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!