Who We Are: Sewists Over 50!

Who We Are (6)

Today it’s time to hear from the sewists in our community who are near or over 50. Here’s what they said!

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Brenda, who blogs at https://flatterpatter.blog/, says:

I’ve been sewing a long time —since I was a child — and I took a break from 30ish to 40ish years old. Before 30, I sewed to save money. After that, the discount stores (such as Ross Dress for Less) and Land’s End carried clothes I wanted to wear and fit me.

Then, after 40, I didn’t like the fit of store-bought clothing any more. Additionally, my local culture influences my choices. I live in the Pacific Northwest (of the US) and teach at a community college. The dress code typically skews toward relaxed and sporty, but a lot of clothes I could buy were either too sporty (boxy T-shirt, boxy knit skirt) or too dressy (sheath dress) or, again, didn’t fit. Also, I like natural fibers, and a lot of ready to wear has synthetic fibers.

I went back to sewing because I could sew a T-shirt and dress that fit and create a wardrobe that I reflected my aesthetic. I love to wear dresses year-round, and I can make them warm and cozy or cool and breezy. They are typically a fit-and-flare silhouette and often a knit fabric. In the past year I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had chemo a double mastectomy. I’m choosing to live flat (because I don’t want to pretend I have breasts and want to show others it’s ok). That means I’ve got the opportunity to sew a whole new wardrobe!

Sue says: 

Hi! I am in my mid-sixties (I can hardly believe that myself) and a year into retirement. I have enjoyed sewing since my early teens, when I learned the basics at school. 

When I started my first job, as a dental surgery assistant, I would go to the market in my lunch break on Fridays, buy a couple of yards of fabric and by Saturday night I would have a new dress or skirt to wear. I married in the early ’70s and made my bridesmaids’ dresses. The results led to me making dresses for several friends’ weddings too.

When my 2 daughters came along, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I made most of their clothes. Again, this led to orders from friends. Smocking was popular at this time and I swear it took me longer to make some of their dresses than it took them to out-grow them.

What happened to all the fabric shops? I have a very poor choice here in Ipswich and have to order most fabric online. 

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Elizabeth sent us a long message and invited us to edit, but it was so interesting that we decided to include a lot of it!

I am a sewist who has had multiple health issues since my late 20s. By the time I was in my mid thirties I had to choose between sewing or work. I wasn’t able to devote the time or money I wanted to sewing. Working with a disability makes employers scrutinize your work more. I had to step it up at work. I had sewn my kids clothes up until Junior High. 

Patterns, etc., were getting more expensive, fabric prices were going up, and there was no shopping on the Internet yet! It was a lot of driving and searching from store to store if you wanted bargains. I didn’t have the time. I had no friends who sewed to help me out. We have a large family, 17 children adopted, 4 by birth. Our children are now ages 10 to 41 years old. (None of them were interested in sewing.) Recently I started sewing my younger boys’ clothing because their shapes are not in the ready to wear stores. They have Down Syndrome. My oldest son (22yrs) with DS wears a boy’s size 12/14. I make him more mature looking clothes than what’s found in the boys’ department! Also one of our boys wears a scoliosis brace that ready to wear pants would not fit over. 

My Grandmothers had sewn but did not up-cycle clothes. I wish when I was younger that when we looked in our hand-me-down boxes and found nothing that fit, I could have altered it! Duh! I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. It would have saved even more money! My mom did not sew, she did not even mend. None of my children have been interested in sewing. My children have all hated fabric store shopping! LOL! My husband would drive so I wouldn’t tire out and I’d jump out to shop with the kids. There were long lines back then that they hated. And then stores were rarely open past 5 p.m.!

My Maternal Grandmother had sewn all of her 2 daughters’ clothes. I saw this Grandmother sew patterns exactly as the front picture showed. Never deviating from the style or adding any adornment. So I thought this must be how you sew. I remember in Junior High Home Ec class learning to sew, and the teacher saying the same thing! Follow the pattern to the letter! There was no creativity involved. I grew up wanting to be an Artist and yet I could not “see” how sewing could be creative in any way! Now sewing has become my new favorite art “medium”! I can’t and won’t sew anything that doesn’t inspire me! 

When I started sewing for my family 41 years ago, my energy level was higher. My main motivation was wanting to sew so others noticed my lovely sewing skills. Other Moms told me they loved my daughter’s dresses. My sister-in-law said the outfits I made her son were better than ready wear! I even sold a few garments. My goal was to sew like a professional. Now at age 60 I don’t have time for that kind of sewing. It was too much “work.” 

Time flies quickly. So I pick projects that either fulfill my creative urges, or projects that my kids will enjoy wearing. I don’t sew clothing for us to look cool, or fashionable. I sew for fun and function. I choose “easy” patterns. Or patterns I can tailor to my liking. Things that can be sewn quickly. If I don’t like the end result, I give the pattern away. I went through all of my fabric (stored in boxes) from the 1980s to 2014 and donated 75% of it. I went through my patterns and donated every pattern I had bought thinking, if I lose weight, I can make that. I no longer feel ashamed of who I am. 

My main health issue is MS. From my MS I had a mini stroke, losing the vision in my right eye. MS attacks your nervous system and your immune system. My vision was even more compromised because I lost the vision in my dominant eye. It took years to remember to stop looking through a camera lens, etc., with my right eye (that can no longer see). Now I tell people I’m right handed and left “eyed.” It is quite a challenge. LOL! With age (I’m 60) my “good” eye has developed cataracts. At least those can be removed eventually! If I get stressed my MS becomes worse. Things spiral from there and I can lose several weeks/months of time not sewing — which is depressing! Sewing cures depression!

My favorite sewing is up-cycling my ready to wear items. I have so far saved 2 pricy shirts from donations just because they were a bit snug. After altering them, I love them now! I only learned about up-cycling last spring from the Curvy Sewing Collective. I even made some clothes with a sheet! My Grandma would be shocked! 

Thanks to the computer age I can now shop online. This helps me use my energy for sewing. Or I send my husband out with a list and he can ask the nice ladies at the sewing store to help him! Or he calls me on his cell phone. (We couldn’t afford one in the ’90s.) Mainly he picks up things like fusible interfacing and thread for me. :o) On the computer I can compare shop and find great prices. I wish we’d had this when I was a young mom! I love buying patterns on Etsy. I have found vintage patterns that are fun to make for my 13 yr old son. I love having access to sewing blogs and sewing helps 24/7 on the computer! I’m a night owl!

We’ve had a lot of neat discussions from older sewists on several posts so far already, on a whole range of topics, including:

  • not wanting to sew the conservative fashions or couture sewing that is sometimes associated with older sewists
  • embracing your own sense of style without fear of judgement, whether it’s trendy clothing, Lagenlook, or anything else
  • on the flip side, trying to find patterns that match your personal style and figure
  • and discovering a sewing community online, after years of solitary sewing!

Give us your take in the comments! 


25 thoughts on “Who We Are: Sewists Over 50!

  1. Really interesting to read everyone’s perspectives, especially on how fabric shopping has changed!

    Elizabeth: I’m glad to hear there’s someone else out there sewing for kids with Downs. My 11 year-old daughter has DS and it can be very challenging finding RTW that fits her, and that she also wants to wear. I’ve made her a few dresses and skirts so far, but my ultimate goal is to make her some comfy jeans that fit her well.

    1. Ah – I find fabric shopping an endlessly interesting topic 🙂 I really like reading about fabric shopping in other countries too. Comfy jeans that fit well is a great goal – it’s the holy grail for kids I think!

  2. It’s been interesting reading about other sewists. No matter the age or experience, I am sure we all love the freedom we have when we can see or think of something we want and just make it ourselves, then there is the challenge that goes along with it and the feeling of accomplishment when the garment not only looks great but fits you! It’s lovely to hear from others, Thanks, Gillian!

  3. I think this post was great at highlighting not only how sewing has changd over time but also how sewing can change throughout our lives depending on our circumstances. It’s encourging to see that even when we go through a phase of life where we can’t or don’t want to sew, that we can always circle back.

  4. I often sew because I want things I can’t find small and short enough. At 58, I don’t want to shop in teen stores with their cheaply made and disposable clothing, but I like more modern clothes than are often found in Petite departments. Why do stores believe that if you are small and short you need to dress dowdy?!

    Seeing g allows.me.to have what I want, made well and actually fitting. What more could you want from a hobby?

    1. It’s quite sad how boring and undesirable the offerings are for anyone that doesn’t fit in the mass market middle. It’s wonderful to have a hobby that gives you a gain other than an experience.

  5. Thank You so much for including me!
    I should clarify, it is 17 + 4 precious children that we have. I know crazy. We’ve also run a Group Home in our home, for up to 4 special needs adults for 30 years. And occasionally we take in Autistic boys with aggression issues short term. My “ableness” is scrutinized before placements are made……sigh.

    I read flatterpatter, Brenda’s blog frequently! Love your sews Brenda!

    Does Sue have a blog link?

    My blog link is
    http://whtachamakin.blogspot.com/
    (It also links to my 2 other blogs about our life, and our special needs Group Home clients and the SN kids)

    Anna-Jo I saw your sweet daughter on your blog!:o) I have a blog about my 6 boys with DS and my daughter (age 10) with Sotos Syndrome at-
    http://theroaddownhome.blogspot.com/
    (Sotos is an “over-growth” syndrome, she is very tall and fits “big” in ready wear looking too mature for 10)
    You are brave to want to make jeans for your daughter! ;o) I won’t make jeans for my kiddos, zippers hinder quickly using the bathroom. :o)

    1. Thanks for the link—looks like you have a really happy family! Luckily Daisy was fairly easy to toilet train so jeans should be fine for her, but yeah, I know it’s not always easy with kids with Downs. Her problems are with her heart rather than her bowels— she has a (repaired) complete AVSD.

      Anyway, I’m thinking jeans with perhaps a stretchy elastic top at the front, a bit like maternity jeans. I don’t think she’ll stand for anything digging into her tummy!

  6. I’m finding very few people in this age group participating in the “groups” out there, though I’m learning better how to look. I’m 58, have been sewing since the 70’s, and have always enjoyed it as something I do by myself. I’m finding it fun to participate myself, but feel like it’s not really going to compare nicely when shown with pictures and blogs representing 20 – 40’s (guessing 😉 age- wise.

    1. Are you on Facebook? I’ve found relatively few blogs written by 50+ sewers (I’m 53), but FB sewing groups seem to be full of older women. The Curvy Sewing Collective has a FB group, but you might also try others like So Sew Easy Sewing Chat, Stashbusting Sewalong 2017, etc.

    2. Cololynn, I’m encountering this “age group” most within facebook groups where there can be more natural interactions and friendships built. I think these groups are more appealing to some because there is not the expectation of polished blog pictures and the age ranges are quite diverse.

  7. I can see how it would be difficult for older women to find clothes that suit their style – the RTW market is definitely skewed towards a certain image and if you don’t fit that image, there isn’t much out there. Thanks Elizabeth, Sue & Brenda for sharing your stories.

  8. I can really relate to the lack of stylish clothing made from natural fibres that don’t cost a fortune, for example, Eileen Fisher. In regards to the sewing community I find it difficult to see my body represented. The younger curvy women tend to be more apple shaped and the older fashionistas too, or “naturally thin” older women. Lagenlook is tricky to make work on a larger busted woman, that includes Marcy and Katherine Tilton designs that I would love to wear, maybe with more confidence.
    I started sewing when I was 10 years old. I continued sewing only occasionally until about 3 years ago. Now that I know about fit I find it really hard to settle for RTW. I need a petite adjustment – not just shorter hems, FBA, FTA, narrow shoulder adjustment, small rounded back is a new thing. Once you understand this, and know how much better you look in clothes that fit, you want to make your own clothes.
    I am so obsessed with sewing my own clothes now but making time for it is challenging with a demanding job. I appreciate Cashmerette patterns, yet I want to dress a little more creatively now.
    I love the process and I love fabric, and I really enjoy the online sewing community.

    1. I know what you mean about needing more time to sew – I am full time (more than!) and really want to spend a LOT more time sewing 🙂 Have you tried Style Arc patterns? They have a great range and some interesting designs…

  9. I used to sew most of my clothes in my teens and early twenties (it was self defence; if I did it my grandmother didn’t), then the occasional easy piece through thirties and forties. Now, at sixty, I’m aiming for “most of my clothes” again. RTW styles for older women are either incredibly expensive or ridiculously dowdy and I’m tired of trying to find a good fit — I’m 5’8″ and rectangular and RTW seems to think that if you’re a woman wearing an XL (which I needed even at my thinnest to fit my shoulders) you also have an XL bustline. Nope. C cups. There’s a lot of extra fabric involved. But wow, has sewing changed. There’s so much more choice available. I’m this close (holds fingers very close together) to printing out my first PDF pattern. It’s a brave new world…

    1. Go for it on the pdf pattern – it’s so awesome to see a pattern you like online and then make it that night 🙂 I love the sewing as self-defence concept – it used to be self-defence against your grandmother doing it and now it’s against dowdy clothes!

  10. My first exposure to sewing was in the class in junior high in the 1970s that every girl in my age group took. Through the years I made simple hand sewing alterations to my clothes, but I didn’t start sewing with a machine until I was over 50. I started by refashioning, and even when I use patterns I like to improvise. I also often use thrifted clothes, for example using the fabric from an XL tee shirt to make a tee or tank. I’m in a warm climate so I make and wear a lot of casual sleeveless styles and prefer shorts to dresses. I wouldn’t be sewing without the internet. It’s a great source of information and inspiration, and I’ve learned so much from sewing blogs.

  11. Thanks for sharing your stories, Brenda, Sue, and Elizabeth! As someone who cares for being lot of women with mastectomies at work, I especially appreciated Brenda’s thoughts on making a statement and sewing her own wardrobe at the same time! I love what we can say with the clothes we create if people are willing to listen.

  12. Loving this conversation! I agree that there aren’t a lot of places on the internet for sewists over 50 to go. I am loving the blogs that the younger women are writing and learning a lot from them but sure would be nice to know of a blogger closer to my age (64). That said, I’ve sewn since I was a young teen and made most of mine and my mothers clothing when I was a teen. Other baby boomer sewists will remember crimpoline? :0). Then in my late 20’s and into my 30’s I decided that only people who couldn’t afford to buy RTW sewed their own clothing so I stopped making mine. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a friend who also sewed and I still don’t. I sewed before that out of necessity although I have always enjoyed creating. Back in those days every small town had a fabric store. Now they are hard to find. In my area of Ontario there is Fabric Land and Lens Mill Store but I haven’t found any fabric stores with high end fabrics. I do order online but I find it a bit scary because you just can’t feel what you are getting. I’m finding more Canadian online stores though and am starting to order samples. When I was getting close to retirement I started sewing some clothing for myself again. I had no idea there was such a big movement of younger people sewing, knitting and spinning! I was thrilled to find all these people keeping the old crafts alive and fascinated by the way the crafts have grown. I was double thrilled when I discovered the world of Indy designers and all the wonderful online classes and tutorials. I’ve sewn for years and here I am learning lots of things from women half my age or more! It’s great!!!!!!

    I’ve always knit since I was about 5 years old and I’ve been spinning about 10 years.

    After 50 most of us just can’t do polyester anymore and natural fibres are the ticket. I have always loved linen so make a lot of things from linen. Just found a linen/Cotten blend I like as well. Sure wish I could find nice printed cotton/spandex for t-shirts. Lots of solid colours around me but printed and available within Canada is a mystery at this point. I would also love to find a wool/spandex blend like I’ve seen in some of the stores.

    Next up for me is to try a Hampton jean jacket ( Alina Sewing Design Co.) and some Ginger Jeans (Closet Case Files). Just because a Babyboomer gets older doesn’t mean we have to give up our Birkenstocks, jeans, jean jackets and long skirts. After all we invented these styles. :0) Menopause does some weird things to some of our bodies and there is fluff where it never was before so all the TNT patterns I have that are vintage and back in style don’t come close to fitting me so I’ve learned about FBA’s and grading patterns. So much still to learn and enjoy! It’s so much fun!

    1. You need to check out Spool and Spindle in KW! I taught classes there last year, and they are a super cute little independent fabric store/teaching space with really great quality fabrics. They have an online shop but I feel like it’s nicer to see and touch things in person! spoolandspindle.ca

  13. 17 children adopted, 4 by birth! Wow Elizabeth, I bow before thee. So much love in your heart and so much love to go around in your house.

    And the kicker is that you still make time to sew. I have no excuse now.

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