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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't get me started - a review of Butterick 5495

Oh let's talk.

This week I finished one of Butterick's "fast and easy" patterns, 5495 to be exact, pattern picture here.

Now this is a simple knit talk and I am needing some of those for my everyday life, and since I have found a good brand of easy to wear pull on tightish, slimmish pants (with the stretch woven yoke sort of like my easy short pattern, several posts back) I now really need tops loose and long enough to cover what could be called many other things but really can most accurately be described as a bit of a middle aged female gut. The kind of thing that seeps into your body so that one night you are lying in the bath with a book propped up on your stomach and you look down and say "oh my god." This happens about the same time you realize that other parts of your body are getting thinner, like your thighs and your hair (OK maybe not thinner so much as sort of detaching).

I am going somewhere with this and that is that all of this leads in a pretty straight line, if you are a sewer, to the need to sew more clothes.

Now this Butterick 5495 looks on the pattern envelop as if it has some style and some grace around the middle. Not really. The cut is essentially some very nice under bust gathering achieved by a loop that pulls the fabric in (kind of like a loose top you might have once made where you grabbed all the fabric at the front and said "now that looks better"). Quite flattering with a nice V neckline.

However appearances, in pattern envelopes at least, can be deceiving. In fact this shirt has no more than standard T shirt ease waist down and the effect as you can see in my own blurry picture spotted version (will upgrade the photo later, someone was trying out a new iPhone) is a lot like a twist top but probably easier to figure out.

OK so my advice on this is that if you want more than very moderate room in the waist and hips of this top you best add a couple of inches at the waist and hip. I have already cut out another version in better fabric (this is very comfortable) for another top and even gone so far as to cut an even fuller version in a longer length, sleeveless, for a summer nightgown in some pointelle knit (that's what Fabricmart called it - a single knit with stripes of little holes).

So there are some good things about this pattern.


What's with the pattern companies completely disregarding the realities of modern sewing and knit fabrics with the instructions? No wonder good sewers pay zero attention to the instructions (or buy indy patterns that may have some very basic and maybe even dated styles, but at least have instructions written for real sewing and real sewers - I am sure that most people buy the independent patterns simply because the instructions actually make sense.)

OK, so what do I mean by instructions that refuse to acknowledge knit fabrics or techniques, written I assume by professionals (or more probably cut and pasted from some library of generic sewing instructions) and therefore absolutely doom the new or new-to-knits sewer to failure?

Let me tell you, specifically:

1. The pattern pieces are marked with a straight of grain line. No such thing in knits, that's a woven term. What matters in knits is the direction of greatest stretch and keeping that running around the body. Where is the greatest stretch line in 5495?

2. The sewer is told to sew all seams twice with a straight stitch. If you sew knits chances are very high that you have a serger, and even if you sew on a 50 year old machine you will have some kind of a zig zag. A narrow zig zag is an excellent alternative to a serged seam, but really who do they think is making this top, a person with a treadle machine? What's with the straight stitches only?

3. An enormous proportion of the construction steps are about things that make sense in wovens when stabilizing grain is the thing (see note 1 on the absence of grain in knits) but are just messy and unnecessary in knits and likely to over work the fabric. My own analogy for knit fabrics is pastry, this is something that works best if you treat it with a light hand, over work it and you pull it into a shape from which there is no return - ever see a pie crust that benefitted from an extra 20 minutes of good hard kneading? Exactly.

I have included a few shots here, staystitching a curved seam, stitching one of those little boxes around where you are going to have to clip -a practiced sewer would just ignore this advice but a new sewer would follow this nonsense and end up with a wavy, worried seam.

Also note the hem instructions. Where is the reference to how to actually handle a knit hem so it doesn't stretch out of shape and you don't end up with the dreaded wonky wavy hem? Baste this twice and then press it and then straight stitch it, well that would take as much time as it should to put this little top together and definitely produce your worried hem. 

4. Finally, and this is specific to this top and not to knit instructions in general, the V neckline instructions, illustrated here are really, really odd. Basically you are told to do reinforce stitching, clip to the point of a V, fold under the edges of the V like sort of facings, after which you finished the raw edges and then just to press the facings down. So what about the point of the V? Is that just supposed to be pressed under and just stay? Are they kidding? 

I tried this and of course the finished edge of the facing just stood there showing at the point of the V because there was nothing to hold it down. Also the V was so deep that it in fact ended below my bra band. Not a look that is that sharp on a 56 year old woman even if she made her bra herself and did an excellent job.

My solution was to sew a little dart to close the neckline up and finish the bottom of the V (fold the top right sides together and start stitching about 3" above the point of the V which then becomes the dart point - doesn't that make any sense? It will when you have it in your hand).

Final thoughts on Butterick 5495 - nice and interesting top but use your own head to put it together.

And better photos next time. And maybe the next pattern won't make me crazy and I won't look that way in the picture, vertical hair and all.


Liz said...

What a great review, it made me LOL. I am always wary of the sketches on patterns, somehow the real thing never looks as good, I liken them to airbrushed photos. That said I think the top is very flattering on you and as a woman with the same complaints (thicker middle, thinner thighs and hair!) I think I'll add this pattern to my list. Those dolman sleeves will camouflage the back fat above my bra very nicely! How times have changed - I now choose patterns based on what I want to cover up rather than what I want to show.

Maryissewfast said...

Thanks for a great review. I had been considering buying that pattern, but it looks suspiciously like a style that came out in Burda Word of Fashion a couple years ago, which I have already traced and made. Think I'll save my money and dig out the BWOF pattern!

sdBev said...

Wait till you work with Burda patterns. You sit there and wonder "what does that mean". That's in addition to the brevity of instructions. Burda expects you to know how to sew and provides very few instructions. The Big 4 ought to take the same position, because as you pointed out, their instructions are poor at best. A new sewist would be terribly disgruntled.

a little sewing said...

Barbara, your review made my day.
still laughing :)

AngelatheCreativeDiva said...

Love the review. I guess this pattern goes on the back burner. I don't feel like being aggravated.

Nancy Winningham said...

I love this post! Even though I am an experienced sewer, it is so ingrained in me to follow pattern directions (thanks, Mom) that sometimes I start with all this foolishness before my senses come to me and I stuff them back in the envelope. Do I throw them away? Of course not, I want to pass those same ridiculous instructions on to someone else in the future for some reason. Hah!

Jen in Oz said...

I know this is an old post, but I've got this pattern, have made it before (in the sleeveless tunic variation) and have just pulled it out and was thinking of making the long-sleeved version for this winter. I thought I had read somewhere instructions on how to make the front neckline look better by facing it (with a separate piece of fabric) instead of just turning the edges under. Do you think I can find that reference anywhere? Do you think it's a good idea?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for review I have just cut this top out and realised that Piece # 2 says it is for A and B so I didn't bother cutting as I am making C. Then struggled to work out instructions as nothing was fitting together. Luckily I go to a sewing school and the teacher suggested I was missing a piece. Going back today for another lesson and at least will know some strategies when the neckline is way to low for a 63 year old only just trying some more challenging patterns as a beginner :)

Full of Wonder said...

Barbara, Could you please still offer some advise on the pattern? I am struggling with turning the facing, as in step 18. I see some people stabilized the facing (which I wanted, but was concerned about bulk) but I only added seam binding to the edge to avoid possible rolling. That being done, I do not understand how this facing is turned, sort of, inside out backward. Thanks so much for the post. I did think all the double stitching unnecessary, but went ahead with some, as I am learning about knots.