When I finished muslining McCall’s 7324, I had about as much leftover fabric as I’d used for the top. And since my muslin wasn’t wearable, I thought I’d have another go at some kind of top to make up for it. Despite the fact that I myself professed this navy fabric closer to a quilting cotton than to the shirting it was marketed as, I foolishly latched onto the idea of making a ruffle top following this Megan Nielsen tutorial (and brought to my attention by this Peneloping blog post).
It was a hilariously abject failure. For starters, I didn’t actually have enough fabric, which makes for some sad not-really-ruffles. The fabric was entirely too stiff, so it hung like a paper bag. The cheerful yellow bias tape I used around the armholes was also too stiff and didn’t want to stay rolled to the inside, and even though it was mostly hidden it managed to tip the entire thing from playful and cute into clownish territory in my mind.
So…I cut both the failed top and the muslin apart again and made pajama shorts.
I used Simplicity 1520, the same pattern as my tartan pajama pants, along with my trusty pocket template. There’s something deeply satisfying about a well-sewn pocket, even a very simple in-seam one.
I incorporated all of the after-the-fact modifications I made to my flannel pants, which made this relatively quick and simple to whip up. I have vague recollections of unnecessarily complicating the sewing of the elastic/drawstring casing, but I’m positive it was for no good reason whatsoever, so I won’t try to recall what I did or didn’t do here.
Everything was sewn on my regular sewing machine, and then the edges were finished on my serger. There’s both an elastic and a drawstring at the waist; the drawstring is just a strip of the main fabric with the raw edges tucked in, sewn flat, and then knotted at each end. The elastic and drawstring were threaded through buttonholes (reinforced with interfacing, which you can see peeking out in the shot below) in the casing.
The finished pajama shorts fit just fine, but I haven’t actually worn them yet. We keep the house too cold in the late fall, winter, and early spring for shorts (for me, at least), and even in the warmer months you’re more likely to find me wearing loose, lightweight pants than shorts indoors. If I don’t find myself reaching for these come summer, at least they’re made well enough that I wouldn’t feel guilty about donating them.
Now this is the kind of summer top I dream of. The fabric is a beautifully smooth, soft, and drapey mystery material that my mom (hi Mom!) gave me when she was clearing out her sewing and craft supplies. I’m not sure what she originally bought it for; I can’t recall anything she’s made out of it. The smooth hand and fluid drape remind me of rayon challis, although Allie’s Fabric Files says that wrinkles will fall out of rayon challis within a few minutes of wear, and that’s definitely NOT the case with this material. It loves a good steamy press, but also seems to wrinkle from my body heat alone. Perhaps it’s linen or a linen blend?
To keep the fabric from slithering away from me during cutting and sewing, I filled a dollar store spray bottle with homemade spray starch (made by boiling cornstarch in water) and applied it liberally while pressing. It made a huge difference in how the fabric handled: it remained crisp and even a little grippy throughout the sewing process.
The pattern is a heavily altered McCall’s 7324. I mentioned the modifications I intended to make after muslining the pattern, but here’s a rundown of the changes that happened on the final garment:
Cut a size 10 instead of a size 6
Narrow the shoulders by 1 inch
Deepen the armhole by 0.5 inches
Eliminate the vertical pleat extending from the placket
Eliminate the gathers along the front neckline between the placket and the shoulder, which necessitated the following compensating changes:
Change the shape of the placket opening from a trapezoid (narrow at the top, wider at the bottom) to a V
Change the length and angle of the placket bands to match the new opening, ensuring the bottoms of the bands will be horizontal when stitched in place
Shorten the neckband (which looks like a collar stand)
I also left the hem curve alone this time instead of trying to shorten the back. A little butt coverage isn’t such a bad thing.
The top is quite voluminous. With the relaxed fit, going up one size would have been sufficient. I also didn’t account for the fact that a two-size increase would change the armhole, so while taking in the shoulder width was definitely a good call, scooping out the bottom of the armhole an extra half-inch wasn’t necessary. In fact, as you probably noticed in the second photo, raising or moving my arms reveals a peek of bra band. I don’t care that much when I’m wearing the top casually, but I’ll throw on a camisole underneath if I’m in a more conservative setting. I’d love to make an obnoxiously colored bralette to wear with it—I keep envisioning orange—because FASHION.
On the inside, I stitched everything on my sewing machine, then finished the side and shoulder seams with my serger and the armholes with self-fabric bias tape. (Starch is the only thing that made bias tape possible, and even then, I’ve got a few spots of wobbly stitching where the raw edge has come untucked. I have no idea how anyone can make bias tape out of things like silk…) The hem is a baby hem made using Carolyn’s instructions.
I think that’s everything? Here are a few up-close shots:
I’m much happier with the gathers on this iteration, and my topstitching on the neckband is marginally better this time. I wore this beauty about once a week from the time it was done until a cardigan wasn’t enough to make it warm. I don’t exactly look forward to summer here in the south, but being able to throw on a cool, comfortable top I made takes a bit of the sting out of it—it’s the closest I’m ever going to come to looking stylish while sweating buckets.
My favorite summer top is, without a doubt, Express’s sleeveless Portofino shirt. It’s 100% polyester, but it’s semi-sheer, floaty, and relaxed enough through the waist and hip that it lightly skims the body, which is good news when it’s in the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius). The polyester doesn’t make me sweat, the heat and humidity do, and if I’m going to be soggy anyway I’d rather not feel the cling of spandex or the weight of cotton.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I work in a pretty casual office—despite a nominally business casual dress code, jeans, leggings, and all manner of fashion and athletic shoes have taken over swaths of the company without any pushback from management—so I can wear my sleeveless Portofinos at work with or without a coverup (though I usually throw on a cardigan to stave off the summer AC). Since they transition so easily from office to home for me, they were a logical jumping off point to expand my summer top options.
During a trip to JoAnn last summer, I picked up four top patterns that shared some similarity with my beloved Portofinos:
McCall’s 7324, a sleeveless popover top/tunic pattern with a (buttonless) half placket
New Look 6345, a sleeveless v-neck tunic with a relaxed fit around the hips (but a more defined waist)
New Look 6414, another A-line, v-neck top/tunic, with the option for a keyhole neckline and sleeve variations
New Look 6450, an A-line top that sort of looks like a pillowcase dress, but with fixed neckband and more sharply cutaway armholes
I decided to tackle the McCall’s pattern first because I was relatively fresh from the Archer making class with Lladybird and wanted to take advantage of the things I’d learned and lock those tips into my mind. I hadn’t made any woven shirt patterns from McCall’s, just a dress with a very different fit, so I thought it wise to make a muslin before cutting into a more precious fabric I already had in my stash.
The fabric is this 57″ White Dots on Navy from JoAnn. It’s listed as a cotton shirting, but after washing and drying it didn’t soften up much, and the crispness makes it feel more like a quilting cotton than a shirting to me. I wouldn’t use it again for a shirt.
As you can probably guess from these dress form photos, this muslin didn’t turn out wearable. I chose View A and cut out a size 6 based on the finished garment measurements and the width of one of my sleeveless Portofinos at the bust. The key difference between the McCall’s pattern and my ready-to-wear garment is that the latter has bust darts. Looking at the pattern, I had reasoned that the gathers at the shoulder were just bust darts that had been rotated into the shoulder and then converted to gathers. I further assumed that most of the room in the bust came from the gathers, and not from the width of the garment. I was incorrect about this, and the whole thing ended up too snug in the shoulders and bust, and not exactly relaxed in the hip either. I also found the shoulders too wide and the armholes too high for my frame; I made a note of those things for the next incarnation, but didn’t fret over them, since they’re easy to fix on a sleeveless garment.
I made one other mistake, a completely brainless one that I should have been able to avoid. While tracing off the pattern, I felt the high-low hem was a little too pronounced, so I decided to shorten it to prevent walking around with a ridiculous butt flap. I did this by shortening just the back pattern piece by two inches—at the lengthen/shorten line. Cue my surprise when I go to sew up the side seams and realize that, surprise! the side seams don’t line up any more, and I have an accidental split hem:
I don’t remember now whether I sewed up the side seams first or sewed the hem first. At some point in the process I decided I wanted to finish the side seams by turning under the seam allowance and then stitching it down, rather than serging, so that made fixing the issue more annoying (and then the fitting failure made it irrelevant).
I did, however, serge the shoulder seams (though why I dragged the machine out for just that, I don’t know) and then stitch then down as well for a mock flat felled seam.
With all of those little details covered, let’s get to my real gripes: the intersection of design choices, construction, and instructions.
What I didn’t notice when I bought the pattern, and what you almost certainly can’t see because the fabric is so dark, is the vertical pleat coming off the bottom of the placket. On the pattern piece, the placket opening is double the necessary width so that you can hot-dog fold the front of the blouse to create that pleat. It’s unnecessary from a construction standpoint, it doesn’t add anything to the look of the garment, and I hate it. Is that an irrationally strong feeling? Yes. Did I resolve to move heaven and earth to engineer that pleat out on my next version? Also yes.
Constructing the placket was way more challenging than it needed to be, though it’s probably fair to say that’s partially my fault. After preparing and applying the bands for the placket, I could not make sense at all of this instruction: “On inside, lap left front band over right. Stitch lower edge of bands to end of opening.” Or more precisely, I understood that it was supposed to look like this…
…but I could not get the bands and the opening to cooperate. After reading through Allie’s clearly written and photographed tutorial on sewing partial plackets, I finally figured out I hadn’t made the angled cuts into the corners of the opening. This step should definitely be in bold type, because if you don’t do this correctly (or at all), the origami WILL NOT work.
While we’re staring at the inside of the placket, I’d like to take a moment to complain about the unfinished ends (is this normal in RTW? I don’t have any partial placket shirts I can check) and the weird fold that results where the placket meets that stupid pleat.
On to the gathers! There are gathers around the curve of the neckline between the placket and the shoulder seam, along the shoulder seam between the neck and armhole, and around the back neck.
As near as I can tell, the gathers between the placket and the shoulder exist solely to pull the V of the placket open, otherwise the bands would neatly overlap each other like a normal (hidden) button placket. The area to gather is quite small, which made it difficult for me to gather evenly and ended up looking like unintentional puckers. In addition, since these gathers are at a roughly 45 degree angle to the ones coming off the shoulder seam, it results in a weird, bunchy, wrinkly mess in that area. Ugh. As with the pleat, I resolved to eliminate the gathers around the front neckline on the next iteration.
The gathering on the back neckline is fine design-wise, although I didn’t execute it well.
It’s a shame that everything about this was a flop, but I really am glad that I figured out all of my the pattern’s issues before I cut into the fabric I really wanted to use, especially since my real-deal fabric was thin and slithery. It certainly didn’t hurt to practice a few techniques, either: my topstitching remains dodgy, but I’d like to think it’s just improving in very small increments.
While everyone else is reflecting on the end of the year, I’m scrambling to catch up on all of my 2018 projects! I had hoped to have that done before the holidays, but a combination of work deadlines and other professional obligations, as well as a few seasonal activities, meant I was busy right up until we went out of town for Christmas. I thought I might have time to write during my vacation (the longest I’ve taken since graduating college), but because we were visiting family we were far too wrapped up in eating, sleeping in, watching movies, playing games, and exchanging gifts to have much screen time. I’m not as bothered as I thought I’d be. So what if I have to put off doing any kind of wrap up until mid-January? No one was keeping score but me, and I’ve decided to misplace the scorecard.
The only trouble with being so far behind is trying to remember what I did (or didn’t do). I actually have a lovely sewing planner that my sister gave me—the pages came from this Etsy shop, and she comb-bound it with acetate covers herself to make it more durable—but I have a devilishly hard time remembering to actually write in it. These tartan pajama pants are a great example of a project that would have benefited hugely from taking notes, because they a) were intended as a wearable muslin, b) involved several modifications to a basic pattern, and c) required a significant hack job to fit correctly because of additional alterations I forgot to make.
The pattern is, I believe, Simplicity 1520. I say “believe” because I also have Simplicity 0301, a unisex pattern that was formerly available for free on Simplicity’s site but has since been removed or very well hidden. The reason I passed over the free pattern in favor of a purchased one is because the free pattern has a simple cased elastic and a very generous fit, whereas I was looking for a slimmer cut, a combination of elastic and drawstring, and preferably pockets. The joke’s on me, however, because although S1520 appears to fit that bill, it actually has none of those features—I misread the back of the envelope and ended up with effectively the same pattern.
As best as I can remember, I modified the pattern to include buttonholes at the waist to feed a drawstring through, shortened the inseam at the lengthen/shorten line to accommodate my 5’2″ frame, and marked the placement for inseam pockets using my pocket template (AKA the pockets from Simplicity 1419).
What I notably failed to do was reduce the crotch depth, both because I’m shorter than average and because I prefer to wear my pants (especially my lounge pants) on my hips. I was blissfully ignorant of this oversight until I’d already made the buttonholes (and folded and sewn down the top of the pants to make a casing for the elastic), and I was so annoyed about it that I decided to salvage what I had instead of completely reworking it. That is to say, instead of cutting off the top of the pants at the correct height, making new buttonholes, and folding down a new casing, I lopped off the “waistband” 5/8 inches below the stitching line that made the casing, removed something like 3″ of excess fabric from the crotch, and reattached the “waistband” by stitching in the ditch. My ditch-stitching wasn’t very tidy, but you can’t really tell. The bigger giveaway is that the tartan no longer lines up near near the top of the pants, but honestly far less egregious than the (lack of) stripe matching you normally see in ready-to-wear.
Shortening the crotch meant moving the pockets down as well, but that was a straightforward change, albeit a time-consuming one because I’d already serged the seams. (Ugh, why.) I moved them a little too far down, so they’re not really useful for sticking my hands in. They still work just fine for a phone, so I could not be bothered to move them a second time.
The fabric is a lightweight flannel shirting from JoAnn. To match the tartan, I cut everything on a single layer and used a walking foot to sew my seams before finishing them with a serger. I focused on making sure the horizontal stripes matched across vertical seams, and I feel I was successful; next time, I’ll pay more attention to respecting the pattern repeat and mirroring the vertical stripes as well.
The silver ribbon was a freebie that came tied to the bag of an Aerie purchase. Instead of threading both elastic and ribbon through the casing, I took a cue from Lauren’s Margot PJ Pants and cut my ribbon in half before sewing each piece to the end of a length of no-roll elastic. I thought for sure I was going to love this, but in reality I don’t. It’s a pain to try to cinch the pants and keep the slippery polyester satin bow tied. I can’t decide if I’d rather just elastic or just a drawstring, but this hybrid jobby just ain’t doin’ it for me.
Given how badly I botched the fit initially, I don’t think these are a very good muslin, but they for sure are wearable. I’ve basically been living in them this winter, especially since I switch into lounge pants as soon as I get home from work. I have more of this flannel stashed away—my first cut shrank in the wash and was just too short for pants—that I’m hoping to use for a second cozy project. And since I could use another pair of winter pajama pants, I’ll probably take a second crack at this pattern before finally cutting into a more precious fabric that I’ve been hoarding. (Yes, precious pajama fabric. You’ll understand when you see it.)
Here’s hoping that, in 2019, I can graduate to a level of sewing where I don’t mess up pajama pants. 😂
I’d been meaning to visit the Spoonflower headquarters in Durham since I moved to North Carolina five years ago
I’ve wanted to try a Grainline pattern for ages but couldn’t quite justify the purchase when I have a stash of patterns and fabrics waiting to be used already
I’ve thought about taking a sewing class as a way to be more social while improving my skills, but most classes are aimed at absolute beginners and tackle projects I’m not interested in
Lladybird was one of the first sewing blogs I started reading regularly, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet a sewing celebrity
Because this was the first time Sprout Patterns had done a collaboration like this, the process was a little hazy at times. For instance, there was a very limited number of spots in the class, so registration was first-come, first-served. All well and good, but when I submitted my registration through their online form, I received an email with the subject line “2018 Sprout Sew-Along with Lauren Taylor” and the sender “Confirmation Message” but a blank email body. Hmm. Did this mean that I had secured a spot, or merely that my request had been received and I was on the waiting list? Nail-biting ensues. Five days later, I received another email that confirmed I had indeed scored a coveted seat in the class. Whew, that was a relief! I assume they had to handle some portion of the registration manually and that was the cause of the wait, but a simple message up front could prevented a bit of unnecessary anxiety for those like me who did get in, and tempered the expectations of those who ultimately wouldn’t.
The confirmation email included a simple schedule (meet-and-greet on Friday night, sewing all day Saturday and Sunday), a pre-class checklist in the form of a Google Doc, and a link to video explaining how to order your pattern and fabric through the Sprout Patterns site. I confess I only skimmed the video, as the process of purchasing the materials was pretty straight forward: follow the steps to order a Sprout Pattern as you normally would and use a class-specific coupon code to get the pattern of your choice printed on Kona® Cotton Ultra with free shipping.
If you’ve spent any time on the Spoonflower site at all, you don’t need me to explain the hours I spent browsing for the perfect print for my Archer—there’s an overwhelming number of pretty, quirky, colorful, fun, bold, and bizarre designs already available even before delving into creating your own.
But I’d also suggest the severely constrained browse/search functionality on the site makes choosing a design more arduous than it needs to be. You can browse By Designs or By Color, which uses a system of categories and sub-categories, but if you select one of these you can’t narrow your criteria any further. You can do a search instead, but it’s really unclear whether this search is looking at the name of the category or categories the design is in, the name of the design itself, a set of invisible keywords, or some combination of the three. Using or not using quotation marks around your search terms does change your search results, but not in a predictable way. It’s frustrating to say the least, especially since there are plenty of models for different, successful systems.
After narrowing my favorites to around 30 designs, most of which were line art florals or dots/spots, and most of which were on a coral or blush background, I settled on Botanical Sketchbook – Floral Pink Blush by Heather Dutton. Then I popped over the Sprout Patterns site and selected the Archer pattern, View A, Size 2, and picked the design from my Spoonflower favorites. (You don’t need to browse Spoonflower first and then go to Sprout—you can browse designs directly on the Sprout site—but I found it easier to browse in the full-window view of the former as opposed to the smaller pop-up window browsing available with the latter.)
Sprout generates 2D and 3D models to help you visualize the scale of the design and determine its placement. The models are very helpful for avoiding unfortunate print placement, but the one shortcoming I see is that the pattern pieces aren’t labeled in the 2D model, so it’s possible to start dragging the print around without immediately seeing which piece you’re affecting, particularly in the case of small pieces or ones that are mostly hidden on a finished garment, such as a collar stand. In my case, I confused the pieces for the pockets and the cuffs, and it took an embarrassingly long time to figure out why I couldn’t move the large round flowers plastered over the nipples. Eventually I was satisfied with my choices, and I put the order in my cart and checked out with the coupon code with no issues.
It’s at this point I should probably mention that I felt a great deal of anxiety about placing my order, for a reason that I hadn’t expected. See, I’d received confirmation that I was registered for the class on February 28 along with instructions for ordering, and the class itself was scheduled for April 6–8. But I never actually received any guidance on how quickly I needed to place my order to allow enough time for it to be printed and shipped. The Sprout FAQ mentions that “average turnaround time for all products is 2-3 weeks,” but none of the correspondence mentioned this, or even directed students to the FAQ. I think the organizers must have assumed that everyone would want to get their patterns and fabric in hand as soon as possible, and it was never my intention to dally, but by the time I saw that key piece of information, there was a lot less than three weeks left, and I was in a bit of a panic. Again, a quick email would have done wonders here—a little “hey, if you haven’t ordered yet, you’ll want to do that soon!” would have been enough to make me commit to a decision.
Luckily, my order shipped in just two days, and since I’m in the next town over, it only took a few more days by mail to land on my doorstep. I had plenty of time to pre-wash my fabric and swing into JoAnn to pick up interfacing, coordinating thread, and basic translucent shirt buttons. In terms of tools, we were expected to bring our own sewing machines, pins, needles, snips, and so on, but scissors, cutting mats, irons and ironing boards, and sergers (for finishing seams) were provided.
On Friday night, the class gathered for a meet-and-greet with Lauren, who is exactly the person in real life that you’d expect her to be from her blog (which is something she stressed is important to her when she did her interview on the Love to Sew podcast). We snacked and drank and cut out our patterns while she chatted with us about sewing, blogging, and even gave a peek into her personal life.
Saturday and Sunday were both sewing days. Rather than do a sample project, showing us each step and then having us to it ourselves at the same time, Lauren chose to give us a short set of instructions to tackle a particular section of the shirt, and then when the first person hit a roadblock, she’d mime the steps to complete the task on that student’s pieces, folding or pointing or marking (but not sewing) as needed. If any student got behind, or needed to see the steps again, she’d walk them through it individually on their own shirt. She said she was happy to repeat herself as many times as needed, because she’d rather have students work at their own pace then be handcuffed to the rest of the class, with the speedier students feeling bored and the slower students feeling anxious. I’d say it worked pretty well: it allowed us plenty of time to socialize, observe each other’s progress, and take breaks as needed to avoid becoming tired or frustrated. (The snacks and grown-up beverages available throughout the day didn’t hurt either.)
Because our sewing time was divided up over two days and limited to about six hours each day, we ignored Grainline’s order of operations and also used a couple of alternative methods. For instance, we attached the plackets, collar stand, and cuffs to outside of the shirt and then topstitched from the inside to avoid needing to re-sew if the topstitching veered off course and failed to catch the fabric on the inside. We also used the burrito method to get a clean finish on the yoke, which I quite like.
Lauren also recommended several great tools and resources, including an expandable sewing gauge to mark buttonhole placement (always put a button in line with the apex of your bust to avoid gaping!), a buttonhole chisel, and weft interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply. (At least, I think she recommended the weft, although the site itself advises that it’s not suitable for shirtmaking. Hmm.)
Lauren is exactly the kind of teacher I want for a sewing class: smart but not rigid, personable but able to keep things moving. I’m glad I got to take my first class with her, and hope to have the opportunity to take another class in the future (jeansmaking, maybe?)
The Spoonflower crew were also incredibly gracious hosts who were quick to offer supplies or assistance to anyone who needed them. They even made time for a tour of the facility at the end of the weekend. It’s a shame that the sew-along was the last class they had planned for the foreseeable future—the run-up to the event may have been shaky, but when it comes to day-of execution, they’re great facilitators.
As for the Archer itself, I’m quite pleased with how it came out. I’m lucky that the Size 2 fits pretty well out of the packet; the only thing I’d definitely change is bringing in the shoulders. I love the curved hem because I don’t like to tuck in my shirts. The Kona® Cotton Ultra was easy to press and sew, but it’s thicker and stiffer than I’d prefer for a button-up shirt, and I think it may be the culprit of some of the rumpling in the back. If/when I make it again, I’ll look for something lighter like a poplin or a lightweight cotton sateen. (Probably. I’m also tempted by all the flannel for fall.)
I’ll be glad to have this shirt in my wardrobe when the weather (finally) decides to cool down, but more importantly, I’m excited to have some transferable skills in my sewing toolkit. I fantasize about being the kind of slow sewist who savors the precise construction of an impeccably fitted shirt, but I’d happily settle for becoming a halfway patient sewist who can get her pockets to match and her topstitching to stay on the fabric!