The sleeveless top: some tips for the tricky bits

Despite a major case of the Sunday blues after a blissful half term last week, I had to get my hedgehog fabric in shape to be wearable on Monday, so first thing that morning (after two cups of tea – it was still Sunday, after all) I got to it.

This would be my fourth sleeveless top of the week, and my first using a really good, thick cotton. I really liked the previous three tops, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the pattern. Time to get hacking bits off. What’s important to know here is that the pattern I have been using is the Tunic Top from The Great British Sewing Bee book by Tessa Eveleigh. The photo of a finished tunic in the book shows it made with a satin-like material, and with the longest length opted for. I had made mine in the shortest length and with a much tougher fabric, meaning a completely different look upon completion. In the book, the top was presented and floaty, summery, and loose fitting. But let’s face it, it’s still bloody freezing out. I wanted something much more suited to wearing with work trousers, under a blazer and with a cardigan. Plus, I like a bit more shape.

pattern alteringI pinned the pattern in its existing form to the fabric, and carefully lifting the edges, drew a rough guideline from the edge. I took about 1cm off the area around the dart, increasing to about 3cm towards the bottom.

Tip: if you want to alter a pattern but aren’t sure about measurements, make a rough garment from a cheap cotton which you can alter until you get it right. If you’re impatient and feel the need to go straight for it with your chosen (and pricey) fabric, do this part with your fingers crossed.

Following the instructions in this book, things are simple until you reach the zip. Before making this top I hadn’t sewn a zip before, and I don’t often find the jargon of sewing manuals helpful. To simplify these instructions, follow these, but as with the pattern cutting, practice first:

zip insertion1) Sew the back seam up to the bottom plastic/metal part of the zip.

2) With the remaining open seam, fold a 0.5cm fabric over from the right side, and pin this onto the top of the zip. Pin this all the way up one side, starting from the bottom, then do the same on the other side.

3) Make sure everything looks neat and even, then using a zipper foot, sew the zip in one continuous line, making a very tall ‘U’ shape in the end, with very square corners.

Done this? You’re good to go again. Until you reach the shoulder seams. These things are the buggers of the whole process. Now again, this is only in reference to this particular set of instructions, but I definitely needed to reword this part myself to understand it properly (that, and make my practice top entirely wrong).

20140228-224131.jpgOnce you’ve got your facing sewn along the neck line, turn the top wrong way out, then pull an arm hole up and over the neck line. From here, fold 1cm of the sholder seam right sides together and pin. After this, the rest will need checking and double checking that it’s the right way around, but should be easier to get to, and won’t need folding over.

Tip: if something seems too easy to be true, it almost certainly is. Every wrong move has a knock on effect for the rest of the garment, so stop now, go back and check the instructions.


20140228-224142.jpgWhen it comes to sewing it, I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to start as close to the shoulder seam as you can (though it’ll be inside itself by now, so it is tricky, as the book warns), and work your way around until you can reach as close to the other end as you can. Take the pins out, turn it the right way, see what sort of gap you have left, then pull it back through (much easier without pins) and finish off the hole. It’s a toughie, but once you’ve done one, you still have another one left, haha! No, seriously, the next ones you do are much easier as you know what to expect it to look like.

Tip: if you’re not sure you’re pinning the shoulder seam the correct way, think about whether or not you’d be able to turn it back right side out once sewn.

Despite the trickiness, I do think this is a good starter project for anyone wanting more experience in sewing, but probably not as a first ever garment. As the experts say, go for an a-line skirt if that’s the case. Whatever you try, make sure you’re patient with it enough to be proud of it in the end.

Happy sewing, fellow wannaBees!

finished topshedgehog top


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