Monday, 6 November 2017

The 2017 Edition of Almost But Not Quite Pyjamas, plus Fit as a problem

Last autumn, I decided to experiment a little with the leggings-and-a-knit-tunic look for days when I am mainly at home. I wanted some new options for the sort of outfit that is Almost But Not Quite Pyjamas: perfectly respectable to wear if I have to answer the door or run to the corner shop for something, but equally OK to nap in. I didn't want to invest too much time/fabric/money in the experiment, because I wasn't sure how much I'd wear what I made, so I bought two pairs of inexpensive RTW leggings and made four also inexpensive tunics to go with them (see here and here).

A year on, I can conclude that this experiment has been quite successful, inasmuch as it's become my preferred outfit type on days when I don't plan to leave the house. In fact, I wore out the cheap leggings (they went sad and saggy) and two of the tunics are now looking shabby after frequent washes. When I was planning my sewing for this autumn/winter, expanding/replacing this part of my wardrobe was therefore top of my list of things to do. I bought replacement RTW leggings, but picked out four new-to-me knit tunic patterns to go with them. Here are the first two: (please forgive the photos, my main camera is having a problem so all I had was my phone)

Ottobre 02-2010-11 technical drawing, and my version on Flossie

First, an older Ottobre pattern, 02-2010-11, which is (bafflingly, as usual) called the "Journal" tunic in the magazine. It's actually two garments -- a three-quarter sleeved surplice bodice top and a longer sleeveless underdress that peeks out from underneath at the neckline and hem. This pattern has actually been on my To Make list for a long time, so I was pleased to actually get around to sewing it up.

Underdress on its own, and me wearing it
The underdress is extremely simple: the front is gathered above an empire waist seamline and attached to a skirt, but the back is just a flat bodice piece and skirt. The pattern calls for a turn and stitch neckline and armholes but that is not an edge treatment I like much, so I bound it the way I do t-shirts. Other than that, I did a small square shoulder adjustment but otherwise made up a size 44 as per the pattern sheet.

Why did I bother to take a photo of it on me? Well, empire waist has always been a problem for me in the past. In RTW I could NEVER get anything to fit where the seam didn't end up bisecting me more or less at the bust point due to having a large, slightly low bust. The seam position on this underdress isn't too bad, but it's still not quite in the right place! Something to think about if I make it again, for sure.

The two layers on me
The upper layer is very slightly more complicated to make as it's gathered at the shoulders and has the cross-over front, but it was still pretty easy. I again used a size 44 with no alterations except for the square shoulder adjustment. The neckline on this is hemmed first, and I was relieved my fabric didn't stretch out during the cover-stitching process. Actually, in general I made my life more complicated than it needed to be by using a very drapey, floppy viscose knit fabric that didn't really respond well to handling. The front turned out OK, but the back neck, which had a facing that I turned into a binding, not so much. I think if I made this again I'd try for a slightly firmer fabric just because I think it might hold up better to the manipulation required to put this top together. This drapey soft viscose is lovely to wear but not ideal to sew.

This was one of those projects where I went back and forth as I was making it on whether I liked it or not. I wondered if the print of the fabric was too childish. I wasn't sure if the empire waist seamlines were going to fall in the right place. In the end though, I really love it, with one major caveat that I'll come back to at the end of this post.

Burda 12-2016-112 technical drawing and my version as modelled by me in my hall mirror

My second tunic is a very simple short dress pattern from a fairly recent issue of Burda, 12-2016-112. I have to admit I ignored this pattern entirely when this issue came out as it's at the more basic end of Burda's designs. There's nothing much to it, but it seemed to me that it was a nice shape, and handily the pattern is suitable for either knits or wovens. The only real ~feature, however, is the rufflecuffs, which I loathe. I wear a cardigan or sweater like 90% of days, and I find it incredibly annoying trying to shove an extra half metre of fabric down my cardigan sleeve. That was easy to just omit though.

Burda 12-2016-112: Front and back view on Flossie
I made one other big change: I omitted the centre back zip as I was using a knit and cut the back on the fold, mainly because I didn't want to do stripe matching on the back. (Even though the side seams turned out perfectly! I even managed to match ABOVE the dart -- which to be fair was a total coincidence. I usually just work on matching below the dart since everything above it is usually hidden by my arm, but on this occasion it happened to work out perfectly. AND I matched side to side across the sleeve and bodice. Stripe matching win!)

The change to the back piece sacrificed a fair bit of back shaping but I thought the trade-off was worth it. Other than that, though, this dress is pretty much as written for a size 44, with only my usual square shoulder adjustment, and missing off the flouncy rufflecuff.

Stripe matching like a boss -- I can barely see my side seam in this photo! :D
The only tricky part with this was the v-neck, which was faced. I had two problems with this. First, and irrevocably, the neckline stretched a little when I was sewing one side of it (why one side and not the other?! Who knows!) and as a result the finished neckline looks slightly wonky. I didn't realize until I stepped back and looked at the finished garment so I didn't have a chance to fix it. I don't love this at all, but I am hoping it's the sort of flaw I forget about as I wear the thing.

The second problem was just: facings. I don't love them. I don't even like them. I came to absolutely despise the ones on this tunic because they would NOT stay put on the inside of the garment. I did everything I know how to do to make it work -- trim, clipped, understitched, pressed, stitched in the ditch at the shoulder seam, you name it. I ended up topstitching the thing in place. It doesn't look bad, but it's not the pretty clean finish on the technical drawing. I think I can lay the blame on my bulky, bouncy ponte knit fabric. Maybe using a different, lighter fabric for the facing would have been better.

I haven't worn this one yet, and my big qualm about this dress is how comfortable this ponte fabric is going to be. Fit-wise it's OK, if a little bit tight across the biceps, which is something to fix if I make it again. The sleeves are tight in a knit: they'd be unwearable in a woven. The fabric itself though is a bit polyester-y and scratchy. I'm wondering whether it's going to be very comfortable to wear.

The elephant in the room though with the outcome with both of these projects is that I really SHOULDN'T be using a size 44 straight off a Burda/Ottobre pattern sheet. Yes, the things I make fit, for the indifferent definition of 'fit' that 'similar to the fit I can achieve from inexpensive RTW'. I've fallen into the lazy habit of just using a size 44 (or the equivalent) because it addresses what is always my biggest fit concern in general with reasonable success. Above all I want to make sure that I don't draw even more attention to my large bust by having my tops gape or pull at the bust line. At the level of the bust point, a Burda or Ottobre size 44 works out well for this.

The shoulder width problem illustrated -- the line on the left is where the shoulder seam fall. The line on the right is the point of my shoulder
However, I'm really NOT a Burda or Ottobre size 44 at the shoulder. In the splodgy paint print tunic above, you can see how the shoulder seam is falling down my arm. Several of the patterns I've made up using the lazy 'just make a 44' sizing choice have ended up too big at the neckline and too wide at the shoulder, sometimes by quite a substantial amount. In knits, over-sized and loose-fitting garments, which collectively account for the vast proportion of my sewing over the last 18 months or so -- the same 18 months where I've been lazily making straight size 44s -- the problem isn't so obvious and doesn't tend to bother me too much when I'm wearing the garments in question. I will absolutely wear both of these tunics and I probably won't register the fit problems too much.

I have a LOT of woven projects in my queue, though, and very few of the handful of woven garments I've made have been successful from a fit perspective over the same 18 month period. Part of the reason I haven't made many wovens is that I know I need to work on fit before I start cutting into the fabrics I've been hoarding for those projects for a while now. As regular readers will know, the last 18 months have also been very difficult health-wise, so I've not really had the wherewithal to get stuck into a major fitting project. However, I'm now sufficiently fed up with the poor fit I'm achieving that I think I'm going to have to work on it properly.

In the very short term, I have two more knit tunics lined up to sew that are straight from the pattern sheet. I am sure they will have the same fit problems at the shoulder and neck, but it's too late to worry about it as I already cut them out. For other things I have lined up for the remainder of 2017 and into 2018, I am going to need to add a lot of fitting steps to the sewing process I think.


  1. I pretty much always trace a 40 neckline and shoulder and then grade out with Burda. The exception is something like a jacket, which I trace the 42 and muslin and make adjustments. That's a potential easy fix, especially for simple knit tops, over doing the other Big Adjustments!

    I LOVE the first tunic. I really like the underlayer. I don't think the print is childish at all. I think it is really nice and those colors are lovely.

    I like the second one too and hear you about the facings. I tend to loathe them in unlined garments. I feel it is a rare occasion that they just do what they are supposed to do!

    (for some reason I cannot comment on the blog using IE anymore. Blergh.

  2. I, too, have the large bust issue and as I tend to make knit garments for myself, I size up to fit my bust. When I do this I automatically take 3/4" off the shoulder length and reshape the armhole accordingly - I don't alter the sleeve cap. I find knit garments are inherently more casual than woven tops and a droopy shoulder line just makes them look sloppy.