Welcome @SewOver50 to the #SewInclusive family!

If you follow sewing on Instagram, you won’t have missed the meteoric rise of the @sewover50 community and #sewover50!

We are so excited to welcome this new community to the  #sewinclusive family including @sewqueer, @curvysewingcollective, and @chronicallysewn. In fact, our post asking which community might come next was part of how @sewover50 started! We thought it would be interesting to talk to @sewover50 mastermind @judithrosalind about what made her take up our challenge!

Sewcialists: Hi Judith! Could you tell us about yourself and your sewing?

Judith: My mum  stayed up late at night creating our clothes (I’m one of seven) with no patterns. She had a beautiful sleek Necchi sewing machine – ultra modern looking – that was her pride and joy.( She had very few special things but my dad was keen on gadgets, he had a knitting machine and made our jumpers and cardigans.) It was all packed away by morning but the dress would be there to try on. She would then approach with her big sewing shears to trim the neck whilst I was wearing it – I can still feel that cold metal on my neck! I was more conventional in my sewing and used patterns. I didn’t learn from my mum unless by osmosis, she didn’t have the time.

I took Needlework as an extra O level in 6th form – it was the only subject I achieved top grade for.  Just like a huge percentage of the @sewover50 makers, I sewed throughout my college years in late 70s, through the 80s and 90s for  myself and then for my 3 children. When time became limited and clothes became cheaper I stopped sewing and only began again 5 years ago when Great British Sewing Bee aired on BBC. This time around it is a completely different experience with the connections I have made through social media. I met four other GBSB fans on Twitter (including @jeanettesewncycle and @robinsnest1926 – Ali ), who I am still in touch with, whilst watching the first series. Ali  announced she was moving onto this new thing – Instagram – so we all followed!

Through Instagram I have gained so much knowledge about what’s going on in the sewing world – patterns, fabric, challenges – but best of all I have made real life as well as online friends. I love being part of SewScottish. We have our second Frocktails event on Saturday 8th September. Sewing my own clothes gives me so much joy. It’s hard to explain to others who haven’t caught the bug (although they all admire the end result) but it is the whole creative process I enjoy – choosing fabric and pattern, matching the two together, as well as physically creating the garment.  I have taken up cross-stitch, embroidery and visible mending which I love to do when I am away from my machine.

Sewcialists: We posted on August 17th wondering what communities might start next, including a suggestion for a community of older sewists. What made you step up and think, “I could do this”? Was it something you were already thinking about?

Judith: The stars just collided that day! I had a few thoughts mulling around in my mind – about the invisibilty of older women generally. I had responded to Susan Young’s post about how we could feel a bit invisible at times in the online sewing community.

Most of my friends from Instagram are 20 -30 years younger than me and we discuss and share pattern ideas and age just does not come into it. I love this. At the same time there seemed to be a lack of my age group sharing in the sewing world on social media. Yet the print media was picking up on stylish older women who had become very successful on social media – showing off their outfit of the day and getting huge following. I knew I didn’t want to go that way with my Instagram account, I didn’t wish to focus on my age in a ‘I’m 62 you know’ way, but I did feel that older women should be celebrated in the sewing community! So when you put out that appeal everything just clicked into place – it appeared that maybe there was a desire out there for our own little corner of Instagram.

Sewcialists: What has surprised you most about starting @sewover50 and #sewover50?

Judith: The most surprising thing has been the ease and the speed at starting up the account! The speed at which, once the challenge was accepted, the account was set up.  The speed and ease with which I learned how to create a graphic (of sorts) and to start using a repost app. The speed with which the community jumped on board and embraced it  and the ease with which this all came together. Of course it would not have happened without the support and encouragement from you on Sewcialists – you basically gave me the confidence merely by saying ‘you can do it’.. and by then  answering my questions. I had never done anything like this before.

Sewcialists: What kind of challenges and rewards have their been so far?

Judith: Although I knew there was a lot of support for the idea amongst your members I was a little concerned that there might be a bigger section of Instagram sewing community who would see it as divisive, which is why in one of my first posts I asked the question if we needed a community for older sewists.

There were one or two who expressed  mixed feelings about the idea but everyone has been extremely supportive. The most challenging things have been the time and effort it took in the first week, being online so much, and trying to get the balance right of not leaving people out but equally not overloading the feed. I know what it feels like being ‘ignored’ on Instagram, and I didn’t want those joining this community to feel the same.

When I posted the Introductions challenge I knew it would be busy. I had a few clear days ahead so thought this would be the best time to do it. It did take me by surprise how many people responded and how quickly and with such enthusiasm.  I started reposting – and just did not want to stop. I wanted everyone to feel included and welcomed. Equally I was aware that I was ‘clogging up’ people’s feeds and at least one person said that their feed was becoming almost taken over by over-50s and she did not want that. I changed tack slightly and put a time limit on it and everyone was very supportive and understanding about that. And that has been the biggest reward – the support from the community, the messages of thanks from so many people for starting the account.

Sewcialists: Where can people find Sew Over 50, and what kinds of things are happening in the community?

Judith: At present we are just on Instagram under the name @sewover50 and the hashtag #sewover50 – with the occasional hashtag for specific challenges.

Early on I asked for ideas of what people would like to see on the account, and have acted on those and will continue to take others ideas on board. This is not my account – it’s the community’s account and I foresee others getting involved so the load can be shared and other voices heard. I am trying to encourage more diversity within the community. There may be a place for blogging in the future too – but again that will mean more people getting involved – as I am not a blogger. But I don’t want to rush that.

For now there is an ongoing weekly photo challenge – Monday Motivation, and a couple of discussion topics at the weekend. In between those a few posts are reposted each day on the feed and the story. We have also had a few posts educating about how to use Instagram ( spam accounts, follow the hashtag) as some of us are quite new to it and only know the basics.  I hope that people will still partake fully in the wider inclusive areas of Instagram – and that those who don’t so far will feel able to connect with the wider community. We have just launched our first sewing challenge and another exciting challenge is in the planning stage, which a member of the community has come up with and is taking charge of.

Sewcialists: Why do you think it is important to have a separate community for over 50?

Judith: The response I have had from scores of members shows the need was there. There are issues around the menopause in particular. @erniekdesigns said in response to the post asking if we needed an over 50 hub,  “I am the oldest person I know in my circles on IG at 59, and usually that’s fine. However sewing around health, menopause , joint, body shape issues – that’s something those kids  don’t get. So yes, I need this”.

I was just reading Sara Maitland’s ‘A Book of Silence’ the other day and she writes about how middle-aged women become invisible –  “It’s not just a modern phenomena. Middle-aged and menopausal women are conspicuously absent from most myths and traditional stories : first you are the princess and the mother, then you vanish and reappear as aged crone”.  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 fabrics. 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 I feel we are already becoming more visible on Instagram.

From day one, I heard from people who had only been observers on Instagram until this point but immediately felt that they would now feel happy and safe to put up posts. For example, @rtrittel said  “This is just the inspiration I need to start to actually take photos of me in my makes and put them on IG!”  and @tinyvintage said  “Knowing that there’s a place for people my age feels great and I don’t think of it as exclusive but rather another great platform for the already  brilliant sewing communities on Instagram”.   Someone said they had been looking for something like this for the eighteen months they had been on Instagram.  With a little encouragement and support they have started posting and sharing photographs of themselves in their makes for the first time!

It’s also really lovely seeing connections being made. I think that most of all this is about having fun and enjoying our sewing. My hope is that new users will feel comfortable to connect with the wider sewing community. I know that all the long-term IG members are still connecting with everyone they used to connect with. It is not mutually exclusive. We are all inspired by younger IGers whether they be pattern brands, bloggers or regular posters – we none of us would be here without their exciting innovative ideas and enthusiasm.

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It's the one I feel we need to talk about sooner rather than later. It happens, or has happened, to all of us… yet until recently it was hardly spoken about. Our body's change and we can lose confidence…. and we tend to become invisible. How can sewing our own clothes help … let's talk about fabrics, let's talk about styles, and let's talk about strengthening our confidence. If you are going through this now… how are you feeling.. have you had to change the style of clothes you make? If you are through the other side have you adapted and discovered a new- found confidence where you are no longer bothered what people think? I have linked, in the bio, to an interview Kate from @thefoldline conducted with Karen from @didyoumakethat. Let'S you agree or do you see things differently? STOP PRESS recommended by the community 'Clothes Making Mavens' episode 20 talks about sewing for menstruation and for the menopause… it's a long podcast but worth a listen. Let the discussion commence. You can comment below… or use the hashtag #so50menopause if you want to write a post of your own.

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If @sewover50 appeals to you, we hope you’ll go follow (at any age) and join if you are over 50 yourself! Here at the Sewcialists we’ve always had a lot of posts from sewists of all ages – looking back over the last months, I figure about 20% of our posts are written by folks over 50. (Did you know some of our very first Who We Are posts were about being sewists over 50 and the generational gap in sewing?) There’s something unique about the #sewover50 community self-identifying their age though, which often doesn’t happen in the average blog post. The amazing part of the internet is that everyone can have their niche community, and also be welcome in our communal spaces!

Personally, I think the numbers are undeniable – the hashtag #sewover50 has been used almost 2000 times in the first month, and the @sewover50 account has about 2500 followers! Clearly there was a need for this community, and Judith has put an incredible amount of work into making it welcome, active, and engaging. It was a joy seeing her learn the ropes so quickly! I think Judith would agree that she is proof that if you have the desire to organise a community, YOU CAN DO IT! As we said in our original post, if you are thinking of starting a niche sewing community of your own, please contact @sewcialists or any other community leader, and I’m sure we’ll all be happy to help!