This year I decided I needed to make a top to wear to my office Christmas party, to go with my new favourite jeans. I realised a week beforehand that apart from the dress I’d worn to the two previous Christmas parties, I didn’t really have anything to wear, and I thought wearing the same dress three years in a row was pushing it a bit…. So, I spent a happy evening with my Burda magazines, looking for a top which was just dressy enough. I knew I had a few different fabrics in the stash which would be party-appropriate, and my usual criteria applied – wide and / or low enough neckline for me not to feel strangled; loose and drapey enough to skim the….curves……and keep me relatively cool; and no tight armholes. This pattern from the April 2012 magazine fitted the bill perfectly.
This top (there’s also a dress variation) has been on my list for a while, it’s exactly the sort of thing I like to wear, fairly simple but with an interesting design detail, and I can see a few versions of this in my future – so I thought I’d treat this version as a wearable muslin. I used some polyester crepe de chine from the stash – this was only £3 a metre from Edinburgh Fabrics and I fell in love with the colour. I’m not usually a polyester fan, but this stuff has a really nice hand to it, lovely drape and it doesn’t feel clammy on. It came in some other beautiful jewel-like colours as well so I might snaffle some more. I do love a nice drapey fabric, and normally I have expensive taste – so it’s good to find something that could be useful for more muslins.
My wearable muslin did turn out to be wearable, but it was a close run thing! It didn’t help that I’d given myself quite a tight deadline. The instructions were the usual Burda magazine exercise in minimalism – I actually quite enjoy this, makes life more interesting, and actually the majority of the construction was fairly straight-forward. It’s basically a simple darted sleeveless top, with a neck facing, to which you add some crazy, origami-magic sleeves – this was the bit where a diagram or even something other than just ‘attach the sleeve to the bodice at the attachment line’ would have been helpful……
You can see the pleated sleeves a bit better in this photo – this was about as light as it got in Edinburgh on Sunday – and they did actually look like the photo on the Burda website in real life! Always a bonus. The pattern piece for the sleeves was basically a long strip with pleating at each end – this is a terrible photo but it gives you an idea of the shape – the left-hand fold is about half the pattern piece, the other end has similar pleating detail but not the same. I made my first error in cutting the sleeves, after about 20 minutes of head scratching I realised that I couldn’t tell which sleeve was which because I’d cut two identical, rather than one left and one right. Luckily I couldn’t actually tell the wrong side of the fabric from the other, so I was able just to flip one sleeve over. I did have to remark all the pleat lines and notches because it’s not a symmetrical pattern piece….was very lazy and did this in quite a slapdash fashion which didn’t help my cause…..
I made things difficult for myself as well in making a fit alteration. I tacked the top together without the sleeves to try it for fit, I’m very short between my shoulder and my bust, and with a low-cut top like this I knew I’d need to shorten it below the shoulder. I have to do this with RTW tanks frequently, and usually I just hoick it up at the shoulder seam. Having done that, though, I then needed to make an adjustment to the sleeve. Because the pleats had to sit at the top of the shoulder, and were at the ends of the pattern piece, I had to shorten in the middle of the sleeve, and attempt to remark the notches marking the side seam and attachment line on the front of the bodice. Putting the sleeve on then became much more difficult, particularly with the minimalist instructions. You baste the pleats in place, then hem the bottom edge of the sleeve (ie the longest side at the top of the picture above). Then you match the notch to the side seam – straightforward enough – and then it got tricky. My second notch didn’t seem to match up with the attachment line (a diagonal line from armhole-edge to neck-edge on the bodice strap) and I wasn’t sure if this was a) because I hadn’t marked the notch accurately when I flipped the sleeve, b) because I’d got either my measurement or my placement wrong when trying to match the sleeve adjustment to the one I’d made on the bodice, c) because I wasn’t interpreting the instructions right and quite possibly had the right sleeve as the left sleeve or vice-versa, or had it upside-down or d) a combination of all of these! In the end with a lot of swearing, moving pins and ‘easing’ I managed to get something that looked vaguely right.
You can just about see the seam below the lowest pleat which goes across the bodice strap from armhole to neck edge – I ended up just topstitching this down but I think it should actually have been sewn right sides together and then flipped up. The pattern (I think…!) has you stitch up to the notch, then baste the pleated bits to the neck edge, overlapping the front pleats and the back ones, then sandwich them with the facing. This then left me with a gaping hole which, as I say, I just topstiched down. Next time (there will be a next time, this one isn’t going to beat me…) I’ll sew that seam – along the attachment line – and then baste the pleats etc.
My final challenge was attaching the facing. Not only had I shortened the top, but I’d also made the schoolgirl error of forgetting to add the seam allowance to the front pattern pieces. Not sure what was going on in my head, I remembered for every other piece, but I just cut straight from the fold at the neckline. Cue more swearing, and after a bit of swithering I decided to cut a second front – I had loads of fabric. Well of course, I then went and did EXACTLY the same thing on the second front. I couldn’t face cutting a third so I did a bit more swearing, and resigned myself to just having a lower-cut top. Luckily I’d realised soon enough that I was able to add seam allowance except at the very bottom of the curve of the neckline.
Of course, this meant that my facing piece, carefully (or not, I still don’t know if I actually adjusted too much) shortened to take account of the adjustment at the shoulders, was now far too short. I sewed the front and back facings together with as small a seam allowance as I could manage to get a bit more length, but it was still much shorter than the actual neck. By this point I couldn’t be bothered to cut another facing, so I added little pleats at the back where the attachment-line seam hit the neck, and took two small tucks at the bottom ‘corners’ of the curve of the neckline. You can see that these weren’t actually quite symmetrical – it’s really obvious in this picture – the one on my left side is angled out much more towards the arm, the other is much more vertical. To be honest I didn’t really care at this stage!
Despite the problems I had with it, most of which were of my own making, I actually really like this top. I wore it again on Christmas Day, and both wearings bore out my usual theory which is that most non-sewing people don’t ever notice the flaws that we see so clearly. I’ll definitely be making this again – with a couple of changes I think. Obviously I’ll make sure I remember to add seam allowance on all the pieces, not just most of them. I’ll also make sure I cut two opposite sleeves rather than two identical ones, and that I make all my marks as accurate as possible. I’ll probably also spend a bit more time and possibly employ some maths (I’m an accountant, maths is what I do, I was just being lazy) to make sure that the adjustment I made to the bodice is accurately matched by the adjustment to the sleeve piece. Finally I’m going to skip the facing altogether, and finish the neck with some bias binding – that way I don’t have to worry about how big an adjustment to make to the facing piece…..
After all those words I’ll finish with a few more pictures, I do really like the way this top looks and feels on.