back cowl

(or why I don’t sew big 4 patterns)

As summer often zaps all of my creative energy, I often look for a nice easy knit top to help ease my hot weather angst and to help me feel productive.

Unintentional Back Cowl

I have a nice summery knit I picked up in Santa Fe when my husband and I were there celebrating our anniversary (sans kids) last month.  It’s some sort of cotton blend from Santa Fe Fabrics (go there if you’re there–the sales staff is friendly and very helpful…their prices and quality are similar to Emma One Sock).  It had pretty similar stretch in all directions, so I decided to play with the grain, cutting the yoke on the crossgrain, the back on grain, and the fronts on the bias.  Should have been a perfect storm of good things, right?

back cowl

I pulled out Butterick 5429, a now OOP wardrobe pattern with a fun cut-on sleeve with a front neckline twist.

back cowl

I don’t have much to complain about in the way of directions–they yield a fine top.  I suppose from the drawing here you can see that the twist leaves a rather large “loop” open to the world.  Really it’s more of a gaping 2″ hole, so I unstitched my topstitching on the loop and stitched up the CF seam until I reached the twist after I had finished all of the other raw edges.  Annoying, but it was not unexpected and it’s an easy fix.

It’s a little annoying that I can’t wear 90% of my necklaces because the height of the neckline twist is right where my necklaces sit.  Annoying because I’m a necklace wearer, but this is a cosmetic problem.

My issue with this pattern is that it’s enormous.  It doesn’t bother me so much that I had to take in the sides a little bit (I exaggerate again–according to Butterick’s sizing charts, there’s 5″ of bust ease on an 8 and something like 9″ of waist ease for this “close fitting” top), but the neckline is so absurdly wide–hence the unintentional back cowl.

back cowl

If I were to wear the shoulders where they actually lie on the top, they are 1.5″ too wide on either side.  3″? on an 8?  This is wackadoodle.

And this is my frustration with big 4 patterns.  Some of them are sized perfectly fine, and others might as well be muu-muus made by a tent maker.  When I sew a 32 in Burda/Ottobre/or Jalie, I get a 32.  Period.  No guessing.  It’s not falling off my shoulders and creating back cowls because of a too wide neckline**, it’s a 32, and it’s going to fit.  So what if I have to spend a little time in crazy tracing land getting my eyes a little crossed.  If the end result is something that is constructed well, has great details, and above all FITS, I will happily trace away.

It makes me rethink my resolution to purchase what otherwise looks like a very pretty Butterick 5796.

My full review is here.  I promise it’s not too vengeful.  I gave it a “OK but did not work for me” rating.  It’s wearable, but not comfortable in the way I’ve grown accustomed to wearing.

**The knit that I’m using is fairly lightweight here.  On beefier, heavier knits I would guess that the weight of the faux cowl would be distributed across the shoulders and the shoulder seams fall would off the edge of the shoulder instead of creating a back cowl.  This was the first fitting challenge that I had to overcome when I started garment sewing.  I initially thought it was a problem with CB and for a while I was darting out the neck at CB or cutting down CB and making a seam there and narrowing it down the whole seam.  Both of those narrowed the neckline for sure, but came with their own problems like “poofy neck”.  It was a revolution to me when I discovered I could just cut a smaller size in the neck and shoulders and not have that problem.  It’s taken me years to understand that Burda’s drafting is consistent enough in the neck and shoulders to be trusted.  Whatever company you use the most–spend time figuring them out and stick to your findings–you will have a lot fewer wadders, I promise!

Elizabeth Made This

Let’s keep the conversation going!  Check out my sewing dreams and inspiration on Pinterest, and keep up to date on my projects on Instagram and Facebook.

[maxbutton id=”1″]


  1. Oh Butterick… I just finished a Butterick knit top too, with a wacky, wide neckline. And I cut it a size smaller too – still wacky. Sigh.
    That fabric is super fun though, and the top looks cute, so still wearable? Or does it make you too crazy?

  2. It’s wearable for sure, if for no other reason than it keeps me cool. But I won’t be making this pattern again for certain.

  3. I agree, you’d think the companies that have been making patterns for >100 years would be more consistent!

    It’s really frustrating, and I agree that I’d rather spend time tracing European patterns if it gets me the right size.

  4. Ditto on you comments re: consistency in drafting. I know my size in Burda, Knipmode and LMB and it’s always the same. Not so with the big 4. Therefore i stay away from the big four. Simplicity and Vogue designer seem the most trustable of that lot though. KwikSew was pretty good but I don’t trust it now that it’s McCalls .. XP

  5. I’m used to rechecking the widths and lengths on ever piece I work on. That doesn’t guarantee further adjustments during sewing, it just gives me more confidence that it’s more likely to work out.
    I can see that your top is very wearable.

  6. Pingback: The T-Shirt Project #4: Madewell Toulouse Tee | ~E Made This!

  7. You are completely right about that top. I had the same problems with mine with the addition of a pouch of fabric front and center I had to take up by eliminating at least an inch of fabric and I also had to sew up the gaping hole a bit. These changes didn’t make it into my review because I didn’t realize until I wore it a few times, so I will go update it now. I haven’t made any of the other pieces in that pattern but at least I’ve been warned to watch out!

  8. Pingback: Colorblocked Hudson Pant - Elizabeth Made This

  9. Pingback: The T-Shirt Project #4: Madewell Toulouse Tee - Elizabeth Made This

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.