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Emily

making modifications: vogue 8745

I usually buy patterns for one of two reasons, and the longer I journey down this road of building a handmade wardrobe, the clearer that becomes. It seems that all of my projects so far this year fall into one of these categories. Sometimes, a commercial pattern just speaks to me in that I’m-so-perfect-for-you-take-me-home-and-sew-me-at-once kind of way, or I already have an idea in mind and I search and search and search until I find a pattern I can work with and modify it to match my vision. The tops in today’s post fall into the latter category. After dipping my toes in the trendy waters of off-the-shoulder tops and ruffles, I can safely say that I love both, so my desire to add more of them to my closet coupled with my genuine need for cute, versatile tops made this a challenge worth taking on. Only this time, I needed something that wasn’t off-the-shoulder.

I knew I wanted a top with a ruffle along the neckline, but I didn’t want a messy ruffle. All these tops we’re seeing with elastic around the neckline are super cute (and, hello, I made three of them last month), but not all fabrics are suited for that particular design element. That’s a lot of fabric in one area, and I wanted something cleaner. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find a pattern that wasn’t off-the-shoulder or that didn’t have elastic around the neckline. I also can’t find a pattern for a one shoulder top that doesn’t go underneath the opposite arm, but that’s a topic for next month . . .

Eventually, during a McCall’s out-of-print sale a few weeks back, I found a pattern I could work with. I liked the ruffle and the semi-fitted bodice, and I knew I could leave off the sleeves and shorten it a little and it would be the exact top I had in mind. The pattern suggests very lightweight fabrics like chiffon and crepe de chine, but I knew that linen and lightweight cotton shirting would also work. The pattern also instructs you to fully line the top, but I ignored that and opted for bias tape at the neck and armhole edges instead.

I got to work right away making the front ruffle one piece instead of two. It was as easy as matching the front ruffle piece to the front bodice piece and drawing a new center front line.

Here, I’ve placed the ruffle piece on top of the front bodice piece, matching the circle on the neckline at center front. The lower blue arrow in the photo points to the center front line on the bodice piece, which is what I want the ruffle to match.

I re-drew the center front line on the ruffle piece by tracing the center front from the bodice pattern piece. The pink hash marks on the ruffle pattern indicate that that line is no longer part of the pattern and can be cut off.

And now the center front matches on both the ruffle and the bodice. The same result could have been achieved by slashing and spreading the ruffle piece just enough to push the center front to its new position, but it didn’t need to be adjusted that much to justify that much trouble.

Originally, I planned to have a double ruffle on this top, but opted for a single layer in the end because the additional layer was redundant and a little distracting. I did cut it out for the muslin, however, and noticed that the smaller pattern piece overlapped the fold of my fabric. If this happens to you, it’s an easy fix. Simple remove some of the fullness from the pattern piece so that it doesn’t overlap your fabric.

Here, you can see the pattern piece overlapping the fold of my fabric when center front is pinned down.

Now, cut the pattern to but not through the neckline edge of the pattern piece. I always like to do this in more than one spot so that my adjustments are evenly spaced out.

To remove some of the fullness from the pattern, overlap the paper and tape it down, keeping an eye on the side seam of the pattern piece. Once it’s been adjusted, it will look like this, and it shouldn’t overlap the fold of the fabric. You may need to true the neckline and hem edges of the pattern pieces. Because this pattern piece is so full, it won’t be terrible affected by the fullness we removed.

I added seam allowance at center back so I could cut two of the back bodice pieces instead of cutting it on the fold (which is a huge waste of fabric). I shortened the top by 2″, but made no other changes. This top is a dream to sew. It’s one of those easy projects we all like to work on every once in a while!

I had just enough green gingham left over from this dress project for this top, and I also wanted to make it in white and blue. I found the white cotton shirting at Hobby Lobby (they have a couple great fabrics this season!), and the blue pinstripe shirting came from JoAnn. They’re getting a lot of new, pretty shirtings in for spring, which I think is fantastic.

This top checks all the boxes for me because it goes with so many things. It’s comfy and cute with jeans and wedges or it can just as easily be tucked into a skirt or high-waisted pants (you know I love tucking things in). I also love how it looks with this maxi skirt I’ve had for ages. I wear maxi skirts, a lightweight blouse, and a hat all the time in the summer. Now I’m looking forward to making a few new maxi skirts!

I found this skirt at Ann Taylor a couple years ago, and I’ve worn it so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve paired just about everything with it: button up shirts, tees, sweaters, silk blouses, and cardigans. Loving how this sweet blue top looks with it!

I started making this skirt a year and a half ago, and it sat in my alterations closet for ages because it eventually became too big for me. Just last week, I finally took it in, so it’s ready to go (yay!). I used a muted pale pink heavy cotton twill to make it. It’s a full circle, and I like my circle skirts one of two ways: light as air and wonderfully floaty, or substantial enough to “stand up” on their own and look like a big circle skirt is supposed to look. For more information on making a circle skirt pattern for yourself, see this post from last fall.

One thing I really love about this top is that even though there’s no sleeves on it, the ruffle acts as the sleeve. It’s a creative way to not only stay cool in summer, but to cover your arms if you want.

And for a more work appropriate look, keep traditional color combinations in mind. I say it all the time, but that rule still applies to a lot of conservative workplaces. I absolutely love that I can put this top with a pretty pink skirt for a lovely, ladylike outfit and turn around and put it with some tailored black trousers and be ready for a meeting some other grown up function where bopping in wearing lace or a big pink skirt might not be the best idea.

I have some ideas for a few more tops and blouses, both with and without ruffles, so I’m looking forward to tackling those projects in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll be taking a little break from all the tops and pouring some energy into a few new dresses and skirts. You could say that this latest round of blouses has me “topped off” in that department. Ha!

Have a great weekend!

PS: I made my own single fold bias tape for the gingham and blue tops, and I used pre-made white bias tape on the white blouse. Ran out of fabric to make my own!

how to: line a sleeveless dress

One of my favorite classes in college was the senior capstone course called mass marketing. It was the class where all of the skills we had learned came together, and we were required to design, produce, and present a six-piece ready-to-wear collection. The focus was on knowing your target market, identifying your customer, and designing a spring or fall collection to meet her needs. Spec and cost sheets were part of the final presentation, along with full color sketches, a marketing plan, and styled photos, and we learned about industry standards in manufacturing and pattern making, sourcing, and the elements of a successful collection. It was one of the most stressful semesters of my college years, but it was definitely the most fun. I loved every second of that class.

A couple of us had lined, sleeveless dresses in our collections and questions came up about how to close the armholes. I remember very vividly one student exclaiming that she knew how to do it and all you had to do was open up the shoulder seam and . . . this was the point that I looked over at my professor (my absolute favorite teacher who knew everything) and saw her sort of roll her eyes and say, “No, no, no. That’s not the proper way to do it.” Class was over at this point and we all had to be elsewhere, so my professor told me she’d call me the following morning and explain it to me.

So there I was the next morning, which happened to be a Saturday, sitting on my living room floor finishing up some hand sewing and watching a cooking show on PBS when my phone rings. My professor, who to this day remains the best seamstress and biggest source of fashion knowledge I’ve ever known, explained to me how to line a sleeveless dress in about five minutes. I did it later that afternoon, and have done it since hundreds of times.

This tutorial shows you this method. I’ve never seen it explained this way in commercial patterns, so I hope this is helpful. Sleeveless dresses are such a big part of our wardrobes in spring and summer, so why not know how to make these garments truly shine?

(Quick note before we get started: by this step in the process of lining a dress, I have already attached the lining to the neck and understitched it, and the skirt lining has not been attached to the bodice lining. I like to do this after the armholes are closed.)

Firt step. In this photo, we’re looking at the right shoulder seam on this dress. You can see the raw edges of the armhole on the right.

Fold the armhole seam allowances under and hold in place. It’s alright if what you pinch isn’t exact, we’ll get precise once we get underneath.

Putting your hand into the dress, pinch the seam allowances that we just folded under. Your hand is sandwiched between the lining and the fashion fabric.

Here, a different angle showing me holding the seam allowances together.

Still pinching the seam allowances, carefully pull the seam allowances towards you and turn it wrong sides out. This is when we can re-match the shoulder seams if things got wonky as they got turned. So, now I’m holding the shoulder seam allowances, right sides together.

Carefully sew the armholes closed, using whatever seam allowance you have in this area. You can pin as you go, or just match your notches along the way. I usually keep an eye on my notches and pin the side seams together as I get closer. Sew all the way around the armhole. It may get tricky around the shoulders if you have a narrow shoulder seam, so be mindful that a shoulder seam 1.5″ or narrower will be a challenge. I’ve got about 4″ at the shoulders on this dress, so it was a breeze.

I like to backstitch at the shoulder and side seam for a little extra strength in those spots. The arrow in the photo points to the front armhole notch, which I’ve made sure matches the notch on the lining underneath.

Once you’ve sewn all the way around, trim the excess seam allowances down to 1/4″.

Clip the seam allowance about every 5/8″. This step is essential because it’s what allows the armhole to spread properly once it’s turned right sides out.

The armhole will look like this after it is sewn.

Then, press and understitch the armhole just like you would understitch any other area. And remember, if your shoulder seam is narrow you may not be able to understitch all the way up to the shoulder so just go as far as you can. (This step is shown on a different dress.)

As for your pattern, there are a couple of easy adjustments you can make to ensure that the lining “rolls under” correctly. Lining pieces shouldn’t be exact copies of pattern pieces, they should be trimmed in some areas so that they remain hidden from the right side. This example shows a simple sleeveless fitted bodice. Keep in mind that different designs may require additional adjustments.

Begin by tracing the bodice pieces to make a copy. This copy will become the lining.

Around the armhole, trim off 1/8″, grading down to nothing at the side seam. Repeat for the back.

You can see the difference with the lining pattern on top of the bodice pattern.

Trim off 1/8″ from the waistline. Repeat for the back.

Again, this shows you the difference in the two patterns when the lining is placed on top.

A full view:

And that’s it! Let me know if you have any questions!

This is the sleeveless dress from my senior collection. This dress is umpteen layers of various silks with an empire bodice and boning in the side seams, an inner belt, a ruffle that took forever, and a sash belt. After a few tweaks to the design, I’d make this again in a heartbeat!

sweet sleeves: mccall’s 7542

Spring seems to be the season for blouses. I’ve made more new tops this season than I think I ever have before, and that’s a good thing. If there is one thing my closet needs, it’s versatile tops that I can wear with jeans and different skirt styles and linen pants this summer. I’m well on my way to having lots of options, so I’m happy about that. Plus, I’m using a lot of fabric from my stash or end pieces of new cuts to make these little tops, which is icing on the cake. Feels good to bust through that stash!

This top came about as a solution to a styling issue I was having. I made a pair of white linen pants a couple months ago (and you saw a preview of them in this post from last week), but they pose an interesting styling challenge, thus the reason you haven’t seen them in a post of their own just yet. The pants sit at the natural waist and have a nice wide leg, so the best top is something that hits at the natural waist or something more fitted, like a tee or cute woven top. Enter, McCall’s 7542. (Side note: I have an idea or two for blouses to make for these pants. Coming soon!)

This pattern is from the spring collection, and I liked it right away for a number of reasons: the neckline is high enough to cover that pesky scar I’m always talking about, it’s not too fitted through the bodice but not too baggy either, and there are a lot of sleeve options. It’s also shorter than most other tops (but you can always add length to it if you want), so I thought the proportions would be ideal with the linen pants.

I made the blue version first (100% cotton shirting from my stash), in a size smaller than I normally go with, and I really like it. It’s incredibly easy to sew, the fit through the bust is nice and flattering, and I like the facing and hook and eye finish around the neckline. I know there are a lot of people totally averse to facings, but I like them every now and then. (My skirt is a denim pencil skirt from Madewell a couple years ago.)

I happened to have just enough of my cocktail dress fabric left over to cut another one of these tops, and I really like this one. It’s the fabric, really. It’s almost impossible to not like anything made out of it. I cut this one in my normal size. (The smaller size is nice on, but boy is it ever a task to put on and take off.) I like this one, but it is a little boxier through the bodice. Both tops are a challenge to put on and take off, but that happens sometimes with tops like this.

I tried both tops with the linen pants, but something about that combination didn’t sit right with me. Because the top is on the boxy side and it sits just below the natural waist, it almost cut me in half and there was no definition in the torso. I don’t love this combination as much as I like some of the other ways to wear this top. What do you think?

I may be on the fence about the linen pants pairing, but there are a lot of ways to wear a top like this, because it’s quite versatile. I wore it a couple weekends ago to run a few errands, and it was really comfortable and cute. A boxier cut like this goes well with a more fitted bottom, which is why this is one of my favorite looks. Comfy skinny jeans, a hat, some cute sneakers and you’re good to go.

This brocade is fancier than the blue cotton version, which is a nice option for this top. Different fabrics automatically give it a different feel. I like that this version can be paired with comfy white boyfriend jeans and flats and still feel put together, and it can also go with a pretty coral skirt and heels for a more intentional dressed up look.

Boyfriend jeans are Levi’s.

Skirt is J. Crew from last year.

Incorporating trends into our off-duty clothes is one thing, but it’s quite another to do that at the office. Sleeves and ruffles and flounces are making waves this year, and the way to enjoy those details at work is to do it in a traditional color or fabric, especially in a more conservative workplace. If you’re lucky enough to work in a creative environment, go all out!

Here, I’ve paired the blue version of this top with a classic black skirt and pumps. It’s not too flashy or over the top, which is perfect for the office. Plus, you still feel on trend and cute, which is the best part of wearing clothes.

With all the time we invest into making our clothes, I’m always the most pleased with the garments that feel the most “me” or that are the most versatile, and these two tops definitely fall into the latter category. If I make this blouse again, I will go with the pleated sleeve, lengthen it to make it a tunic, and add a sash belt.

If you’ve made this top, I’d love to hear what you think. Have a great week, and I hope you’re able to squeeze in some sewing!