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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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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fitting process: example of a basic woven tee

This summer in the Northern Hemisphere has been very hot. It has quickly become apparent to me that knit tops are just too warm for this weather. What a person does not need in the heat is something clinging to her body. As a result I have returned to the idea of a woven tank top - something I haven't made in years. 

To be honest my daughter had great success with the Willow tank but I decided I needed something with a good bust dart. I also thought it was about time I used some of the patterns I had bought in previous bursts of quickly burnt out enthusiasm before I went out shopping again.

That prompted me to try the tiny pocket tank from Grainline. Here is their shot of it done up:

I am fairly scrawny in the neck and shoulders area so even before I attempted this pattern I had my doubts that it would be a success. But I decided to give it a go and work through the issues with my own fitting principles.

Version One:

This one I did on the rule I have made for myself for all new patterns - make it as the designer intended first so I could get a good look at exactly where this particular pattern needed adjustment. It is to easy to assume that you need to make the same alterations to every pattern. However if you are not careful it is very easy to start cutting up the pattern and changing it so drastically right immediately that you never can find your way back to the original.

So here is my first iteration done in a remnant left over from my cotton gauze jacket. Note my bust measurement is between sizes so I cut the smaller of the two possible sizes:

For this one I tried a free background removing program to see if that would be handy for those times when there is a garbage can or something non artistic behind me. What do you think?

Now this top makes me look distressingly matronly and is way too loose IMO. The darts are in the right place though and that is a good thing. I also lengthened this unit by 2" because I am tall, but I am thinking as waists go up and pants get wider that I need to reconsider shorter tops. I have worn this several times in really hot weather however and I have to say frumpy is comfortable and cool.

Version two:

OK I went down a full size to what is actually 4" less than my full bust and did a full bust adjustment. I also hoisted up the shoulders about 1/2" at the front because I have text neck, and added two small darts at the back neck. I also raised the neckline at front 2". I also did not add length to this version.

These were too many pattern alterations to attempt at one time, I know better, and this is what happened:

The neckline and shoulders are more where I need them on this body, and the length is better. The above the bust fit is good but look at those darts! Of course they moved up when I raised the shoulder.

Back to the drawing board. BTW the fabric is a nice cotton gauze from the Grandmothers for grandmothers (Canadian grandmothers helping African grandmothers raising grandchildren) annual fabric and craft sale, which is amazing. I still have a bunch of this left.

Version three:

This one has the darts in the right place and the overall fit is comfortable. I used the block method to move down the darts which is exactly what it sounds like, I cut a square around the dart and just moved that whole block down. Gives a much more accurate dart than just reorienting the point.

But what else is happening here? 

Look at those wrinkles under my arm. Fortunately wrinkles are easy to read - wherever they point is where there is not enough room. In this case I am back to another issue created by my decision take up some fabric in the front shoulder seam - I created a raised front armhole. Good lesson here that one alteration can produce the need for another one - always interesting to me how issues ricochet around a garment.

Fabric was a remnant left over from a shirt I made for my oldest son. These fitting experiments are great for using up leftovers.

Which brings us to:

Version four:

I cut down the underarm for this version a full 3/4" here and most of the wrinkles are gone. It certainly feels better. I do think that I have one more tweak to do and that is to cut out the front of the armhole a bit to reduce the potential to bind when my arms go forward. When that's done I think I am good. The fabric is a stash resident that was bought to line a bag but I have such a weakness for retro prints here it is in a top instead. I have yet to make a bag this summer.

A few thoughts on this whole process.

Generally I don't enjoy fitting. I really love construction and I sort of feel that fitting is a nuisance process I have to do so I can get to the fun part. I have friends who make innumerable muslins of every pattern before they make a garment. I would never do that. I mean my favourite kitchen utensils are the food processor and the crock pot.

That said I really do spend the time to refine a pattern when I feel it is going to be a TNT basic for me. This is now something I can whip up when I want to use a nice print. Also since my travels and my own climate make shell and cardigan combos really practical, I am working now on the idea of tops I can wear in the summer and later wear with some kind of a jacket/cardigan when its cooler. This pattern will work for that.

I am also not a great believer in over fitting. It is certainly possible to obsess over every wrinkle and fold but when you eliminate those completely you often lose mobility, not to mention the over articulation of your own shape, which may or may not be a good thing.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I have had a similar fitting issue with this pattern (maybe that's way it's no longer available). I finally got the fit right and have made it many many times.

bbarna said...

Great progress shots. I have not yet tried a woven tank. If we would just have some warm weather, I might give it a try. My latest sew was a Jalie Alex pullover as it was freezing and wet on our camping trip. Great out of the package. Your 4th and final top looks wonderful.
Barb from Prince George.

Sew Many Reasons said...

Thanks so much for this post, it is great to see someone with experience go through the fitting and muslin process in detail like this.

AJW said...

I love woven tanks and your process has reminded me to take another look at this pattern. Thank you for sharing the process and your fixes. This has been incredibly helpful to read, and it is most generous of you.

Cherie said...

Barbara, very nice progress pics, you are the master! Very helpful post. I also love the idea of making a woven top like yours.

Annie said...

Thanks for this review. I have had this pattern at the top of my "to sew" list for a while and I really need to get busy and make some. I think the first version would have been fine with me if it had been shorter. I like all the versions you made. Great pattern and a fun exercise.

Angela said...

Loved this post! It is easy to start thinking that bloggers never go through such hassles like us ordinary mortals LOL.

BarbaraShowell said...

The background removing program has some pretty hard edges compared to photo shop, but did a pretty good job. Can you paste your clipped photo to a new background?
I was amazed it took YOU all those versions to get happy. I’ve been working, very discouraged, on a similar woven tank thinking I must be one oddly shaped dim witted fitter! I feel a little better, though I still haven’t got there yet.

Patty said...

I have the sleeveless version of the Love Notions Harmony top cut out and pinned to my dressform. I used a lovely cotton voile, and am anxious to get some time at my sewing machine to put it together. I'm hoping it's my answer for a woven top to wear in the hot summer months, and also to make as a layering piece for the winter. Fingers crossed!

Sis said...

I do tend to keep fitting patterns - always find little tweaks once I have worn a garment for a little while. Sometimes it results in me throwing in the towel and give up because my fitting skills are not all that brilliant. I do find I have to put up with a few wrinkles in order to move in tops if I want something fitted.
I mostly wear woven tops in summer - find them much more comfy than jersey t-shirts. Downside is the ironing ;-D
So glad to hear you use the box alteration for bust darts - I only recently discovered that particular possibility. Would have saved me lots of agony over the past 10 years. Now I make my own bras I do not have to worry about darts fitting one day and not the next - amazing how a bra can create havoc with fitting.

Unknown said...

I went through virtually the same alterations with the Sorbetto tank. I find, though, after wearing them, the armhole is simply too tight and the thing is TOO LARGE! I was thinking large = cool, but it ended up being large=clumsy-feeling. Next summer, I'll try again.

Vicki said...

"Over articulation of your own shape"! Yup! I vote for disguise (smile).

Tracy King said...

Thank you for showing us all the versions and talking is through them. I don’t enjoy fitting either and have a bad habit of abandoning patterns/projects if they don’t fit me the first time. I will try to work on that after reading this. I like the pictures with the background personally. Even a garbage can has more personality than nothing.

knitmachinequeen (KMQ) said...

I think you did a great job as each iteration was better than the one before it. Well done.

Brigitte said...

I prefer a background, garbage can and all. As for fitting, I would rather not. But I'm sorry to say I'm one of those who can't help but fuss with the design/fit before cutting. Thank you for showing us your fitting process; this is very helpful. I need to go to Fabricland and buy cheap cotton and start making muslins!

Kamchick said...

Thank you for showing us how to keep on keeping on to get it just right - I did a similar exercise with the Charlie caftan - have four of them, all different fabrics. The fourth one is the best fit. These, too, are not clingy in the hot weather and can be worn as dresses or over pants (black flies where we live!). Your teaching and encouragement are so appreciated...

Jean said...

Thank you for showing all of the steps you took to make this top fit. I really enjoy this kind of nuts and bolts process type post. I did like the no background picture as it made it easy to concentrate on the fitting issue. However, a photo of your garbage can is ok with me!

Sarah Wale said...

Thanks for another great post. Your progression of pictures perfectly illustrates the need to spend time (and patience!) on fitting; a little tweak really can make all the difference. The block method is really fantastic. I have used it all the time since I got your book and never had trouble with bust darts since.
I actually liked the long white gauze version on you but agree it wouldn't work with wide pants or skirts - great with skinny pants or leggings, though. (The white background is good and shows the subject well, but it's also nice to see your garden growing!)
I think the fabric is the main decider in any style and a long loose top made in a soft, fluid, floaty fabric that moves when you do is more flattering than the same top in a less mobile, heavier fabric.
And, by the way, 1) you are not scrawny and 2) you couldn't look frumpy if you tried!

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the 'fitting issues' post. I am shortly to begin delving into sewing a couple of sleeveless tops for our up coming summer - what you experienced this year we have every summer! Woven, loose, floaty airy tops but if I look frumpy, so what, I will be cool. I enjoy looking at the backgrounds in photos, to see the differences compared to where I live. Sam the Aussie

Linda in SC said...

Thank you so much for this post. I tried the Tiny Pocket Tank a few years ago when I was just getting back into sewing and ran into some fitting issues, but did not have the patience or expertise to try to work through them. I agree that it is worth the time to perfect the fit on a TNT basic (and then hope my body doesn’t change too much). Unless it changes by getting smaller, in which case I would happily work through fitting issues again. I look forward to reading everything you write, thank you so very much for sharing your love of sewing and your thoughts on life. Oh, I too am happy to see garbage cans in photos.

Anonymous said...

I liked the first version best. It fits you best in the shoulders/bust dart location, and the armhole looks very good (no gapping in the front ir back). I think you just should have raised the front neckline, whacked 4” off the bottom, and taken in the sides a little (and maybe done a shirt-tail hem of some sort to the bottom). No changes at all to the shoulders/armholes. Each iteration just pointed you back to where you started with the first version.

ElleC said...

Unlike your end of the country, in BC we haven't been experiencing extremely hot weather (apparently that changes this week), but I so need a dozen or so woven tanks. I have this pattern and had totally forgotten about it, and your post moved it up the queue. And I am so glad that I am not the only on who doesn't enjoy fitting. It is totally boring and it annoys me when I have to do it. Oh well.

sewingkm said...

I just finished reading your book - fantastic! As a sewist for 61 years (who's counting?) I agree with all your info especially your comments about sewing with joy. I'm a sticker for a good fit and your determination on perfecting this simple tank top is admirable. By using fabric scraps you made the journey interesting. Thanks for sharing. Karen

Annieloveslinen said...

You are tenacious and have got a good result by trial and error, I've been sitting on Pamela's Perfect Tee for years and finally got around to making it last month, honestly, it was perfect without any changes, I think I've made fiive so far, genius.

I too have your book, I love it.

Linda in SC said...

Thank you so much for this post. I tried the Tiny Pocket Tank a few years ago when I was just getting back into sewing and ran into some fitting issues, but did not have the patience or expertise to try to work through them. I agree that it is worth the time to perfect the fit on a TNT basic (and then hope my body doesn’t change too much). Unless it changes by getting smaller, in which case I would happily work through fitting issues again. I look forward to reading everything you write, thank you so very much for sharing your love of sewing and your thoughts on life. Oh, I too am happy to see garbage cans in photos.

Peggy A said...

Fantastic post! I've been teaching myself to fit my me-made garments. I struggle with some of the same fitting issues--narrow around the shoulders and neck. I have sloping shoulders as well so I always begin with that pattern correction.

If a pattern fits (good dart position and fit at the armscye) but is still loose around the neckline and body circumference I have been known to "fudge" it by taking off a fraction of an inch at the center front and back. This is so easy it feels like I am cheating!

Thank you for the tip on block method of moving a dart! I have tried moving the point with only limited success. Now I have this method to add to my bag of tricks.

You are so right about over-altering a pattern so it ends up looking unrecognizable from the designer's original vision. This happened to me when I added a bust dart to the Grainline Scout. I didn't want it to look boxy but by the time I was done with it I was "over-articulated" as you so aptly put it. My third version is a good fit and a reasonable version of the original design. But after all this trial and error I came to the conclusion that a boxy tee will just never be the best look on my slope-shouldered, short-waisted, full-busted petite-ish figure. (pics on insta @lifeistooshortforbeige)

So, now my quest is to find patterns, pattern lines and designers whose sloper better fits my own shape. I think I'm on the right track with Itch to Stitch, whose Isidro knit blouse fit me on the first try--NO pattern alterations! I've also had a good run with 100 Acts of Sewing patterns. They are simple basics, eminently hack-able, fun to sew and fit!

Maybe the hint is in the designers' own figures and I should avoid buying from designers who are tall and broad-shouldered?

swedishseams said...

Thank you so much for this post!!... as a relatively new sewist, I've felt quite discouraged about the fitting process. Seeing someone as experienced as yourself need to go through several fitting rounds makes me realise it has nothing to do with my experience or inexperience, but rather that NO ONE fits the fitting block.

Josie said...

Hi Barbara
Thanks for sharing your wisdom on Summer & sewing.I feel entitled to Summers. Growing up on the edge of a jungle( Amazon tributary). 2 words: rain, dry. It rained for 8,9 months, then blissiful almost dry months.
On sewing, great use of fabric remnants. I need to use mine. Leftover fabric grows, "I can hear them" growing.
I love version #4. #5. I must try the bust alteration, dah!! I didn't know.
Bust size B need a dart? Not sure, maybe sometimes?

Soon putting fabric remnants to good use,for practice garments when I return from S. America.
Have a great week

Quiet and Sun by Alexa said...

I like them all but my favourite is numebr three.

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