Monday, June 22, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): Basic Camisole Top

Welcome to my Series on Sewing at Any Size. You can access the rest of the SAAS series by clicking on the topic link on the side bar.

The series is a form of peaceful protest against the terrible, cheap, overpriced, ugly stuff that passes for plus size fashion these days. Anyone can make basic wardrobe elements to fit their body without trying to track down commercial patterns (a nightmare for anyone over a US size 24).

As this may eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish this anywhere else. You may, of course print for your own personal use!

Note that I'm not ignoring requests in comments. I'll get around to most of them as I have time to figure out answers. In the meantime I'm still running with what I already know!


And now we venture into curves! This basic cami top will be the first in the SAAS series where we will be using more than just straight lines. As in the super-fab retro halter in the last entry, this could be make easily into the top for a swimsuit by constructing with lycra and adding a ready-made bra insert available in some sewing stores and online. As requested I will be doing an entry on swimsuits.

While cami’s are one of the few basics still available in most colors, I find that my biggest problem is finding the right length (I’ve ranted before about having a longer waist. Regular cut shirts are cut to look like belly shirts on me).

You’ll need stretchy fabric on this one. Look for high lycra or spandex content, or knit fabrics with a lot of stretch but that spring back into shape well after stretching. Stretch fabrics are trickier to work with, so get a little extra to practice your stitches. You can still use a straight stitch with the fabric pulled slightly tight (practice to get this without puckering) or you can use a zig-zag or stretch stitch on your sewing machine.

This is a very basic straight-front spaghetti strap camisole or tank top. As a part two (variations on a theme), I’ll show to make camis with scooped necklines, gathered necklines, gathered fronts, lace insets and how to turn that favorite tee shirt into any of these.

You’ll need a few measurements: This pattern assumes stretch fabric so it doesn't include any "ease" or fit-room. Measure with the tape close but not tight.

· Decide where you want the neckline to be on your chest. This will be “Point A”. Either mark it on your skin somehow or remember where it is.

· Run a measuring tape around right under your armpits. Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “B”.

· Run the measuring tape around the largest part of the chest. Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “C”.

· Measure your waist (where you normally wear the waistband of clothes) . Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “D”.

· Decide where you want the hem to fall and measure around your body at that point. Divide this number by 4 and add 1”. We’ll call this measurement “E”.

· Measure the distance between “A” and “B” . We’ll call this measurement “F”.

· Measure the distance between “B” and “C”. We’ll call this number “G”.

· Measure the distance between “C” and “D”. We’ll call this number “H”.

· Measure the distance between “D” and “E” and add ½”. We’ll call this number “I”.

These measurements are assuming you’re using stretch fabric and want it to be fitted. If you’re using non-stretch fabric (as for a silk camisole, etc.) add an additional ½” to measurements B, C, D, and E. This will give you what’s called “ease”, otherwise known as “can actually move while wearing”. You may want to make your test garment with up to 2” ease on each of the four pieces, then cut it down to fit comfortably once you try it on. It will help to write all these numbers down.
Take your test fabric (you are using cheap and ugly test fabric to experiment on before sewing on your expensive stuff right? Knits are a PITA to rip stitches out of later). Fold the fabric in half so that the stretchiest part is running horizontally. Sketch out the following shape to the measurements you wrote down earlier. (Trace and cut on the bold red lines. Approximate the general shape; doesn’t have to be exact)

Cut out two copies of the shape you’ve traced. Because you’ve cut it on the fold you should now have two symmetrical pieces for the front and back of the tank. Unfold them and lay them together with the right side (the side you want showing when you wear them) together. Line up the corners and pin together. Stitch the sides from “B” down to “E” (per red dotted lines below). If you’re using test fabric or you’re not sure of the fit, use basting stitches (long, loose stitches) so that you can rip them out later if needed.

Slip it on and check it for fit, adjusting as needed.

We’ll be using Binding again for this top. See the entry on making a 70’s style halter top for instructions on how to make the binding. You can use the same or different color fabric for the binding, but make sure it has at least the same amount of stretch as the fabric for the top. It can have more, but less stretchy binding can affect the fit. Experiment at your own leisure though!

Sandwich a strip of binding across the flat edge at the top of the front layer of the cami, then another across the top of the back layer. Trim each so that the binding goes right to the edge on the sides. Determine how long you want the shoulder straps to be in order for the cami to hang where you took your original measurements. Remember that the straps will go all the way around to the side seam (“B”). Add ½” to this measurement. (You can try pinning the strap and trying it on to make sure it’s the right length).

Lay each strip of armhole binding open and create a loop with the folded edge on the outside. Stitch the two ends together ¼” from the edge (red line in figure below).
Turn the loop back right-side out. Line the seam of the loop up with the seam on the side of the cami (at the outside edge “B”). It helps to pin it in place first. Following the sleeve hole on the front, sandwich the binding over the raw edge of the cami up to the neckline, overlapping the edge of the binding across the front neckline. Repeat at the back. When you get to the top of the garment continue stitching the binding closed all the way up and over the shoulder (red line).
Now hem the bottom edge by folding ¼” of fabric up, then folding again to tuck the raw edge under. Iron the fold, pin to make sure it lays flat, then stitch.

That's it! By the way, save your pattern pieces made from the scrap fabric (I put them in labeled plastic baggies). This basic shape is the building block for almost any top you make, so you'll benefit from having a piece already cut to your body shape.


Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks for all of these patterns and instructions. I have NO idea how to sew, but you've inspired me and I've just bought my first sewing machine! We'll see how it goes.
I'm heading to JoAnn's Fabrics, because it's the only fabric store I know of, but I'm wondering where online I can by really good quality fabric, including online. It seems best to me to buy it after being able to touch it, but I'd happily trust the advice of an expert on quality fabrics.

Rachel said...

I LOVE your blog! I've been looking for something like this for ages. I'm a keen (but not very skilful) home sewer, and these instructions are really helpful. Just wondering, do you have any advice about sewing with silk? I want to make a camisole using a fine silk but a bit scared of messing up the fabric.