This is an edited version of the original post from 4 years ago. Not all the pictures are here but I hope you get the gist of the jacket refashion. Sue
I’ve never been a great one for up-cycling really, I guess as a former sample cutter I always enjoy the challenge of cutting something new out of fresh fabric in an economic or inventive way. I think that’s probably the same reason I’ve never bothered with quilting or patchwork-cutting fabric into small pieces and then reassembling it in a different order-not for me I fear. Mind you, back in the day we were less concerned about ‘reduce reuse recycle’ than we’ve since, thankfully, become.
Anyway, at the beginning of August, Portia Lawrie announced that her Refashioners 2016 competition for this year would be to turn jeans into…something else, anything you like! Last year’s theme was shirts and I saw plenty of imaginative ideas where mens shirts became dresses, skirts, different shirts and the winning entry was trousers!
Anyway, I was pondering vaguely on the theme (almost entirely driven by the amazing prize-package that was on offer, the prospect of fabric/patterns/sewing books is enough to stir me into action) and thinking that I didn’t actually have any old jeans in the house to cut up-my girls wear way too many stretchy skinny jeggings to be useful and Mr Y is a keen believer in wearing things to infinity and beyond!
However, as luck would have it, Mr Y was having a rare ‘turn out’ and what should I find but TWO pairs of almost identical jeans…except they weren’t denim jeans, they were corded drill (looks like corduroy but not fluffy) Would they do? a quick email to Portia who said she thought they would. Excellent-green for go!
The next issue was that they weren’t even blue, they were very similar, very well washed shades of stone/sand/beige…you get the picture? Then I remembered I had a packet of unused Dylon machine dye in indigo-score!
So I set about unpicking the offending trousers…this took rather a long time to be truthful and made a huge mess with all the threads everywhere on the carpet in my workroom, Threadquarters.
I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to make but I knew that the more useable fabric I could harvest the better. Once I’d taken everything apart I had four legs with side seams still intact, two waistbands with pockets attached and two zips removed. I popped the whole lot in the washing machine with the dye and 500grams of salt, you run the hottest cycle and then, when it’s complete, you run the whole cycle again with detergent. This is to remove any excess dye and also wash the machine out too (although the next proper wash I did was a dark one just to be on the safe side) I was pretty pleased with the outcome. The two pairs were by and large virtually the same colour now, interestingly the top stitching on both hadn’t dyed as the thread must have been synthetic, and the zips hadn’t either. That was a pity because I thought I might have been able to use them but they were just different shades of brown now-yuck.
After a lot more thinking, and sketching, I settled on a jacket for myself because I took the view that if I was going to spend such a lot of time on this with not a lot of realistic hope of winning I wanted to at least have something I’m happy to wear!
To work! I had a rummage in my-ahem-extensive collection of patterns to see what I had that might be basis to use. Most jackets I’ve made were years ago so they’re all a bit 80’s tailored but then I came upon a pattern from the 1970’s that my neighbour had given me when she was having a turn out (more recycling?) The jacket in itself wasn’t something I’d wear but I loved the curved bust dart in the front, it was collarless and edge to edge and the back was in two pieces.
All this meant that it could be a go-er. I spent a while fiddling with the pattern pieces and the trouser legs to see what was going to go where. Because I wanted a shorter length jacket that helped, the front would fit on to include the original side seams and the back would go above that with a modification, and the sleeves would come out of the other legs. They were all mostly on grain which pleased me a lot. (When things aren’t cut on the grain or on the bias they can go very wobbly when sewn up)
I forgot to mention that I decided to trace off a new spot and cross copy of the original as it was quite tatty, and I was shortening it anyway.
Because the back wouldn’t fit on without overlapping the front I chose to add a panel in the back so that it became four panels. This isn’t difficult, I just drew on the new seam line where I wanted it, added seam allowance of 1.5cms and a balance mark to the back panel section and cut it off. The remaining new side panel then needs the 1.5 cms added back on plus another 1.5cms for its own seam allowance. The photo should clarify this a little.
Once I’d got the panels sorted I could pin them onto the fabric.
I tried as much as possible to keep things on a proper grain line so that they behaved when I started sewing them together. Out of the other legs I cut the sleeves which I positioned so that the original seams ran straight down them. One of the things I liked about the pattern was the little elbow darts which would give them a cheeky feature.
Another rummage in my stash found me an open-ended zip in blue, I’d decided to tidy up the inside-and make it a bit more individual-with pretty bias binding. I managed to cut front and back neck facings out of what I’d got left from the sleeve leg.
Sewing the jacket together was very straightforward after that. I top stitched most of the main seams in part to match them to the originals and to link it all together, this meant I had to put the sleeves in on the flat rather than set-in but they look ok.
Because the zip was too long it gives an interesting finish to the neckline where there’s a section at the top that doesn’t do up, which I like. I wanted to use the pockets too but I didn’t want them spoiling the outside clean lines so I devised a way of having them on the inside.
The lower facings (cut from more scraps) fold up to neaten the bottom edge of the jacket.
I ran out of the red binding but I found about a metre left of the binding I made to go on my favourite dress so I used that instead. I understitched the lower edge in a fluoro-pink thread (just because) and then slip stitched the facing in place by hand so that it didn’t show through on the front. [I put binding on the cuff edges too so if I turn them up it’ll be visible]
I think the internal pockets might be quite useful if I ever go poaching!!
The only bits I didn’t find a use for in the end were the waistbands. I thought I might have used them on the lower edge but in the end I decided I didn’t really want the band on it and I wasn’t sure poor my machine could cope with the number of layers that it would have to sew through.
So there you have it, my entry to The Refashioners 2016. I’m really pleased with the outcome, it’s a tad big but that’s fine and it’s totally wearable. I used jeans that were headed to the charity shop (or even the bin), a gifted vintage pattern, binding I already had and a zip from my stash, a win all round I think. Needless to say I didn’t win the big prize but I did get an honourable mention in dispatches.
The jacket got its first outing in the wild, on the way to the first Sewing Weekender in late August 2016. I’m very happy with it and I’ve had loads of wear out of it. I think it achieved my aim of not looking too much like a thing that’s been made from something else and being not very good in the process. I’ve never really aspired to being designer so I know there will be far more original ideas than this but I want a garment that is wearable and useful to me and no one else. I hope you agree…although you probably wouldn’t say if you don’t!
If you’re reading this in 2020 (and what a very strange year this has been!) you might have seen me wearing the jacket for my first trip back to the V&A museum in almost 6 months, the wearing of face masks being compulsory. I’m wearing it with a linen Trend Patterns Bias T-shirt dress which I included in a review here. The exhibition is Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk which I also reviewed earlier in year. My hair has grown quite a bit too!
Again, apologies for the gaps in the original photos but I hope you get the general idea of this refashion.
There are a quite number of blogs and websites out there that can give you ideas and inspiration for this kind of project and Portia’s own is as good a starting place as any, she’s a great advocate of refashioning with so many clever ideas and in 2020 this is still very much the case.
I followed the progress of this pattern with interest on Instagram when it was originally released nearly two years, it was fascinating to see how Claire-Louise Hardie (the Thrifty Stitcher!) developed and finessed the various elements of it as she sampled it, up to the point that she was ready to release it for sale. It has attractive style lines with princess seams in the front which curve into hip pockets, the back also has princess seams and there’s a horizontal seam just below the natural waist. The collar curves up smoothly against the neck and the back collar has a ‘sunray’ of five darts spreading out towards the shoulder blades which I particularly like. The cuffs each have 3 similar darts, the details on this pattern has simple but so stylish.
This post was originally published last year by Minerva who generously provided me with a nice firm Ponte Roma in a plain navy to make the Dawson in, it would also work very well in a boiled wool, felted wool, Melton, not a loose tweed though as they can start to fray and you’d lose the details too much in the weave. Anything fairly structured and stable would effectively show off the style lines. You could get some interesting effects with checks or stripes if you want a challenge! I’d wanted to make another version for a while because I’ve had really good use from the navy one, I hadn’t got around to finding any specific fabric for it but then I hit upon the idea of using a single old heavyweight cotton curtain that used to keep the drafts out by our front door. It had long been replaced for this task but I just had it folded up underneath the heat-reflective mat that I use on my cutting table. In order to maximise the fabric in the curtain I undid the deep hem and the sides, and removed the tabs at the top. I gave it a wash to clean it but also to, hopefully, stop it shrinking later on.
Areas like the pocket edges and the neck need stabilising with some iron-on tape or strips of interfacing as per the instructions, especially if you use a knit fabric like Ponte. I would recommend stabilising the shoulders with seam tape or scraps of ribbon to prevent stretching too. I used a specific needle for stretch fabrics and you could use the ‘lightening’ stitch to sew with if your machine has it, or a very straightened out zigzag. If you do use boiled wool the layers could be quite thick, use a straight stitch but you may need to lengthen it a little more than usual.
The pattern comes in eight sizes which are not numbered in the conventional way, CL opts for letters instead, so you work from your own body measurements to choose which size should fit you. I cut and sewed a size F originally which was quite generous, for the newer version I’ve cut the next size down. I misjudged how generous the ease is in the garment so I usually wear the Ponte version layered up over jumpers or sweaters on warmer cool days if that makes sense. At the end of the day it’s intended as a casual coat so don’t make it too small as you’ll always be pulling it closed across you. The sleeves are nice and roomy too, I’ve noticed some coat/jacket patterns can be a bit snug around the bicep for me which is a bit dispiriting, I’m hardly a muscle-bound hulk! Just check before cutting out if you’re happy with the sleeve length too, I probably could have added just 3-4cms because it feels the tiniest bit short on me.
The pattern goes together beautifully and all that tweaking in the sampling stage is borne out in the final version. I found the instructions pretty clear, they are mostly photographs and there are some really useful hints and tips which will come in very handy if you aren’t that experienced in your dressmaking yet. Make sure you transfer your markings for the pocket pivot point for example so that you get a crisp finish for the corners.
You could top stitch all the darts down, possibly in a contrast thread if you like, but because the Ponte had a slight stretch I didn’t do this on mine. I did top stitch down the front facings though and caught them down in a couple of places on the inside to stop them flapping.
For the ochre version I topstitched more of the seams, I confess that I was incredibly slovenly and used up various threads in my collection so not all the stitching is the same colour…oops! Incidentally I didn’t use top stitch thread, instead I used the triple straight stitch which looks very similar although it is quite thread-hungry (hence the non-matching!)
This time however I didn’t top stitch the front facings down, I adopted a different approach. As it’s an unlined coat so all the innards are visible I used some ribbon to anchor the facing down in a couple of places. I chose to do this because I know from experience that when you’re sewing through several thick layers the triple stitch (which is a set length on my Pfaff and not adjustable) it can lead to puckering which doesn’t look so nice. Try a sample before you go ahead if you aren’t sure, that’s a LOT of slow unpicking if you don’t like it after all.
I finished the hem by hand using a herringbone stitch rather than machining it for the same reason that I didn’t top stitch the front facings.
I think the Dawson is a well-drafted and executed pattern from an independent designer (and CL’s art work features herself so it squeaks into the #so50visible category!) The Minerva Ponte Roma works well for the soft tailoring, using my old curtain gives the slightly cocoon-shape a little more definition. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do an FBA if you need to either. I’m much happier with the fit of the ochre one, but I love the navy and will still wear it regularly too.
Because the Dawson is a loose cocoon shape it would make a beautiful evening coat in a glamorous brocade, to go over the top of your evening outfit, denim would look great too (Have a look at my Simple Sew Cocoon jacket in denim here)
I guess this was also a useful exercise in upcycling, the curtain was years old and not being used for it’s original purpose so I thought why not give this a try. If I found I wasn’t mad about wearing the colour after all I know it’s 100% cotton so it would dye, I might come unstuck with the polyester sewing thread though which would take up the colour differently-it’s hardly Saville Row standard though! The Dawson took barely two metres of fabric (the front facing is helpfully cut in two parts which helps reduce the fabric usage, and of course you could always use a contrast fabric anyway) it doesn’t instruct you to use interfacing on any of the collar or facing parts but I did, just to stabilise the fabric a bit.
When our Great Leader Judith responded to the call by the Sewcialists account on Instagram twelve months ago to set up a new account specifically for sewers over 50 little did we imagine that it would become what it is now. With over thirteen and a half thousand followers, and still increasing all the time, it’s a hub primarily for sewers, dressmakers, sewists, crafters, call them what you will, who are mostly, but not exclusively, over the age of 50 to share what they’ve made. The #sewover50 hashtag has now been used over 31K times! We have made it a supportive, encouraging and educational place where people can feel safe and happy to post their photos and know that there will be other like-minded people who have the same shared interest in sewing looking at them. Our life experiences will have many parallels, dealing with things like menopause and our bodies changing into ones we no longer recognise, caring for elderly parents perhaps, looking after grandchildren or worrying about older offspring trying to make their way in the world. Some of us might be in a ’sweet spot’ before some of these events arrive but whatever brings us to #sewover50 we all want to make the most of our sewing time.
I said ‘mostly over the age of 50’ because there are many younger people following too, they may not share as many images but we know from comments and feedback that they enjoy seeing and being inspired by what other SewOver50ers post.
Rather than simply write another ‘what have we done, what have we achieved’ post I thought I’d turn the questions over to others who have been a part of Sew Over 50 since the early days. With over 13.5k thousand members, and more than 31,000 uses of the hashtag, it was almost impossible to choose from so many amazing people but we narrowed it down to a tiny cross-section and they all generously shared with me what their own feelings about Sew Over 50 are, what it means to them and why they think it’s important.
I started by asking them how @SewOver50 had come to their attention, and I’ve used their own words as often as possible.
Several of us were already following Judith and enjoyed her sewing and interacting with her so it was a simple step to move sideways to the new account from August 18th. Others came to it via the Sewcialists account and some noticed the #sewover50 hashtag starting to appear in accounts of other makers that they followed. It mushroomed at lightening speed. One of the most touching responses I received though was from Tina @bricolagedk1 who told me a very different reason for her joining in. Living in Denmark she was struggling to adjust to a new and altered body-shape after a mastectomy, RTW clothing just wasn’t right any more so she wanted to start sewing her own again after many years but found a lack of patterns and information available. She contacted Judith directly and, when Judith shared the question with everyone this was the response. I’ll let her explain in her own words,
“You posted my request and I got an amazing response. People gave me drafting tips, and told me of helpful sewing tools for hurting hands and weak arms. A couple of post mastectomy sewers also contacted me. Others from the SO50 community gifted me patterns, and translated patterns for me from languages I didn’t understand. They told me of patternmaking books with drafting tips for asymmetric sewing. But most of all, everyone was extremely supportive, and in less than a year I have gone from feeling so alone and insecure about how to sew for my changed body, to being part of a very supportive, helpful and inclusive community.”
Marianne @foxglovesandthimbles also found us via Sewcialists but she makes an interesting observation about what happened for a while after joining. Initially she wasn’t sure about becoming part of a sub-community because she’s very happy in her own skin but she gave us the benefit of the doubt. However, “during the first weeks of SO50 I struggled with the fact that, due to the call for inclusion, my feed ended up less diverse. Instagram’s algorithm steered me away from my younger sewing friends and all I saw was Sew Over 50 posts. Just as I was about to quit the group it became obvious that using the hashtag had helped a lot of sewists in finding their tribe and gaining confidence. That’s what convinced me to stay and fully support SO50!” The darned algorithm has a lot to answer for and I wonder how many others didn’t stick around?
When I asked what everyone enjoyed about being a part of SO50 I got many and varied answers. Janet @sewdalriada felt that “since participating in SO50 and making new friends my Instagram feed is brighter and livelier and I look forward to the imaginative, creative and often humorous posts popping up each day.” Kate @stitchmeayear loves that we “champion ordinary sewers….real people being proud of what they’ve made which is great.” Words like positivity and humour cropped up often, the overwhelming experience though is supportive, knowledgeable and inspirational. Carolyn @diaryofasewingfanatic says she believes “SO50 came at a great time when sewists were voicing their displeasure at not being seen. This account makes it possible for older sewists to be seen and heard from now on.”
Everyone I spoke to felt that because we are all, for the most part at least, of similar ages and shared life experiences, that we ‘got’ each other, we feel included which was a very positive thing. Kellie @gigi_made_it puts it beautifully, “you have managed to infuse a sense that our lives as creatives matter, that there is value in what we do. Our group exists to support, inform, inspire, encourage and lift each other up, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.”
I was interested to know about everyone’s sewing ‘career’ and many are like me, a lifetime of sewing and dressmaking, often with a break for career and/or children. Carrie @endlessdznsbycarrie told me she was a long-time sewer but “life pulled her away for a few years. When I returned to sewing in 2007 I took quite a few classes and here I am now-loving it even more!” Raquel @raquel_sewing_knitting_in_asia had a different reason to start, “my sister Bea taught me to sew when I was 16 years old and having boyfriend trouble. She knew that teaching me to sew would be a creative outlet I could use in my life then.” Nicky, however, is a relative newbie “my daughters bought me a beginners dressmaking course two years ago and I have not looked back-I absolutely love it! I am a slow sewer and growing in confidence.” Janet had been a avid dressmaker until the demands of work and family life got in the way but she rediscovered her love of sewing “after a gap of many years, following my husband’s life changing accident. As his primary carer sewing has proved therapeutic by providing a creative outlet and temporary escape and has been a great confidence booster.” Lisa @mabelthemannequin has an equally difficult story when, after a lot of years sewing mostly for others she was diagnosed last year with a systemic illness which robbed her of her sight for a few months, “it was during this time that my husband read an article to me from the internet about Me Made May and we decided it was something for me to aim for when my sight returned. I started sewing for myself again and am absolutely loving it! I am using lots of skills that I had forgotten I had and am far more adventurous in both the things I want to make and wear.”
We all look at SO50 for inspiration so I wondered if anyone used it specifically as a resource for other information? Blanca @blakandblanca says she “asks about patterns, techniques and sources often as a way to support suppliers or businesses that are independent and are promoted by the sewing community.” Janet often saves posts by other members, for example where they’ve shared tips on pattern adjustments. Mary @marythimble says members “are a constant source of inspiration to me, after all, they’re real people! They are all so ready with tips, advice and knowledge, I have learnt so much from so many people. I would never have thought I could make my own jeans, coats or undies before.” Marianne lives in the Netherlands which, like the UK, isn’t often troubled with very hot weather but recently she called upon her sewing friends in warmer climates for advice in suggesting stylish hot weather patterns! Raquel and Tina told me that they had been inspired to try new techniques such as embroidery, fabric dyeing, use vintage patterns and work with sheer fabrics after seeing others do the same.
Interacting with one another seemed to be the main reason many of our members contribute to the account, the feeling of being part of a group. For Mary she “no longer feels that sewing is an isolating hobby. It’s no longer weird to prefer to sew on a Friday night than go out partying. I am understood and accepted for being slightly eccentric!” Carolyn follows several other sewing related groups including #sewincolour #pocwhosews #plussizesewing and #curvysewingcollective. By including these along with the #sewover50 hashtag she finds a much more diverse group of people through her posts. [Incidentally, did you realise that you can write all the hashtags you like to use in ‘notes’ on your phone so that you can then simply copy and paste them into your posts rather than try and remember, and laboriously type, them all out every time. It’s saved in favourites on the account if you want more info]
The original reason the account started in the first place was what we perceived as lack of visibility for older sewers so I asked everyone if they felt it as important for us to be ‘campaigning’ still. There was an overwhelming ‘yes!’ Carolyn puts it so eloquently when she told me “while the sewing community has experienced and continues to experience growing pains while attempting to include ALL sewists under the tent, it’s doing better a far better job than the the knitting community. While change has been incremental so far, you can tell everyone has heard the conversations and is trying hard to apply them. And we all know change takes time…nothing happens overnight. The thing is to ensure that the changes aren’t temporary but they’re binding and will be there going forward.”
Lisa also made a good point when she said “I am 50 but I’m not ready for my shroud just yet! I want to wear fashionable clothes and I want to decide if it is appropriate for me. Seeing models my age, shape and size is important whatever age you are. Things are improving but we must continue.”
Marianne takes a different stance because, for her, “age representation is a non-issue. When I first started sewing I never felt like those artist’s impressions on pattern envelopes, or stick thin Parisian ladies with their hats and gloves, were very useful when it came to judging the bones of a pattern. Line drawings most definitely were! They are still my main source of information and I hardly look at the models.” Tina made the point that she often doesn’t buy a pattern “when the girl modelling them is 30 years younger than me, because I cannot relate my body to the way her body is, and because my body bits are not placed in the same places as hers. So I guess if it looks good on her it will look horrible on my body where 50 years of gravity is a fact!” Blanca reckons it is “so important for people of all ages and sizes to see themselves as valued by the businesses they support. There is certainly a change going on in the pattern world.”
Many of us feel we have formed real bonds with people across the world although admittedly not many of us have been able to meet up in real life but @suestoney covered quite a lot of ground in the UK during her visit earlier in the year, meeting up with several fellow SewOver50ers including Janet and Judith. If you ever meet up with others, especially if it’s in some far-from-home location, make sure to tag us so we can share! We really are a global account and we love to reflect that in our posts. Katrin @sagner_by_katrin feels that although she isn’t aware of other sewers near her in Sweden she says that we’re all “a friendly bunch so I don’t hesitate if I want to ask someone something. Mostly I really enjoyed being inspired by everybody and maybe inspire others too.”
I was interested to hear if anyone felt their own style had changed, or was evolving as a result of being part of SO50. All of us agree that we’re very inspired by what others post and it influences what patterns we might choose to buy and make. I love that Carrie says “so many in the #sewover50 community have inspired me to take my ‘I make what I like-I wear what I like’ creations up a few notches! I no longer consider colours or seasons or even fabrics when creating, I just have fun with it!” Also Tina makes the point that by seeing what looks good on 50+ bodies inspires her to try out new patterns and fabrics.
Carolyn knows her own style pretty well but she’s always interested to see the different adaptations of patterns that people create by using colours, prints and patterns that she wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. Janet has pushed her style boundaries “for example I’ve made dungarees and shorts, both of which I feel comfortable wearing.” Mary acknowledges “there have been several times I’ve made things based on seeing it on someone else, I always try to acknowledge them as my inspiration when I do.” Although she’s yet to embrace the animal print trend!
Our challenges are something which seem to have divided opinion, some embraced them enthusiastically and others not so much. The initial one sparked a huge amount of interest because it really drew attention to just how few patterns featured an older model, the flatlay challenge was definitely for fun and there were a lot of entries, which may have been because we had so many prizes! There is currently an ongoing challenge to use or reinvent a vintage or vintage-inspired pattern to create a brand new garment. It might require a little more thinking outside the box because the finished garment doesn’t have to be an exact replica of a vintage garment, merely use the pattern as a springboard to creativity. Going forward we want to host more challenges which encourage and inspire everyone, whether they take part or not, so that it makes us really think more about our sewing. We’ve go our thinking caps on but if you have a good idea you’d care to share then do let us know. Blanca made the point that the challenges gave her some guidelines to follow which are what she needs to get properly inspired. “Not so easy for me to sit down and decide what to do with a blank slate. Every challenge was exciting to follow with group members bringing on their fun and beautiful creations. Nothing like checking in on new posts!”
It’s almost impossible to sum up briefly what @sewover50 has become, and what it means to everyone who participates. It means different things to different people but the main things I’ve drawn from everyone’s responses is that above all else it’s inspiring and supportive. For some it has enabled them to come to terms with serious health issues for themselves or loved ones, it has given them a breathing space away from difficulties. Creativity is a form of mindfulness because while you’re sewing for pleasure there’s time to consider what you’re doing, often to the exclusion of everything else. My own feelings are perhaps more complex because I often undertake sewing, mainly alterations, for others and I can’t honestly find much that’s mindful in turning up someone’s trouser hems! However, I then try to ‘reward’ myself with sewing something just for me. I try to ‘give back’ to the sewing community in the form of using my years of experience by helping test patterns for Indie makers. We all agree that though we want to see similar people to ourselves sewing and making, we also want a balance, we want to share and be inspired by our younger sewing friends. In the UK it became something of a dirty word to study ‘textiles’ and the art of clothes making had virtually died out amongst the younger generation. Thankfully, that seems to be in reverse now, partly because of programmes like the Great British Sewing Bee (and its overseas counterparts) because young women in particular, and some young men too, are embracing the creativity and satisfaction we can get from making our own clothes.
At the end of our (Ok, not mine, the technology gremlins showed up with impeccable timing!) recent appearance on That Sewing Blab, the final question Dawn asked to Judith and Sandy was, “if (still waiting…) the big pattern companies come knocking to ask how we would like to be presented in the catalogues and on pattern envelopes, what would we say to them?” Well we would certainly say that putting all the same old pictures from the last year in the front of the catalogue does not constitute any change, it just means that the same photos are not hidden in the catalogue so much. Sandy did some research recently to see if there had been an appreciable change and she worked out that from the hundreds of images she trawled through in the big catalogues that just 1% featured anyone who appeared to be remotely 45+. This is much worse than any other group with the possible exception of people with disabilities. We know change takes time but really?? There’s no excuse in this day and age not to have a good cross-section of ages, sizes, ethnicities, gender/non-binary, everyone. Many of us choose to make our own clothes because we can’t or don’t want to conform to ‘the norm’, there shouldn’t be the same constraints as there are in the RTW fashion industry. #sewover50 is trying to help speed up part of the change.
I am deeply indebted to everyone who so generously sent me their personal stories, and I am extremely grateful that they have allowed me to share them here with you. Without them, and all of you, there would be no point to the account existing. It could have withered on the vine right back at the beginning, or fizzled out after just a few months, but it didn’t, it’s still going strong. This is in no small measure to the time and dedication that Judith and Sandy spend day in, day out, responding and reacting to every post that shares the hashtag. Given that there is no reward for doing so that’s no mean feat, some companies have paid staff to do exactly that and they don’t do it half so well!
If you still haven’t read any of my original posts that kick started all of this then you can read a couple of them here, and here .
I would especially like to thank these wonderful women for their honesty, their kind words and their unending support and enthusiasm, I haven’t been able to use even a fraction of what they shared with me but without them, all of you, Judith, Sandy and I would have nothing to do…other than have more time to sew I suppose…
Maybe you’ve recently found SewOver50, perhaps you’ve just returned to sewing and dressmaking or it’s new hobby for you. Whatever your situation (and you absolutely DON’T have to be over 50 to follow us) you can rest assured that there will lots of people only too willing to offer you help, assistance, friendly supportive comments and inspiration.
I think Mary sums up many (but not all!) of us with her remark, “the not-so-secret-society-of-aging-sewers. I may look half a hundred, but in my head I’m being the rebellious teenage I never was!”
Oh my goodness, I’m not sure I would have started this if I’d known how tricky it was going to be!
I was asked by a neighbour if I’d consider refashioning a leather jacket she had had for a good number of years. She had worn and loved it a lot back in the day but it was now relegated to the back of the wardrobe, she neither wanted to wear it because it was too big and dated, nor did she want to throw/give it away so what to do?
Although I’ve done other radical refashions in the last couple of years they have been for myself so the pressure wasn’t there like this one. You can read about those here, here and here. I made it clear, in the nicest possible way, that I had no guarantee of the quality of end result with a leather jacket, once sewn the stitch marks were there permanently, anything cut off couldn’t be reattached. So long as she understood that there was an outside possibility that it wouldn’t go well and was able to accept that then I was prepared to have a go. I haven’t sewn leather since I did it as a module at college many years ago.
We started by assessing what the jacket looked like as it was and we agreed it was much too large for her and it looked over-long now. The sleeves were too roomy as well, the zigzag detail at the neck and shoulders I could do nothing about so that would have to stay. Because you can’t pin leather I bought some quilting clips to do the job instead. I undid the lining and clipped the side seams and sleeves inside so we could assess in front of a mirror what the effect looked like. We decided pretty quickly that the over-large shoulders had to go too. Because we had to make each decision before moving on to the next Etain had to keep coming by, luckily she only lives over the road from me.
I was kindly given a specific ‘leather’ foot byPfaff Ukfor my Quilt Ambition 2.0 and I bought some leather needles too. The foot is made from Teflon (that’s right, like non-stick pans) because it glides over the surface of the leather rather than ’sticking’ to it. If you don’t want to buy a special foot you could attach masking tape to the underside of a regular foot although I must stress I haven’t tried this personally so I can’t vouch for its success. I also used some Stitch-and-Tear Vilene which I’d got knocking about to put under the leather if it was directly again the teeth of the feed-dog underneath [this prevents them from scuffing and chewing up the surface of the leather]
I’m not going to lie, even though I have a wonderful machine which doesn’t usually struggle with multiple thicknesses, and I had the correct tools for the job, I found this a very tricky refashion because the machine hated going over too many layers of leather. The needle sewed smoothly over two layers but as soon as I went over more than that the needle would ‘stick’ and then clunk back out of the leather with such loud bangs that it frightened the life out of me every single time! I resorted to winding the balance wheel by hand every time I had to sew over seams or darts so that I had some control over it. I also had to adjust the top tension a lot in order to get a reasonable stitch quality, added to which there wasn’t a decent colour-match for the shade of pink I needed in the stronger thread from Gutermann. It’s possible that another brand had something available but, bearing in mind the trouble I was having with multiple layers, I wanted to avoid visible top-stitching at all costs and I didn’t want to order threads that might not be a good match anyway.
Onwards! I must confess that I kept pushing the jacket down the list because I wasn’t enjoying it and there were other projects to complete which were preferable….
I took off the lower portion of the jacket at the midriff seam, put darts into the front and pulled in the centre back seam to give the jacket more shaping. The sleeves came in by quite a bit although, in the end, we retained the modest shoulder pads to give some structure. Unfortunately one of the side effects of bringing the sleeves in caused the shoulders to raise up slightly in wear but anchoring down the collar to make it appear narrower distracted from this to some extent.
To give the jacket some definition again at the bottom I took leather from the original lower section, made a much narrower band and reattached it to the bottom. This looked ok and by pressing this seam open I could fold the band up and stitch it through the seam allowance thus keeping it in position. I was also able to bag out the corners at the front thankfully, the last bit of reattaching of the new band to the button-stand had to be done by hand through the seam. It’s not completely invisible but it’s perfectly acceptable. I reattached the lining to the seam allowance of the new lower band, I was partly able to do this on the machine and then sewed up the remaining gap by hand.
I gave the fold of the band a good press, with a cloth over it naturally, to flatten it as much as possible. the final touch was to change the buttons for something newer than the slightly scuffed covered buttons of the original.
So there we have it, it was a challenge but Etain is happy with it and it looks a good deal more fashionable, at least for now! Leather isn’t difficult to sew as such but there are definitely challenges, I didn’t follow all the rules like glueing seams flat but when you’re dealing with an already-made garment some of those things go out of the window a bit. Please don’t think I’m now an expert in this field but if there’s anything you want to know about how I tackled things then do message me and I’ll try to answer. Meanwhile, I think I’ll find a simpler project next….
I’m sorry to harp on about it but this is a really big deal for me.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook will have seen that I’ve just had my first ‘serious’ article published in Love Sewing magazine in the UK. I’ve done pattern reviews in magazines a couple of times before, as well as having the occasional photo featured in the ‘readers make’ pages but this is a new departure for me.
Understandably not everyone will want to, or be able to, buy the magazine but I thought those of you that are new to my blog in the last couple of months may be interested to read the original post which the article came about from. You can find it here, along with more photos and information.
If you’re visiting London and have an interest in how our clothing has developed over the centuries, and what the future may hold for the textile and fashion industries then this is a good way to spend a couple of hours. The exhibition is on at the V&A museum until almost the end of January 2019.
Whilst I was paid by Love Sewing to write the article I haven’t been sponsored in any way by the V&A and all views expressed are very much my own.
This is one of the most recent exhibitions to open at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and it’s a very thought-provoking one exploring the relationship between man, fashion and the natural world. It’s divided into the now familiar format of the historic element downstairs with the larger more modern and forward-looking section upstairs.
This works well because there are displays containing beautifully conserved clothing and accessories dating as far back as the 1600s alongside helpful and fascinating short films and information about the origins and manufacture of textiles using both traditional sources such as cotton, flax, silk and wool but also the more unusual such as pineapple fibre.
The items chosen for display demonstrate both the influence of natural subjects in the design-primarily plants and animals, and the effects of textile production on society as a whole. Cotton and wool for example were a huge part of the success of the UK for hundreds of years and made fortunes for a relatively few people but at vast human suffering for many in the form of slavery, overwork, terrible working conditions and resultant illness. Added to this was the decimation of animal and bird populations to supply the demands of the burgeoning fashion industry with feathers, fur, tortoiseshell, whalebone etc and you have a some uncomfortable viewing.
These poor little hummingbirds became fashionable earrings after Empress Eugenie wore a pair
over 5000 beetle carapaces where embroidered onto this Victorian gown.
The origins of the RSPB in the UK started towards the end of the 19th Century when Governments around Europe became concerned for the welfare of bird populations brought to the point of extinction in places.
Ostrich feathers were extremely popular on evening gowns and fans, this little hat is labelled as being the ‘improved starling’ hat with it’s printed feather decoration, the natural beauty of the feathers not being quite good enough presumably?
Seal populations were hugely reduced by the desire for seal fur to make or line coats, muffs and hats, as were whales for their flexible bones which were used in corsets, amongst other things. And then there’s ivory for buttons, umbrella handles and hair decorations, the list goes on…
New resources such as rubber found uses for footwear and to give elasticity to things like stockings and mens braces.
Not everything is doom and gloom in the exhibition, there are some stunning pieces of embroidery and garments which are a visual delight. One of my favourites was an Eighteenth century man’s waistcoat embroidered with Macaque monkeys.
Floral motifs are a perennial favourite both as woven cloth and as embroidered fabric.
I was surprised to discover that using pineapple fibre to make fabric has been around for a couple of hundred years, especially given they were such expensive fruit in their own right.
This evening gown uses pineapple fibre fabric, and the handkerchief is cotton embroidered with pineapple-fibre thread.
Moving upstairs you will discover garments by designers keen to explore and embrace new textiles and technology. Stella McCartney is a well-known exponent of these with her refusal to use any animal-based product and there are some interesting examples of faux leather being made from the waste by-products of the winemaking industry, and ‘leather’ made from a type of mushroom protein! [Incidentally the episode of Desert Island Discs featuring Stella McCartney is very enjoyable and she talks about her use of ethical fabrics and textiles during it] Extraordinary stuff and virtually indistinguishable from real leather. These are ‘designer’ products though so I have no idea of the cost but like any new technology it has to start somewhere and will hopefully filter down eventually to be more affordable.
There were other examples of flora and fauna in the textile design including my favourite Alexander McQueen with a reptile-inspired dress from his Plato’s Atlantis collection.
There is plenty of information and several films which go into greater depth about the effects not only of over-consumption of textiles but also the damage it’s production does to the planet and the workers. Denim, and therefore jeans, for example if the most water-wasteful and polluting of any fabric being produced, we have to address this fact and soon. I’ll be honest and say that I was flagging a little by this time, absolutely not through boredom, far from it, but from information overload. If this is your primary interest in visiting this exhibition then go straight upstairs because there’s so much fascinating, often shocking, but ultimately encouraging information to explore.
Also, did you know that Velcro got invented because a Swiss scientist Georges de Mestral noticed while walking in the Jura during the 1940’s that burrs from plants were clinging to his clothes and his dog’s fur so he investigated further and found they were tiny little hooks. Eventually this discovery became the basis for the product we know today!
Up-cycling is another area that’s looked into, reusing textiles be it unwanted clothes or end-of-line products like ribbon to make new products. Refashioning is not new but it fell out of favour, now it’s making a return.
I could go on, adding more photos of everything but I urge you, if you get the opportunity, to go for yourself and see this exhibition. If you’re interested in fashion and clothing it will really open your eyes to some of the facts about it’s production which you might not be aware of and make you think about how we can improve the situation by our own consumption of goods.
Vivienne Westwood is a leading advocate of choosing fashion wisely, her motto being Buy Less and Buy Well, in other words buy the best you can afford because it’s more likely to have been ethically made from better materials and will last you longer. I know personally I can’t always manage this but by making my own clothes most of the time and wearing them frequently is making a start.
Fashioned from Nature is on at the V&A until next January 27th 2019. I’ve not been sponsored to write this piece, I have my own membership which I use frequently!
2017 turned out to be a very busy sewing year for me. Not only did I make a loads of projects for myself and occasionally others but I wrote two articles for sewing magazines, and did a multitude of alterations (some very complex and time-consuming) to numerous wedding dresses, along with more mundane hems and sleeve-shortenings too.
This is a quick dash through many of the things I got up to although I’m not sure everything got photographed at the time. I’ve included a lot of links too if I’ve written blogs on some of the things I mention.
In February while I was having a week’s holiday in the Lake District I managed to squeeze in a visit to Abakhan fabrics in Manchester and bought fabric by weight for the first time in my life. I also went to a meet up organised by the lovely Emily of Self Assembly Required in a pub at King’s Cross station! I met loads of fellow-sewers there as well as picking up some new patterns and fabrics from the swap including the Holiday Top by The Maker’s Atelier which I’ve made twice over the summer.
Another February highlight was seeing the latest Burberry collection alongside the fabulous capes, each one of which was a stunning one-off! I wonder if there’ll be a similar show this season?
March saw the Moneta party (dress pattern by Colette) so I made my first which I altered to include full-length sleeves, a roll collar and a fake exposed zip (I made a short-sleeved one later in the summer too) I wore it when I went to the spring Knitting and Stitching show where once again I met up with a few fellow-sewers organised by Gabby Young (no relation!) from Gabberdashery vlog.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
One of the new people I met was Juliene from Zierstoff Patterns who gave me the opportunity to try out several of their patterns during the course of the rest of the year.
Another new departure was a fundraising initiative with my weekly sewing group. We all spent an afternoon making little ‘pillowcase’ dresses which would eventually be sent off to a girl’s school in Africa.
Moving rapidly into April I visited the wonderful ‘Five Centuries of House Style’ exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, made another Holiday top utilising a few fancy stitches on my sewing machine, as well as a Sophie bolero by Zierstoff. Also during April I was approached to teach some dressmaking classes at a local craft shop so I made some sample garments for that including a dirndl skirt and a jersey tube skirt. I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.
In May I went on my travels with my good friend Sue when we walked a section of the Camino di Santiago in France which was a fantastic empowering experience.
In June Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic and it happened to be a Strictly Come Dancing cruise! The company that make all the costumes, DSI-London, were on board along with many of the dresses so I was in seventh heaven being able to see them close up. I had to write 2 blogs about that just to be able to include all the pictures! you can read them here and here.
By July I was teaching in Hertford and one of the garments was a ‘no-pattern’ kimono which was popular and also the ‘pillowcase’ dress (nothing to do with pillowcases other than a child’s version could be made from one) It’s basically two rectangles of fabric sewn up each side, hemmed at the bottom and a channel at the top with ribbon through it.
Also in July I made my first visit to the fabulous Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A in London which was wonderful. I’ve actually been 3 times now, each time taking a different friend, I’ve had excellent value from my V&A membership and I’d urge anyone local enough and interested in the decorative arts to think about joining.
I had hoped to go to the second Sewing Weekender in August but I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket….or so I thought! About 10 days before the event I got an email from Rachel at The Foldline telling me that sadly someone had had to drop out and would I like her ticket? Silly question! So off I went to Cambridge and had a wonderful time amongst so many fabulous sewing people, friends old and new. It was my birthday too! I made a simple top while I was there this time, one I’d made before so it was quick, meaning I’d have plenty of time for chatting…and taking on Elizabeth for a Ninja sewing challenge!
We each got given a copy of the same pattern and some stretch fabric off the swap table and away we went, with one hour to get it done. The results were ‘mixed’ shall we say, Elizabeth left out a section and didn’t notice until it was too late and I only cut one piece where I should have cut two so I had to go back and cut that. It was a lot of fun though, even if we looked like stuffed sofas!
I spent Septembermaking the top and trousers that I’d be modelling in Love Sewing magazine! This was certainly one of my sewing highlights in 2017, although there have been lots really.I made a third Imogen blouse from fabric I got off The Foldline’s swap table at the first Great British Sewing Bee.
Another favourite top this year was the Merchant & Mills Camber Set which I also got from the King’s Cross meet up in the spring. It’s been a really useful pattern and I love the neat way the binding and the neck yoke finish off the neck edges, it’s a really clever piece of construction.
I also made this top with 1 metre of fabric generously given to us in the Weekender goody bag by Stoff&Stil, it’s Burda 6914 which I’ve used 3 times now although this is the first time as a top. I really like the pleated neckline with a bias binding finish. There was just enough fabric to add slim ruffles to the sleeves which I neatened using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker.
I spent a lot of time during August and September making my entry to The Refashioners 2017, an Alexander McQueen-inspired jacket which I was extremely proud of when I finished it.
Into October and more fabric got purchased at the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally (oops) I made my first pair of jeans this month but I can’t talk about them yet as they were a pattern test which still hasn’t been released-I’m really happy with them though so I’ll publish the blog as soon as it’s released into the wide world. (I think the designer needs to get on with it otherwise the whole world will think that Ginger jeans are the only pattern available!)
After literally months of dithering I finally bought a new mannequin, or ‘Doris’ as she’s known to me. Old Doris was falling to bits and only held together by the t-shirt that covered her, I’d had her for well over 30 years so I reckon I’d had good value out of her. I chose the ‘Catwalk’ model from Adjustoform which I bought from Sew Essential and I’ve been very pleased with it.
Also in October I went up to Birmingham for the SewBrum meet up organised by EnglishGirlatHome, Charlotte where I had a really fun day (apart from the sweary drunk woman on the train coming home!) catching up with chums and visiting Guthrie & Ghani for the first time. I took part in the fantastic raffle while I was there but was unsuccessful….or so I thought (again) About 6 weeks after the event I got a message from Charlotte asking if anyone had told me I’d won a brand new mannequin in the raffle!!! So now I have New Outdoor Doris who lives in Threadquarters and Indoor Doris who lives…indoors, and I use her to take photos on.
November saw another new departure for me when I volunteered to write some reviews of fabric shops in my area. This was for Alex of Sewrendipity as part of her plan to create an unbiased worldwide database of fabric retailers, available to everyone to use. It meant I visited some new places as well as some old favourites.
I made another entry for our annual church Christmas Tree festival. It was a refashion/upcycle of the fabric I used for the previous year and sadly it was Old Doris’s last outing before she heads for the tip! The net petticoat was a tube of fabric with the baubles and lights inside it.
I had also volunteered as a pattern reviewer for Jennifer Lauren Vintage so I made a really nice Mayberry dress and wrote a blog for that very recently. One other new pattern I tried out but haven’t blogged yet was the French dart shift by Maven Patterns. It’s a lovely flattering shift dress with a funnel neck and a variety of sleeve styles and no zip. I made it in a navy fabric of unknown origin and wore it on Christmas Day.
The biggest deal of the year in some ways was in December when I finally, finally, decided to buy a new sewing machine! This was such a big deal because I’ve had my beloved Elna 7000 for probably 27 years and it’s still going strong (only the occasional hiccough) and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. Thing is, technology moves on and whilst that really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me there are processes and functions that I would like in order to keep (even after all these years) on top of my sewing. In early November I went to a fun jeans refashioning workshop hosted by Portia Lawrie and Elisalex (By Hand London) and we were provided with gorgeous Pfaff sewing machines to use.
Anyway, I was thinking about it long and hard for a while because it’s an awful lot of money when I came upon a Black Friday (not even a real thing) deal where this model was virtually half-price. Sooooo, after a visit to Sew Essential a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has come home to live with me and we’re getting to know one another…
So that just about sums up my sewing year. It’s been a lot of fun at times, and hot and frustrating at others (sweltering under mountainous wedding dresses in the height of the summer is no fun) I’ve met some lovely new people and been reacquainted with lovely ‘old’ ones too! I’m looking forward to another busy year of sewing, blogging, teaching, chatting, tea drinking and generally feeling connected to sewers all over the world. It really feels like dressmaking is an activity that is worthwhile again and not just some strange little hobby that old biddies do, besides, it’s surprising what you could learn from an old biddy, she may just have made the same sewing mistakes as you have but 30 or 40 years earlier!