Just a quick update of two exhibits which are in London at the moment in case you’re planning a visit to the capital.
At the Wallace Collection in Manchester Sq just behind Oxford St there are currently many beautiful examples of the shoes made by Manolo Blahnik over the course of his long career. He is a frequent visitor to the museum and over the years has used many of the rooms and their paintings and artefacts for inspiration. It’s easy to see this as you move around the upper rooms in this building which hosted many fashionable parties in its elegant salons. The shoes are displayed within beautiful glass domes and they have been placed in specific rooms and settings by Blahnik himself.
Even if you’re at the Wallace Collection primarily for the shoes don’t neglect the rooms themselves because there’s lots of varied and beautiful art to display including several Rembrandts, Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds portraits, and The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (more of a smirk really…)
So, lots and lots of shoes, some-most-were very impractical, bought by women who don’t have to walk far or travel on public transport…This exhibition is on until September 1st and is free to enter which has to be a very good reason to go.
Also free is the exhibit on the second floor of the Alexander McQueen store in New Bond St, it’s intended for students but as a keen dressmaker I think that counts too.
We had attempted to visit here several weeks ago but it was closed because they were filming so do be aware there’s a possibility it might not be open for some reason. Check the shop opening hours too.
I was practically hyperventilating as we climbed the spiral staircase (with anticipation not lack of exercise!) I have been a long time admirer of Lee Alexander McQueen’s work and that of Sarah Burton since his untimely death in 2010 so to be so close to the garments, samples, inspirations and working processes is an extraordinary opportunity. I visited the Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A in 2015 a ridiculous eight times and I’m not ashamed of it!! Part of what I admire is that McQueen himself was the whole package-he designed incredible garments which pushed boundaries but he could also cut patterns, sew garments by hand or machine, he was a true visionary.
You’re not left to your own devices once in the exhibition space, there is a member of staff to show and explain anything. Maria was there when we visited and she explained that she works in the Atelier most of the time and at others she is at the exhibit to help visitors to understand and appreciate what they are seeing. Whoever is there if you visit make sure you ask questions to get the most from it.
On the rails are examples of vintage garments which were deconstructed to their bare bones, analysing the techniques underneath in order to create new and original garments.
For example the beautiful black embellished jacket and trousers were inspired by several vintage and antique mens frock coats and jackets, the exposed canvas, pad-stitching and quilting were reinterpreted with a modern twist, including beautiful jet-embellished lace applique. [Take a look at my previous post when I refashioned a two piece suit into a McQueen inspired jacket.]
Some of the inspiration for the fabrics came from an antique Jacquard fabric samples book found in a Parisian flea market.
As well as the black suit there is also a completely contrasting dress which has it’s origins in the John Everett Millais painting of Ophelia (in Tate Britain) the pioneering photography of Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian wedding dress and original Victorian corsets which, like the jackets, have been taken apart to analyse their construction.
In addition to the actual dress there is a full-size and several miniature versions made in printed paper which are like beautiful sculptures.
There is also an outfit with a hand-painted leather jacket and asymmetric knitted dress underneath, it turns out that our guide Maria was responsible for painting it (in gouache apparently)
In addition to the new garments there are a few from previous collections including the iconic high-collared corset made in 1997 by Mr Pearl.
If you’re interested in the ‘bones’ of garments and knowing some of the processes which lead to their creation then you’re bound to find this a fascinating exhibit to visit-I felt incredibly privileged to be able to see the garments so close and to have someone like Maria explain firsthand what we were seeing. As I said earlier, the exhibits will change regularly, this one is due to continue for a few more weeks and then a new one will be installed in September, we asked what it might be but Maria was sworn to secrecy!
Overall, two fascinating short term exhibitions which are worth a visit if you get the chance.
At the beginning of the year Charlotte (@englishgirlathome) and Carmen (@carmencitablog) announced there was to be another Paris Sewcial in May. It was a free-to-attend event, you just needed to get yourself there and book your own accommodation. The previous one was four years ago and at the time I was just getting started on IG and barely knew anyone, although I do remember seeing pictures pop up on my feed. This time a group of us were keen to go together and the super-efficient Claire Sews got us all organised with trains and hotels so we were soon good to go!
Six of us met at London St Pancras early on Friday morning and took the Eurostar direct to Gare du Nord, it was a short 15 minute walk to our hotel near Sacre Coeur and Montmartre from there. Although our rooms were definitely compact and bijoux I was delighted to discover mine had a modest view of the Eiffel Tower! [it was better in reality than it appears in my photo incidentally] I was soundly mocked by my companions but I think they were just jealous of my room with a glimpse.
I was keen not to spend my whole time in Paris inside shops no matter how appealing the fabric was, and it was a first visit for Kara, so we took the opportunity along with Salva to get the hop-on hop-off bus which visited all the major sites in the city. Cue a few photos of Parisian landmarks…
In the evening we were joined by two more companions so the eight of us went to supper at a restaurant nearby and had a very jolly evening.
The grand meet-up commenced at approximately 11am the next day so after a delightful breakfast at a little cafe we arrived to find a huge group of our fellow sewers at the foot of the steps in front of Sacre Coeur. It was SO lovely to see so many people there, Charlotte’s patient partner Phil took a group shot of us all together before we eventually and gradually dispersed to the fabric shops which are very close by.
There are lots of fabrics shops grouped close together in the area and many of them specialise in a method of selling which I hadn’t encountered before. The fabric is grouped in fibre type so linen, silks, woollens, viscoses etc plus cottons were sub-divided into fabric type like denim or double-gauze but everything is cut into 3 metre lengths and folded on end. It sounds complex but it isn’t, you have to not be a neat-freak. It’s called ‘coupons’ and I thought it was a very good way of selling because 3 metres is plenty to make many items of clothing like a dress or a coat perhaps, although admittedly too much for some, you could always share with someone else provided you were agreed on the colour! It means you don’t have to find a member of staff to cut your fabric, they don’t need tables to cut on either. It needs to be kept tidy but I found it an enjoyable and novel way to fabric shop. I bought fabric in Les Coupons de St Pierre, Sacres Coupons and Tissus Molines but there are quite a few others close by too. There are still traditional shops too where the fabric is on the roll and staff will cut your chosen quantity, plus some stores selling haberdashery, trims and buttons etc.
Eventually we were pretty much shopped out and in need of sustenance so the groups dispersed to various restaurants for lunch.
In the afternoon many of us carried on to a pop-up shop where DP studio patterns were selling off ex-sample fabrics and dead stock at very low prices, as well as their own patterns. A few carried on still further to Make my Lemonade and a few other shops but some of us were pretty pooped by now so we headed back to the hotel with our swag.
Later in the evening many of us travelled across town to a restaurant where a meal and entertainment had been laid on for us. Unfortunately the Parisian liking for late eating didn’t suit everyone after such a long and tiring day and we were all quite keen to head to our beds in the end.
After brunch on Sunday morning a fairly large group went to visit the Yves St Laurent museum at 5, avenue Marceau. As you know I love a good fashion exhibition and this was no exception, the entrance fee is €10 which I thought was pretty reasonable. It isn’t that large but there are quite a number of gowns and outfits on show, as well the studio in which YSL used to work for around 30 years. It was also an opportunity to actually chat with fellow Sewcialists without it being too noisy or fabric purchasing being our primary occupation.
The first salon was dedicated to the famous Mondrian dress with many of its iterations including Barbie and Marge Simpson, and unwearable suggestions for eye makeup.
In the other salons were various YSL outfits from past collections.
The studio in which St Laurent created for over 30 years was a beautiful bright, light-filled space with many artefacts which made it feel as though he had merely stepped out of the room for a moment.
There is, of course, a modest and tasteful book and gift shop at the exit although I resisted the urge to buy anything else.
After leaving the museum we all headed in various directions, avenue Marceau is very near the river with its wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower. We indulged in crepes from a vendor after which we set off for the Musee D’Orsay with a very pleasant stroll along the Left Bank of the Seine-fortunately the very threatening sky never did come to anything.
There was quite a long queue at the D’Orsay but we Brits are good at that and the time passed while we chatted. Inside was crowded so we went straight to the top floor where the Impressionist artists are housed. Amongst the painting we spotted these sewing/crocheting beauties which seem particularly appropriate, plus two favourites of mine.
We finished the day with supper back in the Montmartre area, plus the most beautiful ice cream I have ever eaten. We worked them off by climbing right up the hill to Sacre Coeur!
What did I buy did you say?? I was super-restrained and chose several plains and a classic stripe, plus an unusual print lining and a remnant with a fish design. I spent less than €100 in total which I’m happy with for the quality of fabrics that I bought.
And then it was time to come home again…Carmen joined us for breakfast on our last morning which gave us a chance to thank her (again) for instigating/organising the whole event.
Even on the Eurostar home we still had lots to talk, and laugh, about and we all agreed that there had to be another Paris Sewcial in the future. Thank you again Charlotte and Carmen for having the idea in the first place-it was brilliant and such a delight to meet so many diverse yet like-minded people.
I’m really happy with this make, it’s the Dawson Coatigan by The Thrifty Stitcher, Claire-Louise Hardie, which I made in Navy Ponte Roma given to me by Minerva Crafts in return for an honest review.
This pattern was released just before Christmas and I think it would be a useful addition to any wardrobe. It’s a softly tailored edge to edge coat with flattering seam lines and integral pockets. It works well in a structured jersey like Ponte Roma, and it would also look good in boiled wool or felted wool.
And depending when you’re reading this the Dawson also qualifies for the Sew Over 50 #so50Visible challenge too which finishes on March 15th. Read my previous blog posts for all the details on that but you haven’t got long if you hope to win one of the prizes!
There’s lots more details and photos of my make over on the Minerva Crafts website, thank you as always to them for providing me with the fabric.
It’s always nice to be asked isn’t it? Doesn’t especially matter what but anyway, it is. So when I was asked if I would help in the testing process of TATB’s new pattern for a jacket/coat to be released in the spring I was both flattered and happy to help.
I know I have a regular moan about some Indie pattern designers but TATB are one of those who I think do a very good job. The presentation (recently with refreshed new look packaging) and the quality of the drafting and the instructions is, in my opinion, of a very good standard. Tilly doesn’t usually chuck out loads of patterns one after another, they are often in pairs and spaced out through the year.
As is quite often the case with testing there was originally a fairly tight turnaround to return feedback so my first problem was to source the fabric, and quickly. I’m not a great one for buying fabric online unless I’m confident the description and other information is accurate, or I know exactly what it is. This time though I didn’t have time to explore my regular fabric shopping haunts in London and so I had to search t’internet to see what I could find. I’d hoped to get some kind of waterproof or waxed fabric but the ones I found were either very expensive, too boring, too childish (a lot of dinosaurs and unicorns!) or not suitable for the purpose. Next I looked at wool and wool-blends and many of these were also much too expensive as well but in the end I found a really nice felted wool from FabWorksOnline so I ordered that. I was very impressed with the speed it arrived too! It’s a fully lined jacket and I’d got some silky pale pink cloque in the old stash which I didn’t think I’d use for anything else, and I had a cream-coloured open-ended zip which I thought ‘that’ll do’ so I was good to go. One version of Eden is lined with jersey, you might want to consider putting a silky lining in the sleeves, although you could still put jersey just at the cuff ends if you want the contrast roll-up effect.
After a bit of a hold up the pattern arrived but when it did I hit the ground running. In all of Tilly’s other patterns I make myself a size 5 but after checking the finished measurements for the jacket I opted for a 4 this time.
I’m not going to give you a verbatim run through of the pattern here, this time I’ll highlight areas where I used specific techniques which I think work well for this kind of garment.
There are two style variations of the Eden, either a simple longer-length duffle coat style with toggles, or a shorter jacket with ’storm flaps’ and bellows pockets which is the one I opted for. We were asked not to make any drastic pattern hacks during testing but I chose to add 5cms to the overall length of the shorter style, it was shorter than I would wear it but the other was too long.
The next thing I did differently was to use the lining fabric on the underside of the flaps instead of the wool, to reduce the bulk of them when they go into the seams. If you’re using a thinner fabric this step isn’t so necessary but I knew that once all those thicknesses were layered up into the sleeve seams it would because very bulky.
The next thing I changed (and which hasn’t been altered on the final pattern) is the shaping at the cuff of the sleeve. This is because if you have a deep turn-back but the sleeve continues down straight ie. getting narrower all the way down, when you fold it back it doesn’t lie flat against the inside of the sleeve seam. Look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean.
My other suggestion for the cuff is to use a strip of iron-on interfacing to stop it from stretching, being baggy and to give it some body. This is a technique I’ve picked up after doing numerous sleeve-shortening alterations for people because this is what you will commonly find inside RTW coats and jackets to stabilise it.
I’ve also learned from doing alterations that a few hand stitches inside the cuffs, and also the lower coat hem facing will help hold them in position so that they don’t drop down and spoil the look of your finished jacket. It’s tricky to describe what sort of stitch this should be, it’s a kind of slip-stitch a bit like you might find on handmade curtain hems. The sleeves are raglan so they are easy to insert.
The instructions for putting the zip in are good and the photos are a help here too-there will be an online tutorial although at the time of writing this I’m not sure if it’s available yet. Putting the lining in isn’t actually that complex but it does take time and concentration, and a bit of brute force. Don’t make the opening in the sleeve lining too small because it will make it very difficult to pull everything through, especially if you have stiff or thick fabrics. The gap gets sewn up and is then down inside the sleeve eventually any way. If you’re in any doubt about accomplishing this part my suggestion would be to get the lining sewn by machine to the edges around the front (zip) and hem, pull the lining through and then slip hem the lining to the cuffs by hand.
I chickened out of putting snaps on my jacket even though they would look nice. I haven’t used them on anything else and I didn’t want to spoil my Eden so near the finish line! I opted instead for very large silver press studs which I sewed on by hand.
I finished my Eden in December and I’m really pleased to say that I have worn it loads over the winter months. I’m very happy with my size decision too because there is still plenty of room for jumpers to layer up underneath, I think the next size up would have been too big. I also think the grey and pink look really pretty together as well.
I hope you find the techniques I’ve mentioned helpful, although I don’t think they were carried through to the final pattern, TATB obviously felt that their own methods and descriptions were good enough and maybe I’ve over-complicated things but overall I’m happy with the finished garment. It’s categorised as for ‘improvers’ and I think this is a fair analysis, it would be too complex for a novice sewer although with online tutorials and determination anything is possible!
As you can see from my photos my colour palette is a little more ‘mature’ shall we say than the TATB samples but I think that also proves that it’s a nice casual style which will actually work in lots of fabric and colour combinations. I enjoy the process of testing although there are times when it’s frustrating, I assume I’ve been approached because of what my experience can bring to the party and that isn’t always borne out in the end but it can be rewarding and personally I always take a lot of time over it and try to use my skills and experience to help, advise and improve when possible. I probably won’t be asked again now so I hope you find this post helpful…
The last few weeks on the blog have been very much about Sew Over 50 which has all been very exciting but that has meant that I haven’t had as much time to write about the other things which interest me a lot.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m really interested in the history of fashion and so visiting exhibitions of clothing from across the decades, or even centuries, is something I love to do. Living where I do I’m fortunate to be well placed to get into central London in less than an hour making most galleries and museums very accessible.
London’s blockbuster fashion exhibition this spring is Dior: Designer of Dreams which opened at the beginning of February in the V&A in South Kensington and it is such a beautiful show with literally hundreds of outfits on display. It’s being staged in their newest space, the Sainsbury Wing, which is underground but doesn’t feel remotely subterranean when you’re in it. Each room is different and begins with the single most famous outfit of all, the Bar suit from the first ‘New Look’ collection of February 1947. Nearby are other interpretations of it by the designers who followed Dior himself as head of the house which he created.
The show is thematic rather than chronological which personally I think makes it more coherent, not less. Whilst each designer has brought their own aesthetic to the label there is an element of timelessness about many of the creations. [It’s quite a fun game to see if you can work out which era a gown comes from, I was wrong a number of times, sometimes I went modern and they were from the 50’s and other times the opposite was true] The show takes you through a series of rooms which contain gowns of every shape and hue. Early on you come across the gown created for Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday ball in 1951. She and her mother continued to be Dior fans even after Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, she herself has only ever worn British designers since.
The rooms are cleverly arranged because you move from one to the next and they all feel quite spacious and different to the previous one, some have dark backgrounds whilst others are light and airy. Some gowns are behind glass but many are not so you can get a good view of the exquisite workmanship and skills that have gone into each of them.
When he was alive Christian Dior made full use of the allure of Hollywood film stars to promote his collections and he dressed many leading ladies including Rita Hayworth and Jane Russell, their shapely figures were perfect for showing off his womanly designs. In fact Coco Chanel was very critical of his New Look because she saw it as a step backwards for women in terms of having to wear restrictive garments like corsets again, this coming after the relative freedom she had created with her boyish shapes in the pre-war years.
The pastel colours in the next room are beautifully lit and there are gowns by many of the designers who have come after Christian himself including the 21 year old prodigy Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. I loved this room…
Moving on from this room to the next there is a marked contrast with the gowns or ensembles being influenced by or referencing travel around the world. Several of John Galliano’s most fantastical creations are here alongside more wearable dresses by the other designers.
At various points there are also smaller cabinets and display cases containing other items of interest including beautiful perfume bottles, and photographs from Christian Dior’s beloved garden.
I actually wish that perfume had been wafted into this room to enhance the beautiful ambience…a hint of Miss Dior perhaps (named for his sister Catherine) or the scent of lily of the valley from Diorissimo?
The talents of all the Creative Directors are show-cased in the next room starting with Yves Saint Laurent’s brief tenure (he left to do his National Service in the army) Marc Bohan who served for the longest time and is still alive at the age of 93. After him came Italian Gianfranco Ferre followed by the notorious and flamboyant Gibraltarian John Galliano. When his reign ended abruptly under a cloud he was eventually followed by Belgian Raf Simons, and finally the first woman to hold the role, Italian Maria Grazia Chiuri.
The next room is of particular interest to keen dressmakers because it is entirely filled with toiles of gowns, jackets and ensembles. It’s snowy whiteness is a stark contrast to all the bright colours and embellishment in the previous rooms and it heightens the drama of the superlative cutting and construction skills of the all-too-often unsung atelier staff or ‘petit mains’ as they are usually known. These are where the ideas are tried out, where the unusual cut of a sleeve is experimented with, or a dart on a collar attempted. It doesn’t waste costly and precious fabric and it helps visualise unusual proportions or new concepts. These toiles are about way more than just checking the fit on a garment.
Moving next through a narrow space displaying hundreds of magazine covers over the decades featuring Dior fashions old and new on one side, and a glass cabinet on the other side containing many shoes, bags, scarves, jewellery and other accessories and miniature versions of gowns and ensembles perfect in every detail like the full-size originals.
And finally you arrive at the best room of all. I had no idea what was coming so to round the corner and emerge into a huge ballroom space with lighting, music and special effects was breathtaking to say the least. There are literally dozens of gowns to look at, including three iterations of the J’Adore gowns worn by Charlize Theron in the perfume adverts.
You need to spend as long as you can in this room to fully experience it, there are places to sit too so you can rest and take it all in.
There’s only one more gown to see before you leave and it’s set between mirrors so you get the sense that there are many dresses, not just one.
I absolutely love this exhibition! I’ve been able to go twice so far, as well as attend a talk between exhibition curator Oriale Cullen and Harper’s Bazaar editor Justine Picardie. As I keep mentioning in other posts, I’ve had such good value from my Membership of the V&A and this year will be no different. In April a retrospective of the work of Mary Quant also opens too. I purchased my own membership and all views expressed here are entirely my own.
You have until July 14th to see this exhibition and if you have any chance of being in London I urge you to try and get a ticket. I believe there are 500 additional tickets available every day but they sell out very quickly, check the website for updates would be my suggestion. I hope I’ve been able to give those of you who can’t get to London a small taste of the show, and for those of you who hope to get here my photos in no way do it justice and you’ve definitely got a lot to look forward to!
Finally I can talk about the day last November when a group of us travelled to Love Sewing magazine headquarters in Stockport to take part in a photoshoot for a Sew Over 50 article.
Sew Over 50 had begun in August and was gaining a huge following so when editor Amy asked if we could suggest possible models for an article Judith and I approached quite a large diverse group of women initially to see who might be willing or able to travel to Stockport. Not everyone could but eventually we had a group of 10 people.
It was amazing how far some were willing to travel, Corrie and Sara both came from Wales, Judith is usually in Edinburgh and myself, Ruth and Sue were all travelling from Hertfordshire. So the 3 of us decided it would be a good idea to drive to Milton Keynes first and then get the train the rest of the way. Simple? far from it! I checked before booking the train that there was a car park, not pre-bookable unfortunately, but it was a large car park so what could possibly go wrong….Well it turned out that the car park was completely full [and no sign or barrier telling you that before going in and driving all the way to the top floor and down again thus wasting 10 precious minutes] we spent another 15 fruitless minutes driving around and around trying to find ANY alternative until the only possible option was for me to drop Ruth off at the station with her train ticket (and Sue’s too because she wasn’t with us, we didn’t know where she was at that point, probably still driving around too!) Anyway, in the end I drove all the way to Stockport because I was bloody determined that after all the planning I wasn’t going to miss the event! Rant over.
By the time I got there everyone was chatting away happily, having make up applied, there was a rail full of everyone’s beautiful makes which they had carefully selected to bring. Amy was in the process of grouping the clothes into colour stories and you can see from the eventual photos that it was almost like we had planned it that way. A few of us have met before in real life but for others it was new experience-they had all had a bite of lunch together before I got there-but naturally chatting didn’t prove too difficult anyway. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a Love Sewing photoshoot before so I knew what to expect, this time it was so lovely to have company. Amy hasn’t had this number of ‘models’ to deal with before and I think it was a bit like herding cats at times haha.
Getting any of us to stand still or stop talking long enough to take photos was an achievement in itself, there were probably a few blurred ones, but we settled into it and I think Amy was happy with the results eventually. Incidentally, I’m wearing my Trend Patterns Asymmetric Dress which I reviewed here.
Eventually after we’d all done our group story shots we had a final altogether group when we all piled into the slightly wobbly set with Amy. It’s astonishing that there are any pictures with all of us looking in the right direction with eyes open and mouths shut!
So after all our fun and games the time came for us to head home again. Sadly for me this meant a really long drive but this was made much more bearable by the fact that Ruth came in the car with me so her company made 4 hours pass a lot quicker than the lonely journey up. We have a WhatsApp group with all of us in it and we’ve had many conversations since and we’ve been looking forward to the release of the magazine so that we can share it with everyone.
You’ll know by now too that it coincides with our first SewOver50 challenge so the article will give lots more exposure to that. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, where have you been? To briefly recap, the aim is to make a garment using a pattern which features a model on the envelope who appears to be at least 45-50 years old. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds so check my previous two posts here and here which has links to a wide selection that we’ve managed to find. There’s a very disappointing number of patterns from the major pattern companies and whilst the article names McCalls and Simplicity, in truth we could only find about 4 patterns from Simplicity and none from McCalls] Between us on the day we wore a very diverse selection of patterns, from mainstream and independent designers, made in all sorts of fabrics, colours and designs which illustrates the point that whilst we may be getting older we aren’t going to let age get in the way of our sartorial choices or be dictated to by what ’society’ expects us to wear. This is in spite of how pattern companies continue to portray us, their clientele, and until they address how diverse everyone actually is we still have to continue to look beyond the envelope.
Amy’s team looked after us so well and speaking personally I had so much fun being together with my fellow dressmakers Judith, Corrie, Sara, Sue, Sarah, Di, Ruth, Jeanette and Kate (even though it was shorter than I would have wanted!) Many of the informal photos you see here are my own but some belong to one or more of my fellow models so I am indebted to them for their use here.
The magazine arrives on subscribers doormats on February 16th and in the shops from February 21st. In the meantime, have you started your #so50Visible make yet…?
Incidentally, we received no payment for the article and the comments made in it were in response to questions we were asked. All views expressed in this post however are entirely my own.
Well what an amazing start the challenge has got off too!
I think the reception has so far exceeded anything Judith and I had hoped for-many of you have embraced the concept we’ve created and are looking with enthusiasm (and frustration too) for patterns featuring an older or more age-appropriate model.
It also means that lots of you have made suggestions for pattern companies from all over the world that we haven’t encountered before so that the list has now got quite a bit longer. We’ve had more offers of prizes too!
Rather than edit the first blog constantly I’ve created a further list here with links to all the extra companies for you. This is still unlikely to be a definitive list though. I’ve gone through every suggestion that we’ve been given up to this point but I haven’t necessarily shared them because sometimes I’ve felt they don’t meet our criteria sufficiently and (heaven forbid) they may just see us as a free marketing opportunity.
Liesl+Co, Maria Denmark and Ann Normandy all feature slightly more mature models but we either know or don’t think they are quite in the 45-50 bracket yet. Still, definitely in the right direction and representing us much better, the patterns are cut for a more mature figure too which is so helpful. Ann Normandy has generously offered a prize anyway.
You have been sharing plenty of photos on Instagram using the hashtag #so50Visible telling us of your plans, and realising the frustrations of finding patterns which represents our age group properly. I was recommended to look at one pattern company (which I won’t name) where I discovered at least two patterns which were modelled by a woman of no more than 30 wearing an outfit and shoes which was clearly designed for a woman about three times her age! talk about Granny clothes, poor girl, and why would that induce a woman of mature years and very conservative tastes want to say “hey, that’s exactly the way I’m going to look when I make those garments”, I’m guessing it won’t.
Which brings me to another point-sometimes it’s gone too far the other way, pattern companies think older sewers want boring, sensible clothes all the time. We don’t!! What many of us have realised is that we are, indeed have to be, capable of looking beyond the face (and figure?) of the model on the envelope all the time in order to visualise the finished garment. This is when accurate line drawings are vital to be able to assess the ‘bones’ of the garment and know whether it will work for us.
Two areas which have been under discussion (separately) in recent weeks (and I’m not going to attempt to address all of it here) is people of colour who sew and larger sizes. In the process of going laboriously through these pattern companies I have seen that there is a modest use of POC as models, but very very few larger models. However many of these companies do sell patterns which go up in some cases to very large sizes, and which are modelled, I’m presuming by their testers, but these are only used in website images.
If you follow the hashtag you can keep up with everybody’s posts, Judith regularly shares them too on the @sewover50 account, the more often you ‘like’ a post the most often the algorithm will push the account up your feed, or you can set the post notifications to alert you whenever there’s a new post. There are now additional prizes which will be allocated completely at random at the end which are from The Sewing Revival, Designer Stitch, The Thrifty Stitcher, Winter Wear Designs and Ann Normandy.
So that’s my little update for you, another rabbit hole to fall down, or maybe you’re already on the case with a new pattern? Remember that you don’t have to share a new garment if you’ve already made something which qualifies, we want to see everything. Judith and I aren’t naive because we realise we are giving pattern companies free publicity at the moment and disappointingly a few of them haven’t acknowledged the challenge is even happening. There may be good reasons for this, or maybe they still think they don’t need to work to attract our area of the market? Remember #NoLikeNoMention!
I think as a by-product of the challenge many of you are also finding inspiring new accounts to follow on Instagram, it’s really lovely to know that there are so many of us sewing away in our various parts of the world. Dressmaking can be a solitary activity and speaking personally it makes me feel more connected by a shared activity. We want Sew Over 50 to be a positive and supportive space where we can share and chat and get advice whenever we need it.
Thank you for joining in and keep those makes coming!
Usually when I write a Simple Sew blog post it’s a garment for me but this time the finished article is for my friend Janet. We had a shopping trip to London’s Goldhawk Road a little while ago to choose fabric for a dress for Janet’s daughter to wear to a family wedding and while we were in Classic Textiles we got distracted and spotted this lovely pastel tweed. There wasn’t a lot left so she snapped it all up as well as some pretty matching lining, we didn’t have a pattern in mind but I knew I’d have something suitable at home.
The jacket got put on the back-burner for a few months because I had the dress for the wedding to make first, and then a last minute dress for Janet herself to wear too so it dropped down the priorities.
With the wedding out of the way in August I could revisit the project. Because there wasn’t a lot of fabric and there could be tricky pattern matching to do I didn’t want a pattern that was too complex with a lot of pieces so when I found the Notch Collar jacket I thought it would be perfect.
If you’re going to make this jacket yourself I would say it’s VITAL to make a toile first. In my opinion it’s quite narrow across the front and shoulders so if you’re fuller-busted you will probably need to do an FBA. With this in mind I was really pleased, and a bit surprised, when the toile fitted Janet perfectly with no alterations but then she is quite petite build.
If you read my pattern reviews regularly you’ll know that I’m not usually a ‘tracer’ but because Janet is so much smaller than me, and I may want to use the pattern again sometime, I opted to trace this one. If you’re short of fabric or if it’s going to be tricky pattern matching it can be really helpful to make pairs of any pieces that require 2 eg. Left front and right front, a pair of sleeves or the whole back rather than just place on a fold. In this case though I folded the fabric carefully in half and pinned in numerous places through the fabric so that I knew the checks were matching on the under layer.
Because of the wide width of the fabric I could easily place the front and back side by side so I knew that the check would match down the side seam as far as possible. Because of the dart it wouldn’t match near the underarm seam though, this is inevitable.
I didn’t cut out the sleeves in tweed at this stage. I cut everything out in lining too with the addition of a pleat of extra fabric in the back to allow for movement. I also cut facings which incidentally I’d made a lot wider than the originals-I think they are too narrow. [later on I discovered that there’s no lower back facing piece and very little hem allowed to turn it up either. I made my own by tracing the lower edge of the back pattern up to the same depth as my front facings-8cms-so that they match when joined at the side seams.]
To stabilise the tweed and give it some extra body I interlined the fronts and back with some calico and basted it to the tweed within the seam allowances around the edges. This is known as ‘mounting’ the fabric and is a very useful technique if you have a fabric that needs stabilising or a little more body for some reason.
I immediately disagreed with the instructions here because, after making the darts, the first thing I would do is make the pockets and sew them on. Because the fabric frays quite a bit I opted to use some lining as well as the facing to ‘bag out’ the pockets. This makes them more stable as well as neater. After matching the checks I top-stitched them on but that pushed everything out of alignment so I ripped that stitching out and hand-sewed them on instead. These aren’t pockets that will need to take a lot of weight so they should be plenty strong enough.
After joining the shoulders and side seams I pressed the seams open with plenty of steam over my tailor’s ham and gave them a good bashing with my wooden clapper to knock the steam out and flatten the the seams effectively. I used it on the darts too. If you don’t have a clapper you could use a wooden rolling pin if you have one.
Things got trickier after this because I had to match the sleeves to the checks of the jacket. Initially I did this by lining up the pattern piece again the jacket on the stand and drew some guide lines onto the pattern. I was reasonably sure this would work so I cut out a pair of sleeves…I was wrong. I’d placed the pattern piece onto the fabric but it was matched to the wrong set of stripes. Damn and blast! Fortunately, I still had enough fabric left for another pair of sleeves and I could cut the front facings out of the incorrect sleeves instead.
I tried a different approach to matching the sleeves. I took the whole piece of remaining fabric and offered it up to the jacket armhole on the stand where I pinned it in position. This seemed to work so I carefully thread traced the crown of the sleeve, removed the fabric again and then laid the pattern piece on top.
Obviously I needed a second sleeve so I had to cut the first one, remove the pattern, place it in the correct position for that sleeve to match and cut it out. If I got this one wrong there was no Plan C…. I’m extremely relieved to say that all was well-phew. One of the benefits of the tweed is that you can make the slightly loose weave work in your favour so I ran the usual two rows of ease stiches around the crown and tacked the sleeves into position.
One fitted perfectly first time and the other I had to reduce the amount of fullness over the crown to make it fit, and still have the checks matching. At this point Janet popped round for a fitting and we were both very relieved that it fitted really well-high fives all round.
One tip I’d give as a result of doing quite a few alterations on coats and jackets is to use a wide strip of iron-on interfacing at the cuff to give it a crisp edge.
iron on interfacing
cuffs tacked up in position
This is the sort of soft-tailored jacket which will benefit from a small shoulder pad. We aren’t talking ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas’ 80’s shoulders here, just enough to give a little more definition to the shoulder-line. I didn’t have anything suitable so I made a pair with some medium thickness wadding and covered them in fine calico.
To line the jacket next, I interfaced the facings with iron-on Vilene and neatened the edges, then I stitched them wrong sides to right sides on the lining pieces.
I made up the lining as a complete unit-fronts/back/sleeves-which in hindsight wasn’t the right order because after I sewed the jacket and the lining together all the way around the outer edge it meant I couldn’t under-stitch any of it. I should have sewn the lining in without the sleeves attached, under-stitched the neck edge first then attached the sleeve linings afterwards. Instead, I pulled everything through right side out and gave the neck edges a jolly good steam and wallop with the clapper again. Then I ‘stab stitched’ the edges of the front and neck edge by hand, and also a few stitches directly through the lower section of each side seam to keep the two layers fixed together. Finally, I slip-hemmed the sleeve linings in place.
As I said before this is a ‘soft-tailored’ jacket rather than a very structured one, although I’ve used one or two techniques which I picked up on the tailoring course I did two and a half years ago.
The sparse making up instructions do have a few errors or anomalies which could trip you up. I set the sleeves in rather than on the flat which might not make any difference to the overall finish but the lack of lower back facing or sufficient turn up instead isn’t good, and it says there’s a turn up of 5mm on the cuffs when it’s actually 1.5cms, and in fact 4cms is what I used to give a better finish. I know some of the earlier Simple Sew patterns have a few technical errors and this is one of them but, with this in mind, don’t dismiss it because it’s an attractive little edge-to-edge jacket but make a toile first!
I relieved to say that Janet is very pleased with her jacket and hopefully will get a lot of wear from it.
If you read my blog reviewing the new Simple Sew Cocoon Jacket a couple of months back then you might recall the crazy-big toile I made to start with. I didn’t want the fabric to go to waste and so eventually I went back to it to finish. Because it’s a checked fabric I had cut it carefully to match even though it was only for a toile originally. [Since writing the original blog it’s been brought to my attention that the instructions for joining the front and back pieces together are currently wrong and show the front piece being attached the wrong way up! I’ve done a little diagram below to show how it should be]I’ve realised I thought I’d misunderstood and put it together intuitively, when actually it was the instructions not me, but this isn’t very helpful to you!
Basically I deconstructed the whole thing by unpicking the seams so that it was the main pieces of fronts and backs again, I hadn’t put any facings on it so this process was pretty quick. Once I’d got the pieces broken down I placed the reduced size pattern pieces from which I’d made my denim version on top of the checked fabric, still matching the checks carefully, and recut them smaller. This time I cut out the facings and patch pockets too.
Then I simply made it up in exactly the same way as the denim coat, I didn’t use any decorative topstitching this time though.
I decided not to use the giant poppers for this one so I had a rummage in my button collection and found two HUGE buttons of unknown origin. This presented two problems, firstly I had to work out very precisely where the buttonholes should be sewn so that when the buttons are done up the checks on the front still match (because I’m like that!) and then I discovered that, because the button was far too large for the automatic buttonhole foot, there were actually NO instructions in the guide book for my machine on how to make a freehand outsize buttonhole. This caused me so much head-scratching! I goggled it on the interweb with no luck but then I remembered my friend Anne, who is an expert sewer, has the same machine as me so I messaged her. She agreed there were definitely no instructions (I wasn’t going nuts!) and whilst I’d have to work out the specifics for my particular buttonhole, she pointed me in the right direction and eventually I had two acceptable buttonholes. What a palaver!
Anyway, I finished it in the end and the Cocoon Coat pattern will be officially released in the next week as the free gift with Sew Now magazine and on their website so everyone will get the chance to try this very simple but stylish coat. [I noticed the website does draw your attention to the generous sizing and I strongly recommend you make a toile or tissue fit first] I’ve made both mine in woven fabrics but you could try it in boiled wool or another fabric which doesn’t need to be faced or neatened. What about a double-faced jersey cloth, perhaps with a soft fleecy side? You could add a collar, or turn-back cuffs? So may possibilities for such a simple garment.
I’ve had lots of wear from the denim coat, it’s been really versatile because it isn’t too heavy but there’s room for layers underneath when it gets a bit cooler. What will you make yours in?
When it came to selecting our next make for the Simple Sew blog there were two new ‘mystery’ patterns on the list as well as all the existing ones. One was a dress and the other was the Cocoon Jacket. As my next blog would be appearing at the beginning of autumn it seemed an idea to take a chance on the jacket-I already know the Cocoon dress which has been incredibly popular and is a very simple and stylish make so I figured the coat would be very similar.
I was so happy when the pattern arrived because it’s exactly that-simple and stylish! The obvious fabric choice would be a nice woollen cloth-it suggests a boiled wool and this indeed would be perfect but, because I didn’t know just what the pattern was like until it arrived, I hadn’t chosen any fabric from one of our generous providers so I needed to get my own. For some reason it occurred to me that denim would an interesting choice and ideal for the autumn too. Luckily I live very near a branch of John Lewis so in I went and managed to buy 2.5m of a nice quality rigid denim in a fairly dark blue. The first thing I did when I got it home was put it through the wash twice to get out as much excess dye as possible and deal with any possible shrinkage before I started cutting out.
The pattern pieces are an intriguing shape, the back and the sleeve come as one large piece plus a front, a pocket and neck facings. What this means is that every piece ideally needs to be cut on the single which shouldn’t be a problem, it just takes longer and you need to be very careful not to cut two the same of the large pieces. If you want to use a cloth with a large check you may need to allow more fabric for good matching too. A stripe would look interesting as well.
Initially I opted to make my usual size 14 and I could already see from the pieces that this was likely to be too large. Before anything else I tissue-fitted the pattern. This is when you pin the tissue or paper pieces together accurately as though they are sewn and try it on carefully either on yourself or your dress stand if you have one. From this I could tell that the sleeves would be really long so for the toile I reduced them by about 8-10cms by folding out carefully about halfway down the sleeve. I cut and sewed the jacket then in some grey suiting fabric from my stash so that I could assess the size. I’m so glad I did this because it was HUGE, not just comfortably roomy, actually ginormous! I’m not sure why it needs to be so oversized but that wasn’t how I wanted to wear it so I chose to come down two whole sizes and make a 10. As you’ll see later it’s still plenty big enough. [I’ll recut and make up the grey one at some point so it won’t go to waste.]
The instructions tell you to overlock all the edges before starting but I made all the darts first (which aren’t indicated in the line drawing-why not?) and then overlocked. If you’re using boiled wool, or decide to line it, then I wouldn’t bother overlocking unless your fabric frays a lot. Denim does fray a bit because it’s a twill weave but it wasn’t really a problem here. As the overlocking on my coat was going to be visible I picked a mix of three fun colours, fuchsia, orange and teal. I used a jeans needle throughout too although a sturdier size (90 or 100) of a regular needle would do if you haven’t got one.
Because I’m using denim I wanted to use topstitching to highlight the seams. I was going to buy some specific topstitching thread but I couldn’t settle on a colour so instead I tried out a few colours in regular thread I already had and then used the triple straight stitch on my machine, which looks like topstitching. [You may not even know your machine has this stitch, it looks like three rows of straight stitch close together in the diagram so have a look to see if it’s there-it’s also known as saddle stitch] In addition to sewing on the patch pockets with like this I highlighted the darts at the back neck, elbow and hem, as well as all the seams and outer edges. Be aware that the triple straight stitch uses a lot of thread though.
This jacket goes together so quickly! You simply make up each half and then join them down the centre back. [Since writing this it’s been brought to my attention that the instructions for attaching the front to the back at the raglan seam are currently wrong! I’ve realised that I probably disregarded the drawing because I couldn’t make sense of it and did it intuitively which isn’t helpful to you! The illustration shows the front piece attaching to the back the wrong way up, in so doing it means the neck edge won’t form a curve and the underarm sleeve seams don’t come together, below is the instruction as it currently stands, together with my drawing of how it should be]
The sleeve seam falls to the front as a raglan and there’s the darts in the back and elbow/underarm to give a little shaping but that’s it. I would urge you if you’re using a boiled wool or other fabric which looks the same on both sides to mark them in some way so that you don’t make up the two halves the same not a pair! If you use boiled wool there’s no need to finish the edges unless you want to, or use the facings. You’ll need to use plenty of steam to press those seams open too.
I used facings cut in denim but you could easily cut them in a contrast if you like. I didn’t bother with interfacing because my jacket is meant to be very soft and slouchy and denim is already quite firm without adding more weight. At the lower hem don’t forget to trim away the excess fabric at the corners so that they turn better to make a sharper corner. When you’re sewing at a point like this always start from the fold or seam (marked with the pointer in my photo) and sew towards the open edge so that you don’t get a wrinkle or lump forming, it pushes any excess fabric away flat as you sew with this method.
Once both halves are made and joined there’s only the hems to turn up and the fastenings-if you’re using any- to sew on. I bought a pair of HUGE metal press studs in John Lewis, the pattern suggests magnetic fastenings or bold decorative buttons would be fun too.
Considering I didn’t know anything about the pattern before it arrived I’m really delighted with how it’s turned out. I reckon this will be a very popular pattern this winter as it’s so quick to sew, just be very careful about your sizing though, at the very least do a tissue fit before cutting your fabric. It’s going to be a great casual cover up, for me it’s a variation on the denim jacket, but it’s still generous enough to get woollies underneath.
It would be easy to fully line as well, simply cut all the pieces in a lining fabric too and make up the same. Attach it at the neck and front edges and then add the facings is one way to do this but there are others. Alternatively, you could use ‘Hong Kong’ finish on the seams, this is to bind all the seams with bias- or seam binding, it makes the inside of the coat look lovely although it’s time-consuming. What about using a heavy drill fabric, or a waterproof one even? Add a hood? In-seam pockets? Fleece-lined sweatshirting? So many possibilities!
The jacket will gradually soften and scuff as time passes which is exactly what I want and I think I’ll get a lot of use from it. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of versions of the Cocoon Jacket appearing over the autumn/winter months ahead, I wore it to the recent Sewing Weekender in Cambridge organised by The Foldline and English Girl at Home and it got a fair number of very positive comments. You’ve only got to wait until the November issue of Sew Now magazine when the pattern will be the free gift with it, unless Simple Sew can be persuaded to release it sooner than that…