Thursday, June 18, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at any size): Super Fab Retro Halter 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!

Super-easy Super-Fab 70's Retro Halter Top

The challenge in this top is not so much making it as wearing it in public. It is the classic 1970’s halter that ties in the back and has a string loop around the neck. The primary drawback for large-breased women is that it’s really hard to wear this by itself with a bra, unless you have some kind of fabulous specialty bra with transparant or halter-style straps and a transparent back (if so, please share where you got it!). One option, if a bra is a must, is to wear this under a jacket or sweater. The other option is to take the same basic design but turn it into a cute wrap blouse with the halter neck. I’ll address that later.

Here’s the basic thing you’re making: You need two measurements on this one. First the distance from your throat to wherever you want the top to hang (waist, top of hips, etc.) plus 3 inches (we’ll call this number L for length). Then the measurement around of the place you wanted it to hang to (waist, hips, etc.). We’ll call this W for width.

You need a triangle W x L

Now of course this was meant to fit the skinny flat-chested woman idealized in the 70’s, so if you have what so many lovingly call a “rack of doom”, (or as my mom puts it, were “blessed by the hooter fairy”) feel free to adjust the fit. If this really doesn’t cover your front, try this adjustment:

We still want the measurements L and W from above, but add a third measurement that is 2/3 of your bust measurement (we’ll call this B) and the distance between the hem and where you measured to get B, plus half an inch (we’ll call this X). Adjust your shape as so:

If it’s still not going to cover you, make the W measurement based on your bust and use darts (instructions in this entry) to fit it to your waist.

You’ve noticed that we didn’t add hem allowances to anything. That’s because we’re going to experiment with binding. You can buy ready-made binding at the fabric store, or you can make your own out of funky colors or better fabric than commercial binding (usually made from cheap broadcloth). You need a fabric that will crease well, whether it’s silk, cotton or synthetic.

To make your own binding for this shirt, measure the distance along each side. Remember your geometry and don’t assume it’s the same as “L”, as the hypotenuse of a triangle is always longer than a straight side. Measure your side and cut two 1” wide strips of fabric of that length.

With a hot iron to crease, fold each side in towards the middle, leaving a small gap.

If you’re using a delicate fabric, remember to put a piece of cotton or paper bag between the iron and the fabric to prevent scorching.

When you’ve creased both sides in towards the middle, fold the strip in half so that the two flaps touch.

Sandwich the raw edge of the fabric into the “fabric taco” you’ve created and stitch it closed.

Sew binding along the two short edges, trimming it to be even with the fabric. Then add binding to the long edge, but let the binding extend past the edge by at least six inches on either side (this is your tie).
For the neckline, fold under 3” of fabric (so that the extra fabric is on the back side) from the peak of the triangle. Stitch approx 1” from the fold.

String a ribbon, necklace chain, choker, or more (stitched) edging through the gap created. This ties behind your neck.

That’s the simple version of course. Here’s how to turn it into a wrap to give you a bit more coverage (while still baring those shoulders for summer!).

We’re still working with a triangle, but to help shape it we’ll be making the triangle out of three pieces. Note that there is a seam allowance, so you can't just just a large triangle into three pieces. Once you re-connect them they won't match up. Cut each piece seperately, but make sure any fabric pattern is facing the same direction on each.

Now this is a case where you’ll definitely want to make a test piece first, before using your final fabric. I highly recommend buying up old bedsheets and fabric at garage sales all summer (you can’t beat 10 cents for several yards of fabric). You can also often find cheap sheets or rolls of fabric at Goodwill or other re-sale shops, or ugly fabric on super-markdown at fabric stores. The practice version allows you to adjust fit. If you’re going to find out you cut something too small, it’s better to do so on throwaway fabric than the pricey stuff.

Lecture over :-)

For the width of each piece:

Take the larger of your bust or waist measurement, multiply by 1.5 (this is W). The math gets kind of tricky here on out. The width of all three pieces should each measure 1/3 W plus 1”.

For the height of each piece:

The peak of piece #2 should be from where you want the hem to the throat, plus 3” (we’ll call this F for front length) The highest points of #1 and #3 and the lowest points of #2 should be the distance from where you want the hem to just under the armpit (the top of a well fitting bra) (we’ll call this S for side length).
Now that you’ve cut these pieces from your test fabric (you’re using test fabric, right?) pin or stitch the two seams (where “S” is in the above diagram) loosely together and check the fit. The “S’ seams should come down your sides, while the corners of pieces #1 and #3 should wrap over each other and come right to the “S” seam without the whole thing being baggy. (note: if the difference between your bust and waist is large, you may need to add darts to make the shirt really fit your body well. See the instructions on darts in this entry on problem solving.) The back should cover the strap of your bra but the sides should not bunch under the armpits. Adjust the size and shape of the pieces until it’s comfortable, cutting new pieces from your test fabric as needed (which is why we use test fabric).

Once you have the fit right, un-pin or tear out the stitches holding the test pieces together and use them as a pattern to cut the pieces from your final garment.

Assemble as described for the original version above, sewing the two side seams together, adding binding to all the edges and creating the neckline fold. The difference is that you’ll want to make the ties along the bottom much longer, at least 2x your waist (longer depending on if you want it to tie in the back or front. Experiment!) .

Once you have all the binding on, put the garment on, folding piece #1 around to one side and piece #3 over the top around to the other side. You should at this point be able to determine where the long tie on the end of piece #1 wants to come through the seam in order to wrap around and lie evenly. Make sure the shirt is hanging how you want it to fit, then mark this spot on the seam with a safety pin.

From the reverse side of the shirt, iron the seam between pieces #2 and #3 so that each side folds back on itself. (fig. 1 below). Place a few reinforcing stitches at the top and bottom of where the hole will go, about 1” apart. (fig. 2 below). Then cut the seam stitches between the reinforcing stitches (fig 3 below). When you put the shirt on you’ll feed the tie string of piece #1 through that hole, wrap both strings around you and tie.


You could also get the back coverage without the wraparound ties by sewing buttons onto the corners of #1 and #3 so that the buttons come through the hole in the seam, rather than the tie ends. You may want to stitch all around the sides of the opening to reinforce, and remember to choose buttons that just barely fit through the hole so that they don’t come undone by themselves. If you’re using a stretchy fabric you could even remove the ties altogether and simply stitch the corners to the opposite seams, making it a shirt you can just pull on and off.

You can also buy lycra/spandex and make this into a great swimsuit top as part of a two-piece. If you need extra support you can buy bra inserts to sew to the inside of the front.


intransigentia said...

Just delurking to tell you how much I'm loving your SAAS series, and your blog in general. I'm working on starting up a blog of my own, and you'll definitely be on my blogroll.

Ms. Heathen said...

Could you do tube tops soon? I know it's probably stupidly simple to do one, but I'm having a brain fart. I really want a tube to bum around the house in, and I probably have fabric to make one. I'm loving this series, btw. I might actually excavate my sewing machine from the mountain of knitting sitting on it and do something constructive this summer.

Alix said...

JoGeek, you are such an inspiration. I asked for a sewing machine a couple years ago for Christmas and GOT one. Don't have any idea at all what to do with it and it continues to take up space (in its box) at the top of my guest room closet. Am I a candidate for sewing classes or should I cut my losses and sell my machine on Craig's List? I'm very much all thumbs. What was I thinking? Is there hope for me?

PS: That halter top is da bomb. LOVE it!

Anonymous said...

Could you post more on sewing swimsuits? I am really intimidated to sew the activewear knits -- but I would really like to sew my own swim suit. I bought fabric for it, and then got nerved out. I need to know how to handle the fabric. Actually, knits in general really confuse me.

Anonymous said...

Your SAAS series is fabulous. It is so hard to find clothes that fit especially being tall and fat. I am trying to start making my own clothes. And you are definitely helping me along. I don't know if it will fit everyone but there is that bra at lane bryant that has convertible and has a transparent back. It goes up to 44DDD and is my new best friend. I can't wait to see what you teach us to make next.

TheBethanyBlog said...

Finally. Thank you for explaining seam binding so clearly. It always seemed so complicated elsewhere!!