I know many of us often sew patterns multiple times because we like them but I’ve taken this to a new extreme recently. I last sewed this blouse pattern Simplicity 8704 when I was around 16 or 17 years old, the date on the back is 1978 so I must have made it while I was still at school! I remember I used a burgundy-coloured viscose (or similar) with a floral print on it and it was definitely one of my favourites as I wore it a lot, probably swanning about in the Sixth Form common room!
There have been several times when I’ve been tempted to revisit it but for one reason or another I’ve put it back in the box for another day but this time I kept it out and went in search of fabric in the stash. Initially I was going to use a really pretty pastel pink lightweight checked cotton I got from Sew Me Sunshine (I can’t see it on the website now though) but when I realised I was going to have to pattern match the deceptively tricky check I thought better of it. I wasn’t in the mood for taking an age over that so I continued to rummage until my eyes fell upon the (also) pale pink linen I acquired from the local Scraps Store last year. I found it in a container full of various unwanted fabrics and there was nearly 5 metres of it so, for a donation, it came home with me! I laundered it at the time but put it away. I thought I might make a dress with it originally but, because it’s such a pale pink, I didn’t want to end up looking like a blob so I left it for another time.
A plain linen blouse appealed to me though and I didn’t have to fiddle about pattern matching so away I went and it was cut out in no time. Even though the pattern was a single size-this is how most patterns were sold until multi-size patterns were introduced-and my size has fluctuated to say the least over the years, amazingly it was still going to be the right size with no alterations.
There’s not much else to say about making it up except I remembered that an @SewOver50 stalwart, Lisa, had shared on her grid the day before that she had used a wing needle to decorate a plain linen tunic she was making which reminded me that I’d intended to find a use for the same effect at some point but forgotten all about it-Thank You Lisa!
The wing needle (I’ve also seen it called an ‘heirloom’ needle recently too) is like a regular needle except it has fine metal ‘fins’ to each side of the shaft which creates a little hole like a tiny eyelet in the centre of the stitch as it forms. A stitch which looks like a little star works best for this effect but you could try experimenting to see if any others look nice
I made a little video of my machine in action.
It’s worth bearing in mind a couple of important points if you’re going to use this decoration. Firstly, you can’t easily pivot at a corner with the needle down in the work-I sewed the collar in three separate moves, secondly you won’t be able to use the automatic threader if your machine has one and thirdly (thank you Lisa for telling me this because I don’t have this feature) you can’t use your automatic thread cutter if you have one.
As well as the collar I embroidered the cuffs, the front raglan seams and down the button placket, although I did this last one after I’d hemmed the bottom and sewn the buttonholes so that it was the exact distance from the edge and the buttonholes.
I love the way the blouse gathers into the collar, which is a two part construction incidentally, the raglan sleeves are straightforward but the gathered cuffs add a nice touch. I found a selection of Mother of Pearl buttons amongst my tidied-up button boxes to add another of my usual quirky details but otherwise that’s it. It’s a reasonably quick make but it was lovely to sew the details of collar construction and the cuffs, there’s an elegant simplicity to it I think. I will either wear it loose over the top of trousers or tucked in, or underneath a pinafore dress maybe?
It might sound strange but it feels a bit like an old friend has come back to visit, and I might even make the placket front version now too!
I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.
I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs.
I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.
When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.
I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears.
The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.
The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well.
I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.
My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.
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.
How often do you alter or adapt a pattern when you’re making it? By that I don’t mean the usual things like adjusting the fit to suit your height or bust measurement, I mean really alter it significantly with things like changing the sleeves or completely changing the length.
I’ve always enjoyed doing exactly this because it’s a way of making a garment completely original and all your own even if loads of other dressmakers are sewing and sharing their versions of a particular pattern. These days this process even has it’s own name-pattern hacking. You can read a couple of my previous blog posts where I’ve hacked patterns to give you some other ideas, here and here.
When I was invited by The Fold Line to take part in the Simplicity Patterns/Eve Appeal campaign this year I knew it would be something I’d enjoy and could really get my teeth into. There are a range of patterns you can choose from and for every one sold Simplicity will make a donation to the Eve Appeal. I picked a blouse pattern #8658 to use because I could see its potential for changes, not least because it’s shown in stripes on the envelope and I knew there was fun to be had playing with the directions of them. I chose a really lovely blue striped shirting with a little bit of stretch generously provided by Minerva and while I waited for it to arrive I did some sketching of ideas. The raglan sleeve is in two parts running down the top of the arm to the wrist so my first idea was to have the stripes running in different directions, which led on to having the lower, bell-shaped part of the sleeve cut on the bias.
I thought the back needed to be a bit more interesting than just a centre back seam with a button and loop closure so I altered it to include buttons and buttonholes. The blouse is over-the-head anyway so I don’t need to be able to open the buttons to get it on. The neckline is finished with bias binding but why put it on the inside when you can make a feature of it on the outside?
Strangely I never saw it as staying just a blouse, it was always going to become a dress but how to do that? I like long floaty skirts so I sketched out quite a few variations of gathered, pleated and flounced skirts, all with pockets in the seams somewhere. I had decided that the bodice should be higher at the front than the back which obviously would affect the skirt levels but I eventually left that decision until the bodice was made up and I could see it more clearly on the stand.
I thought I’d do some of my initial adaptations and make it up as a blouse first to check the fit. The back is easy to change because it already has a CB seam so I merely added 5cms to the edge to allow for a grown-on button-stand. The original stitching line will remain as the CB and that is where the buttons and buttonholes will get positioned. I traced all the pattern pieces I needed onto spot-and-cross paper although the envelope does include a large sheet of squared tissue paper for you to use to make your own changes if you don’t have spot-and-cross. [You could use cheap wide greaseproof paper if you have it, I used to use broadsheet newspaper taped together when I was a student but that’s getting harder to find!]
Having traced the two parts of the sleeve once I then retraced them again (I didn’t want to cut up the first ones, I may want the sleeve full-length at some point) just the top parts to a length a bit above my elbow, around bicep level, not forgetting to add seam allowance to the new lower edge. Next I pinned the FULL-LENGTH sleeve pieces together along the stitching lines vertically so that I could trace off a new single piece for the lower sleeve. As well as the regular straight grain I added a bias grainline too because I’d be using that with the stripes. You could add extra fullness to this part by cutting and spreadingif you wish, it would make a very voluminous bell-shaped sleeve.
I cut a size ‘medium’ according to both my body measurements and by referring to the finished garment measurements printed on the pattern. Using some lovely printed poplin from Stitch and Knit, a new fabric and yarn shop near me, I made up the blouse. Part of my plan on the dress was to highlight the seaming with topstitching so I did this on the blouse too although I used a fun ‘circles’ stitch in a contrast colour which echoed the design on the fabric. I didn’t cut the lower sleeve on the bias though because it wouldn’t make any obvious difference to the look of the print. I tried out my idea of French binding on the outside of the neck edge and that looked good too.
Overall I was very happy with the fit of the medium so I didn’t need to make any changes to sizing. This meant I could retrace the front and back bodices to my chosen length which was approximately Empire-line or a few centimetres below my under-bust line. To decide where this was first I pinned the front and back parts together at the side seam on the stitching line and then attached it all to the stand. You can then see more clearly where you might want to draw the horizontal style lines from front to back, especially if you want a sloping line. With these lines drawn on you can trace off the new, shorter parts and check them on the stand and on yourself too. This is important because I thought I’d made the line a little too high so I added some more length to the bottom, 5cms in all I think.
This might all seem like a lot of tracing off and you could just indicate on the pieces where your various cutting lines are (or wing it!) then transfer your markings direct to the fabric. As I planned to rotate the back so that the stripes were horizontal I wanted accurate pattern pieces.
After cutting the bodice section in striped fabric I first reinforced the buttonstands with iron-on interfacing up to the fold line. Next I attached the appropriate sleeve parts and top stitched the seams, then joined the shoulder seams so that I could bind the neckline. I’d cut a long bias strip of fabric 5cms wide which I folded lengthwise wrong sides together and pressed to get a crisp edge. Next place the bias on the WRONG SIDE of the fabric with its folded edges to the cut neck edge, this is because you will flip the binding to the outside eventually where it will be visible. Once you have pinned the binding in place you will know exactly how long it needs to be so then you’ll need to neaten the ends by turning them RS together and stitching. Fold them back out and pin in place, it should be level with edges of the buttonstands. Stitch the binding in place using a 1cm seam allowance, trim and snip as required then flip it to the right side and topstitch in position around the neck. The photos of the blouse version should make this clearer.
You can sew the buttonholes at this stage too if you like or leave them until the end. I’d bought the most gorgeous metal buttons from Duttons for Buttons in Harrogate, Yorkshire, the only problem was that the loop on the reverse of them isn’t central which is why the top button looks a bit off kilter, it had to be sewn like that so that the top band remained level.
I attached the lower bias-cut sleeve parts next, sewed up the side seams and elasticated the cuffs., as per the instructions (yes I did use them occasionally!)
I still couldn’t decide what to do with the skirt so I tried a couple of ideas out with fabric scraps to mock-up various looks. The shirting is quite fine so it gathers really nicely without a lot of bulk, if I’d used pleats I would have had the complicated task of working out the pattern pieces to fit accurately onto a curved and dipping lower bodice edge and that was a challenge too far-especially as the stripes would have had to match too!
Eventually I settled on a bit of a technical cop-out by using two simple rectangles which gathered onto the lower edge of the bodice instead of making shaped skirt pieces, apart from the central areas where they would be flat. This meant that the hem followed the same line as the bodice, higher at the front than the back, but the side seams will pitch slightly forwards as a result. It isn’t the end of the world but rather that than make the dress too complicated for you to try copying for yourself. And of course I put pockets into the side seams, with the stripes running on the opposite grain. I have a cardboard template for the pockets which I made ages ago and I just draw around it directly onto the fabric as required. (Basically I drew around my hand onto card, plus a bit of extra space, plus a seam allowance and a straight edge on one side to sew to seams)
One final twist I added at the end was to insert elastic around the hem to give it an unusual silhouette. I turned up the hem 5mm and pressed it in position then I pressed it up again by 2.5cms. I topstitched top and bottom leaving a small gap through which I inserted 2cm wide elastic about 1 metre long. The casing could double as the hem if I choose to take the elastic out in the future.
Mr Y and I went to Kew Gardens on a beautiful day in September and I took the opportunity to pop into the ‘Ladies’ and change into my dress for a photoshoot with more interesting backdrops than my back garden!
I hope this has given you a few ideas that you could try for yourself, this pattern is an ideal blank canvas and it has a few suggestions included which you could try first of all. There are so many possibilities you could attempt, and some of the other bloggers involved may have used this pattern too so it will be interesting to compare their own takes on it. I wanted to mess about with stripe direction, this would also work if your fabric has a strong one-way design. You could highlight the seams using piping, ribbon or other trims, what about an exposed zip down the back? you could leave the seam on the top of the sleeves open and secure it at intervals with little buttons? Obviously you don’t have to turn it into a dress but you could play with the length or put straight horizontal seams across, maybe at different levels to each other? It could potentially be a scrap-buster too…so many possibilities! If you’re going to add style lines which aren’t already there don’t forget to add seam allowance to the edges of them, include a notch or two if necessary so that you know which pieces you’re matching together.
You might have tried and trusted patterns at home which would be ideal springboards to new ideas, or by buying this pattern you will be helping raise valuable funds for research and support of those suffering with female gynaecological cancers.
Whatever you decide to try, enjoy the exploring the possibilities, don’t use expensive fabric to start with if you’re not sure you’ll like the result, look in your workbox to see what trims and embellishments you could use, contrast top stitching is one of my favourite, and most simple, ways of making something unique. There’s a whole series of other bloggers who will be taking part in this challenge in the coming weeks and months so why not take a look at what winner of the Great British Sewing Bee 2018, and pattern-hacking queen, Juliet has done for starters, or Abi of @whatabimakes and Rachel @thefoldline have added their spin to patterns in the range now too.
You can find further information about the patterns used here too
SewOver50 has been going strong on Instagram for nearly 6 months now, since Judith Staley set it up last August, and it seemed like it was time to consolidate its success by setting up a new challenge for dressmakers to join in with.
Judith and I, along with Sandy in Brisbane, have been working on ideas for a while and eventually we hit upon the notion of asking anyone who wanted to join in to choose a pattern which featured an older person modelling it in the advertising ie: on the packaging or accompanying artwork. This proved to be even more difficult than we had imagined because it only went to show just how few pattern companies feature older models, never mind women of colour or larger sizes! Unlike some recent publicity elsewhere we’re not intending to shame pattern companies who don’t include us as part of their demographic because it isn’t helpful, we want to highlight and commend those companies that already do, even if it’s to a very small degree, and hope to encourage those that don’t to follow suit. It does seem though that a few companies have been falling over themselves to apologise to people of colour who sew (POC) or those who fall outside the ‘normal’ size range for excluding them, whilst we as older sewers didn’t merit such an acknowledgement-perhaps they actually don’t want our custom? Are we being too polite? Whatever, onwards…
Let me set out the challenge to you (should you choose to accept it…) it is this…
To sew a garment either for yourself or someone else using a pattern which features an older person ie: over approximately 45-50, on the cover and/or in other original supporting marketing. This doesn’t include a company sharing of other people’s versions of their patterns on social media. The point is to highlight how few patterns we think there are like this and to encourage designers and pattern companies to think outside the box more and include over the age of 50 in their advertising because we’re such a large part of their buying public. We feel that there is no valid reason to side line this particular audience especially as we often have more disposable income to spend.
The challenge can include any adult garment, for women or men, it can simple or advanced, outerwear or underwear, tops, bottoms, dresses. Only the garment which uses the older model in it’s artwork/advertising should be made, not any other garment by that company if it’s the usual situation.
We have decided to include patterns which feature in books or magazines (probably from within the last 5 years or so) too because there may be more opportunities available there.
If you feel strongly about using a genuine vintage pattern (as opposed to a modern take on vintage) which features an apparently older person then go ahead but it can be so hard to tell because everyone looked old back in the day, even teenagers!
Share what you’re up to as often as you like for the duration of the challenge, we all like to see what others are sewing and if you have a great pattern then let’s get it out there for all to see, someone else may want to choose it too! Make sure you follow the @SewOver50 account and use the hashtags #SewOver50 and #So50Visible so that we can all search for and see them too.
We’ve had several generous offers of patterns as ‘prizes’ from a few designers which will be randomly awarded at the end of the challenge. This isn’t really intended to be a competition, it’s more a sharing of ideas and inspiration and highlighting our presence.
In no particular order the ‘prizes’ are as follows-
The Maker’s Atelier-Holiday shirt and top.
Seamwork- 1 of 3 PDF patterns
Paper Theory-Olya shirt
Alice & Co-pattern bundle.
You don’t have to make a brand new garment for the challenge but ideally it will be one you’ve made relatively recently (within a year, say) and haven’t already shared lots of times. Why not take a new photo of it though?
When you’re ready to enter then you must include a shot of the original pattern as well as your finished make. If you don’t know how to do multiple images or collages on Instagram then just include the pattern in the shot with you (or your chosen model) Judith will share regular posts and information and you have plenty of time.
Post your photos any time between February 1st and March 15th 2019 on the @SewOver50 account and make sure you include the hashtags so that we can see them.
The Challenge is open to EVERYONE regardless of your age, size, gender, ethnicity or orientation.
Once we started searching we realised that although there are MASSES of pattern companies now there were very, VERY few using older models [the slight exception seems to be for men’s patterns where an older man is deemed to ‘distinguished’ the same does not seem to apply to women] Judith and I trawled through The Fold Line’s huge database which was very helpful as it collates so many pattern companies but it was often extremely difficult to tell if the model was in the over 45-50 bracket or whether they just appeared that way! We decided to err on the side of caution so as not to cause offence but if you feel the model (or the illustration) is ‘older’ then go right ahead.
There are doubtless more pattern companies existing in a small way where you are-SewOver50 has a global reach with followers all over the world-so if you know of a company, or are a pattern company, probably producing PDFs, then please highlight it on Instagram or message Judith directly and she’ll share it on the account.
We’ve compiled a list for you to look through [it isn’t that long and it isn’t definitive by any means] so hopefully you’ll feel inspired and want to show some love to those companies which already acknowledge we exist!
Wendy Ward-Beginner’s Guide to Sewing with Knits book
Any pattern created for a sewing or dressmaking magazine and which is modelled by an older person could also be deemed eligible.
As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I know full well that some smaller companies want to keep a tight rein on the image that they are projecting and I respect that completely. Sadly, as a wider community, we’re noticing that some of these companies don’t ever acknowledge any of us, via social media, who don’t fit into their ideal demographic. They are more than content to encourage us to ‘share your makes’ and ‘share the hashtag’ etc. so that they get lots of lovely free advertising from us but this is starting to get galling and I’m thinking of no longer naming, or indeed reviewing, any pattern by certain brands if they can’t be bothered to acknowledge the actual community that they rely on! #NoLikeNoMention
There are a quite number of other groups that are under represented in sewing community terms too so if you feel you are in one of those; people of colour who sew, curvaceous sewers and people with disabilities are just a few examples, please take it as read that you are absolutely invited to be a part of this too, the #SewInclusive hashtag would be pointless if it didn’t actually include anyone who wants to be involved.
We really hope that you’ll want to join in with this challenge, and that by doing so, as a community, we’ll encourage more pattern companies to choose carefully the models they use. Many of them must have stylish Mums or Aunties who would be up for a photo-shoot, or there are plenty of beautiful people right here in the sewing community who would volunteer I’m sure.
We’d love you to be a part of this challenge and help demonstrate that there are many of us who, whilst we’re a bit older, we still take a keen interest in fashion and great clothes, and we make stylish things which deserve to be seen and acknowledged by a greater section of the home dressmaking market. I want to stress that other than the pattern ‘prizes’ which have generously been donated this post is not sponsored, endorsed or affiliated by anyone and the @SewOver50 account isn’t either. We’re really looking forward to seeing what you all come up with so get searching, begin sewing and start sharing.
My latest Minerva blog post is on their website from today and it’s a bit different from the others. This time I used a soft and fluid jersey to make a dress for my younger daughter Katie, not me.
In the post I explain how I wanted to use a single pattern [Simplicity 8602] which, ultimately, I’ll adapt for 3 of us in my family-24 year old Katie, my 84 year old Mum, and me. The first two are done, the version for me probably won’t happen for a while yet though.
Katie made life a bit difficult for me by wanting the blouse lengthened into a dress, plus altering the sleeves AND the neckline. I’ve written up all the details in the post if you’re interested in finding out how I did it.
I hope you find the post helpful and you can read it here.
Well, I seem to have set the cat amongst the pigeons a little with my previous post reviewing Vogue 9251. In it I mentioned how I chose this particular pattern over a Sew Over It one. I didn’t say anything detrimental about their Eve dress, I simply chose the Vogue one.
When I posted on Instagram about the new blog I simply commented, “don’t dismiss ‘big 4’ patterns because Vogue have some fantastic designs which fit well and are often fashion-forward”. What I didn’t expect was the number and variety of responses which that provoked. I’d like to try and explore a little more some of those comments here.
When I first learned to dress-make at secondary school the only patterns generally available to me were the big brands, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity etc. Burda were there too but they were much more challenging because very often you had to trace them off (I’ve never been a tracer, always a cutter-outer) and remember to add your seam allowances. They were frequently more fashion-forward but I think because they are a German brand their styles were ‘a bit weird’ and it wasn’t often to my taste at the time. Their printed patterns now include seam allowance but the magazine still has large sheets which you trace and add the SA to. The designs have improved somewhat too. Vogue patterns were always very much the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the pattern brands and it was always a big deal for me to spend so much money on one (even now I try to buy them when they are on a half price offer) They were often where innovative designs first appeared and then an adapted version would appear later on in Butterick or Simplicity instead. Now a Vogue pattern almost seems cheap compared to indies!
Another source of patterns were free ones provided by post by women’s magazines and newspapers, you’d save up printed vouchers which you posted off and they would then post the pattern back to you. A slow process but actually it didn’t matter much because we weren’t all about instant gratification back then, we were happy to wait because we were getting something for nothing! Some of these patterns were OK, some not so much.
In the early 80’s Prima magazine started giving free patterns included with the magazine. They were the template type we still get today which came on two-sided sheets that you had to trace off and, as a result, they were quite simple designs but they were popular. I was attempting my own pattern cutting by this time before I went to college so these patterns were a springboard to getting me started.
Then dressmaking seemed to fall out of favour and the curriculum all seemed to change at school. There were always a few of us who kept it up, it was how I earned a modest living while my children were small but it became harder and harder to buy nice fabrics at reasonable prices, or haberdashery, and nobody seemed to think it was a worthwhile pastime.
Then, in 2013, the Great British Sewing Bee happened and everything changed. There was always the core of us that had carried on sewing but now a new group were being introduced to it as a hobby and as a means to make the sorts of clothes they wanted to wear. The big pattern companies were still there but for the women who hadn’t been taught dressmaking they were a bit daunting and also a little dull. [I know there are men who sew but, let’s face it, they are the tiny minority] The packaging looked a bit dated and the layout of the instruction sheets inside hasn’t changed in decades. This isn’t a bad thing for those of us who know what we’re doing but to the unfamiliar they can be very confusing and a bit scary. They generally always assume a good level of sewing knowledge before you start so beyond telling you the order of making they don’t always tell you the exact technique or method. The pattern books don’t help themselves because they can look uninspiring with strange fabric choices and not many up-to-date or trend-led styles, or by making it difficult to spot them amongst the dull ones!
I’m not aware there was any such thing as an ‘independent pattern maker’ before about 5 years ago, and if there was then they were well below the radar, but people like Tilly Walnes, who appeared on the first GBSB series and is Tilly & the Buttons, and Lisa Comfort of Sew Over It both started developing their own patterns and began marketing them. Tilly created wearable, simple modern shapes which were beautifully presented and the instructions came in the form of photographs rather than with illustrations. Sew Over It’s aesthetic is vintage-inspired with tea dresses and floaty skirts being more prevalent. Lisa seems to have diversified into a whole lifestyle-thing which I’m quite glad I’m no longer a young mum trying to emulate.
Fast-forward to today and we have masses of new ‘indie’ patterns flooding the market all the time. It seems that everyone who fancies themselves as a designer can have a go at it and create new patterns and clearly some will be considerably better than others. Initially I didn’t go down the indie route because they were usually in the region of £12-£15 or more for a printed pattern, and besides I have a monstrous collection of paper patterns which I’ve acquired over about 40 years! I wasn’t attracted to the new patterns because they were either too simplistic and I could make my own quite frankly, or they were vintage-style which I’m not that into.
I’ve noticed too since making a few indie brand patterns that with some of them if you don’t fit into a certain age or body type then you never get a ‘like’ or a mention if you tag the company in your IG feed. Frankly, if I, my makes and my photosdon’t suit your design ideal or aesthetic then I won’t be bothering to tag in future, you need the customers more than they need you and no one likes to feel ignored.
So, where does that leave us today?
The big companies have carried on very largely unchanged for decades and you can usually be sure of a well-drafted product with good instructions (although if you are able to follow them is sometimes an entirely separate issue) The fit of some of these styles isn’t always so good but there’s always going to be some variation according to the style and I’m not saying they are always wrong or right. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with the human body here with all it’s quirks and variations as well as personal taste and style.
I wonder if the fact that, almost without exception, indie pattern styles have names rather than numbers which instantly makes them more memorable? Also, having now succumbed and bought a number of indie patterns I see there’s a wide variety in the form they take and their packaging is definitely part of the appeal. They come in nice packages and they might feature lovely sketches on the cover or fashion shoot-style photos, many come printed on heavy, quality paper and others are on ‘greaseproof’ type paper or even brown wrapping paper, each is trying be unique in what is becoming a crowded market. If you can get yourself in with The Fold Line and an attractive young blogger who will sing your praises then so much the better, guaranteed advertising.
I think that the single biggest difference that the indies have is the availability of downloadable PDFs. We’ve arrived at that very modern phenomenon ‘instant gratification’. You can purchase, download, print, cut, stick, cut out and sew all in one evening if that is what works for you. The PDF is generally a little cheaper [there are free ones too] so you can buy direct from a pattern maker who may live on the other side of the planet if you want to. It’s possible to get them printed at the local print shop too, or by online printers but I’m wondering if that doesn’t defeat the object of not buying a printed version if there is one in the first place? Indies often have a wealth of online tutorials and support which was never possible before. That said, never dismiss a good old text book-the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (first published in 1978 I think) is an absolute goldmine of information.
In the 4 years or so that I’ve been part of the ‘online’ sewing community I’ve noticed a trend amongst some dressmakers who only appear to use indie patterns and to sing their praises. Is this an inverted form of snobbery? I don’t know but that’s just fine if they are the styles you want make, of course it is, we’re a free country, but a lot of the new styles from some brands are starting to look incredibly ’samey’ and are bringing nothing new to the design table. If you want truly original new styles it seems to me that the Europeans are doing it better, such as Named, Deer and Doe or The Assembly Line.
Some indie patterns are so overly simplistic in the designs they offer that I do wonder why dressmakers are shelling out so much cash for the pattern when they don’t have to. Do they genuinely not realise that there are other, cheaper alternatives?
Don’t get me wrong, there are brands which produce well-drafted, original designs with clear instructions and the designer has worked very hard to put out an excellent quality product but none of the printed versions of these patterns are terribly cheap, many are £20 a pop now (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be because of course there is a lot of time and effort involved) but, as I return to my original point, don’t dismiss the big companies out of hand because they do still have something to offer, relative cheapness for basics being one of them.
I was particularly saddened, and annoyed, to hear Heather-Lou of Closet Case Patterns say on the Stitchers Brew podcast recently that she thought “you don’t need to take a pattern cutting class” because there are “very few things in life you need to go to school for”. Well thanks a bunch!! I’m so glad that myself and thousands like me took the time to go college to follow our dream and learn how to be pattern cutters because it was obviously a big old waste of time as anyone can do it! In the next breath she says that she now has a professional do her pattern drafting because “she (the pattern cutter) went to school and trained to do it” WTF! I’d enjoyed listening to what she had to say up until that point but that’s plain insensitive and insulting. I know there are some brands, like Maven patterns and The Maker’s Atelier, which have been created by women with years of experience and expertise in the fashion industry but there are other’s who don’t have that.
I could wang on for ages about the benefits and downsides of both types of pattern and in all honesty they will coexist side by side from now on. The big companies have certainly got to stay on their toes and possibly find new and engaging ways to present themselves to be appealing to the burgeoning younger market, but I hate to see newer dressmakers parting with lots of cash for some patterns which are really just a new version of the wheel, the spokes or the tyre may be different but it’s still a wheel none the less.
Part of what we all love about dressmaking is making original, creative clothes that fit and supporting one another in our endeavours, long may that continue. It’s just that we are the customer and always have a choice where we spend our hard-earned money.
All views expressed are my own of course and I dare say many of you won’t agree with me but I know from comments on my IG post that I’m echoing thoughts of others too. I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I’ve mentioned either! I’d be really interested to know what you think about the whole subject too so do please leave a comment.