Every good wardrobe has some pieces in beautiful patterned fabrics, but we all need those basics in plains to complement our statement items.
Almost all of us will own at least one stretch top, whether it’s a simple t-shirt style, something loose and floaty, or a form-fitting knit. Often the shape will be very simple, but we can take advantage of the fabulous drape of stretch fabrics to add interest and drama to a design, without reaching for trims or other extras.
Hi, my name is Nicola, and I originally studied Garment Construction. My first proper job was working for a freelance pattern maker, as a "grader": someone who makes the different sizes from the original pattern. She always made patterns in size 10, and I would make an 8, 12 and 14.
I ended up moving out of fashion, but sewing has remained one of my favourite hobbies. It's one of those things that lift me up, and I love getting together with my best friends and chatting about our latest projects. My guess is that there will be other MaaiDesign sewers with the same ideas!
In this post, I'm going through the construction of this stretch fabric top, and I'll show you how to adapt the pattern to make it a full-length sleeve. I hope to inspire you to make something a little different next time you work with stretch fabrics.
This comfortable but stylish top, in cotton jersey knit, has become one of my favourite staples that I mix and match with different skirts and pants. It is smart enough to wear to work, dress up with jewellery and a patterned skirt, or pair with jeans and boots.
What I love about this design is that it takes something that would be very boring and literally gives it a twist. It’s simple but clever, and fun to make.
Here's a diagram of the pattern pieces that make up that unusual collar.
You can see that the front bodice, and front and back collar are one piece, with just a seam in the centre back of the collar. The only separate piece here is the front yoke.
The collar has been created by ruling a line out from the centre front, which is also the straight grain. The angle of the line from the straight grain is 40 degrees.
The collar length is the front neckline measurement plus the back neckline measurement. There is also a 2cm allowance (between the 2 notches) that allow for the fabric of the twist.
The original pattern was slashed and opened up for the armhole seam to meet the collar.
The pattern comes from US company Bootstrap Fashion. This company is unusual because it gives you the option of buying customised patterns. It has software that will adjust the pattern to your measurements when you buy a copy. Now, if you are one of the lucky ones who is a standard size, that’s not exciting news. For the rest of us – yep, that’s me included - it saves a lot of hassle and heartache.
The pattern and instructions come in 2 separate printouts. Be careful – the pattern doesn’t include seam allowance. You’ll have to add that yourself, either to the paper pattern, or as you cut out the fabric.
The garment instructions were pretty basic (I’m including more thorough ones below, if you decide to make this top yourself), but after them were 10 pages of fantastic detailed technical information about stretch fabrics and how to sew with them.
In my opinion, they were worth the price of the pattern alone. They make an excellent reference guide for future stretch projects.
Here’s the instructions, rewritten to be a bit clearer:
1. Stitch centre front seam.
2. Stitch front yokes to collar, lining yoke piece with notches.
3. Stitch front yokes and back together at shoulder seams.
4. Lay collar section on opposite neckline as shown, and sew centre back of collar to centre back. (This was the only tricky bit. I found I needed to pin the collar to the front neckline up to the shoulder seam, to keep the collar pieces from twisting, before I could sew the centre back neck seam.)
5. Sew sleeves to shoulders, making sure back of sleeve is matched to back of bodice. (This is a classic technique for stretch tops, as there is no fiddly ease to worry about in the sleeve head, like you find in woven garments.)
6. Pin together the underarm points where front and back shoulder seam meet, and sew the side seam and underarm seam as one continuous seam.
7. Turn up and finish sleeves and hem.
Extending the Sleeve
Now, if it was a woven, we could get all complicated and follow some technical formula to create the pattern, but it’s stretch, so let’s just use some simple, common sense techniques.
The first thing to do is get your full length sleeve measurement. Pin front yoke pieces to back at shoulder seams, and try on the pattern. This is so you can find where the shoulder seam falls at the head of the sleeve. From that top point, measure all the way down to your wrist.
(If you have added seam allowance to your pattern pieces, remember to measure from the stitching line rather than the edge of the paper).
What’s important is, when you measure the length of your arm, to have your hand on your hip and measure along the outside of your arm. This is because that measurement is longer than when your arm hangs straight. You need to take this into account, otherwise you are going to end up with a sleeve that is too short at the cuff, and that never looks quite right!
Next, loop your tape measure around your wrist, allowing for some ease. This will be your sleeve wrist measurement. Remember that you can always cut off extra fabric, but never add, so be generous and make it a little wider.
Take your existing sleeve pattern and place underarm seams together. Fold in half. You will find that the underarm seams match, and when you open up the paper, the fold line runs parallel with the straight grain. Often, especially with looser stretch tops, the armhole of the sleeve is the same front and back. However, this pattern is more fitted, so the back armhole is longer, just like a woven pattern.
Now tape a large piece of paper to the sleeve pattern, and fold the sleeve in half again, extending the fold down the paper.
Measure from the top point of the sleeve right down the fold line, and mark.
Use a right-angle ruler (or a totally square piece of cardboard) to mark a line at right angles to the fold line. Divide your sleeve wrist measurement, and mark half of the amount either side. (Add 1cm for seam allowance, if you have added it to the sleeve pattern already. Otherwise you can add it at the end.)
Rule a line from sleeve underarm to wrist.
Don’t forget to add 1.2cm for sleeve hem.
I made a full length sleeve pattern, but for this version I cut my sleeves to fall at the elbow.
I chose MaaiDesign's Cotton Jersey for the quality of the fabric. It's warm, but it breathes well, so it's comfortable. There is a great range of colours. I'm crazy about all those mysterious blues and greens that you see when you walk by the ocean. What are your favourite colours?
I hope that has given you some inspiration, and also provided something interesting to think about in the amazing and creative world of pattern design. Don't forget to to share your creations with us by tagging us with @maaidesign and #maaidesign, as we love seeing what you made with the beautiful Cotton Jersey, and other MaaiDesign fabrics.