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!
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!
I tell you what, making your clothes is always an adventure. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m in the midst of a project or two with some gorgeous yellow stripe rayon/silk fabric. Or I was, anyway, until a couple days ago. After getting about halfway through a dress and barely started on a skirt, I decided to scrap them both and go with one dress, the very dress that I originally wanted to make and then talked myself out of, in the name of “doing something different.”
My extra careful, overthinking it approach to this project stems from two things: this fabric was not cheap (so don’t mess it up!), and the abstract stripe absolutely requires that you give the garment a little more consideration. Back in January, I bought the fabric from Promenade Fabrics, and it’s spectacular. Also in January, I made Vogue 9197 for the umpteenth time in a navy stripe fabric, so I felt like I should do something new with this special yellow stripe. They’re two completely different fabrics though, so I shouldn’t have worried so much about making the same dress.
When it comes to stripe fabric, I like to use it in a literal, directional way. If it’s too abstract, it bugs me. An abstract interpretation can work beautifully and it’s interesting to see a jumble of stripes in all different directions, but I appreciate something a little more simple and subtle. I’m also someone who thinks about the longevity of my garments, and I don’t want to steer too far from classic lines so I can enjoy the garment for as long as possible. The yellow stripe has an abstract feel to it on its own–the stripes are painted and uneven and marvelous, so going with a simple design doesn’t mean it’s not thoughtful or interesting.
I had about 4.25 yards of this fabric, which is enough for two garments, depending on what they were. After such success with Butterick 6446 last month (that is one of my favorite dresses so far this year), I thought I would do that one again, this time in the yellow stripe. I loved it in a major, major way until I attached the skirt and tried it on. It was awful, and you’ll just have to believe me because there will never be a reason to post the photo that documents how horrible it was. The skirt fell flat, the stripes were a mess, and there’s too much body in the fabric for the pleats to lay nicely across the bodice.
You’d never guess it was so unattractive on, because it is so darling on the form.
So, I left it on the form for a few days to see if it grew on me. I even tried it on a number of times, forcing myself to say that I would wear it. I was lying to myself, because there was no way I’d ever happily pick it from my closet and feel good in it. And that should never be the case with our clothes, especially the ones we invest so much time into making. A fabric this pretty deserves to be made into something I not only love, but would feel good in and want to wear. So, it was back to the drawing board.
Fortunately, there’s no zipper in the dress yet, so removing the skirt an reusing it will be easy. As for the maxi skirt, I’m going to use that too and cut a new bodice. The maxi skirt (the second garment I was making) had been cut and I’d started to gather the skirt, but I messed up cutting it and cut it into thirds instead of in half. (We all flub sometimes, folks. I was due!) So, I was working through the challenge of fixing that too. This was a comedy of errors from the word go! Also, when and where was I going to wear this fabulous maxi skirt? The grocery store?!
Late Monday night, I quickly pinned the fabric to the dress form in the way I originally wanted: a fitted, sleeveless bodice with a bateau neckline, and a gathered skirt, both cut to show the stripe horizontally. I was in love. So, after all that fuss and work, I’m starting over. I couldn’t be happier about it.
This? This I can get behind, and this isn’t anything but a sloppy drape job. But I can see the final result, and I know I’ll love it. Doesn’t it look more like me and something I’d wear? I think it does, and I also love the stripes all in one direction. The gathers in the skirt will give it some volume and body, and the fitted, uncomplicated bodice will show off the stripe really well. The bateau neckline mimics the stripe and draws the eye up and out towards the shoulders. Then, with the nice fit around the waist and the full skirt, you have a lovely ladylike silhouette. My favorite.
So, this is my solution, and I’m really excited to whip it up. The skirt is cut in rectangular sections, so provided I don’t muck it up again, that will be easy. I will draft the bodice using my slopers, and with side seam pockets, an invisible zipper, and a lining, we’re good to go.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re stuck working on a project you don’t love, then you turn it around and start over? I’d love to commiserate!
I may not work with it much, but I do love yellow. I designed a handful of pieces when I was in business, and I have the pleated striped skirt in my closet. See, my eye for placing stripes in a deliberate direction goes way back!