Friday, June 30, 2017

Sew-along Finish

A few months ago, Bernie of Needle and Foot announced a fun little summer activity--a sew-along to make a top. Yes, garment sewing! I know. I'm a quilter. Why would I want to sew a top? But I was all in. You see, before I was a quilter, I was a garment maker--as in, I made almost all of my own clothing. I learned to sew on my mother's Singer featherweight (now mine) during the summer between 7th and 8th grade--exactly 50 years ago. We were living in graduate student housing at Syracuse University in New York that summer while my dad was attending a math institute (or maybe it was early computing). Anyway, it was the perfect time to learn a new skill, and I loved it. I caught on pretty quickly to machine sewing, although I hated finishing work. When it was time to hem something, a garment could hang for several weeks before I got around to doing it. 

For the next five years, and then during summers when I was in college, the basement of our home was my domain for sewing projects. I would work late into the night--too late, really, working far beyond the time I should have quit. Almost always at some point I would run into trouble, and I was sure I had ruined everything. My mom would have to bail me out. It wasn't the sewing so much, but getting things to fit right. I never took classes to learn to alter patterns. That would have helped, I'm sure. But I was hooked on making my own clothing despite the challenges. When I went to college, I was assigned a roommate who also sewed. We both arrived with our machines, patterns and fabric. How neat that the housing office recognized this as a good match. She was a better seamstress than I, helping me through the rough spots with lots of tips and encouraging me to try patterns I would have otherwise shied away from. 

I kept on sewing clothing for several years after college--until I discovered quilting and realized that what I made didn't have to fit (except in a general way). I don't remember exactly when I finally quit making clothing for myself. Probably around the mid-80's. But in recent years, I've been intrigued by the apparent comeback of home garment construction. So, as I said, when the opportunity to sew along with Bernie came up, I was all in. 

I'll share one picture of what I made and then tell you a bit about my journey back into garment sewing and add a few more photos.

Doesn't that look comfy for summer? It is. I'm wearing it right now--it's supposed to be 85 degrees and humid today. Perfect.

Here's the pattern:

The sew-along was to make View C, but I decided to make View A (the yellow one) without the long hemline in back. I loved all those tucks! My first dilemma came on immediately. The pattern came in two different sets--one size XSmall to Medium and one size Large to XXLarge. Which size pattern was I? When I took my measurements (actual ones, not fantasy), my size fit most closely with Large (and if waist was considered, XLarge). Bernie mentioned that the pattern was roomy, so I decided to ignore the measurements, cross my fingers and go with Medium instead. Memories came flooding back. Even though I was toothpick sized and shaped when I was a teenager, patterns never fit quite right. Armholes were always too small and waistlines too tight. Was this pattern going to work? 

My fabric was a dream to cut and sew. It's Gossamer Wire Flowers in Twig by Sharon Holland for Art Gallery Fabrics. I bought it from Bernie, of course, through her etsy shop. My thinking was that if the top didn't work out, I could cut it up and quilt with the fabric. See, there is a quilt connection here. I even bought a little extra fabric for a future quilt. Looking back, a darker color might have been a little better for my skin tone, but I really like how the color works with both jeans and black yoga pants--pretty much my whole wardrobe. 

The first thing I noticed when laying out the pattern was the durability of the tissue paper. There seems to be a bit of a shiny coating on one side now that probably makes it stronger. It did slide around a bit, but I tamed it with lots of pins. Printed directions seemed to be smaller than I remember on the pieces. Oh wait, that's probably me. Aging eyes. There were fewer markings than I recalled for tailor's tacks, but I did make some of my own to mark fold lines just because I didn't have a marker handy. 

Thinking to save myself some time (as well as fabric for future sewing projects), I eliminated a seam down the back by overhanging the pattern.

Bernie talked us through the pattern, a little at a time, allowing a few days for each step. This relaxed pace was just right for me. No late night trying to obsessively sew it all at one time. First, I sewed the tucks and admired them. 

Next, it was time to check the fit and sew the side and shoulder seams. I pinned everything together and tried it on. Uh oh. The top was voluminous on me. I mean, it was a tent! All the memories fits about fit resurfaced. Looking back at the pattern picture, I could see it was meant to be flowy, and that was fine with me (most of my T-shirts are swing tops, which I love), but this was just really wide. I tried pinning the sides narrower, but it didn't help. So I did what I have always done when fit is a problem. I fiddled. First, I lengthened the tucks five inches--all the way down to my waistline to take up some of the excess fabric. 

And at the end of each one, I sewed a little diagonal line to keep the tucks flat. 

Next, I recut the shoulder seam and the back neck edge, along the size Small cutting line. I'm not sure why this helped, but I remember having to do that sometimes even with ready-to-wear clothing. 

After sewing the sides and shoulders with french seams (thanks, Bernie, that is a wonderful way to finish them), I attached the bindings (so fun, just like with quilting). I used the size Medium measurements for the bindings, which worked fine. I did recut the armholes a bit at the bottom to compensate for the amount I had taken them up when I redid the shoulders. 

Well, after all that, I tried on the top, and with all the fiddling I had done on the front, the back didn't feel quite right to me. It still felt wide. I have a large waistline, but I carry the weight all in the front. I tried adding ribbon ties to the sides to tie in the back and gather it up, but I didn't care for it. So I did one more tweak. Actually, five. I made darts in the back about 12 1/2 inches long. I started by marking a fold down the middle of the back. (Remember the seam I eliminated at the beginning? Ha. Now there are lots of seams.) Then I added two on each side of it about 2 3/8 inch away. The spacing wasn't really planned. That's just how far the second fold ended up, so I used that as a guide. I sewed the darts about 1/2 inch deep in the middle, tapering them to nothing at each end using my trusty sewing manual to help me remember how to do that. (It was a high school graduation present.)
 Here's how the darts look:

The last step (well, almost the last step for me) was the hem. Remember I said I used to put that step off? Well, I couldn't because, you know, sew-along. Time was ticking. But this is what is so neat. This hem was a narrow hem. All by machine, I'm not sure if I've done one of those before. So easy! No need to procrastinate. 

And then, I can't believe I did this. I took in the side seams even more to nip them in and give some final definition. I needed to be careful because the top needed to be roomy enough to slip my arm through and then over my head. I have the little issue of not being able to lift my left arm over my head due to a wonky rotator cuff, but it worked.

So do you want to see? Here it is!

And the back:

I'm so glad I participated in this sew along. Bernie's directions were detailed and her pacing was perfect. My top didn't turn out as I first envisioned it. I still had the same fits over fit that I had as a teenager (even with 50 more years sewing experience and nearly 50 more pounds than when I sewed those first garments). But it's still roomy and comfortable, and I love the tucks. The extended shoulder is just long enough to hide most of my scars from surgery but short enough to be almost sleeveless. Would I make a garment again? Well maybe. This one anyway. I'm still unsure about pattern sizes. It would seem that I'm about four different sizes. If I ever got serious about garment construction again, I think a dressmaker's form would be really helpful. But I made lots of notes so I could make this one again using different cutting lines. Perhaps a thinner more flowy fabric would have worked better for me, but I have to say the Art Gallery fabric is soft and smooth (not at all wrinkly even after wearing) and so cool and comfy that I'm glad I used it. I'm eager to see the finishes of the other sew-along participants and to read about their experiences. I think it's neat that I tried this exactly 50 years after I made my first outfit. It was a fun (sometimes frustrating, but that was historically typical for me) way to go down memory lane. And it showed me that what attracted me to sewing all those years ago--the details--still grabs me. 

Thank you, Bernie, for encouraging us to give garment sewing a try. I think I'll probably just stick to quilting though. No fit needed. Now that I've done this little sew-along, maybe it's time to consider a quilt-along?

I'm linking up today with Bernie at Needle and Foot. Of course! Do go there and see the finishes of other sew-alongers and maybe consider participating in the sew-along yourself. All the posts are up from the last few weeks. And please don't be deterred by my experience with my wonky sizing. I'm also linking up with Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday (because it's a finish, for sure, and if I get tired of wearing the top, it just might end up in a quilt someday!)


  1. This looks so great! I love your fabric and the final product looks great on you. I love how you problem-solved the fit issues. I've always had a problem with the sizing on commercial patterns, but I usually end up making a much smaller size than I usually wear in ready-made, so it all works out. The tucks on the back make it look really customized. Now make sure you wear it to go out to dinner!

  2. Janine, I am so glad I met you via the blogs we have. We are kindred souls. My college roommate also loved to sew. We both had projects on going all the time. She had her machine. I didn't have my own yet tho. We were in each other's weddings and made the bridesmaid dresses for the weddings too.

    You made some excellent modifications and I am going to borrow your ideas. In my post I shared that I felt like this version I made was too big. But I think a couple of darts in the back and/or extending the tucks will help and both things can be done at this point with the finished top. Thank you so much.

    I hope we can make something else together soon. I am thinking knit t-shirt??? Want to give it a go - probably not for a while tho. I have a ton of projects stacked up with deadlines. :-)

  3. Your top is just wonderful. I always go for tucks, too -- or maybe I should say used to. I just finished sewing a simple summer dress and completely identified with just about everything in this post. The patterns never fit quite right but I don't really have the knowledge to make them fit well. Anyway, while reading your post I was thinking, "this is exactly why I don't like to sew." Ha ha. But still, I continue because I can't find clothes I would like to wear in stores. And now I'm probably going to go buy this pattern and try to turn it into a dress! Did you cut the neckline exactly as it was in the pattern or did you raise it a little. Thanks so much for this wonderful and detailed post.

  4. I use to sew many of my clothes when in high I'm with ya on the flashback. Yours truly came out great...pleats and all. (You need to update you profile look great with longer hair! SMILES!!!) V

  5. it came out beautifully! Job well done! Fitting a home made garment was always a sore spot with me and is why I finally gave up sewing my own clothes! You did an awesome job sticking to it until you got it just right! Happy holiday!

  6. Your top looks so nice. You look very lovely.

  7. You look so cute! It turned out so pretty and is better made than anything you can buy. I love the tucks. (And your hair!)
    I love that fabric so much that I found it in gray knit on Amazon and have it in my cart!
    I think we are all many different sizes, but we are blessed to be able to figure out how to make it fit.

  8. Such a cute top! I was a little worried as I read along about all the changes you made--but it turned out so perfectly. The fit is terrific and all those tucks and darts--Swoon! I'm with you about altering patterns--seems like when I was sewing my own clothes in the 60's and 70's everything just fit--but now. . .? The way you just jumped in and tweaked it over and over--you've inspired me to quit stewing about how things might turn out and just make sure I have too much rather than too little room to redesign.

  9. Janine, thank you for this post! I am just now ready to start with this sew-along, after returning from a Montana vacation. I do love those pleats in the back and the extended tucks in the front. I like the more fitted look...not sure I want to look PG in my mid-50's!

  10. Congrats on a fine finish! Garment sewing always gave me fits, too, and I'm not eager to try again. Good for you for being determined. Your top turned out lovely and I'm so glad that it's comfy and cool for summer :)

  11. You did a great job on this Janine: I'm awed by how much you changed the pattern. I occasionally sew garments....always easy ones and I'm lucky to have a friend who's mother was a dressmaker. She can help me if I get stuck. Like you I have always hated doing hems.

  12. what a lovely finish! I too quit making clothing due to fit problems too. You handled that well!

  13. Love the fabric you used would look good in a quilt too.

  14. This is really lovely. I like your fabric choice and all the lovely pleats and you have ended up with a great fit, even if it took some tweaking. Funny, I am drawn to making my own clothes again at the moment too.

  15. Comfy top :-)
    Adorable you!!!

  16. I saw your top on Instagram and thought it really cute. I enjoyed reading about your journey from start to finish, with flashbacks to those fun teen times. It turned out great! I myself don't care for the flowing tops too much, so I really like your genius darts to help define your shape. Nearly 50 pounds more? You really must have been a twig, as you look great!