Sew Over 50 – an inspiring look into fashion after 50!
Once it was a milestone to be ignored or dreaded, but not anymore. The women of Sew Over 50 are proving that style and talent are timeless!
A revolutionary community
Instagram has become the most popular social media platform for sewing enthusiasts, creating a global creative community of sewists who post photos of their dressmaking, quilting, bag making and refashioning at an astonishing rate. But there’s a revolution happening in the sewing-sphere and we’re excited. Women who felt sidelined started standing up and asking why they don’t see more women over 50 in marketing, in magazines and on social media. They wanted a place on Instagram where they can follow and support each other, learn from their peers and have a voice. This is how the Sew Over 50 community began.
Started by Judith Staley in August 2018 the Instagram account sewover50 helps introduce like-minded sewing enthusiasts to each other and has now amassed 6,500 followers (and it’s still growing). The account reposts photos that use the hashtag #sewover50 to highlight amazing makes, share tips and use photo prompts to encourage discussion. On top of this, #sewover50 is fast becoming one of the most popular sewing ‘hashtags’ on Instagram with over 10,000 posts showcasing women and men who create.
Judith says of the account’s success: “From day one I was bowled over by the eagerness to jump into this new account. It was as if people had just been waiting for it. We constantly get messages from people thanking us for helping them to feel less isolated. It is somewhere where people feel safe to post photos, where they can feel inspired by what others are making and where people make connections and offer support. I still like to connect with the whole sewing community – I’m inspired by younger makers too, this is just an extra little corner.”
Recently featured on the inclusive and inspirational site www.thesewcialists.com, Judith referenced lifestyle changes that are unique to older sewists: “When our bodies are changing it is easy to lose confidence and not know what to wear, and there are the practicalities of the physiological changes that mean we want to wear different fabric. Once we are through the menopause it can be a time of liberation and freedom. I think the #sewover50 hashtag can help women to support each other through this time.” And it seems this safe space has been the answer to a lot of people’s prayers! Erniekdesigns explains, “I am the oldest person I know in my circles on Instagram at 59 and usually that’s fine. However sewing issues around health, menopause, joint, body shape – that’s something those kids don’t get. So yes, I need this.”
Find your tribe
Social media can be a little overwhelming but Sue Young (susanyoungsewing) explains that it’s a “great place for older women who may be keen dressmakers or returnees to explore accounts and create friendships” with the benefit of zero tolerance for rude or unpleasant remarks on the Sew Over 50 account. It’s a place to see “inspirational older women and these days 50 doesn’t seem so old!” explains Sarah (sarahguthrie_stitches).
Stephanie joins in the fun from Portland, in the USA, and loves connecting with “beautiful vibrant relevant ladies (and I hope men too) who continue to express their vitality through their personal style. We aren’t a bunch of dowdy old women – just look at the photos posted every single day!” and, in reality, all age groups are welcome to follow the hashtag and account to be inspired. “There’s mentorship and a wonderful inspiration exchange that happens when age groups mix” says Myra (moda_myra).
If you don’t use the photo sharing platform, you might be missing out on showcasing your makes to a captive audience. You can upload your finished garment image and say which pattern you used and also where you bought the fabric from. You may just describe your make with a caption or go further and ‘tag’ those companies in the picture. Fans of your photo can then click those tags to go forth and take your shopping suggestions for themselves. Tagging also alerts the companies to a post containing one of their products that they wouldn’t otherwise see. You might get a ‘like’ or comment from the companies or you might have your photo shared by the company as a great example of its fabric or pattern made up.
The grey pound
It’s a simple fact. If you want to make a pattern and it’s only ever shown on models that don’t look anything like you it can be hard to imagine yourself in the garment. Sew Over 50 is allowing women to see designs on people who look like themselves which is a much better jumping off point for evaluating how it will fit and feel if they make it too. In reality, most pattern companies show their designs on younger models, with only a few exceptions, for instance Maker’s Atelier, Colette Patterns. Bigger companies like the The McCall Pattern Company and Simplicity have a surprisingly small amount given their wide range. Jeanette is desperate to find a pattern “for a dress to wear to my nephew’s wedding in April, and have found it virtually impossible to find one that features an older model to show how it would look on someone of my age group.”
Kellie of gigi_made_it hits the nail on the head: “I think it’s a pity. Our population is ageing. It reveals our discomfort with the ageing process not to have older adults represented in the sewing and fashion industry, just as it does with the lack of representation of other groups in our population.” Paula of paulalovestosew disapproves of the negative effect on body confidence: “I think every generation has its pressures from the media as so many pictures are airbrushed within an inch of their life to look perfect. For many over 50s, not seeing women who look like or represent them means they don’t feel as confident or comfortable posting pictures of themselves and what they have made.”
The buying power is undeniable with most women having a disposable income they can use on their favourite craft but with the desire to spend this money wisely, with trusted companies on high-quality products. Jill from jillarroo explains “since I’m now retired, I’m certainly conscious of spending money but the quality of fabric and whether it is manufactured sustainably is very important to me.”
Being materialistic is something that’s often attributed to the young but there’s a consumption question that plagues every sewist, of any age, and Elaine of laineemakes is working hard to keep the balance: “I don’t want to replace RTW over-consumption with sewing my own over-consumption!”
Louisa who knits and sews to create her dream wardrobe feels like she has the skills to “change/add my own design details and to create pattern ‘mashups’ to get exactly what I want” which is great to take control of what you make, without needing endless patterns to achieve your goals.
Choosing your own style
Mindfulness seems to be key as we make more thoughtful purchases and considered creations. Wardrobe planning and the eternal balance of sewing ‘cake’ (staple items that are well made and see regular wear) and ‘frosting’ (exquisite but perhaps frivolous special occasion garments) persists regardless of age. But it’s hindsight that might be the most powerful tool that’s helping the women of Sew Over 50 create garments that make them excited to get dressed every day.
Sara of account saraknitsandsews, who believes “the best accessory can be an air of defiance”, explains how liberating hindsight has been for her wardrobe: “I think with age comes confidence. You know what suits you and if it doesn’t suit, and you still love it, you have the confidence to wear it anyway! When I was younger I didn’t always have the courage to dress as I would like.” It’s an opinion mirrored by many of the ladies we spoke too, for example Corrie, a sewist, ceramist and artist, feels that “learning to sew has enabled me to make the clothing
I yearned for in my younger days.”
The good news is sewing is there to save the day and help women make wardrobes that make them look and feel fantastic, whatever their style or age. Di Kendall states proudly, “I want to be able to wear what makes me feel good and everyone should be able to wear what they want, regardless of age, gender, etc” and Sue McKenna is making more considered choices: “As your lifestyle changes, so do your fashion choices. I certainly dress more for comfort now but I generally wear what I think looks good and makes me feel good”. Abby Matumoto from abbymats says the biggest change for her is wearing “more colour now, where it used to be mostly black, navy or brown.”
Pushing aside the tide of ‘helpful articles’ that told you what you should and shouldn’t wear, it’s liberating to have faith in your own style choices. “They say that will make you look fat and this will make you look thin… Now I am listening to my own voice, asking ‘does this make me feel good, happy and confident?’” says Liza (elruuska). Ruth (ruthiesews) agrees and has a great philosophy; “For me style it is about dressing to suit yourself and your body type (all ages) not necessarily wearing something fashionable or out there just for the sake of it, that would clearly look better on someone else”.
Meridy of groovygreylook says “Imagine if we could bottle the amount of knowledge and sewing skills that this group has! We are fabulous!” The desire to collaborate and share knowledge is palpable within the community and it needs an outlet, so it seems the makers behind sewover50 have thought of that too.
Proving the collaborative spirit of the account, Judith is helped by Sandy (sunnydayz06) who lives in Brisbane and describes the account as the “modern version of pen pals” and loves how “incredibly supportive and happy to share tips and advice” the Sew Over 50 community is. Together with a small team of other members they are launching an exciting sewing challenge that launched this February.
Entrants are encouraged to sew a garment that uses an older model as the main image on the pattern/website. When you start to look through the patterns you realise just how few there are out there. Taking the message further, the challenge is open to the whole sewing community which will hopefully raise awareness of the limited visibility issue. There are some really lovely designs to choose from so don’t be put off by that.
Visit this post and the account to hear all the details and make sure to enter before 15th March.
Find out more
Keen to join in the fun? Start using #sewover50 on your photos to be seen by likeminded sewing enthusiasts, follow the account www.instagram.com/sewover50 for a regular dose of inspiration and take part in Sew Over 50’s new sewing challenge to bring visibility to the lack of older models being used on patterns.