in the sewing calendar, Sew Brum, quietly took place in the autumn and my lovely mate Elizabeth kindly put me up overnight and we had some quality shopping and sewing time together. Our friend Melissa even joined us for a couple of hours for a Zoom sew! Plus I ran in my first (and so far, only) Park Run too! phew, it was a busy and almost-normal 48 hours.

We got VERY wet at the Park Run but we earned extra smug points in our me-made Fehrtrade running kit! [I wrote a post about the Tesselate Tee that we’re both wearing here]
I didn’t even buy any of this green fabric at Barry’s in the end…

I finally made a jumpsuit (or two) at the end of the year, it’s the Cressida by Sew Me Something Patterns.

I made this second one to wear at the first Lamazi open day in November. It was so much fun to be a part of and I really hope there will be the opportunity to hold more events during 2022 because it so good to meet up with people in person and to just chat about sewing all day.
This was fun outing to the V&A that actually happened rather than being cancelled like so many others, it was an in-person talk by Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell and it was absolutely fascinating. I’ve really missed these talks in the lecture theatre and it was great to be back.
Being an actual grown-up at a fun event!
I splashed out on this unusual quilted fabric from Merchant and Mills and sewed it up into their Fielder top plus I wrote up a blog post on how I made the too-wide elastic fit around the neckline.
These Eve pants are also a Merchant and Mills pattern and they became my second-favourite trousers of the year, made in their Elinore checked linen and worn with a long-sleeved Holiday shirt in Swiss Dot.
This second Hug hoodie of the year by Made It Patterns is definitely one of my favourite makes of the year. It looks tricky but is very straightforward to sew and the style lines look very effective.

For quite a while I had wanted to organise an informal sewing event and they were finally able to happen in October and November with #HertsSewcial It was such a joy to be reunited with my Sew Over 50 stalwart friends Ruth and Kate, along with meeting several other online friends like Bev and Elke in real life for the first time. We had so much fun sewing and chatting together, the time flew past far too quickly and I very much hope I can organise some more in the New Year, current situations permitting.

Can you tell that Ruth, Kate and me are happy to see each other again after far too long!?

And my final sewing treat of the year was being able to meet up with Judith Staley in her hometown of Edinburgh!! It was much too brief but absolutely better than nothing, we had so much we could have talked about but that will have to wait until our oft-rescheduled and much looked forward to sewing get together next spring…fingers tightly crossed!

My final personal make of the year was another Maven Somerset top in this celestial jersey I bought at the Lamazi open day. It’s festive without screaming CHRISTMAS!

And so ends another year of sewing and other stuff, as well as the new garments I’ve sewn for myself there were many other occasions when I wore, and re-wore, favourites which didn’t need to be photographed! I fervently hope 2022 brings better times for everyone and that we can adapt to our new or changed ways of living. Sewing will continue be a big part of my life and I hope there will be some new and exciting projects and opportunities during the year. There are so many wonderful people in this community and the support and encouragement that swirls around has been so important during another trying year-I hope I will get a chance to meet up with more of you in person during the next twelve months.

Until then, thank you for reading my wafflings, happy sewing and a very happy New Year,

Sue

Sewzine- a new independently published mini-mag

Just before Christmas I was contacted by founder and editor Jillian Bagnall and offered a complimentary copy of her new, independently published sewing-based mini-magazine called Sewzine to review. I didn’t know what to expect, initially I thought it was an online print-at-home publication but I have been very impressed because it is a nicely produced print magazine on quality paper and with high production values. The graphics are clear and appealing and there’s plenty of attractive photography and illustrations for each article, plus, because it’s been independently published, that means there are no adverts to take up space, it is all content.

the cover of the first issue of Sewzine, the leading article about bra-making features on the front

Let’s take a look at a few of the articles inside…

I have to admit that bra-making is something I’ve never been very tempted to try, I’d rather leave that to the experts, but I thought the article was very well written because it gives a balanced view of why it’s worth considering making your own bras, or why it might not be for everyone, I was almost persuaded! I thought the information contained in the piece would be extremely useful if you’re about embark on bra-making, including lists of patterns, materials and findings that you would need, where to source them and a tick list to fill in as you collect them together.

I found the article about wool and woollen fabrics really interesting and very well researched, there was all sorts of information about the various sources of woollen fibres and types of fabrics. Like the bra-making article it was well-illustrated as well.

I had a chuckle at the “Bring it Back?” article because I spent so much of my early career cutting and making puffball, or ‘bubble’, skirts. I enjoyed the exploration of the style from its early days to more recent incarnations, I can see this as a thread of articles revisiting other iconic styles in the future…hot pants anyone?

I also really enjoyed the idea of revisiting patterns from a year or two back to reappraise them. We are constantly bombarded by new new new patterns but I’m always happy to reuse patterns I’ve enjoyed making previously. By chance, the pattern featured in this issue is the Grainline Patterns Farrow dress which I’ve actually made 3 times myself, including one review that featured in Sew Now magazine.

The mini-mag is aimed at intermediate sewers but I think this shouldn’t put off less experienced makers. I enjoyed the chatty yet informative style of writing and a lot of time and effort has gone into the inaugural issue, it’s clearly been a lockdown passion project. There are no free patterns or other inducements as an incentive but that does mean that the editorial is unbiased so if you are intrigued to have a read for yourself then follow the link here to the Sewzine website where you can order a copy of the first issue for yourself (it’s priced at £5.75 per copy) Jillian would also welcome any ideas you might have to contribute articles for future issues, contact her via sewzine@gmail.com While you do that I’m off to have a go at the crossword…

Until next time, happy reading

Sue

Prada-inspired shirt dress

This whole project all came about because I couldn’t resist some ex-Prada fabric I spotted on my friend Dibs’s website, Selvedge and Bolts! She specialises in sourcing gorgeous quality high-end and ex-designer fabrics from Italy and France. This one caught my eye because funnily enough it doesn’t scream ‘designer’ but I liked the graphic print which stands out amongst so many florals.

I ordered 2 metres although I didn’t have a plan for it, then it occurred to me that I should look at actual Prada designs to see if there were any that were at all wearable by someone like me (ie. not six feet tall or looking about 17 years of age!) Somewhat surprisingly there were some really lovely shirt-dresses in eye-catching fabrics.

This was just the springboard I needed so, after a bit of a search through my patterns, I found this McCalls 7470 which had originally been free with Love Sewing magazine at some point in the recent past. The Princess seam lines and shirt styling were exactly what I wanted except I would change the skirt to be a dropped waist dirndl to echo the original.

The #7470 is a Palmer Pletsch fitting method pattern which I’ve never attempted before. I’ve been thinking lately that many of the garments I’ve made in recents months have either been old favourites or very simple shapes with little use of interesting techniques or style lines. I needed to stretch my sewing muscles a bit more-use them or lose them-so I set about following the instructions to tissue fit the bodice first. By a combination of body measurements, knowing my body quirks, periodically trying on the pinned tissue and using my padded-out dress stand Doris I arrived at a fit that I was happy with.

I’m not going to claim it was particularly easy but there are a lot of written instructions on how to approach it on the accompanying sheets to help you, plus online tutorials too. I’d recommend making a toile (or even two) if you need to before using your fashion fabric to avoid expensive mistakes.

I knew fairly early on that my 2 metres of fabric wouldn’t be enough for what I had in mind, and I didn’t want to waste my lovely Prada fabric so I opted to make the pattern instead in a vibrant printed stretch cotton which I’d bought in Paris at last year’s Sewcial event.

I took my time sewing the dress, I wanted to enjoy each part of the process. There is a two-part collar for example, pleated patch pockets with flaps, and a band running right down the front. I had a few problems with insetting the sleeves though. I’d made a small alteration the back of the arm scye which resulted in it getting a little smaller so I expected there to be a discrepancy but it was much bigger than I anticipated, the sleeve head was far too large and wouldn’t fit without puckering and gathering. I looked at a few examples of #7470 on Instagram and many versions were either sleeveless or didn’t mention it as a problem. Anyway, after a lot of fiddling about in the end I dropped the arm scye down to make it larger so that the sleeve head fitted properly.

The skirt was simply 3 rectangles, two for the front and one for the back which I pleated onto the shirt top using a fork to make each pleat even.

I used some plain white cotton scraps to make a faced hem.
I joined them into a long strip, folded lengthwise to about 5cms in width.
It was sewn onto the hem, all raw edges together.
At the centre front I enclosed it within the band for a neater finish.
the turned centre front band
the final stitched hem-it needs a good steamy press here. You can read more about hem finishes in my recent post here.

So what started as a Prada-inspired dress for one fabric has still ended up as a Prada-inspired dress but made in a different fabric! I finished the whole thing off with these beautiful buttons from Textile Garden all the way down the front.

the buttons look great
I love the detailed pockets too.
the collar is nice and crisp
the sleeves are two-part with a deep cuff
Yup, I’m happy with that!
I would have added a self-fabric belt like the Prada original but there wasn’t enough fabric left, just scraps.

So that’s my Prada-inspired dress up to this point, just not made with actual Prada fabric. I have a plan for it though because there was another shirt-dress that caught my eye…

I love the idea of a completely different fabric for the sleeves and the back
The front isn’t as I’d want it but I really like how the sleeves are such a contrast.

I’m really pleased with the outcome and the way it fits, and because I took my time and didn’t rush, it was an enjoyable process. I’d fallen into the habit of making simple projects, I felt something more complex was needed.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

A few hem finish suggestions-a Sew Over 50 topic

Over on the @SewOver50 account recently I shared a few of my favourite ways to finish hems or raw edges, although course it is absolutely NOT a definitive list by any means. I thought I would expand a little here on the blog using more photos of projects I’ve made in recent years. They are in no particular order either and if I wrote a blog post about the whole garment then I’ve linked it so you can read more if you want to.

Obviously there are the usual hand-finished hems using slip hemming stitch or herringbone stitch for example, which I use a lot too, but I thought I’d share a few alternatives which you might not know, or haven’t used for a while.

I’m beginning here with a faced hem…

This was the hem of the first Refashioners project I attempted. It was a jacket made from two pairs of my husband’s old jeans and because I wanted to use as much of the reclaimed fabric as possible I cut shaped facings for the lower edge. As you can see I also finished the edge with bias binding I made from offcuts of dress fabric.
The inside of the finished jacket looked like this. I understitched the lower edge of the facing to help it roll better and also slip-stitched it in various places including the seams and pocket bags to secure the facing without the stitching showing on the front.
This is also a much more shaped facing on the hem of Tilly and the Buttons Orla blouse. This can be a beautifully neat finish on a curve, it gives some ‘weight’ and crispness to the hem too and makes it less likely to curl upwards on blouses for example.
This Orla blouse was from 4 years ago, I like the exposed zip in the back too (the instructions for putting it in were excellent if I remember correctly)

The next one is an interesting hem finish which is very useful especially if you want a quality finish on evening or bridal wear. It uses something called ‘crin’, crinoline or horsehair braid (it doesn’t involve actual horsehair any longer though!) I’ve used it here on an organza skirt for the Dior New Look-inspired evening dress I made 4 years ago. As well as a crisp finish I wanted the hem to have distinct body and wave to it so this was the ideal technique. Crin comes in various widths, this was 5cms, lots of colours too because it’s more commonly used these days to trim hats and fascinators.

Helpfully, my fabric had horizontal stripes, some opaque and some sheer so I started by placing the crin on the front of the fabric and lining it up with the bottom edge of an opaque stripe. It is stitched on very close to the edge being careful not to stretch the crin as I sew, it’s important it lies flat. By sewing the crin onto the right side of the fabric when you flip it to the inside the raw edge of your fabric is enclosed underneath. To be honest I was making up the method as I went along because my experience of this technique previously came from altering wedding dresses which used it so this isn’t foolproof. I would strongly advise you to try a few samples first so that you have the version which looks best for your particular garment. [the eagle eyed amongst you might notice in my photo that I’ve sewn the crin to the wrong side of the fabric! I obviously did it and photographed it before realising what I’d done. As this was four years ago I don’t have any other photo!]
Once the crin is turned up to the inside I slip-hemmed it by hand, it looks a bit messy on the inside because the black shows up but it’s absolutely fine on the right side.
the finished dress, it’s one of my favourites I’ve ever made, and it’s a partial-refashion too because the velvet bodice used to be a skirt!

If you’re making a wedding dress for example and mounting all the skirt pieces onto another fabric, when you use crin on the hem (or bias binding for that matter) by hand-sewing the hem all your stitches will be invisible because you can catch them just through the mounting fabric. This is a couture technique so if you look at red carpet dresses with no visible stitching at the hem this will be how they achieved it. You can apply it as appropriate to any garment that you’ve mounted to another fabric though.

The next couple of photos are where I’ve used bias binding to neaten a hem. I find this a really useful technique if you need the maximum amount of hem because you can sew a very small seam allowance. It’s good if you’re letting down hems to gain length too, on trousers or children’s clothing for example.

Sew the binding on very close to the raw edge, this was a Simple Sew Lizzie dress
Here I made my own binding which is first sewn on with a 5mm seam allowance and then understitched which is what you see here. I made this Grainline Farrow dress for a magazine review
The hem is turned up and I’ve slipstitched it in place by hand.
This is the same technique with ready-made bias binding.
the finished skirt.
My final example is the little christening gown I made from a wedding dress.

If you have fine fabric why not consider using your overlocker if you have one on the rolled hem setting? Refer to your manual for specific instructions how to adjust your machine and make samples first to ensure it’s going to be satisfactory for your particular fabric. You’ll frequently see it used on chiffon or georgette but I’ve used it successfully here on fine cotton lawn, jersey and a stretch velour. If you don’t have an overlocker you can probably achieve a similar finish on your sewing using a rolled hem foot ideally and a small zigzag stitch-as always I would urge you to experiment to see what is possible. Some of the simplest machines can still give you an interesting variety of finishes.

This is one of my variations on the Camber Set
I roll-hemmed a straight strip of fabric here which I then pleated onto the sleeve using a fork!
I roll-hemmed a straight strip top and bottom and gathered it onto the sleeve here.
An extended length sleeve on the River pattern from Megan Nielsen, roll-hemmed and elasticated

I find the next couture/tailoring technique very useful on sleeves as well as coat, jacket or dress hems. I’ve used it here on my Tilly and the Buttons tester-made Eden. I wasn’t taught this method as such, I discovered it for myself whilst doing alterations taking up sleeves for people. I haven’t ever encountered it in pattern making instructions but I think it’s an excellent way of stabilising the cuffs of coats and jackets.

Using strips of iron-on interfacing to stabilise the area where the cuffs fold up
This is felted-type woollen fabric where hand stitching is unlikely to show through but if you have a finer fabric I would make the interfacing strip wider so that I then caught the inter with my stitches and not the fabric itself. See the next photo to explain this better.
You can see the interfacing is above the hem line here and I’ve herringbone stitched it by hand. You can also see how I’ve created a chain link to anchor the lining to vent opening on the back of the skirt.
the hemming stitches aren’t visible from the outside using this technique.

For this next finish I’ve used a triple straight stitch to create the effect of top stitching on the hem, and several seams, of this Simple Sew Zoe hack I made last summer.

If you have the foot attachment and stitch capability for your sewing machine you can always try blind-hemming. I must admit I don’t use it that often, and only then on completely straight hems. There is a bit of a knack to it and I tend to only use it on a busy print which will disguise any botched bits (yes really!) or if I’m tight for time compared with any other method. It’s not quite the same quality of finish you will see on RTW clothes though which uses a specific machine to blind stitch the hem.

Personally I always think the stitches show a bit too much no matter how hard I try to get them really tiny. It’s very easy to catch a bit too much fabric, or none at all! In truth I probably don’t practice enough!!
This Regatta dress from Alice & Co was an ideal application because the skirt has a straight, unshaped hem.

I think it’s worth mentioning that I like to use bias binding to neaten necklines (and armholes) too. I particularly like this as a way of avoiding using a neck or armhole facing which can be notorious for constantly rolling into view or flapping about annoyingly. The version you can see in the following two applications is a strip which I’ve folded in half lengthways first, the raw edges are matched and sewn. The seam is trimmed slightly and snipped if necessary, then turned so that the edge is enclosed and finally topstitched close to the folded edge to secure. In both the following examples I have sewn the binding on the wrong side of the fabric so that the binding turns to the outside to be visible and decorative but you could just as easily sew it to the right side so that it turns to the inside of the finished garment.

the binding is sewn on the inside first
the binding then flips to the outside to become visible.
This dress was made for the Simplicity pattern hacking challenge last year
Instead of the usual hem on this dress I created a casing which I threaded elastic through.

I’ve have included another variation of binding on a hem to show you how it can be combined with other techniques to achieve a quality finish. I used it here on a sheer organza which was mounted onto a backing fabric of slipper satin. This meant that when I turned the hem up the hand-stitching was invisible from the outside because the stitches only went through the mounting fabric.

the hem from the inside
the finished hem from the outside.
the finished dress, I was off to a wedding!

The next technique is more usually the choice of the pattern designer than the dressmaker, although if you know a little about pattern cutting you might be able to do it for yourself. This is an example of a deep grown-on faced hem on the Trend Patterns Square dress which I’ve made twice. It works brilliantly on this dress because the hem edges are straight (square!) plus it gives real weight to the hem which is another satisfying detail.

Inside the hem the corners are mitred.

Pin hemming is a technique I’ve used for decades on fine fabrics. You can replicate it using a rolled hem foot attachment on your machine although it can be trial and error which size works best for you with variable results. I have two different sizes of foot, 2mm and 4mm and I can’t get on with either, I’ve since been told that 3mm is the optimum size for most fabrics but I’m not prepared to risk another mistake when I know I can achieve a good quality result this way instead.

Simply put, I turn over the raw edge by approximately 5mm and stitch very close to the folded edge. Carefully trim the excess close to the stitching line and give it a light press. Then turn again and stitch a second time on top of the first row of stitching. This particular example is from the Trend Bias T-shirt dress I made a few months ago.

turn stitch and trim
make another narrow hem, stitch a second time on top of the first line. Press. There will only be one row of stitching visible on the outside.

If you read about my pattern hack of the Simple Sew Cocoon dress you will see how this variation of hemming came about. I added a large chunk of fabric to give extra length to a dress that would have been too short without it. This method is probably best on a straight hem, you could use it on sleeves too.

attaching a band to the hem.
The finished dress (worn with walking shoes during lockdown!)

This next one is a very much trial and error. I used an edging stitch on my Pfaff sewing machine to hem this Broderie Anglaise blouse which I made recently.

I put a piece of Stitch and Tear behind the fabric as I sewed.
It looked like this after I finished
It will look like this on the reverse.
gently pull away the backing and then carefully snip off the excess fabric up to the stitching line.
Eventually the hem looked like this, the sleeves are trimmed with Broderie Anglaise

I’ve used a variation of a faced hem recently when, instead of bias binding, I used straight strips of fabric to turn up a straight hem on a dirndl skirt. There will be a blog of this particular garment coming soon…

I had some narrow strips of white cotton lawn lying around so I joined them to make a piece long enough to go around the whole hem.
I folded the strip lengthwise.
attach the strip to the hem, raw edges together.
I understitched it, plus there’s a band on the front which is what you can see folded over in order to enclose the facing eventually.
The band folds back to enclose the hem facing.
There’s a little bit of puckering on the reverse here but this is invisible from the front, a good press will sort that out.

To finish with is a very simple method of rolling a fairly narrow hem. Overlock the edge first using three (or even two) threads then carefully turn it once and then again so that the overlocking is enclosed inside. If the fabric is quite ‘bouncy’ and won’t stay in position you could press the edge over once first and then roll it the second time. Whilst the result is wider than pin hemming it is narrower, and possibly quicker and more accurate, than a simple turned hem.

Stitching the hem with the overlocked edge rolled to the inside.

This last suggestion is from a project which will be blogged very soon. I cut 6cms wide bias strips which I used to create a self-neatening hem on a pair of pyjama shorts.

the bias strips were applied right side to wrong side on the shorts hems.
the bias strip is on the inside at the moment
It is then turned up to the outside where I trimmed and stitched it with ricrac braid.

I hope you’ve found my suggestions useful or thought provoking, is there something here which you’ve never encountered before, or that’s made you think how you could use a technique you already know in a different way? The idea is to show you a few ways of finishing hems, or raw edges, in new and interesting ways. I’ve not included the usual hand stitching methods because there’s nothing new to think about, although please let me know if you use these methods in a more unusual application. Just because the pattern instructions tell you to finish the hem a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way…although think it through carefully just in case the really is a reason!

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue

I made a Sew Over 50 video!

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 brands which have always been great at using a diverse range of models including Paper Theory, The Maker’s Atelier, Cashmerette, Pattern Union, Style Arc and Grainline for example, and Closet Case patterns have recently named their newest release Blanca after one of our most stylish and inspiring SO50 stalwarts, which is just fantastic and very exciting.

As well as pattern brands there are also a number of books including those by Wendy Ward and Everyday Style by Lotta Jansdottir with a real cross-section of models in them. 

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.

Me, Melissa and Elizabeth on Melissa’s phone perched in her workspace!

Over the course of the weekend over 1900 people joined in by buying a ticket, and all the profit from ticket sales which totalled over £23K were donated to four fantastic charities, NHS Together, Mind, Stephen Lawrence Trust and Black Lives Matter.

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

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

Do you batch cut/sew? a SewOver50 discussion

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.

Melissa’s sketches, she’s been busy because if you check out her feed she’s already made a few items from the list!
Melissa draws the all the details and makes fabric notes

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. 

my list of projects

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.

to batch or not to batch…

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.

it’s not one of those beautifully tidy boards you see in some Insta-perfect feeds but it works for me!

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!

Tinker the cat ‘helping’

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!

Sue 

#so50visible challenge 2020

It’s back! After the success of the first #so50visible challenge in 2019 we thought you might like to do it again, especially the thousands of you who have discovered @sewover50 since last year and who might have missed joining in.

In early 2019 we set you a challenge to find a pattern which featured an older model (at least 45+) and make it. If you thought this would be easy then you would have been mistaken, because once we had started looking more closely we realised that this was going to be much harder than it sounded.

Rather than me reinvent the wheel again here I suggest you take a read through the extensive post I wrote at the time, and its follow-up, so that you have some understanding of the challenge we set and how the whole idea came about. There is also a VERY extensive list of as many patterns as we could source at that time.

Since last year I’m cautiously optimistic that the situation seems to have improved somewhat. Sandy and Judith have been diligently saving in Highlights over on the Instagram account many of the new patterns that have been released in the the last twelve months which feature older models-male as well as female. Some of these patterns are by companies which have been consistently good at using a variety of models of all ages whilst for others this is a first toe in the water, which is great to see.

It seems that a lot more companies are actively using older women amongst their choice of models now (although a few still think we all want to wear the frumpier selection of what’s on offer-very wrong!) For the most part though, of the pattern companies who are choosing older models, they realise that we can be stylish, creative, outspoken individuals who do not have a shampoo and set once a week, don’t want to be stereotyped and who have money to spend on quality products.

I’ll list as many of the new patterns as I can but, if you’re tempted to join in with the challenge, I would strongly urge you to take a look at those I’ve already listed because each website will include that brand’s new patterns anyway.

Among the new ones we know of are, in no particular order:

Cashmerette-Washington dress and Rivermont Top and Dress

The Maker’s Atelier-there is wide range of patterns to pick from including several new designs Shawl Collar Dress, Shawl Collar Coat, Over-sized shirt dress, Blazer and Wrap Dress

Style Arc-Sheryl stretch or woven pants, among others.

That Wendy Ward-brand new book ‘Sewing Basics for Every Body’, the Kim jumpsuit and the Dylan Peacoat particularly

Helen’s Closet-Donovan skirt

Rebecca Page-slim-fit Cargo pants

The Sewing Revival-the Fantail Top and the Stitchbird dress are the most recent but all their adult patterns qualify

Wardrobe by Me-Men’s overshirt

Sew Liberated-Lichen Duster coat

Grainline Studio-Uniform Tunic

Pattern Union-Lulu top

Tilly and the Buttons-new Make it Simple book various styles

Thread Theory-Newcastle Cardigan

Tessuti-Tamiko pants and Berlin jacket

Naughty Bobbin-Sizzler sundress

Colette Patterns-Ariel dress

Sinclair Patterns-Jessica bodycon dress

Simplicity and Butterick have improved considerably since last year and we have been told that they are actively including more mature models in their catalogues now, let’s hope this is the case. There are now a reasonable number of patterns to choose from (too many to list here individually) so browse their website or catalogues to see if there’s something that appeals.

Tuesday Stitches-Citrus leggings, amongst others

Seamwork Magazine-Lucy jumpsuit, there are bound to be others

I’m going to leave it there because I’ll never quite know where the end of this list should be! I would urge you to look through pattern company websites, books and catalogues for your inspiration if you’re keen to participate. I would also add that there are quite a number of small pattern companies who are hugely supportive and involved in our community but they either don’t use older models, or they use illustrations, so we can’t include them for this challenge. That said, we are very appreciative of every repost, share and use of the #sewover50 hashtag that any pattern company gives to a SewOver50er, they are always welcome and it helps to keep our little, occasionally slightly wrinkled, faces in the public eye to prove that we’re still here, and have no intention of keeping quiet.

We’ve got prizes again too so thank you to our list of sponsors (so far) who are offering a selection of patterns, and Wendy Ward is offering a copy of her new book too. Winners will be chosen at random after the challenge closes. You’re welcome to share works-in-progress but only completed garments shared with a photo of the original pattern after the closing date will be eligible to win a prize.

Stay in touch with the Instagram account while the challenge is on because that’s where you will find any new information as it crops up. Make sure you use the new #so50visible20 hashtag although the original #so50visible is OK too. If a pattern company reposts your outfit (which obviously we really hope they will!) use the #so50thanks hashtag too. Keep an eye on their Stories feed too because sometimes they forget to tag us, or the tag doesn’t work for some reason.

The #so50visible20 challenge begins on March 1st and runs for the whole of the month so what are you waiting for? Share a photo of your garment along with the source pattern, have a look in saved highlights on the IG account for various ideas how to do this, it doesn’t have to be a brand new garment this year but it should be a new photo of it, not one you’ve shared before. You could even use a flatlay this time, particularly if you don’t like putting yourself in the frame. Have a look at #so50flatlay for ideas on this. There is no limit to the number of entries you can put in either.

We can’t wait to see how SewOver50ers rise to the challenge, the more we keep this in the public eye then the more chance we have of seeing older faces featuring on pattern covers, in magazines, in sewing books. And part of the worldwide fun of this challenge is seeing makes for the opposite seasons to the one we might be living in because, let’s remember, we’re a global account, and that’s a really big deal!

Until next time,

Sue

Your Sew Over 50 go-to tee-shirt patterns

We asked you another question on @SewOver50 in October-which were your favourite go-to, never-fail, T-N-T T-shirt (tee shirt?) patterns and naturally you came up with a veeeeerrrry long list. I’ve trawled through them all and simply listed them here with a link (if I found one) for each so you can check them out for yourselves. As blogs go, it’s a bit of a dull one but you might it useful and maybe find your next new favourite pattern amongst these. Needless to say there are probably another one or two hundred more patterns which you think ought to be on this list!

I’m not recommending or endorsing any of these patterns personally, they have all been suggested by you, the enthusiastic followers.

Melissa Breton Tee-Thrifty Stitcher -relaxed drop-shoulder tee with 3/4 sleeves and a bateau neckline

Plantain-Deer & Doefree pattern (if you sign up on the website) loose-fitting tee with a low scooped neckline and 3 sleeve options.

#1366 Cynthia Rowley Simplicity-loose fitting top

Mandy Boat Tee-Tessutifree pattern boat neck drop-shoulder Tee with 3/4 sleeves

Ola-Tessuti-tunic top

#3338 Kwik Sew-I can’t find this one, possibly discontinued?

Astoria-Seamwork-cropped length, fitted long-sleeve top

Classic Tee-Love Notions -close-fitting tee with 3 neck options and 3 sleeve lengths

Laundry Day tee-Love Notions-fitted tee with 3 necklines and 5 sleeves options

Basic Instinct shirt-Secondo Piano-classic simple tee

Freya Agnes Coco-TATB-Tilly has a range of jersey tops and dresses with a variety of necklines and sleeve options.

Moneta-Colette patterns-Moneta is a dress pattern in stretch fabric with a fitted bodice and a couple of sleeve options.

#2805-Jalie Patterns-t-shirt with 4 sleeve and 4 neckline options. It has a huge range of sizes

Statement Tee-Ottobre magazine 2017/2 various options so check the website

Wardrobe Builder Tee-Wardrobe by Me (not many instructions apparently) close fitting tee with 3 body lengths, 5 necklines and 6 sleeve-lengths!

Uvita-Itch to Stitch-dropped shoulder bateau-neck tee with 2 sleeve lengths

Pamela’s Perfect Tee-Pamela’s patterns-longer length fitted tee with several neckline and sleeve options

Green Tee-Greenstyle Creations-longer length fitted tee with scoop or V neck and lots of sizes

Lark-Grainline-a popular pattern with 4 neckline options and 4 sleeve lengths.

Stellan Tee-French Navy Nowfree pattern a boxy tee, not sure how many sizes.

The Astair tee-another boxy tee also from French Navy Now with sleeve variations and a patch pocket.

Renfrew-Sewaholic another classic tee with several sleeve lengths and various necklines

Kirsten Kimono Tee-Maria Denmark-close-fitting cap-sleeved tee

Carine Tee-Elbe Textilesfree pattern cropped tee

Lane Raglan-Hey June-scooped neck raglan tee and sweatshirt pattern

Jade-Made by Rae-scooped neck tee in a wide size range

Concord-Cashmerette-lots of options in curvier sizes

Molly Top-SOI City break eBook classic drop shoulder tee

Eva-Pattern Union-a simple close-fitting tee with long or short sleeves.

Geneva Tee-Named raglan tee with long sleeves

Ruska-Named-Breaking the Pattern-tee shirt/dress with various options

Ultimate T-shirt-Threadcount free gift pattern from a back issue of Love Sewing magazine

Panama-Alina Design-tee shirt with dress-length options

starting top left @debs_sewing_room @sarahguthrie_stitches @loves_knitting @heathersewist
left @spoolriversewing main centre @sewcialstudio right @sewingalacarte
left @sewcialstudio right @mrs_moog
bottom left @damselfly.ca @_mysewingdiary @rocketcitysewing and @seams_sew

Update January 2022

This has probably been the single most popular post on the blog since I first published it over two years ago so I thought it could do with an update because new patterns will have been released, or missed off last time, and many have become very popular in that time. As before, these were all suggested by you dear reader so, in no particular order, they are as follows…

Rae top by Tessuti patterns, a pretty gathered neckline and several sleeve options

Iris by Forget-me-Not patterns a simple shape but with an interesting pleated short sleeve

Peak Tee by Wendy Ward in her book Beginners Guide to Sewing with Knitted Fabrics

Somerset top by Maven patterns (I’ve used this one myself a number of times including for this hack) bateau neckline with several sleeve options including to a bishop sleeve with deep cuff

Frankie from Tilly and the Buttons in her book Stretch, a simple raglan sleeve

Rio ringer from True Bias (this also has a children’s size range too)

Gable top by Jennifer Lauren Handmade, 50s-inspired slash neckline

Basic block Tee by Fehrtrade in her book Sew Your Own Activewear

Fog Tee is from The Fabric Store

Tabitha from Tilly and the Buttons in the book Make It Simple (I used the lengthened version for this Minerva make)

Nora is a loose-fit T-shirt by TATB (they are good at basics!) there is now a cardi version available too

Needless to say this is still in no way an exhaustive list but they have all been used, and recommended, by you. There are some freebies which might be worth a try, as well as pricier options.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

Sewing advice for newbies from the Sew Over 50 hive mind.

The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.

So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…

First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.

Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.

Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.

Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.

This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.

So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]

Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.

Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.

If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sew while you sew can be both entertaining and informative.

Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.

As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?

What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.

Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.

Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)

I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue