Fix It June: Tote the II Forever!

Next up on my Fix It list: My replacement tote that’s barely six months old.

Self-drafted Tote v2

Sadly poor construction quality is not limited to fast-fashion RTW. Tote I lasted me almost two years. So it was definitely a WTF moment when the handle tabs on Tote II started doing this:


I thought the thicker faux leather would last longer. I was wrong. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but here are my suspects:

  1. 5-compareDifferent D-rings I used this time have rectangular wire profile where as Tote I had rounded wire profile. Combined with heavy grocery maybe the pointier edge acts like knife edge.
  2. Lack of tab reinforcement from woven interfacing. Can’t remember whether I reinforced Tote I, but Tote II definitely needed this. And it needed a stiff interfacing at that. For these softer tabs keep shifting to the extra pointy corners of the D-rings.

I decided changing 1 would be too much hassle, so 2 it was then. Apart from a layer of old woven interfacing, I stiffened the center bit that goes around the D-Ring with a double layer of Ban-Rol (precut interfacing for waistbands that won’t collapse heightwise). I bought these long before I discovered that standard waistbands don’t like  my short-waisted torso. Now it finally found a use!

The replacement tabs had to be hand stitched and the stitching shows on the inside of the bag. Not brilliant. But at least functional. And thanks to an old-fashion thimble and needle grabber, I managed to do it without spilling blood.

While I was at it I tried to enlarge the zipper pull too. Clio was right that Lampo zippers are some smooth operators. And Don Morin was right that a large ring pull is a plus for practical zipped bags. My Lampo’s pull was lamentably anemic. My stash & trash yielded no matching ring pull of any sort, not even a keyring. So I end up wrapping the existing pull with a scrap from the tab redo. Hopefully this tote will now last me a while longer.


Fix It June: Sari Top

Or more correctly a “choli“.

So Me-Made-May set me on the path to Fix-It-June.
First to be sorta fixed is this choli top.

The pattern was self-drafted based on an earlier sloper, and didn’t account for breathing ease nor my uneven sloping shoulders. As with most alterations there is a limit to how much improvement that can be made. Here are the before & after mug shots.

Before Mug Shots

After Mug Shots

  • The left back side is now better after a sloping shoulder adjustment.
  • I can now breath after letting out tiny bits on all princess & side seams.

But I can still see fitting problems…The armholes feel a bit tight and there are draglines along the neckline pointing toward the shoulder tips. It’s as if the sleeves are pulling the neckline outward. I wonder if perhaps the lack of sleeve cap ease / shallow cap is the culprit.

sleeve-cap-ease My theory is that there’s not enough room in my sleeve cap to accommodate the roundness of my shoulder joints, so the sleeves want to pull the shoulder tips outward to compensate, and without a smaller neckline to counter-act this tendency the sleeves win, resulting in the neckline being pulled apart / outward. So what this top wanted was more like the left side in the picture below, but what I’m getting is more like the right side. (More on my sleeve block experiment here.)

It’s a shame I experimented first on the nicer of my two choli fabrics and made it in a rush for an occasion. This red one is silk and I think it came with the matching silk sari that I wore in the mug shots above. The other red one is cotton and might also have been bought as a set with the matching sari. I have another green cotton sari, but no matching choli fabric for it.

 Saris: An Illustrated Guide To The Indian Art Of Draping by Chantal Boulanger Ja, I went through a sari-mad phase, but never mastered the art of sari-wearing. I even bought this fascinating book by anthropologist Chantal Boulanger called “Sari: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping“. It documents 100 different ways of sari draping worn by the various castes in different regions of the Indian subcontinent. Absolutely fascinating. And sad that some of these methods may soon be forgotten. Thankfully the book includes instructions & diagrams for these different drapes.

> You can sample few pages from the book here

In London you do see women wearing Saris on the street. And they always look so elegant regardless of their size, shape, or age. Even the impoverished ladies you see in documentaries about rural India look elegant in their sari. All that without complicated fancy sewing. Amazing.

Here are my not so brilliant attempts
at three of the drapes…



Maybe I should practice wearing saris more often.
It would certainly be a good justification for
my Sari & Not-So-Sari stashes! 😉

Bust Ruched Raglan T

Not to let the little scraps from my latest muslins go to waste, I used them up wearable-muslining yet another raglan T remake. The original was Burdastyle 2010-02-122 first in a Breton stripe with hardly any alterations, then again in a scratchy glittery pinky number with alterations based on a previous knit block. This time I decided to recreate the style-lines using my own blocks.

Style Shots & Mug Shots

WORN WITH: 1-2 Self-drafted pencil skirt

The Design & Pattern

Block Used:

Dartless Raglan Fitted Knit Top Block (Bodice & Sleeve)

Because there’s slight difference in shoulder slope between my Darted and Dartless Knit Blocks, I decide to draft the Dartless Raglan separately rather just cover over the style-lines and hope for the best. The approach is exactly the same as for my Dartless Raglan Block Test 3.

Design Changes Made

  1. Lowered necklines and shorten sleeves & hem.
  2. Added underbust seam. The back one wasn’t really necessary, but I didn’t have big enough scrap to cut the back as one piece.
  3. Added a little bit ease to side seams and sleeve seams for a skimming not tight look.
  4. Pivot the side bust dart to CF.
  5. Slash and spread the front bust piece. With my current Do-It-With-Conviction mindset, I decided that the Burda original’s bust ruching was too wimpy and the mostly horizontal ruching risk a repeat of the mono-boob look which I rejected in the guise of Burda 2013-03-113 (now given away). So I spread the splashes the full arch from raglan seam to underbust seam for a startburst effect (rather than just to the side seam). The Burda original had curved CF. Mine came out rather straight. And since I was also worried that CF neckline might gap, I curved my CF an extra 3/4″ and shorten my bust pieces neckline by easing 1/2″ into stablizing Vilene Bias Tape.

The result of these changes, as you see in the first fitting above, wasn’t pretty. My overzealous bust ease + side seam ease + front neckline shortening resulted in a deflated PVC balloon look. By this point I had already finished the neckline, and my eye-sight too old to cope with unpicking. The only things I could do were:

  • Tighten the bodice by removing the side seam ease and the bust CF curved ease.
  • Unpick the CF seams from the neckline down just enough to lengthen the neckline back to what it is in the pattern.

These seem to have helped a bit. The bust doesn’t look so bad now.

Fabric & Notions Used

Construction Notes

  • Only the neckline was stablized with Vilene Bias Tape. The Burda original have you stablize the raglan seams as well. Unlike with normal shoulder seams for long sleeve knit garments, I never found any conclusive advice whether raglan seams need stablization. Since my armholes feel a bit on the tight side I decide to leave these seams stretchable for more comfort.
  • My sewing order: CF bust seam > Underbust seams + Raglan seams > Finish neckline > Hand pleat bust & tack CF loop in place at neckline and inside underbust seam > Sleeve – Side seams > Hems
  • 2-detail-bustRush For bust ruching I prefer irregular hand pleating rather than machine gathering. I find with fabric that aren’t heavy/drapy gathering result in unsightly puffiness. Irregular hand pleating produce more natural looking drapes.

The Verdict

Again a very wearable muslin. But I’m still on the fence about my over-zealous bust ruching. I will have to study photos of this type of design detail more carefully and figure out how exactly I’d like bust ruching to look. As Clio commented on my Instagram preview of my first fitting…

There really is a “just right” amount when it comes to ruching on the bust, isn’t there?!?!

Dartless Raglan Fitted Knit Top Block the end

Warning, more boring hair splitting / fit tweaking ahead. So let’s get the style shots out of the way first. Then you can tune out if you’re so incline!

Problems recapped

My complaints about my Dartless Raglan wearable muslin Test 1 were…

  1. position of the raglan seams looked off and unbalanced
  2. armholes felt a bit tight
  3. more sleeve drape at underarm than I would have liked

Tests 2 & 3

First, I started with my latest revised Dartless Fitted Knit Top Block and its re-drafted from scratch sleeves (turned into Camden Kids Wannabe top). I had hope the new sleeve draft would magically make my mis-matching bodice vs sleeve raglan seam lengths go away. No such luck. So the question is how to increase the bodice raglan seam length and/or reduce the sleeve raglan seam length. The problem is partly caused by the sleeve cap height.

  • In Test 1 I reduced the sleeve cap height by allowing it to overlap the bodice armscye.
  • For Test 2, I tried simply extending the bodice raglan seams at the side seams. But this caused unsightly bagginess on the bodice under the armpits.
  • So for Test 3 I tried lengthening the bodice raglan seam by lowering the underarm 1/2 the overlap amount from Test 1, and shortening the sleeve raglan seam by raising the bicep the remaining 1/2 of the Test 1 overlap amount. This has the added benefit moving the position of the raglan seams so that it’s more diagonal and to my taste.

Test 3 Mug Shots

The Verdicts

Problem 1 (weird raglan seam positioning) I think I solved.

Problem 2 (tight armholes) is marginally better. I think my base block is probably just such close-fitting pattern that any derivatives will have the same claustrophobic armholes unless I lower the bodice underarm further and increase bicep width. My uneven shoulders also don’t help – I haven’t made any adjustment for this in these muslins…because I was lazy and hoped the stretch alone would be enough. Again, lowering UA would probably help if it continues to bother me.

Problem 3 (too much sleeve drapes at underarm) I tried to solve, but I don’t think it’s any better. Re-reading Stretch Pattern School’s instruction again, I think the problem is the fact that I removed the negative ease which keep the sleeve and bodice under balanced tension to prevent tension draglines. Once the negative ease was removed, the shallow cap / arms up horizontally sleeve draft inevitably shows the natural excess of fabric that bulk up under the arms when the arms are down.

Now this last observation about the effect of holding the garment under balanced tension is fascinating and mind boggling. I still don’t completely grasp the principles. But I have definitely seen in my recent test how frequently the muslins with more ease actually look worse (more draglines and seemingly random bagginess) than the tighter fitting muslins. Even breathing in vs out affects draglines from waist side seam to bust point. With breathe in (ie rib cage expanded & garment under more tension) the draglines disappear, but with breathe out (ie rib cage contracted & garment hangs looser) the draglines appear.

And as I mentioned before, the fiber content also seem to affect this, with rayon / cotton more accommodating and molding to the body, but then staying stretched and baggy under it’s steamed out. That’s even with decent amount of lycra content. The polyester-lycra I tried on the other hand recovers easily, but also shows the tension draglines more easily.

Mind twisting isn’t it? Hopefully with more experience I will eventually grasp the tension concept and know how to adjust patterns to create the fit I want for each garment and fabric. But for now I think that’s enough fitting tweaks for a while, don’t you?

Camden Kids Wannabe Top

OK, so I did go back & tweaked my Dartless Fitted Knit Top Block a bit more. But after the fitting muslin had served its purpose, I decided I deserved some fun. So I let my creative side loose when turning the fitting muslin into a wearable muslin. And here’s the result.

Style Shots & Mug Shots


WORN WITH: 1&4 Self-drafted straight skirt; 2&3 Self-drafted pencil skirt; 5-7 TopShop Martha jeans; 10-11 Self-drafted pleated dirndl skirt;

Fabric & Notions Used

The design this time took its cue from the fabric. So let’s talk about fabric first.

  • 95% polyester 5% lycra black micro semi-wet-look knit from Tissu Fabrics with 50% horizontal + 20% vertical stretch. As this was first and foremost a fitting muslin, I shopped my stash for a fabric that I wouldn’t miss if I messed up. It was relatively cheap (the price seem to have gone up a bit now). And when it arrived it looked cheap too. Maybe this sort of vinyl / pvc looking fake leather will always look cheap. Anyway I was on the fence and stumped as to what to make with it. So fitting muslin seemed like a good way to use it up. The wrong side looks velvety matt and good enough to use as the right side too. It wasn’t too difficult to sew. But like many jerseys it curls at the edges, which I tame with spray starch.
  • Notions: Vilene Bias Tape.
  • Tools: Walking foot, spray starch

The Design & Pattern

Block Used:

Dartless Fitted Knit Top Block (Bodice & Sleeve)

So the fitting tweaks I made were

  • Made the shoulder slope steeper by adding teeny bit more height to the shoulder seam at the neck side on both Front & Back.
  • Shifted the side seam above the bust towards the front to make matching seam intersection at underarm easier for my wonky arms!
  • Re-drafted the sleeve from scratch just in case my first draft was not done correctly. But nope, my pattern still looks a bit odd. To avoid uncomfortably twisted sleeves, I still had to slant the sleeve below the bicep towards the front. The sleeve cap does look a bit more ‘normal’ in this second attempt though.

Design Changes Made

  • I was originally going to make this into a simple replacement for a RTW top I wore to death. That top had a fitted silhouette with envelope neckline.
  • I was a bit nervous about looking too S&M, so decided to go with a skiming silhouette (with a tiny bit of ease rather than going into skin-tight negative ease territory) and ‘color block’ with the matt side for a bit of artsy fartsy black-on-black Constructivist action.
  • To take the dominatrix vibe down another notch I added the puff over-sleeves inspired by an early 90’s Pam Hogg design from my clipping stash. The pattern for this was drafted using the top of my new Fitted Knit Top Sleeve Block and puff sleeve instruction from Designing Apparel Through The Flat Pattern. To keep sewing simple, the puff sleeves’ sleeve seams are sewn into the main sleeves’ sleeve seams – ie treating the two layers as one.
  • For the hem I shortened to a casual just below high hip length with side seam vents. And to reinforce the ‘color blocking’ layered-look sleeves as an intentional design, I added a matt band to the hem and made it look like an underlayer rather than just a hem border. My band is shaped – I was worried a straight band might not hang right. So I also had to cut a facing for the hem band.
  • One design element that I haven’t done yet which I might still do is to add a painted / transfer print design to the back. Again this would hopefully be matt black on black. I’m thinking a bull skull might go well with the slightly Camden punkish vibe of this top. I haven’t quite figure out how to do it yet.

Construction Notes

Again, in case I want to sew something similar again I’m jotting down here what I did. Feel free to try it yourself. But this isn’t intended as a properly written sewing instruction. The usual pressing, grading, neat seam finishing along the way applies if you want to try it yourself.

  • Stablize the F&B necklines. Sew on/overlock the folded neckline bands & topstitch SA down towards the bodice. Overlap F&B at armscye shoulder area and baste.
  • Gather puff over-sleeve at armscye and hem (from notch to notch at armscye, and from 2″ in from sleeve seam at hem). Sew on/overlock folded puff over-sleeve hem band & topstitch SA up towards the puff over-sleeve in the ungathered areas.
  • Baste and sew/overlock the armscye, sandwiching the puff sleeves between the bodice and sleeves, right sides of both sleeve layers towards right side of bodice.
  • Overlock the sleeve hems. Sew/overlock the sleeve seams – side seams, catching both the sleeves and puff over-sleeve in the sleeve seam at the bicep area and leaving the side seam vents open. Turn and twin needle stitch the sleeve hems.
  • Overlock the hem band side vents seam allowance top and side edges and the hem band facing top edge. Sew the hem band to bodice hem right sides together with bodice hem side vents seam allowances folded to the wrong side. Sew the hem band and facing bottom edges right sides together. (I metered my corners at the side vents, but I’m not sure it’s really necessary. The resulting corners actually look a bit lumpy in this uninterfaced stretch fabric.) Turn band inside out. Align the bodice and hem band side vent tops and press a fold to the bodice hem (in the same way as jacket lining hem). Baste, then top-stitch bodice hem and side vents in place, stitching through the hem band and facing. I used single needle for the side vent top-stitching and twin needle for the bodice hem.

The Verdict

Yeah I’m feeling a bit smug. For something I was willing to send to the recycling center if it turned out poorly, this ended up being a fun top with attitude. Afterward I discovered that Burda 2014-11-113 is a somewhat similar design…

…But I still like mine better. If you’re going to do puff sleeve you might as well do it with conviction.

Now all I need are some spiky studs, safety pins, ripped black jeans & Dr Martens and I’d fit right in with the kids in Camden. Or alternatively maybe a crinoline skirt and laced up boots for a spot of Steampunkish cos-play?