Catching up on emails some of you left via my contact form, I noticed quite a few inquiries about when Stuart Anderson – the author of the now defunct (Stretch) Pattern School website – will be publishing his book on drafting swimwear patterns. Unfortunately I have not received any update from him. It’s a shame that the knowledge may be lost, but I have to respect the man’s right to a peaceful retirement. If he feels it’s too much work & investment to assemble & publish a book sharing his knowledge, then it is too much work & investment.
Let’s just pray that if it’s not him, then some other stretch pattern expert with proven industry experience will step up to the plate. And let’s appreciate and not take for granted all the wonderful online resources that are still available, many of which are free! Who knows which website will go offline for one reason or another. Access to these info is not a right, it’s a gift from authors & teachers who generously share their knowledge with us. Let’s support them when & where we can. At the very least thank them for sharing!
And I’m certainly grateful to Stuart for sharing his knowledge that enabled me to develop my current set of pattern blocks for stretch fabrics.
2017-05-19 update: I tried contacting Mr Anderson again for an update on his book publishing plan & got a lawsuit threat in response. He is highly protective of his copyrights & privacy. Any form of sharing is strictly forbidden regardless of whether he publish a book or not. So to avoid lawsuits absolutely no sharing of his content if, like me, you saved some pages for your own personal reference. Hopefully my review of my experiment using his instruction doesn’t constitute a copyright infringement. He made clear to me that I’m not to contact him again, so I will not follow-up with any update on book or no book.
If you’re looking to draft your own stretch block, then you will have to look elsewhere for instruction. Mr Anderson’s method is no longer an option.
Both are above my pay grade since I’m only sewing for myself, so I can’t comment on whether either professional sources are worthwhile. But I may just pay for an article or two from the Hong Kong site to learn the basic principles again from a publicly available source.
This lot was a bit of a bother. They required lots of unpicking. And lots of PITA unpicking at that (because of the stretch stitch used). Hence the continuation of my Fix it marathon into July. Let’s start with the least troublesome of the lot…
This one just needed taking in at the side seams and shortening. It was a case of:
Picking the wrong pattern for my short-waisted torso. A loose but not flowy silhouette does nothing for my squarish upper-half. And I did have to wear this tucked in at the waist most of the time because of this second problem…
Thinking that I can fight gravity. I had to use the stretchiest grainline for the length of the top because I ran out of fabric. It was suppose to be hip length. But it grew & grew, but not enough to pass as a dress.
This one needed the Shar-Pei waistband/tube-bodice circu… shortened because…
The yoga-style Shar-Pei waistband look better on a pooch than on me.
The Mighty Weighty Skirt threatened the Tube Bodice with wardrobe malfunctioning.
I may have shortened it a bit too much. Originally I was still hoping for a Shar-Pei-less yoga-waistband wearing option, as well as a decent cowl/turleneck poncho wearing option. Needless to say that didn’t work.
In the end I had to end the Endlessness of this dress & commit to a proper waistband with elastic inside. I had a hard look at my lifestyle and decided that I’m never going to wear it as a Caped Crusading Poncho, nor as a more impractical version of Hammer Pants – imagine going to the loo in that! It’s still has some shape-shifting ability, but all are variations of skirts & apron skirts.
This one is the diva of the batch. It demanded a piece of flesh from both 1 & 2 above. Even then, parts of it still had to be laid out on the wrong grain.
The Inspiration & Design
Yes, I seem to have a thing for ruched bust. Maybe it’s because despite my psuedo-D-cup, I still manage to look rather flat chested from the front. No push-up bra has ever managed to give me a cleavage. While the bandeau band reinforces my lack of curves, I do like this Victoria Secret ruched bust bandeau bikini top. The cinching at CF adds the illusion of a much needed curve. So I modeled my remake on this, but added a panel below to turn it into a more practical tummy covering top.
I also added a shelf-bra with clear elastic at top (neckline) & bottom (underbust) as insurance against wardrobe malfunction. I wanted a pull over top, but I don’t trust this fabric to recover from putting on/taking off the top.
To further prevent sagging I copied the VS inspiration & adding boning to the shelf-bra’s side seams.
The shelf-bra has vertical bust darts which are suppose to be more supportive, but unfortunately they’re kinda visible through the top layer.
I wanted to add bust padding for more modesty. But I couldn’t figure out figure out a way to do so without restricting the stretchability.
I also copied the VS inspiration’s option for detachable strap. But as usual I couldn’t decide and end up with two adjustable length straps to give me more options.
The Mug & Style Shots
Fitting change: shaded triangle at CF underbust added back in.
Block: Ruched Bust Tube Top
BLOCK: Stretch Pattern School Tankini Block for Stretchy Knits (-12%/0% ease). Since I want this wearable strapless, I thought the -12% ease block based on Stretch Pattern School instruction would be safer. BTW, I just managed to tracked down the author of Stretch Pattern School (patternschool.com). He’s writing a book that will contain all the info from that now defunct site plus more. I’m waiting for info on how to get on the notification list. Will let you know when I find out.)
Pivot side seam bust dart into CF bust dart. Pivot additional 1cm from neckline to CF bust dart to ensure snug strapless fit (like the Stretch Pattern School instruction for ‘Palette Line Maillot/One-Piece’). CF bust dart will be gathered instead of sewn.
Establish F&B neckline, hemline, & F underbust styleline.
Separate F bust bandeau piece at underbust styleline, but extend CF up & down for additional CF gathering. (So both neckline & underbust styline become straight lines.) Remove additional 1/4″ width at CF to increase bustline tension & prevent saggy bust ruching.
(During fitting, I had tweak the F bottom piece’s underbust styleline because I was getting excess fabric / bagging at CF underbust. I removed the pointy bit – what would be the bridge piece in a bra. The resulting underbust styleline is straight on the F pattern pieces, but curved when sewn up as intended by the design.)
Drafted shelf-bra per Stretch Pattern School instruction forTankini shelf-bra:
Using the same Tankini Bloc, pivot the side seam bust dart to waist seam bust dart.
Establish neckline (this time CF curves down to busline) & hemline (underbust line).
Rectangles for tab to cover the CF bust gathering / ruching, and for the detachable straps.
Fabric & Notions Used
Fabrics: All recycled from thebandeau tube + 1 & 2 above.
4-way Stretch Viscose Cotton Lycra from Tia Knight/Tissu Fabrics.
Shelf-bra underlining: Lightweight Power Mesh from Tia Knight/Tissu Fabrics.
Clear elastic for neckline, shelf-bra bottom, and detachable straps.
This is my first time using Rigilene boning. It’s not recommended for corsets with require sturdier construction to keep the soft bits tightly compressed. But for a stretchy top like this I just needed a little bit of shaping, so it seems good enough. Besides, I already had it in the stash.
I slid the fabric portion down a bit to expose the plastic rods. Their tips are then melted using a tea light candle. The tips didn’t actually touch the flame – they started melting when they got near the flame. I flattened the melted tips a bit while they were still warm, then slid the fabric portion back up.
I also used scrap fabric to cover the ends after the boning has been sewn to the shelf-bra’s side seams.
To prevent the shelf-bra from flipping out, I had to tacked its bottom edge to the outer layer at the side seams and the bottom of the CF gathering / ruching tab. The loops for the straps to hook onto are sewn on before this is done so the stitches will be hidden from the outside.
I didn’t have bra straps in a matching color, so I had to make self-fabric straps. But as the fabric stretches in all direction, I added clear elastics inside to prevent them becoming too loose. I find this tricky as sometimes the elastic doesn’t lay flat & the strap gets a bit wavy. But once it’s on the body & slightly stretched this waviness isn’t so visible.
Was it worth all the trouble unpicking stretch stitches? I hope so. All three are more wearable now. Even the strapy top might be fine under a cardi or jacket for my relatively casual workplaces.
Yes, the fabrics are a bit ratty. But I like the color. And it makes the Environmentalist in me happier. We complain a bit about fast-fashion RTW being bad for the environment. But sometimes I wonder if we’re not just as bad since the process of learning to sew well may involve lots of failed projects and discarded fitting muslins. Plus the scraps from our projects might be harder to recycle especially if we sew with lots of different fibers. You don’t get the quantity of the same fabric that you’d get in RTW production waste. It makes me sad. So where possible I ‘upcycle’ my own makes despite having a huge fabric stash still waiting for their turn in the limelight.
Speaking of recycling…one of the sewing bloggers I follow (sorry, can’t find the post again for proper credit) shared a link to a fascinating documentary about an Indian community recycling our unwanted fast-fashions. It’s a short film by Meghna Gupta called Unravel. Some of these recycling ladies’ comments about the West are rather funny.
Watch it on a tablet or desktop as you’ll need to read the sub-title, but on a smartphone the timeline blocks the sub-title rather than disappear like on YouTube. Very silly.
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.
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
Burda 2010-02-122 with minimum bust ruching
Fitting 1 with over-zealous bust ruching, oops
Lowered necklines and shorten sleeves & hem.
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.
Added a little bit ease to side seams and sleeve seams for a skimming not tight look.
Pivot the side bust dart to CF.
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.
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
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.
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?!?!
position of the raglan seams looked off and unbalanced
armholes felt a bit tight
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.
Raglan Test 2 draft
Raglan Test 3 draft
Test 2 NG!
Test 2 & 3 underarm compared
Final Dartless Raglan Block (test 3)
Test 3 Mug Shots
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?
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.
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.
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
Tweaks to Dartless Fitted Knit Top Block
Inspiration for the puff over-sleeve
Pattern for this wearable muslin
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.
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.
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?