This week’s challenge is to “Show some love” to an item in our closets that we don’t wear as much as we could. To do this we were to sew 2 different pieces that can separately coordinate with the unworn item. My answers to this challenge are this floral sheath dress and geometric hem tunic.
My unloved item is this tan knitted Cabi bolero jacket. I picked it up in a consignment store when I was pregnant with my 3rd son. At the time, I thought I’d wear it often due to the fact that bolero jackets by nature don’t approach my then expanding tummy. I loved the flower embellishment, and the tan color is just about my perfect neutral color.
In practice, I never could figure out how to wear this jacket. Every dress I tried to pair it with resulted in a really boring color combination or created an odd silhouette. I also tried pairing it with knit tops. Most of my knit tops have 3/4-length sleeves. Somehow, the combination of a cap sleeve and ¾ length sleeve ended up visually shortening my already short arms. The end result was awkward. Still, I’ve always hung onto this jacket, in hopes that I’d figure out how to wear it another time. My style solutions are this geometric hem tunic and floral sheath dress.
Geometric Hem Tunic
A couple of years ago, I bought a ready to wear tunic. It features this really cool seaming in the front and back that flare out into a geometric hem. I love the lines of this top, but it is at least 4 sizes too big for me and not a good color on me. It’s always been my goal to modify my TNT t-shirt pattern into something very much like this tunic.
To do this, I traced off a fresh copy of my t-shirt pattern (which is Jalie 2921 minus the v-neck and scarf collar, plus the scoop neck of an Ottobre t-shirt). Then, I set my t-shirt pattern over the tunic and traced off the style lines. The tunic was meant for someone with a larger body circumference, but also someone much taller than me. At 5’2.5”, tunics are always a little tricky; they’re usually too long, and I can wear them as dresses.
To get the style lines in a better place for me, I raised the points where the seams intersected. I looked at the points where the lines crossed and hit the side seams proportionally to the length of the original tunic then transferred that to my own proportionally shorter pattern. I also took in the waist considerably. Trying to fit my waist without losing the draping, flared side seams was a bit of a challenge. In the end, I came up with side seams that kept the effect of the original tunic without leaving me swimming in fabric.
I took the majority fabric for this top from a RTW striped cotton/rayon/spandex t-shirt. The weight of this knit is great for a fall/winter tee. Since I had limited yardage to work with, I chose two other knits to coordinate with the stripe: a tan cotton poly jersey, and a peachy pink stretch lace. Mixing knits is one of my favorite things in making t-shirts. One tip for mixing knits is to make sure that the knits are of similar weight and stretch. This way the knits will sew together easily, and you’ll get smooth, pucker-free seams.
The lace sections are underlined with the tan jersey. First, I cut out the pattern pieces from the tan jersey. After that, I overlaid the jersey pieces with the lace and hand basted around the perimeter of the pieces. Then cut lace edges even with the jersey and treat the two fabrics as one.
Lace is also added over the left sleeve. When I had sewn the front to the back as well as the sleeve seams, I noted the height where the lace from the bottom front would hit the sleeve horizontally when the t-shirt was finished. Then I made a quick pattern piece by modifying my sleeve pattern so that it continues the seam line on the lace. I like how the lace has a different look when backed with the stripe vs. the jersey.
I played around with the stripes a little bit by cutting the neck binding on the bias. The striped section on the back also runs vertically. This stripe knit has 4-way stretch, so I knew that turning it as I pleased would not affect the fit because of the additional stretch.
To construct the top, I used my sewing machine and a zigzag stitch to finish. I usually serge all of my knit tops, but with the lace, I wanted a more delicate finish.
I’m really happy with how the bolero works with the long sleeve. Also, because the colors of the bolero are actually in the colors of the knit top, I think they harmonize really well together.
Floral Sheath Dress
For my second coordinate, I chose Ottobre 2-2009-17. It’s a lined sheath dress. I chose this pattern because the floral print does not get broken up by any horizontal seams on the front or back.
For this dress, I used nice midweight cotton batik I had in my stash. The full lining is brown tricot. This pattern has 4 neckline pleats which I secured with invisible hand stitches. There’s so many darts on this pattern! Between the lining, facing, and the fashion fabric, there’s 20 darts to sew!
At the outset, I have to mention that I’m petite. I’m not only shorter than average, but my frame is quite narrow. Typically, I avoid a lot of alterations by grading down the neck and shoulders of all patterns at least one size to a size 32 in European patterns and various sizes in other patterns. I also have to shorten hems and sleeves. These two alterations I do immediately, without question, but sometimes I encounter a more challenging fit problem. Though this is a simple dress in theory, the sleeveless armhole took me a long time to get right.
I’m short proportionally between my shoulder and my bust, so sleeveless armholes always have too much circumference. The end result is that the armholes dip down too low and my bra shows. Not exactly a classy look, and it’s really uncomfortable.
I didn’t have time this week to make a muslin for this dress as I would normally to check the armhole. Instead, I found myself reverse-engineering the fit to get what I needed. Ultimately, I think I ended up with a better fit than the times I’ve tried to conquer sleeveless armholes.
Making a smaller armhole after cutting
To make the armhole smaller (which in turn raises the armhole to an appropriate level), I took out 2″ from the bottom of the armhole, tapering down to zero 3.25″ below into the side seam. There was a little excess fabric in the bust, so I could confidently take out what I needed in the side seam without ending up with an unwearable dress.
The back armhole also was gaping a little, so I pinned out 5/8″ from the back armhole edge. Not wanting to have a visible dart in the back armhole, I rotated this excess out into the shoulder seam. The excess taken out tapers to zero at the back shoulder’s neck edge.
Usually I do horizontal folds out of the front and back and the sleeve if I need to “petite” a pattern, but this raises the neckline. Since the neckline depth was already at a height I liked, I was glad to have discovered an armhole alteration that not only doesn’t affect the neckline, but one that I could change after the fact. There’s some pieces of RTW in my closet that I’m totally pulling out and fixing with these alterations!
The pattern did not have any pockets, so I added 2 single welt pockets on the front.
I also added a vent in the back so that I could walk around with ease.
I really like how the color of the bolero picks up the browns in the floral print. Silhouette-wise, I think the jacket and the dress work really well together too. Though it’s a sleeveless dress, this will be a good transition piece for me into fall. Our falls tend to stay warm for a long time. I can always add a layering tee under the dress for an extra bit of warmth if needed.
I loved making both of these garments! Now I have 2 pieces to combine with a jacket I’ve always wanted to wear!
You can check out the other participants’ entries and vote for my dress and top at the Fabric Mart blog.