Clothing Sewing

Improv One – The saga of the formal pyjama top

Having made a second pair of the pyjama shorts pattern from Sew Over It in a gorgeous Rose and Hubble polkadot cotton poplin, I decided that they needed a matching top. I’d bought a pattern for a New Look top, so I thought if I was ever going to have a first attempt at an improv project, now was the time to bite the bullet and see what I was made of. Bear in mind at this point I’m only 3 weeks in to my sewing journey, and still very “gung ho” about the whole experience!

The pattern I chose to use/slightly adapt was this New Look “easy” top – 6434. I wasn’t ready to tackle sleeves yet (give me time…) so I chose style C as it was sleeveless and possibly pyjama top like. The style shows that it should have a lace panel and a ruffled bottom, but I didn’t think there was any need for dressy pyjamas. My plan was therefore to trace the pattern pieces without the ruffle, extending it down to the longer cut lie for views A, B and D. This was improv decision number one. 

NewLook6434
The pattern choice

I traced the pattern and even remembered to include all of the notches – so far so good. I went for a size 10 all over without any grading. We’ll come back to this point in a little while…

I had a Saturday to myself and what better way to spend it than to do some more sewing, and of course I had to get this done in a day. Pattern pinned to the fabric, on the fold line as required, this was nice and simple with only 2 pieces to cut – this was easy! The pattern required a single piece of fabric for the front, and 2 pieces to make the back. Now to have a go at following the instructions. Most of my makes so far had been with the wonderful Sew Over It video tutorials or a quick handy youtube one but how hard can some reading be??

The most confusing part of the instructions was the jump from Top C  to Top A, and then back to Top C. The main bodice was the same for both, with top A having the sleeves to add. I remembered to do the stay stitching on the neckline straight away this time (as I learned from the bias cami), the back pieces were stitched together and the bust darts done (i’m a total pro at these now). Then came challenge number one. This design had an interesting open edge at the top which was folded over twice to cover the raw edge to then square stitch (this is where i’m thinking what the…), with a button and elastic attached for a fastening. After messing with it for a while, I had what I thought was right and I stitched it. Not exactly what I would call square stitching but this was an improv project so I was allowing myself an improv stitching attempt or two and I’m still not entirely sure what I’ve done was right. I also wasn’t entirely sure where to position the elastic loop, but looking at the diagram it looked like it needed to be about 1.5cm below the neckline so I went with that – gung ho remember! 

“Open out one edge of single fold bias tape” – DAMN IT. I realised at this point that I need to also remember to read the full list of requirements properly on the back of the pattern. Feeling cocky now though, I thought I’ll just throw some bias tape together from some of my left over fabric. Before I knew it, the bias tape was on around the neck line and sleeve edges, although at this point I realised I had forgotten how to finish it so I had exposed raw edges (*GASP*) – chalk this one up on the lessons learned board too please. The pattern instructions suggested to baste it, but I stuck with the Sew Over it technique and just pinned and top stitched it. I think it looks ok with the exception of the raw edges, but we don’t need to mention that one again.

Bias binding in progress

The next step was for the front to be stitched to the back. For some reason here I decided to do French Seams – let’s revisit this decision later too.

Skip forward past the ruffle steps and that was the top done with the finishing touch to sew the button on for the fastening. I realised at this point that I had in fact sewn the elastic loop too low down on the opening, and that the edges should have been covered by the bias tape. At this point, I also realised that the button needed to be higher but that was something I could come back to later! 

Time to try it on… and this is a good time to come back to the points I highlighted above as things to revisit:

  • Size 10 in the pattern worked well for me for the bust and waist, but with an hourglass shape I should have realised that this wouldn’t work round the hips, especially as the sizing can be quite small. When putting this on, I had a big old bunched up section at the base of my back where it wouldn’t fit over the derriere. The front however was the right length with the hem (I’d allowed for a double hem of 4cm to take up some of the excess. In hindsight here I could have cut it shorter and then opted for a smaller hem. The key lesson here is that I need to GRADE THE PATTERN. With my hip measurements, I should have perhaps taken it 2 sizes bigger from waist to hips. To counteract this, I later went back, unpicked the hem and about 5cm at the bottom of the back seam, and attempted to put in a ‘V’ or a slit with a similar technique to the top opening. This improved the fit A LOT (but I definitely still haven’t nailed that square stitching yet)
  • French seams are great on a cami and a bias cut, but they were too much on this. They made the sides too rigid and in hindsight I should have stuck with normal seams. 
  • Speaking of bias, I think this top would have benefited from being cut on the bias, given that I was using cotton poplin which is a lot stiffer than the lawn I used before. Being cut on the fold, the structure had no stretch, and I think a bias cut would have given it a bit more drape and movement. Something to try in the future perhaps.
  • The instructions on stitching the back seam weren’t clear and I still need to find a nicer way to finish a seam that has been pressed open. In hindsight, I wish i had zig-zagged the edges or trimmed the seam allowance down a bit. I’ll have to do some research into the best ways to finish seams without an overlocker (adds overlocker to Christmas list)

The biggest lesson overall I think is that I need to have more breaks! I think from the point I started to trace the pattern to the point I stopped and put everything away was about 11 hours in total with most of this spent sewing. I ate lunch, and reluctantly stopped to cook and eat dinner, but at what point do you stop when you’re in the flow? How do you find the right time to pause and take a breather? I’m finding that this is harder to switch off from than my actual job in IT. I am already thinking about making the bias cami with the left over fabric. Send help!

The next improv project that I have lined up will be to make some more of the pyjama shorts with a lengthened crotch seam to hopefully remove the drag lines. This one has been a great learning experience, and I now have a very formal looking pyjama set to sleep in. 

Thanks for reading 🙂

Em x

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