a SewOver50 discussion about fabric choices.

At the beginning of May @sewover50 posed us this question, “How do you assess your fabric purchases? Is cheap fabric inferior, or can you sometimes find a genuine bargain? Does expensive always mean quality…and what does that mean? How do you weigh up long lasting plastic-based fabrics against ‘natural’ fibres that may gradually wear out but where ageing can add to the appeal of the fabric?” The discussion was prompted by follower @kissntuss asking if anyone else had encountered the problem of buying and prewashing fabric, spending time carefully sewing it up only for it to turn into scruffy rag after its first proper laundering?

So, lots to think about there and I waded straight in with this comment, “Ooh this is a mine field! I’ve always said that over time and with experience you learn to judge between ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ because, in very general terms, I’ve often found cheap to be of inferior quality whereas ‘inexpensive’ would be a better or good quality fabric at a very reasonable price. Since the boom in home dressmaking over the last few years I think there are now a lot more fabrics which are quite pricey but you’re paying for the design, or the brand, not necessarily the superior quality of the fabric which they are made with. Price is not always a guarantee of quality unfortunately. Personally I would still much rather feel a fabric in my hand to better judge the quality BUT there are some very good fabric websites who sell excellent quality cloth so order a swatch if you aren’t sure. We’ve learned the hard way with our fabric-buying mistakes and I still get it wrong from time to time even after all these years.” These are strictly my own thoughts you understand which I’ve formed over many years of sewing and clothes-making, and learnt through good and bad cloth-buying experiences. I use the terms ‘cheap’ and ‘inexpensive’ loosely when I’m trying to help others with their fabric choices, there are no hard and fast rules.

Well, it seems many of you broadly agreed with me, at least in part, and had plenty of other brilliant insights to add. I’ll attempt to bring the threads (see what I did there?) of a long discussion together here. You could always go back to the original post too and wade through it if you really want to…

So, is cheap fabric always bad fabric? Of course not necessarily I would say. I’m sure many of us have encountered things like thin polyester/cotton with uneven printing and which is suspiciously stiff even though, as my Grandmother would say, “you could shoot peas through it!” It’s usually got lots of dressing like starch or excess dye in it which will wash out and leave the fabric flimsy with little body or oomph to it, it will literally turn into a droopy rag, possibly twisting and/or shrinking and losing colour with each subsequent wash too. These are to be avoided at all costs except for craft-based projects like bunting perhaps. Cheap jersey can be awful too because it’s thin and spirals badly (you know how cheap RTW T-shirts twist after a wash or two? That. However, ‘cheap’ could also be a bolt-end or remnant length of a good cloth sold at a fraction of its original price. When you’re shopping, using a general rule of thumb of 1) and most importantly, do I really like it? 2) is it truly fit for my intended use? and 3) do I really need it? (Ha!) If I have any doubts about these then I walk away and save my money, even if it’s just a few pounds. 

[I just want to add a story about some fabric I bought a few months ago to make a wedding dress toile. I made a trip to Walthamstow market in east London where I know there are some great fabric shops and the famous #TMOS ‘The Man Outside Sainsbury’s’ market stall. I had tried online to pick up a cheap cloth which was as similar as possible to the actual fabric I’d be using for the dress itself but the descriptions weren’t good enough for me to be confident they were worth buying. Anyway, off I toddled, what often happens at Walthamstow is that shop premises become available on short leases so very unglamorous but stuffed-to-the-rafters fabric shops pop up in them. You can never be sure they will still be there a few weeks later though. They usually sell deadstock or overstock from nearby factories or suppliers and everything is at rock-bottom prices until it’s gone or the lease runs out. I was after a decent weight triple crepe-type cloth, the colour and fibre content was irrelevant because it was for a toile, and I was really hoping to pay around £3-4 or less per metre. I was absolutely thrilled to find a pale mint green cloth of a really good weight for just 75p per metre!! Perfect for my needs so I bought 6m of the green and another 4m of a bright pink for me! My biggest problem then was carrying it because crepe is a really weighty fabric and I had gibbon arms by the time I got it home on the train! ] 

Hasan, the famous (if you live near London) Man Outside Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow

Returning to my own comments I mentioned ‘inexpensive’ cloth which, by my own definition, I would say is fabric that is of a good or excellent quality which normally sells for quite a high price but is now being sold for a lot less than usual. Ex-designer fabrics, dead-stock and factory end of lines are a few examples of this and there are more and more websites and shops starting to source these because they are a brilliant way of stopping wasted fabric going into landfill. And don’t forget those remnant bins, there might be gold dust in there but always double-check there are no nasty surprises like faults, flaws, dye or print discrepancies, and unfold the piece to make sure it’s roughly the size it says it is without terrible wonky ends, it isn’t a bargain if it turns out to be unusable.

In the UK there are areas of the country which have had a proud textiles- making heritage over the centuries and it is still possible in some of these places to buy quality cloth directly from the mills, or from shops and markets. For example, Harris Tweed is still made in the Isle of Harris, Scotland (Vivienne Westwood has been a devoted user of their cloth for decades now) A number of followers commented that in their areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire they were able to buy beautiful quality cloth often as remnants or from mill shops. Most of us don’t have this opportunity and whilst in an ideal world we would all love to be able to feel the quality and suitability of the cloth in our hands before buying, for many online shopping is the only realistic option [and if you’re reading this during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic then it’s the only option for pretty much everybody at present] @frugalisama said “there’s nowt like fettling fabric”, that’s basically stroking fabric to the uninitiated! Visiting bricks-and-mortar stores does offer the chance of personal interaction with others though, I can never resist poking my nose in at other customers deliberations and choices so I regularly have some lovely conversations about one of my favourite topics with complete strangers!

For me, the difficulty with buying online is relying completely on there being accurate descriptions of factors like the weight, handle, suitability for purpose and a true indication of colours and scale of print. 

Some websites (and obviously there are thousands and I only have experience of a few) are very diligent and give a lot of good information and are happy to send swatches whenever possible. Small companies can offer a very personal service and it’s nice to support them too, getting to know what fabrics they offer which makes them stand out from the big hitters. 

But even with lots of information it’s still all too easy to make duff choices, on more than one occasion I’ve ended up with fabric which was much thinner or thicker than I had hoped or wanted for a particular project, or the print has been a much bigger scale than I thought it was from a photograph. I find a 100m reel of Gutermann thread a really helpful reference point in a photo because we almost all know exactly what size they are, or a ruler in the photo is also helpful. My idea of what is suitable for a skirt or trousers for example might be very different from someone else’s because years of experience and attendant disasters has taught me the hard way. There’s very little you can do to speed up this process of learning although a comprehensive book like Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina could very useful-it’s a treasure trove of information of many, many different types of fabrics, their uses, fibre content, sewing and handling tips. There is a whole world of wonderful fabrics out there to discover and it’s a pity to limit ourselves to a very small pool. Cotton is not just cotton for example, it’s poplin, lawn, voile, calico, muslin, denim, corduroy, canvas, Ankara, towelling, sateen, chintz, jersey, the list goes on and that’s just one fibre. Shopping with someone who knows their fabrics is not only fun but educational too.

So does the cost of the fabric have a bearing on the quality and your likelihood to buy it? @jenerates, amongst several others, made the point that if she spends more on the cloth it means she takes her time and more care with the making of each garment. She is also much more inclined to care for the garment more diligently, to make it last longer. Some fabric is pricey because it’s expertly made from top quality materials with designer names attached, and often these fabrics might be made from natural fibres which at the top end can be very pricey. Silk has always been seen as a luxury fabric for good reason, but then so can an Italian-made synthetic-based fabric too, it is still superb quality just not a natural fibre. But being a good quality natural fibre is absolutely no guarantee of it’s longevity or durability, quite the reverse sometimes. 

I think there are a number of popular fabric brands at present which have beautiful designs printed on them but the base cloth doesn’t always justify the price point. What do we do about this if, after you’ve diligently sewn a garment together, within a few washes it’s like a rag? If it were a garment purchased from a reputable retailer you could probably negotiate a refund or exchange but that’s no good in this instance, I suspect we fume for a while and then put it down to experience if we can’t find a way to fix it. I would be curious to know, has anyone ever gone back to the online supplier and successfully got a refund or exchange?

@paulalovestosew very kindly answered my questions directly because I know she is very happy to use manmade fibres and fabrics. We all have a tendency to believe that natural fibres are always best but what if they don’t work for your lifestyle, or the garment you want to make? Paula, like many of us, has been sewing her clothes for years, she loves to scour remnant bins in fabric stores and, like me, gets enormous pleasure from squeezing as much as possible from the least amount of fabric. If you check out her account you’ll regularly see not only a dress but also golfing attire all made from the same cloth. For her, stretch jerseys are perfect because they are comfortable to wear, never fade or distort in the wash, there are masses of colours and designs available, they roll up without damage in a suitcase and they last for years. Paula knows her own style which suits her perfectly and she always looks immaculate, style doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

What about vintage or recycled cloth? This can be a great way of using unusual designs or fabric types to create totally original clothes although vintage cloth might need a little more aftercare to keep it in good condition though because of the age of the fibres. It can be difficult without a burn test to know exactly what it was in the first place. If it’s been left folded for a long time it might break down in the creases for example, or it might not take well to being exposed to sunlight or sweat after many years but if the alternative is that it doesn’t get used at all then why not turn it into something nice! Charity shops, yard sales, swaps, Ebay and elderly neighbours are just a few of the places you could find some hidden gems. My 93 year old neighbour Pamela has given me some beauties for example and she’s always thrilled to see me in something I’ve made with one of her fabrics. 

I made this beautiful Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt in Liberty cotton voile given to me by Pamela and when she saw me wearing it recently she commented that the fabric might not have belonged to her in the first place but to her mother!! Goodness knows how old that could make it but it’s still going strong for me and it’s one of my absolute favourites in warm weather.

Many people try to take into consideration how ethical a fabric is; is its production harmful to humans or the environment through the use of chemicals, dyes, dangerous processes, or is it dangerously straining or poisoning the local water supply? can it be successfully recycled? Will it wear well or will it need to be replaced more often, can it be laundered easily or should it be dry cleaned? There are so many considerations that there is unlikely to be one definitive answer, we must each make our own judgments according to our beliefs and moral framework. Buying organic or other ethically-certified fabrics is a good start but they do often, quite rightly, come with a higher price. You may be interested in reading my post on this topic, Fashioned from Nature, an exhibition at the V&A in London two years ago.

At the risk of being controversial, I do think there’s sometimes an element of fabric snobbery at play by which I mean natural fibres good, synthetic fibres bad. By all means buy and sew with what you prefer but there is a place for manmade fabrics which isn’t that easily replaced. If you sew swimwear or activity clothing which require technical fabrics then they are highly likely to be chemical-based. Yes, I know there are now bamboo and a couple of other alternatives but they are extremely difficult to source for home sewing at present unless you know where to look, and they certainly aren’t cheap either. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about how textiles have always been a part of our daily lives I recommend reading The Golden Thread-how fabric changed history by Kassia St Clair. It’s a fascinating insight into textiles and materials of all kinds, my only quibble is that there are no illustrations or photographs in it all which seems an extremely strange choice given that the subject matter is so visual.

Gosh, this has turned into a long post, I hope you had a coffee to sustain you? Realistically there is no right or wrong answer, it’s what works for you, your lifestyle, your budget, your capabilities and that is different for everyone. Maybe a good idea is to buy the best you can afford if your budget allows but the pricier the fabric is the more I would say it matters to make a toile first. Cheap and cheerful is perfectly good if you’re just starting out in dressmaking, and always make a toile in as similar a fabric-type as possible to the finished article. You will make mistakes and poor choices-much like life!-but you’ve got @Sewover50 as a goldmine of support and information to help along the way, I’m a huge advocate of sharing my sewing failures as well as the successes. 

As I’ve said throughout, there is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions, we make our fabric choices based on any number of personal, and wider reaching factors. I’d really like to conclude with Fiona’s comment, she sees her handmade wardrobe as “my memory album on a rail”, definitely something worth cherishing. 

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

The first SewOver50 challenge roundup and what’s next?

Well this is definitely late in arriving seeing as the challenge finished on March 15th…! After my flurry of activity for the launch of the first SewOver50 challenge in February, and a follow-up post with updated pattern companies, you might have wondered (probably not though…) where I disappeared to? The answer is simply that I had a holiday booked so off I went! Rude I know but Judith and Sandy were fully in command of the day to day running of the challenge so away I went. I missed seeing large chunks at the end of the challenge though as we were on a cruise where internet access is extortionately expensive and much as I love my sewing buddies I don’t love them THAT much, or another option is you can buy beer in bars when in port in order to receive ‘free’ WiFi (follow a crew member, they always know where a hotspot is)

So that’s my excuses out of the way, how did you get on? Did you enter? I was exempt from entering (obviously) but I did contribute a few makes of my own using patterns that qualified.

The Heron Dress by The Sewing Revival
The Holiday Shirt by The Maker’s Atelier, I’ve used this pattern 5 times now.
The Dawson Coatigan by The Thrifty Stitcher (what IS going on with my face? Don’t answer, it’s a rhetorical question!!

I think what the challenge brought home to many people is the lack of visibility of anyone aged over 40 frankly, never mind over 50. There were many comments over the six weeks, from much younger sewers as well as more mature people, saying how they simply hadn’t noticed but once you had noticed it became obvious. We have grown largely immune to it and just accept that the image in no way reflects a large majority of makers, even younger dressmakers must be sick of competing with these idealised versions of themselves too. [ yes we know that this doesn’t bother everybody and that’s fine but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are willing to accept the status quo]

Did you discover a new pattern brand as a result of the challenge? I’m sure there are many other brands who didn’t make themselves known to us either by email or commenting on the previous blog posts and I’m definitely not going to vouch for the quality or otherwise of some of those that did but personally I found lots of new ones which I’ll look out for more often in future. Many of them are PDF which means wherever you are in the world they are still accessible to anyone.

Via her posts Judith encouraged people to contact pattern companies who don’t currently use older models and she herself has received some enlightening answers. Of those companies which have so far responded to Judith, almost without exception they say that, unless they have a friend or family member who is willing to model for them, it’s very very difficult to find suitable older professional models registered with agencies, even if they would like to use them. There were a number of different reasons cited for not using older models and, as we’ve said before, a brand is absolutely entitled to create their own ‘look’ as they see fit. Many also said they already featured, or promised in future to feature, a wider cross-section of makers of all kinds in examples of their patterns, this seems the absolute least that a brand can do in exchange for constant free advertising when we ’share the hashtag’ or tag them in our posts. One brand claimed to feature a wide range of their customers makes but having looked through their feed I beg to differ, a modest range all under about 35 is how I saw it.

A lot of brands are very small operations so we appreciate the difficulties this brings but they were also very often the ones that were most keen to bring about changes. I guess being small means they can alter things about their product if it’s within their power to do so and they genuinely want to.

One brilliant example is Selkie Patterns who are a start-up company based in London creating their own print-to-order designs on lovely quality ethically-sourced fabrics. In January on Instagram they put up a post asking for anyone who would be willing to model their next pattern, I somewhat cheekily responded by saying “would you consider an over 50?” Imagine my shock and surprise when Alexandra contacted me and said “yes!” Gulp!

A month later I found myself posing in the sunshine in a backstreet near Waterloo in London, modelling the new fabric design and a sleeve ‘add-on’ for their London dress, top and skirt pattern. I had a blast and Alex made me feel so comfortable and at ease, and it was all loads of fun…we had cake too! I bet no one eats cake on Vogue shoots… It feels slightly surreal to keep seeing myself pop up unexpectedly in their advertising and on the website now…perhaps Kate Moss feels the same.. I was happy to do it because it was a chance to start the ball rolling [perhaps I should sign up with an agency ROFL]

So if one little company just starting out can do it I’m sure others could too, with a modest camera, an attractive backdrop and a willing volunteer it’s possible to get really nice results. Some might expect to pay or be paid which is absolutely fair enough, especially with larger companies who should have a budget for this, but not everybody can do this at the outset. You only have to look through the Sew Over 50 Instagram account to see just how many fabulous, attractive, amazing, funny, inquisitive people there are out there sewing original and inspirational clothes for themselves-dressing in the way WE want to suit our personalities and tastes. Yes, we might ‘just’ want great fitting jeans and a comfy cardie sometimes but that doesn’t mean we can’t make them for ourselves with fantastic details and using beautiful fabrics.

When the challenge closed Judith had been keeping a list of all the qualifying entrants and, with the help of her two gorgeous grandsons, they quite literally pulled the names of the winners out of her hat!

Our generous prize sponsors were:

The Maker’s Atelier
Paper Theory
The Sewing Revival
Naughty Bobbin Patterns
Alice & Co Patterns
Seamwork Magazine
Maven Patterns
The Thrifty Stitcher
Viola Isabelle 6
Ann Normandy
Designer Stitch
Fresh Press Patterns
Laura Sew Different

All the winners should have now been notified and have hopefully claimed their prizes, it will be lovely if they share what they make with the rest of us eventually, it could become a sewing virtuous circle!

So, what have we learned from this? Well there’s still a long way to go for sure but there seems to be a shift in perception in many areas of life that as we get older we shouldn’t be relegated to the backwaters of life, nor should we go there quietly and wait for a life belt to be thrown to us, if we want attitudes to change we have to change them ourselves by making our presence felt. It doesn’t have to be in a loud and crashing way because sometimes the softly-softly approach will work better initially, and if it doesn’t then we’ll just get louder. There is an element of ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ because by approaching pattern companies and magazines directly with polite enquiries and requests we’ve found them starting to sit up and take notice. Again it goes back to us being people who have disposable income to spend on quality products, which businesses with any sense will embrace as a lucrative market (so long as they don’t talk down to us or patronise, we aren’t all in care homes just yet!)

Since its creation just seven short months ago the account now has over 10,000 followers and continues to grow all the time. The Great British Sewing Bee returned for a fifth series and featured several wonderful sewers in their 40s, 50s and 60s, it’s a source of real inspiration and encouragement (isn’t it interesting that one of the judges is a feisty and stylish woman in her 60s? That wealth of knowledge and experience takes time to acquire) There’s another series on the cards and applications are open now so why not give it a try, here’s the link to get you started..

And let’s not forget that 10 of us did a photoshoot for Love Sewing which appeared in February with a fantastic 3 page spread in the magazine and a longer version in their online blog. Editor Amy is always on the look out for readers to review the free gift patterns in each issue so if you think you can write a decent review and would like to participate in a photo shoot yourself then drop her an email.

The fabulous 50s gals and editor Amy.

Personally I’m as inspired by younger makers as I am by people my own age and older, having the cross-section matters to me. I love to go to meet-ups and socialising with other makers because even though it can feel like speed dating for dressmakers I know we all have at least that one interest in common at the outset.

I’ll keep sharing SewOver50 updates here from time to time, I’m always in contact with Judith and some of our other partners in crime. We’ve got plans for the year and we’re are always open to suggestions for collaborations or sponsorships of our initiatives so if you think you’ve something to bring to the table feel free to get in touch with one of us. If there’s a brand you love who you think could do more then why not email them, offer yourself as a tester or a model for them, at worst they’ll ignore you and, if they don’t, who knows where it might lead? You could also leave a pattern review on The Fold Line website, or your preferred pattern review website, try and include nice clear photos where possible, they don’t have to be super-styled but it helps everyone more if you can see the garment clearly (rather than a big ol’ mess in the background) with a couple of views.

Right! I’d better get back to some sewing now, it feels like forever since I did any!

Until next time,

Sue

Are you ready for the first Sew Over 50 sewing challenge?

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!

Paper Theory-Olya pattern

Maker’s Atelier-several to choose from

Colette-several to choose from

The Thrifty Stitcher-Dawson Coatigan

Tessuti-various

Pattern Union-various

Sew Me Something-various

Simple Sew-Zoe dress and topAlice & Co-Intrepid Boiler Suit

Sew Over It-Coco jacket

Seamwork-various

Tuesday Stitches-various

Blue Dot patterns-most patterns, Diane does her own modelling

By Hand London-Orsola dress and skirt

Dg patterns-Patricia

Cashmerette-Washington dress

Pauline Alice-Romero trousers

Designer Stitch-various

The Sewing Workshop-various

Fresh Press-various

Sew This Pattern-various

Sinclair patterns-various

Wardrobe By Me-various

Merchant & Mills The Workbook Curlew dress only

Sew Different patterns-Cocoon jacket and possibly a couple of others

Elbe Textiles-groovy old guy, same old, same old with the women though

Simplicity #8607 #8163 absolutely dismal showing by the big companies!

Everyday Style by Lotta Jansdottir -this is a book

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.

Happy Sewing,

Sue

Tilly and the Buttons Nora top

I’m very excited to have been offered a copy of one of the new Tilly and the Buttons and I jumped at the chance to try Nora, a drop shoulder jersey top with several variations of sleeve, neckline and length. It’s just the sort of top I like to wear, often layered up in colder weather so I thought you might like to know what I think about the pattern.

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keeping the design under wraps before the launch.

For once I decided I would trace off the pattern first because I’ll probably want to use several of the variations but this time I wanted to start with the long sleeve, uneven hem version.

Initially I checked my measurements against the sizing chart, and then the very useful finished garment measurements chart too. It’s always helpful if patterns have this (‘big 4’ patterns usually have them printed directly on one of the major pattern pieces) because you can make a much better judgement of the size you want. Take a tape measure and hold it around your body using the finished garment measurements to see how you feel about the fit-too loose? too tight? I opted to go down a size from the one indicated by my body measurements because I felt the finished top would be plenty big enough.

I had some lovely loopback sweatshirting in my stash that I’d bought from GuthrieGhani at last year’s one and only Great British Sewing Bee Live in London. It had been destined for a top based on one I’d seen at the Burberry ‘Capes’ show at the beginning of 2017 but never quite got made. When I clapped eyes on the Nora I knew the Burberry top would rise again.

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I love the varied layers and stripes of this look.

In order to match the stripes, take your time laying up the fabric ready to cut. Ensure the stripes on the underneath layer are in line with the top layer by popping a few pins through both layers every so often. Next, I placed the front and back pieces onto matching stripes at the lower edges, double checking that the bottom of the armhole was also the same. I didn’t cut the sleeves out at this time, I waited until I had the front and back sewn together at the shoulders and the neck band attached before doing this. This way you can have your actual garment laying on the fabric next to where you’re intending to place the sleeve pattern, I cut each sleeve separately to make absolutely sure.

Tilly’s instructions and photos are generally very clear and helpful in my experience. I’m not sure if I did the neck band in quite the same way as the instructions but it worked and looks good. Different knits and jerseys have differing amounts of stretch so you may need to adjust the length of the band you use. I made mine shorter in the end as it wasn’t sitting flat at first, the band needed to be more stretched onto the neck edge to sit nice and flat.

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I’ll take that!

The beauty of the sleeve on the Nora is that it’s a ‘shirt sleeve head’ so it’s almost flat across the top. This means it’s very simple to sew on because there’s no tricky setting into an armhole to do, you sew it on flat and then join the underarm and side seams afterwards. Incidentally, I sewed most seams using the tricot stretch stitch (looks like lightening in the symbols if you’re looking for it on your machine) You could also use a zigzag that’s very flattened out by reducing the stitch width. Alternatively, you could sew most of Nora together using an overlocker but don’t forget the seam allowances are 1.5cms and an overlocker will be much narrower which could result in a bigger garment than planned if you don’t trim them down first.

Before I hemmed the sleeves I tried the top on and opted to bring the sleeve width at the cuffs in by a total of 6cms [only as far as the elbow though from where I graded back into the original seam] Although the cuffs were a bit too wide for my liking I loved the extended length which comes some way over your hands.

That just leaves the stepped hem. I used a twin needle to sew straight across the hems and a regular ballpoint needle to turn the side seams.

Before I started Nora I’d already decided that I’d wear a shirt under the stripy version because the front is actually a bit higher than I like so, when I make my next one, I’ll lengthen the front somewhat but still keep a ’step’. I’ve been wearing it with my favourite The Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt underneath and I love how it looks together. I bought some beautiful Liberty fleece-back sweatshirt fabric from Fabrics Galore at the recent Knitting & Stitching show which I’ll use to make the Nora with the high roll collar instead and the long cuffs will roll back to show the contrast colour, it’s going to be so cosy. I reckon you could make it in a drapey woven fabric too BUT  you’d have to make the neckline larger because you wouldn’t get your head through otherwise!!

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No make up selfie in Threadquarters! I really like all the hem interest going on.

Thank you Tilly for the chance to try out Nora, I’m definitely a fan and I think there will certainly be a few versions of her finding their way into my wardrobe over the autumn and winter…and then there will be short-sleeve versions when the spring arrives!

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue

 

Does ageism exist in modern dressmaking and why do we need the SewOver50 hashtag?

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So, does ageism exist in modern dressmaking both as a pastime and an industry as it’s developing at the moment? Obviously I hope the answer to my question is “no” but I have my doubts that’s the case.

Why am I even asking? I’m asking because, after I published my last blog about ‘big 4 patterns’ and indie patterns, one point I raised for discussion was that I’d noticed certain pattern designers were ignoring my photos when I’d tagged their product in them. It seems this resonated with others too, and all of us appear to be in the over 45-50 in age group. I’m also well aware by saying this that there will be those who think I’m being paranoid, have an over-inflated sense of my own importance or just suffering from FOMO! (fear of missing out, if you haven’t heard that before) simply for writing this.

Firstly, a very quick lesson in Instagram if you don’t use the platform-those of us who use Instagram regularly know that if we share photos of garments we’ve made it’s completely normal to say which pattern it is and also where we bought the fabric from for example, by ‘tagging’ those companies in the picture. Doing this means that others who see your post know what the products are if they’re are interested in buying them. Within the Instagram sewing community it’s a normal part of what we all enjoy. Tagging also alerts those companies or individuals to a post containing one of their products which they wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s nice to get a ‘like’ from these companies or individuals, more as an acknowledgement than anything else, a comment is even better and a repost on their own feed is the ultimate in flattering acknowledgment of your make.

Eventually it’s possible to strike up ‘conversations’ with some of these companies, much in the same way we do between ourselves in response to photos we like or find interesting or intriguing for example. [Weird guys with guns looking for lurve and usually involving God are a whole other matter and to be avoided and blocked at all costs]  We use their product and mention it so it’s free advertising for them, we get the satisfaction of knowing they’ve seen what we’ve made.

So far, so good, but in the last two years or so there seems to be a proliferation of new independent pattern companies and they are all clamouring for our attention and support, it’s becoming a very crowded market.

I won’t lie, it is very satisfying to have your work acknowledged and I’m always happy when it happens for one of my makes because we all like that approval don’t we? I’ve learned, however, that there are some companies who never acknowledge a tag, it isn’t what they do, it can be a bit like that on Twitter too. There’s no point in jumping up and down in front of them like a needy child.

Initially I didn’t really notice with a particular pattern company I’d used because when I shared the first post of my make being modelled by Doris my dress stand it got a ‘like’. In other words, no clues there to what I look like or anything, and I made it in almost identical fabric to the photo to the pattern cover itself, nothing too ‘inappropriate’. I decided I’d share some better photos in nicer surroundings when I was on holiday a couple of weeks later. This time I ‘modelled’ the dress myself and tagged all the usual information, pattern, fabric etc. Eventually I noticed that it hadn’t provoked a response this time…interesting I thought.

Earlier in the summer I made a garment for a student’s Final exhibition and by chance was asked to use a particular pattern by this same company for it. The photo I was eventually able to share was again of a headless dress stand wearing the garment and this got an acknowledgment.

Funny, I thought, so I had a look at their feed for myself. It’s fair to say that it’s all a beautifully curated series of images, there are reposts of other people’s makes too but all very much in line with their chosen ‘company’ image and saying more about the carefully staged photo than the garment itself. Of course any company is perfectly entitled to use only the images it chooses to to promote itself, I understand that.

I’d decided to make a second version of the dress with some lovely printed viscose linen fabric I bought in Sewisfaction, it was ideal for the dress and would be comfortable in the very hot weather we’d been experiencing in the UK. I would test my suspicions by tagging the pattern company in a photo of me wearing it to see what happened! As I expected, nothing happened. I got a lovely comment and a repost from Sewisfaction about the fabric but as far as the pattern went my face clearly doesn’t fit and I’ll draw my own conclusions why.

Ok, so now I definitely sound paranoid right?

This isn’t the only indie company that I’ve had it happen with and I now know, because other sewers have told me, that they feel ignored by some brands too. It’s like there’s an inner sanctum of pattern brands, bloggers with large followings and newly-hatched fabric businesses and it all goes around and around in this special perfect storm of ‘dreamy’ fabric and ‘swoon-worthy’ ruffles (and when did we get so much hyperbole in sewing too!?)

So what next? Well there isn’t much I can actually ‘do’ other than not bother tagging in photos, I guess if a person looking at my feed is interested enough in the garment they can ask me directly what it is and I’ll tell them. Also, I like to write pattern reviews here on the blog and each one can take me hours to put together. Simple Sew provide me with patterns but almost every other review has been of my own volition because I think I’ve got something useful or helpful to say about a pattern, I don’t write “it’s pretty and here are some lovely pictures of me modelling it” because that’s fairly pointless. I would have written a blog about the offending dress but now I shan’t because why would I waste my time when I could be sewing other things instead. [I should have been concerned from the outset because the model on the packet is about 6’ 7” and 6” wide so I’m guessing I’m not their target audience! hasn’t stopped me yet though LOL] At nearly £20 a pop these patterns are at the distinctly pricey end too.

Which brings me to the newly created hashtag ’SewOver50’. Fellow sewer and Instagrammer Judith Staley felt strongly enough to set up a new account @sewover50 in order that anyone can feel more connected with the online sewing community. In the first 3 days the response has been astonishing, and I think Judith has found it a little overwhelming. The sheer volume of women [no men with guns etc etc] has been extraordinary and I think is an indication of the number of people who want their own ’tribe’, where they don’t feel pushed aside by ambitious younger women. We all have a lot to offer this sewing community of ours and it’s worldwide. In the UK we’re pretty good at holding meet ups and I think the same is true in Australia, I’m not so sure about the US though.

Personally, I love being part of a completely mixed group-all ages, all sizes, all ethnicities, and I don’t want that to change. I don’t only want to be part of the ‘over-50’s’, not at all! But I won’t sit back and let us be ignored either and if this blog upsets or provokes a few people then good! Of course it’s vital to be ambitious for your business and have big plans and ideas but I would remind the ones who think it doesn’t matter if they engage, or not, with an older demographic that by choosing not to acknowledge or engage then they are potentially closing off a lucrative income stream. That isn’t a very sound business idea is it?

On a recent Stitcher’s Brew podcast Amy Thomas, editor of Love Sewing magazine here in the UK, said specifically that she wanted to include a really diverse range of readers in the magazine (this must be true because even I’ve been in it!) which is great and the evidence is there in the pages. I hope other magazines are of a similar opinion but as I don’t buy loads of them I can’t comment. Several pattern brands which I’ve mentioned before including Maven and The Maker’s Atelier take a very broad and inclusive look at who buys their products and then feature those makers in their own advertising and so on. Their styles are classic and wearable but fashion forward and designed to be remade many times, not here today, gone tomorrow. Incidentally, I’m not sponsored by either of them, I just admire their aesthetic.

I could go on but I’d prefer that others join in the discussion and open it up. Does ageism exist in dressmaking and if so, do we just accept it, like in so many other areas of life? Will our new Instagram identity bring it to the attention of those perpetuating it and cause them to reflect on the business sense of it? I hope so.

To the women who think that over 50 is a foreign country, god willing it’s where you will be one day, like it or not. We haven’t all sunk into senility yet, we don’t (always) wear elasticated waists, we do wear fashionable clothing and high heels and dye our hair, we listen to modern music and drink too much wine on occasion, we sometimes but not always enjoyed our youth but we wouldn’t necessarily want to go through it all again. Yes we might be old enough to be your mother (or even grandmother) but as I saw someone say the other day “we aren’t dead and we aren’t invisible!” deal with it!! IMG_7969

If you’ve read this far, thank you, and please leave a comment as I’m genuinely interested in what others have to say about this topic and regardless of the age group you’re currently in.

Happy sewing 

Sue