Sunday, 11 October 2015

Baffling neckline is less baffling than expected or, more prosaically: StyleArc Issy, a review

StyleArc Issy
The StyleArc Issy pattern came out some time ago now as one of StyleArc's free patterns of the month. I really REALLY wanted it when it first came out, not least because many months earlier I had I seen a photo of a really similar top in a slinky, shiny navy knit that I loved and really wished I could own. The original top was by some fancy designer and so stupidly expensive that buying it was 100% out of the question even when I had a job and an income. However, although I dithered for ages about buying the pattern, in the end I was too cheap to cough up for a single-sized paper pattern + postage. When I saw the first made up versions surface in reviews/blogs I regretted that decision, and as I mentioned in my StyleArc Estelle review, I have therefore been waiting (im)patiently for StyleArc to release it as a PDF ever since. However, never underestimate the kindness of sewing strangers around the world! After I said that, Nakisha offered to mail me her paper copy of the pattern that she didn't want! :D I immediately moved it right near the top of my sewing queue when it arrived. After my confidence rebounded from the drubbing dealt to it by Simplicity 1063, I decided to tackle it this weekend.

The pattern calls for a "soft knit", so I chose a very floppy black and blue viscose knit I bought earlier this year. I'm not sure it'll have great longevity, as it's rather thin and not fantastic quality. Inexpensive viscose knits are never the longest lived garments, but it was by far my best stash option for this pattern as nothing else I have is nearly so drapey and the drape is absolutely vital. My fabric was moderately stretchy, but I bet this top would be even better in something with a lot of stretch as well as a lot of drape.

StyleArc Issy in blue and black viscose knit, as modelled by Flossie
I am still finding my way with StyleArc's sizing. According to the StyleArc size chart, I am pretty much perfectly a size 10 upper bust, size 14 bust and size 12 for both hip and waist. That size distribution (n, n+2, n+1 for upper bust, bust and hip) is pretty much the norm for me across all the size charts of the pattern companies I use regularly, although, as we all know, how those size charts relate to the actual patterns is an entirely separate problem.

When I made the Estelle cardigan, I started with a 10 and did an FBA up to the stated measurements for a size 14, and left the width in through the waist and hip. Since it's a loose, draped cardigan I couldn't see any benefit to tapering back in to a size 12 at the waist and hip. That seemed to work quite well, but then it's hardly a fitting challenge to get a cardigan with no closure or shaping to speak of to go around one's body. Really, the most I could say about the size I prefer in StyleArc as a result of making my two Estelles was that the shoulder fit of the size 10 seemed reasonable.

Back view on Flossie
This time, since StyleArc paper patterns are single sized and the copy I had was a 12, that was what I started from. I have no idea how you'd grade this pattern -- not only do I not really know how to grade a single-size pattern (I'm taking that Craftsy class this week!) but the front bodice piece is so very weird looking that it seemed unnecessarily complicated to even try. I therefore decided that the 12 would most likely be "close enough" through the upper bust in a close-fitting knit top and gave it a try.

Based on the pattern illustration/notes, reviews and measurements/comparison to my sloper, it seemed to me that this pattern is intended to be quite close fitting more or less everywhere except the bust where the drape is, where there is a lot of room. Many of the reviewers said they thought that there was too much drape at the bust, or at least very plentiful drape, and several people said they'd done an FBA and then wished they hadn't. I therefore decided to proceed with the size 12 almost intact, except for a small square shoulder adjustment that I always do, just to get a feel for the fit as is.

The feature cowl neck, which I love. Note, that central, slightly diagonal seam is the one you are instructed to "neaten" right at the start
For essentially an out-of-the-envelope garment, the fit is pretty much what I would expect, i.e. not very good. The biggest problem is the bust. There's enough room with the drape feature that my bust fits into the top reasonably well. However, I've clearly stolen a lot of volume from the cowl neck for my bust so it looks a lot less dramatic and visually interesting than the pattern illustration or even as it appears on Flossie, who is only an approximation of my size, and some of the examples I've seen on the internet. When I make this again I will definitely do an FBA.

When I first tried it on I posted a shot to Instagram and I was all like, uh, I REALLY should have gone up a size through the waist and hip. There's a LOT of negative ease in this pattern through the waist and hip so the problem isn't so much that it doesn't fit, it's that it fits a little too well for me! 

Sorry about the weird colour -- to get any detail to show I had to really mess with the exposure/light in my editing tool. It's true I'm at the very pasty and pale end of the white skin spectrum, but not actually as ghostly as I seem here.

This photo suggests that the outcome is even more unflattering than my mirror suggested (hello, muffin top!) so whereas previously I was kind of on the "close-fitting" side of the is this close fitting or just way too small?  debate, now I am pretty much in camp Actually Just Way Too Small. Some of the wrinkles and bulges on the side are from the ruching, honest, but, uh, most of it is my stomach. When I make it again and do an FBA, I'll leave the extra width in through the waist and hips for sure. It will still have negative ease if I do so but rather less of it.

A couple more views on me. I hate side views in close fitting clothes, my body shape is basically the prow of a ship :|
Sewing-wise, the existing reviews are pretty much divided between "utterly confused, is this even right?" and "much easier than I expected". I fall into the second category. Initially, the pattern pieces and some of the instructions are pretty baffling, but I found once you get underway with construction it all makes sense. The two problem areas for me were:

1. The second instruction calls for you to "neaten" an edge between two points. At the time, I had no sense of where that edge would end up (would it drop into the cowl neck like other tops I have? would it be visible at centre front?) and therefore no idea what level of "neatening" was called for. Annoyingly, several other reviewers mentioned this but then didn't go on to say what they did or where the edge falls on their finished garment. So in case you're in the same situation: this is a REALLY VISIBLE edge. It's front and centre as the flat diagonal line in the cowl neck and lies against your skin with the right side clearly visible. Luckily, I decided when I couldn't figure out where it would end up that I would go for possible overkill and make it as "neat" as possible. I therefore coverstitched a narrow hem. Since it ended up front and centre, I am very glad I made that decision and didn't just overlock it or leave it raw.

2. The instructions tell you how to catch the edges of the cowl into the armhole seams. The pattern is actually really cleverly designed and notched so that when you stop going "what? WHAT?" in a confused sort of way after reading the instructions and actually try lining up the fabric to fit together it all becomes very obvious what you should do. Alas, this did not stop me accidentally tying one side into the back armhole rather than the front, but I fixed it easily enough a couple of minutes later. The moral of this story is: sometimes it makes no sense in the instructions but perfect sense when you look at the fabric.

I must also just pat myself on the back for my much improved gathering. Earlier this year I was like argh, gathering, why do people say it is easy, this is a hot mess with my first HotPatterns Weekender Sunshine tee at the front neckline. This time I felt like the gathering on the side front of the bodice turned out really nicely and it was actually very easy to do. I credit most of the improvement to a tiny change in technique prompted by a book I read. It suggested that rather than using a long basting stitch as is usually recommended, on knits try using a smaller stitch for gathering. It's a little more difficult to gather it, but once gathered it stays put much more reliably.

In conclusion: Although I've bitched neverendingly about the fit in this review, I actually still really love the design of this top and I don't think it will take much to get the fit more to my taste --  basically just an FBA and leaving in the width. Also, making it was another good antidote to the Simplicity 1063 debacle. I definitely want to make it again, and if I find a really nice slinky, stretchy, drapey navy knit, you bet I am going to make a version of that original designer top I coveted so hard. :D

Next up, I have one last easy knit top to make for autumn, this time a Lekala pattern (my first!).


  1. I'm so glad the construction was easier than expected! I do really like the fabric but see what you mean about the bust taking from the cowl. I had that with a Vogue pattern I made this spring. It "fit" but with more bust room I could really love it.

    I can't wait to see the next version.

    1. Wore it today and LOVED it, even though it's a little tight/small, so there will definitely be another version. However, I have no drapey knits in stash just now. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN.