This summer’s art is shaking out to be sewing. Sewing all the things, especially if I thought they were too hard before. I’ve already sewn and fit a pair of shorts (with a fly front!). Now I’m tackling bodices. It took me aaaaaaages to draft a skirt waistband that fit my frame properly; adding in my bony shoulders and prominent rib cage always seemed too daunting. No more! I’ve been bingeing on Craftsy classes on pattern drafting, adjustments, alterations, and fitting and I feel like I can mostly navigate the space of how to start actually sewing something that fits me now.
Simplicity 5187 is a tunic pattern I liberated from my mom’s stash while I was visiting a couple weeks ago, and I’m using it to learn on. Extreme detail follows!
I’ve traced a size 12, view F. It’s sleeveless for summer and sanity, and I intend to omit the collar and frog. I use exam table paper for tracing — it’s cheap, more durable than packing tissue, and more flexible & pinnable than newsprint or kraft paper. I do my tracing with a soft pencil and darken any final cutting lines & marks with a fine felt-tip pen. I do my cutting with x-acto blades on an 18×32″ self-healing mat. I generally remove seam allowances after the first trace, just to make adjustments easier.
First set of adjustments is from measurements. I used a mishmash of Joi Mahon’s class Fast Track Fitting and Suzy Furrer’s The Bodice Sloper. For measurements, you break the standard length + circumference into shorter segments along the side seams and at the bust point+curve. Then you compare your measurements to the pattern’s measurements, discounting darts and seam allowances and accounting for wearing & design ease. Where you need more room, you add more room by slicing the pattern (this is why you trace) and inserting more paper; where you need less room, you can either fold it out or slice and overlap.
This pattern’s stated ease is 5.5″ but I think that’s excessive, so I’m shooting for 4″.
- Front length: moved about 1″ from just above the bustline down to the waist
- Back length: removed 1″ at the waist, added 1″ near the bustline at the side seam only (basically just moved the armhole up 1″ and adjusted the shoulder to match; left the neckline alone to fit center back length)
- Front width: reduced side seam at waist with 2″ ease
- Back width: moved side seam outward by 1″ to fit low hip and cross back, and added an eye dart from hip to low shoulder point to account for differences at bustline, waistline, and high hip, with 2″ ease
- Front volume: moved bust point inward about 1″ (unusual) and down 1/2″
- Back volume: basically did a FBA for the high shoulder point to account for fullness there that vanishes at center back length and underbust circumference. This is sortof cribbing from Kathleen Cheetham’s Custom Fitting: Back, Neck, and Shoulders.
Notes on sewing the first muslin:
- Bust, high hip, and low hiplines don’t line up on back/front (this is probably an issue with my measurements though since I usually measure alone)
- The side seams were…pretty awkward to sew. The curves are probably too dissimilar.
Fitting the first muslin: This is mostly from Lynda Maynard’s Sew The Perfect Fit, which has you do the whole shebang the old-fashioned way, with a full muslin with gridlines marked on it, cutting and inserting actual fabric strips, the works.
- Front: pretty good! All interior verticals are vertical, all horizontals are horizontal and line up with my anatomy. Neck width is right but shoulder is too long, and armhole is too deep.
- Side: too big; especially in front. I can’t math, apparently, since 2″ x 4 seamlines = 8″ ease, not 4. It also hangs crooked here.
- Back: disasterrrrr way too much fullness at armhole, but too tight at the high shoulder point, and weird folds everywhere. I can’t even tell what the lines are doing.
Muslin adjustments, draft 1:
- Pinned the side seams
- Added fabric at underarm and re-drew the armhole front & back
- Side seams were straighter and closer to the correct spot, but too tight for a tunic. I got the front/back balance right above the high hip, but below, erred too much toward the front.
- Armholes are better, especially in front
- Back is still terrible
Muslin adjustments, draft 2: This is a combination of the fitting method from Don McCunn’s book How To Make Sewing Patterns which has you fit the shoulders by doing magic smoothing gestures with the side seams unsewn, and the Lynda Maynard slash-and-add-fabric technique.
- Unpicked the side seams (& went back to the too-deep armhole)
- Split the upper back horizontally between the high shoulder points, sewed a strip of fabric to one edge and had DH pin the other edge with an appropriate gap
- Re-pinned the side seams with 1″ ease (x 4 seamlines = 4″, or what I wanted in the first place)
- Back fits!
- A little extra room at the underarm but not nearly as bad as before
- A wee set of gapes at either side of back neck
- Side seams waaaaay easier to sew. Progress!
Muslin adjustments, draft 3: The darts here are literally the adjustment you’d usually make for a Dowager’s Hump, a la Kathleen Cheetham. I am 33 years old. Typing and smart phones, man. And not enough yoga.
- Pinned a 3/8″ dart at either side of back neck
- Pinned 1/2″ out at the underarm, tapering to the bustline
- Added a wee triangle to the underarm and re-drew the armhole there
Mods from drafts 2 & 3 transferred to pattern. I also pivoted out an extra 1/2″ at center front and stashed it in the bust dart.
Note to self for future fitting adventures: Draw the muslin gridlines with sharpie in the first place so you can see it from both sides and it doesn’t rub off.
I traced off the facings, and since I was tracing everything anyway I switched to all-in-one facings front and back. The back facing was just narrow enough to absorb the back neck dart, and I trimmed 1/8″ from all the faced seams so fingers crossed it should stay put inside the garment.
Notes from assembly in fashion fabric:
- I slightly hosed myself while cutting the facings, because I forgot to account for seam allowances in the chunk of fabric I cut from a larger section. I fudged it, and I think it’ll be okay so long as I remember to align seamlines not cut edges.
- Getting my dart-sewing to be more consistent is a goal. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who will notice that they’re not the same on both sides, but still.
- In spite of stay-stitching everything in sight, the facings were 1/8″ too long at the shoulder seams? I re-sewed them to snug everything up, but how that happened is a mystery. Those were the fused pieces, too, so they shouldn’t have stretched out. Hrm.
- It turns out an all-in-one facing is harder to sew than a regular facing. Who knew? I might have, if I’d given half a thought to the topology before cutting out fabric! Luckily, youtube saved the day. Double luckily, my shoulder straps were juuuust wide enough to turn the garment through. Success!
- I tacked the facing down with tiny 2-, 1-, or 1/2-thread stitches every two inches around most of its circumference. You can’t see it at all and I’m really proud of that.
- I did french seams for the side seams down to the slit, then clipped the seam allowance to let me switch the fold the other way to hem the slit. I wound up tapering to a tiny (like 3/16) hem near the transition but I just covered it with a bar tack (zigzag #2 on my machine, for reference) and it looks great.
- I extended the hem allowance to 1.5″, and like the look
- I need another 1/4-1/2″ of room around the underarm. It’s still comfortable enough, but I’d rather forget I was wearing a woven.
- I could stand to bring up the slit by a bit, but it’s hard to know how much. Something to play with in a future version.
I am super pleased with this top! It’s breezy for summer without feeling like a tent; it fits beautifully under a cardigan when I’m on campus or anywhere else with enthusiastic AC, I can move my arms, I don’t have to have perfect posture while I’m wearing it, it’s just a lovely thing all around.