Do you ever have one of those realizations that immediately makes you think, “Why the hell didn’t I realize this sooner?” I had that kind of thought recently, when I was looking back at the few things I’ve sewn for myself this year. Being busy with moving into a house that required renovations and starting a new job, as well as a need to revise my antidepressant medications, has meant that I have not had much time or energy (mental, mostly) for sewing. And yet, because of that new job, I really need to be sewing more work-wardrobe garments.
In an effort to give myself some more options for work-appropriate tops than just the 3 store bought polo shirts that I have been wearing for the past several months, I made up two blouses, as well as two t-shirts. The two t-shirts became regular parts of my at-home wardrobe, while the two blouses….continued to sit up in my sewing room, finished but unworn.
My finished Aida on my dressmaker’s dummy, made with lovely
tencel twill from Blackbird Fabrics.
I wanted to figure out why that was the case. When I picked the patterns for those two blouses (the Willamette by Hey June and the Aida Top by Sew Liberated), it was because I loved the design elements and I knew that those pattern companies were reliable in their drafting and instructions. As I expected, the tops came together beautifully and looked good on my dressmaker’s dummy. Then I put them on, took photos for my mom and best friend, and then left them in my sewing room. The Aida did get worn to work a couple of times, but when one of my students mistook it for a scrubs top, I got mildly depressed and back into the sewing room it went.
Part of me assumed that the tops were too long; I don’t usually shorten tops, especially now that cropped tops are back in style, even though I really should be taking 4″ out of my tops AND my bottoms (I’m 4’10”, the average draft is for a woman that is 5’6″-ish, so math = 8″ difference, distributed evenly between top and bottom). But when I put on the Willamette (view C), it actually shows skin at my waist when I raise my arms above my head – that makes it inappropriate for work wear, since I have to raise my arms to write on the whiteboards. So obviously, the tunic-length of the Aida and the cropped length of the Willamette showed that length, at least by itself, was not the issue.
Then I considered why I felt uncomfortable – and unpretty – in those tops. And that’s when I had my “well, DUH” moment: as a woman with a big difference between my waist and hips, wearing tops with no waist definition makes me look hip-thick from my hips all the way up to my shoulders. And I have big hips, so that means I look big ALL OVER. Now, I have gained weight this year (my goal for 2020 is to be healthier, specifically eating better and actually working out a few times a week), but I do still have my hourglass figure. And the tops that I do wear show that I have that shape; my polos and t-shirts (all are the Hey June Union St., updated version) all fall under the heading of “semi-fitted,” which means that they are not skin-tight, but fit closer to the body than boxy, loose, or swing tops. Thus, I figured, I should really be making semi-fitted tops when I sew up wovens as well.
Anyone who has been sewing for any length of time and/or knows the basics of garment fitting knows that there are two primary ways to fit a top to curves: bust darts and/or princess seams. If you just take out width from the side seams, you will end up with a top that has odd flares at the bust and hip and is impossible to press so that the side seams lay flat (ask me how I know that). So, because I like to ignore the fact that I already own hundreds – yes, hundreds – of sewing patterns, I went to search the current offerings of the big 3-4-5…and found next to nothing. Across Butterick, McCalls, Vogue, Simplicity, and Simplicity’s sub-brand New Look, which is my personal favorite commercial pattern label, I found maybe 2 or 3 tops that could be considered semi-fitted wovens. So out of ~100 patterns, less than 5% would work.
I then went to Pattern Review to do a more comprehensive search of both current and out of print commercial patterns, as well as the indie companies. I did not get much better results; the vast majority of commercial patterns that resulted from the search term “princess seams” were dresses and coats, mostly from Vogue, and the only indie companies that regularly use princess seams in their patterns are Itch to Stitch, Cashmerette, and Sewaholic. Of those, Sewaholic was the only one that had multiple top options with princess seams, which makes me even more depressed that the company went stagnant after Tasia sold it.
My guesses for why there is such an extreme lack of semi-fitted woven patterns:
- Boxy, loose, unfitted tops have been in style for a couple of years, and
- Most pattern companies, both commercial and indie, are trying to cater towards newer seamstresses, which means simpler construction with fewer pattern pieces and fewer instructional steps.
I have never understood the perspective of starting simple; when I was in my teens and still considered myself a beginner-to-intermediate seamstress, I never cared whether a pattern had “difficult” parts or not. If I wanted to make it, I knew I could figure it out, even if I made a mistake or two and had to redo part or all of a project. As far as I knew, that was how I was supposed to learn; we never improve if we never challenge ourselves, after all. So I really hope that my first guess is the true explanation for why there is currently such a limited selection of semi-fitted woven top patterns on the market.
Now, as far as the two tops I already made, I did not want that lovely fabric to go to waste, so I needed to figure out how to alter them to make them semi-fitted. My first impulse was to ADD princess seams or fisheye darts from the bust to the hip in the front and either do the same in the back or add waist ties to the side seams to gather in the volume at the back. I took my Aida and put it on my dressform and did a rough pinning of the alterations to see how they would look. This was the result:
Keep in mind that the “seams/darts” and hem are puckered and puffy because this is just pinned in place rather than basted. But you get the idea – it is much more fitted and less loose/swingy, but still has that lovely shoulder gather detail and collarless placket that made me love the design in the first place. I don’t think I will hem it quite that short, but I have already basted the seams so that I can tweak them further.
The hunt for woven top patterns that already have princess seams also led me to New Look 6598. a pattern that I happen to already own. Joy! I also have 6407, which is similar, but the deeper/lower neckline makes it unsuitable for my work wardrobe. And I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that McCalls had just released the 8027, another button-down with princess seams AND an option for a laced-back detail. Happiness!
On one hand, I am glad that I was able to find a few options to work with. On the other, I am sad that there is such a dearth of semi-fitted woven top patterns currently available. BUT!! One of the major perks of sewing my own clothes is that I can adjust any design to include the details and fit adjustments that I would like to have, and that includes princess seams and darts. Yay for home sewing!