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!
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…
- Marianne @foxglovesandthimbles
- Carrie @endlessdznsbycarrie
- Tina @bricolagedk1
- Blanca @blakandblanca
- Carolyn @diaryofasewingfanatic
- Katrin @sagner_by_katrin
- Kate @stitchmeayear
- Mary @marythimble
- Janet @sewdalriada
- Kellie @gigi_made_it
- Nicky @mummab06
- Raquel @Raquel_sewing_knitting_in_asia
- Melinda @mellabellamakes
- Lisa @mabelthemannequin
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!”
So here’s to another busy year of Sew Over 50,